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Pilgrimage Statistics

Cumulative Days Riding:  173                       Cumulative Days Blogging: 158

Today’s Mileage: 5                                                    Total Trip Mileage: 1149

Mother with Child

I am composing this posting as I sit in the memorial garden at my church on a beautiful sunny Sunday.  I would like to wish my mother (Rose Ann) a wonderful Mother’s Day; she is half the country away but will be spending it with one of my sisters.  As I have recently dealt with the transition of “letting go” of my eldest son as he enters the US Army I have often thought of my mother and the fact that she went through this six times!  I have such a deeper appreciation for what she must have gone through across a span of ten years. Thanks mom… I love you!

As I sit here wrapped in the beauty and inspiration of Mother Nature, I find myself thinking about the universality of the mother archetype.  She shows up in all cultures across all of recorded history.  Yesterday I came across an appropriate Indian saying: “All women in this world are forms of the Goddess.”

Migrant Mother

According to some belief systems motherhood is not the only or most important archetypical phase a women goes through in her lifetime.  Some authors within the Wiccan/Druid systems speak of three distinct female archetypes.  Not all women will experience all three over the course of their lifetime, some choose to halt the progressive unfolding of this archetypical journey, while others are blocked or forbidden to express them by their culture or society.

These are sometimes called the “Triple Goddesses:” 1) The Maiden or Virgin – an independent women who is enticing and filled with energy and passion; 2) The Mother – a women who embodies fertility and growth while displaying tenacity, protectiveness, and resourcefulness; 3) The Crone – the wise old women who embodies independence, resourcefulness, and life knowledge.

Rose Ann from Maiden to Mother

Some women move graciously from one phase to the next, while others struggle to hold back the future (cronyism), to hold onto the past (taking extreme physical measures to retain the Maidens allure), or try to recapture what was lost.  Clearly the society and culture a woman is embedded in can greatly help or hinder these transitions.  The business and marketing world clearly cherishes the young maiden physique which drive huge markets in cosmetics, diets and plastic surgery.  Some religious and political systems over emphasize the Mother phase and do not allow or support women being educated, taking part in decision making or amassing wealth.  I live in South Carolina.  The state has 50 state senators who draft our laws, how many women are part of this powerful body?   None… zero!  Which archetype is neither recognized or cherished “in these parts?”

Many societies create rituals to signify the transition between phases.  Marriage and weddings represent a transition from Maidenhood to Womanhood traditionally with children following close behind.  Traditionally women would give up their employment (independence) to become a full time mother.  It can be argued that menopause represents a physical transition to the Crone stage; sadly most modern societies do not have social rituals to signify this change. Although my partner Susan recently joined her friends at something called “Menopause the Musical!”  Perhaps as the mass of female Baby Boomers reach this phase we will see the development of some recognized transitions. I believe that we should celebrate and embrace all three archetypes.  We should have a Maiden’s Day and a Crones Day, not just Mother’s Day.

Even Avatars had Mothers

However, on this day we should give thanks for the loving and caring qualities of our mothers. Not everyone is lucky enough to have a living mother, making this day a sometimes difficult celebration.  For others it is the joy of being a mother that gives this day meaning and helps them project their future onward towards coming generations.  For others there is the joy of having a trusted intimate relationship with older women who assumes a “mother like” role in our lives.  I suspect that this form of relationship is a fulfilling manifestation of the Crone archetype.  Let us give thanks for all the biological mothers who raised us and for all the various wise old women who have and continue to help us through life!

As I sat in the church garden studying the memorial monument I recognize a number of names one stood out in my memories and warranted recognition on this special day.  I hope you enjoy this poem/musing:

Fern Evelyn Thompson Moss

I stand on flat smooth

   Stepping stones

      In the church memorial garden

I stand at the base

   Of a granite monument

      Baring names of the departed

I smile at the memory

   Of your small stooped stature

      Of your radiant smile

         Of your heartfelt greetings

From 1918 to 2008

   You walked among us

      Spreading joy and comfort

         Living your wisdom

We miss you Fern

You live on

   In our memories

      In a beautiful garden

         In wildflowers and grasses

You live on

   In our unfolding lives

      In the lives of those we touch

We miss you Fern

Don't forget mother nature!

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Cumulative Days Riding:  171                       Cumulative Days Blogging: 156

Today’s Mileage: 5                                                    Total Trip Mileage: 1139

National Day of Prayer in United States: National Day of Prayer is held on the first Thursday of May each year, inviting Americans of all faiths to pray for the country and its leaders.

Is that a sacred scripture or a weapon?

Greetings fellow pilgrims!  I am reminded today why one of my favorite statements about technology and electronics is” “just when you think it is your friend it turns on you!”  I rode the bike this afternoon and dictated my posting concerning today as the National Day of Prayer.  Then when I sat down to transcribe it I found that the tape was blank!  For some reason it did not record so I will have to try and recreate it from memory.  Here goes…

I hope that everyone has taken a moment during the day to offer a prayer in whatever way is appropriate according to your belief system.  I feel the need to add this qualifier (“in whatever way”) because sadly the events of the day have been marred by controversy.  I say sadly because our community, nation and world can use all the help we can muster to set aside our differences and come together to face our growing shared problems (terrorism, global climate change, dwindling resources, conflict and war).  However, even something as promising as a call for all people to turn toward the divine for help and guidance has become a derisive issue.

Two issues seem to provide fuel for this controversy.  One centers on the issue of whether it is appropriate to have an “official” day of prayer; the second is a question of what constitutes an appropriate prayer.

Private Prayer... Freedom of Expression

A recent court decision, which is being appealed, sided with the argument of those individuals who believe it is inappropriate to have an officially sanctioned day of prayer as this represents the government sanctioning religion in general. Whether this religion is practiced by a majority of the people does not matter as the backers of this legal challenge believe it breaches the separation of church and state.  These individuals will often point out that existing laws that are written in inclusionary manners are often ignored or actively flaunted by elected officials who use their proclamations of faith for political gain.

Not just for Christians!

Personally, I do not see a problem with the government sanctioning a day of prayer as long as there is no official prayer and individuals of differing faiths or no faith at all are not subjected to exclusionary prayers.  An exclusionary prayer is one that proclaims or insinuates that there is only one valid path, valid name, valid experience associated with the divine.  Such prayers may outright condemn as false or heretical any and all other paths and names for the divine or divine experiences.

Recently at a local county council meeting atheists, secular humanists, and two groups of Buddhist were made (they were given no warning and/or before the fact choice) to sit through an “in the name of Jesus Christ our Savior” opening prayer that specifically targeted with condemnation abortion providers and gays.  The council member who delivered the meetings opening prayer offered no apology when a person in attendance complained. How do you think the Buddhists in attendance (community members, taxpaying citizens, who were there to request the county’s recognition of Buddha’s birthday) felt?  Were they made to feel uncomfortable and excluded simply because a “devout Christian” did not want to miss an opportunity to preach his message, which happened to be one of hate and exclusion in this case.

 Just this last week I sat through a graduation ceremony for a local state supported university.  While most of the individuals in attendance were likely Christians, the opening and closing invocations, which were given by a member of the school’s board of trustees, ended with proclamations about Jesus Christ.  In addition, the US Senator who was the commencement speaker also worked into his talk mention of Jesus Christ. Curiously, he finished his talk by sending off the graduates into the world with the advice to “make lots of money!”  No call to rise up and transcend our needs and desires for the greater good of the people and nation.  No challenge to aim for Mars, cure cancer, help clean up politics, just a call to produce and consume!

 I am living in the Bible Belt so I recognize the importance of faith and religion in people’s lives. It is an important part of my personal life.   However, it is troubling and unsettling to see individuals who represent all of the people of the county, state, country (elected officials and University board of trustee members) act as if there is no valid diversity of beliefs and faiths.  It seems to me the least they can do is to use a pluralistic inclusionary invocation at public meetings. If someone in attendance wants to mutter the name Jesus Christ under their breath while their neighbor mutters Buddha or Goddess, or just takes a deep breath and relaxes, how does this deny anyone their “right” to their faith?  Does it matter at all that I have the right to sit in a public meeting (this is not a church service or revival) without having to hear someone “proclaiming their faith” in ways that insinuate that I, my children and my fellow church members are somehow misguided, wrong and “going to hell.”  Again, I am not attending their church or revival, I am not speaking about the ten commandment signs they place in their yards, I am speaking about a tax payer funded meeting, conducting “official business” where I have to just sit and bite my tongue, I guess because I am in the minority! 

It is my understanding that the reason we have a constitution is to protect the minorities, as the majority can vote in the leaders who write the laws.  Therefore the courts and the constitution are there to protect the non-dominant races, faiths, sexual orientations, ethnic groups, and political groups.

Back in the Fall I blogged about the importance of great teachers, most being guided by profound deep faith in the divine.  I included Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, and Billy Graham.  Rev. Graham’s son Franklin Graham has placed himself in the center of the ongoing controversy about today’s day of prayer.  It seems that he was invited to speak at the Pentagon but this invitation was later withdrawn because of some very negative things he said in an interview about the Islamic faith.

While Franklin certainly has every right to free speech he needs to recognize, as I have taught my sons, that the things we say have consequences.  You can’t go saying negative things about a major religious tradition which will be part of an ecumenical Day of Prayer, with the purpose to “bring together” the community, and expect to be welcomed.  To add insult to injury he now claims that this is all part of some systematic affront toward white Evangelical Christians by President Obama.

In a Tuesday USA Today interview he was reported to have said: “Muslims do not worship the same ‘God the Father’ I worship.”  He also took a swipe at Hinduism, saying, “No elephant with 100 arms can do anything for me.  None of their 9,000 gods is going to lead me to salvation.  We are fooling ourselves if we think we can have some big kumbaya service and all hold hands and it’s all going to get better in this world.  It’s not going to get better.” 

Hindu Deity Ganesha

Is it any wonder why the organizers of the Pentagon service uninvited Franklin Graham?  He proclaims to know what Muslins believe and then displays his lack of knowledge about the Hindu deities (Genesha has an elephant head but only four arms; Vishnu is often pictured with multiple sets of arms).  Again I have no problem with Franklin Graham offering whatever form of Christian prayer he chooses at private gatherings or public religious gatherings, but not at officially government sanctioned event that are undertaken to bring together our diverse communities of faith.

One final point; as I stood in the locker room at my gym this morning Franklin came onto CNN, which was playing on the locker room TV and made a timid statement that he can only be expected to pray in the way he was taught to pray and in the way he believes.  He may believe this to be the truth, but if we accept this reasoning and logic then a lot of people who had in the past to change, adapt and adjust might have been “off the hook.”  If a racist Southern sheriff could have just said “that was the way I was raised” as an argument for why he should not be expected to follow the new civil rights laws, or people opposed to women’s new found right to vote refusing to give them a ballot because they still believe in “the old way.”  There are many loving, devout Evangelical Christians who can sit in a meeting and hear a non-denominational prayer without feeling that their faith has be slighted. They might even listen to a prayer by a Hindu or Muslim and see the similarity in all forms of prayer.  If Franklin Graham wants to limit himself to exclusive Christian prayers then I suggest he stick with his church and his revivals.  If he wants to be accepted into the larger faith community than I suggest he learn how to speak to the heart of all faith and religions, free of any denominational or specific faith trappings.

Hindu Deity Vishnu

Just a quick aside, when I served as the Chaplin for my son’s Boy Scout troop I often lead prayers that called on the boys to look within themselves and toward the divine for strength and answers.  It was not a Taoist prayer, or a Unitarian Universalist prayer, it was an inclusive upbeat non-denominational prayer.  I did it! I challenge Rev. Franklin Graham to do the same!

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Greetings friends and fellow pilgrims.  I am still preparing for and adjusting to my son’s departure for Fort Lewis Washington.  As a going away gift I am having the book “365 Tao” bound as a hardback book.  He has read it in the past to the point of breaking the binding so I thought a hardback copy would serve him well,  I also had the book binder include several pages of my words of encouragement and what I call “Words of Wisdom.”  I thought my readers might enjoy see them, so here they are:

The following represents “Words of Wisdom” I have gleamed from my life experiences.  I hope that pondering them may help you recognize their possible relevance in your life.

 1)      “Shit happens” – our lives are a constant parade of events that we are required

                                             to adjust too,  how we adjust affects our level of happiness!

  TYPES OF SHIT:

a)      Just Happens” Shit – we have little or no choice in the event’s occurrence

  1. THROWNESS – conditions we are born with (gender, race, baldness, etc)
  2. “DROPPED OUT OF THE BLUE” Shit – largely unexpected or unforeseeable events and conditions (illness, accidents, acts of nature)

      Keys to adjustment for the “Just Happens Shit”:

  1. Acceptance and Accommodation – some people actually embrace the

            event as a way of adjusting (“bald is beautiful”)                                        

  1. Foster Coping Skills – prepare for the next “unexpected event”

            (buy insurance, build strong social support, foster spirituality, get training)

      Most Common Errors:

  1. “Fight the Shit” – this is the basis for many marketing efforts

                                   (hair loss treatments, diets, cosmetic surgery)

  1. “Fear the Shit” – worry about all the “what ifs” that could occur

 b)      Stepped in It” Shit – we have some responsibility for these events occurrence 

                                                       as they are influenced by our life choices

  1. CONSEQUENCES – conditions we create by our actions, they are not necessarily predictable, but likely outcomes of our actions (highly probable).  They may involve the consequences of ours and others people’s actions, we tend to not see these coming, although in “hind sight” we realize that they were highly probable. (cancer due to smoking)
  2. “SEE IT COMING” Shit – if you are observant and know how to recognize it, these are the situations/ relationships/ events that you can steer clear of/ avoid (getting in the car with a drunk, going out with a drug user, skipping classes, unprotected sex).

      Keys to adjustment for the “Stepped In It Shit”:

  1. Make Corrections – change the causal behaviors or attitudes that 

                                       lead to event (quit smoking, start exercising, 

                                       leave the relationship, training, etc.)            

     2. Learn From It – take a lesson away from the experience and then 

                                Implement changes to decrease the likelihood of   

                                future problems (choose relationships more wisely)

     3. “Fight It” – work to take control (now) over the things you still have

                         control over… manage the fallout! (apologize)

      Most Common Errors:

  1. Embracing the Shit – this “there is meaning in suffering” attitude 

                                        often leads to a lack of action (everyone dies!)

  1. Misinterpreting it – seeing it as “Just Happens Shit” and accepting it 

                                      as an unchangeable situation. (I said “I do!”)

      Note:  Situations often represent combinations of these categories.  An unwanted  

                pregnancy maybe experienced as a “Dropped out of the Blue” event, but in 

                hindsight it is a “See it Coming” Event.

“I seldom end up where I wanted to go, but almost always end up where I need to be.” – Douglas Adams

 2)       “Be Happy”           

–    Life is all about attitude! Attitude represents a filter or lens (like a pair of glasses) that we  

           view the world through.  Like a dirty lens, we often assume that what we perceive

           (through the lens) is the world and not a filtered image (anger is a dirty lens)

–          always remember that your lens needs polishing and cleaning… check it frequently!

3)      “Never Say Never”

–          We can only make predictions about the future, none of us can know what it holds!

       This attitude helps keeps us from committing to inflexible positions… keeps us from

       having to “eat our words” in the future… helps us keep our options open!

“Prayer is when you talk to God; meditation is when you listen to God.” – Diana Robinson

4)     

“Be Certain, But Humble”

–          Strive to be certain about your beliefs (in yourself and your worldview).  Strive to have your life experiences fit your life view, but be humble about your beliefs because they are yours and do not necessarily fit the life experiences of other people. 

–          This is particularly important with respect to political and religious beliefs.

 5)      “Change is Mandatory, Growth is Optional!”

–          perhaps one of the most important overriding points about life is that it is a process!

–          it is always in the process of becoming something (something more or something less, but surely something different) our control over this process is sometimes limited

–          like it or not, planned and unplanned changes (shit) happens, it is what we do with these changes (resist/ignore/adjust to them) that is of paramount importance

–          how we respond dictates the general course our life follows (do we consistently make mountains out of mole hills… or see mountains –obstacles- as just speed bumps)

–          wise choices do not always lead to success (a lack of failure) but they always lead to  growth (improving our happiness and chances for success in the future)

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.” – Buddha

 6)      “Always strive for Balance”

–          Growth is a process of finding balance between our desires and needs (present and future) and the demands of life situations (rules and laws, other’s needs)

–          Buddha and the Taoists preached “the Middle Path” – don’t deny your needs but don’t give in to excesses – always treat others with compassion and care!

 7)      “Just because you can doesn’t mean that you have too or should!”

–          Life presents us with multiple possibilities and choices, we must choose wisely!

–          Not all choices are equal! Some choices represent unreasonable risks (You can see it coming shit) and     

            threaten to move us away from a balanced position.

–          Stupid people make stupid choices: 1) They couldn’t do what they tried to do (lacked skills to do it); 2) They

            didn’t see the potential risk (should not have done it); 3) They told themselves they “had to do it” (a dare,

            standing up to an insult, to look tough).

I hope that you found my words thought provoking and humorous… have a wonderful day!

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Cumulative Days Riding:  164                         Cumulative Days Blogging: 149

Today’s Mileage: 4                                              Total Trip Mileage: 1107

Happy Easter to everyone!  As I type this the afternoon temp has made it to 80 degrees!  I was afraid that we might go from Winter right into Summer, I hope my prediction does not prove to be true. 

I spent part of the morning in my first Methodist Easter service.  I joined Susan at the church where she serves as the choir director.  It was a beautiful service and gave me some ideas for a future blog topic on the importance of “transformation” as represented by the resurrection of Christ.  I will save that for sometime in the coming week.  In the mean time we have been lingering around Jacksonville Florida and there are two churches I want us to visit as pilgrimage sites.

An Historical Church!

I have labeled the first church a Historical Worship Site pilgrimage.  Its history highlights what some would call part of our dark past, a past that included institutionalized racism and segregation.  The church in question is the Bethel Baptist Institutional Church.  In 1838 the first Baptist church was established in Jacksonville.  There were six charter members, the pastor and his wife, the deacon and his wife and two slaves known as Bacchus and Peggy. The first racially mixed meetings were held in the Government Block House until a building could be constructed.  The Legislative Council of the territory of Florida incorporated the Bethel Church in 1841.  In 1861 the congregation moved into a new building, however a short time later the Union army captured Jacksonville and turned the church into a military hospital during the Civil War. The church was left in a “deplorable condition” when it was vacated by army troops at the end of the war.

With the end of the war an effort was made to separate the Colored and White members but an agreement could not be reached over possession of the property.  The two sides went to court and the decision was made in favor of the Colored members because they represented the majority of members.  However, a short time after the court decision the Colored members sold the property to their White brethren and purchased other property. 

We Cater to White Trade Only!

In 1868 they erected a one room wooden building where they worshiped for the next 27 years.  Their White brethren went on to establish the First Baptist Church I downtown Jacksonville.  In 1895, Bethel constructed the first Institutional Church building erected in the South by a Colored congregation out of red brick and Georgia marble. As the “Church History” section of their webpage notes: It was erected by Colored mechanics under the direction of Colored contractors.  The fruits of their efforts were short lived as the building burned in the devastating 1901 fire that destroyed much of the city.  In 1904 the current sanctuary was completed.  Since 1966 the church has experienced continued growth and has significantly expanded their physical presence in the city while retaining its historical main sanctuary building. Its webpage lists some 32 different ministries!

Church front!

The second church we are going to visit today represents what I call an Architectural Worship Site Pilgrimage.  It is the Riverside Baptist Church of Jacksonville.  In 1908 a tent meeting was held by the Home Mission of the Southern Baptist Convention with the goal of establishing a church.  In 1913 the growing church built a small wooden structure for services.  Like much of the Florida coast in the 1920s Jacksonville was experiencing a construction boom which fueled tremendous growth in the church.  At this time the decision was made to build a new and impressive church.  What happened next set the Riverside church apart from all other churches in the area.

Baptism of Christ!

World-famous American architect, Addison Mizner was busy building structures up and down the coast of Florida.  He had never designed a church building, but had made a promise to his mother before her death that he would design one in her honor.  He was offered the opportunity to design the new church with a “free license in designing the church.” He donated his effort in memory of his mother by refused any monetary compensation for his services.

The building he designed is a master piece incorporating three major design types: Romanesque, Byzantine and Spanish.  Many of the design ideas, building materials and furnishing were directly influenced by his tours of European castles and cathedrals.  The shape of the church is that of a Greek Cross, with a Spanish red tile roof and plaster work which was done in a way to give the impression of aged limestone blocks.

The Adoration of the Shepherds!

The church building has large cypress doors, three Romanesque windows and a large carved bas-relief of the baptism of Christ above the doors.  The interior is spacious with a Gothic style spacious ceiling.  Numerous paintings in the Fifteenth Century Italian Renaissance style adorn the ceiling and front of the balcony.  The caps of the various columns are made of cast stone to give them the appearance of being had carved.  Large rose stained glass windows illuminate the northern and southern transepts. Wrought iron grills, commonly used in Spanish churches, enclose the choir and bapistry. 

To add a local connection to the effort Mizner included a painting by the local artist Lee Adam who was a member of the church at the time of the commission.  This work entitled: Adoration of the Shepherds, used the artist’s wife as the model for the Virgin Mary. In 1973 the Office of Archeology and Historic Preservation of the National Park Service listed Riverside Baptist Church on the National Register of Historical Places.

He has Risen!

I believe that both of these churches speak to a process of transformation.  In the first case we have a group of people over come prejudice and natural disasters to rise up and become a powerful presence in their community.  In the second case we have congregation who trusted in the creative process of a master architect, who transformed a small sliver of the New World into a sacred memorial to the artistic forces that shaped the European religious experience of their ancestors.

I hoped you enjoyed that visit to these two special sites and that everyone celebrating Easter had a wonderful and joyous holiday!

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Cumulative Days Riding:  163                         Cumulative Days Blogging: 148

Today’s Mileage: 5                                              Total Trip Mileage: 1103

A Rotten and Evil Egg!

Tomorrow is Easter, the holiest of Christian holidays so tomorrow we will visit two beautiful churches in the Jacksonville area. As I ride the bike this afternoon, I have pondered why I have been unable to motivate myself to write the blog for the past three days.

 I have been busy with tests and with the arrival of warm spring weather it is a challenge for me to stay focused. Yesterday I posted the following on my Facebook page: A beautiful day is unfolding outside my door! I can’t resist it any longer!  Pink flower petals fall like fragrant snow and bees dart about in the sunlight like a shifting haze surrounding the flowering trees… I shall walk, breathe deeply and ‘go with the flow’… riding the Tao past mid-day and into the afternoon… on for the rest of life!” 

How could anyone?

This morning I read more news stories on the internet about the deepening crisis within the Catholic Church.  This is a crisis surrounding accusations of child abuse against priests and bishops across Europe.  It is similar to the crisis that occurred in the USA several years ago.  I now realize that this crisis, with its troubling meaning for the church and its members had in part contributed to my silence.

I was baptized and raised a Catholic and while I am no longer a practicing Catholic, I owe the church for eight years of my education and still hold some of the priests and nuns who educated me as significant models and mentors.  I have made it a point in my blog and my teaching to not single out specific churches or faiths for harsh criticism.  I have seen on numerous occasions that a church or faith might be problematic for a particular individual (e.g. its attitude toward women or gays may not promote growth for individuals in those groups) while at the same time proving to be a healthy fit for another individual.  I also have close friends and family members who are devout Christians (Catholic and Protestant) and it is not my intention to criticize their “path to the divine.”

A Priest's Ring Seal!

I have recently blogged about the “evil actions” that can be undertaken by religious practitioners as well as the uplifting, caring and compassionate actions which religious beliefs can generate.  I continue to have visitors to my blog site who disagree with my statement that “I would never support the abolition of the institution of religion.”  Religion as an institution is a primary source of “life meaning” for many people. They help individuals and communities deal with disasters and loss and can provide a primary source of “moral guidance” to society.  Most of the important “rights movements” of the last 100 years have been lead by clergy walking arm-in-arm against reactionary forces. Many of the loving and selfless volunteers serving our society’s “safety net” do so out of deeply held spiritual and religious beliefs.

Taking all of this into account, it is also quite clear that Religion, and any of the churches that make up the mosaic of a culture’s religious fabric, can and do become dysfunctional!  I believe this tends to happen when the institution loses sight of its primary functions: to care for it’s flocks immediate needs for safety and guidance; and to help counter forces within every culture (e.g., political power, material wealth, hedonistic pleasure, group biases that demonize others) that draw people away from the transformation power offered by a healthy spirituality and loving/compassionate faith. 

When Silence is a Sin!

I believe that what is unfolding in the Catholic Church shines a spotlight on a terrible secret and deeply damaging breach of trust in the “faith” people place in the clergy.  In my profession it has long been recognized that two things represent egregious breaches of moral and ethical principles.  These are: a breach of the client’s confidentiality, the promise of privacy toward their disclosures and no exploitation in any sexual or financial way.  Children and adults in distress are in need of trusted guidance and protection.  Anyone who meets their own selfish needs (e.g., power, wealth, sexual gratification, dominance) at the expense of another has committed one of the most deplorable acts imaginable, whether that person is a priest, a parent, a teacher, or a therapist.  They have punished and added to the burden and suffering of someone in need. 

The Catholic Church has taken a position that this is a problem with a few “bad apples” and that the institution’s response was appropriate.  They removed priests and sent them for treatment!  However, the evidence is mounting that they often returned offending priest to service without warning their new parishioners or insuring that the treatment had worked.  There is evidence of some priests perpetrating abuse for decades and the church turned a blind eye to the abuse!

Real Dangers!

It has been an accepted fact within the field of sexual abuse research that perpetrators seek job positions that place them in contact with potential victims.  All churches have had more than enough time to recognize this fact and take extreme and immediate steps to purge their ranks of any such individuals.  Two additional facts from this field of study are relevant here: the best predictor of future behaviors is past behavior; and the perpetrators of sexual abuse of children are extremely resistant to therapy and change.  Most professionals in this field suggest a permanent removal of the offender from any contact with potential victims!  It is my belief that the Catholic Church has been grossly neglectful of its responsibilities towards “parishioners” and those dedicated clergy who follow the loving and compassionate examples of Christ in their sacred scriptures.

Peggy Noonan wrote an editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal in which she noted that there were three groups of victims in this ongoing Catholic Church crisis.  The first are of course the children who were abused and carry the scars and suffering of that abuse.  The second group is comprised of all the dedicated clergy and nuns who have been truthful to their sacred vows.  The third, and largest group, are all of the parishioners “in the pews” who are left to question the authority and relevance of a church organization that knowingly placed their weakest members in “harm’s way” against preverbal “wolves in sheep’s clothing.”

Is it about faith or power?

I believe that Catholic Church needs to stop trying to blame external forces (e.g. the secular media or reform minded critics) and open its institutional structure and rules (i.e., Yes maybe even the question of marriage for priests) to honest and painful scrutiny.  The Church’s past sins have come home to roost! How it responds to this crisis will establish whether it continues to be a positive force into the future or just an old fossilized institution that lumbers on by sheer momentum of its size.  History has shown repeatedly that institutions that do not grow and transcend their old rules and “ways” are destined to litter the ditches of the roadway into the future!

One final point, just in case anyone reading this posting feels that this crisis relates only to the Catholic Church, my local paper contains on a monthly basis, reports of Protestant ministers abusing children in their care. My understanding is that the Southern Baptists do not even have a system for tracking reports of such abuse or of notifying their member churches to “black list” a minister.  I have a good friend who as a child and young adult suffered through an abusive family life.  Twice as a child and once as a young adult she turned to fundamentalist Christian ministers for help and guidance.  What she received in all three cases were unwanted sexual advances!

 

Protect the Innocent!

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Cumulative Days Riding:  160                         Cumulative Days Blogging: 145

Today’s Mileage: 10                                              Total Trip Mileage: 1090

Evil is NOT Alien... it is potentially found within ALL Faiths!

As I ride the bike this morning I pondered several potential themes for our posting.  We are traveling north towards Jacksonville leaving St. Augustine.  I decided to discuss an always sensitive topic: the potential “evil” outcomes of religious communities and movements.  I have on numerous occasions had discussions with my student concerning this topic.  Sometimes students will note that they believe humanity would be better off “without religion.”  I could not disagree more!  I point out to them that the social institution of Religion serves numerous functions for both individuals and society at large.  I often note that, like many things, it is how an individual or group uses their religious beliefs that can be problematic or have an “evil” outcome.  If your belief system acts to keep you from growing and exploring new experiences then that system might be problematic.  If a belief system subjugates or alienates a portion of society (e.g., women, minorities, gays, youth) then that system may be problematic.

You might be asking yourself: Why is he bringing up this topic?  My friends and students know that I tend to be very optimistic and upbeat and choose to not dwell on topics that drive wedges between people.   However, two things elevated this topic in my mind.  They have to do with a set of historical events, and a recent event in the news.

Several days ago we explored the history of St. Augustine and three “Forts” in this area.  Fort Matanzas has the tragic history of being the site of a massacre of 250 defenseless French Huguenot soldiers by a Spanish Catholic force.  They were killed when they refused to denounce their faith and were labeled as “heretics.”  This tragic story did not end there!  For the French had in 1564 established a settlement near present day Jacksonville named Fort Caroline.  When a Spanish force arrived the next year and established St. Augustine the ill fated French force had travelled south to “deal with” the new arrivals.  A storm was the down fall of the French, destroying their ships and casting them on the beach where they were discovered and massacred by the Spanish force.  Don Pedro Menendez, the Spanish commander took advantage of this development to conduct a counter attack upon Fort Caroline.  The defenders fought valiantly but in the end, surrendered.  What remained was a hand full of soldiers and 50 women and children.  The decision was made to once again kill the survivors as heretics.  It was reported that the women and children were all burned at the stake.  With this event the French presence in Florida came to an end.  The Spanish converted Fort Caroline into their settlement in an effort to extend their control further north along the coast.  However, in 1568 a French military force attack the Spanish settlement destroying it and massacring all of its inhabitants in revenge for the earlier kills of French settlers.

I know that some people would simply attribute these events to “an earlier time” when such conflicts were common place.  However, all one has to do is listen to recent news out of Nigeria, where Christian and Muslims are taking turns killing each other, or remember back a couple decades to Northern Ireland, where Christians were again killing each other, to know that such sad episodes are by no means a “thing of the past.”

How can we explain these tragic outcomes when the same religious groups and movement have given the world some its greatest artwork, music and inspiring leaders?  Dr. Charles Kimball, an ordained Southern Baptist minister and academic scholar in Islam wrote a book entitled:  When Religion Becomes Evil.  Dr. Kimball notes in his book that there are five warning signs (characteristics) of possible corruption of a Religion.  The more of these characteristics that are present in a belief system the greater the danger that this faith might produce “evil behaviors” in its followers.  Recent examples would include: flying planes into buildings full of people; gunning down abortion doctors; leaving threatening phone messages toward individuals holding opposing views.

Just War or Evil Crusade?

What are these characteristics?  Dr. Kimball lists them as: 1) Absolute Truth Claims – all faiths have truth claims, however when they are treated as rigid doctrines anyone holding other views become “heretics.” 2) Blind Obedience – beware any movement that seeks to limit the intellectual freedom and individual integrity of its adherents (maybe associated with Charismatic Authority Figures; enslavement to doctrine and/or withdrawal from society).  3) Establishing the “Ideal” Time – Often involve concrete ‘divinely ordained” plans, especially dangerous when religion is joined with the goals of the state.  4) The Ends Justify the Means – Beware when a particular goal or end is articulated as essential or paramount, in defense of this goal all calls for compassion and constructive relationships are ignored or attacked as “joining with the enemy.”  5) Declaring Holy War – the lines separating the forces of good and evil become blurred, represented by the crusades, jihad, and “just war.”  Especially problematic when combined with Ends Justify the Means characteristic.

It would appear that the presence of several of these characteristics in the 1600-1700 European churches might account for the tit-for-tat massacres surrounding the St. Augustine area.  In particular, Absolute Truth Claims; the Ends Justify the Means; and Declaring Holy War.  Of course conflicts like that taking place in Nigeria involve not just religious conflict but also economic and tribal conflict and feelings of revenge.

Beware combining politics and religion!

In closing I would like to highlight a news story I came across the other day.  It seems that a popular Lebanese TV personality, who conducted a call-in TV program broadcast across the Middle East, travelled to Saudi Arabia on a religious pilgrimage and was arrested by the Saudi religious police.  He was charged with “sorcery” charges after confessing (after interrogation) “that he consulted spirits to predict the future.”  The Saudi religious courts have now handed down a death sentence in his case!

While I believe people have a right to their religious beliefs and a right to their governance system of choice, I do feel that such behavior on the part of the Saudi government and their religious leadership represents an “evil outcome.”  They may feel self-righteous in their claims of absolute truth (for Sharia law) and their demands of blind obedience to this law, that does not give them the right to execute an individual whose beliefs would be tolerated if not embraced  by the rest of the world (including much of the Islamic world).

Not Options for religious moderates!

I always end this discussion with a “call to arms” directed toward moderate and liberal elements of the world faiths.  I believe that it is the responsibility of the moderate elements in Islam, the Jewish Faith, Christianity and Hinduism to rise up and take control of the “message” being expressed to the world.  These “evil influences and forces” can only be counteracted and lessened by a wave of moderate voices from “within!”

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding:  158                          Consecutive Days Blogging: 142

 Today’s Mileage: 3                                              Total Trip Mileage: 1072

A frontier Greek!

As I ride the bike this morning I am thinking about the pilgrimage site we will visit today: St. Photios National Greek Shrine and Orthodox Chapel.  I’m assuming that many of my readers had the same reaction that I did when I first came across this site on the sunny shores of eastern Florida: How did a Greek Orthodox Shrine find its way to Florida?  I had become familiar with the Spanish history of this area, something we will explore more fully tomorrow.  The Greek presence was a surprise.  Studying the history of the St. Augustine area I found my answers and I discovered a story the likes of which have long inspired people with the message of hope, persistence and tenacity of the human spiritual.  St. Augustine represents the longest continuously occupied city in North America with the oldest port.  There were other settlements up and down the Florida coast, both French and Spanish, however this was the one that “stuck it out.”  The site has gone through numerous changes of flags and ownership.  I have alluded in an earlier posting to a sad example of religious strife and killing, I will reserve that discussion for the days to come for it portrays what some people would call the “ugly” side of religious thought and dogma. Back to the question of the Greeks!

It is clear that by the 1700s North America had stoked the fire and dreams of freedom and land ownership in many poor, impoverished and subjugated peoples around the world, particularly in Europe. Not only were the major European powers sprinkling the continent with their settlements but entrepreneurs were exploiting the wilderness for their potential riches. 

Andrew Turnbull

One such individual was Andrew Turnbull, a Scottish physician who in 1766 undertook to create a settlement called New Smyrna 75 miles on the coast south of St. Augustine.  By this time the city had changed hands was now under a British flag. He collected some 1400 people from Greece, Italy and the island of Minorca who agreed to sign on as indentured servants.  They would raise sugarcane, indigo and cotton for 7-8 years to earn a plot of acreage of their own.  However, the settlement was greeted from its inception with hardship including disease and starvation.  According to several reports matters were made worse by Dr. Turnbull harsh leadership.  After 10 years little success had been achieve and the settlers felt more like slaves than servants. 

Avero House

The settlement was eventually abandoned with the residents walking the shoreline all the way to St. Augustine.  At the city gates the 300 survivors of the settlement asked the British governor for protection.  The governor repealed their indentured status and granted them sanctuary within the city. They inhabited the Avero House a location that the Greek community has come to call their “Plymouth Rock.”  These new citizens prospered as shop owners and citizens.  Their offspring became the founders of some of the most venerated families of present day St. Augustine.  Significant among that groups were the first “colony” of Greeks in the New World.  Their presence in the history of the city answers our question about the existence of the Greek Orthodox shrine.

The shrine and chapel of Saint Photios are a testament the importance, although often overlooked, role that Greeks played in the developing drama of North America as laborers and business owners in city large and small.  The chapel is filled with icons (religious paintings) created in the traditional Byzantine style which expresses visually the theology of the Greek Orthodox Church.  One of the ceiling domes is adorned with a painting “the Hospitality of Abraham.”  The central dome hold the image of “Christ the Pantocrator (the all-embracing), and the third dome depicts the Archangel Michael. 

Central Dome

One of the wall frescos depicts St. Photios (the Patriarch of Constantinople) teaching his young nephews, later known as St. Cyril and St. Methodios, before he sent them off as missionaries who are  credited with spreading Christianity to the Slavic peoples.

This story of the colony of New Smyrna is one that is repeated innumerable times across North America as waves of people followed the promises of the new world and struggled to establish a foothold in America.  I came to recognize this as a youth on the windswept plains of the Dakotas.  There was Tabor, with its quaint Czechoslovakian homes, Ukrainian Orthodox churches standing alone on the prairie servicing far flung farmhouses and any number of small farming communities with German Catholics and Norwegian Lutherans clustered about their church.

A Guardian Angel

Some foots holds worked out and survived harsh climates, native attacks, cycles of starvation and poor planning.  Others like New Smyrna failed, but the people moved on to established settlements.  Some expeditions (like Jamestown) not only failed but disappeared leaving an abandoned site and no trace of the inhabitants.  Stories of these immigrants fill our history books with their tragedy, mysteries and success at overcoming adversity in the pursuit of prosperity, freedom, and the promise of land.

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Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding: 153                                         Days Blogged: 137 

New Mileage: 4                                                          Total Trip Mileage: 1053

A Protective Platinum Rule

As I ride the bike this afternoon I would like to respond to several comments on yesterday “Platinum Rule” topic.  I agree with one viewer who pointed out that the rule, which takes into account what the receiver actually desires, leaves out the important fact that what people want is not always good for them.  In some cases people will do downright destructive things if we give them what they want.  I have many times sat with depressed individuals who wanted nothing more than to kill themselves.  Sorry I wasn’t letting it happen on my watch! 

Clearly some judgment needs to be made about the appropriateness of the “assistance” before it is given!  However, I think the critical point is that in many cases when the Golden Rule is used,  little or no effort is made to first ascertain what the receiver wants and desires.  More often it seems to me that the giver takes the easier route of assuming they “know best” and act accordingly.  This concern was part of what fueled an earlier blog where I was critical of a Christian group who wanted to send solar powered audio bibles to Haiti following the disastrous earth quake.  Did they first ask the Haitian people to choose between audio bibles or tents, audio bibles or water?  In general, could a lack of a consideration of the receiver’s needs, help to explain why we sometimes find our “gracious offers” accepted in a seemingly ungrateful manner?  

Testing the Waters!

While it is my experience that listening and considering others needs takes more time and effort,  I believe it is worth the expense!   Taking the easier “we just assume we know what they want or need” approach has not lead to a decrease in violence and suffering on our planet.  We have got to do something different.  Why not trade up to a higher grade rule?

What does this have to do with the title of today’s blog?  Nothing, because the title speaks to a newspaper article and an internet story I wanted to briefly share.  Earlier this month Nicholas Kristof, a writer for the New York Times wrote an opinion piece in the Times entitled: World Aid: Evangelicals Blaze the Path.  He argues that evangelicals have cast off many of the old negative stereotypes and become “the new internationalists, pushing successfully for new American programs against AIDS and malaria and doing superb work on issues from human trafficking in India to mass rape in the Congo.” 

Showing our Support!

He notes that the organization “World Vision” has 40,000 staff members in over 100 different countries and that it has banned the use of aid to lure anyone into a religious conversion.  I was relieved and impressed to read this as I have often feared that such aid can and is used to coerce needy people to “find the Lord” in order to receive aid.  It sounds like the Platinum Rule may already be in place within some organizations.  Let me quote Mr. Kristof’s final paragraph as I believe it contains an important message for all of us. “If secular liberals can give up some of their snootiness, and if evangelicals can retire some of their sanctimony, then we all might succeed together in making greater progress against common enemies of humanity such as illiteracy, human trafficking and maternal mortality.”

Support the message!

The second item I want to briefly comment on is a series of recent announcements where top Muslim clerics have denounced the terror attacks directed against the United States and its allies.  I feel that it is important to highlight these developments as I still find far too many people believing that “all Muslims” want to kill us and that Islam is a dangerous faith.  One story was entitled: “Top Muslim Clerics Issue a Fatwa Denouncing Terror Attacks.”  A Fatwa is an important religious edict which states an authoritative opinion on a religious matter.   This edict called those terrorists who attacked the U.S. and Canada “evil” and was signed by some twenty Muslim Imams in Canada.  I’ve read of similar Fatwas issued by important Imams in Europe and the Middle East.  I applaud these efforts and believe that we non-Muslims should do everything in our power to support and strengthen the positions of these moderate Islamic religious leaders.  Ultimately terrorism will be defeated, or at least beaten back and minimized, only if the larger silent moderate masses of Muslim stand up and reclaim the mantle of their faith from the radical CULT which spreads hatred and destruction in their name. 

I would like to again applaud both the evangelical World Vision organization and these courageous Imams.  In both cases we are seeing a movement from the moderate center of Christianity and Islam to reclaim the mantle of their respective faith from radical Cults and/or fundamentalists.  All of us who claim other faiths or no faith at all should do everything we can to support these movements as the safety and peace of the world likely depends upon their success!

 
 
 

When will it end?

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Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding: 152                                         Days Blogged: 136 

New Mileage: 3                                                          Total Trip Mileage: 1049

The Don't Tread Rule!

As I ride the bike tonight I find myself thinking about the “Golden Rule.”  In western society it is most common presented as “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The golden rule, in its various forms, is a feature of all of the major world religions.  I also know numerous atheists who embrace the rule, by choice not as a dictate by the divine, they are very moral and socially conscious people.  I have come across a number of social and spiritual world movements that propose using the golden rule as the basis or core principle to bring the diverse peoples of the world together.  As a youth I always figured that the golden rule was without question the best approach to take when dealing with people different from ourselves. When in doubt, follow the golden rule!

However, as I moved out into the world I grew more and more puzzled by the fact that we as individuals, communities and nations often perpetuated behaviors towards others that I would not want to experience myself.  I observed times when people in need, were excluded from aid because “they didn’t deserve our help.”  I observed (as recently as the Iraq War) and read in our history of times when we started and visited war on people and cultures (e.g., the Native Americans), because “it was us or them” or “it was our destiny” or “it was God’s will.”  I personally had doors slammed in my face because of my religion (something I was born into).  I stood by and watched as white cops talked about “our niggers” and sat in a sauna as old white men talk about “sending in the Klan to burn them out.”  I remember watching as white residents of non-flooded suburbs of New Orleans blocked the roads and turned back other citizens who were attempting to flee the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

What man has visited upon man!

I came to realize that the golden rule was clearly an ideal, but one that many individuals, groups, communities and nations failed to achieve, and in some cases seemed to not even attempt.  In addition, I found it fascinating and disturbing that I would at times find people who insisted they were following the golden rule even when it seemed apparent to me that their efforts (the “do unto others” part) was creating suffering and distress in those on the receiving end of the behavior.

Rockwell had the right idea!

I believe this “distortion” of the golden rule occurs in part because of a potential short coming within the rule itself.  The rule comes in two general forms.  The positive form which in general states: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  While the negative form in general states: “Do not do unto others that which you would not want done to you.”  This second form is sometimes called the “Silver Rule.” 

Studying both of these forms we see that each has what can be called the Behavioral Command Component (do unto others or do not do) as well as a second Evaluative Component (you would have them do or you would not want done).  It is with this second component that a potentially destructive distortion can take place. For one needs to evaluate what behavior or actions is desired and wanted, however, both forms use an evaluation of needs and desires of the person initiating the behavior not the person receiving the behavior. This was highlighted for me during a discussion with a devote Christian who was commenting on his church’s effort to “bring Christ’s message” to the tribes of Southern India.  I asked if it was possible if these people were happy with their existing faith and that the missionary efforts might be upsetting a delicate balance in such locations. I asked him if it would not be better to follow the golden rule as we might find it disturbing if Hindu missionaries began showing up in our communities with requests that we abandon our long held beliefs. His response was: “Oh No, if I was a Godless heathen I would want to be saved.”

This leads me to what some people have called the Platinum Rule: “Do unto others that which they themselves desire.”  This rule presents us with a significant challenge, for to follow it we must listen and inquire about the other’s needs, and suppress our desire to tell them what it is that they need. This rule still contains the same Behavioral Command Component; however the Evaluative Component focuses on the needs of the receiver not the giver. 

It is my understanding that Christ and Buddha did not tell us to “go forth and do for others those things that make us feel good.”  I believe that both great teachers, and many other teachers, wanted us to address the needs of the needy not our well meaning but often egotistical needs.  I’m reminded of a sense of sadness I experienced as I listened to a missionary tell a crowd that his efforts had saved a quarter million South African souls during the summer.  Then he added: “We can’t feed them, we can’t give them jobs, we can’t offer them protection, but we saved their souls!” His statement was met with “Amen” and praise. I’m sure many of the people who were saved were thankful, but what about all those other needs.   Do you think if they were given a choice,  would “being saved”  be their top choice?  But then again, who are they to know what they really needed?

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Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding: 150                                      Days Blogged: 134 

New Mileage: 6                                                     Total Trip Mileage: 1042

As I ride the bike today I am thinking about spiritual inspiration and the situations that remind us of the spiritual aspects of our lives.  This topic was inspired by a newspaper article and an internet story. 

Ganesha

The article noted that the Shroud of Turin will soon be put on display and that people can reserve a spot in line for a 3-5 min viewing of this sacred relic.  A million people have already signed up for this pilgrimage. The internet story: “Ganesha gets chopped; Hindus are furious” came from an Indonesian city.  It was reported that Hindus were making a pilgrimage to a site where the image of Ganesha was observed in the bark of a tree, many of them were leaving flowers and incense.  The outrage was about the fact that a low level official of the city cut down and destroyed the tree.

In the case of the Shroud we have a pilgrimage to a site to view a sacred relic.  In the second story we have a pilgrimage to observe what is sometimes labeled as Simulacra. This is defined as a sighting of an image with spiritual or religious themes, usually religiously notable people or spiritual symbols in everyday objects or phenomena of the natural world.  These phenomena have received considerable attention since the advent of the Internet.  Recently on E-Bay, someone sold of a piece of toast bearing the Virgin Mary’s likeness for $28,000!

A relic is defined as an object or a personal item of religious significance, carefully preserved and venerated as a tangible memorial.  Relics play an important role in many but not all of the world’s religions. According to the Catholic Church, relics can be classified into three groups.  First-Class Relics are items directly associated with the events of Christ’s life (manger, cross, etc.), or the physical remains of a saint (a bone, a hair, a limb, etc.). Traditionally, a martyr’s relics are often more prized than the relics of other saints.  Second-Class Relics are items that a saint wore (a shirt, a glove, etc.) Also included is an item that the saint owned or frequently used, for example, a crucifix, book etc.  Third-Class Relics are any object that is touched by a first- or second-class relic.

The Shroud of Turin

Relics have various degrees of importance for different faiths.  In the Catholic Church relics were an important aspect of the consecration of new altars and churches.  After Buddha’s death his cremated remains were divided up and place in the various Stupas that have now become important pilgrimage sites for Buddhists.  The “Cloak of the Prophet” is kept in the sacred Muslim Mosque of Kandahar, Afghanistan.  It is kept locked away and only taken out during times of great crisis.  Making a pilgrimage to these relics is often seen as a way to come closer to the saints and thus form a closer bond with God.

Simulacra have received considerable attention in the media recently, particularly on the internet.  This started in 1977 with Christ’s image on a flower tortilla, since labeled the “Miracle Tortilla,” and continued with the “Nun Bun” and the “Virgin Mary toast.” This phenomenon is not a new development as many early pilgrimages were made to grottos, caves and rock formations that presented the believer with an “image” of religious significance seemingly etched by natural element.  For many pilgrims these were seen as signs of the sacredness of the site and special “healing powers” were often associated with them.

It seems to me there are two questions that often arise in relationship to both the existence and use of relics and simulacra. The first question has to do with the validity of these objects (relics) and events/observation (simulacra).  Some scientists will explain simulacra by ascribing them to a human faculty for delusion called “pareidolia,” a perception of pattern and meaning from randomness.  Many scientists also believe that humans are hardwired to recognize facial patterns for example babies begin to recognize facial features by the time they are one month old).  In addition, human perceptual Gestalt principles operate subconsciously in all of us. They work automatically to fit partial pieces of information into a “whole” picture or figure.  Of course the issue of the validity of relics is a hotly contested issue.  Scientific research on the Shroud of Turin has raised serious questions about its age, placing its creation in the 13-14th century.  The Vatican has tiptoed around the issue, making no claim about its authenticity but calling it “an instrument of evangelization.”  I do not want to engage in arguments about “validity claims”.  Belief in these things has more to do with faith than it does with data.

The Nun Bun!

To me the more important question concerns the usefulness and meaning of these phenomenons in the lives of the pilgrims who travel to see them or choose to find significance in their mere occurrence.  If these events help to strengthen a person’s spiritual belief system, renew their faith in the presence of the divine, provide them with a purpose to explore their goals and priorities and/or promote and trigger a significant mystical or religious experience,  then I would argue it has been a good thing. Whether the person has trekked around the world to view the burial shroud of Christ or Buddha’s birth place, or found spiritual revelations in cloud formations or the shape of a breakfast pastry does not matter as long as the experience functions to deepen their spiritual connections.

 As a pluralist and a mystic I believe that the presence of the divine, along with revelations and insights can be found in all aspect of our existence.  If we are perceptive and open to these messages we will find them.  I take frequent walks and nature provides me with spiritual revelations in the cycles of nature, the beauty of a blossom, and the sensation of rain on my skin.  To some people it’s just the changing of the seasons, a flower and rain… to me they all have functionally profound spiritual significance.

Virgin Mary Toast!

 In the end,  isn’t it more important that I feel energized and invigorated and that I share these feelings  with other pilgrims?  What does it matter whether the insight came from a sacred scripture, a visit to a church or temple, a walk in the woods, or a water stain on my shower door!

Before I leave I want to add one additional  twist to our discussion of seeing or finding images in what appears to be random or haphazard patterns.  In Psychology there is a class of Personality tests called Projective tests.  The most famous among this group is the Rorschach, or “ink blot” test.  The rationale behind these tests is that if you present someone with an ambiguous stimuli like an ink blot, wood grain pattern or wall stain, a person will see images based upon their personality, needs and prevailing beliefs.  So a highly religious individual would be expected to see religiously significant images. 

I came across an example of Simulacra featured on a blog page.  A slab of granite was quarried that bore, in many peoples’ opinion, an image of Christ.  The piece reportedly sold for four times its usual value to a church which plans on placing it in their kitchen.  The blog site asked viewers what they saw in the image.  The results of this informal survey included: Christ’s image, a skull, a mother bird feeding it’s young, a mushroom, sexual genitalia, a dinosaur, a hotdog, to name only a few. What might you see?

 

Granite Slab Rorschach!

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