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

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Fear busters: Five for five

(Photo by D Sharon Pruitt)
Let's say that you're deathly (wrong word, perhaps) afraid of flying (with or without a plane).  Now let's say that your parent, who lives a thousand miles away, needs your presence immediately.  What to do?

The time to discern this is not while the last-minute flight that you booked is rolling down the runway.  No - the time to discern this is now.  For whether life hands you a lemon (and you're allergic) or a 747, there are certain techniques that can offset the fear which accompanies such occurrences.

That is why MSN Living recently asked:  Want to expand your horizons, be a braver person and enjoy life to the fullest?  For those who muttered a timid "Yes, but…" – here is the first of "five for five" soothing recommendations:  Tell yourself a story.  Hopefully one with a happy ending…  In any event, MSN contends that talking about a frightening event in the third person - as if it were happening to someone else - takes some of the steam out of the kettle.  Example:  "This engineering marvel of a plane is about to defy
gravity.  In a mere two hours, its occupants will be hugging their loved ones down south."

Recommendations two through five:  Breathe from your belly (for those anatomical sticklers, actually from your diaphragm – inhalation four counts, exhalation four counts…); Clench and release (otherwise known as "progressive muscle relaxation" – systematically clench/release muscle groups beginning from the feet up); Admit your fear out loud (as easy as turning to the stranger in the next seat and saying "That last bumpety-bump really had me going…"); and Tweak your P.O.V. and your vocabulary (finding the joy within the dread can be as simple as noticing – then describing to yourself - the glorious vista that is yours to behold from the window seat).


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

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Can't live without... lipstick?

(Photo by Jen)
There once was a time when people would claim that they can't live without such things as prayer shawls and meditation mats.

Nowadays, answers to the question "What's The One Thing You Can't Live Without?" are a lot more…  earthbound?    

When asked by Good Housekeeping about the "everyday essentials" (cherished products) in their lives, respondents spoke of "sacred relics" such as these:  jeans (let's hear it for "tummy control"), pony tail holders (no veils for this crowd), lipsticks (pucker up), coffee makers (perk up), travel mugs, slippers, stevia, alarm clocks, flavored waters, and loveable (luggable) laptops.

It is said that you can tell more about a person from reading a checkbook than from reading an autobiography.  Nothing wrong with some modern comforts to help us get by.  However, sometimes it takes more than an alarm clock to truly wake folks up.


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

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

TV or not TV? Can't buy me joy

(Photo by William Hook) 
If you find yourself tingling all over with the just the thought of buying that latest flat-screen TV, think again.  It turns out that the Beatles were more than correct:  "Can't buy me love" - and can't buy me happiness either.

MSN Healthy Living reports that Marsha Richins, Professor of Marketing of the University of Missouri at Columbia, "surveyed 329 undergraduates on three separate occasions" regarding the anticipation and aftermath of their important purchases.  These
undergraduates were also rated as exhibiting either "high" or "low" levels of materialism - based upon "how much the students said they valued possessions in their lives."  Richins found that those in the "high" category were "more happy and excited" than others at the very thought of purchasing an item.  However, this happiness quickly subsided after the purchase was made.

After another survey of "180 U.S. consumers," Richins concluded that highly materialistic people "tend to believe that the car, flat-screen or laptop will somehow transform their lives for the better."  Those with lower levels of materialism "were less prone to believing purchases could have wide-reaching effects on their lives – even if they really wanted that car or TV."

These results seem to indicate an important distinction between simply wanting a new item and believing that it will somehow "magically" transform one's life.  So go ahead and want that TV.  But not too much…

How much is too much?  Does your overall happiness seem to depend upon possessing it?  If so, think again…


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

Monday, January 28, 2013

Hansel and Gretel and God

Hansel and Gretel (Rackham, 1909)
Hansel and Gretel are so embedded within the collective consciousness of Western Civilization that they are still making headlines today.

In their current incarnation, these clever siblings are box-office darlings.  Starring in the hit movie Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters 
has enabled them to bring their good-trumps-evil message to a whole new generation of fans.  The Tommy Wirkola/Dante
Harper script features some new twists to the old tale.  Let's just say that if you thought Grimm was grim, you ain't seen nothing yet.  Hansel and Gretel are no longer just shoving one wicked witch into an oven; they are now going after the whole darn coven.

These twists seem to offset the allegedly Christian message that was infused into later editions of the Grimm Brothers' story.  Anna Lowery, in the blog Fairy Tales and Fantasy Literature, tells us that "Hansel and Gretel" is a coming-of-age fable.  She draws this conclusion from psychologist Bruno Bettelheim's analysis of "the children's development."  From Hansel and Gretel's saga, Bettelheim had deduced that "children must not regress, but should be encouraged to fulfill their capacity for a greater psychological and intellectual existence."

Although hunting down witches might fulfill a capacity for violence and revenge, it does not necessarily fulfill
a capacity for merciful love.  Nevertheless, Bettelheim believed that the white bird which led Hansel and Gretel to the witch's house is a "Christian symbol" - and that the Brothers Grimm furthered that symbolism with dialogue such as this:  God will not forsake us… The Lord will protect us.

Although the white bird had led the children into dangerous circumstances, it also symbolized "the importance of faith and God's guidance in life's most difficult and uncertain times."


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


Sunday, January 27, 2013

Waheguru: Sikh priest's salvation

Harmandir Sahib (Photo by Ian Sewell)
Punjab Singh, the well-known Sikh priest who was gunned down by a white supremacist last August, has been struggling to survive ever since.

Although Singh's medical prognosis has been described as "grim," his sons are convinced that a far different word will help their father to heal.  That word is "Waheguru" – a word which "their dad probably spoke more than any other in his lifetime."

The Associated Press reports that Singh's sons were taking turns at their nearly-comatose father's bedside, repeating the word "Waheguru" and watching for a response.  For weeks there seemed to be none.  However, a breakthrough occurred just recently.  Punjab Singh "began to move his mouth, apparently trying several times to say the word…"  Subsequently, "he moved his mouth to match the rhythm of their [his sons' "Waheguru"] syllables…"

According to, "Waheguru" is the "primary Mantra" of Sikhism.  Literally meaning "Wonderful Lord" in the Gurmukhi language, it references "the Almighty God; the Creator; the Supreme Soul; the Sustainer; etc." (somewhat comparable to the names "Allah" in Islam and "YHWH" in Judaism).  Other variations of the term "Waheguru" include "Vahiguru" and "Vahguru" (Vah meaning "wonder at the Divine might," gu meaning "spiritual darkness," and ru meaning "illumination brought to eliminate this darkness").

The power of this Mantra therefore comes from the Divine dispeller of spiritual darkness.  May the salvation of such Power continue to heal this beloved priest and his family.


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

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Mindful Marines: What might Buddha say?

(Photo by Tevaprapas)
While sitting in an office "adorned with pictures of war and a 1903 rifle," Major General Melvin Spiese told an Associated Press (AP) reporter that "Mindfulness-based Mind Fitness Training" ("M-Fit") is "like doing pushups for the brain."

In an article titled "Meditating Marines," the AP goes on to explain that this experimental Marine Corps curriculum is derived from a "Buddhist-inspired concept that emphasizes active attention on the moment to keep the mind in the present."  So far so good.  Evidence from a Douglas C. Johnson research study indicates that M-Fit type training enabled a number of Marines to react better "to high-stress situations and recover more quickly from those episodes."  U.S. Army Captain Elizabeth Stanley, who herself "found relief doing yoga and meditation for her PTSD," then added that "the techniques can help warfighters think more clearly under fire when they are often forced to make quick decisions that could mean life or death…"

It's possible that Stanley's words could refer to the saving of lives – perhaps even on both sides of the proverbial fence.  Warfighters who think more clearly might be able to ascertain ways to kill more precisely, as it were.  Nevertheless, a more efficient war is still a war.  The question therefore remains:  What might
Buddha say (about the "co-opting" of Buddhist-inspired mindfulness concepts for such purposes)?

Perhaps this well-known First Precept of Buddhism provides a (blatant) clue:  Do not kill.  The Pali Canon
(which Wikipedia describes as "the most complete extant early Buddhist canon") elaborates further: ...There is the case where a certain person, abandoning the taking of life, abstains from the taking of life.  He dwells with his rod down, his knife laid down, scrupulous, merciful, compassionate for the welfare of all living beings…


Copyright January 26, 2012 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Friday, January 25, 2013

Pugach saga: Crazy Love or just plain crazy?

Romeo and Juliet (Ford Madox Brown)
Here it is 2013 and the definitions of both "crazy" and "love" are as debatable as ever.  This is especially true when it comes to relationships such as Linda and Burt Pugach's.

Now Linda and Burt (sounds a little too much like Liz and Burton in more ways than one) were just like any other adulterous couple except for these few details:  Burt was accused (twice) and convicted (once) of violently abusing lovers that rejected him.  He was sentenced to 14 years in prison for hiring "hit men to throw lye in her [Linda's] face."  Nevertheless, Linda accepted Burt's live-television marriage proposal years later.  She also defended Burt's
subsequent five-year affair with another woman by blaming herself because she couldn't have sex with him after her 1990 heart surgery.  While hanging on to Burt's arm, Linda concluded:  He was a naughty little boy, and he was caught.

It would be simple (but also simplistic) for these hackneyed conclusions to be added to the messy mix:  What goes around comes around (Linda was "the other woman" years before during Burt's first marriage); Takes one to know one ("naughty" Linda would therefore feel a kinship with "naughty" Burt);  A leopard never changes its spots (Burt's at it again)…

However, "love" (whether worldly or spiritual) is just not that easily described.  Some have said that God is love.  This would also mean that love is God - which makes it just as difficult to comprehend since there's no adequate definition of "God."  Others have said that love is chemistry.  Another glossy answer to a never-ending question…

After Linda's recent death, Burt is now wondering how he will go on without her (Romeo couldn't have said it any better).  He is also denying the crime against her for which he was convicted.  Burt is still asking:  If I had told anyone to throw lye at her, would she have married me?

Don't really know that for sure either...


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

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Mahayana New Year: Five precepts remembered

(Photo by Gregory H. Revera)
Mahayana Buddhists begin their new year on the first full moon in January (although the schedule can vary from country to country). reports that this "is a time of cleansing from sins of the past year and resolving to make a fresh start."

It is therefore a time for particular remembrance of the Buddhist Five Precepts.  These precepts include the following:  do not kill; do not steal; do not engage in sexual misconduct; do not make false speech; and do not take intoxicants. Although simply worded, these precepts are fraught with nuanced meanings.

"Do not kill," for example, does not just refer to the
outright extinguishing of life.  According to web., the greater thrust of this precept is to
cultivate "the attitude of loving kindness to all beings" (including animals) by "wishing that they may be happy and free from harm."  This precept not only applies to those directly involved, but also fans out to a wider circle of friends and family. If a being is harmed, the circle of loved ones can't help but be negatively affected.

"Do not steal" refers to the taking "by force or by fraud" that which is not rightfully yours.  Just as "do not kill" has the "flip side" of loving kindness, "do not steal" has the counterpart of generosity.  It is also said that the best form of generosity is the "gift of the Dharma in the form of teaching it…"

"Do not engage in sexual misconduct" hinges upon respect for relationship boundaries.  One consequence of sexual misconduct is "having many enemies."  Another is "union with undesirable wives and husbands" (see National Enquirer).

"Do not lie" includes the avoidance of  half-truths, understatements, exaggerations, and false accusations.

"Do not take intoxicants" is particularly supportive of those who meditate.  Not relying upon mind-altering substances such as liquor or narcotics can promote the "awareness, attention and clarity" that meditation entails.


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

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Tu Bishvat: Jewish environmentalism

(Author: Gilabrand)
Jewish environmentalism is rooted in scripture (Torah), law (halakhah) and rabbinic tradition (Talmud).

From the beginning, Genesis declares Creation to be good.  Contemporary Jewish liturgy, ritual and practice often reflect this belief.  For example, Kabbalistic seders have long been held in honor of Tu Bishvat (the "Fifteenth of Shevat" – the "New Year of the Trees"). tells us that these seders honor "the tree as a metaphor to understand God's relationship to the spiritual and physical worlds."  Centuries ago, the Kabbalists of Tzfat first developed a seder that "involves enjoying the fruits of the tree, particularly those native to the land of Israel."  These fruits include olives, dates, figs and almonds.

Modern-day Israel continues to environmentally honor the Creation.  Within a fact sheet titled "Israel and the
Environment," explains the following:  Israeli homes (83%) lead the world in utilizing solar power for hot water; Israeli scientists developed a bacterium that cleans up oil spills by 'eating' petroleum; Israelis recycle 20% more of their plastic bottles than Americans do; during the past 50 years, Israelis have planted more than 260 million trees (many during Tu Bishvat celebrations); Israel's carbon dioxide emissions are half those of the United States; Israel is only one of two countries in which the deserts are shrinking; Israeli cows produce more milk than even the fabled "happy cows" from California; Israel has the largest water desalinization plant in the world; and the list goes on…

The New York City based Green Zionist Alliance (GZA) "offers a place for all people – regardless of political or religious affiliation – who care about humanity's responsibility to preserve the Earth and the special responsibility of the Jewish people to preserve the ecology of Israel."  Wikipedia tells us that this "grassroots all-volunteer organization" has thus far promoted local organic agriculture, fostered community gardens, helped villagers in Rwanda, etc.


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

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Adam Hamilton: Spiritual, inspirational and inclusive

Reverend Adam Hamilton (Wikigear)
When the National Prayer Service committee looks around for a suitable preacher, there are many to choose from that are spiritual and inspirational.  However, adding "inclusive" to the mix can narrow down the possibilities considerably.

Reverend Adam Hamilton - in his blog post Preaching for the President's Inauguration - reports that although the White House did not tell him exactly "what to preach on" for Tuesday morning's post-inauguration service, he nevertheless received instructions for the 15-minute sermon to be "spiritual, inspirational and inclusive." 
Hamilton, widely known as a centrist, might therefore have to walk those often-thin lines that denominations and religions are entangled with.

It's no wonder that Hamilton is feeling "a bit nervous."  Not only will the nation's top leaders be front and center, but fundamentalists the world over could be critiquing his every word.  However, Hamilton is a master at preaching before thousands.  As founding pastor of "a United Methodist church that has grown from four people in 1990 to more than 12,000 members today," his sermons have no doubt been well
received by a diverse group of listeners.  When asked during a interview about his sermon preparation, Hamilton explained the following:  I look for trends [within e-mails that he receives]… and I spend a day praying over them, reading them, looking at which ones speak to me and where they might fit in a year's worth of preaching.  Then I go to my staff on the front lines of ministry with people and ask them the same questions...  Then I go on a day-long retreat in which I'm reading and praying over all of this material, and I begin to outline some possibilities…  I bring that back to our worship planning team and our leadership team, and I say: 'Tell me how these feel to you…'

Hamilton, therefore, takes a very collaborative approach to the art of sermon delivery.  He not only consults with God (through prayer), but also with God's people (through inquiry).  This seems to increase the probability of sermon content truly connecting with those in search of spiritual, inspirational and inclusive wisdom.


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


Monday, January 21, 2013

Inaugural bibles: Abraham, Martin and Barack

Martin Luther King, Jr. (Public Domain)
On January 21, 2013 Barack Obama will be inaugurated for the second time with not one, but two bibles.

The first was used by Abraham Lincoln during his 1861 swearing-in ceremony.  Stephen Prothero tells us that although Lincoln was at first "convinced that God would vindicate the righteous on the question of slavery," this was not his stance during the 1865 inauguration.  By then the Civil War had been raging on for years, and most were aghast at the "seemingly endless bloodshed." Lincoln had begun looking more towards forgiveness than vindication, and was then making statements like these:  The prayers of both [sides] could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully.  The Almighty has His own purposes.

Obama's second inaugural bible will be that used by Martin Luther King, Jr. during his many travels (and travails).  As did Lincoln, King spoke of the secular and the sacred as a continuum.  He too believed that God's ways are not fully understood by humans.  Rather than second-guess God's covenantal role, King instead prophetically focused upon the people's role.  He called upon the people to "do justly, and to love mercy" (Micah 6:8). 

And Obama himself?  Daniel Burke of the Religion News Service reports that "like Lincoln, Obama also acknowledges that Americans sometimes invoke the Bible to argue past each other, and that Scripture itself counsels against sanctimony."  Burke then refers to a 2006 speech in which Obama had stated that "secularists shouldn't bar believers from the public square, but neither should people of faith expect America to be one vast amen corner."  As did King, Obama "often emphasizes Bible passages that urge compassion for the poor and downtrodden."  


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

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Jacob Henry's defense: Pleading the 44th

(Public Domain)
There once lived in the fledgling United States of America an earnest man by the name of Jacob Henry.

After representing Carteret County in North Carolina's House of Commons in 1808, Henry was popular enough to be reelected in 1809.  Nevertheless, a person (there's one in every crowd) by the name of Hugh Mills (from a different county, no less) felt impelled to challenge this reelection on the grounds that Henry "denies the divine authority of the New Testament, and refused to take the oath prescribed by law for his qualification." 

Just what oath was Mills referring to?  Ira Rosenswaike explains that "North Carolina's constitution of 1776 denied public office to individuals unable to affirm the 'truth of the Protestant religion' or the 'divine authority' of the New Testament."  Rosenswaike also explains that "as a Jew, he [Henry] could not make such affirmations."  When the House subsequently debated the matter, Henry's rousing defense of his right to hold public office was so impressive that it remains a vibrant testament for religious freedom and tolerance to this day.

Here are some excerpts from Henry's 1809 Address in the Committee of the Whole of the House of Commons of North Carolina:  "…the 44th section of the latter instrument [the US Constitution] declares that the declaration of rights ought never to be violated on any pretense whatsoever…  the language of the Bill of rights is that all men have a natural and unalienable right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own Conscience…  There are Presbyterians, Lutherans, Calvinists, Menonists, Baptists, Trinitarians and Unitarians…  we see houses of Worship in almost every part of the State, but very few for protestants ['the Protestant religion as established by Law in England']…  Who among us feels himself so exalted above his fellows, as to have a right to dictate to them their mode of belief?  Shall this free Country set an example of Persecution, which even the returning reason of enslaved Europe would not submit to?"

It is said that Henry was joined in his ultimately successful plea for religious tolerance by North Carolina's then Chief Justice John Louis Taylor, who was "a Roman Catholic."


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

Saturday, January 19, 2013

US inaugurations: Church and state too cozy?

(Clinton's 1993 Inauguration)
Reverend Billy Graham, who gave the invocation at a number of US presidential inaugurations, was known to use words like these on such occasions:  Our Father and our God, we thank You today for the privilege of coming into Your presence on this historic and solemn occasion.  We thank You for Your gracious hand which has preserved us as a nation.  We praise You for the peaceful continuity of government that this Inauguration represents… We ask that as a people we may humble ourselves before You, and seek Your will for our lives and for this great nation…  This we pray in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

There are a number of presuppositions within these inaugural words.  One:  There is a Fatherly God. Two:  This Fatherly God has preserved the United States as a nation.  Three:  United States citizens seek to humble themselves before this Fatherly God.   Four:  United States citizens seek His will for their lives and nation.  Five:  This Fatherly God is also identified with the Son and the Holy Spirit. 

Although these presuppositions are well matched with modern-day Western Christianity, they do not
necessarily resonate with Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Neo-Paganism, and – oh, yeah – atheism.  They have also somehow penetrated Jefferson's Great Wall of Separation between Church and State.

This could be why concerns regarding the insertion of religious ritual into governmental affairs have been repeatedly raised.  Brad Williams, in a Patheos article titled "It's Time to Abolish the Inaugural Prayer," writes about Louis Giglio's recently-rescinded invitation to pray at President Obama's second inauguration.  Williams asks:  …are the inaugural prayers going to continue?  And if so, who will do them?Evangelicals who believe that homosexuality is a sin are no longer welcome.  So who is going to pray?

Who is going to pray, indeed?  A great question - but perhaps one not best answered within an inaugural context…


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

Friday, January 18, 2013

Manatees or mermaids: Ask Columbus

(Public Domain)
As far as Christopher Columbus was concerned, they were mermaids – and that was that.

There were three of them offshore of today's Dominican Republic on that January day back in 1493.  One might suppose that Columbus would very much appreciate this threefold sighting of such exotic creatures.  But in fact he was rather disappointed.  He noted that they were "not half as beautiful as they are painted."

That's because manatees – while exhibiting the soulful eyes that sirens of the sea are bountifully endowed with - have other traits that contrast markedly with those of alluring mermaids. describes manatees as "slow-moving aquatic mammals with human-like eyes, bulbous faces and paddle-like tails."  Their overall shape resembles the female human's breast (which is probably what most caught Columbus' attention after
that long a voyage).  In fact, the name "manatee" derives from the Taino word for "breast."  Although manatees have been rapaciously hunted by many cultures, West Africans considered them sacred.

Mermaids, on the other hand, were more likely to make humans their victims than vice versa.  According to Wikipedia, they "are sometimes depicted as perilous creatures associated with floods, storms, shipwrecks, and drowning."  The ancient Assyrian goddess Atargatis is said to have transformed herself into a mermaid "out of shame for accidentally killing her human lover."

Perhaps Columbus was fortunate, after all, to have crossed paths with gentle manatees rather than with seductive mermaids.  


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

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Lying? The nose knows

Pinocchio (Public Domain)
The legendary Pinocchio was a mischievous puppet whose nose grew longer under stressful conditions.

Although lying seems to come naturally for some, it is quite stressful for others.  The generally stalwart Friedrich Nietzsche, for example, made this complaint:  I am not upset that you lied to me, I'm upset that from now on I can't believe you.  Little "I cannot tell a lie" George Washington much later advised:  It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.  Leo Tolstoy exhorted:  Anything is better than lies and deceit!  Alfred Tennyson dispelled the illusion that "white lies" are okay with this scathing indictment:  A lie that is half-truth is the darkest of all lies.

It therefore makes sense that Pinocchio's nose would grow whenever he told a lie.  But what about the rest of us - are we immune to such telltale signs of hiding the truth?

Apparently not, according to a recent Live Science article titled  Like Pinocchio, Your Nose Shows When
You Lie.  A group of researchers from the University of Granada studied people's faces with thermography
and discovered "a jump in the temperature around the nose and in the orbital muscle in the inner corner of the
eye during lying."  They additionally noted that "face temperature "rises for people experiencing high anxiety."

Although a heated nose is not quite as obvious as a lengthened one - beware!  It might yet be detectable
within this type of an intimate situation that Dorothy Parker so vividly described:  By the time you swear you're his,  Shivering and sighing.  And he vows his passion is,  Infinite, undying.  Lady make note of this – one of you is lying


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

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Rabbis at US presidential inaugurations

Rabbi Nelson Glueck (Public Domain)
According to Wikipedia, Harry S. Truman was the very first US president to include a rabbi at the inauguration main ceremony. Rabbi Samuel Thurman of the United Hebrew Congregation of Saint Louis, Missouri led Truman's inaugural prayer on January 20, 1949 (think of the historical context and what this might have meant to World War II Holocaust survivors).  This occasion also marked the first time that African Americans – in this case Lena Horne, Dorothy Maynor and Lionel Hampton – performed at an "inaugural gala." (The Afro-American of January 19, 1949 reported that "Hampton's first number was a Jewish hymn, 'Eli, Eli.'")

On January 20, 1953, Dwight D. Eisenhower followed suit by having Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver lead an inaugural prayer (Eisenhower himself led a second one).  Wikipedia reports that Rabbi Silver was "a key figure in the mobilization of American support for the founding of the State of Israel."  He was also "an early champion of rights for labor, for worker's compensation and civil liberties…"  Rabbi Louis Finkelstein, the Conservative Jewish Talmud scholar who served as chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary from 1940 until 1972, led a
prayer at Eisenhower's second inauguration in 1957.

Rabbi Nelson Glueck, whose "pioneering work in biblical archaeology resulted in the discovery of 1,500 ancient sites," gave the inaugural benediction (the first rabbi to ever do so) at John F. Kennedy's 1961 ceremony.  Rabbi Edgar Magnin, often called "Rabbi to the Stars," led one of three prayers at Richard M. Nixon's 1969 inauguration.  Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk, who lost "dozens of family members in the The Holocaust," led a prayer at Ronald Reagan's inauguration.  Gottschalk's connection with Reagan is especially touching in that Gottschalk partially learned English from watching Reagan's films after fleeing to America from Nazi Germany.


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

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

World Religion Day: Since 1950

(Compilation by Niusereset)
Although World Religion Day has been around for quite some time, it is often overshadowed by the holidays that come shortly before it.  It could just as easily be called International Interspiritual Day
because of its emphasis upon "the common denominators underlying all religions."

The World Religion Day website, which "is not sponsored by any one faith" and is "the result of individual contributions from around the globe," aims to encourage the acknowledgement of "similarities in each of our sacred Faiths" in order to promote agreement in tackling "the changes that confront humanity."

Back in December 1949, the National Spiritual Assembly ("the governing body of the Baha'i Faith in the United States of America") designated the third Sunday of January as World Religion Day.  Since then there have been various observances the world over - such as Metro Atlanta's in 2000, Cameroom's in 2009, Northern Ireland's in 2010, Ottawa's in 2011 and Nepal's in 2012.

This year much is also planned.  A program at the Concordia Lutheran Church in Concord, New Hampshire will focus upon the theme "That Which Unites Us" – and will include quotes, songs and chants from many faith traditions.  A devotional gathering at the Hobart, Tasmania, Australia Baha'i Centre of Learning will include insightful readings and live music.  The Cape Cod [Massachusetts] Interfaith Coalition will host a number of speakers on the topic "What is Our Dream for Peace."  


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

Monday, January 14, 2013

Glia: The brain's not-so-silent majority

Neuroglia (Public Domain)
The brain as a governing organ is said to have its own version of a silent majority.  That would be the glial cells, otherwise known as "neuroglia" or just plain "glia."

"Glia," which means "glue" in Greek, are far more complicated than their name implies.  They don't just stick around holding neurons in place, but also supply them with vital oxygen and nutrients.  These powerhouse cells also insulate one neuron from the other, destroy threatening organisms, dispose of dead
neurons, undergo cell division within adulthood and promote the repair of certain neurons (which could bode well for future breakthroughs in regeneration after nervous-system injuries), and even modulate neurotransmission (in a way that is not yet clearly fathomed).

Although these functions certainly don't seem so "silent," glia nevertheless comprise the majority of central and peripheral nervous system cells.  Wikipedia reports that "neuroglial cells are generally smaller than  neurons and outnumber them by five to ten times" - thus comprising "about half the total volume of the brain and spinal cord."  The glia/neuron ratio varies, depending upon brain size (the larger the brain, the higher the glia/neuron ratio; e.g., a mouse's brain is only 65% glia, whereas a human's brain is 90% glia)–and depending
upon which area of the nervous system the glia are located in (e.g., the cerebral cortex glia/neuron ratio is 3.72, whereas the ratio "of the basal ganglia, diencephalon and brainstem combined is 11.35").

Just as with the Greek concept "psyche" (which The Free Dictionary not only defines as "the human faculty for thought, judgment and emotion…"  – but also as "the soul or self"), what we do know about this mysterious "glue" is probably far less than what we don't.


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

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Saint Ambrose and bees: Honey and stings

(Photo by Jon Sullivan) 
It is said that when Saint Ambrose (born Aurelius Ambrosius - and one of the four original Church Doctors) was an infant, "a swarm of bees settled on his face while he lay in his cradle, leaving behind a drop of honey."  Wikipedia reports that his father (the Roman praetorian prefect of Gaul) took this to be a foreshadowing of Ambrose's "future eloquence and honeyed

However, a honeyed tongue can also sting.  James 3:8 (NIV) calls the tongue "a restless evil, full of deadly poison."  James 3:9 (NIV) goes on to explain:  "With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God's likeness."

Although no doubt saintly in matters concerning his own understanding of Christianity (having declared to perceived Arian enemies:  If you demand my person, I am ready to submit: carry me to prison or to death, I will not resist; but I will never betray the church of Christ…), Ambrose was equally staunch (but not particularly saintly-sounding) concerning the Jews and the Pagans.

Regarding the Jews, his stinging tongue put forth statements like these (regarding the destruction of a synagogue by a persecuting mob of monks):  What real wrong is there in destroying a synagogue, a 'home of perfidy, a home of impiety'…  Pagans fared no better from Ambrose's tongue-lashings.  Under
his influence, they were persecuted by Roman emperors Gratian, Valentinian II and Theodosius I.

Nevertheless, Saint Ambrose also practiced blessed silence.  In his Confessions, Augustine wrote:  When
[Ambrose] read, his eyes scanned the page and his heart sought out the meaning, but his voice was silent and his tongue was still.   


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

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Spiritual education: Lesson plans galore

(Photo by Masae)
"Man plans and God laughs" is an old Yiddish proverb.   However, when "Man's plans" are distilled into spiritual lessons, God might
instead be smiling with approval.

Clicking on to the site will yield numerous lesson plans that have an interspiritual focus.  The hearty Welcome on the Home page reveals that these lessons are "for the education of tomorrow's peacemakers – our children" and "are being used by parents and educators all over the world."  The Vision, Mission and Purpose section further explains that  these "children will not be able to live in peace until a majority of the people of the world adopt an all-inclusive view of religion and spirituality."

Not a professional teacher?  Do not dismay – the lesson plans have been designed with you in mind.  They are self-contained in that everything "you need to conduct the lesson, with the exception of some common household items, is contained in the lesson itself."  There are two targeted student groups:  ages 7-8 and 9-10.  Overall topics for both groups are the same and include the following:  The Oneness of God, How to Explore Religious Teachings Without Prejudice, The Relationship Between God and Man, The History and Teachings of the Major Religions, and The Mission of the Prophets.

The History of the Major Religions topic contains lessons on Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, the Babi Faith, and the Baha'i Faith.  A typical lesson contains components such as these:  Learning Objectives, List of Materials, Prayer, Homework Review, Activity and Story (both of which are detailed in the accompanying handouts), Sacred Writing (a Scriptural passage), Homework Assignment, Reflection and Evaluation.


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

Friday, January 11, 2013

Tim Tebow: World rejects, Christ accepts

(Painting by Garofalo)
Worldly rejection – although incredibly painful at times for humans to endure – can be an immense spiritual blessing.  Nevertheless, Tim Tebow is naturally hurting as he struggles with rejections from Rex Ryan of the New York Jets, as well as from David Caldwell of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Greg Couch of Fox Sports has this take on it:  It has been an important life lesson for Tim Tebow, spending a year at the bottom of the barrel…  Ryan and Tebow were never going to be a good mix, like oil and walking-on-water.  Within an Associated
Press Fox Sports article, Tebow himself had this to say about his much-maligned absence from recent wildcat packagesFor people to not know the situation and then start to bash your character
and then say you're a phony or you're a fake or you're a hypocrite, I think that's what's disappointing and that's what's frustrating…  You work your whole life to build a reputation, and then people try to bring you down when they don't understand even what happened…

But what if building a good worldly reputation is not the point – and is actually counter to the point – of leading a righteous life? 

There is a Streams of Prophecy blogger who describes herself as "a Christian woman who has been tested and tried in my faith since receiving Christ in my teens."   In a post titled "On the Subject of Worldly Rejection and Spiritual Agenda" she states:  Experientially, I have always found it difficult to weather rejection from any source in my world…  This is due in large part to wrong thinking…  If, as a Christian, one's thinking is correct about rejection from the world, your perspective is totally opposite of the world.  Where the world says you have failed to make it happen, the Christian should be saying, thank you Father for closing that door… 

There's lots of speculation about which doors will open in Tebow's future.  Christianity teaches that God will swing wide the holiest of gates for those that truly walk the talk.


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



Thursday, January 10, 2013

Lance Armstrong: Some fervent beliefs

Lance Armstrong in 2010 (by Haggisni)
Lance Edward Armstrong has certainly had his share of troubles.

Born Lance Edward Gundersen, his biological father left him when he was only two.  According to a February 2004 article in the UK Times Online, Lance never afterwards cared to know his "so- called father" either directly or indirectly.  Lance's surname was changed to Armstrong after his mother remarried.  His step-father, Terry Armstrong, "talked religion but used to beat Lance with a paddle…"   Lance was relieved when he too "walked out."

At age 25 - when most people's lives are blossoming - Armstrong "was diagnosed with stage three testicular cancer" that had already "spread to his lungs, abdomen and brain."  He was told that "he had less than a 40% survival chance."  He not only underwent testicular
surgery (an orchiectomy), but also brain surgery.  In his book It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life, Armstrong reveals that he thought deeply about death before his brain surgery.  Part of this entailed a self-inquiry into his spiritual beliefs.

Because he had "developed a certain distrust of organized religion growing up," Armstrong's inquiry focused more upon ethics than religious doctrines.  He asked himself questions like these:  …if I was going to die, did I want to do it fighting and clawing or in peaceful surrender?  What sort of character did I hope to show?  Was I content with myself and what I had done with my life so far?

Armstrong concluded that he "had a responsibility to be a good person, and that meant fair, honest, hardworking, and honorable."  He decided that he was "essentially a good person" - although he [like all humans] "could have been better."  He also stressed the importance of belief – not necessarily "in a certain book" – but in belief "for its own shining sake."  Cancer taught him that "the real perils of life" are cynicism, dispiritedness and disappointment, rather than "some sudden illness or cataclysmic millennium doomsday."


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


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Unhappy birthday: Happy 'unbirthday'

Alice et al. (by Jessie Wilcox Smith)
A Swiss study that was published in the Annals of Epidemiology "analyzed 2.4 million deaths over a 40-year period" and concluded that "there were 13.8 percent [and 18 percent for people over 60]
more deaths on birthdays when compared with any other day of the year."  Comparative birthday percentages were even higher when calculated for stroke deaths (21.5%), male suicides (34.9%),
accidental deaths (28.5%) and fatal falls (a whopping 44%).

Fox News (fair and balanced) dutifully explains that "researchers are divided" as to why this is so.  Some swear by (others at) the "postponement theory," which "suggests that gravely ill people wait until their birthday in an attempt to reach another milestone."  Then there are those who ascribe to the "anniversary theory," which sounds jolly enough until further analyzed.  It seems that the term "anniversary" (as used here, and hopefully only here) is actually a code word for "stress."

In light (and in darkness) of these findings, it's no wonder that Lewis Carroll's "unbirthday" concept caught on with Walt Disney fans the world over.  Carroll thought so highly of "unbirthdays" that he had Humpty Dumpty painstakingly explain them to perpetually wide-eyed Alice (who proceeded to calculate the number of them per year). 

And so for all who wish to have many birthdays more, these few words to the formerly-unwise will hopefully suffice:  Relax on that most lethal day of the year, and instead celebrate the relatively numerous "unbirthdays."

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

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Athanasius Kircher: 'AK' of his day

(Public Domain)
These days people revere celebrities such as Ashton Kutcher.  In the 1600s tastes were a bit different (at least amongst the Jesuit set). Back then another "AK" was all in vogue.  That "AK" was Athanasius Kircher.

Referred to as "the last Renaissance man" by modern-day Jesuit Edward W. Schmidt, Kircher more than earned that title.  He is
considered by some to be the founder of Egyptology - and was also fascinated by Sinology (not sin, but China).  Wikipedia reports that he delved into fossils, microbes (he theorized that the plague was caused by an infectious germ), volcanoes, languages (he learned Hebrew from a rabbi and taught Syriac), philosophy, mathematics, physics,
antiquities, theology, music, and mechanical inventions (if you enjoy bellowing into megaphones, thank AK).

Kircher authored numerous books, utilizing a holistic approach within many of his works.  For example, he would begin writing about
magnetism, but would soon be expounding upon the attractive force of love.  His well-known opus Musurgia Universalis covers everything from the musical notation of bird songs (it takes a genius to figure out that the cuckoo's call is "a falling minor third") to the "Angelic choir of 36 voices" to the hammering blacksmiths of Pythagorean fame. 

When he wasn't writing masterpieces, Kircher was busily corresponding with more than 800 regular "pen pals" (some of whom bribed him with chocolate in order to remain on his contact list).


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

Monday, January 7, 2013

Relationship trouble? Tell 'Mr. Ed'

Eye of a Horse (Photo by Waugsberg)
Although we've all repeatedly heard that "no one can talk to a horse of course… unless the horse is the famous Mr. Ed." – the Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy (EFP) therapists of Relationship Ranch beg to differ.  They say that horses in general are "exquisitely sensitive" to the point of determining "what a couple is actually, really feeling."

According to ABC News, this sensitivity can help "feuding couples make peace."  That is why Nightline recently featured a three-part insider's look at the EFP process.  This series focused upon the "last-ditch effort" of Justin and Lyz "to save their [nine-year] crumbling relationship."

When the couple was first introduced to the ranch's herd of horses, Justin was "magnetically drawn to a horse named Danny.  Danny had come to the ranch "after surviving a grizzly bear attack," which apparently resonated with Justin's own traumatic past.   (At the tender age of nine, Justin had been privy to his sister's horrific murder scene.)

EFP therapist Nancy Hamilton (a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Professional Association of
Therapeutic Horsemanship instructor who has also appeared on PBS Frontline, Dr. Phil and NBC Dateline) instructed Justin "to talk to Danny about what had happened when his sister was killed."  Although this seemed "so stupid at first" to Justin, he was motivated to do whatever might save his relationship with Lyz.  Lyz, in turn, reported that she never saw Justin as vulnerable as when he was talking to Danny.

Relationship Ranch (not a place, but a treatment approach) also draws upon the Imago Therapy
technique that was developed by Harville Hendrix.  When asked whether horses can help with counseling, the website response was a resounding "YES, YES, YES!"


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

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Altruism neurons: Monkey see, monkey do what?

Rhesus Monkey (by Einar Fredricksen)
The Dalai Lama once said:  There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophies.  My brain and my heart are my temples; my philosophy is kindness.

Therefore, if one explores the territory that lies between the two temples of the skull, the "Holy Grail" of kindness might be discovered somewhere within the brain.  At least that's what Duke University neuroscientist Michael Platt seems to be thinking. Co-author of a study that was published in a December 2012 issue of Nature Neuroscience on the neural roots of altruism,  Platt came up with some interesting speculations concerning charitable behavior.

He wonders whether "vicarious experience and reward is perhaps what actually drives giving behavior [in monkeys] and perhaps drives charity in people."  This tentative conclusion is derived from his laboratory observations of rhesus monkeys.  Platt noticed that
when these monkeys clearly understood their choices between giving themselves a squirt of juice, giving another monkey a squirt of juice, or giving an inanimate object a squirt of juice – they preferred giving themselves juice over giving another monkey juice, but also preferred giving another monkey juice over giving an inanimate object juice.

Platt also observed that the same region (the anterior cingulate gyrus) of the brain would respond whether the monkeys gave themselves or other monkeys juice (although different neurons within this region were involved for each of these two choices). Live Science reports that this "same brain region has been implicated in other social processes" such as human empathy when a romantic partner is pinched.  This region of the brain might thus be somehow able to "encode vicarious experiences when others are happy or sad."

Whether we're kind to others because it's vicariously pleasurable - or whether we're kind to others because
it's ethically called for - the result can certainly be a more peaceful world for humans, monkeys and all other sentient beings.


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

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Little Women's Christmas: Ready ladies?

Irish Pub (Photo by Aubrey Dale)
For those who are still recovering from the vastness of Christmas preparations, despair not…  A kinder, gentler – nay, smaller – celebration is yet to come.

That celebration is humbly named Little Christmas.  In many lands it goes by grander  names – Epiphany (Western Church), Theophany (Eastern Orthodox), Baptism (Ethiopian Orthodox) , Up-Going (Syriac Christians), Nativity and Theophany of Christ
(Armenian Apostolic Church), Day of the Kings (Argentina), Baptism of the Lord (Bulgaria), Three Kings' Day (Holland, Germany), Feast of the Epiphany (Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria), Cross (Finland), Lights (Greece), Carnival (Guadeloupe), Star Day (Latvia), The Three Kings (Malta), The Day of the Three Royal Magi (Spain) – but in Ireland, January 6th is often plainly referred to as Little Women's Christmas.

For a traditional Irish lady, this means that it's time to hand that broom and dishrag over to the "man of the house" in order to enjoy a "ladies' night out."  Whereas today this could mean dinner and drinks with like-minded females at a gourmet restaurant, historically it meant "shawled women hurrying to the local public
house."  Sheila Flitton explains that these women of yore would sit "in the snug" ("a small private room
inside the front door"), drinking stout and eating "thick corned beef sandwiches."  Cares would be put aside while the ladies talked, drank, and even sang as the night wore on…       


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

Friday, January 4, 2013

Hierarchy of angels: Who's on first?

Archangel Michael (Guido Reni, 1636)
Although many have heard about angels on high, relatively few can identify which ones are highest.

Judaism has long had a "top ten" hierarchy of angels.  The great medieval sage Maimonides ranked them highest-to-lowest as follows:  #1 Chayot (Ezekiel's "living beings"); #2 Ophanim (fiery "wheels"); #3 Erelim ("the courageous"); #4 Hashmallim (from Ezekiel 1:4); #5 Seraphim (six-winged "burning ones" that circle God's throne singing "holy, holy, holy"); #6 Malakim (God's "messengers"); #7 Elohim ("powers" or "godly beings"); #8 Bene Elohim ("sons of godly beings"); #9 Cherubim (protective "guardians"); and #10 Ishim ("souls of fire").

Christianity has a number of angelic hierarchies, the most popular of which was put forth by the philosopher/theologian "Dionysos" (aka "Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagnite") circa the early sixth century.   His book, The Celestial Hierarchy, was a major influence on Thomas Aquinas, who divided angels into these three hierarchical groups with three orders apiece:  #1 Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones (aka Ophanim); #2 Dominations (aka Hashmallim), Virtues (aka Strongholds that "supervise the movement of heavenly bodies"), and Powers (aka Authorities that are "completely loyal to God"); #3 Principalities (aka Rulers that "bequeath blessings to the material world"), Archangels (aka Messengers that are "guardian angels of nations and countries"), and Angels (lower-ranked Messengers that are "the ones most concerned with the affairs of living things") .  These nine orders of angels (said to be based upon their proximities to God) are the ones that were recognized by Pope Gregory I.

Angels in Islam "have no free will and therefore can do only what God orders them to do."  Although this
seems to preclude the need for an angelic hierarchy, one nevertheless somewhat exists.  Having revealed the Qur'an to Muhammad - Jibrail, aka Jibril (the Judeo-Christian "Gabriel"), is said to be "the greatest of the angels."  Other archangels are also emphasized.


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