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

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Saint Catherine of Siena: Family ties

(Saint Catherine of Siena) 
In an exegesis of Luke 9:51-62, Kathryn Getek Soltis asks:  What is the nature of a Christian's moral obligation to her family?

She points out the biblical mixed messages concerning this question.  On the one hand, we are given the Commandment to "Honor thy father and thy mother."  On the other hand, Luke 14:26 tells us that Jesus proclaims the following:  If any one comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.

For Getek-Soltis (and many others), this is quite the paradoxical dilemma.  How can both these Scripture passages be aligned?  After much grappling, Getek-Soltis concludes that the "inevitable tensions" between "family and discipleship" must be "left to an uncertain discernment."

Even prophets and saints have struggled with this balance.  Elisha, when called by Elijah to be his successor, asked to first kiss his parents good-bye.  The Bible does not elaborate on how that scene unfolded…  We know more about Catherine of Siena's somewhat-strained family ties after her holy life took precedence over everything of this world.

Wikipedia explains that Catherine created a "cell" in her mind from which she could "never flee."  Within this "inner cell she made her father into a representation of Christ, her mother Lapa into the Blessed Virgin Mary, and her brothers into the apostles."  In this way:  Serving them humbly became an opportunity for spiritual growth.         


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

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Atheists ponder BIG questions too

(We are stardust?)
In a letter to the Wall Street Journal, Frank A. Nicolai of Fort Washington, Maryland protested the idea that "only a person with a religious belief system can ponder the big questions of life…"

Two of these questions are "What is the meaning of my existence?" and "What is a worthy way for me to spend my life?" Nicolai, who is neither an adherent of a particular religion nor a believer in the supernatural, asserts that he has given both of these questions much thought.  His BIG musings sound something like this:  "Did the atoms that make up my body come from a supernovae billions of years ago, and will these atoms, once I am no longer alive, be recycled at another time and place?"

This latter question contains key elements of religious inquiries such as, "Where did I come from?" and "What will become of me after death?"  True, Nicolai's inquiry focuses upon the body, but many religions include that too (e.g., bodily resurrection, reincarnation, etc.).

The commentary on Nicolai's letter reflected a wide variety of perspectives.  Ein Vogel-frei wrote that "one could see atheism as a mutation, a personal variant from the common human genetic predisposition toward believing in a god…"  Daniel Molitor stated that "life itself is the meaning of life…"  Richard Tauchar claimed, "God is both useful and relevant in the sense that God provides the only method we have to explain our existence in a satisfying way."   


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

Friday, June 28, 2013

Quantum consciousness: Proposed theory

Human Neurons (by MethoxyRoxy)
If the human brain is a computer, then it may very well be a quantum computer.

Tech News Daily explains the difference: "A regular computer represents data as either a 0 or a 1.  There can be only four states:  00, 01, 10, or 11.  But in quantum computing, a quibit can represent 1 and 0 at the same time.  By increasing the possible combinations of said quibits, you're able to store a larger amount of information than you would by using regular bits."

Tanya Lewis of Live Science reports that physicist Roger Penrose of Oxford University and anesthesiologist Stuart Hameroff of Arizona University presented their theory of quantum consciousness at the recent Global Future 2045 International Congress.  Their model, called Orchestrated Objective Reduction, asserts that higher-level brain processes are relying upon quantum calculations since they are capable of solving so-called unsolvable mathematical challenges.  It also suggests that microtubules are what gives the human brain these quantum capabilities.

Microtubules are "small fibrous structures that give cells their structural support."  They are composed of the protein tubulin, "which contains regions where electrons are swirling around very close to each other."  These electrons might become quantum entangled, meaning that "two particles retain a connection… even when the two are separated by a distance."

In a possible subsequent state of collapsed wave functions, "the microtubules in one neuron could be linked to those in other neurons via electrical connections known as gap junctions." Electrons would then "tunnel" to different areas of the brain, "resulting in waves of neural activity that are perceived as conscious experience."


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

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Cats: More than a Broadway show

Bastet (Guillaume Blanchard)
As far as cats and people are concerned, there is literally more than meets the eye.

Jennifer Vlegas of Discovery News writes:  Your cat isn't totally ignoring you – really!  She explains that cats do distinguish their owners from all other humans and orient (move their eyes and ears) towards them.  They can also respond with pupil dilation (a sign of emotional arousal) upon hearing an owner's voice.

Unlike dogs, cats have not been bred for vigorous signs of affection or obedience.  Stoicism, in fact, is the name of the feline game.  Cats learned to be strong silent types in the wild, where signs of cute-and-cozy vulnerability could spell instant death.  That is why a secure domestic cat will vocalize far more than a wary feral one.

Nevertheless, Vlegas reports that cats "usually adore their human caretakers."  Which is only fair - since for the past 10,000 years or so, people have adored their feline companions…

At times, this adoration has even reached the point of worship. In Ancient Egypt, the goddess Bastet became less and less the Sekhmet-type lioness and more and more the domestic-type cat.  Wikipedia tells us that her original warlike traits eventually softened into qualities of "fertility, motherhood, protection, and the benevolent aspects of the sun…"

Cats were so beloved back then that "killing one, even accidentally, incurred the death penalty."  Around 60 B.C., the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus witnessed the brutal mob murder of a Roman who mistakenly killed an Egyptian cat.


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

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Rick Santorum: If you can't beat 'em...

Santorum in 2013 (by Gage Skidmore)
Ever wonder what Rick Santorum has been up to since his failed bid for the 2012 U.S. presidential nomination?

Wonder no more:  He is currently the CEO of EchoLight Studios - "the first movie company to produce, finance, market and distribute faith-based, family films across all releasing platforms."  Rather than trying to keep popular culture at bay (which is like sticking a finger in a hole so that the dam doesn't burst), Santorum's philosophy is this:  "[With] the pervasiveness of (media) right now, the content just seeps through.  The only option is to go out into that arena and try to shape the culture, too."

Santorum critiques the traditional Christian-film genre by stating that it has "been aimed at just Christian audiences, rather than attempting to appeal to audiences that don't necessarily share the movie's messaging going in."  He describes the feel of these films as "hokey" and "cheesy" – and attributes this to an overemphasis upon message at the expense of artistic quality.

Religion News Service explains how he plans to improve upon this:  "Quality.  Quality acting, quality directing, quality scriptwriting."  Santorum's stated goal is to produce movies "that rival any good Hollywood film."   


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

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

If you can add and subtract, thank a daisy

(Photo by Elb2000)
If you're a math whiz now, perhaps you were Albert Einstein in the last life.  But then again, you might have been a daisy.

Scientists are now discovering that plants "do complex arithmetic calculations to make sure they have enough food to get them through the night" (as do last-minute shoppers at the corner
convenience store).

London Reuters reports on the "square roots" of these botanical beings.  It turns out that "plants adjust their rate of starch consumption to prevent starvation during the night when they are unable to feed themselves with energy from the sun."

How do they do this?  There are mechanisms within leaves that not only measure how much starch has been stored, but also "estimate the length of time until dawn." 

This information is then utilized by the plant to calculate incremental "nibbling" rates.  It's too bad that humans can't pay as much heed to their own internal time clocks regarding the rate of starch consumption…


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

Monday, June 24, 2013

Empathy vs. disgust: The battle within

(Painting by Adriaen Brouwer, c. 1630-40)
Picture this:  Someone you know and love is suffering with a horrible illness.  You try every which way you can to alleviate the
pain.  You even pray to take on some of it yourself.  Nevertheless, the telltale signs of this disease disgust you to the point of having to leave the sickroom frequently.

What's going on here?  How can so much empathy and disgust coexist?  As it turns out, humans seem hardwired for both. 

Arielle Duhaime-Ross of Scientific American reports that some researchers believe mirror neurons to be the key to human empathy.  These neurons fire "when an individual carries out an action and when that individual watches another perform the same action."  Other scientists link empathy with the hormone oxytocin, a neurotransmitter that is also involved in trust, generosity, and bonding.

Human empathy also entails a strong cognitive component.  In other words, "humans have to be able to imagine another's situation in order to feel empathy."  Biologically, this type of cognition helps to insure survival through mutual aid.  Morally, it makes for a kinder, gentler species.

Disgust also has its biological benefits.  This type of feeling may have its roots deep in our evolutionary past.  It urges our avoidance of that which could endanger our survival (such as snakes, rats, infectious sores, rotten food, and other "disgusting" stimuli).

Whereas empathy can be vital for long-term survival, disgust often wins out in a pinch.


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

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Solstice Supermoon: Sweet as honey

Moon Over Munster (by Kai Schreiber)  
Ever wonder where the term "honeymoon" originated from?  Look up at the heavens this weekend, and you might just come up with a theory.

That's because the supermoon is now ruling the earthly skies.  Alan Boyle, Science Editor of NBC News, calls it "the biggest, brightest
full moon of the year…"  Although "the moon itself is the same size it's been for ages [give or take a few craters]," it sometimes seems "super."  Because of the moon's elliptical orbit around the earth, at certain times it is closer to our planet than at others.  When a full moon is particularly close, it appears to be "about 14 percent wider and 30 percent brighter than it does at the farthest point in its orbit."

It not only appears to be brighter, but also to be somewhat honey-colored.  Astronomer Bob Berman states that this "honeymoon" effect is due to the fact that lower moons shine "through more than twice as much
reddening air and moisture."  Supermoons therefore tend to look "orange, yellow or amber."

Although all this might have little to do with the term "honeymoon," it certainly is a lot sweeter than some of the other theories.  One popular explanation for the word "honeymoon" goes like this:   When people first get married, their love is as glowing as a full moon – but then it begins to wane just as quickly…


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

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Silverman's Appleseed: Good to the core

(Photo by Roberta F.)
Ray Silverman, author of The Core of Johnny Appleseed: The Unknown Story of a Spiritual Trailblazer, has planted a number of his own fruitful seeds.

Silverman's biography tells us that he is well versed in spiritual topics.  He has been instrumental in bringing some of Helen Keller's most inspirational works to the world, and has also authored a book on Spiritual Development Through the Ten Commandments.  He is currently Associate Professor of  Religion, English, and Moral Philosophy at Bryn Athyn College – as well as an adjunct instructor at Urbana University ("home of the Johnny Appleseed Education Center and Museum, and the Chapman School of Leadership in Sustainability").

It therefore comes as no surprise that Silverman has managed to peel away the myths of Johnny Appleseed in order to get at the core of John Chapman.  In his Patheos review of Silverman's Chapman biography, Christian Piatt explains that Chapman was "driven by the ingenious theological teachings of Emmanuel Swedenborg, who was a bit of a heretical radical for his time."  Silverman himself has described the "basics" of Swedenborg's theology as "love God, love your neighbor" – but has warned that Swedenborg's explanations of these basics are "complex and vast."

Nevertheless, Silverman's book "is fairly simple and to the point" – which could serve to whet the reader's appetite for John Chapman, Emmanuel Swedenborg, and – of course – apples…


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

Friday, June 21, 2013

Cryonics: Cold, bold and gold

Ice is Nice (Photo by George Nijs)
One of humanity's greatest fears is that of dying.  Age-old questions about the process remain – among them:  Will I still exist?  If so, in what form?  And in what place?

Cryonics not only attempts to address these concerns, but also to alleviate them.  With cryonics, which has been defined as "freezing organisms with the goal of stopping tissues from
decomposing, then reviving them in the future," one hopefully comes back to life again… in one's own body… right here on planet Earth.

However, cryonics is not currently for everyone – and not (to our knowledge) because of anything that St. Peter decided.  Its hefty price tag (from $30,000 to $200,000
according to Money Talks News) makes it best suited for the wealthier members of society (which is perhaps good because the Bible indicates that it could be otherwise tough for rich people to experience resurrection).

Nevertheless, there are hundreds of carefully-frozen bodies currently "on hold."  Cryogenic companies such as Trans Time, the Cryonics Institute and Alcor are hoping for many more.  There are even no-frills specials such as having only your head frozen (not to worry, neck-down transplants might be up and running by the time you resurface in 2613). 

You can also save on refrigerated-hearse fees by making sure you die next door to a cryogenic lab.  Not sure when that will be?  Perhaps that, too, can be "arranged" by your new BFFs (Best Freezer Friends)…


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

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Deathbed regrets: If only I had...

(by John Singleton Copley)
When leaving this world seems imminent, what's often left are the true essentials of life on this planet.  People then crave love and affection – the very gifts they might have ignored for much of their existence.

Bronnie Ware, who worked for years in palliative care, has repeatedly listened to deathbed regrets.  After noticing how similar the human priorities become at that point, she compiled a list of the five most prevalent end-of-life realizations.  They are as follows: 

Live the life you were meant to live rather than the one you are expected to live.  This might entail breaking with tradition, and/or making far less money, but it will make you feel that your time here on Earth has been well spent.

Balance work with other priorities such as relaxation, fun, family and friends.  Try not to miss out on your child's youth, your friends' milestones, or the pleasures of  your partner's company.

Express yourself authentically.  Although this might change (and sometimes end) relationshipsyou will then experience deeper bonds with those who appreciate the person you really are.

Cultivate friendships.  Friendship (like love itself) is a verb.  Give it the time and attention it deserves.

Choose happiness over habit.  Challenge dour assumptions, and conquer fear of change.

Although realizations such as these are never in vain, better sooner than later.  Wisdom is in the living, as well as in the dying.


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

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Digital immortality: Uploading consciousness

The Alchymist, 1771 (by Joseph Wright)
It used to be that immortality was associated with deities.  These days, it's becoming more and more associated with computers.

Tanya Lewis of Live Science recently reported on this theory:  By 2045, humans will achieve digital immortality by uploading their minds to computers…  Ray Kurzweil, Google's current
director of engineering, is predicting that "by 2045, technology will have surpassed human brainpower to create a kind of superintelligence…"  This superintelligent "event" is known as "the
singularity" in futuristic circles.

If this sounds like science fiction, remember that trips to the moon were once science fiction also.  Biotechnological brain-computer interfaces (aka "BCIs") such as cochlear implants ("in which the brain's cochlear nerve is electronically stimulated to restore a sense of sound to someone who is hard of hearing") are already being successfully utilized to extend human capabilities.  Others BCIs are in the works for memory enhancement and for motor skills.

However, the recent pronouncement of Martine Rothblatt, a biotech CEO, was somewhat shocking.  At the Global Futures 2045 International Congress, he claimed that "The Purpose of Biotechnology is the End of Death."  This was with reference to "mind clones," which Rothblatt explained are "digital versions of humans that can live forever."

But are mind clones truly alive?  Is flesh and blood that expendable?   Although BCIs are state-of-the-art
technology, the questions they raise are ones that philosophers have been grappling with for ages…


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

Tai chi: Slow and steady wins the human race

Taoist Tai Chi Class (Photo by Diana)
Tai chi, like yoga, has been popularized to the extent that it is often thought of as only a physical exercise.

For example, Reuters recently reported that tai chi "improves mobility, movement and flexibility…"  However, the same source of this information – Hawaii fitness trainer Jordan Forth – also stated that tai chi cultivates awareness and a sense of being grounded.  

Wikipedia explains that tai chi is an offshoot of t'ai chi ch'uan, the latter of which "evolved in agreement with many Chinese philosophical principles, including those of Taoism and Confucianism."  Tai chi is a meditative type discipline that "helps to bring about a state of mental calm and clarity."  

According to the Taoist Tai Chi Society, the mental relaxation that practitioners experience results in the brain needing less blood and nutrients.  The rest of the body is therefore able to receive more of
these life-giving components.    

The mind is far from being shortchanged.  Stillness is seen as its "original nature" and thus results in more "focused concentration" abilities.  The Society also states that the aim of tai chi is to eliminate egotistical habits "so that our original nature of goodness can again shine brightly, guiding our thoughts and actions."


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

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Team Gleason: No White Flags

Machu Picchu (Photo by Charlesjsharp) 
Steve Gleason is literally not taking ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – considered to be a "terminal neuro-muscular disease")
lying down.

After being diagnosed with this challenging condition, the NFL hero has not only been determined to continue pursuing "life's adventures," but is also determined to help others in his situation do the same.  That is where Team Gleason comes in.

Gleason, along with friends and family, began Team Gleason in order to "generate public awareness for ALS, raise funding to empower those with ALS to live a rewarding life, and ultimately find a cure."  Among those involved are some of "the best and strongest" football players in the world.

A Team Gleason "epic adventure to Peru" epitomizes the spirit of this group.  The website reports that "pALS Steve Gleason and Kevin Swan" plus other Team members "endured a 7 day trek," which included a ten-mile hike on the Incan Trail to Machu Picchu.  The Incan Trail is not your average walk in the woods.   It is rather a combination of "high altitude mountain ranges (the Andes) and dense subtropical forest."

Some other extraordinary Team Gleason endeavors include the following:  the New Orleans Rock 'n' Roll Marathon, The Team Gleason House for Innovative Living, the Denver Golf Fest, the Los Angeles Sack
A.L.S., the 610 Stompers Peep Show and Skydive NOLA.


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

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Fatherhood: Vive la difference

Shoulder-to-Shoulder (Photo by Madchester)
The earthly bond between mother and child is often extolled, whereas the one between father and child is often overlooked.

Nevertheless, there are valuable aspects of fatherhood that motherhood doesn't usually provide.  Tia Ghose of Live Science points out that whereas motherhood and fatherhood
are not necessarily in competition, there are certain things that dads often "do better."

Because many dads "have a special strength in physical play, rough-and-tumble play," they can help teach their kids (teenagers in particular) that "aggressive and sexual" are not the only two types of touch.  Psychologist Larry Cohen, author of Playful Parenting, explains that "when parents engage in roughhousing [e.g., "tickling or pillow fights"] with their kids," the "cuddle chemical" oxytocin is released.

Dads can also be far more laid back than moms.  Their "don't call me unless you're bleeding" approach can be a confidence-building boon.  It teaches children how to sort out their own "messes and scrapes."

Sharing "shoulder-to-shoulder" type activities with kids is another fatherhood strength.  Things like hiking together or engaging in a crafts project together not only builds confidence, but also competence.  This differs from the "face-to-face" style of emotional intimacy that moms often use.


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

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Internet taboo: Monks monkeying around

Internet Users by Language (Chart by Jeff Ogden)
Monkeys have been known for their endless hopping about (or is that rabbits?) from one thing to another.

Monks, on the other hand, have been known for their profound stillness, as well as for their ability to calm what the Buddhists call "monkey mind."  That is – until the Internet began penetrating the monastery walls…

After that, all you-know-what began to break loose.  Suddenly cloistered residents were being bombarded with ideas and images that threatened their peace of mind (not to mention their eternal future).

That is when Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, began to get concerned.  Reuters reports that "during a trip to the Zograf monastery in Greece," Kirill shared these thoughts:  Many monks act, in my view, quite unreasonably.  On the one hand, (monks) leave the world in order to create favorable conditions for salvation, and on the other hand, they take their mobile telephone and start to enter the Internet where, we know, there is a large number of tempting and sinful things.

Interestingly, the Patriarch himself uses the Internet in order "to seek out information."  This was conveyed to
Reuters by an official of the Orthodox Church who asked to remain anonymous.

Now, does this mean that Kirill is engaging with "tempting and sinful" sites?  Not necessarily.  The Internet - like the world itself - is a mixture of sinful and soulful.  It is certainly possible to focus upon the soulful within both.

Nevertheless, hypocrisy (do as I say, not as I do)  seems a bit more on the sinful side of the mix…


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

Friday, June 14, 2013

Human anatomy: Home sweet home

Heart & Lungs (Gray's Anatomy)
Although many like to call anything from a castle to a shack "home," what is actually a home to every living person is the human body.

According to Hugh Aldersey-Williams, we nevertheless tend to view this body as "a strange appendage: not really us at all, more
like one of our plug-ins – a car or computer."  Aldersey-Williams - whose latest book is Anatomies: The Human Body, Its Parts and the Stories They Tell – therefore thinks "it is more important than ever that we learn to appreciate the bodies we inhabit."

Aldersey-Williams asserts that we know so little about our body parts, their relationship with one another, and their interconnection
with the whole human organism.  His book is an attempt to breach that information gap with a potpourri of scientific/cultural stories.

The themes of these presentations range "from Einstein's brain to the dancer's leg" – and "from Rembrandt's anatomy paintings to Shakespeare's lily-livered Macbeth…"  The thrust of this work is to present the human body as we have experienced it, rather than as we have examined it.

Aldersey-Williams also mentions the "wild talk of uploading human consciousness into a computer 'cloud'" – and asks about "the location of the soul."  He also points out that the heart, which we love to extol as the symbol of love, is actually far less noticed by us than, say, the sex organs.

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

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Were our great-great-etc. grandparents aquatic apes?

Cousin Hippo?  (Photo by Alexdi)
A theory that may be far more popular with atheists than with Creationists states that humans have not only come from apes, but from aquatic apes.

According to aquatic-ape theorists, this aquatic component could account for some key differences between humans and land apes.  The Guardian offers this explanatory quote from Peter Rhys Evans:  We lack fur, walk upright, have big brains and subcutaneous fat and have a descended larynx, a feature common among aquatic animals but not apes.  

Aquatic-ape theory has been around for over half a century.  In 1960 British biologist Alister Hardy proposed that apes descended from trees to live near watery sources of the Earth's richest foods.  They developed an upright posture in order to literally keep their heads above water, as well as to free up their hands for cracking open those luscious shellfish.  Hair began to get in the way, so they became smooth-skinned and developed a layer of subcutaneous fat for extra warmth.

And those sinuses!  Why else would humans be so hollow-headed (i.e., have such particularly large spaces within their skulls)?  Rhys Evans explained:  It makes no sense until we consider the evolutionary perspective.  Then it becomes clear: our sinuses acted as buoyancy aids…

Hmmm…  Does that mean the emptier the human head, the better the evolutionary chances of survival?  This might go a long way to explain the prevalence of ignorance and stupidity within our little corner of the Universe…


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

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Airport yoga: Uplifting for sure

SF International (Andrew Choy)
If you're grounded for any length of time at three innovative airports (San Francisco, Dallas/Fort Worth, and Burlington), there are now some ways to soar besides just the planes.

Reuters reported in January 2012 that San Francisco International Airport opened "a first of its kind yoga room" which offers travelers "an oasis of calm in which to flex, twist and decompress."  This room keeps the lights down low in order to create a relaxing atmosphere.  There are also mats and folding chairs available for use.

Dallas/Fort Worth soon also flew with this idea - albeit theirs is a somewhat different version.  According to the Dallas Observer, their yoga area consists of a "strip of tiled floor" that is "covered in mats, sectioned off by a privacy screen and accented with several potted plants."  The "bonus" for those who wish to ascertain
their skill level of concentration is this:  The area overlooks the tarmac.

Burlington, Vermont has developed a "sanctuary in the small but light and airy space with its mossy green walls, bamboo floor, and yoga mats…"  One grateful traveler wrote in the visitor log:  Wow, you made my day!  No you made my month!


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

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Picky in Pickens? Graduation prayers banned

Pickens County (Public Domain)
In the heart of the deep South, Bible Belt and all, a "new decision" has been made by the Pickens County School District.

According to Yahoo! News, this South Carolina district decided to "no longer include prayer at graduation ceremonies."  Liberty High School
valedictorian Roy Costner IV was not about to take this sitting down.  As Costner "approached the podium, he ripped up his preapproved speech" and began reciting the Lord's Prayer instead.

Although many students in the crowd cheered, Internet viewers of the now-viral video of this incident have had mixed reactions.  The following Internet comments raise some
interesting points:

Why, in this country, does anyone need to get a speech preapproved?

When I was in high school, rebellious boys cussed, smoke and drank.  Now they defiantly recite the Lord's Prayer…

As an agnostic I served this country believing we had freedom of religion not persecution of religion…

I'm an atheist and I support what he did 100%.

Yes, but…  what if the prayer were from the Koran?  Or from the Bhagavad Gita?  Would these responses have been as favorable then?

Just wondering…


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

Monday, June 10, 2013

Humans and dolphins: Let's talk

(Public Domain)
The dolphin, whose name translates (from the Greek delphis and the Latin dolfinus) into "fish with womb," is indeed a marine mammal.

Its seemingly perpetual smile plus its playful ways have made it a favorite among humans.  Wikipedia reports that dolphins are "often
regarded as one of Earth's most intelligent animals…"  They are social and altruistic (both with each other and with other species such as whales and humans).  The males can sometimes be aggressive due to "disputes between companions and competition for females" (sound familiar?).

Dolphins communicate with one another "using a variety of clicks, whistle-like sounds and other vocalizations."  The question is:  Can
humans and dolphins learn to "talk" together?

Megan Gannon of Live Science explains that if "humans ever hope to talk to animals, dolphins might represent our best bet."  Nevertheless, despite decades of trying, scientists have still have not been able to
crack the dolphin code.

Back in the 1960s, neuroscientist John Lilly and his assistant Margaret Howe conducted some creative (to put it mildly) experiments along these lines.  For the past almost-three decades, Denise Herzing of Florida Atlantic University has spent "five months each summer studying a pod of Atlantic spotted dolphins in the Bahamas," focusing upon their various vocalizations.

Herzing and her team "created an underwater keyboard with four symbols that each corresponded to a specific sound and a toy."  The dolphins learned to request particular toys via the use of this keyboard.  Herzing et al. are now in the process of developing a wearable keyboard called CHAT ("Cetacean Hearing and Telemetry") which will hopefully allow humans and dolphins to begin "chatting."


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

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Food waste: Feds and Pope on same page

(Homemade Compost Barrel)
So what if you routinely throw out much of the now-rotten food from your fridge?  So everything, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and… Pope Francis.

Rodale News reports that food waste in the United States (not to mention elsewhere) is getting way out of hand.  That is why the USDA and EPA have teamed up with a new initiative called the "U.S. Food Waste Challenge."  This initiative targets "everyone from farmers to food processors to families in an effort to stem the flow of the 35 billion tons of food that get sent to U.S. landfills every year."

Still reeling from that "35 billion tons" figure?  Then try coming to terms with this:  It is estimated that "an
astonishing 40 percent of the food produced in this country [the U. S.] never sees your belly." The amount of energy that was used to produce this wasted food is annually 23 times greater than the amount that was lost during the 2010 BP oil spill.  While decomposing within landfills, this wasted food has "20 times more global warming potential than carbon dioxide."

Worse yet, Pope Francis – during a recent United Nations World Environment Day talk in St. Peter's Square – stated the followingThrowing away food is like stealing from the table of the poor and the hungry.

The Pope reminded everyone that "our grandparents were very careful not to throw away any leftover food."
He then put this question out to the world:  Are we truly cultivating and caring for creation?  Or are we exploiting and neglecting it?


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

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Delightful, De-lovely, De Mello

 (Photo by Nicolas Lannuzel) 
Father Anthony de Mello's gifts to the world were apparently so powerful that 11 years after his sudden death at age 56, then-Cardinal-Prefect Joseph Ratzinger (you know, Pope Benedict XVI)
was trying to suppress them.  

Although some of De Mello's works were found by this "inquisition" to be "incompatible with the Catholic faith," they are still being widely read today.  Wikipedia reports that these works are especially popular "among those interested in Ignatian spirituality (aka "Society of Jesus" and/or "Jesuits").  Interestingly, Benedict's
successor, Pope Francis, is also a Jesuit.

One thing that may have disturbed Ratzinger was De Mello's tendency to talk in parables.  Although Jesus did the same, Ratzinger might have attributed De Mello's predilection as too "Eastern" in nature.  De Mello - who was born in then-Bombay, India - was able to brilliantly convey the interspiritual nature of the world's great faith traditions.  This he did with a delightful blend of humor and paradox that rivals the greatest of the Zen stories.

Here is a classic "de-lovely" De Mello tale:

"All human beings are about equally good or bad," said the Master, who hated to use those labels.
"How can you put a saint on an equal footing with a sinner?" protested a disciple.
"Because everyone is the same distance from the sun. Does it really lessen the distance if you live on top of a skyscraper?"


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

Friday, June 7, 2013

Costco: Ministry in progress

(Photo by Coolcaesar)
Famed theologian Matthew Fox has said that all workers – not just clergy – can take on ministry roles. 

A plumber who takes his/her job seriously is providing an essential ministry (service) to those who value free-flowing clean water.  A bus driver transports people to places that enable them to better survive.  A caregiver tends her/his "flock" as seriously as any pastor.

Taking this concept to the next level, companies can also engage in ministry.  Those that respect their employees and assist them to reach their own full potentials are every bit as inspiring (and then some) as many places of worship.  Costco is one such organization.

Brad Stone of Bloomberg  Businessweek reports that Costco's CEO "leads the… happiest company in the world."  Whereas workers in retail establishments such as Wal-Mart and have been striking for better working conditions, Costco's employees already have them.

For example, long-term (26 years) Costco worker Joe Carcello brings home an annual salary of $52,700 and has five weeks of vacation per year.  Not only that, he receives matching funds for his 401(k) and does not worry about layoffs.  In fact, Costco supervisors were handing out raises during the 2009 recession.

Costco's no-frills approach allows it to offer an average hourly wage that's well above minimum (as in "$20.89 per hour, not including overtime").  No cushy CEO offices here – the Costco headquarters "radiate

Ultimately, however, the golden rule applies:  Treat people (employees, vendors, customers) well, and the
best will come back to you.  The proof is in the results:  "Costco's sales have grown 39 percent and its stock price has doubled since 2009."


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

Thursday, June 6, 2013

E. W. Jackson: Ever hear of kenosis?

Harvard Yard (Photo by chensiyuan)
Earl Walker Jackson, Sr., the great-grandson of Virginia slaves, has quite the impressive record.

He served three years in the Marine Corps and then became a Harvard-educated lawyer and preacher.  Wikipedia reports that he "served as a minister with the chapel of the Boston Red Sox for five years, and also served as the Protestant chaplain for the Boston Fire
Department."  He was recently named the Republican Party candidate for Lieutenant Governor of Virginia in what the Richmond Times-Dispatch called a "stunning upset" over his contenders.

Nevertheless, Jackson still finds the time to criticize yoga (along with much else).  Betsy Woodruff of the National Review quotes some of Jackson's admonitions regarding the "dangers of yoga."  These were culled from his book Ten Commandments to an Extraordinary Life

Jackson states:  When one hears the word meditation, it conjures up an image of Maharishi Yoga talking about finding a mantra and striving for nirvana…  (What?  No meditating Christian monks striving for illumination?)

He continues:  The purpose of such meditation is to empty oneself…  Beware of systems of spirituality
which tell you to empty yourself.  You will end up filled with something you probably do not want.

Let's give Jackson the benefit of the doubt here.  Perhaps they just didn't teach kenosis at Harvard Divinity School.  Or perhaps they did, and Jackson put his own negative spin on it.  Nevertheless, there are many Christian interpretations of kenosis that "end up" being filled with something you probably do want – i.e., the Will of God.


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

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

'God's bathtub' better than a self-cleaning oven

(Photo by Yannick Trottier)
Assuming that God (being the purest there ever was, is and will be) even needs to bathe – if God were to have a bathtub here on Earth, then Blue Lake could be it.

Thus proclaimed Dr. Cameron Barr from the University of Adelaide in Australia.  He and his team of researchers said that this lake, which is off the coast of Queensland, "is so pure that you can see more than 30 feet below the surface to its bottom."  Barr added:  It's like God's bathtub.  It is beautiful.  It is absolutely beautiful.

This is allegedly the only such lake in Australia. It is thought to be "in the same condition now as it was 7,500 years ago."  The pristine quality of the water is due to the draining of Blue Lake into a nearby swamp.  The lake waters are therefore "replaced by an aquifer every 35 days or so."

Although God may have set up this purification system, it can still be sullied by human intervention.  Eric Pfeiffer of Yahoo! News reports that "something as small as sunscreen samples from tourists could alter the lake's chemistry."


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

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Autism: Thinking inside the cubicle

(Photo by Asa Wilson)
Janis Joplin aside, sometimes freedom's just another word for nothing left to confuse.  Too much running about can cause chaos – sometimes it's just better to savor some silence and solitude. 

For those who "think differently," the endless rounds of water-fountain socializing and group brainstorming might actually be counterproductive.  Kate Kelland of Reuters reports that people diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum are now in demand by employers who value their "intense or obsessive focus and unwavering attention to detail," as well as their "ability to approach an issue in a different way – often a creative or counterintuitive one."

These employers are not just acting from a sense of "corporate social responsibility."  They instead see the hiring of differently-abled workers as good business sense.  Pilot projects in India and Ireland have shown that many autistic workers "can and do succeed in a wide variety of professions."

Ari Ne'eman, President of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), stated:  We need to see neurological diversity in much the same way as we've seen workplace diversity efforts in the past on the basis of race, gender and sexual orientation.

Employers can choose to either label people or to place them in jobs where they can really shine.  More and more are wisely making the latter choice.       


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

Monday, June 3, 2013

Prayathons: Are they effective?

Prayer Before Meal (Public Domain)
This past Sunday, Pope Francis led a "Holy Hour" in which "participants prayed at the same time around the globe" for those who are criminally victimized and economically

Roman Catholics were asked to join Francis in praying not only for these two groups, but also for the "1.2 billion member Church itself" (that it be "without stain or blemish").  This latter prayer most likely alluded to issues (such as pedophilia) that have rocked the Church within recent times.

Although Reuters reported that this "prayathon" was the first of its kind in Vatican history, group prayer for a common goal is far from new.  The question is:  Have group prayers such as these been shown to be effective?

Wikipedia explains that in 1872, Francis Galton set out to answer that very question.  Because thousands had been praying for the wellbeing of the British royal family every Sunday, Galton checked to see whether longevity within that family was any greater than in most other families.  Lo and behold, it was not.  Does this mean that the prayers had been ineffective?

Not necessarily…  Perhaps "wellbeing" in God's eyes is quite different from what humans perceive it to be.  However, the Galton experiment did do one thing: whet the public's appetite for further inquiry along these lines.

Further studies have had varying results.  Ones indicating that group prayer was effective within specific situations have been challenged methodologically – as have ones indicating just the opposite.  As in most things religious – it might just come down to a matter of faith…


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

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Jewish Fund: Better late than never

Rail to Auschwitz II (Photo by Pimke)
Here it is all these years later and Jewish survivors of Hitler's atrocities are finally going to be provided "some $1 billion in home care."

Under the terms of an agreement reached between the German Ministry of Finance and a "fund for Jewish victims of Nazi crimes," approximately 56,000 survivors in about 46 different countries will receive financial support … for a four-year period from 2014-2017."

Fund representative Hillary Kessler-Godin told the Berlin Associated Press that "the amount of financial aid for each person will depend on individual needs and
circumstances."  International survivors will also receive "other welfare services such as food, medicine or transportation." 

Wikipedia reports that over the past five decades, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against
Germany (aka "Claims Conference") has also administered the following:  Hardship Fund for Victims of Medical Experiments and Other Injuries, Program for Former Slave and Forced Laborers, and the Holocaust Victims Compensation Fund.

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

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Andrew Greeley: A priest, pure and simple

Father Andrew Greeley (Public Domain)
Never mind that Father Andrew Greeley had written a host of popular novels, plus a number of influential sociological works.  In his own words, he was first and foremost "a priest, pure and simple."

Wikipedia reports that Greeley had discerned this calling by the time he was in second grade.  He was born into "a large Irish Catholic family" and grew up during the Depression.  Ordained in 1954, he never looked back.  According to
Greeley:  The other things I do – sociological research, my newspaper columns, the novels I write – are just my way of being a priest.

So what's an ordained Catholic priest doing writing sexy novels?  Thus spake some of Greeley's (righteous, no doubt) critics.  While on this subject, one might as well also ask why the Vatican supported some of the greatest works of art the world has known. (Ever hear of Michelangelo?  Raphael?)

The thing is, spirituality cannot be (easily, if at all) captured literally.  Greeley was not one who believed that every word from the Bible was to be taken at face value.  He instead believed that "visible, tangible things in
the created order serve as metaphors for the divine…"  Certain works of art are therefore sacred in nature because of their ability to evoke religiosity.

And sexuality?  Read the Song of Songs.  Greeley had commented that his novels weren't nearly as sexy as that biblical passage.  But how would a priest even know about such details as are written in these novels?  Greeley had explained that from what priests "heard in confession from women," they "probably knew more about marriage than most married men…"


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