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

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Pope Francis mirrors Saint Francis

Sultan Ahmed Mosque   (Photo by Dersaadet) 
When Pope Francis recently prayed “inside one of Istanbul’s most important mosques,” the Associated Press reported that he was “following in the footsteps of Pope Benedict XVI who visited Turkey in 2006.”

However, Pope Francis was also following in the footsteps of his namesake, St. Francis.  It was Saint Francis who long ago set the holy example of Catholic/Muslim peaceful relations.

According to Lawrence Cunningham of Notre Dame, St. Francis of Assisi “ventured into Muslim territory” during the 13th century “to visit the caliph of Egypt and preach the Gospel.”

Earlier in life, St. Francis had been a soldier.  After renouncing that, he instead became a “spiritual crusader – a warrior without arms.”  When St. Francis crossed enemy lines into Muslim turf, it was not as an envoy of war, but rather as brother of peace.

No one knows for sure exactly what was said during that historical meeting.  We do know that the caliph “did receive him kindly.”  We also know that St. Francis visited “in an attempt to engage the caliph face to face and possibly stop the killing and fighting.”

Centuries later, Pope Francis likely has these same holy intentions.  Perhaps it’s time for the world to finally follow suit.


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

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Forgive us our debts, Mr. Anderson

Debtor's Prison  (by Henry Nicholls)
Those who recite The Lord’s Prayer by rote might not stop to think about its implications all that often.

Certainly, one Mr. John Anderson (name changed to protect the guilty) didn’t seem to.

Anderson, who openly admits that he pushes “the edges a little bit sometimes,” has been known as a debt-collector extraordinaire.  He told ABC News that he “follows the law, for the most part.”

His legal lapses recently landed Anderson in a California court of law.  It seems that he was harassing a woman for $350 that
she owed from the 2007 purchase of a used car.

The testimony indicated that Anderson repeatedly told this debtor that “he knows everything” and could find her “no matter where” she was.  Anderson also contacted her boss and “released the information” that she had a debt.

It was also Jesus who taught, “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”  This has colloquially been interpreted as, “What goes around, comes around.”

So now Mr. Anderson is himself a debtor.  The court determined that he owes this woman $33,000 for his merciless actions.

The Lord's Prayer is not just a plea.  It is also a “contract” of sorts.  “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors…”

Mercy, Mr. Anderson.  Mercy.


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

Friday, November 28, 2014

Depravity Standard: Bad to worst

(Manson Mugshot - 1971)
Almost everyone agrees that Adolph Hitler and Charles Manson are bad news.

But just how bad are they?

These days quantification rules.  A “leading forensic psychiatrist who has testified in some of America’s most infamous violent crime cases” is therefore developing a “Depravity Standard.”

This psychiatrist, Dr. Michael Weiner, is hoping that his Depravity Standard will be able to codify “the concept of evil for the justice system.”  Weiner explains that “in criminal courts today, the decision to charge a case as heinous, atrocious, cruel, depraved or vile rests with the prosecuting authority…”

Steven Edwards of Fox News reports that Weiner’s Depravity Standard will be “rooted in specific hallmarks of intent, actions, attitude and victimology…”   If it works according to plan, all crimes will then be comparable with one another, and “the level of evil in a crime” will then be determined in a more objective fashion.

Weiner’s Standard can also be applied outside the courtroom.  Correctional officers can use it to make “early release recommendations,” academics to study hate crimes, and “governors regarding
pardon requests.”  

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

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving: Mumming to Masking

(Photo by Bruce Andersen)
Just when it seems as though Thanksgiving history couldn’t be any more racist (as far as the mistreatment of Native Americans is concerned), the tradition of Masking comes to light.

Megan Garber wrote an article for Wire titled “Thanksgiving Used to Look a Lot Like Halloween, Except More Racist.”  She
reports that a tradition of “Thanksgiving Masking” began in the mid-19th century, and was “an outgrowth of ‘mumming,’ the centuries-old tradition in which costumed men went from door to door, asking for food and/or money.”

As the years went on, this Masking became quite mean spirited.  Specific individuals and nations were ridiculed in a prejudicial fashion.  In 1897, the Los Angeles Times explained that some Thanksgiving masks “made fun of people of other nations,” by means of “greatly exaggerated facial peculiarities.”

In the 1920s, Thanksgiving Masking began to fall out of favor.  It was replaced by Thanksgiving Day parades, gorging and football frenzy.

Perhaps it will one day also be replaced by widespread gratitude.


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

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

LaSalle Street Church: Through the giving glass

Shane Claiborne  (Photo by Enoch Lai)

Sometimes it literally and figuratively pays to view familiar things through a “looking glass” perspective.

Seeing things from opposite vantage points can often serve to sharpen the focus.  Such was the case at LaSalle Street Church in Chicago last September when Pastor Laura Truax made an unusual announcement.

Truax suddenly explained to the congregation that each of the 320 regular attendees would be handed a check for $500.  This money equaled 10 percent of the $1.6 million that the church had received from a real estate deal.
Chicago Associated Press reports that “LaSalle, a non-denominational church, has long been involved in social causes, from feeding homeless families to buying an ambulance for a medical clinic in Niger.”

Recipients of these checks were therefore asked “to do something positive with the money.”  It was left up to each member to decide what that entailed.

Was this a leap of faith on Truax’s part?  Could the congregants simply have kept the money for themselves?  Yes, and yes again…

Nevertheless, Truax’s decision seems in keeping with Jesus’ words:  “For I was hungry, and you fed me…”  As Shane Claiborne has noted, Jesus did not say, “For I was hungry, and you wrote out a check to the United Way…”

In other words, Christianity is all about creating loving relationships, the more directly the better.  In trusting the members to decide for themselves how to share this money wisely, Truax role-modeled a generous path for them to follow.


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

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Turkeys fight back: Instant karma?

Wild Turkeys   (Photo by Yathin S. Krishnappa)
It’s Thanksgiving time, and reports of wild turkey attacks are once again in the news.

Jason Caffey of Patch writes that the residents of Brookline, Massachusetts have recently been targeted by aggressive turkeys.  One woman exclaimed:  There was like six or seven of them, and as I went around the mailbox they went around and they started chasing me into the street and I screamed for help.  These birds have even “been known to charge at people and try to claw their faces.”

As scary as these incidents may be, they are not nearly as destructive as being plucked, stuffed, and shoved into an oven.  Could it be that John Lennon was correct about instant karma?  What goes around comes around, especially at this allegedly thankful time of year.

If wild turkeys are heading your way, there are several things you can do to dissuade their possibly
dangerous intentions.  Experts say that you need to “act boldly.”  This could entail making loud noises, spraying them with water from a hose, swatting them with a broom, covering shiny objects, and/or enlisting your dog’s assistance.

If all else fails, become a vegetarian and celebrate Thanksgiving with “the three sisters” (corn, beans
and squash).  That should calm things down in the long run.


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

Monday, November 24, 2014

Seven steps to misery

(by Robert Burton)
In case you’re so happy that you just can’t stand it, here are some pointers for becoming as miserable as most.

Begin by considering yourself to be life’s ultimate victim.  Adopt this mantra:  Life is hard, very hard.

Strengthen this position by focusing upon all that’s wrong with the world.  Watch the evening news faithfully.  Better yet, listen to talk shows 24/7.

Don’t bother calling a friend to commiserate with because friends, along with everyone else, are not to be trusted.

In fact, friends should be envied for all that they have, and for all that you wish you had.

It is therefore prudent to try and bring friends down to your own sorry level.  This can best be accomplished through gossip and complaints.

When you find yourself dumped by those you have slandered, it’s time to become frantic about a lonely future. 

Control is now the key to success.  Micromanaging every last thing is about all that’s left to do.


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

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Father-daughter dance: Not like any other

FDC Miami   (Public Domain)
For most fathers, it’s an unmitigated joy to put on some fancy clothes and whirl around the dance floor with their daughters. 

This may occur at a wedding, a graduation party, a holiday affair, and/or many other celebrations.  It hardly ever occurs at a prison, and when it does, the fatherly experience is bittersweet.

The Miami Herald recently reported on a father-daughter dance that took place at the Federal Detention Center Miami.  The idea behind this innovative event was to remind imprisoned fathers that there is “still time to take an active role in their daughters’ lives.”

Inmate Ernest Williams had very mixed feelings about attending.  On the one hand, he longed to reunite with his three girls.  However, Williams also feared the pain that would occur from being so close to them in the moment, yet still so far from going home.

Williams finally decided to attend, due to a dream he had “while sleeping in his cell, an unclouded vision of him dancing with his three daughters.”  Afterwards, he sadly stated:  I am here instead of being outside with my family because of the choices I made.

Now some might say that inmates shouldn’t be dancing, period – let alone with their daughters.  And yet, this experience can go a long way toward keeping families together, even through the very toughest of times.


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

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Lammily: Reality's answer to Barbie

Real-Life Prince   (by TheMatthewSlack)
Real-life girls now have an alternative to made-up Barbie.

She’s called “Lammily,” the name being a tribute to her creator, Nickolay Lamm.  Lamm told The Washington Post that he
wanted to show young females that “reality can be beautiful.”

Lammily is much closer to being a “living doll” than Barbie ever was.  If life-sized, she wouldn’t fall forward in the way that overly-endowed Barbie might.  Lammily’s waistline seems to allow for breathing.  She is even prone to acne, stretch marks and (gasp) cellulite.  Plus, Lammily’s actually curvy.

Apparently, there is a growing need for such reality-based dolls.  When Lamm sought crowd-funding for creating Lammily, his original goal was to raise $95,000.  He currently has $501,000, along with more than 22,000 orders for Lammily dolls.

Lest Lammily be lonely, Lamm is also in the process of creating a male companion for her.  This soon-to-be “normal Ken” doll could be “maybe a little balding, maybe a little chunky in the belly.”  Who knows?  He might even have a few chest hairs and dirt stains…


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

Friday, November 21, 2014

Priests in love: Growing concerns

Priest at Mass   (PD)
According to the Rev. Thomas Reese of The National Catholic Reporter, St. Peter and “all the apostles were married, so celibacy isn’t intrinsically connected to the priesthood.”

Elisabetta Povoledo of The New York Times reports that there are a “growing number of priest organizations in the United States, Austria, Ireland and elsewhere” that are lobbying for change regarding this issue.

Celibacy is not only an historical “add-on” to the priesthood, but it is also intensifying the growing shortage of priests.  Povoledo writes that “in England and Wales alone,” approximately “10,000 men have left the priesthood to marry in the past 50 years.”

Leaving the priesthood under these circumstances is neither easy nor
pleasant.  Former priests have told of the “demeaning procedures” that accompanied this process.  Bishops have often used persuasive techniques that were far less than supportive.  Priests were pressured to instead switch parishes and go back to the way things were.

Those who do leave find that they are not necessarily prepared for the rigors of the workaday world.  Theology is not always valued within a depressed economy.  To make matters worse, families often turn away from this situation.


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

Thursday, November 20, 2014

'Unicorn' deer shot in Slovenia

Annunciation   (BurgererSF)
The mythical unicorn, “a symbol of purity and grace,” has been linked with a number of real-life animals.

The now-extinct Elasmotherium, a single-horned rhinoceros “native to the steppes, is one such association.  Another is the narwhal, an Arctic sea animal with one long horn on its forehead.

The eland of Southern Africa is a huge antelope that has been known
to actually kill lions. Shamans have viewed elands as “having a strong connection to the other world,” and their horns have been sometimes attributed to unicorns.

The Bible repeatedly mentions a creature called the re’em, translated
as “unicorn” by the Authorized King James Version and as unicornis by the Vulgate.  The unicorn became known as a beast “that can only be tamed by a virgin,” which became allegorically associated with the Virgin Mary.

The unicorn recently reared its fabled head when a single-antlered
roe deer was shot in Celje, Slovenia. Mail Online reports that its central-bone “deformity was likely caused by an injury when its antlers first grew.”

While not ostensibly "magical,” antler cells grow in “amazing” ways.  In fact, antlers are “the most rapidly growing bones known in mammals.”


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

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Abandoned sites: This too shall pass

Ozymandias   (Photo by Hajor)
The world's great religions all warn against getting too attached to the things of this world.  Along with these warnings comes the reminder:  This too shall pass.

In case mere words just aren’t convincing enough, The Coolist offers a visual presentation of “Abandoned Places: 10 Creepy, Beautiful Modern Ruins.”

These sites include an abandoned Soviet submarine base in Ukraine, crumbling buildings in Detroit, a military hospital
(within which Hitler once recuperated) in Berlin, a City Hall subway station in New York, the Ryugyung Hotel in North
Korea, the “atomic city” of Pripyat near Chernobyl, an entire beach resort in Cyprus, a massive water park in Russia, a towering cathedral in Indiana, and British Sea Forts in the North Sea.

Due to financial constraints, some of these were abandoned before construction was even completed (Ryugyung Hotel and Russian water park).  Others became obsolete for political reasons (Soviet base
and British Sea Forts).  Economic and nuclear disasters took their respective tolls upon Detroit and Pripyat.

These sites may not have had as grand a history as Shelley’s Ozymandias, but they too are fading into the sunset that awaits us all.


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

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

FBI to MLK: 'your end is approaching'

Hoover in 1961   (Public Domain)
A National Archives letter from erstwhile FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. shows just how dangerous government misuse of personal information can be.

This letter, recently published in its entirety by The New York Times, is also rife with examples of blatant racism.  For example, King is directly referred to by such epithets as “evil, abnormal beast.”  This is reflective of the Jim Crow view that African Americans are somehow sub-human.

In her essay “What an Uncensored Letter to M.L.K. Reveals,” Beverly Gage points out that “the unnamed author [now known to be Hoover] suggests intimate knowledge of his correspondent’s sex life…”  This knowledge had been illicitly gained via “wiretaps in King’s home and offices and bugs in his hotel rooms.”

The information that the government had gained surreptitiously was then used to humiliate, threaten, and perhaps kill King.  In this letter, Hoover told King that his days were numbered, and urged King to commit suicide.

Although we may have taken some steps forward from those Jim Crow days, we have also taken some (huge) steps backwards in terms of government access to personal information.  The careful reading of Hoover’s letter serves as a warning about what can occur when government intervention runs amok.


Copyright November 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Monday, November 17, 2014

National Cathedral: Should there even be one?

Washington National Cathedral   (LOC photo)
While the battle rages on about whether or not a Muslim prayer service should be conducted at the Washington National Cathedral, a more fundamental question is being overlooked:  Should there even be a “National” house of worship that is firmly rooted in one particular religion?

The National Cathedral’s Strategic Plan 2015 states: The Cathedral’s founders established it to have special
significance for American public life…  It also overlooks
the houses of government where the country’s path is
chartered…  The coming years will see the Cathedral seek leadership to the nation as well as to become a more welcome portal into Christianity...

How well does this strategy align with the Establishment
Clause of the First Amendment?  Does it become way too
dangerously close to presenting Christianity as America’s
“National” religion?

In light of that danger, welcoming Muslims (or those of many other faiths) to host their own worship services within this “National” site seems only right and good.  Nevertheless, the Franklin Grahams of America are voicing their harsh disapproval with words such as these:  It’s sad to see a church open its doors to the worship of anything other than the One True God of the Bible who sent His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to earth to save us from our sins.

Some might reply:  “Mr. Graham, is it not much sadder to see a church doubling up as an American


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

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Nicki Minaj: Nazi imagery not mine

Minaj in 2012  (Photo by Eva Rinaldi)
In rapper Nicki Minaj's recent video "Only," Nazi imagery abounds.

She has apologized for this by tweeting these words:  I didn’t come up w/the concept, but I’m very sorry and take full responsibility if it has offended anyone.  I’d never condone Nazism in my art.

Not coming up with the concept doesn't absolve a participant of any responsibility in popularizing it.  Therefore, Minaj’s apologetic explanation seems both necessary and reassuring.

Video director Jeff Osborne, who fully admits to coming up with the concept, defends his choice.  He states that he not only used Nazi images such as “flags, armbands and gas mask,” but also used American images such as the “MQ9 Reaper Drone,
F22 Raptor, Sidewinder missile…”

Osborne claims that the use of all this imagery is meant to alert Americans to how they “willfully squeeze” themselves out of their First Amendment rights “every day.”

Osborne added that this social-media, pop-culture video is a key way of reminding “younger generations of atrocities that occurred in the past as a way to prevent them from happening in the future.”  


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

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Walmart: From 'Black' to bleak

Gray Thursday at Wal*Mart (bobjgalindo)
“Black Friday,” the commercial event that is now lasting longer and longer, may soon turn bleak for Walmart.

Reuters reports that workers at approximately 1600 Walmart stores are planning a Black Friday protest. 

They are demanding higher wages ($15 per hour), benefits, and “consistent full-time work.”

This worker group, OUR Wal-mart, threatens to “be on the street on Black Friday” if these demands remain unmet.  


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

Friday, November 14, 2014

World's longest sermon

This might help...   (Photo by Julius Schorzman)
Leave it to a preacher to try and break the record for the world’s longest speech…

Although sermons that lasted for three or four hours were acceptable back in the day, a 50-hour stretch
would have really been pushing it.

Nevertheless, 50 hours is just what Florida preacher Zach Zehnder intends to do.  The Leesburg Associated Press reports that Zehnder “plans to give an overview of the Bible and hopes to speak for 50 hours.”

Attempting to break the Guiness Book existing record
of 48 hours and 31 minutes, Zehnder will be allowed to break for five minutes each hour. 

Zehnder is not only seeking to raise money for “a new addiction recovery program during his speech,” but is also looking to “spread God’s word” in a creative fashion.


Copyright November 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Former polygamy of Latter-day Saints

Joseph Smith    (Public Domain)
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has been opening up more and more about some of its lesser-understood historical practices.

There have been many questions about why and how polygamy once came to be an accepted part of Mormon life.  Doug Stanglin of USA TODAY offers a cursory explanation
in his article “Mormon church opens up delicate topic of early polygamy.”

Stanglin states that “founder Joseph Smith practiced ‘plural marriage’ and had as many as 40 wives, including one as young as 14.”  However, Stranglin qualifies this by adding
that there were “two types of marriages, or ‘sealings,’ with one for ‘time and eternity’ [which included sexual relations]… and the other for ‘eternity-only’ [which was not sexually consummated].”  

Smith’s 14-year-old wife, Helen Mar Kimball, later in life stated that “her marriage to Smith was ‘for eternity alone…’”

Smith's first wife, Emma, found it “excruciating” at times to adjust to polygamy.  Smith himself had at first hesitated to take other wives, but claimed that an angel had ordered him three times to do so.  Smith later saw polygamy as “restoring the ‘ancient principles’ of biblical prophets like Abraham…”

Although polygamy is no longer allowed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, “a substantial number of today’s members descend through faithful Latter-day Saints who practiced plural marriage…”


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

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Viral stupidity: An infectious concern

Watch what you swallow...     (PD)
Feeling stupid lately?  Perhaps you’re coming down with a virus.

Philip Ross of the International Business Times reports that “a virus known to attack green algae in lakes and rivers” is also
“making dummies” out of some people.

“How so?” you with (thus far) non-infected brains might be logically asking.

Ross explains that this ATCV-1 virus  “can impair [human] cognitive activity, learning and memory, essentially making the person who has [it]… less intelligent.”

Since scientists have found that 44 percent of people studied carry this virus (and that those who do “performed about 10 percent worse on cognitive tests”), what does this say about almost half the human population?

Sounds suspiciously like a rampant case of viral stupidity…


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

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Money: If it's flying, they're lying

Gotcha!    (Public Domain)
So… you’re driving along the highway when all of a sudden you notice paper money flying around.  Up ahead you see that an armored truck’s door had burst wide open.

You pull over to the shoulder and begin scooping up some big bills.  After risking your life in this manner, then what?  Run down to the truck and return them to their rightful owner?  Or stuff them into your pockets as you quickly leave the scene?

The Urbana Associated Press recently reported that “a bag of cash fell onto Interstate 270 near Urbana [Maryland] and the bills flew in the air.”  These bills had indeed “escaped” from the open door of an armored truck.

Police stated that “a number of drivers stopped on the interstate and grabbed what cash they could…”  Authorities are urging these drivers to return this cash “to the state police barracks… 
or else face charges of theft if they’re found.”

Comments regarding this article ranged from “…it’s mine till I get caught, then I will fight the issue in court!” to “theft is theft, so don’t be a dishonest fool.”


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

Monday, November 10, 2014

Bieber plus Bible equals Billboard

Steely McBeam  (Photo by Jgera5) 
Justin Bieber not only found time to “Steel” away for some Bible study with the Pittsburgh Steelers, but also had the tweeted photos to prove his devotion.

Dressed in what Billboard calls “a bright blue beanie” (wouldn’t want to blend in or anything), Bieber posed with his new best friend, Bruce Gradkowski.

Gradkowski then promptly recorded the starry event: Just met @justinbieber at Steelers Bible study tonight!

This Bible study was (no doubt) divinely timed to occur shortly before the Steelers faced the Jets at MetLife Stadium.

Wonder what they might have been praying about…

Which side is God on, anyway?


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