From ancient byways to modern highways, glimpses of faith are everywhere...

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Free hugs: Priceless gifts

(Photo by 
Imagine standing around in a busy shopping mall, brandishing a sign
saying "Free Hugs."

That's exactly what the anonymous hugger known as "Juan Mann" began doing back in 2004.  After experiencing the power of a random hug from a complete stranger, Mann decided to pass it forward.

And pass it forward he did.  At first people were leery of his motives, but pretty soon Mann and his growing team of huggers
had their arms full.

It wasn't that much longer before Oprah embraced the concept.  Mann stood outside her studio one morning in 2006, hugging members of the crowd waiting to get in.

For those who prefer pre-planned hugs, Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh offers a "Hugging Meditation Practice."  He explains:  Hugging with mindfulness and
concentration can bring reconciliation, healing, understanding, and much happiness.


Copyright October 31, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Vladimir Putin: Promoting religious stability

Having recently edged out President Obama on the Forbes international-power list, President Vladimir Putin of Russia has now made it to the top.

The long and arduous climb has not been without its pitfalls.  Many accuse this former KGB officer of remaining distinctly undemocratic.  Wikipedia reports that the 2011 Democratic Index described Putin's as an "authoritarian regime" with "flawed
parliamentary elections."

Nevertheless, many swear by him to the point where Putin has become somewhat of a "pop cultural icon in Russia with many commercial products named after him."  Under his rule, there has been marked economic growth, as well as the affirmation of Russia's position as an "energy superpower."

You might say that Putin comes by his "macho superhero" image honestly.  Not unlike Teddy Roosevelt, he has engaged in a number of flashy adventures such as tranquilizing tigers, darting whales, driving race cars, flying military jets, and swimming in cold Siberian waters.

Putin's own "religious awakening" has been rooted in his mother's ardent Russian Orthodox beliefs.  Even though Putin's father was a "militant atheist," he had tacitly allowed his son to be christened and regularly brought to worship services.

These roots may be somewhat responsible for Putin's "limited state support" of "Russia's traditional religions" (Orthodox Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism).  He has cultivated a good relationship with the Patriarchs of the Russian Church, with the Muslim-majority republics, and with the Hasidic Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia. 


Copyright October 30, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Cats: Christianity and Islam

Tabby Cat    (Photo by Alvesgaspar)
Although cats have often been associated with the earth-based religions of Ancient Egypt, Nubia, Greece and Assyria – they have also been associated with Abrahamic religions such as Christianity and Islam.  This is not surprising since Abrahamic religions have borrowed heavily from other traditions throughout the years.

In her article "The Role of Cats in Myth and Religion," Sarah Hartwell explains that what appears to be an "M" marking on the forehead of tabby cats has been interpreted to mean "Mary"("Madonna") by Christians and "Mohammad" ("Muhammad") by Muslims.

Muslims have also noted that Muhammad was quite fond of cats.  Allegedly, one saved the Prophet's life when a snake had slithered up his sleeve.  Some say that it was also he who bestowed upon cats "the ability to land on their feet."  Muhammad had also written of a "woman punished in Hell for starving her cat to death."

Although some early Christians believed that a blessed tabby had comforted Baby Jesus, cats were later thought to be the devil's consorts.  Black cats were especially feared and tortured.  Their anguished screams were "said to be the screams of Lucifer himself."

Thankfully, many Christians came back around to appreciating felines once again.  The Assyrian Sphinx eventually "became symbolic of the Biblical tetramorph."  Its lion has been said to represent the Resurrection.
The Sunday School story "Andy Rockles and the Lion" tells of a friendly feline who helped to rescue a Christian from the Romans.


Copyright October 29, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Monday, October 28, 2013

Santorum lights a Christmas Candle

(Photo by LA2)
Ever wonder what Rick Santorum's been up to lately?  In a very real sense, he's still campaigning – this time against those who would make a "devil's playground" out of the entertainment industry.

Now the CEO of EchoLight Studios (a faith- and family-oriented film company), Santorum recently statedThis is a tough business… and the devil… isn't going to give up easily.

On the heels of that assessment, Santorum issued a fervent plea for support.  He then thanked his listeners in advance for their "help in making this a successful venture."

EchoLight will be releasing "The Christmas Candle" in the United States on November 22nd.  It is being billed as "a timeless holiday film for the entire family."

Other EchoLight films include "Seasons of Gray" (about Joseph and his coat of many colors), "The
Redemption of Henry Myers" (about a frontier bank robber gone good), and "Foolishness" (featuring "stirring testimony" from streetwise skateboarders).


Copyright October 28, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Soup's off: Atheists banned

(Photo by Donovan Govan)
It has been said that too many cooks spoil the broth - but this saying has never really clarified whether these cooks were atheists or not.

That type of fine-tooth discrimination was instead left to those who believe that atheists have no business helping to cook soup for the hungry.

Such was recently the case in South Carolina when members of the group Upstate Atheists attempted to volunteer at the Spartanburg Soup Kitchen.

According to MSN Now, the "executive soup kitchen director" (now that's a mouthful of a  title that probably wouldn't even fit on a soup spoon) threatened to resign her job if the atheists were (gasp) allowed to help.

She made her stance perfectly clear with these fightin' words:  Do they [atheists] think that our guests are
so ignorant that they don't know what an atheist is?  Why are they targeting us?

Which absolutely begs the question:  Who's really targeting whom?  


Copyright October 27, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Holy hygiene! Beware the font

  (Photo by Lalupa)
Water, a key ingredient of life as we know it, certainly seems holy in its own right.  Nevertheless, a number of religions – including Christianity and Sikhism – consider "holy water" to be that which "has been blessed by a member of a clergy or religious figure."

Wikipedia reports that the use of such "holy water" during Christianity's earliest days is somewhat unclear.  It is probable that the water used for many of the earliest rituals was that of rivers, lakes and seas.

As the centuries went by, churches began to keep holy water in a vessel located near the entrance.  This vessel, which is still
prevalent today, is known as a font or a stoup.

Although "holy," the water within these fonts has sometimes been found to be laden with infectious bacteria.  Good Morning America reported on a study from the University of Vienna which found that 86 percent of the water sampled from 18 fonts in Vienna "was infected with…  E. coli, enterococci and Campylobacteria, which can lead to diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain, and fever."

Since this water has been "commonly used in baptism ceremonies and to wet congregants' lips," study researcher Dr. Alexander Kirschner is recommending that "priests regularly change the holy water in churches and erect signs to inform congregants about the dangers…"   


Copyright October 26, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Friday, October 25, 2013

Holy cows: Some compelling facts

Brahman Baby (Photo by Lea Maimone)
It's refreshing to read an article about animals that doesn't solely focus upon their usefulness to humans.

Such is Yahoo! Shine's "20 Strange Things You Didn't Know About Cows."  Among these interesting facts are the following: 80 percent of cow's genes are shared with humans; "researchers have found that if you name a cow and treat her as an individual, she will produce almost 500 more pints of milk a year"; and "cows have favorite friends and become stressed when they are separated."

Cows have not only been considered holy within the Hindu religion - but also within Jainism, Zoroastrianism and the religions of Ancient Egypt, Greece, Israel and Rome. Wikipedia explains that Zarathustra (aka "Zoroaster") was told by Wise Lord Ahura Mazda to "protect the cow."  Jainism "forbids the killing of cattle, whether for consumption or sacrifice."

Ancient Egyptians also shunned the sacrifice of cows, believing them to be "sacred to goddess Hathor."  Io, a priestess of the Ancient Greek goddess Hera, was changed by Zeus into a heifer for her own protection
(after Zeus had seduced Io, thus incurring Hera's wrath).  To this day, Judaism forbids the wearing of leather shoes during the solemn holidays of Yom Kippur and Tisha B'Av.

The Bhagavata Purana describes the cow as humankind's mother (because so many are nourished by her milk), and the bull as humankind's father (because he "tills the ground to produce food grains").

Copyright October 25, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Atheist's condolences

(Photo by Anlace)
Forget all the doctrinal differences for a minute.  When you're standing right there in front of a grieving atheist, they just don't seem to matter.  Nevertheless, the question remains:  What can be said by way of comfort?

In a highly readable article for Huff Post Religion, Ali A. Rizvi addresses that very issue.  He asks:  What can we offer as a
substitute for the emotional comfort religion offers believers in facing their own death, or that of their loved ones?

Rizvi explains that it's not just a matter of what can be said, but also the delicate delivery of it. He therefore chose to write a well-thought-out condolence letter rather than perhaps stumble through a verbal

He begins by pointing out that the deceased live on through their offspring (assuming, of course, that they had offspring).  However,
living on "through" someone might not be nearly as comforting as living on "as" someone…

Rizvi then adds that we all "continue to exist through the earth."  Although this ecological approach can be potent in a "collective, worldly sense," Henry Longfellow's words seem to delve even deeper:  Dust thou art, to dust returnest, Was not spoken of the soul.

Rizvi then bravely tackles the alleged history of the Universe's "first 13.8 billion years."  He assumes that he had no consciousness during most of that time, and finds this to be a somewhat "peaceful idea."  He also states that it makes him especially value the awareness that he has during this brief lifetime.  

Many religions, including ones that believe in eternal consciousness, also emphasize the value of the here-and-now.  Being mindful of, grateful for, and careful with life here on Earth is certainly not just an atheistic perspective.

Copyright October 24, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Paul McCartney: Advice from the dead

McCartney in 2009 (Anna'sfarm)
Back again these days on the cover of Rolling Stone, McCartney is nothing if not a survivor.

He has not only survived the death of the Beatles, but has also survived the death of two Beatles in particular:  John Lennon and George Harrison.  Within his latest Rolling Stone interview, McCartney reveals that he still heeds the advice of both these cherished friends.

McCartney admits that John not only remains "ever present" in his mind, but also continues to be a songwriting "partner."  There have been times since Lennon's death when Paul was unsure of which way to proceed with a song.  He has then tossed "it across the room to John," who in turn has conveyed to Paul, "You can't go there, man."  Paul describes this type of
interchange as a songwriting "conversation."

McCartney continues to also take George's advice to heart.   Although it has taken him years to reconcile with Yoko Ono, Paul has finally done so.  Part of his readiness was the realization that since John loved her "there's got to be something."  Another part of the readiness was Paul's remembrance of George's stance on grudges::  You don't want stuff like that hanging around in your life.

As for McCartney himself, the old adage applies:  "It ain't over 'till it's over."  He tells Rolling Stone that, at age 71, "he's nowhere near done."   


Copyright October 23, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Aaron Freeman: Death by physics

Transference of Energy   (Photo by Nelumadau)
Although many have pre-planned exactly where and how their mortal remains should be "laid to rest," few have approached this admittedly-uncomfortable topic from a subatomic standpoint.

Therefore, journalist (among other things) Aaron Freeman has made it his business to set things straight. He insists that no one is more capable of delivering the perfect funeral oration than a physicist.

Bereavement Freeman-style hinges upon the first law of thermodynamics.  Those who truly "get it" need never feel the loss of a loved one.  That's because there actually is no loss – there's simply a magnificent reconfiguration of everything from eyelashes to toenails.  The NPR transcript of Freeman's weighty words reminds us that "every vibration, every Btu of heat, every wave of every particle" remains right here with us in this world.

There is absolutely no need for faith in this (literally) godforsaken scenario.  Freeman emphasizes that "scientists have measured precisely the conservation of energy and found it accurate, verifiable and consistent across space and time."

In other words - you may be dead, but you are far from gone.  Freeman triumphantly concludes:  You're just less orderly.  Amen.    


Copyright October 22, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Monday, October 21, 2013

Godparents galore: Royal christening

Episcopal Baptism    (Public Domain)
Whereas many babies get two (if they're lucky), Prince George Alexander Louis will have six:  godparents that is.

Mikey Smith of Mirror News reports that Prince George's baptism will take place at 3 PM on October 23, 2013.  The 45-minute service will be held at the Chapel Royal in St. James Palace, the cherished place where sons William and Harry paid their final respects to Princess Diana before she was laid to rest.

Thus far, three of the godparents' names have been announced:  Fergus Boyd, Hugh van Cutsem, and Emilia d'Erlanger.  The Most Reverend Justin Welby, Archbishop of
Canterbury, will perform the ceremony.

Wikipedia explains that godparents were historically expected to act as "guarantors of the child's spiritual upbringing."  Within the present-day Church of England, godparents "should be both baptized and confirmed… but the requirement for confirmation can be waived."

In addition to spiritual sustenance, secular support is also often expected from today's godparents.  The
Telegraph explains that this could include being "a part-personal organiser, purveyor of expensive presents, complimentary child-care provider, networking assistant and all-purpose family fallback."   


Copyright October 21, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Dianne Reidy's jeremiad

(Rembrandt's "Jeremiah")
In days of old, those who publicly ranted against the sins of their country didn't make out any better than those who do so today.

Jeremiah, also called "The Weeping Prophet" (for many a good reason) lived during trying times.  His God-given mission was to warn the people of Judah about impending disaster
("destruction by the Babylonian army and captivity") that was
brought about by their own idolatrous practices.

In turn, God had issued this dire warning to Jeremiah:  Attack you they will, overcome you they can't.  In this case, "they" referred to all those who didn't want to hear about their sinful shortcomings.

The attacks upon Jeremiah came fast and furious.  According to Wikipedia, he was "attacked by his own brothers, beaten and put into the stocks by a priest… imprisoned by the king,
threatened with death," and "thrown into a cistern by Judah's officials."

Just the other day, the United States House stenographer, Dianne Reidy, was hauled off the House floor
"following an outburst during the debt ceiling/shutdown vote."  According to the New York Daily News, this "outburst" consisted of a "harsh diatribe about God and Freemasons."  She warned that the U.S. is not one nation under God and never has been because the Constitution was "written by Freemasons."

Reidy's husband, "a former pastor," defended her actions.  Reidy herself gave this explanation:  "For the past
2 and ½ weeks, the Holy Spirit has been waking  me up in the middle of the night and preparing me (through
my reluctance and doubt) to deliver a message in the House Chamber."

There are no reports of Ms. Reidy being thrown into a cistern or threatened with death.  However, she was "briefly questioned by authorities, then was sent to the hospital for a mental health evaluation."  Plus, it is still "unclear if criminal charges will be filed, or if she will keep her job."


Copyright October 20, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Santa beware: Belly fat not so jolly

(Illustration by Thomas Nast)
Since we're coming upon the season in which fat-bellied Santas are ubiquitous, these words to the wise will hopefully inspire some holiday restraint.

With the eye-catching headline Your Liver May Be 'Eating' Your Brain, Christopher Wanjek of Live Science began his rendition of the belly-fat blues.  He claimed that "people with extra abdominal fat are three times more likely than lean individuals to develop memory loss and dementia," and then proceeded to explain why.

It seems that the hippocampus (memory center of the brain) and the liver are in competition for the PPARalpha protein.  Whereas the liver uses it to "burn belly fat," the hippocampus uses it to "process memory." 

Can you see where this is headed?  When there are large stores of fat within Santa-like bellies, conscientious livers could be forced
to raid other PPARalpha stashes, such as those within healthy brains.  When the brain is robbed of its necessary PPARalpha supply, the hippocampus then goes without its
necessary mnemonic tools.

The good news is that when the brains of PPARalpha-deficient mice were injected with additional PPARalpha, their memories and learning curves improved.  Perhaps such therapies can be developed for humans, as well.

In the meantime, just desert those holiday desserts.   


Copyright October 19, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Friday, October 18, 2013

Emancipation unproclaimed: 30 million still enslaved

Emancipation Proclamation  (Francis Bicknell Carpenter)
Many who have heard dramatic accounts of Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation are
under the illusion that slavery is a thing of the distant past.

Nevertheless, MSN News reports that slavery is a tragic reality for approximately 30 million people,
almost half of whom are in India.  Enslavement occurs when people are "trafficked into brothels, forced into manual labor, victims of debt bondage or even born into servitude…"

"Slavery" has been formally defined by the Global Slavery Index 2013 as "the possession or control of people to deny freedom and exploit them for profit or sex, usually through violence, coercion or deception."

After India, the other "top ten" slavery countries (in descending order) are as follows:  China, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Russia, Thailand, Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar, and Bangladesh.  The Index
reports that these ten countries "account for three-quarters of the world's slaves."

Walk Free CEO Nick Grono says that this type of data is especially important because "if you can't measure it [slavery], you can't devise policy to address it."  


Copyright October 18, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Rats! Who ate the last Oreo?

(Photo by Edal Anton Lefterov)
Ever wonder why you just can't get enough of those twist-and-lick treats?

Undergraduates at Connecticut College did – and so they designed a research experiment that could hopefully provide some answers.

What this team of four students under the leadership of neuroscience professor Joseph Schroeder discovered was both astounding and disturbing.  After placing rats in a maze twice – the first time with Oreos as one of two choices, and the second time with injections of cocaine or morphine as one of two choices – researchers found that the rats spent as much time pursuing the Oreos as they did the addictive drugs.

This quote from Schroeder was reported by The Christian Science Monitor:  "Our research supports the theory that high-fat/high-sugar foods stimulate the brain in the same way that drugs do.  It may explain why some people can't resist these foods despite the fact that they know they are bad for them."

Perhaps…  However, these "addicts" are still - after all – rats.  (Plus, they only had two choices in the maze each time, and the other choices weren't very enticing.) The question remains:  Would humans behave in the same manner? 

It's certainly possibly that they would - especially since "junk foods" are heavily marketed to humans…  That type of commercial bombardment could stimulate humans to become even more addicted to Oreos than even their long-tailed "cousins."


Copyright October 17, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Noah Webster's... Bible

Noah Webster  (by Samuel Morse)
Noah Webster's father was a deacon of the Congregational church, and his mother was a descendant of the famous Separatist leader
William Bradford.  You might therefore surmise that Webster came by his religious leanings honestly.

Although during his youth Webster was more pedantic (what with his spellers and all) than he was religious, he became more and more devout as time went on.  Wikipedia reports that by the time Webster was 50, he had  become "a convert to Calvinistic orthodoxy, and thereafter… preached the need to Christianize the nation."

Since Webster lived to the then-ripe old age of 84, this left him with plenty of time to practice what he preached.  He began busily combining his vast literary talents with his newfound evangelical fervor.
This resulted in an 1828 American Dictionary that "contained the greatest number of Biblical definitions given in any reference volume."

It also resulted in a rewrite of the Bible itself.  Believing the King James Version to be basically sound, but somewhat outdated in its grammar, vocabulary, and phraseology – Webster set about to soften some of those perceived rough edges.  The result was his 1833 edition of the Bible called the Common Version.

Some (with axes to grind, no doubt) criticized Webster for not also tweaking the basic theology of the King James Version (KJV).  However, since Webster's own staunch views were a good match with the KJV theology, he saw no reason to "fix what wasn't broken." 


Copyright October 16, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

I Love Desi: 'Mr. Babalu' himself

Desi Arnaz in 1950    (Public Domain)
Long before the world loved either Desi or Lucy, Babalu-aye was considered by many West Africans to be "Father, lord of the Earth."

Babalu-aye is an Orisha, which in the Yoruba religion is a "spirit or deity that reflects one of the manifestations of God."  Wikipedia explains that Babalu-aye is associated with both healing and disease.  He is loved as well as feared because he will reward people with health, yet punish them with disease.

Some are so wary of Babalu-aye that they will not call his name out loud for fear of invoking an epidemic.  Desi Arnaz was not one of these timid folks.  In fact, his frequent renditions of Margarita
Lecuona's song "Babalu" yielded him the nickname "Mr. Babalu."

Arnaz would not only sing this Cuban song as written, but he would also add his own special touches to it.  Wikipedia reports that whenever he and his band would perform "Babalu" live, Arnaz would end it "with an extended conga solo and chorus-refrain section…"

The lyrics of this song directly refer to Santeria, a blend of West African, Roman Catholic and Caribbean religious practices.  Things mentioned include Babalu-aye, the cross, a cigar, and aguardiente (similar to
the English term "firewater").

Could Babalu-aye have been involved with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows that "Mr. Babalu" experienced?  We humans can only guess at the answer to that.


Copyright October 15, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Monday, October 14, 2013

Edward Estlin Cummings: Bon Dieu!

E. E. Cummings   (Self-portrait)
Although the world at large is familiar with much of E. E. Cummings' poetry, it is not as familiar with the roots of his inspiration.

Wikipedia reports that Cummings "was born into a Unitarian family" and "exhibited transcendental leanings his entire life."  His journals contain many prayers to "le bon Dieu," such as this one: "Bon Dieu! may I some day do something truly great. amen."

Another glimpse into Cummings' spirituality comes from these poetic lines: " i thank you God for most this amazing day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes."

Ironically, Cummings was later accused of exhibiting prejudice towards some ethnic and religious groups.  This stemmed from certain poems he had written that contained "derogatory words" with reference to these groups. 

Whereas friends had pleaded with Cummings "to reconsider publishing these poems," Estlin (as he was often called) insisted that they be published in order to raise awareness of "how derogatory words cause people to see others in terms of stereotypes rather than as individuals."


Copyright October 14, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Jewish by affinity: 1.2 million Americans

11th Century BC (Richardprins)
There have been many reports over the years of people denying Judaism in one way or another.  After surveying American Jews, the Pew Research Center is now reporting on the existence of a refreshingly different trend:  that of "Jewish affinity."

Tia Ghose of Live Science explains that a Pew survey "analyzed the nearly 0.5 percent of the U.S. population that consider themselves to be Jewish in
some way, even though they belong to a religion other than Judaism and
most have no Jewish ancestors or family members."

Whereas only 22 percent of actual Jews are affiliated with the Republican Party, "almost 42 percent of 'Jews by affinity' are Republican or Republican-leaning."  These "Jews by affinity" are strongly supportive of Israel and of America's friendship with Israel.

Many who show strong support for Israel are Evangelical Christians, "82 percent of whom believe that God
gave the Jewish people Israel…"  Pew research found that only half that percentage of American Jews believe the same about this matter.

However, only "a quarter of the Jewish-by-affinity group donated to a Jewish charity within the past year," whereas "more than two-thirds of religiously observant Jews" did.


Copyright October 13, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Fido's feelings: Proof at last

(Photo by Perhols)
Would you drop a young child off by the side of the road, hoping that someone will come along and provide a good home for him or her?

If the answer is (hopefully) a resounding "No!" – then you may want to treat dogs with the same amount of concern.  Recent groundbreaking research by neuroscientist Gregory Bynes of
Emory University explains why.

In an article for The New York Times titled Dogs are People, TooBynes describes the results of his M.R.I. scanning of a dozen
"completely awake and unrestrained" dogs.

Whereas "conventional veterinary practice" has said that you have to "anesthetize animals so they don't move during a scan," Bynes was able to train these dogs to "hold rock-still for periods of up to 30 seconds" within the scanner. He did this via the use of positive reinforcement and earmuffs (to protect sensitive canine hearing
from "the 95 decibels of noise the scanner makes."

Results of these scans indicated marked similarities within the caudate nucleus regions of dogs and humans.  The caudate nucleus is an area of the brain that is associated with attractions to food, companions, music, and even beauty.

These beyond-behavioral results also indicate that dogs may very well have "a level of sentience comparable to that of a human child."  If so, it seems incumbent upon human society to rethink its less-than stellar treatment of those whom we like to call "man's best friend."


Copyright October 12, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Friday, October 11, 2013

Psychological contagion: Watch where you sit

Vincent's Chair     (by Vincent Van Gogh)
Whether or not there's really something to it, people seem to "catch" success or failure from objects used by those they perceive to be "winners" or "losers."

Therefore, if you're sitting in a fancy restaurant and the waiter happens to mention that Magic Johnson sat in that very seat just last week, you might suddenly feel far more capable of paying the bill.  Conversely, if he adds that the seat was also once occupied by Charles Manson, you might then find yourself too disgusted to eat.

Markham Heid of Men's Health recently reported on research from Loyola University which indicates that "close contact with someone you see as immoral or unsuccessful can taint how you feel about yourself."  The good news is that it also works in reverse. If someone lends you their "lucky shirt," you might find your own "luck" to be suddenly improved.

The Loyola researchers explained that "dozens of experiments have shown this type of 'magical thinking' is widespread."  So whether or not you think this is all a bunch of hooey, you might want to hesitate before moving into the office (no matter how impressive) of someone who was just fired.


Copyright October 11, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Lorna Byrne: America the 'Angelic'

(Public Domain)
Three years ago, Lorna Byrne was described by Anna Coogan of as a "widowed mum-of-four, who says she has been seeing angels since she was a child."

At that time, Byrne had already written The Sunday Times' bestseller Angels In My Hair.  Although prior to that, she had "lived a pretty humdrum existence and without much money," this book had brought her a certain amount of fame and fortune.  Nevertheless, Byrne had told Coogan, "Money I have earned goes into promoting the book and spreading the word about angels."

Now it is October 2013, and Byrne's angelic pursuits continue to bear much fruit.   Her latest book, A Message of Hope from the Angels, is another bestseller.  In a 10/8/13 article for Huff Post Religion, Byrne revealed:   The angels tell me America is supposed to be a beacon of hope for the world.

Bear in mind that Byrne used the phrase "supposed to be"- as opposed to simply stating that America already is that beacon of hope.  She afterwards carefully explained:  The blossoming of America to its full potential will come from unifying as one nation.  To achieve this you need to seek out and find the things that you have in common, rather than the things that divide you.

This message is much more an individual one than a political one.  Byrne further elaborated:  Each of you has a role to play in this, you need to start to smile and say hello to people who in the past you have judged to be different… to get to know them properly. 


Copyright October 10, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Woolly mammoth 'rebirth' a hairy possibility

(Public Domain)
Whereas "de-extinction" of the woolly mammoth might sound like a hoot (or a bellow), it might not be all that much fun if not handled ethically.

Although more closely related to the Asian elephant, the woolly mammoth (aka Mammuthus primigenius) was somewhat the size of today's African elephant.  Its fur (thick), ears and tail (short) were adapted to the extreme cold of the last ice age.  Nevertheless,
Wikipedia reports that it disappeared about 10,000 years ago - "most likely through a combination of climate change, consequent disappearance of its habitat, and hunting by humans."

Ironically, humans are now seriously considering the possibility of reintroducing this species to the world via cloning.  Although this may not yet be feasible (due to the "degraded state" of available genetic material), it seems just a matter of time before it could become be a reality.

Now is therefore the time for serious ethical questions to be raised.  Live Science recently reported on specific points made by American Museum of Natural History curator Ross MacPhee.

MacPhee outlined the following "major ethical and logistical questions" concerning de-extinction:  Where would they live?  ("Home, Home on the Range" is now just a song); What would they eat? (even the Jolly Green Giant can't keep up with their appetites for long); Would they eventually become an 'invasive species'? (and if so, then what?); Could their reintroduction negatively affect the chances of modern endangered species? (and if so, why go there?); and Would 21st-century microbes be incompatible with the woolly mammoth's digestive system? (a gut-wrenching possibility).


Copyright October 9, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Belgian euthanasia: Sharply rising

Belgian Parliament   (Photo by Mirej)
A 44-year-old transsexual was legally euthanized in Belgium on the grounds that his "botched sex change" was causing him "unbearable psychological suffering."

He joined the ranks of thousands of others who have been put to death under Belgium's controversial euthanasia laws. Damien Gayle
of The Daily Mail reports that "Belgian euthanasia cases jumped 25 per cent in one year," and that euthanasia is "now the cause of nearly one in 50 deaths in the country."

Gayle explains that euthanasia guidelines, which have been set by Belgium's parliament, stipulate that "patients wishing to end their own lives must be conscious when they ask
to die."  Additionally, the "unbearable physical or psychological pain that they are experiencing" is supposed to be the result of an "accident or incurable illness."

Gayle gives examples of patients that allegedly met these Belgian guidelines.  One was a 44-year-old woman with chronic anorexia nervosa, and the other was a 64-year-old woman with chronic depression.  Both were euthanized.

Were these actually "incurable" illnesses? If so, would they have continued to cause the patients "unbearable" pain?  Aren't there people who have either healed from such illnesses, or learned how to successfully negotiate their challenges?  And – can doctors really make accurate determinations about the future pain
thresholds of their patients?

The number of Belgian euthanasia cases is sharply on the rise.  Gayle adds that the parliament is "reportedly on the verge of passing legislation that would allow people under 18 to consent to euthanasia." 


Copyright October 8, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Monday, October 7, 2013

Render unto Caesar: How so?

Julius Caesar  (Public Domain)
Does Jesus' famous advice to "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's…" suggest an insurmountable divide between politics and religion?

Many believe that it does. 

Rev.  Dr. Eric D. Barreto explains that Bill O'Reilly has interpreted this quote to mean that there are two entirely separate realms:  one in which God rules, and the other in which Caesar rules.

Barreto, however, believes that life isn't that neatly packaged.  He not only thinks that Jesus himself was highly political, but also that there is no stark "line in the sand" between politics and spirituality.

Barreto reminds readers that the statement about Caesar was made in response to those who were trying to entrap Jesus.  If Jesus had simply advocated paying taxes to Caesar, then he would have been labeled a "sell-out."  If Jesus had instead advocated withholding taxes from Caesar, then he would have been labeled a "traitor."

By choosing a politically nonthreatening - yet spiritually powerful - way of responding to his detractors, Jesus not only temporarily sidestepped their traps, but also taught those "with ears to hear" this eternal truth:  All things belong to God; therefore, all things will be rendered unto Him as spirituality ultimately triumphs.


Copyright October 7, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Ordain Women: Respectfully revolutionary

LDS Conference Center  (Photo by Cool Hand Luke)
Kate Kelly, a human-rights lawyer and member of the group Ordain Women, recently explained the following to Reuters reporter Timothy Pratt:  Our approach has been very respectful, while the idea is revolutionary.

The "idea" that Kelly is referring to is one that Ordain Women embraces wholeheartedly – i.e., for women within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (aka "LDS" or "Mormon Church") to "be ordained to priesthood… and achieve complete equality – ecclesiastic, clerical, fiscal and otherwise."

The "approach" has included displays of public advocacy such as the group's recent demonstration outside the LDS Conference Center in Salt Lake City.  The Ordain Women website explains why such "public actions" are undertaken:  Because Mormon women lack institutional authority and access to those leaders who have the ability to receive revelation on behalf of the Church, public advocacy is one of the few options open to those of us who actively seek ordination.

The FAQ section of this website addresses many other common concerns, such as the following:  Is it a sin to seek power and authority?  In questioning Church policies, aren't you questioning God?  Don't
women and men have fundamentally different but equal roles?

The latter "different but equal" notion has been particularly pernicious throughout the course of male-dominated history.  It has been used to "deny women access to the voting booth, political office, education, employment, and spiritual empowerment."


Copyright October 6, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Saturday, October 5, 2013

David Christian: Big History growing

A moment in time...   (Public Domain)
"In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue…"  Although conventional textbooks on United States history have laid much emphasis upon this event, David Christian might consider it (relatively) "small potatoes."

That's because David Christian is consumed with "Big History" - an academic movement which he himself spearheaded.  Wikipedia explains that Big History "examines history scientifically from the Big Bang to the present."  Humans aren't even mentioned within the Big History curriculum until more than halfway through.

Christian, an Oxford-educated scholar of Russian history, began reading a wide assortment of cosmologically-oriented materials during the 1980s.  He then began incorporating interdisciplinary findings (from astronomy, geology, biology, etc.) into history curricula.

Rather than relegate the history of the Universe to human-sized proportions, Christian's Big History gives students a sense of how humans fit into the bigger picture.

When Microsoft's Bill Gates first heard a series of lectures by Christian, Gates was self-reportedly "blown away."  He and Christian are now leaders in the Big History Project, the goal of which is "to get Big History taught to as many students around the world as possible."


Copyright October 5, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Friday, October 4, 2013

'Communion' burger: Mixed reviews

Chicago Building (Photo by J. Crocker)
Along with its unique style of jazz, blues, pizza and hot dogs, Chicago now also has its very own "Ghost" burger.

This controversial cuisine, which Elisha Fieldstadt of NBC News states is "dedicated to the Swedish heavy metal band of the same
name," is being served up at Kuma's Corner to the delight of some and the dismay of others.

The dish consists of a burger and cheese (so far, so good), "made with a red wine reduction sauce and topped with a communion wafer" (uh oh…).

Kuma's not only acknowledges the sacrilegious aspects of this combination, but also promotes them (much like the namesake Swedish band, whose members dress "as Roman Catholic
Cardinals," yet perform music that is "the opposite of Sunday morning choir songs").

This was proudly posted on the Kuma's Facebook page:  We give you the Ghost which we think is a fitting tribute to the supreme blasphemous activities carried out by the band itself.

Comments such as the following ranged from enthusiastic to downright disgusted:

People need to lighten up these days.  I'm religious.. And I personally think this is hilarious.  If there's a God he's got to have a sense of humor.

You are religious.  Hence you clearly do not understand or appreciate the importance of communion.  This is like burning a bible to those of us who are truly Orthodox.

Copyright October 4, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Nominals: What's in a name?

LifeWay Headquarters   (Photo by Ed!)
More and more people these days are calling themselves "Jews" without believing in God, and calling themselves
Christians without believing in Jesus.

Cathy Lynn Grossman of RNS refers to folks who identify with a religion, but not its key doctrines, as "Nominals."  In other words, they "may live it [their self-proclaimed religion] in name only."

For example, a recent Pew survey showed that 62 percent of Jewish Americans "said Jewishness is largely about culture or ancestry," and only 15 percent said that it is about "religious belief."   Thirty-four percent  responded that "it's OK to see Jesus as the Messiah and still call themselves Jewish."

A 2008 study called Sacraments Today found that 77 percent of Catholics are proud to be so, but only 55 percent "say they are practicing their faith."  Only 61 percent "see the sacraments as essential," and only 43 percent "look to the pope and bishops when they make moral choices."

Protestants are also often what Thom Rainer of LifeWay Christian Resources calls "mushy Christians."  A LifeWay study of 1200 adults below the age of 30 revealed the following:  almost three-quarters called themselves "more spiritual than religious," more than one-quarter said that "God is just a concept," and only half stated that belief in Jesus Christ "is the only way to get to heaven."   


Copyright October 3, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Keys to Immortality

Freshwater Planarian (Photo by Eduard Sola)
It used to be that when humans searched for the keys to immortality, they looked to the gods for answers.  Nowadays, people are also turning towards God's earthly creatures for such precious clues.

In an article titled "5 animals that may hold the key to immortality," Chris Gayomali of The Week begins with an "ode" to the naked mole rat.  Not exactly a prototype of eternal beauty, this underground rodent with "stretchy skin, wispy hairs, and squinty eyes" doesn't inspire adoring glances.  Nevertheless, its unique RNA makes for a precise "cranking
out" of cellular protein that makes the naked little critter "far less susceptible to age-related diseases like cancer and Alzheimer's."

If you're worried about losing your head in certain situations, taking a cue from the humble flatworm might help.  Gayomali reports that one small but mighty planarian – after not only being decapitated, but also chopped into pieces – was able to regenerate into "an entire colony of more than 20,000" wiggly ones.  Due to the worm's ability to "renew stocks of a key enzyme," it was able to "grow new muscles, skin, guts, and
even brains…"

The Turritopsis dohrnii (aka "the Benjamin Button jellyfish") not only refuses to die when taken captive, but also "appears to grow younger and younger until it reaches its earliest stage of development."  Then it simply "presses the reset button" and begins life all over again.


Copyright October 2, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Hora: Dance everyone dance

Macedonian Oro    (Public Domain)
If you've always thought that the hora was an ancient Israelite ritual, perhaps it's time to think again.

Wikipedia reports that the Hora Agadati, "which may be the first Jewish adaptation of this dance," was first performed in 1924 (not BCE, but CE).  It is thought to have originated in Zichron Yaakov, one of the earliest Jewish pioneer settlements in then-Palestine.  This dance not only "played a foundational role in modern Israeli folk dancing," but also symbolized "the reconstruction of the country by the
socialistic-agricultural Zionist movement."

However, the hora as an overall dance form has been around long before that.  The very term is rooted in an ancient Greek cognate for "dance" (and/or perhaps "circle").  The term is also present in many Slavic languages such as Bulgarian (horo), Macedonian (oro), and Slovenian (kolo).

Many Eastern European folk dances are part of the hora tradition.  Many are circle dances that mark such varied occasions as weddings, religious holidays, birthdays, graduations, and even war.  In Montenegro, the dance is particularly complex.  There it often ends with a grand finale of "dancers standing on other dancers' shoulders…"   

Copyright October 1, 2013 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved