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

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Urban turkeys: Who's on first?

(Public Domain)
Wikipedia reports that the Meleagris Gallopavo (aka "Wild Turkey") species is "native to the forests of North America."

Although often called a universe unto itself, New York City is actually located in North America.  It was once heavily forested, as
any modern-day visitor to Central Park might surmise.  Therefore, it's a pretty safe bet that wild turkeys were there long before the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge enabled humans to heavily populate
Staten Island (one of NYC's five boroughs).

Nevertheless, Staten Island's present-day human inhabitants are not wild about sharing their yards, gardens and roadways with these native birds.  Jennifer Peltz of The Associated Press interviewed some neighborhood folks.  Here's what they said about the matter:

We don't want to kill them.  [Then what's that in the oven?]  We just want them to leave us alone.  [Bet they feel the same way…]

They really are a beautiful bird…  But they ruined our property.  [And we their forests…]

They're not made for a city.  [Is any species really?]


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

Friday, November 29, 2013

Matt Morris: Embracing diversity

Morris in 2008 (Photo by Joshrhinehart)
It seems as though the artist known as Teo Bishop is now coming back around again to being the devotee known as Matt Morris.

Devotion has long been Morris' middle name (not yet literally, but stay tuned); however, this devotion has changed in focus from Neo-Paganism to Christianity.

This ace singer-songwriter, who has collaborated with the likes of Sarah McLachlan, Cher and Mary J. Blige, is used to hobnobbing with earthly, as well as heavenly, stars.  After all, he is a member of the "Mouseketeer Alumni Club," along with Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake.

Mark Oppenheimer of The New York Times explains that Morris "began a rise in the Pagan community" about three years ago.  In his Bishop in the Grove blog, Morris himself wrote this about spirituality:  Ministry, as I understand it, is the act of nurturing
that fire, both in yourself and in others.

Oppenheimer states that Morris has now also "reembraced Christianity.  He recently blogged, "I'm overwhelmed with thoughts of Jesus…"

Is devotion to Jesus incompatible with Paganism?  Morris doesn't seem to think so.  He remains "respectful of Paganism," and many Pagans continue to appreciate his generously-shared spiritual journey. 


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

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Mount Etna: Typhon's at it again

2002 Etna Eruption  (NASA Photo)
Typhon is not just any old monster.  According to the Ancient Greeks, he is the "Father of All Monsters," which makes him quite the monstrosity.

Although Typhon is said to have a human upper half, he must have been out to lunch when they were distributing noggins like Brad Pitt's.  He instead ended up with "a hundred dragon heads"
erupting from his neck and shoulders.  (Talk about a bad hair day...)

Typhon's bottom half isn't much better.  In fact, it is worse yet.  Wikipedia explains that his personal nether regions consist of "gigantic viper coils" that constantly hiss.

Ugh!  (Translation: Yuck!)

This alleged son of Gaia and Tartarus is a hothead, to boot.  Typhon is therefore associated with deadly storms and volcanic eruptions.

Some say that he lives beneath Mount Etna, and that he periodically threatens to blow his top.  Just last week, ABC News reported that "Mount Etna, Europe's most active volcano, has erupted again…"


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

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Airport chaplains: Fly the spiritual skies

(Photo by Joe Jones)
Whether for pleasure or necessity, air travel often indicates a break in the regular routine.

Breaks like these can zap a person out of his or her everyday consciousness and into a whole new state of awareness.  Such
experiences have a way of bringing spirituality to the forefront.

That is a major reason why more and more airports are not only providing chapels, but also chaplains.  AP writer Scott Mayerowitz
reports that airport chapels are "typically tiny non-denominational spaces, in out-of-the-way locations."  According to Mayerowitz, there are "350 part- and full-time [airport] chaplains worldwide."

These chaplains represent numerous faiths and denominations: "Roman Catholic, Protestant and, to a lesser extent, Jewish, Muslim or Sikh."  Although scheduled worship services are held,
most airport chaplaincy occurs on the fly, so to speak.

Airport chaplains often find themselves in the front lines during health crises, weather extremes, employee burnout issues, plane crashes, terrorist threats, family tragedies, etc.    

As Rev. Hutz Hertzberg, Senior Protestant Chaplain at Chicago's two airports, so aptly stated:  In the 21st
century, we need to bring the ministry to where the people are instead of waiting for them to come to
our churches.


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

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Ute's 'man-eating' monster for real?

Ute's Chief Severo and Family (Public Domain) 
Ute people, indigenous to North America's Great Basin (which Wikipedia defines as "a cultural region located between the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada") told
stories about a "man-eating monster."

One such story involves two grandsons who were sent out hunting for food by their grandfather.  After killing an elk and preparing its meat, the elder grandson warned the younger one that there could be "some bad things about." 

The younger one disregarded this warning and refused to remain hidden in a tree with his brother.  Hence, the man-eating monster grabbed the younger brother and carried him away.  As this story goes, the younger brother
was able to be raised from the dead, even after being eaten by the monster.

"Just another legend," you say?

Perhaps not entirely.  AP Science Writer Malcolm Ritter reports that the remains of a killer dinosaur which put T. Rex to shame have now been discovered in Ute country.  Could this three-ton, 30-foot-long beast have been the man-eating monster of Ute notoriety?  

We might never know for sure – unless, of course, some of its other victims rise from the grave to tattle.     


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

Monday, November 25, 2013

Iran deal: One step closer to Armageddon?

Tel Megiddo    (Photo by Daniel.baranek)
Listening to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is enough to make anyone wonder whether Armageddon is just around the bend.

The Jerusalem Associated Press reports that Netanyahu made the following comment about the recent nuclear deal with Iran:  It's a "historic mistake" that "makes the world a more dangerous place."

Netanyahu is particularly concerned about Iran's nuclear infrastructure being left largely intact, and warned:  I want to clarify that Israel will not let Iran develop nuclear military capacity.

This statement, although leaving a lot to the lurid imagination, is still clearer than many of those concerning Armageddon.  Wikipedia loosely defines "Armageddon" as "the site of a battle during the end times, variously interpreted as either a literal or symbolic location."

The term "Armageddon" actually appears only once in the Bible – in Revelation 16:16.  It is also called "har mageddo" in Hebrew, meaning "Mount Megiddo" or "Tel Megiddo" (a "tell" being "a hill created by many generations of people living and rebuilding on the same spot").

Tel Megiddo (today simply known as Megiddo) is currently located in modern Israel, "about 30 km south-east of Haifa." 

That's not all that far from Iran.


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

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Thanksgiving endangered by retail creep

Reverend Billy  (Photo by Dvaldes21) 
These days, Thanksgiving is not being endangered by any one particular creep, but by retail creep in general.

Ever since the Pilgrims realized just how important material possessions could be, they began coveting such bare essentials as food, clothing and shelter.  Over the centuries, things have gotten way out of hand, and the acquisition of material possessions is now threatening the very soul of Thanksgiving.

Not that Reverend Billy isn't shaking his fingers at us right this minute and saying, "I told you so…"  His Church of Stop Shopping has been warning Americans for years about "ever expanding commercialism and the over-consumption it demands."

Turns out he was right all along.  Jillian Berman of The Huffington Post reports that Black Friday shopping frenzies are now spilling over into Thanksgiving itself.  This can be negative for shoppers, store workers, and their friends and families.

Because stores "make 20 to 40 percent of their annual sales between Thanksgiving and Christmas," some (such as Walmart, Best Buy and Kmart) are beginning their Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving evening.

There has been some backlash about this practice.  People have been expressing their displeasure with it on sites such as Facebook.  Nevertheless, retail creep continues on relentlessly.  

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

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Soldiers and Pacifists: Not all that different

Gandhi Memorial  (Fowler&fowler) 
You might think that those engaged in military combat and those protesting it would have little in common.

Alastair McIntosh, a Quaker pacifist who annually addresses a large gathering of senior officers at "Britain's foremost school of war," has discovered otherwise.

McIntosh explains that these seemingly-opposite groups often share two core fundamentals:  Peace is the goal.  Peace is worth dying for.

As McIntosh was told by the Course Director at this British school:  We're all here because we want peace.  Our men and women seek peace just as deeply as you do. The challenge is how you achieve it.

Soldiers can justify their role as long as they believe that peace is impossible without "the protection of their nuclear umbrella."  If that belief begins to fade, it may then be time to lay down the sword and shield.

The second marked similarity is that members of both groups have been willing to sacrifice their lives for the ultimate goal of peace.  In a very real sense, Gandhi died a warrior's death, as did Martin Luther King, Jr. and a host of other dedicated pacifists.


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

Friday, November 22, 2013

John F. Kennedy's 'Faith Speech'

(Kennedy aboard PT-109)
Way more important than the constant round of speculations about Kennedy's death are his answers to the prejudicial speculations about his religion.

While running for the 1960 presidency, Kennedy brilliantly addressed these
prejudices within his speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association.

Although 1960 seems long ago to some, it might just as well have been yesterday according to the opening lines of this speech.  Kennedy began by mentioning critical issues that the United States was then facing:  "old people who cannot pay their doctor bills," "too many slums," "hungry children…"

Unfortunately, these issues sound all too familiar in 21st-century America, as do matters of religious persecution.  Kennedy was largely responding to the misconception that a Catholic president would have to be the Vatican's puppet, rather than an ardent upholder of the First Amendment.

The NPR transcript of Kennedy's words reveals that he met such misconceptions head-on:  I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute…  the kind I fought for in the South Pacific, and the kind my brother died for in Europe.  No one suggested then that we may have a 'divided loyalty'…  this is kind of America for which our forefathers died…  for side by side with
Bowie and Crockett died McCafferty and Bailey and Carey.  But no one knows whether they were Catholic or not, for there was no religious test at the Alamo.  


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

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Are church rules like pie crust?

(Public Domain)
The expression usually goes like this:  "Promises are like pie crust, made to be broken."  It is generally said flippantly by those who expect a certain amount of disobedience.

But is disobedience always such a bad thing?  That is to say, should outer allegiance take precedence over inner conscience?

A United Methodist minister was recently suspended from his pastoral duties for 30 days because he officiated at his son's same-sex wedding and was unrepentant about doing so.  This minister, Rev. Frank Schaefer, told a "jury of fellow pastors" that he "will never be silent again" about gay rights within the church, and then he emphasized:  This is what I have to do.

These words sound remarkably like those of another conscience-driven Christian - one who risked his very life to spark what we now call the Protestant Reformation.  It was Martin Luther who, while also being harshly judged by fellow Christians, asserted:  Here I stand.  I can do no other.

Considering that the United Methodist Church is currently the largest "heir" to Luther's Protestant legacy, how ironic it was for Schaefer to be informed that "… it wasn't a good Christian example for ministers to say it's OK to break the rules of your church."

Saintly Christianity is filled with examples of breaking through some crusty rules in order to experience the freshness of the fruits within.   


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

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Catechumens catching on

The Catechism Lesson  (Muenier, 1890)
As Pastor Clint Schnekloth explains, there are elegant and inelegant ways of doing things.

After carefully studying Paul Hoffman's Faith Forming Faith: Bringing New Christians to Baptism and Beyond, Schnekloth decided that Hoffman's revival of the catechumenate (ancient "rites of Christian initiation for adults") belonged in the "elegant" category.

Schnekloth therefore went about putting Hoffman's ideas into practice.  He and a leadership team at the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas began inviting visitors and seekers "to periodic inquiry sessions on Sunday evenings."  These sessions were held during the fall season.

The next stage of the catechumenate began a short time after Christmas.  Participants from the fall sessions
were formally invited to a Rite of Welcome during Sunday worship.  They were then matched on a one-to-one basis with members of the congregation who would serve as spiritual mentors.

The group henceforth met every week for "a supper and bible study, interspersed with brief lessons on the 
catechism and Christian faith and life."  This bible study included much room for questions and explorations.

Baptisms occurred at the Easter Vigil (on the night before Easter Sunday).


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

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Lioness killed by companion lions

(Daniel in the Lion's Den)
Although humans routinely kill one another, it is relatively rare for lions to do so.

Therefore, when two lions at the Dallas Zoo moved in on a companion lioness within full view of many human visitors, many thought they were just playing.  Even when one lion began biting the lioness' neck, things still didn't seem serious.

It wasn't until zoo staff began "throwing meat at the lions to try to distract them," and security personnel began closing off windows to the exhibit, that onlookers began realizing this was no joke.

The Dallas Associated Press reports that "the three lions in question have been in the same exhibit for three years."  A vice president at the zoo stated, "Lions can be aggressive, but they don't kill each other."

Then what was the cause of this occurrence?  No one really knows.  Although lions often fight with one another in the wild, they are usually far more endangered by humans than by their own species.

Nevertheless, the genes of today's captive lions may be far different than the genes of yesteryear's truly wild ones.  Not to mention the effects of captivity itself…


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

Monday, November 18, 2013

Backyard 'farmers' chickening out

(Photo by Andrei Niemimaki)
Although many people scoff at chickens (before eating them and their eggs), the relationship between Gallus gallus domesticus and humans wasn't always that crude.

Wikipedia tells us:  "Since antiquity chickens have been, and still are, a sacred animal in some cultures…"  They had great religious significance within the Ancient Persian culture.  Indonesian Hindu cremation rituals utilize chickens to channel evil spirits away from family members.  The rooster was considered to be an attribute of the Ancient Greek deities Hercules, Athena and Ares. The Romans even used chickens as oracles.

These days, chickens have fallen far from their ancient esteemed roles.  JoNel Aleccia of NBC News reports that hundreds of urban chickens are being abandoned each year by novice "backyard farmers" who "discover that hens lay eggs for two years, but can
live for a good decade longer, and that actually raising the birds can be noisy, messy, labor-intensive and expensive."

Sometimes so-called "hens" turn out to be to be roosters because it can be quite difficult to determine the gender of a baby chick.  Eggless crowing roosters are not generally viewed as divine urban companions..

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

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Earth: Worth its weight in Goldilocks

(Run, Goldilocks, run!)
Once upon a time, there were three planets that were fairly alike (i.e., "formed at the same time and from similar raw materials").  These planets were Venus, Earth and Mars.

Nevertheless, Goldilocks (and her three ursine pals) only settled upon Planet Earth.  That's because Mother Gaia turned out to be "not too hot, not too cold, but just right" for kids, bears, and other cuddly beings.

Scientists, by the way, are still scratching their heads over why these three planetary "siblings" are now so different from one another.  This astronomical mystery has even been called – you guessed it – the
"Goldilocks problem."

Not that Goldilocks has nothing better to do than bear the brunt of cosmological inquiries…  According to lexicographer (now there's a down-to-Earth profession) Ben Zimmer, she has also been rearing her "not too this, not too that" flaxen head into such (hopefully) diverse fields as "engineering, political science and…


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

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Society of Saint Pius X: Not so pious

Pope St. Pius X (Photo by Historian1990)
Recently, members of the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) acted in ways that were anything but pious.

Michael Warren of The Associated Press reported that a group of about 40 SSPX members deliberately interrupted a Kristallnacht interfaith ceremony at the Metropolitan Cathedral in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  This annual ceremony had been one of then-Cardinal Bergoglio's "favorite events," and he had presided over it each year along with "his good friend Rabbi Abraham Skorka."

Rabbi Skorka was again at this year's ceremony, along with Buenos Aires Archbishop Mario Poli (appointed by Pope Francis to be Argentina's current "top church official").  When SSPX
members began disruptively "shouting the rosary" and distributing anti-Semitic pamphlets, they were "soon escorted out by police."

Rabbi Skorka later reported that these SSPX "protesters" made comments such as "the Jews killed Jesus" and then called the Holocaust "a lie."  Their leader, Rev. Christian Bouchacourt, later defended their actions by insisting that "they have a right to feel outraged when rabbis preside over a ceremony in a cathedral."


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

Friday, November 15, 2013

Or would you rather be a clam?

Eye-to-Eye with Homo Erectus (T. Roche)
Some song lyrics assume that it's best to be human. They associate the so-called descendants of  homo erectus with all sorts of groovy things such as swinging on stars and carrying moonbeams home in jars.

Nevertheless, the individual human lifespan remains woefully short compared to that of, say, a clam.

MSN Now reports that ocean scientist Paul Butler and his team estimated the age of a clam they discovered in 2006 to be 507. 
That would be more than half a millennium, and would mean this clam was alive at the time of Christopher Columbus (can't tell whether they knew one another though).

You might think that a clam which lasted so long could still be around, and it probably would be if it weren't for the "oops" factor.  It turns out that this same team of scientists "accidentally" killed the unsuspecting mollusk by opening it up "for scrutiny."

Who knows how much longer this "oldest living animal ever" (or many other of God's creatures) might have lasted if it weren't for human interference…


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

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Music or noise? Ear of the beholder

(Photo by Pko)
It just goes to show:  One woman's music is another woman's noise.

MSN News reports that a woman from Spain has taken her downstairs neighbor to court because of so-called incessant piano playing.  The plaintiff (Sonia Bosom) accused the defendant (concert pianist Laia Martin) of tickling those ivories for "five-days-a-week, eight-hour practice sessions."

Now we're not talking Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture at top volume here.  We're referring instead to gentler pieces that are played at an intensity no greater than 40 decibels.

Forty decibels is not generally thought of as excessively loud, considering that "normal conversation produces 55-60 decibels…"  However, there has been a "30-decibel limit laid down for musical instruments" in the town where these neighbors reside.

Bosom is claiming "psychological injury" from "years of hearing constant playing."  She allegedly told the court that "she now hates pianos so much she can't even stand to see them in a film."

Constitutional Law Professor Fernando Simon Yarza has claimed the following:  Protection against noise and environmental quality is considered a human right.

The prosecutors of this case are requesting a six-year jail sentence "for noise pollution," plus "an additional one-and-a-half years for psychological damage."

At the end of this trial, someone will no doubt be facing the music.  Who that someone will be remains a mystery for now.


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

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

For 'Black Pete's' sake, enough already

Time to quit?  (Photo by Tenorio81)  
Chances are if you aren't Dutch you've never even heard of "Black Pete."

Although many kids have been told that Santa has helpers, these helpers are often portrayed as Caucasian elves in green suits.  And Santa?  Well, let's just say that he generally resembles Kenny Rogers more than he does Duke Ellington.

However, since perhaps the 17th century (when weathy Amsterdam citizens had African house slaves), pasty-white Santa
has had a uniquely-Dutch helper (think servant) known as "Black Pete."

Reuters reports that the role of Black Pete is "usually played by a white man in 'black face' with a curly wig and large, red-painted mouth" during the Dutch version of Christmas pageants.  Now this might seem hilarious to many a ruddy-cheeked Dutch citizen, but not necessarily to those from minority groups within that country. 

Eurostat explains that "out of a population of around 16 million people [in the Netherlands], more than 3.5 million are foreign-born Dutch citizens or the children of non-Dutch immigrants."

Maybe it's well past the time for cherished Christmas traditions to reflect actual human diversity.

Maybe it's also time to rethink "White Santa," along with "Black Pete…"    


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

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Brew-in-a-pew: Roll out the sermon

At the Cafe (Painting by Edouard Manet)
Next thing you know, folks will be toasting Jesus before gulping down a cold one.  After all, wasn't it Jesus who turned that water into an alcoholic beverage?

Although wine has certainly been used within church life for centuries, beer has been mostly featured within pubs (Trappist monasteries notwithstanding).  Therefore, if you can't bring the beer to the church, then why not bring the church to the pub?

John Burnett of NPR reports on exactly that latter concept.  He describes a weekly Sunday-evening church service that is held at a brewpub in Fort Worth, Texas.  Called Church-in-a-Pub (for obvious reasons), this service attracts a different type of congregant than you would typically pass the peace with on a Sunday morning.

If you're thinking that this pub service must be sponsored by some "new-age" group, think again.  It is instead considered to be "an official – if edgy – Lutheran mission." 

The "mission" part of these services occurs when, say, a patron nursing a beer by his lonesome happens to overhear a nearby Gospel reading.  Curiosity may have killed the cat, but in this case it may have saved the patron from (pardon the proverb) crying into his beer.

In fact, it may have even saved him from a lot more than that…


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

Monday, November 11, 2013

Parrot ministry: Sadie's sacred service

African Grey  (Photo by Lmbuga) 
Parrots are considered by Western science to be among the most intelligent of animals.  They are also considered by Eastern religion
to be extremely loving and wise.

In his article "Secrets of the Parrot," Devdutt Pattnaik points out that the parrot is associated with Kama, the Hindu god of love.  Plus, the gentle form of the goddess Devi "holds a parrot in her hand."  Pattnaik also tells of a wise parrot that was said to have repeatedly convinced a wife not to commit adultery while her merchant husband was away for 70 days.

Back in 2006, Sarah Newman of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote an intriguing account of Sadie the Service Parrot.  This then-2-year-old Congo African Grey Parrot had been the service companion to a gentleman named Jim Eggers.  Eggers had been diagnosed as "bipolar with psychotic tendencies" and had experienced "severe depression and potentially dangerous mood swings."  He had also been "slightly hearing impaired."

Sadie amazingly knew just how to soothe Eggers when he began to feel anxious.  She would literally say to him such things as "Jim, I love you.  You're OK." 

Sadie also helped to cue Eggers in on audio signals.  When the phone rang, she would automatically say "Hello!" - and when the doorbell rang, she would inquire, "Who's there?"   


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

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Haitian Voudou: Some misconceptions

Voudou Banner (by George Valris)
The very word "Voodoo," which is often used by those who know little about this religion, is a misnomer.  However, it is
relatively innocuous compared to some of the rampant misconceptions that exist about Haitian Voudou.

David Rosenberg of Slate reports on the direct experiences of photographer Anthony Karen.  Karen has made many trips to Haiti, "often for medical missions and volunteer work."  He also began attending, and later documenting, Voudou rituals. 

Although sensationalistic accounts of Voudou focus upon its "black magic" aspects (which involve "conjuring evil forces") - Karen states that these aspects are exceptionally rare, and are often disdained by practicing Vodouisants.

Instead, Voudou hinges upon a "full compliance with the laws of nature."  It is far more in tune with the blessings of Creation and with cosmic harmony than it is with evil forces.

Voudou has also been overly identified with animal sacrifice.  Many adherents don't get involved with that at all; others afterwards share the sacrifice with the community as food.  Karen compares this latter practice with the routine butchering and eating of meat that many other human omnivores engage in.  

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

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Anti-Semitism rising in Hungary

(Kristallnacht - Synagogue Burning)
Seventy-five years after Kristallnacht (Nazi Germany's "Night of Broken Glass" pogrom), anti-Semitism is still rearing its ugly head in Europe.

Fueled by social media and other Internet sites, hate propaganda against Jews is especially alive within France, Belgium and Hungary.  According to the AFP, such anti-Semitism exists in politics, the media, and on the streets as "vandalism and open hostility."

The situation is becoming so bad in Hungary that "older Jews, Holocaust survivors and their children are afraid."  Emigration is being talked about more and more, and applications for moving to Israel have "hit a record high."

During the Holocaust, Hungary lost approximately 600,000 Jews.  There are now 120,000 left.  Ironically, along with the increase in anti-Semitism comes a "growing Jewish renaissance" within Hungary.

One person who commented upon the aforementioned AFP article had this to say about Jewish solidarity in the face of persecution:  "I for one want to thank all the anti-semitic…  Your hatred has segregated us into ghettos and this backfired plan of yours caused us to stay together…  You are just a pawn in G-D's plan."


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

Friday, November 8, 2013

Embracing disfigurement: Pope sets example

(Author: Klaus D. Peter, Gummersbach, Germany)
You might think that religion would help people to approach disfigurement with compassion.  If so, you would often be disappointed.

The Torah, for example, declares that certain types of skin afflictions (Hebrew word:  tzaraath) denote spiritual rather than medical impurities. The Talmud regards such disfiguring conditions as punishment for these types of sins:  "gossip, murder, a vain oath, illicit sexual intercourse, pride, theft and miserly behavior."  "Treatments" of these afflictions once
included the destruction of victims' homes and the banishment of sufferers from communities.

You might also think that such attitudes would never occur within modern times, but the following Chicago "ugly law" remained viable until 1974:  No person who is diseased, maimed, mutilated or in any way deformed so as to be an unsightly or disgusting object or improper person to be allowed in or on the public ways or other public places in this city, or shall therein or thereon expose himself to public view…  In other words, if you're disfigured, keep yourself well hidden.

Histories such as these make it all the more refreshing to witness Pope Francis' recent physical embrace of a gentleman with numerous large and visible tumors.  MSN Now reports that this man then "buried his head in the pope's chest."

The photo of this embrace has gone viral – and this is one "virus" that hopefully everyone will catch. 


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

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Mary Oliver: Praise poet

Praising Hands (by Bastique)
When Mary Oliver sat down to talk with Maria Shriver for an Exclusive O Interview in 2011, both literary ladies extolled the poet Rumi.

Oliver (whose favorite words are "love, mirth, praise, constancy…") emphasized Rumi's ability "to contain both the spiritual life and the life in this world."

This ability is also Oliver's great strength.  She told Shriver that if you skimp on either the spiritual or the "real world," then "you're not getting the whole show."

For Oliver, spirituality is essentially mysterious.  She has written that God has "so many names" - and she is prone to "praising the world and whoever made all these things."  In fact, she identifies strongly with being a "praise poet."

When asked at then-age 75 what she has done with her "one wild and precious life," Oliver replied:  What
I have done is learn to love and learn to be loved…  And I learned to consider my life an amazing gift.

Spoken like a true praise poet of Earth and Sky…


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

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Marriage as a spiritual practice

(Photo by Krish Dulal)
If you want to discover just how spiritually challenged you really are, it might be time to get married.

However, do not take this crucial step without first reading the "instruction manual":  The Seven Spiritual Practices of Marriage by psychologist Kevin Anderson.

According to David Yonke of The Blade, Anderson believes that failed marriages have one major thing in common:  The couple does not maintain a daily commitment to treat one another in a kind, loving, honoring way.

This lack of commitment is not surprising since people don't usually view marriage as something that requires practice.  Although willing to spend time mastering a foreign language or a musical instrument, spouses often put their marriage on automatic pilot.

Sheila Otto of sdiworld explains Anderson's use of the Asian greeting Namaste (meaning "the God within me salutes the God in you").  He uses it as an acronym for recalling these seven recommended marital practices:  "Need a shared vision; Always stay connected; Make conflict a path to intimacy; Accept and affirm my spouse "as is"; Stay focused on working on the "I" in marriage, not trying to change my spouse;
Treat sex as a sacred gift exchange; and Extraordinary grace is hidden in the ordinary."

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

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Self-nuptials: Being the one

There now...      (Photo by CLW)
With all this talk about different paradigms of marriage, there is one that is almost always overlooked:  marrying yourself.

Therefore, Jeffrey Levin and Bonnie Powers decided to fill that void.  While marrying one another, they "conducted a self-marriage
ceremony for all of their 120 guests."  Just so no one would go home lonely that night…

Natasha Burton of Cosmopolitan explained that this fits right in with the couple's marital philosophy:  The best time to work on your twosome marriage is before it occurs.  In other words, be the one before finding the one.

So how does one go about arranging for this momentous celebration of self?  Easy.  Simply shell out the $300 that the couple's DIY kit costs, and you're good to go.

Included in the kit are the following items:  a gold ring and some accompanying verbiage.  Don't have the $300?  Not to worry.  You can get the silver-ring version for $45.

Don't have the $45?  Perhaps you need to save a bit more before taking this huge step…   


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

Nostra Aetate: Quit persecuting Jews

Pope Paul VI in 1963   (Public Domain) 
On October 28, 1965 a  most remarkable proclamation was made by Pope Paul VI.

Known as Nostra Aetate ("In Our Age"), this declaration affirmed, in no uncertain terms, the fraternal relationship between Christians and Jews.  In so doing, it also condemned the persecuting displays of anti-Semitism that have been so rampant for centuries.

Part Four of this "Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions" clearly states:  True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ; still what happened in His passion cannot be
charged against all Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today… the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures.

This Declaration was presented to the world almost half a century ago.  Nevertheless, The Huffington Post reported that more than one-quarter of Americans who were recently surveyed by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) "still believe that 'Jews were responsible for the death of Christ.'"

Such prejudices die hard, as do their victims.  It's long past time to quit scapegoating and begin loving all God's children.  


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

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Thanksgivukkah: First time since 1888

The First Chanksgiving? (Public Domain)
If you're thinking of skimping on Thanksgivukkah this time around, you might wish to reconsider.  Let's just say that after this year's rare convergence of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, it might be another 77,798 years before you get another mouthful of pumpkin latkes.

Lauren Markoe of The Washington Post points out that there are some striking similarities between these two beloved holidays. Both celebrate religious freedom:   Ancient Jews from the regime of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, and Pilgrims from the Church of England.  Both also emphasize gratitude for miraculous outcomes.

So don't be a worry wart like Stephen Colbert, who is afraid that kids might start believing that "the Wampanoags sat down with the Maccabees and the yams lasted for eight months." 

Instead, get out there and purchase a "menurkey" ("turkorah"?) before it's too late.

After all, Halloween's already over…


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

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Vatican polls hot-button issues

(Photo by Edgar Jimenez)
Not only has Pope Francis raised eyebrows with his unexpected phone calls and visits, but now he is also following through with his intent to lessen the "Vatican-centric" approach that has been prevalent for so long.

Rachel Zoll of the Associated Press reports that a poll was recently distributed to "every national conference of bishops" in order to elicit vital input from "local church leaders."  Hot-button subject matter mentioned within the context of this poll includes the following:  same-sex marriages, living together out of wedlock, separated or divorced couples, remarried couples, single-parent families, the use of artificial contraception, polygamy, surrogate motherhood, and interfaith marriages.

Although the pope has "made clear his support" of traditional Roman Catholic values, he has also been urging pastors "to focus upon being merciful and welcoming rather than emphasizing only such divisive issues as abortion, gay marriage and contraception."

It will therefore be interesting to see whether any "far reaching changes" occur as a result of this pope's overall efforts at reform.


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

Friday, November 1, 2013

Belgian euthanasia: Growing concerns

Euthanasia Device    (Public Domain) 
It isn't enough that the Belgian Parliament has already deemed euthanasia (not assisted suicide - which has enough of its own moral questions to contend with - but outright euthanasia)  to be legal for certain citizens over the age of 18. 

Maria Cheng of the Assocated Press reports that the Belgian government is now also thinking of instituting legal euthanasia for
specific children - "something that no other country has done."  Along with that, Belgium is considering the legal possibility of euthanasia for some "adults with early dementia."

There are those who are intensely opposed to such practices and proposals.  Catholic Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard had this to say:  It is strange that minors are considered legally incompetent in key areas, such as getting married, but might (be able) to decide to die.

Oxford University's Charles Fostr stated: Children, like everyone else, may not be able to anticipate how
much they will value their lives if they were not killed.

Penny Lewis of King's College London concluded:  If the Belgian statutes go ahead, this will be a key
boundary that is crossed.