4/30/2009 3:15:04 PM
What is the appropriate space for prayer? Landscape Architecture—an accessible, engaging magazine published by the American Society of Landscape Architects—offers some points to chew on in its coverage of the Pope John Paul II Prayer Garden, which opened in Baltimore last October.
Situated next to a parking ramp, surrounded with a cage-like security fence, and locked up at night, the location prompted Landscape Architecture editor J. William Thompson to wonder back in February: “Who chose this site for the Prayer Garden, anyway?” Thompson points to Matthew 6:6, which calls for keeping prayer to private spaces.
Readers fired back in April’s letters: “What better place to bear witness than a busy street in downtown Baltimore, a city whose street corners are sometimes open-air drug markets or refuges for the homeless?” Catherine Mahan and Scott Rykiel write. (Baltimore landscape architecture firm Mahan Rykiel Associates, Inc. designed the garden.)
“Although the prayer garden in Baltimore may not be conducive to quiet meditation or contemplation, any venue is fitting for prayer,” another reader writes. A reader completing her master’s thesis on designing spiritual spaces emphatically disagrees: “Would I pray in this garden? The answer is NO.”
So, I’ve got to ask (nursery-rhyme style): Mary, Mary, quite contrary / from where does true prayer flow? Would you pray in a public garden? Even next to a parking ramp?
Source: Landscape Architecture
4/23/2009 4:01:43 PM
Malcolm X, Shakespeare, Ella Fitzgerald . . . if these aren’t the first names that come to mind when someone says saint, perhaps you should march off to St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, where artist Mark Dukes recently completed a mural of magnificent magnitude.
“The Dancing Saints,” a neo-Byzantine iconographic work, spans the church’s rotunda and depicts 90 men and women (plus some children and animals) whose stories represent a “contemporary, spiritually progressive definition of saintliness,” according to Tikkun. The massive icon took 10 years for Dukes to complete. (In the photograph here, the Sufi poet Sadi and martyred Roman soldier Sergius flank statistician W. Edwards Deming.)
Image by Kazanjy, licensed under Creative Commons.
4/23/2009 3:09:06 PM
When tough times force families to live on a shoestring budget, what happens when the choice becomes whether or not to feed the family or the family pet? Russia Today reports that one organization in Germany is stepping in on behalf of furry companions, and running a sort of soup kitchen for pets.
Tiertafel, which translates loosely into something like “animal table,” has opened more than a dozen centers in Germany that feed thousands of animals on a regular basis so families don’t have to make that tough choice and either give away or abandon their pets. The organization just requires that people show proof of receiving welfare or low wages, and asks that customers don’t take on any new pets if they’re already receiving assistance through the program.
A board member explains: “We are helping not only the animals, but also the people that own the animals. Many of these people don’t have social relationships outside their pets. They may be old or on their own and their pets are their only companionship.”
Source: Russia Today
Image by numstead, licensed under Creative Commons.
4/23/2009 12:15:45 PM
Apparently, it can’t be repeated enough: Chief Seattle didn’t really utter the words so often attributed to him on environmental posters, T-shirts, and websites. The oft-quoted words, frequently dated to 1854, were instead an adaptation of an adaptation of one man’s “poetic impression” of a speech given by the Suquamish chief, writes Gregory McNamee in a profile of the chief in the May-June issue of Native Peoples magazine (article not available online). While the famous quote’s origins have been debunked for years, from the New York Times in 1992 to Snopes in 2007, the myth persists.
The unfortunate part of all this is that Chief Seattle probably said something vaguely like what the various versions convey. But the most widely circulated version contains “anachronisms and inaccuracies,” writes McNamee, and perhaps more significantly, the whole phenomenon has cast the chief as “a spiritual ancestor of the modern green movement” when his real claim to fame was as “a war leader and shrewd politician.”
In his profile, McNamee paints a multifaceted view of the chief, noting that before the arrival of white people Chief Seattle was known as a “persuasive orator and as a tactician who helped the Suquamish and neighboring Duwamish peoples to dominate the other peoples of the area” and who kept slaves from his conquests. When the whites arrived, he employed his oratorical skills to engage with them, and he freed his slaves when the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. Despite the high regard in which his sentiments are now held, he “then bore witness to the slow decline and impoverishment of his people on the reservation to which they were now confined.”
Image by the
City of Seattle
, licensed under
4/23/2009 11:46:39 AM
The recent issue of The Sun features an interview with psychologist Barbara Fredrickson (article not available online), a pioneer in the field of positive psychology, director of the University of North Carolina’s Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Lab and author of the upcoming book Positivity.
While humans pay more attention to negative experiences—an evolutionary result of having to constantly scan for threats—positive moments are far more abundant. Fredrickson says a focus on day-to-day feelings of satisfaction can lead to a happier life, and that an awareness of the present moment, paying attention to human kindness, and enjoying nice weather can increase positivity.
Positive emotions can also affect how we perceive people of other races. Scientists had found that when looking at people of a different race, we often look at individual facial features. People “use the same process they use to recognize objects, which suggests there’s some dehumanization going on,” Fredrickson says. “But what we’re finding is that, under the influence of positive emotions, people use the same holistic process for cross-race faces that they use for faces of their own race. It’s as if people, when they’re feeling good, are better able to see the full humanity of people of a different race.”
Still, denying negative emotions is unrealistic. Fredrickson instead advocates taking stock of the positive moments. “Negativity doesn’t always feel like a choice; it feels like it just lands on you, and you have to deal with it. Positive emotions, I think, are more of a choice.”
Sources: The Sun
Image by Christine Szeto, licensed under Creative Commons
4/23/2009 10:12:32 AM
1. Write a letter: Writer Jonathan Hiskes wrote one letter a day for each of the 40 days of Lent. “I sent letters in the real mail,” he writes in the Spring 2009 issue of Geez (article not available online), “because there’s just nothing exceptional about email.” He wrote old roommates, old teachers, and an ex-girlfriend. He wrote to his family too. “I tried to find a nugget worth sharing with someone every day,” he writes. His hope was that the letters “would both solicit responses and prod me to pay more attention to the world around me.” He was successful on both fronts.
2. One month off: “I turn my computer on too often. For work, for pleasure, just because,” writes Geez editor Will Braun, also in the Spring 2009 issue. “I check my email too often. Even though I am generally disappointed both if there is new mail (more shit to do) or not (need to go back to what I was trying to distract myself from).” Braun hatched a plan: he'd go one month without using the computer at all on Sundays and Tuesdays; he wouldn’t use the internet when he wasn’t at work; he would not visit any news sites; and he would not use Google: “that almighty gateway to info-overload.” He fell off the wagon straight away, but he hopped right back on. Ultimately, the experiment was a success. “It was a good month,” he writes. “I was more present to my son, my wife, my work and the world … I spent a bit more time in the lovely, conflicted, eternal present.”
3. Forced deprivation: “I bet I am not alone in my near frantic desire to be released—for very brief periods, always with an escape hatch—from the tyranny of my own wandering attention,” writes Rebecca Traister in Salon. “I may not have known it, but for some time, I have wanted something forceful, computerized and beyond the realms of my own self-determination to come and muffle the beeping, buzzing, ringing, flashing distractions of our technological age so I can get some goddamn work done.” Her solution? She downloaded Freedom. This is not some abstract notion, it’s a program. “Freedom will disable the networking, only on a Mac computer, for periods of anywhere from one minute to eight hours. No Web sites, no e-mail, no instant messaging, no online shopping, no Facebook, no Twitter, no iTunes store, no streaming anything. Once it is turned on, as it hilariously claims, ‘Freedom enforces freedom.’”
Sources: Geez, Salon
4/14/2009 9:54:08 AM
For many people, yoga is like calisthenics: Do the poses, get your workout, and forget about it until the next class. This approach is flawed, according to Gary Kraftsow, founder of the American Viniyoga Institute. Kraftsow’s approach, writes for Yoga + Joyful Living, is that “yoga isn’t about getting to know the postures. It’s about getting to know yourself.”
Rather than forcing people into the same poses, Kraftsow’s style adjusts the yoga to a person’s individual needs. The focus of instruction starts with breathing and chanting, with poses coming in later. Kraftsow calls it Viniyoga, a Sanskrit word referring to “adaptation,” according to Dubrovsky, while others call it “ugly yoga.”
The low-impact, individualized method of Viniyoga makes it ideally suited for some types of therapy. Kraftsow had a tumor removed from his brain in 2004, and he credits yoga as fundamental in his recovery. He’s also assisted in studies on the benefits of yoga for chronic back pain, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and generalized anxiety disorder.
Source: Yoga + Joyful Living
4/10/2009 5:01:41 PM
The intersection of spirituality and environmentalism is somewhere in Idaho—on a gravel road where a painted turtle is trudging across, making her way from one marsh to another. “My spirits soared,” Rick Bass writes in Shambhala Sun, “at the life-affirming tenacity of her journey, her crossing, as well at this most physical manifestation that indeed the back of winter was broken; for here, exhumed once again by the warm breath of the awakening earth, was the most primitive vertebrate still among us.”
Here’s to that awakening earth, and all the surging, ecstatic feelings it can conjure. For as much time as we might spend talking (and listening, reading, and thinking) about the need to protect the earth, to save our fragile, damaged world: We need to connect with it too. For Bass, it’s all in one: “For me, activism is a form of prayer, a way of paying back some small fraction of the blessing that the wilderness is to me.”
Source: Shambhala Sun
Image by Pvt. Pondscum, licensed under Creative Commons.
4/10/2009 3:05:54 PM
Up in Northern climates, the faint sound of clippers shearing off wintry beards is a sure sign of spring. Amy Walker from Momentum magazine relates a recent February trip to Minneapolis, where she encountered bicyclists sporting facial hair mops. For these guys, beards and mustaches are highly practical when biking in sub-zero temps in the dead of winter. It may only be coincidence that "handlebar" can connote a mustache and a bicycle part.
Walker says the beard is more than a symbol of practicality; the hair style represents wisdom and continues an “ancient and venerable tradition.” She quotes the UK website Beard Care:
Wise men always seem to have long, grey beards, so people who want to seem sage usually grow one. At least, the wise men of Islam, Judaism and Greek Orthodox Christianity - the Pope is clean-shaven because Roman Catholic clergy shave as a sign of celibacy. Confucius had a beard, and he was wise too. The Bible has a commandment against shaving - actually, against touching razor to face - so Jews who religiously observe the Bible don't touch razor to face. Luckily, in modern times, it is perfectly possible to shave without a razor touching the face, and many do. Muslims disagree over how important beards are, so some wear them, and some don't. Sikhs don't cut any hair, so the beard sort of happens by default. Amish shave until marriage, and then grow a beard and sideburns.
Want more beard? The annual World Beard and Mustache Competition is set for Anchorage, Alaska this year in May. Make sure to check out some of the previous year’s winners, especially the partial freestyle category, in which NPR’s Robert Siegel dubbed the winning contestant’s entry a “hair pretzel”.
Sources: Momentum, Beard Care, World Beard and Mustache Championships
courtesy of Mark Emery
4/10/2009 12:40:14 PM
The Employee Free Choice Act would increase penalties for employers using illegal union busting tactics, allow workers to decide how to demonstrate majority support for a union, and make binding arbitration an option if contract negotiations stalemate.
Religious leaders of various faiths are speaking out in support of the bill, with an appeal to lawmakers’ consciences that focuses on the ethical and social ramifications of the labor reforms proposed in EFCA.
“It may not grab many headlines, but EFCA is emerging as one of the major moral issues of 2009,” writes Fr. Thomas Massaro in America, a national Catholic weekly.
Sojourners editor Jim Wallis argued for the bill before a Senate committee: “Increasingly the church is uniting against poverty across political and theological differences. This growing consensus emerging across the faith community recognizes that one in eight families living below the poverty line tests our faith and civic values…The Employee Free Choice Act represents a critical way to promote the dignity of work and promote the common good.
Faith Works, the newsletter of Interfaith Worker Justice, compiled excerpts of letters in support of EFCA from religious leaders (registration required). In one, Rabbi Robert Marx writes, “It is not always easy to translate the very sanctity of labor into terms that have meaning in our times, times in which the market place seems to have been elevated above all other holy altars. The Employee Free Choice Act presents an opportunity to give concrete meaning to the often frustrated dream of a just society.”
Massaro concludes, “A reform of federal labor law is hardly riveting to most people, but a great deal is at stake in getting this particular issue right. The way workers are treated is above all an ethical question, involving notions like equity and human rights, not merely a technical legal question involving bureaucratic procedures.”
Sources: America, Sojourners, Faith Works
4/1/2009 12:40:37 PM
While his peers at Brown University were experiencing other cultures by studying abroad, Kevin Roose opted to spend second semester of his sophomore year in Virginia at Jerry Falwell’s Libery University. His funny, insightful book The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University chronicles his encounter with conservative Christian culture.
At Liberty, Roose makes “funny, articulate, and decidedly noncrazy” friends who are a lot like his secular peers. They play intramural sports, waste time on Facebook (lampooning Liberty’s strict conduct code with groups like “I Hug For 3 Seconds, Sometimes 4”), and “deploy sarcasm just as well as your average secular nineteen-year-olds.” In one scene, an RA tells Luke, one of Roose’s hallmates, that he needs to cut his hair to comply with the dress code. Luke responds, “Hmm…you know, Stubbs, I seem to remember reading about a guy in the Bible who had long hair. What was his name again? Started with a J I think….”
Throughout the book, Roose pays more than mere lip service to approaching his semester at Liberty with an open mind. Even when the experience takes him places that could serve as easy punch lines—a spring break mission trip to Daytona Beach, the support group Every Man’s Battle (kind of a Masturbators Anonymous)—he avoids potshots, offering a more nuanced exploration of his new relationships, evangelical culture, and the shifting role of religion in his own life.
In the epilogue—which opens with him kneeling to pray in his Brown University dorm room—Roose concludes “Did my semester at Liberty bridge the God Divide? Of course not…At the end of the day, the two sides of this culture war still have glaring differences, and those differences are likely to continue to define the relationship between the evangelical community and America at large for decades to come…But judging from my post-Liberty experience, this particular religious conflict isn’t built around a hundred-foot brick wall. If anything, it’s built around a flimsy piece of cardboard, held in place on both sides by paranoia and lack of exposure. It’s there, no doubt, but it’s hardly forbidding. And more importantly, it’s hardly soundproof.”
4/1/2009 10:14:42 AM
Pundits continue to wrestle over the University of Notre Dame’s decision to invite President Obama to speak at commencement, with a growing online petition against the visit, outrage from the likes of Newt Gingrich, and subsequent outrage at the outrage from liberals. Sometimes it’s hard to find a moderate voice between all the shouting back and forth, but J. Peter Nixon presents a restrained, thoughtful opinion over at Commonweal.
Nixon recognizes the politics involved in Notre Dame’s invitation:
“There was a time, of course, when Catholics were on the outside looking in at mainstream American society. The fact that Notre Dame could entice a president to speak was a mark that we had arrived and were part of the mainstream. Is that the message we want to send? That the nation’s leading Catholic university has ‘bagged another one,’ so to speak? Is our ability to attract the attention of the powerful a mark of our success as followers of Jesus Christ?”
And as for Obama, accepting the invitation signals “that at least some portion of the Catholic community is ‘okay’ with him. I don’t blame him for this and it doesn’t particularly upset me. This is what politicians do.”
Nixon cops to voting for Obama in the election but remains openly conflicted on the president’s positions on stem cell research and abortion:
“I was ‘okay’ enough with Obama to support him last year, given the choices I had,” Nixon writes. “But it was always a ‘two-and-a-half cheers’ kind of thing. I couldn’t forget–and didn’t want to forget–that there was an entire class of human beings that were outside his circle of moral concern.”
He concludes, “There is a difference between a hiring decision–which is what I think a choice for president is–and holding someone up as a person to be emulated. When I think of the kind of commencement speaker I’d want students at a Catholic university to hear from, I’d be looking for someone a bit different.”
Image by Paul J Everett, licensed under Creative Commons
4/1/2009 9:53:45 AM
Buddhist author Karen Miller lays out a roadmap for mindful parenting in Shambala Sun. Here's some of what she suggests:
Live by routine. Take the needless guesswork out of meals and bedtimes. Let everyone relax into the predictable flow of a healthy and secure life.
Turn off the engines. Discipline TV and computer usage and reduce artificial distraction, escapism, and stimulation. This begins with you.
Elevate the small. And overlook the large. Want to change the world? Forget the philosophical lessons. Instruct your child in how to brush his or her teeth, and then do it, together, twice a day.
Give more attention. And less of everything else. Devote one hour a day to giving undistracted attention to your children. Not in activities driven by your agenda, but according to their terms. Undivided attention is the most concrete expression of love you can give.
Be the last to know. Refrain from making judgments and foregone conclusions about your children. Watch their lives unfold, and be surprised. The show is marvelous, and yours is the best seat in the house.
Read the rest of Miller's piece, The Monastery of Mom and Dad. Want more? Read her essay, also in the March 2009 issue of Shambala Sun: Parents, Leave Your Home.
Source: Shambala Sun
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