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

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Glenn Beck talks Right Revolution

Beck in 2011  (Photo by Gage Skidmore) 
Shunning an "us against them" philosophy, Glenn Beck recently asserted that “Americans are united by more than they are divided by.”

Beck even stated that “he learned more about history and is a stronger person because of Obama’s presidency,” modeling a stance of not letting “hatred corrupt us.”

Fred Lucas of The Blaze reports that Beck went on to compare two famous revolutionary books:  Saul Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals” and the New Testament of the Bible. 

Beck emphasized that Alinsky’s manual opens with a dedication to Lucifer.  He then praised the New Testament by saying, “You can learn everything you need in this one book.”

Highlighting the upbeat aspects of America’s Declaration of Independence, Beck essentially reminded folks that you can get more flies with honey than with vinegar.  In other words, the Founding Fathers talked “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” before launching into a critique of the king.

Beck also contrasted John Wilkes Booth’s malicious actions with Lincoln’s “malice toward none." He furthermore explained that Judas’ proclivity for a violent revolution was a fundamental way in which Jesus was betrayed.

Nevertheless, Beck acknowledged that there is sometimes a need to overturn some tables.  But he then quickly added:  That’s not where to start.


Copyright September 30, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Monday, September 29, 2014

Minerva: Goddess goes to college

Minerva   (Mosaic by Elihu Vedder)
Minerva was the Roman goddess of wisdom.  She also dabbled in medicine, poetry, music, crafts, commerce, magic and weaving.  After all, wisdom encompasses a little bit of everything.

These liberal-arts leanings make Minerva ideally suited to the world of academia.  It is therefore only natural that a Keck Graduate Institute (KGI) project has been named after her.

According to its website, Minerva Project is “the organization providing technology, infrastructure and student services” to the Minerva Schools (“an accredited, four-year, undergraduate degree program”).

Key features of the Minerva Schools include the following:  reasonable tuition ($10,000 per year), seminars consisting of no more than 19 students, faculty that is especially proficient in student instruction, a curriculum that is “based on the science of learning,” and a global-immersion focus (with students living in major international locations such as Mumbai, Hong Kong. Sydney, Buenos Aires, Cape Town and Berlin).

The Minerva Schools embrace "the latest advances in information technology.”  “Live, video-based Acting Learning Seminars” ensure that “everyone is visually engaged.”

By no means, however, has Minerva ever been satisfied with just one project.  Her name also appears in conjunction with a host of other higher-education institutions (Yale, Berkeley, Heidelberg, Bryn Mawr, just to name a few).


Copyright September 29, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Nazi gas chamber reveals grisly contents

2007 Road to Sobibor  (J. Lahitte)
As part of the world’s ongoing efforts against genocide, an archaeological excavation of Sobibor (“an infamous Nazi death camp”) has been taking place.

For the past eight years, excavators have been digging deep within the woods of what once was “German-occupied eastern Poland.”  Their efforts recently yielded the discovery of “well-preserved” gas chamber walls.

Along with this discovery came such grisly findings as “a wedding band next to the gas chambers…”  The entire site has been described
as “a mess containing human bones, human ash, glass, pieces of metal and a lot of waste.”

During the long-term course of the excavation, “personal items of the Jews who died at Sobibor” have also surfaced.  Such items include “pendants, earrings, jewelry, perfume bottles and medicine cases.”

All telling evidence that this Holocaust did indeed occur…  It is also a vivid reminder that the horrors
of genocide should be avoided at all costs.


Copyright September 28, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Saturday, September 27, 2014

'Thorn Birds' growing thornier

Rose 'Thorns'  (by JJ Harrison)
Those with a penchant for unrequited love may fondly remember The Thorn Birds, as both a novel and a mini-series.  It told the gripping story of an ambitious priest, the girl he left behind, and their… son.

Many such real-life scenarios are now being brought to light.  In a Washington Post article titled “Priests’ mistresses and wives remind the Vatican: Don’t forget about us,” Josephine McKenna explains that “the women sometimes dubbed ‘God’s rivals’ are no longer willing to remain silent.”

Therefore, 26 Italian women who are intimately involved with priests have written to Pope Francis, “urging him to relax the Roman Catholic Church’s mandatory position on clerical celibacy…”

When Pope Francis didn’t respond to this letter, some began to go public with their plight.  One of these women, Anna Ferretti, “told RNS that she has been with the priest she married for more than 40 years and they now have four children.”

Although Ferretti’s husband “gave up celebrating Mass and hearing confessions” long ago, he has
“never formally renounced his vows.”  Ferretti stated:  Celibacy is not a dogma…


Copyright September 27, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Friday, September 26, 2014

Atheist: Just what does that mean?

Greek atheos   (Public Domain)
The world is abuzz with reports about Stephen Hawking’s recent confirmation that he is an atheist.

Being the scientist that he is, Hawking went on to explain just what that means to him. Calling his previous references to God “metaphors,” Hawking concluded, “…if there were a God, which there isn’t.”

As part of this same interview for Spain’s El Mundo newspaper, Hawking also stated, “In my opinion, there is no aspect of reality beyond the reach of the human mind.” He had previously written in The Grand Design that “the origin of the universe was becoming so well known that God was no longer necessary to explain it.”

So this is how Hawking has weighed in on atheism.  Nevertheless, the term “atheist” has been used long before such scientific knowledge existed.  Wikipedia explains that “arguments for atheism range from the philosophical to social and historical approaches.”

Some atheists do not believe in a creator god, but do believe in “other god-like entities.”  Some cite Occam’s razor, a “problem-solving principle” which states that “among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected.”  These atheists think that believing there is no god entails fewer assumptions than believing that there is one.

When it comes to assumptions, however, atheism seems to be at least on par with theism.  Assuming that there is no god, and that the human mind can piece it ALL together, seems to be a huge leap of, er, faith…


Copyright September 26, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Worship nearby? Heavenly real estate

Hamburg Church (AlterVista)
With so many neighborhoods going to you-know-what, it’s refreshing to read a report about the heavenly real-estate value of homes near worship centers.

Stefanos Chen of The Wall Street Journal dubbed it the “halo effect” when one study concluded that “houses within a certain distance of places of worship sell for 4.8 percent more than others.”

This Hamburg, Germany study found that the ideal real-estate distance from a worship center was “between 100 to 200 meters, or 109 to 219 yards.”  The effect was basically the same regarding proximity to “churches, mosques and temples.”

Although some real-estate clients deliberately choose homes that are near to their houses of worship, many are more interested in the secular
offerings.  These offerings include “community programs for children and the elderly.”

Homeowners also enjoy viewing these often-graceful buildings.  The Hamburg, Germany study participants were fond of their city’s “beautiful, centuries-old churches.”

And the hourly bell ringing?  Even that is part of the charm.

Copyright September 25, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Theodore Roosevelt: Religious tolerance

Theodore Roosevelt   (Public Domain)
Although many people equate religion with adhering staunchly to a particular denomination, Theodore Roosevelt apparently did not.

Raised in the Dutch Reformed Church, Roosevelt considered it to be his “home base.”  Nevertheless, he often attended Episcopalian churches, sometimes when there was no Dutch Reformed Church nearby, and often because this was his wife’s affiliation.

The following TR quotation indicates his religious flexibility:  When I first came to Washington, I did not know there was any Dutch Reformed Church there, and went with my wife to the Episcopal Church… explains that Roosevelt was also a champion of overall religious freedom.  In a 1908 letter defending Taft’s family ties to Catholicism, Roosevelt wrote:  To discriminate against a thoroughly upright citizen because he belongs to some particular Church… is an outrage against the liberty of conscience which is one of the foundations of American life. 

Roosevelt also supported interfaith rights.  In his 1904 State of the Union Address, Roosevelt condemned Russia’s treatment of the Jews and “called for tolerance and equality of all races, religions and creeds.”    


Copyright September 24, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Jesus on toast? Perfectly normal

(Photo by Elf)
An Ig Nobel Prize (i.e., “a spoof of the Nobel Prize” which celebrates “unusual, imaginative and humorous scientific achievements”) was awarded this year to the leaders of a study titled “Seeing Jesus in toast: Neural and behavioral correlates of face pareidolia.”

Not sure what “face pareidolia” refers to?  The Canadian Press reports that this is a phenomenon “where individuals report seeing well-known faces in bread, clouds, smoke or rock formations.”

You know, like seeing Jesus on a burnt English muffin (butter and jam optional)…

Lead author of this winning study, neuroscientist Kang Lee, reassures the public that this type of visual experience is “normal.”  His exact words:  “This is OK for you to see Jesus on toast.”  

Lee's scientific explanation has to do with “how the brain interprets and makes sense of visual stimuli.”

Whatever happened to good old-fashioned miracles? I guess they went the way of good old-fashioned muffins. 

The kind that melted in your mouth straight from the oven and never even needed toasting…


Copyright September 23, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Monday, September 22, 2014

Lincoln's Emancipation: A work in progress

Reading the Proclamation, 1863  (PD)
As Henry Louis Gates, Jr. of The Root so aptly points out, Abraham Lincoln was far from a flaming abolitionist for much of his life.

In fact, Gates vividly describes a “solution” that Lincoln often promoted regarding America’s slavery issue.  Simply put, his idea was to “free” the slaves by shipping them and their kin off to Central America.

“Honest Abe” therefore assembled a group of prominent free Afro-Americans in order to persuade them to lead this “Exodus.”  Gates explains that “the white Methodist preacher James Mitchell… had spread the word through the black churches of Washington that ‘Father Abraham’ was interested in talking.”

Lincoln began this (mostly one-way) “discussion” with the premise that black and white people are separated by “a broader distance than exists between almost any other two races.”  He went on to state, “I think your race suffer very greatly, many of them by living among us, while ours suffer from your presence.”

Gates reports that Lincoln then blamed the Civil War on the presence of black Americans.  Lincoln’s (distorted) reasoning was this: “…without the institution of Slavery and the colored race as a basis, the war could not have an existence.”  (Talk about blaming the victim…)

Although Lincoln’s position eventually evolved into the Emancipation Proclamation, elements of his “Exodus” idea persisted for quite some time.


Copyright September 22, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Michigan hearses: Hell on wheels

(Photo by Sswonk)
Although Detroit, Michigan can get pretty rough, 45 miles to the west of it is really Hell.

Just to lighten things up a bit, this diabolically-named Michigan hamlet will be soon be celebrating its annual

Associated Press reports that the highlight of this celebration is an “all-hearse car show,” followed by a procession of “casket-carrying cars.”

Sounds like… fun?

Just Hearse ‘N Around, “the Hell-based car club,” certainly thinks so. Its co-founder, Frank Hendeen, has high hopes of reclaiming a Guiness World Record that was set back in 2011 “when 51 vehicles made the parade.”

Of course, there's always the Netherlands to contend with.  In 2012, that country set a record of its own by way of a “107-strong hearse contingent.”

Plus, not everyone is a die-hard fan of Hellfest.  Some local funeral homes have been hell-bent on avoiding this whole scene because they think that it’s just too “weird.”


Copyright September 21, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Butterflies: Fleeting souls

'Earthly' Caterpillars   (PD)
In the hopes that butterflies will be around for years to come, U. S. Fish and Wildlife officials are taking steps to save the endangered ones.

Barbara Liston of Orlando Reuters reports, “Two species of butterflies that live in South Florida will be listed as endangered under federal law.”  These species are the Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak and the Florida leafwing.  It will therefore be illegal to “capture or harm” these species, “and their larvae.”

Sharon Peregrine Johnson of Baylor explains that “the winged form of a butterly was a symbol for the human soul” since ancient times.  Aristotle named the butterfly “Psyche,” which
means “soul” in Greek. Russians have called these beautiful insects dushichka, derived from dusha, which also means “soul.”  

Germans have gotten even more specific, thinking butterflies to be “souls of children.”  In days gone by, the Irish tended to agree.  During the 1600s, “killing a white butterfly” in Ireland was prohibited, “since it was believed to be the soul of a dead child.”  The Irish also believed the butterfly to be “a symbol of transformation and creation.”

Christians have believed the butterfly’s three stages of development (caterpillar, pupa, winged creature) to be indicative of “spiritual transformation” (from earthly concerns, to the tomb, and finally to a heavenly rebirth).


Copyright September 20, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Friday, September 19, 2014

Mia Farrow: First things first

(by Roger LeMoyne for UNICEF)
Mia Farrow will be taking a month’s “vacation” to perform in the Broadway show “Love Letters.”  Although she has starred in such movies as Rosemary’s Baby and The Great Gatsby, her major
preoccupations have long been elsewhere.

In a recent interview with Mark Kennedy of the Associated Press, Farrow said that “she’s been so focused on Syria, Haiti, Gaza, Sudan, Chad, the Central African Republic, Congo and the Darfur region that she often forgets she’s an actress.”

Mia’s son, Ronan Farrow, has urged that she return to acting in order to seek some relief from the “genocide and mass atrocities and injustices” that she is often embroiled with.

However, Farrow only accepted this Broadway role because it won’t be usurping too much precious time.

In other words, first things first.     


Copyright September 19, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Christian missionaries: Why risk it all?

Great Commission     (Photo by Lyricmac) 
In the light (darkness?) of religious persecutions
that are taking place throughout the world, what
would make a Christian missionary want to risk
it all in a hostile land?

A predominant reason can be summed up in two
words:  Great Commission.

CNN’s Daniel Burke and Ashley Fantz explain
that the Great Commission “began when Jesus told the apostles to ‘go and make disciples of all nations.’”  Those who have taken this quite literally (in word and/or deed) are now called Christian missionaries.  Those who have fallen while doing so are known as modern-day Christian martyrs.

Although many public commentators have condemned the Commission as being “foolish, or worse,” Christian missionary teams believe that their work is simply Christianity in action.  Missionary-in-Liberia David Writebol recently explained, “…it’s that very calling that demonstrates…  the great things that Christ has done for humanity.  He left heaven and he came to a place of suffering and trouble and went about doing good.”

Not all missionaries preach the Gospel.  Some simply put it into practice, and let their example be their prayer and/or sermon.  Catholic Relief Service workers, for example, have this saying:  We assist everybody because we’re Catholic, we don’t assist people to become Catholic.

Copyright September 18, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Easy, breezy, sleazy: NFL bruised

NFL Headquarters (Americasroof)
Cover Girl's claim of being “the official beauty partner of the NFL”  has literally undergone a bruising.

Neha Prakash of Mashable reports that Photoshop-adept protesters of Roger Goodell’s initial “failure to handle the Rice situation” doctored a Cover Girl’s “Get Your Game Face On” ad.  Their
version of the ad shows “a girl with a bruised eye in a display of domestic violence.”

This version went viral on Twitter, sporting the hashtag #GoodellMustGo.  A “women’s advocacy group Ultraviolet” flew banners flaunting this hashtag “over several NFL stadiums during Sunday’s games.”

To date, Goodell is still with the NFL, and Cover Girl is still continuing its original “Game Face” campaign.

So much for protests?  That remains to be seen.


Copyright September 17, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Shukatsu Festa: Comfy coffins and more

Haraldskaerwoman  (Photo by Anlace)
Some say that the Japanese Shukatsu Festa has been putting the “fun” back in funerals.

Thousands of gleeful participants would agree.  As they climb into coffins in order to literally try them on for size, there’s time enough to smile for a photo op just before the lid ceremoniously closes.

Because of the photo op, it's important to look one’s ghostly best.  Therefore, there’s some prep work that needs to be before the final take. Oddity Central reports that funeral make-up can be applied to the face “for a deathly pallor.” 

The outfit in which one chooses to allegedly spend eternity can also be carefully chosen.  Customers can sift through racks of robes and such in order to find that perfectly angelic garment.

Although possibly a lot more fun than actually kicking the bucket, these death-before-death rehearsals are also big (real big) business.  This year’s Tokyo event included 50 companies, all vying for the attention of over 5,000 mortal patrons. 

But look out, Japan!  Entrepreneurs in China and the Ukraine are not far behind.  They have already been offering customers the experiences of “rebirth” and “afterlife” via coffin-cozy activities.   


Copyright September 16, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Monday, September 15, 2014

Memory in a Bottle

(Photo by Zereshk)
From Joan Rivers’ recent hoopla of a funeral to simple memorial services,
there are all sorts of ways to honor those who have passed on.  Every now and then, a particularly creative idea gets put into motion.

Such was the occurrence when Melvin Stanley Clary died this past April.  His bereaved family not only scattered his ashes into the sea, but also launched a “memory bottle” with a photo and a message for those who find it.

ABC News reports that the message reads as follows:  Today My Family
is laying me to rest in a place that I love… the ocean.  If you find this
message in a bottle please go to my Facebook page… post a pic of yourself and where you found me and send me back on my journey.

It didn’t take long for someone 30 miles away to find the bottle.  It had washed ashore along the California coast.  This person followed instructions and posted a message on the Facebook page.  The bottle now continues its journey.

The family is eagerly awaiting further contacts.  Clary’s daughter, Nancy Souza, stated:  I think he [Clary] would think it’s pretty cool that he’s still touching people’s lives.  


Copyright September 15, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Thai PM warding off evil spirits

Prayuth (left) meets with Dempsey (right)
Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha is not only warding off political opposition, but he is also allegedly warding off evil spirits.

Amy Sawitta Lefevre of Bangkok Reuters reports that Prayuth “believes in spiritualism and divination.”  She adds that “everyday life in Thailand still prominently features pre-
Buddhist animist beliefs.”

For example, Prayuth’s cabinet officially began working at 9 a.m. on 9/9 because the number nine is considered to be particularly auspicious. 

The decor within Prayuth's own office reflects the ancient principles of feng shui, which Lefevre defines as “a Chinese form of geomancy.”  His desk is located on the eastern side of the room, a positioning that is “thought to aid quick solutions.”

During a recent meeting, Prayuth intimated that his sore throat and neck pain was likely due to “people putting curses” on him.  The remedy?  Prayuth explained:  I had so much lustral [holy] water poured over my head that I shivered all over.

Prayuth is by no means alone in these occult beliefs.  Analyst Kan Yuenyong of the Siam Intelligence Unit stated, “It’s not just Prayuth, it’s all Thai leaders…


Copyright September 14, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Suicide tourism: One-way ticket

The Matterhorn     (Photo by Fabrice Blanc)
Switzerland has long been a magnet for tourists, but these days it has also become an ultimate destination for those seeking relief via suicide.

Jacque Wilson of CNN reports that 611 people “came to Switzerland for assisted suicide” between 2008 and 2011.  These “tourists” were from 31 different countries, but mostly from the United Kingdom and Germany.

Such "tourism" has become so prevalent in the UK that “going to Switzerland” is now a euphemism for seeking assisted suicide.  Many of these seekers are assisted by right-to-die organizations.

Not everyone, however, is on board with this practice (which is usually done via a sodium pentobarbital drip that “paralyzes the patient’s respiratory system”).

Some have “argued that legalizing assisted suicide is not addressing the real issue, which is the need for better palliative care.”  It is also feared that “assisted suicide laws would put vulnerable populations at risk.”  


Copyright September 13, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Friday, September 12, 2014

Ashkenazi Jews: All Einstein's cousins

"Cousin Al"   (Photo by Sophie Delar) 
Fox News reports that Ashkenazi Jews, a population that hails from Central and Eastern Europe and comprises “about 80% of today’s Jews,” are all at least 30th cousins with one another.  What that means is that they can all rightfully refer to Einstein as “Cousin Al.”

Researcher Itsik Pe’er claims that Ashkenazi Jews all “have a stretch of the genome that is identical.”  He gleaned this “by comparing 128 Ashkenazi Jews’ genomes to 26 Belgian
Flemish genomes, identifying markers seen only among Ashkenazi Jews.”

Scientists theorize that there was a founding “bottleneck” population of “some 350” that “lived about 600 to 800 years – or 30 to 32 generations – ago.”  This founding population
possibly descended from “European and Middle Eastern people.”

These findings are not only historically relevant, but also medically so.  They might help doctors to determine the risk for such “relatively common” Ashkenazi-prone diseases as “Tay Sachs and breast


Copyright September 12, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Thursday, September 11, 2014

When life hands you lava, make lemonade

Artemis and Apollo   (Public Domain)
If you take comfort in the spherical shape of a full moon (howling aside), read no further.

If, however, you are prone to making lemons from lemonade, the latest lunar theories might please you.

Those in the know have observed for years that the full moon is a lot more full in some places than in others (kind of like us).  These bulges more resemble the shape of a lemon than they do the shape of an orange.   

Scientists have long wondered why rotational forces did not result in a more “perfect” lunar body (Artemis aside).  They are finally beginning to solve this ancient puzzle.

Richard Ingham of AFP reports that the moon’s “nubbly tips” might have been formed by “mighty gravitational forces exerted by Earth during the moon’s super-heated infancy.” (You’d be super-heated too with a twin brother like Apollo.) 

While the moon was thus stretching and squeezing, frictional heat was being generated.  This heat “was not distributed universally,” and the moon’s then-molten rock cooled at different rates.  The would-be rotational sphere therefore became “warped” in certain areas, resulting in lemon-like bulges.


Copyright September 11, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Air Force atheist to sue U. S. government

What Would Jefferson Do?   (PD)
Although certainly not all religionists are willing to swear to God (many citing Matthew 5:33-36 as their rationale), an atheist airman was recently denied re-enlistment because of his refusal to “take an oath with the phrase ‘so help me God.’”

Washington AFP reports that this “technical sergeant at Creech Air Force Base” will be forced to “take the military to court” if the Air Force does not change its stance on this First Amendment matter.

Attorney Monica Miller of the American Humanist Association asserts that the Air Force’s stance “violates the US Constitution, which bars religious tests to hold office or other positions.”

Not only that, Miller (who is involved in this case) explains that the Air Force is the only military branch she knows of “that’s actually requiring everyone in all
instances to use the religious language.”

This is far from the first time that the Air Force has been embroiled in religious controversy.  Several years ago, its Colorado Academy was accused of being overly influenced by evangelical Christians. When a subsequent ruling was instituted, barring “commanders from promoting their religious convictions to their subordinates,” there was an outcry that this new limit was too stifling.  


Copyright September 10, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Gwyneth Paltrow: A Jewish mother?

Kabbalah Centre   (Photo by Minnaert)
Gwyneth Paltrow's repeated statements about her close ties with Judaism are fostering discussions about whether she is now officially becoming a “Jewish mother.”

Having been raised by a Christian mother and a Jewish father, Paltrow considers her interfaith roots “such a nice way to grow up.”  Nevertheless, Emily Smith of Page Six stated that Paltrow recently expressed a desire to raise her own two children “in a Jewish environment.”

Paltrow has long been a student of Kabbalah, a form of Jewish mysticism.  She is also friendly with Michael Berg, “co-director of the Kabbalah Centre.”

Paltrow’s focus upon (and possible conversion to) Judaism might not surprise those who watched her 2011 guest appearance on NBC’s Who Do You Think You Are?  During that show, it was revealed
that Paltrow has descended from “a long line of influential Eastern European rabbis.”

As for her maternal leanings, Paltrow explains:  Creating a meal for my family and friends, sitting
together, eating, laughing and talking, that’s when I’m happy…  I am the original Jewish mother.


Copyright September 9, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Monday, September 8, 2014

Nuns rock!

(Photo by John Stephen Dwyer)
According to Nicholas Kristof, Op-Ed Columnist for The New York Times Sunday Review, many of today’s nuns bear little resemblance to stereotypic “prim figures cloistered in convents.”

Jo Piazza, author of If Nuns Ruled the World, explains that nuns today “combine reverence with ferocity” by “confronting
warlords, pimps and thugs” around the world.

Piazza’s explanations were partly based upon interviews that she did with three stalwart nuns:  Sister Megan Rice (who, at age 82, is currently serving a three-year prison sentence for masterminding a protest break-in at the Oak Ridge, Tennessee nuclear complex); Sister Jeannine Gramick (who, in 1977, founded a ministry “to support gay and lesbian Catholics,” and Sister Madonna Buder (who, at age 82, completed an Ironman triathlon).

It is biographies such as these that have inspired Kristof to rate nuns as being “among the first feminists.”  He emphasizes that it is nuns who actually “walk the walk,” while the rest of us seem content to merely sit on the sidelines and mock.


Copyright September 8, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Sunday, September 7, 2014

As American as... yoga pants

Look out Levi!  (Photo by Honeyhuyue)
America's obsession with yoga is not so much about spirituality as it is about fashion.

Consider this recent advertisement from the Orvis company:  Whether you’re mastering your asanas or checking off your Saturday-morning errand list, these do-everything quick-dry yoga pants are made from our breathable… interlock stretch knit that’s perfect for travel, too.  Not only that, these yogic wonders are also “superbly flattering…”

Yoga pants are even edging out blue jeans in the American market.  Explains Anita Ramaswamy, a teenager from Scottsdale, Arizona:  “You can make it as sexy as skinny jeans, and it’s more comfortable.”

Even Levi Strauss is admitting that this “athleisure” trend is cutting into their sales.  Their denim is therefore becoming more “stretchy” by the New York minute.

Nevertheless, good old denim still accounts for approximately “20 percent of annual sales at the nation’s department stores.”  However, sales of U. S. jeans recently fell 6 percent, whereas “sales of yoga pants and other ‘active wear’ climbed 7 percent…”


Copyright September 7, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Gargoyles: Messengers or idols?

Notre-Dame de Paris  (Krzysztof Mizera) 
With the advent of drainpipes during the early eighteenth century, architectural gargoyles became less and less common.

These monstrous-looking additions to churches and other buildings can be not only psychologically frightening, but also physically threatening.  

Wikipedia explains that “sometimes heavy ones fell off, causing damage.”  Therefore, as early as 1724, “the London Building Act… made the use of downpipes compulsory on all new construction.”

Nevertheless, gargoyles remain on many famous churches (e.g., Notre-Dame de Paris, Cologne Cathedral and Washington National Cathedral).   Why would such demonic-looking creatures be incorporated into these divine structures?

One historic reason was to send a message to the illiterate masses about the concept of evil.  Another was to allegedly frighten evil spirits away from the church so that the congregation could feel safe within the decorated walls.

However, not all clerics of old were on board with this practice.  During the 12th century, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux voiced his displeasure with these words:  What is the meaning of these unclean monkeys, these strange savage lions, and monsters… Surely if we do not blush for such absurdities, we should at least regret what we have spent on them.    


Copyright September 6, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Friday, September 5, 2014

Temple Emanu-El: Remembering Joan

Temple Emanu-El  (Public Domain)
Senior Rabbi Joshua M. Davidson of Temple Emanu-El recently released this statement concerning Joan Rivers to ABC NewsWe mourn with her family, friends and all those millions to whom she brought laughter and joy. 

MSN Entertainment reports that Rivers’ funeral is set to be held this weekend at Temple Emanu-El of New York, “the synagogue where she was a member.”

Wikipedia explains that the term "Emanu-El" means “God is with us” in Hebrew.  God has apparently been with the Temple since its founding in 1845.  It was “the first Reform Jewish congregation in New York City,” and is currently “the largest, and one of the most beautiful synagogues in the world.”  Rabbi
Davidson has been its leader since July 2013.

Although the Temple's first few years of services were “highly traditional,” by 1848 reforms began to be instituted.  The German vernacular of the founders soon replaced the liturgical Hebrew, and instrumental music (formerly banned) was permitted in 1849.

Mixed seating (as opposed to gender-based seating) began in 1854.  Rosh Hashanah was then celebrated for one day instead of two.  By 1895, the Union Prayer Book had been adopted by the congregation.

This prayer book included significant departures from the “traditional concepts of Jews as a chosen
people, a personal Messiah, resurrection and of a return to Israel.”  Reforms were then widely adopted by congregations throughout the United States.


Copyright September 5, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Mr. T: Stands for "Teacher"

Mr. T in 1970  (Public Domain)
Although Mr. T was literally a teacher in the Chicago school system during the 1970s, he has consistently been a “Teacher” of life’s greatest lessons for most of his life.

Mr. T’s own education in the ways of this world began quite early.  Growing up in an inner-city housing project meant that he “regularly witnessed murder, rape, and other crimes…”

When Mr. T later served as a bodyguard, his “commandments” began developing.  For example, Mr. T insisted that clients “not lie to him.”  He also required clients to “shop around before coming to him.”

Musically, Mr. T's philosophy translates into such works as “Mr. T’s Commandments,” a 1984 album which “instructed children to stay in school and to stay away from drugs.”

He also released a “motivational video” that same year titled “Be Somebody…or Be Somebody’s Fool!”  This video includes Mr. T’s rap lessons on believing in God, respecting parents, dealing with peer
pressure, and controlling anger.

As a born-again Christian observing the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, Mr. T was moved to give up most of his trademark gold jewelry.  He explained:  I felt it would be insensitive and disrespectful to the
people who lost everything, so I stopped wearing my gold


Copyright September 4, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Egyptian 'Dancer' show goes belly up

(Public Domain)
Somehow, the definition that Wikipedia presents for “belly dance” doesn’t quite convey the passion of it all.  It simply reads:  “solo, improvised dances based on torso articulation.”

It must be the “torso articulation” that is getting on the nerves of Egyptian authorities these days.  The Cairo Associated Press reports that a new Egyptian belly-dancing show called “Dancer” has been suspended by Egypt’s top religious body for “corrupting morals.”  

This show has also been accused of serving Egypt’s “extremists,” who could allegedly “use it as a pretext to depict Egyptian society as anti-Islamic.”

Although "conservatives in Egypt believe  belly dancing is immoral,”
Wikipedia explains that it has been both a folk and a social dance in the Middle East for years.  

The Ghawazi (“conquerors” of the hearts of their audiences) of rural Egypt have practiced this art since the 18th century.  During the first half of the 20th century, urban Egyptians began practicing a version of belly dancing known as Raqs Sharqi (“oriental dancing”).      


Copyright September 3, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Work 'til you drop: Tired or fired

Take a break!  (Painting by Grant Wood)
A significant percentage of today's workforce is afraid to take earned vacation time. 

According to Christine DiGangi of, these employees fear that taking time off “makes them look replaceable, therefore putting them at risk of losing their jobs.”  This potentially-lethal
mindset has been called a “work martyr complex.”

Is it even legal for employers to fire workers for taking earned vacation time?  Unfortunately, it often is.  DiGangi explains that “there’s no federal law guaranteeing people the vacation they’ve earned.”  Not only that, “employers can fire people for pretty much whatever they want to.”

When even God modeled a Sabbath for would-be workaholics, what gives employers the right to deny their people some time away from the grind?  Vacation time can strengthen employees’ health and personal relationships, which in turn can have a positive impact upon work performance.

In order to lessen the debilitating fear of being fired, Di Gangi recommends that employees build personal emergency funds.  With at least a few months’ worth of savings set aside, they can breathe easier while rightfully claiming some hard-earned vacation time.


Copyright September 2, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Monday, September 1, 2014

Cherish freedom? Thank a cat

(Compilation by Alvesgaspar)
During World War I, approximately 500,000 cats were assisting Allied soldiers on land and on sea.

Mark Strauss of io9 explains that these cats killed vermin on ships and in trenches, served as gas detectors, kept troops company, and sometimes actively saved human lives.

A kitten named “Pitouchi” was adopted by Lt. Lekeux of the Belgium army.  When Lekeux was later trapped in a trench with the Germans approaching, Pitouchi jumped from the hole onto a piece of nearby wood.

When the Germans saw Pitouchi, they assumed that they had mistaken a cat for a man, and left the area.  Pitouchi then jumped back into the trench to comfort the beloved lieutenant whose life he just saved.

Seafaring cats were just as advantageous to their human companions.  Without cats on board, ships could easily be “overrun with rats and mice that would eat into the provisions, chew through ropes and spread


Copyright August 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved