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

Friday, January 31, 2014

STAP cells: Bioethical game changers

(Author:  Mikael Haggstrom)
With a stem cell breakthrough that is being hailed as a potential "game changer," scientists have discovered "a simple way" to send mature animal cells back to the future.

In other words, mature animal cells can now be changed "back into an embryonic state." What this means for stem cell biology is that mature "human cells could in future be reprogrammed…to replace damaged cells or grow new organs for sick and injured people."

These back-to-the-future STAP ("Stimulus Triggered Acquisition of Pluripotency") cells therefore have the potential to usher in a whole new age of personalized medicine.

This could entail "tackling diseases for which there are currently only limited treatments" via such cell therapies as creating a transplant liver or some "beating heart muscle tissue."

Being able to reprogram mature human cells into pluripotent ones could sidestep the need to harvest stem cells from human embryos.  This in turn might make quite a few bioethicists and right-to-lifers breathe some hearty sighs of relief.


Copyright January 31, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved


Thursday, January 30, 2014

For Pete's sake: Seeger's spirituality

Seeger in 2007   (Photo by Dxede5x)  
Pete Seeger, who was a member of a Unitarian Universalist church, used to describe himself as an atheist.  That was before he came to the realization that "God is everything."

Wikipedia explains that Seeger had felt most spiritual when he was out in the woods.  He felt "part of nature" and had stated:  Whenever I open my eyes I'm looking at God.  Whenever I'm listening to something I'm listening to God.

It is therefore no wonder that Seeger and his wife Toshi had made the Hudson highlands their home.  They purchased land there in 1949, and lived in a log cabin which they had built themselves.

They then made it their mission to restore the Hudson River region to some of its pristine glory.  To this end, Seeger cofounded "the environmental organization Hudson River Sloop Clearwater."  The Clearwater itself
is a "106-foot-long sailboat" on which environmental education is conducted.  Judging from the title of co-composer Seeger's song God's Counting on Me, God's Counting on You, it seems that Seeger regarded this environmental work as sacred.

Perhaps Seeger was also somewhat hardwired for religion.  He called his Yankee-Protestant family "enormously Christian, in the Puritan, Calvinist New England tradition."  Nevertheless, he had also felt that there was a lot to apologize for.  His autobiography states:  …I guess anyone who calls himself a Christian should be prepared to apologize for the Inquisition, the burning of heretics by Protestants, the slaughter of Jews and Muslims by Crusaders...     


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

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Forget Nazareth: Jesus of Japan

Shingo 'Tomb of Christ'     (Public Domain)
Although only 1% of Japan's population is Christian, a story persists that Jesus once lived there.

As the story goes, an itinerant shepherd turned garlic farmer settled in a mountain hamlet of northern Japan approximately
2,000 years ago.  He allegedly lived to be 106 after falling in love and fathering three children.  Some call him Daitenku Taro – others call him Jesus Christ.

Smithsonian Magazine reports that this Japanese hamlet, Shingo, now advertises itself as "Christ's Hometown."  Never mind that only one Christian lives there and the nearest church is 30 miles away - the Shingo annual Christ Festival and Legend of Christ Museum are going strong.

So how did Jesus of Nazareth happen to end up in the hills of Japan?  Local folklore has an answer for that too.  It is said that Jesus did not die on the cross, but rather his "kid brother, Isukiri" did.  It is also said that Jesus was over in Japan during those twelve "lost years" that many have wondered about.

It therefore makes perfect sense (assuming you believe the rest of this tale) that Jesus would seek refuge in the "promised land" of Japan after being persecuted in Jerusalem.


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

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Arthur Rubinstein: Loving life

Arthur Rubinstein in 1957  (Public Domain)
Although an agnostic, the renowned pianist Arthur ("Artur") Rubinstein resonated strongly with his Jewish heritage.

He had felt a kinship with Israel and was buried in Jerusalem per his request.  Rubinstein was from an Ashkenazi family that lost beloved members during the Nazi Holocaust.  He announced in 1949 that "he would not appear with the Chicago Symphony if it engaged conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler, who had remained in Germany during the war."

Nevertheless, Rubinstein focused mainly upon the joy of life, which he loved with a passion.  Wikipedia offers these two quotes from him:  I have found that if you love life, life will love you back…   and   People are always setting conditions for happiness…  I love life without condition.

Much of Rubinstein's love of life was expressed through music (although women were a close second).  By age two he was demonstrating perfect pitch, and by age four he was recognized as a prodigy pianist.  He became fluent in eight languages and displayed a remarkable visual and aural memory.

During his eight decades of performing, Rubinstein was particularly known for concert solos and recitals.  He was particularly adept with the works of Chopin, but once stated that Brahms was his personal favorite.

Rubinstein remained vibrant almost until his death at age 95.  Wikipedia mentions that at age 90, he left his
longsuffering wife for a 33-year-old woman.     


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

Monday, January 27, 2014

Mozart: Death is the key

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (c. 1780 - PD)
According to Hollowverse, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart once wrote the following:  I thank my God for graciously granting me the opportunity of learning that death is the key which unlocks the door to our true happiness. 

Although a "high-ranking Freemason" towards the end of his life, Mozart remained a Roman Catholic unto death.  His Catholic funeral and "honorary knighthood" by Pope Clement XIV attest to that, as do his letters and more than 60 religious compositions.  Hollowverse explains that in the Austria of Mozart's day, Freemasonry and Roman Catholicism were not yet at severe odds with one another.

Wikipedia reports that Mozart's upbringing was one which encouraged "family prayer, fasting, the veneration of saints, regular attendance at Mass, and frequent confession."  His parents had both insisted upon "strict obedience" to the dictates of the Catholic Church.

Leopold Mozart strongly believed that his son Wolfgang's genius was one of God's miracles.  He would therefore remind his then-adult son that "God must come first!"

It is somewhat unclear whether or not Wolfgang "received last rites on his deathbed."  However, it is widely agreed that "he would have received extreme unction."  He was also "given postmortem exequies at a Requiem mass in St. Michael's church."

This lifetime of faith strongly suggests that the key which Mozart had spoken of ultimately unlocked his door
to true happiness.  


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

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Spirituality: Grey matters

Human Cerebrum  (Gray's Anatomy)
Although some religions are associated with transformation via suffering, scientists are also discovering that spirituality helps to guard against depression.

Traci Pedersen of Psych Central reports that "spiritual practice is linked to a thickening of the brain cortex…"  This same "grey matter" often shows signs of thinning "in people at high risk for depression."

Dr. Lisa Miller (Director of the Spirituality Mind Body Institute at Columbia University) and her research team discovered "a 90 percent decrease in major depression in adults who placed spirituality or religiosity at high importance and whose parents suffered from depression."

This type of spiritual emphasis did not necessarily entail attendance at formal worship services.  It instead
focused upon the "personal importance" of these beliefs and practices.


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

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Thomas Moore: DIY religion

Henry David Thoreau  (Public Domain)
It's not that New York Times bestselling author Thomas Moore has never tried cozying up to formal religion.  In fact, the introduction to his latest book, Religion of One's Own: A Guide to Creating a Personal Spirituality in a Secular World, makes it clear that Moore has been quite steeped in the Catholic faith for much of his life.

Why then the need to create a kind of do-it-yourself spirituality?  Moore explains that he began to "wake up spiritually" after reading the works of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Paul Tillich.  Studying the New Testament with John Dominic Crossan was also key to this awakening.

Moore warns that this type of quest is not for the fainthearted. Nor is it for the egotist…  It is instead "a courageous, deep-seated, fate-driven, informed, and intelligent life that has sublime and transcendent dimension."

He then gives examples of hardy souls who have traveled highly individualized paths.  Henry David Thoreau is one such spiritual pilgrim - Edgar Mitchell another.  Moore points out that Thoreau "walked two miles to find a spiritual center" at Walden Pond, whereas Mitchell journeyed "more than 280,000 miles" into space to catch his own "glimpse of divinity."


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

Friday, January 24, 2014

Imago Dei: Propose trumps oppose

First Day of Creation  (Public Domain)
Staunch doctrines can divide as well as unite.  When the dividing becomes more than the uniting, it's time to concentrate
upon what Genesis states we all have in common: Imago Dei ("Image of God").

Elizabeth Dias points out in TIME that Imago Dei includes everyone:  gays, liberals, unbelievers, the rich, "and most importantly, the people with whom you do not agree."

The concomitant to such thinking would be that everyone gets treated with respect and love.  Members of the Imago Dei Campaign, "a new movement of prominent evangelical groups," therefore pledge to do just that.

This new evangelical movement includes top representation from the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, Focus on the Family, Liberty University and The Bible Series.  The movement was launched on Martin Luther King Day in order to emphasize the link
between "the Biblical message and justice…"

James Daly, president of Focus on the Family, explained that all too many repeat the saying "Hate the sin, love the sinner" while still acting hatefully towards others.  Rev. Samuel Rodriguez Jr., president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, added that "too often evangelicals in the United States have become known for what they oppose, and not for what they propose…"


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

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Pentagrams at Pentagon? Perhaps

Neopagan Pentacle   (Public Domain)
Although conspiracy theorists have long talked about an association between the Pentagon and occult symbolism, it is the mainstream media that is now reporting on the enhanced self-expression of Wiccan soldiers.

The "more than 1,500 Wiccans" who are accounted for within Department of Defense statistics  (Wicca being one of the "religions
recognized by the U.S. Military") will now be able to request "religious accommodation" in terms of displaying "their religious articles while in uniform."

NBC News reports that the "nearly 3,700 Muslims," "nearly 6,300 Buddhists," "handful of Sikhs," "Jewish service members" and others will also be apply to apply for such permission, as long as this religious expression does not interfere with the "needs of mission accomplishment."

These forms of religious expression might entail special apparel (such as turbans or yarmulkes), identifying grooming (such as uncut hair or beards), "religious tattoos, and some jewelry with religious inscriptions."

This new military policy will also specify that "service members have the right to observe no religion at all."    


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

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Lord Byron: Bipolar beliefs

(George Gordon Noel, 6th Baron Byron)
Long before there was an Elvis Presley, there was a George Noel Gordon (aka "Lord Byron").

In his article titled Lord Byron: The Demons of Calvinism, Gary Sloan portrays Gordon as having love/hate tendencies towards religion and practically everything else.

Sloan portrays Gordon's personality as "an amalgam"of these polarized traits:  "cruelty and kindness; misanthropy and
philanthropy; cynicism and idealism; affectation and sincerity; arrogance and self-mockery; pettiness and magnanimity;
intemperance and asceticism; self-pity and courage."

He links many of these opposing traits to Byron's equally-charged relationship with religion.  After being indoctrinated into
Calvinism early on by "a pious, domineering mother" (and by "a string of Presbyterian tutors and Scripture-quoting nurses"), young Gordon concluded that "he was irremediably damned."  He was convinced that his clubfoot was a "mark of Cain."

His strong sense of instilled morality, along with his belief that he was "foredoomed to evil, led Byron to lead a tortured life – "oscillating between 'ungodly glee' and self-loathing."

The poet's keen sense of observation and analysis somewhat tempered this cycle.  Gordon often noted the shortcomings of many around him who claimed Calvinistic righteousness, and unfavorably compared them to some better-behaved secular philosophers and adherents of other faiths


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

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

PJs for Peace: Metta World, that is

Life is just a bowl of cookies (by Dezidor)
Once again, the being formerly known as Ron Artest has proven that the secret to achieving peace can be as simple as a change of name or clothing.

He who is now known as Metta World Peace recently uploaded a selfie which featured a bright blue pair of Cookie Monster PJs.

Now it's nobody's business what this man wears to bed, but his choice of PJ motif is fascinating nevertheless.

Wikipedia reports that Jim Henson's Cookie Monster is notorious for his "voracious appetite" and for his "famous phrases."

As the saying goes:  "If the PJs fit, wear them…"

And if they (and he) tend to bite off more than they can chew?  Well then, that's just the way the Cookie Monster crumbles…


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

Monday, January 20, 2014

Restoring Rio's Redeemer

(21st-Century BCE Soapstone) 
Although lightning rarely strikes twice in the same place, Rio's Christ the Redeemer is an exception to this rule.

Thus spaketh Father Omar of The Archdiocese of Rio, which manages the statue's shrine.  He explained to ABC News that this famous icon is "frequently hit by lightning during storms."

Just last month, "the middle finger of the right hand" was chipped by one such occurrence.  This past week, the right thumb was damaged by yet
another strike.

Despite all these blows, this symbol has stood tall and firm throughout the decades.  It has been periodically restored by many who care about its

Omar stated that another restoration is planned for next month.  At this
time, "the broken finger and other damage will be fixed using the church's
stockpile of the same stone used to build the statue."

That stockpiled material is commonly referred to as soapstone – which has "been a medium of carving for thousands of years."  Wikipedia describes it as soft yet durable – a restorative blend, for sure.    


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

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Walt Disney: Was he anti-Semitic?

Walt Disney   (1954 NASA Photo)
With all this talk going around about Walt Disney being anti-Semitic, it's no wonder that the Oscar crowd did not see fit to save
Mr. Banks.

But talk is often cheap.  The key question is:  Was Walt Disney really anti-Semitic?  Or is this just another ploy to discredit a dead man who can't defend himself?

Stephen Propatier of Skeptoid set out to answer that first question.  In his search for cold hard evidence, he found the following:  Disney did meet with Nazi-propaganda film maker Leni
Riefenstahl at least once; he was a member of the "anti-communist, anti-fascist, and Anti-Semitic" Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals (MPAPAI); and he did personally
approve the inclusion of anti-Semitic caricatures during the early years of his studio productions.

Although Propatier readily admits that there is enough evidence to suggest that Disney did have some anti-Semitic tendencies, he then emphasizes that these tendencies were about par for those times.  Disney likely only met with Riefenstahl once, and this meeting was probably much more about filmmaking than it was about politics.  

Propatier also explains that "it was common for influential members of the entertainment business" to be associated with MPAPAI.  Other members of MPAPAI included Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, Ginger Rogers and (!) Ronald Reagan – just to name a few…  Ironically, Warner Brothers was also prone to turning out anti-Semitic caricatures.

Propatier concludes:  …I think it is unfair to quantify Walt Disney as rabidly Anti-Semitic all things being equal.    

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

Saturday, January 18, 2014

If I'm lying, it must be 3 PM

(Public Domain)
It is well known that many people feel like lying down in the afternoon.  What is less well known is that many of these same PM folks feel like just plain lying.

Markham Heid from Men's Health reports on research findings from Harvard University.  Recent results showed that study participants were much more likely to fib after midday than in the morning.

Why is this?  According to research leader Maryam Kouchaki, each person's "supply of self-control is limited."  As the day wears on, this supply becomes depleted.

Hunger and fatigue accelerate this depletion.  Fortunately, the reverse is also true.  In other words, a nap or a snack can work wonders in improving one's resolve.

No bed or refrigerator in sight?  Then try "spending time with people you like – even the fictional kind on TV."  A 2012 University of Buffalo study indicates that this might also help to keep you on the straight and narrow.

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

Friday, January 17, 2014

Betty White: Unity amongst all

(Photo by David Shankbone)
Wikipedia lists Betty White as one of the well-known people "affiliated with Unity" (along with Patricia Neal, Ruth Warrick, Barbara Billingsley, Wally Amos, and other celebrities).

"Unity" in this case refers to Unity Church, which describes itself as a practical form of Christianity that can lead to "health, prosperity,
happiness, and peace of mind."  It was founded in the late 1800s
by Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, and has been predominantly "a
healing ministry."

The healing occurs through "a positive approach to life" which
seeks to "accept the good in all people and events."  Rather than
focusing upon past sins, it instead accentuates "the potential good in

For Betty White, "all" seems very inclusive of animals. While she is
not strictly a vegetarian in the way that Charles Fillmore was, White has long been a champion of animal rights.  She has worked as a tireless advocate with these organizations:  "the Los Angeles Zoo Commission, the Morris Animal Foundation, Actors & Others For Animals."


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

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Voting 'None' for religion

(Photo by Lars Plougmann)
Although it seems as though people who check "None" for religion might be atheists, it is more likely that they have spiritual leanings.

Steven Barrie-Anthony writes in The Atlantic that one-fifth of all Americans check 'none' on surveys concerning religious preference, and this amount rises to one-third when focusing in on youths under 30 "who helped propel Obama into office."

Barrie-Anthony warns that savvy politicians might better get to know what makes these "Nones" tick.  Stereotypically portraying this religiously-unaffiliated group as "atheists or secularists" who are "lukewarm participants in political and civic life" could be quite alienating to a potentially powerful voting bloc.

In reality, "Nones" are often quite preoccupied with community affairs because of their strong (sacred or otherwise) sense of social justice.  However, it could be difficult for many to approach this work from an organizational perspective because there remain far fewer "spiritual" organizations than religious ones.

The wise politician will therefore provide opportunities that appeal specifically to the "Nones" – ones that stress spiritual commonalities rather than religious (etc.) differences.


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

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Brazilian Jews: A growing minority

Scene from Portuguese Inquisition  (Public Domain)
Last month, Kansas City-based Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn flew to Brazil in order to conduct a conversion ceremony.

There he met with "a group of 15 men and women who have been studying and participating in the live Saturday morning Shabbat prayer services" on his Brit Braja website.  This one-of-a-kind website offers Portuguese and Spanish distance-learning
opportunities to those interested in better understanding and possibly converting to

During this recent conversion ceremony, participants answered questions regarding Halakhah (Jewish law), engaged in full-body immersions within a local spring for ritual purification (akin to a mikvah), and put pen to ink for the completion of a "specially commissioned Torah scroll."

The Brazilian-Jewish connection is steeped in history. The Washington Post explains that many "Portuguese Jews fled to South America after the Inquisition, settling largely in northeast Brazil."  This group of Sephardic
Jews "built the first synagogue in the Americas in the city of Recife in 1636, then under Dutch command."  

Unfortunately, once the Portuguese regained control, persecution began anew.  Jews there were then "forced to convert to Catholicism."  Therefore, many current Brazilian villagers from remote northeast and Amazon regions have Jewish ancestry.  Rabbi Cukierkorn's "virtual synagogue" is helping some of them to get back in touch with their spiritual roots.


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

Pew Research: Religious conflict rising

Crusades Battle   (PD)
Those who think that widespread religious conflict is as passe as the Crusades are in for an unpleasant surprise.

UPI recently reported that such conflict appears to be internationally on the rise with "hostility high in one-third of all countries."

This conclusion stems from a report issued by the Pew Research Center,
which stipulated that "76 percent of the world's population live in countries
where restrictions on religious  practice are high or very high."

According to this research, the level of overall religious hostility rose almost 10 percent between 2007 and 2011.  The greatest increases were found in the Middle East and in East Asia.  The "highest level of [noted] restrictions" occurred in Pakistan, and the "highest level of [noted] conflict" in Egypt.


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

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Sneezing: Why the blessings?

Ah-Choo!     (CDC Photo)
Even within a room full of strangers, an audible sneeze often elicits an equally-audible "God bless you." 

Ever wonder why?

So have others.  The Straight Dope Advisory Board therefore tackled this question back in 2001. Dismissing some commonly-held beliefs (such as
sneezing causes the heart to stop and/or the eyes to pop out), the team instead adopted an historical perspective.

The Straight Dopers explained that it was Pope Gregory the Great who began this tradition.  Because the dates of his papacy overlapped with those of the
deadly "black" plague, Gregory had called for unceasing prayer as a remedy.  Therefore, whenever somebody sneezed, he or she was immediately blessed.  The intention was that this would ward off the full-blown disease.

Some cultures have also believed that "sneezing expels the soul… from the body."  Straight Dope pointed out that what is actually expelled ("at up to 100 miles per hour") are "hundreds upon thousands of microscopic germs."

That, in and of itself, may be enough to warrant a blessing or two.  Tissues would also come in real handy... 


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

Monday, January 13, 2014

Dennis Rodman: Weighing in

(Photo by Tuomas Venhola)
Even on a good day, it's extremely difficult to fathom just what the many layers of human motives amount to.  And most Americans are not calling Kim Jong Un's recent birthday a good day…

Nevertheless, Dennis Rodman is.  He's been celebrating this occasion for all the world to see.  His motives?  Here's what he recently told the Beijing Associated Press:  "I just want to do some good stuff, that's all I want to do…  This is not a bad deal.  I want to show people that no matter what's going on in the world, for one day, just one day, no politics, not all that stuff."

Assuming that there can really be "no politics, not all that stuff" even for one whole moment, let alone day – is this Rodman's (Kim Jong Un's, or anyone's for that matter) actual and complete motive?

Those who like to analyze Rodman's rainbow-colored hair and other such manifestations would probably issue a resounding "No way!" at this point.  They might point out his perceived need for attention, any way he can get it.  They might also mention the monetary benefits he is likely accruing from these trips.

Nevertheless, nonviolent activists have said time and time again that there is no such thing as an entirely good or bad person.  All humans – the best and the worst of us – are a mixed bag.  Even dictators with terrible human-rights records…  Even saints with alleged halos…

To round out the Rodman quotes, here is another from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:  Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit.  You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him… 


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

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Jewish names: Then and now

Moses Mendelssohn  (by Anton Graff)
Many Jewish names have markedly changed over the years.

Bennett Muraskin of Slate reports that the "overwhelming majority" of Eastern European (Ashkenazic) Jews "did not take last names until compelled to do so" by governing authorities who wanted them "taxed, drafted, and educated (in that order of importance)."

Up until then, these Jewish names had "generally changed with every generation."  Children were usually called "son of" (the father) or "daughter of" (the mother).  Thus, there were names such as "Moses son of Mendel" ("Moyshe ben Mendel") and "Sarah daughter of Rebecca" ("Sara bat Rivka").

Jews reluctantly began to comply with these orders, some by retaining the essence of their traditional names.  "Ben" in Hebrew became "sohn," "son," or "er" in Yiddish or German.  Therefore, "ben Mendel" became "Mendelsohn."

Jews also drew upon other sources for their new names:  places (e.g., "Berlinsky" – from Berlin, and "Wiener" – from Vienna); occupations (e.g., "Salzman" – salt merchant, and "Wasserman" – water carrier); personal traits (e.g., "Gottleib" – God lover, and "Springer" – lively person); and Hebrew derivatives (e.g., "Baron" – from bar aron, meaning "son of Aaron," and "Segal" – from se gan levia, meaning "second-rank Levite").

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

Friday, January 10, 2014

Archaeologists picking a bone with the Vatican

Saint Peter as Pope  (Peter Paul Rubens)
Although the Vatican has never actually proven that the nine bone fragments in their possession are Saint Peter's, the faithful keep coming nevertheless.

So does it actually matter whether some archaeologists remain unconvinced?  Not according to top Vatican official Archbishop Rino Fisichella, who had this to say about the matter:  It's not as if pilgrims who go to the altar (of Peter's tomb) think that in that moment in which they profess their faith that below them are
the relics of Peter…  They go there to profess the faith.

Shortly after the 1939 death of Pope Pius XI, archaeologists discovered a "funerary monument" which read "Petros eni" ("Peter is here").  This was later considered to be "convincing," as far as Pope Paul VI (head of the Roman Catholic Church from 1963 to 1978) was concerned.

Whether Peter's bones are there or not seems to be almost irrelevant.  What matters most to these devotees is that "Peter is here" no matter what. 


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

Tikker: Making moments count

(Photo by S Sepp)
It used to be that you would watch the sands of time slipping away through an

These days, all you need is a "Tikker" watch that is programmed to clock the
exact number of seconds until your death.

ABC News recently reported that "a former gravedigger" (are we surprised?) came up with this handy-dandy invention.  It seems that some people just have a real knack for the macabre.

So how does this Tikker know when the Grim Reaper is due to arrive?  ABC News explains that the "watch-wearer simply fills out a questionnaire and inputs age and the countdown begins." 

What's behind this is "a common algorithm used by the federal government to estimate a person's life expectancy."

And why would anybody want to be reminded that their life is growing shorter by the second?  Tikker's inventor, Fredrik Colting, offers this explanation:  I think that if we are aware of death, and our own expiration, that we will have a greater appreciation for life.

Many must agree because thousands of $79 Tikkers are already on order.


Copyright January 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Elvis Presley: Interspiritual leanings

Chai  (Photo: Yehoshuapinto)
There are some who associate Elvis Presley with Christianity because of his fondness for gospel music.  There are others who associate him with Judaism because of his mother's ancestry.

Debbie Schlussel reports that when Elvis was asked why he wore both a Christian cross and a Jewish "Chai" (good-luck necklace), Presley explained that he wanted to be sure of going to Heaven by covering all bases.

Christianity and Judaism were just two of Elvis' many spiritual leanings. offers these quotes from biographies about Presley:

"Elvis constructed 'a personalised religion out of what he'd read of Hinduism, Judaism, numerology, theosophy, mind control, positive thinking and Christianity.'"  (Steve Turner, Hungry for Heaven)

"Elvis traveled with a portable bookcase containing over 200 volumes of his favorite books…  such as The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, Autobiography of a Yogi by Yogananda, The Mystical Christ by Manley
Palmer… The Inner Life by Leadbetter, The First and Last Freedom by Krishnamurti…  the Book of
Numbers by Cheiro…"  (Goldman, Elvis: The Last 24 Hours)

Although some might say that these many spiritual tendencies indicate a shallow level of overall devotion -
others might surmise that Presley was either a sincere seeker, or a believer who resonated more with
interspirituality than with any particular religion.


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

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Torah of Reconciliation: Does God prefer peace?

Torah reading   (Photo by Roylindman)
Certainly when reading through the Torah, one can find numerous instances of war.  Some have therefore believed that God is predisposed towards such conflict.

After experiencing 9/11, Rabbi Sheldon Lewis felt "most urgent" about investigating this question:  Does the God of the Torah prefer war or peace?  His book, The Torah of Reconciliation, presents a faithful response to that fundamental question.

Rabbi Lewis drew heavily upon his own life experiences (as a student of the civil-rights activist Abraham Heschel, as a chaplain during the Vietnam War, and as a spiritual leader privy to many interpersonal conflicts) during his ardent quest for answers.  He then turned not only to the Torah - but also to the words of numerous Jewish sages
who, throughout the ages, spoke out about this dilemma.

Although Lewis freely admits that the Torah can be "harsh, militant, wary of the stranger, chauvinistic," he also asserts that it remains "compassionate, uncomfortable with hatred, caring of anyone on the margins, in pursuit of peace, and inclusive of all peoples."  It is this latter view that Lewis emphasizes throughout his book.

After following a "critical-historical approach" to this research, Rabbi Lewis concludes that the Torah is
somewhat a "product of its time and place," and that "God is much more than Torah…"  He also states that
God isn't flawed, but "the way God is perceived is flawed."

Lewis admits to having a bias in favor of a peaceful God, and proceeds to offer a myriad of biblical and other passages to bolster this perception.  In doing so, he has gifted the world with some powerful tools for
making God's peace a reality here on Earth.


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

Monday, January 6, 2014

Biblical (etc.?) 'health insurance'

"Tabaco" forbidden...  (Public Domain)
Obamacare is not the only alternative to former insurance choices.  For quite some time, certain people have been able to opt into what is often termed "Biblical health insurance."

Lisa Aberle of Get Rich Slowly writes about her own personal dilemma concerning health insurance.  When considering leaving her full-time job, she thought she might only have these three options:  be without insurance, find a private plan, or go with COBRA.

Then she discovered a fourth:  "a medical cost-sharing plan that is available to Christians who follow certain guidelines including moderate use of alcohol, and no tobacco or illegal drug use."

Although she also looked for similar plans that non-Christians could opt into, she couldn't find any.  (Her suggestion:  "I think creating something like this would be amazing.  Like the vegetarian medical cost-sharing plan, or the Paleo cost-sharing plan…").

Since this plan is technically not insurance, but rather a form of voluntary gift-giving, there are no "premiums" per se.  Instead, members send in a "voluntary gift amount" each month - the size of which is determined by what "level" the member is at.  These "gifts" get "sent to an escrow account, which is then distributed to other
members, according to their eligible medical expenses."

Although there are some worrisome elements to this system (such as possible high deductibles and ineligible expenses), Aberle praises its merits.  She states that she is more involved with her own health care and choices than she ever was with standard insurance.  


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

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Creation Museum: Scopes revisited

John Scopes in 1925  (Public Domain) 
For those who missed the 1925 Scopes (Monkey) Trial, some of the same issues are bound to come up during the upcoming debate at Kentucky's Creation Museum on February 4th.

For a mere $25 (plus the cost of a trip to Kentucky if you're not already there), you can personally witness the clash of two Titans in their respective fields: Ken Ham (founder of the Creation Museum) vs. Bill Nye ("The Science Guy").

Back in the Scopes day, the teaching of human evolution was illegal in any state-funded Tennessee school. Although high school teacher John Scopes was hesitant at first to get involved, he nevertheless
agreed to stand trial (for basically a technicality) in order to help draw publicity to both the town and the creation-evolution controversy.

In some similar ways, publicity will be drawn to the Creation Museum during this upcoming debate.  Dylan Lovan of the Associated Press writes that the "event is likely to attract plenty of attention in scientific and faith circles."  It seems that Nye in his day is as passionate an advocate of evolution-based education as Clarence Darrow was back when.

The debate may very well focus upon two divergent views about our planetary timeline:  the Creation Museum's assertion that the Earth is about 6,000 years old vs. the mainstream-scientific view that it is instead "billions of years old."


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

Saturday, January 4, 2014

A marathon a day keeps the doctor away

(Photo by Takver)
Ever since Janette Murray-Wakelin and Alan Murray started running around together, things have been getting better and better.

Their website, RunRAW2013 (the stated goal of which is "to inspire and motivate conscious lifestyle choices…"), explains that throughout 2013 they ran "365 marathons each in 365 days."

This is especially remarkable considering that they are both past 60, and that Janette had been given six months to live at age 52.  Rather than go the traditional medical route, she opted instead for a raw vegan lifestyle. 

Here it is years later, and Janette is healthier and "more physically fit" than ever.  She and Alan (her husband of 43-plus years) both claim to have more energy now than in their previous years.

Their vegan lifestyle is not just about personal health. It is also about the well-being of all living creatures, and of the planet itself. 

They are therefore not only walking their talk, but running it too.  Their marathons have raised awareness that the vegan lifestyle is one that works well for humans and other sentient beings (including Gaia herself).    


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


Friday, January 3, 2014

Kathryn Gin: Hell's big stick

(Photo by Edal Anton Lefferov)
American president Theodore Roosevelt has often been associated with this saying:  Speak softly, but carry a big stick.

But long before Roosevelt's era, colonists had wielded the biggest stick there ever was:  Hell.  In her Religion Dispatches essay titled
"Why the Hell Does Hell Still Matter?"  - Gin contends that "Hell has never stopped mattering in America" because without the
worldly constraints of monarchy and/or dictatorship, what else would have kept Americans in line all these years?
A 2008 Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life article revealed that 59% of Americans still "profess belief in hell."  It seems that whenever a prominent mainline minister begins to challenge the Calvinist notion of Hell, he or she still catches you-know-what from the American public.

Gin reports that back around 1800, when Universalism (the belief in universal salvation) was really taking hold of the American public,
the Protestant orthodoxy feared "that if Universalism caught fire, the nation itself might not survive."  After all, if "people did not fear that their actions might have eternal consequences, there was no telling what anarchy
might ensue."

Because the United States has been allegedly based "on the premise of a virtuous citizenry," Hell still matters quite a bit in 21st-century America.

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

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Pope Francis: Myths in the making

(Photo by Edgar Jimenez)
As is often the case with folks making headlines (especially if they're popes), kernels of truth tend to get magnified and distorted by the general populace.

Siobhan Benitez brilliantly analyzes a mythological (she calls it satirical) article that is making the rounds on the
Internet lately.  This article, which originated with Diversity Chronicle, contains such eye-opening assertions as the following:  Pope Francis claimed that all religions are true, that hell is not literal, and that the Bible is outdated.

Benitez tackles these assertions one by one in her Ignitum Today column titled Why Satire is Funny: Debunking "Pope Francis Condemns Racism and Declares That 'All Religions Are True' at Historic Third Vatican Council."

She begins by explaining that, to date, there hasn't been a Third Vatican Council - and if there had been, more folks would have heard about it by now.

She continues by providing sources for the "kernels of truth" behind Pope Francis' alleged "claims."  For example, Pope Francis never asserted that all religions are equally true; however, he has stated that non-Christians can live "justified by the grace of God," and that they "can be channels which the Holy Spirit raises up…"

For those interested in where Benitez draws her own information from, she amply lists her sources within this column. They include Evangelii Gaudium #250, #251, #253, and #254 – as well as Verbum Domini #42.


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

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Pope Francis: Clothes make the stand

(Source:  Agencia Brasil)
Whereas some win accolades for dressing up, Pope Francis recently earned one for dressing down.

Named Esquire's "Best Dressed Man of 2013," this pope has divested himself of the fancy trimmings that were favored by his predecessor. Benedict XVI was known for his red shoes and "massive miters," but  
Francis prefers "black shoes and unadorned simplistic regalia."

These choices are not just fashion statements.  What a pope wears reflects theological stands, as well.  Benedict's adherence to vestments of days gone by reflected his fondness for the pre-Vatican II Church.  Francis' mode of
dress reflects his critical views regarding "clericalism."

As Michael McGough of the Los Angeles Times points out, Francis' sartorial choices are right in line with the stance that clergy "serves rather than rules."     


Copyright January 1, 2014 by Linda Van Slyke   All Rights Reserved