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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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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:  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: 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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Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding: 145                                      Days Blogged: 129 

New Mileage: 4                                                   Total Trip Mileage: 1010

Helen Wilmans

As I ride the bike this evening I ponder the sense of enjoyment and discovery that comes about even on a virtual bike journey.  In exploring the significance of the SeaBreeze church in Daytona Beach I came across the history of the town which mentioned Helen Post, her “School of Mental Science” and paper entitled “Freedom.”  As I explored the significance of Mrs. Post I uncovered a story of a strong willed self-made women embedded in the spirituality of the late 1800s who apparently became a victim of political intrigue.

First let us review the spiritual landscape in the United States in the late 1880s. The US represented a melting pots of spiritual and philosophical ideas, some new, some old repackaged ideas, and some foreign.  At this time a number of spiritual “movements” were under way that including: the Mind-cure movement; health mysticism; and Mental Science.  By the early 1900s these had come together to form what was termed the “New Thought” Movement.  Many authors trace the beginnings of this movement to Phineas Quimby, a rural doctor who lived in northern Maine in the early 1800s.  He explored the ideas and methods of mesmerism (e.g., later to be called hypnotism) and develop a theory about the relationship of the mind to both physical and mental problems.  He was rumored to have the ability to cure a wide range of physical problems and influenced a number of his patients to follow in his footsteps carrying the ideas of his “healing ministry” to other parts of the country.

The New Thought movement consisted of a loosely allied group of religious denominations, secular organizations, authors, philosophers and lay individuals who share: “a set of metaphysical beliefs concerning the effects of positive thinking, the law of attraction (that our thoughts are made manifest in the material realm), healing, life force, creative visualization and personal power.”  In general, they interpreted “God” as a supreme, universal, everlasting, divinity that dwells in each person.  That all human beings are divine and that loving, teaching and healing each other was the highest spiritual principle.

William James, one of the first American Psychologists noted that the primary sources of this movement’s ideas included: the Christian Gospels; Emerson’s transcendental movement; Spiritualisms law of attraction; optimism about science and evolution; Hinduism’s beliefs in a Universal Godhead; America’s Freedom of Religion; and American materialism.  With the growing literacy of the population after the Civil War and the rise of feminist sentiments more people, especially women, turned to self-help book and religions that included female ministers, like Christian Scientists, for guidance.

Unity Church

Into this mixture entered Helen Wilmans, a poor downtrodden farm wife who after twenty years left her husband and move to San Francisco to fulfill her dream of becoming a “literary women.”  Working in a local paper she developed her journalistic skills and steadily raised her standard of living.  She wrote her life story in a book titled “The Conquest of Poverty” and then began a very successful paper called The Women’s World.  During this time she became deeply involved in the mental science movement with its message of positive thinking and self-help, she also began a “healing” ministry, with testimonials of cures for a wide range of aliments.  She married Col. C.C. Post and had attained a wealthy status.  At this point she and her husband moved to the small settlement of Sea Breeze on the east coast of Florida.  She had envisioned the creation of a settlement named “City Beautiful” where everyone would plant flowers and create an idyllic and serene environment.  She started a School of Mental Science and a monthly magazine entitled Freedom.  The success of her endeavor grew and when she decided to start her City Beautiful six miles up the beach from Sea Breeze the Postal Office moved to better serve the needs of her magazine.

This is where the intrigue began, because a powerful and revengeful backer of settlement of Sea Breeze took offense at the removal of the Post office.  He blamed Helen for this turn of events.  He was reportedly a close personal friend of the powerful Senator Goodall of Maine.  Quickly a new post office opened in Sea Breeze named after the powerful senator. This politically connected individual was then elected mayor of Sea Breeze.  A short time later, without any warning, a post office fraud order was place on Helen to cease all of her business dealings.  This was reportedly done with no public hearing or warning.  She was accused of advertising in her publications for “cure by absent treatment” which was deemed to be a fraudulent and impossible cure by the judge overseeing the case.  Helen and her husband exhausted their financial resources fighting the accusation and although it was reported that the US Supreme Court eventually reversed the decision against her, she was left impoverished, her business ruined and her spirit broken.  Shortly after this her husband died and she followed him within a year.

While her books were, and still are today, available her influence in the New Thought movement faded with her passing.  The movement itself eventually resulted in the establishment of the Christian Scientist denomination, the Unity Church of Practical Christianity and the Religious Science. With the coming of the Great Depression and World War II the New thought movement faded into the background of the American spiritual and religious landscape.  However, many of its main tenets found new life in the last thirty years within the “self-help” movement, positive thinking movement, New Age Spirituality, the explosion of Eastern religion thought systems (e.g., Zen, Taoism, Buddhism), and even within a number of recent forms of psychotherapy (e.g., RET, TA, Gestalt).

I hope you enjoyed this brief journey into our countries spiritual history and the sad story of a jealous business man who used political connections to destroy a spiritual pilgrim.  Tomorrow we continue our trip up the Florida coast toward St. Augustine.

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Days Riding: 139                            Consecutive Days Blogging: 121

Today’s Mileage: 10                                          Total Trip Mileage: 978

Sacred Colors!

As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, today we have the opportunity to wish our Hindu friends a happy Holi Day!  This holiday is celebrated in India and around the world wherever ex-patriots from India have gathered.  It is best known to the non-Hindu world for rituals which involve the throwing of a colored powders or the squirting of colored water on the various celebrants like a giant water and/or powder fight.  I heard about a Holi gathering at Stanford University which started with only a few dozen participants several years ago and has now swollen into thousands of celebrants, many of them non-Hindus who wish to join in the festivities.

A Joyful Mess!

The origins of the holiday speak directly to some of Hinduism’s sacred stories.  The Holi Holiday story starts by noting that the King of the Demons had been granted the gift of apparent immortality.  For it was said to be impossible to kill him: “during day or night, inside or outside his house, not on earth or in sky, and neither by a man or animal.” Consequently the Demon King grew arrogant and attacked the heavens and the earth and demanded that people stop worshiping the Gods and start worshiping him.  The story goes that his own son, Prahlada , was a devote of the Lord Vishnu and in spite of several threats, and attempts by his father to have him killed, continued to resist his father’s orders.  Finally the Demon King ordered Prahlada to sit on a fire pyre in the lap of his sister Holika.  His sister could not die by fire because she possessed a shawl which would prevent fire from affecting her. The son followed his father’s orders and prayed to Vishnu to keep him safe.  When the fire started everyone watched in amazement as the shawl flew off of Holika and covered Prahlada.  Holika then burned to death while Prahlada survived unharmed.  The burning/destruction of Holika is commemorated with this festival.  The story goes on to note that Lord Vishnu later came to earth in the form of a Narasimna (half human and half lion being) and killed the Demon King at dusk (which was neither day or night, on the steps of his house (which was neither inside the house or outside) by restraining the demon king on his lap (which is neither in the sky nor on the earth).

So we have a holiday that: celebrates the death of a demoness and the eventual defeat of the Demon King;   glorifies the Lord Vishnu; and serves as an example of a devoted follower who because of his faith was saved from death.  The rituals of the of holiday appear to vary somewhat but typically involve food preparations that began days in advance as various kinds of snack items are typically served to the festivals guests, the night before a bonfire (the Holi Fire) is lit which is said to represent the burning of evil.  It was noted that in the United Kingdom coconuts are often thrown into the fire and then pulled out and broken open.  The burnt husks are said to represent the demoness who died in the fire the white inside represents faithful Prahlada who was alive and unaffected.

I noted in a discussion with a friend that I am struck by the wide variations in sacred stories and rituals within a month we will have major festivals in three of the world’s religions.  These holidays commemorate the destruction of evil, the birth of a prophet, and the death and the rebirth of a Savior.  Clearly the substance and form of these celebrations vary considerably, however, from a functional standpoint they meet many of the very same needs. They bring together the respective communities with rituals involving food, joy and laughter.  These festivals grant the celebrants a sense of purpose, of guidance and a connection with the divine.

Some people might say that a story with a Demon King and a half human God, and rituals involving colored powders sounds strange and unbelievable.  However I would caution these people in their statements of disbelief, that for many people in the world would find it odd to have children running about the spring grass collecting colored eggs deposited by a rabbit, or enacting the tortuous death and resurrection of a savior God.  

I would like to comment on an incident that points to a need for caution when we look at other faith belief systems.  I was visiting a national bookstore chain and I came across a display of books produced by the bookstore chain entitled “Mythology of the World.”  There were dozens of volumes including everything from Babylonian, Australian Aborigines, Native Americans, Greeks, Buddhists, to Hindu.  After studying the selection I was puzzled and asked myself: “Where is the Jewish and Christian mythology?” Where is the volume that talks about: parting the Red Sea, burning bushes, loaves and fishes, a God rising from the dead.  I shook my head, disappointed by the book chain’s apparent slight to so many of the world faiths. To call their faith beliefs Myths and not sacred stories is an affront to these believers.  These stories are based on faith and passed down through word-of-mouth and sacred scripture, no different from the stories of the Judo-Christian traditions.

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding:  125                                              Days Blogged: 107

New Mileage: 4                                                                 Total Trip Mileage: 890

It’s Valentine’s Day and I would like to wish all of my blog readers a happy holiday.  It is always good to be joyful about and give thanks for our relationships.  Of course it can be said that we shouldn’t need to have a holiday to remind us of how special some people are in our lives.  We shouldn’t depend upon a once a year box of candy, flowers and card to remind a person how important they are to us, every day these people are gifts in our lives. If you do not have a Valentine in your life then today is a good day to ask yourself what you need to be doing to find such a relationship.  Remember these words of wisdom: “Relationships may be made in heaven, but you got to do your own maintenance.”   But then isn’t that the whole idea behind this holiday?

The Ark of the Covenant

Today’s blog is not about Valentine’s Day.  Today we are visiting our third pilgrimage site in as many days.  The Orlando Florida area is what you might call a site rich environment.  Most people who visit this area know about the monster resort and theme park known as Disney World.  The site we are visiting today represents a spiritual theme park unlike any that I have found on my pilgrimage search.  It is called The Holy Land Experience it is part of the Trinity Broadcast Network it advertises itself as an experience of the holy land in particular during the time of Christ’s life.

The Scriptorium

The site has the Scriptorium a Museum/archive filled with relevant archaeological manuscripts, and areas like: the Jerusalem Street Marketplace; the Great Temple designed in the style of that that would’ve existed at Jerusalem in the 1st century; also the Wilderness Tabernacle site with the Arc of the Covenant like that the Jews would have used as they wandered the wilderness; and Calvary’s Garden Tomb with a replica of Christ’s tomb and the three crosses.  Obviously anyone visiting this site needs to be prepared for the fact that this is an evangelical Christian site.  From what I could see only cursory mention is made of the Jewish faith and I saw no indications of the significance of Jerusalem to the Islam faith.

Calvary Garden Tomb

I entitled this blog one third of the holy land experience because Jerusalem, and the surrounding area, the holy land, is a major pilgrimage site for the all three of the monotheisms.  For the Jews the Wailing Wall is arguably their faith’s major pilgrimage site, and for Islam the Dome of the Rock is often listed as the third most important pilgrimage site.  This bias is to be expected and of course it is the Trinity Broadcast Network’s right to advance their viewpoints. I suspect it is also indicative of this group’s exclusionary approach to viewing religious truth.  They believe they, meaning their faith, has truth and other faiths do not!

Christ in the Prayer Garden

As a pluralist it saddens me that an opportunity to educate people of all three faiths to the beliefs and contributions of the other faiths has been missed. Yesterday we visited a Buddhist temple that included replicas of shrines that exists in India and Nepal.  I noted that these replicas serve the same function as visiting the actual location if the followers approached them with a sense of reverence.  I suspected that this theme park can serve as a pilgrimage site for Christians.  Personally, I wonder if it’s not a little too commercial!

Steps of the Great Temple

I read reviews where people talk about the long lines and waits, and the plays that are conducted using Roman soldiers wearing Adidas tennis shoes.  I suspect most of the actors look an awful lot like the visitors, more European than of Middle Eastern.  I wonder what it’s like to watch an reenactment on the Great Temple steps while you’re eating a corn dog are sucking down a Coke, or standing next to  fidgety children in the hot Floridian sun?

Many people visit Orlando and its numerous amusement parks to escape into a fantasy world of loveable characters, goofy Pirates and fairy tale princesses. Some people would say the Holy Land Experience may be promoting the same escape experience, this time into a “world of old” that is as much “imagined” as it is factual.  But then again, I guess one person’s Theme Park distraction may be another person’s profound pilgrimage experience into the past.  I guess waiting in line to catch a glimpse of Christ’s tomb may be an opportunity for soul-searching exploration of one’s beliefs.  If a walk along the river wrapped in the solitude of nature can connect me with the divine, then it’s likely that watching an enactment of Christ’s crucifixion can and does reconnect some Christian to their God.

Happy Valentines Day!

One final note, I mentioned to Susan how interesting it might be to have a pluralistic theme park featuring rides, restaurants and attractions representing all of the world religions.  Perhaps we could call it The Holy World Experience.  I started to create some rides and restaurant ideas, however Susan warned me that I might be venturing into the area where terms such as sacrilegious, blasphemy, and heresy are likely to be thrown around.  While I am never one to shy away from a good parody, there are some topics that are too sensitive to be treated so lightly.

Stay tuned as we will visit two more pilgrimage sites in the next three day.  Have a wonderful  St. Valentine Day!

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