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February - March, 2005

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The journey is his destination

EXETER - Like so many young children, Perrin Hendrick had a penchant for drawing. But unlike most kids, who pass up art for other interests as they grow, Hendrick remained engaged by drawing. He would borrow the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and other of his favorite writers from the library and spend hours illustrating the fantastic tales.

He went on to major in art at the University of New Hampshire and at Naropa University in Boulder, Colo., supporting himself as an interior house painter along the way.

Now an adult, Hendrick, who lives in Exeter, makes his living as a freelance muralist. In his scant spare time, he works on illustrations for a children’s fairy tale that he wrote and hopes to publish.

Last month Hendrick, 29, won the L. Ron Hubbard Illustrators of the Future Contest for new and aspiring illustrators, a prestigious award that Hendrick said he hopes will open the door to a full-fledged career as an illustrator, the kind of art he continues to favor.


Hendrick stays close to the philosophies that evolved from the soul-searching of his youth, a search that led him on travels from UNH to Mexico. He worked as an itinerant house painter along the way before finally landing at Naropa University in Colorado, an alternative school influenced by Buddhism.

About his artwork, Hendrick said, "The piece you end up with is just a document of the process you went through to get there. The process is a medium to your own soul, a bridge to spirituality, a way to know yourself." -read more-

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Research on twins supports 'God gene'

Based on an analysis of more than 500 identical and non-identical twins, the study at Minnesota University in America set out to discover whether spirituality was the result of nature or nurture.

It concluded that children's religiousness was primarily the result of whether they had been born into a religious household. "But during the transition from adolescence to adulthood, genetic factors increase in importance while shared environmental factors decrease," it said.

The twins answered questions about their religious beliefs, from the regularity of church attendance to how much they relied on prayer. While the identical twins reported similar patterns over time, the non-identical twins diverged as they got older, said the study in the Journal of Personality.

However, the researchers stressed that genes were not the only factors that determined how religious people were. Laura Koenig, a co-author of the research, said: "There is still room for cultural and environmental influences.''

The debate about the "God gene" was prompted last year by Dr Dean Hamer, the director of the Gene Structure and Regulation Unit at the National Institute in America. After comparing more than 2,000 DNA samples, he concluded that the greater people's ability to believe in a higher spiritual force, the more likely that they would share the gene, VMAT2. -read more-

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Liberia is At a Brink of Irreversible Environmental/Ecological Impotency

, Liberia is at peril due to an assault on the sacred reverence of its environment by those who have limited knowledge on how we expressed our affinity with the environment. And such a denial of Liberia's universal validity is nothing less than an assault on its intrinsic values and spirituality. Liberians must resist this assault now. Liberians must never remain silent to the slow death of its environment. Indeed, there are laws that cover some aspects of environmental controls. They should be given "teeth", made stronger and clearer. For example, Article 33 of the Health Ministry Laws of Liberia prohibits the dumping of waste in Liberian waters. However, during past administrations, the Minister of Planning, or whichever ministry/department is responsible for contract negotiation, allowed large companies like the National Ore Mining Company at Mano River, LAMCO and Bong Mining Companies to pollute the St. John River, the Mano River and their tributaries with iron ore dust and other residues of the iron ore production process. Even areas set aside by preceding governments for conservation and or scientific inquiry like the Sarpo National Park and Gola National Forest in Upper Cape Mount County and Lower Lofa County are in and off of the hands of logging companies or at the mercy of poachers, says Mr. Alexander Peal of Conservation International/Liberia. Traditional deforestation or small farming has become the order of the day as the result of not having in place national programs for alternative and systematic management.
The Liberian people who are spiritually, medically and nutritionally linked to the forests, will bear a disproportionate burden of the nation's environmental deforestation, pollution of coastal waters from oil residue and raw sewage problems. Thousands of acres of flora and fauna (rainforest) are ruined. Liberia is witnessing unprecedented changes in the quality of its environment. Forests are being lost at an unparalleled pace. In other words, if the flora is cut and burned, the topsoil suffers massive erosion, water supplies are polluted or destroyed, and the wildlife is driven into shrinking areas of refuge. Potential life-saving medicinal herbs are lost forever and natural resources are destroyed for short-term gain. For example, "Pygeum africanum" ( herbal medicine for prostate gland enlargement or urinary disorders found around Mt. Nimba environment that can bring in million of dollars if properly harvested, is being destroyed from mining. In addition, Liberia's traditional universities (Poro and Sande), which can only be built and function in such a grove where discipline, survival, and leadership skills are taught by the College of Elders are being destroyed. One is left to wonder, is there anything in Liberia worth fighting for or saving with every fiber of one's Liberian souls? -read lots more-

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Mankiller to sign books in Pryor at Book Exchange

The Book Exchange & Bible Book Store, downtown Pryor, is proud to announce the upcoming appearance of Wilma Mankiller, former chief of the Cherokee Nation, for a booksigning of her newest title, Every Day is a Good Day, Saturday April 2, from 1-3 p.m.

Author and activist Mankiller has garnered the thoughts of 19 Native women on questions such as the meaning of spirituality, the importance of sovereignty, and what it means to be an indigenous woman today. Mankiller chose her participants well, for these women--a physician, an attorney, ranchers, professors of American Indian studies, an urban planner, a cultural anthropologist, artists, poets, musicians, and an Onondaga Clan Mother--really do have something to say.

Spirituality, which connects all indigenous peoples, means respect for the earth and all living things.

Land is crucial to all tribes, as shown by the Dann sisters, Shoshone ranchers struggling to defend the sacred ceremonial grounds of their ancestors, and Sarah James, who fights for her Gwich'in tribal rights to protect caribou birthing grounds from oil and gas exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Profound yet simple words from strong women working hard to perpetuate their culture, an! d who have a lot to share, and who need to be heard.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2004, American Library Association.)

Wilma Mankiller is an author, activist, and former principal chief of the Cherokee Nation. Her roots are planted deep in the rural community of Mankiller Flats in Adair County, Oklahoma where she has spent most of her life. She has been honored with many awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and has received honorary doctorate degrees from such esteemed institutions as Yale University, Dartmouth College, and Smith College. Ms. Mankiler is the author of Mankiller: A Chief and Her People, and co-edited A Reader's Companion to the History of Women in the U.S. Wilma Mankiller lives on the Mankiller family allotment with her husband, Charlie Soap.

For more information please call The Book Exchange & The Biblebookstore at 918 825 6015 or email [email protected] - book info

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Former TV executive uses 'power of film' on behalf of poor

As a network television producer, Gerry Straub had all the trappings of success --- a BMW, nice homes on both coasts and financial security. But, he left that life of privilege after a profound conversion experience led the 58-year-old to his present vocation as the president of The San Damiano Foundation, a Burbank-based secular Franciscan ministry putting the power of film at the service of the poor.
Suddenly, something happened while Straub was sitting in the silence of the empty church.

"Without warning, I felt the overwhelming presence of God," said Straub. "I didn't see any images or hear any words. I knew experientially that God was real, that God loved me. In that moment of revelation, I was transformed from an atheist into a pilgrim." He felt so moved, he got up and bowed before the altar. "I'm still living off that one moment," declared Straub.

Following a three-hour period of prayer and reconciliation with a Franciscan priest a few days later, Straub went to confession and received the Eucharist at Mass for the first time in a decade. "St. Francis of Assisi became my spiritual guide," said Straub. He abandoned writing his novel on Vincent and Francis, and instead, began writing about the life of St. Francis and his faithful follower, St. Clare, intertwining the story of his own spiritual pilgrimage.
Straub is in the midst of working on a sixth film, "The Patients of a Saint," about Dr. Tony Lazzara, an American doctor who has spent more than 20 years ministering to sick children in the shantytowns of Lima, Peru.
Straub, who works 10 hours a day after attending daily Mass at his parish (St. Charles Borromeo in North Hollywood), recently returned from a speaking tour to Catholic and Christian colleges in Chicago and New York. He will soon be featured in an upcoming "Religion and Ethics News Weekly" program airing Sundays on PBS. Locally, he gives reflection workshops on the subject of poverty to parishes and hopes to branch out to schools as well.

"All the money and glory I got in network TV," he said, "could not compare with working on behalf of the poor and having these films make a difference in their lives." -read more-

Saturday, March 26, 2005

A pianist's remarkable triumph over adversity

By Lawrence A. Johnson
Classical Music Writer
Posted March 16 2005

The Miami International Piano Festival always seems to have its share of glitches, and a disastrous one nearly ensued last weekend. Due to a flight cancellation and string of travel mishaps, Steven Osborne arrived in South Florida mere hours before his recital, scheduled to close the festival's Master Series.

His remarkable performance Sunday night at the Broward Center's Amaturo Theatre was a testament to Osborne's professionalism as well as his prodigious talent. Despite exhaustion, little rehearsal time, ringing cell phones and a problematic Steinway, the 33-year-old Scottish pianist delivered one of the most spellbinding musical events of the season.

Winner of the Clara Haskil and Naumburg competitions, Osborne offered an individual program that showcased his considerable keyboard gifts, with a staggering technique allied to a deep and subtle poetic sensibility.

Osborne opened with Brahms' Rhapsody in B minor, in which the pianist was entirely in synch with the mercurial shifts of this music. Osborne's blazing prestidigitation in the agitated sections was seamlessly blended with the meditative elements. His spacious phrasing in the middle F sharp minor passage was beautifully essayed, a calm new world beckoning beyond the present turmoil.

Osborne showed himself an inspired Lisztian in four excerpts from Harmonies poetiques et religieuses. Even with some sticky middle keys, the pianist had the full measure of Liszt's blend of derring-do and spare religiosity. He delivered the massive sonority of the chordal attacks in the Invocation with daunting force, as surely as he etched the unearthly delicacy of the Pater Noster. -Read more-

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Philosopher challenges perception of his field
Philosophical discussion spurs thought.

The perception of philosophy as a discipline solely devoted to knowledge of the self only tells half the story, an Emory philosopher told audiences yesterday in Wilson Hall.

In a lecture titled "Philosophy as a way of life," Thomas Flynn, author of "Sartre, Foucault, and Historical Reason," spoke on the dual nature of Plato-Socratic philosophy, not only as a means to know thyself, but also to care for thyself. The quest for self-knowledge, what he denoted as the Delphic form of philosophy, complements a desire to harmonize one's life to one's beliefs, or Socratic theory, as the professor said.

Socratic philosophy, Flynn pointed out, could be derived most explicitly from Socrates' last plea at his trial that if his sons should value anything above virtue, the city should rebuke them just as he has rebuked others, that virtue should be supreme over all other values.

"Socrates is being not so much admired for what he says as for the harmony between what he does and what he says," Flynn said. -read more-

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'TOMMY: The Amazing Journey' Opens at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum
- Rock Hall displays Pete Townshend's never-before-seen archives of the Who's concept album Tommy

CLEVELAND, March 16 /PRNewswire/ -- The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is pleased to announce the new exhibit "TOMMY: The Amazing Journey." The exhibit will open on April 7, 2005 at the Cleveland music museum and will remain until March 2006.

Tommy is one of the earliest and most important rock operas. The iconic rock opera had many incarnations, including an album, movie, soundtrack, a Broadway play as well as an orchestral version and a ballet interpretation. Conceived and primarily written by Pete Townshend, the Who's critically revered concept album, Tommy, was released in 1969.

March 18, 2005 marks the 30th anniversary of the motion pictures version of Tommy, directed by Ken Russell.

When the album Tommy was released over 35 years ago, the media divided in two distinctive groups. On one side, critics labeled it "shattering" and "remarkable." On the other side, some media viewed the work as exploitative. The story of Tommy is one of a handicapped child who is exploited and abused by family members and others and goes on to become a spiritual leader. This is an area that no pop album had dared to tread before Tommy. -read more-

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Gay Native Americans Rediscover 'Two-Spirit' Identity

Editor's Note: Young, gay American Indians are rediscovering tribal heritages that often revered "Two-Spirits," people who manifested both masculine and feminine traits.

SAN FRANCISCO--Gabriel Duncan, 18, sits before a table covered with rich desserts and salmon salad sandwiches, glancing calmly at the mostly-older faces staring back at him. A California Paiute in a Minor Threat sweatshirt and brown beaded necklace, Duncan is reading his poetry aloud for the first time.

"I'd like to discuss just why we're so disgusting," he recites. "Why we can't marry, and just why the word 'equality' is rusty."

Like most of those gathered this evening at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center, Duncan is a member of Bay Area American Indian Two Spirits (BAAITS), a six-year-old nonprofit that offers support and activities to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Native Americans. Similar groups exist in Oklahoma, Colorado and Minnesota.

The term "Two-Spirit" refers to a belief among some tribes that there are people who manifest both masculine and feminine spiritual qualities. According to Native American scholars, many tribes once revered Two-Spirits, viewing them as a third gender with a special spiritual connectedness. In these tribes, Two-Spirits filled important tribal roles as counselors, storytellers and healers.

This belief, scholars have also observed, has been eroded in many places by the imposition of Judeo-Christian views of homosexuality as sinful. -read more-

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Caught by the Spirit

Some artists see their work as a soul-level undertaking

Anchorage Daily News

INSPIRE. It means, literally, to breathe in. But the word also shares Latin roots with "spirit." In Alaska's Bush, as artists who know will tell you, the connection makes sense. This is where art and spirit sink deep, intertwined roots into place, into people, even the materials the artists use.

"My grandfather would tell me, 'The driftwood timbers out in the Bering Sea already know what they are going to become,' " says John Pingayaq, a Cup'ik composer, dancer and mask carver who lives in Chevak. "Some will say they are to be bowls, harpoons, bows and arrows and many other things that we carve. Some say they are to be the dancing masks of the people. Most would think of (these timbers) as dead, but to our people they actually have souls."

For Pingayaq and other artists -- Native and non-Native, writers, musicians, makers of paintings and sculptures -- art is a response as natural as breathing. Their work is created where borderlands and extremes -- culture and weather, civilization and wilderness, endurance and understanding -- crash and grind against each other like cakes of floating sea ice. And whether one believes in an immortal soul or not, in a haunted landscape like this, the spirit and its movements become an inevitable part of the work. -read more-

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Psychiatrist Speaks on Health, Faith

By Cary McMullen
Ledger Religion Editor

LAKELAND -- A noted authority in the relationship between spirituality and health, speaking at a conference Saturday, offered a biting critique of the idealization of modern health care in America and cautioned against reliance on prayer simply as a means to better health.

Dr. Keith G. Meador, a psychiatrist who holds dual professorships at Duke University Medical Center and Duke Divinity School in Durham, N.C., was the keynote speaker at the annual meeting of the Florida Center for Science and Religion at Florida Southern College. The subject of the meeting was "Spirituality and Wellness."
During the past 20 years, several medical schools and universities have studied the effect of faith on health and healing. Meador is co-director of a center at Duke that studies the relationship between the two. However, he seemed skeptical Saturday of methods that reduce beliefs and spiritual practices to tools for personal health.

"Spirituality is now a bandwagon," he said. "We need to be more discerning. Do we want to buy into a reductionistic definition of spirituality that locates it in a region of the brain?

"In a therapeutic culture, you live a life of entitlement -- if I've done my part, God owes me, and health will be mine to possess. . . . I'll own it because I've earned it."

Prayer and faith, Meador said, are not contractual bargaining chips with God in which health is received in exchange for devotion.

"People ask what religion is best. So spirituality is something to be used, and religious institutions become a kind of market for comfort and tranquility. I don't think we'd find anyone who says a cross is good for your health, but in the Christian tradition, it is central to our understanding of a suffering God."

In his 90-minute lecture, Meador offered an alternative vision of healing and health. Drawing on a quote from essayist Wendell Berry, he said, "Health is a sense of belonging to others and to our place. This holds rich potential for us as physicians and as a faith community. We have lost sight of health as a sense of community. I am convinced a substantial part of health is a sense of belonging to others." -read more-

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Exploring the heart and mind of an icon: Journals of Jack Kerouac reveal the man behind the myth
By Chris Bergeron / Daily News Staff
Sunday, March 20, 2005

Douglas Brinkley reveals the man-boy behind the myth through Kerouac's own doubts and dreams in "Windblown World: The Journals of Jack Kerouac, 1947-1954."

His 18-page introduction to "Windblown World" is a marvel of compressed insight.
Brinkley examines Kerouac's urge to treat his own adventures as a paradigm for the American transit from its post-World War II doldrums to a rediscovery of its own spiritual possibilities.

He writes, "Kerouac's modus operandi in these handwritten journals is one of voluntary simplicity and freedom, of achieving sainthood by being lonesome and poor with empathy for every sentient creature."

Brinkley focuses on eight crucial years when Kerouac wrote his first two novels fulfilling a dream, perhaps a compulsion, to reinvent himself as a serious author.

"Windblown World" comprises two main sections written during the composition of "The Town and the City" and "On The Road" which turned Kerouac into a household name and a reluctant spokesman for his age.

Brinkley helpfully includes a 12-page "Cast of Characters," that ranges from boyhood chums to family members, from occasional girlfriends to long-suffering editors.

It also offers pages from Kerouac's notebooks and journals, including hand-drawn maps of a cross-country hitchhiking trip and a saucy pinup of a nameless woman who resembled one of the author's many crushes.

While many readers confuse Kerouac with his fictional personas, like the jubilant Sal Paradise in "On the Road," the journals reveal an earnest young writer struggling through the night to fashion a distinctive style that shattered literary conventions.

He routinely lists his production: "Wrote 2,000 words, good ones today" or "Wrote 3,500 strange and exalted words."

More often, Kerouac exhorts himself, treating writing as almost a religious discipline: "I will eventually arrive at a simplicity and a beauty that won't be denied -- morality, beauty, a real lyricism."

Any struggling writer can identify with Kerouac's labors: "Sometimes my effort at writing becomes so fluid and smooth that too much is torn out of me at once and it hurts."
-read more-

Friday, March 25, 2005

Footprints in paint...
Fulbright scholar Nathlie Provosty's paintings capture the mystic of Meher Baba

Nathlie Provosty.A look at Nathlie Provosty would make you think of her as one of the thousand other tourists that visit India. In reality, she is not quite from that category. Nathlie who completed her Bachelor's Degree in Fine Arts (BFA) from the Maryland University is current a Fulbright scholar who has come to India to complete the project, 'Painting the Footsteps of Meher Baba.' Her paintings which are 21 in number focus on landscapes and interiors which are at times joined with illusory elements. These, in turn, create symbolic environments that are aimed at pointing one's consciousness inward. Still, the astounding part is yet to come. The young artist of 24 took a little less than four months to complete the paintings, having been in the country for six and a half months. Quite a feat to accomplish in such little time, considering she had other things at hand too. She is affiliated with the Government Chitrakala Mahavidyalay at Nagpur and lives in Meherbad, the location of Meher Baba's tomb shrine. She will continue staying there for the remaining duration of her nine month project.

The central theme in Nathlie's work is the exploration of her spiritual journey through simultaneous existing layers of space: outward architectural space, inner mental space and the innermost heart space. She describes her techinque, "The centre of my paintings carry the reality while the outside carry illusion."Natalie admits, "My stay in India has lead me to an emotional awakening that I cannot express verbally." She submits to be influenced by Baba's teachings which have aided her in personal growth.The exhibition on the paintings opened at the Hacienda Art Gallery yesterday. It was inaugurated by Professor Jane Schukoske, Executive Director of the United States Educational Foundation in India (USEFI). USEFI supports the Fulbright academic exchange programs between India and the U.S.A and advices Indian students about the U.S higher education system.The painings will be on view for a week, i.e. till the 30th of March.

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A Good Friday to talk about Terri Schiavo

The lesson of this and every Good Friday is that life is changed, not ended, by dying. All of the political and emotional turmoil surrounding Terri Schiavo has made this Holy Week especially poignant.

Unfortunately, my flush of piety is dulled by a fierce anger at the despicable intrusion of Congress in this Florida woman's tragic circumstances.

I am sorry, but I get the unmistakable whiff of American Taliban in the swift Republican response to its core, Christian political base.

My faith and beliefs and my family's experience tell me the parents have to let go of their brain-damaged daughter trapped between life and death. For her spiritual journey to be complete in this season of life conquering death, they have to let go. -read more-

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Colcha embroidery is a spiritual meditation

Tomé Kathleen Lerner could use the colcha embroidery stitch — an old-fashioned technique she's spent the last decade perfecting — to craft a tablecloth and decorate it with a vibrant floral pattern.

But she'd really rather not.

The Peralta Elementary School third-grade teacher would much prefer that her pieces reflect something more substantial than roses and daisies. Lerner's favorite colcha subjects are saints because, with every batch of yarn she hand-dyes, with every stitch she makes, she feels something intense.

"It's spiritual to me. It makes me pray and think, and doing just floral pieces doesn't do anything for me. It's just an art form that doesn't have emotional attachment," says Lerner, whose work will be featured at the Third Annual Santos Show at Tomé Gallery this week. -read more-

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Plumbing the Depths Of Soul Music

With industrialisation and changing values, a world that was getting increasingly mechanised had begun to seriously question, then undermine, the traditional spiritual values of art. And then for centuries, the "art for art's sake" theory was ridiculed by the rationalists who relentlessly campaigned to give art a utilitarian purpose. Only in the past century the moulds got broken once again, to rediscover the abstract in art, returning to the maxim: "Art for spirit's sake".

As a child, the presence of Ustad Amir Khan Saheb at home brought to me my first awareness of spiritual angst, for there was always this inward-outward dialectic to his presence. There he would sit, on the proverbial takht by the window, looking out-side, but with his gaze turned within, absorbed by a singing that was the real (inner) window, to the great ocean of music churning within him.

Often, when he sang a raga, the eyes of Khan Saheb's listeners would fill with tears. Yet, they would not let him stop even after hours of singing. At other times, they would plead with him to stop, for it was too overwhelming to continue to listen to him. One day, on one such occasion, while singing, Khan Saheb came down a level or two for his listeners, and said: " Naghma vahi naghma hai jo rooh sune aur rooh sunaye ". (A piece of music is a piece of music which the soul hears and the soul sings.) This was typical of Khan Saheb's style of communicating. He would 'tell' through embryonic sentences. And here, it was to share the secret that his constant mystic highs came from the 'stimulation' of the soul when singing. -read more-

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A spiritual and literal journey

By Joanne Hammer

A Buddhist monk with native origins in Crawfordsville will begin a five-month pilgrimage walk next week.

Jotipalo Bhikkhu, born in Crawfordsville as Don Sperry, will begin the walk March 1 in New Orleans, La., and end in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada. Traveling with him will be layperson Austin Stewart, Gunnison, Colo.

His hope is to practice living on faith, surviving on less and showing peace to individuals.

Jotipalo, who has been a Buddhist for about 12 years and a monk for five years, considers Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery in Redwood Valley, Calif., his home monastery. The monastery is affiliated with the Thai Forest and Theravada Buddhist traditions. In the tradition, it is common for monks and nuns to undertake pilgrimages, he said.

“This walk is a continuation of that practice with an emphasis on living simply, meditation and dependence on the kindness and generosity of those that wish to see us succeed,” he said.

Jotipalo, 39, is a 1984 Crawfordsville High School graduate and 1988 Wabash College graduate, where he studied art and the classics. He moved to New York to work as an artist, but began working as a salesperson for Norcote International.

His spiritual journey began after a near-death experience in the Himalayas in Nepal. For three days he was extremely ill and had an out-of-body experience, which caused him to realize the unimportance of material possessions, he said.

He began practicing yoga and meditation, gradually learning more about Buddhism. He also read about a woman named Peace Pilgrim, who from 1953-1981 walked more than 25,000 miles, sharing messages of inner and world peace.

“It totally blew me away,” Jotipalo said. “It was a spiritual awakening of how individual peace can affect the community and keep expanding to world peace.”

Jotipalo is uncertain as to what to expect in the 1,800 mile journey along U.S. 61.

Although he has few possessions, he will wear three robes, carry a backpack that holds a tent shaped like a large umbrella with netting and a 10-square-foot tarp. Since he cannot handle money, Stewart will buy food during the trip. They hope to travel small county roads along a river and balance public interaction with solitude and meditation.

The two plan to walk about 20 miles a day, traveling from New Orleans through Memphis, Tenn., St. Louis, Mo., Dubuque, Iowa, Minneapolis, Minn., and end at Arrow River Forest Hermitage in Thunder Bay, Ontario, by Aug. 20.

For future updates on Jotipalo’s walk, visit

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Designers embrace the postindustrial

NEW YORK Landscape architects have long felt sidelined or devalued by their architectural brethren. But as the boundaries between the two professions slowly dissolve, it seems that landscape designers are advancing some of the most potent visions of how blighted cities can be revived.
"Groundswell," an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, showcases the results of this gradual shift.
Spanning nearly two decades of contemporary landscape design, this wide-ranging show surveys 23 projects - from plazas to waterfront parks to large-scale urban renewal efforts. The picture that emerges is of one of the most fruitful periods in landscape design in a century or more, with visions that range from the hyper-real to the atavistic. (Minimalism makes an appearance, but when it does it seems like more of a warning than an inspiration.)
If the show has a subtext, in fact, it is a forthright desire to come to terms with the postindustrial landscape, in particular its legacy of violence and decay. Many of the projects seem to have been plucked from a list of man-made horrors: the site of a terrorist bombing, a war-torn city center, poisonous dumping grounds and industrial wastelands. The show's underlying optimism is rooted in the power of landscape design to act as a healing agent.
Yet one of the show's strengths is that it never preaches. Even the most toxic landscapes are envisioned as part of a broader cycle of decay and renewal. And all are explorations of communal memory - an attempt to openly engage that dark history rather than cover it over. -read more-

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Thomas Merton

By ROBERT PLOCHECK / Dallas Morning News

A Year With Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton

(HarperSanFrancisco, 381 pages, $19.95)

These daily meditations, taken from Father Merton's journals, are arranged by calendar date. The entries range from 1941 when he entered the Trappist monastery in Kentucky to 1968, the year of his death in Bangkok, and correspond to the month of the year, if not the actual date.

The years are scrambled, however, leaving the reader to search out the time frame of Father Merton's own spiritual development. Although the prolific writer pursued a hermit's life, his musings here, as in all his many works, connect with all believers engaged in the struggle for holiness.

Politics enter into these meditations as they did in his life, and some seem slightly dated, with references to Reds and the "policy of deterrence," for example. Yet, this is a monk who struggled to stay focused on his contemplative vocation.

He wrote in 1965: "The great thing ... is to get out of all the traffic: peace movement traffic, political traffic, Church traffic. All of it!" Aside from the few political thoughts, most of these short meditations are timeless and universal. In 1962, he said: "This means always seeking the right balance between study, work, meditation, responsibility to others and solitude."

These selections are rich with honesty and wisdom, and provoke much soul-searching.

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Purchased Pulpits and Spiritual Exploitations
By Jasmyne Cannick

"I freed a thousand slaves I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves..."
- Harriet Tubman

Recently, a group of Black pastors under the name of the Hi Impact Coalition, held a press conference and summit in Los Angeles to announce the kick off for their "Black Contract with America on Moral Values." Led by Bishop Harry Jackson of Washington and white Christian evangelical Reverend Lou Sheldon and his Traditional Values Coalition, the press conference and summit gave new meaning to the phrase "Sleeping with the enemy."

According to the newly formed coalition, topping the list of issues that Black Americans need to focus on is the protection of marriage. Never mind the war, access to healthcare, HIV/AIDS, education, housing and social security, the number one problem facing Black America is same-sex marriage.

Standing before the press in their Sunday best and eager to get their fifteen minutes of fame and achievable share of President Bush's Faith Based Initiative, these Black pastors seemingly allowed their pulpits to be purchased by the GOP and Lou Sheldon, who is to gay people what Strom Thurmond was to Blacks. Sheldon at one time even went so far as to support the quarantining of people with AIDS and accused the federal government of "running a network of whorehouses," when the U.S. responded to the AIDS crisis with resources.

Later that afternoon over one hundred Black pastors gathered at Reverend Fred Price's Crenshaw Christian Center, another prominent mega-church, where Sheldon showed his infamous "Gay rights, special rights" video and urged the pastors to have their congregations lobby African American legislators who hadn't taken a position on the issue of same-sex marriage.

Listening from the outside, one might have thought they were listening in on a Klan meeting, but after one look around the room, I remember thinking of Dave Chappelle's portrayal of a blind Black white supremacist who had never been told he was Black. -read more-

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The Psycho-spiritual Dimension of Islam

The word "sufi" literally means woollen, although the wearing of wool does not appear to have ever been current among the mystics of Islam. It was, however, first used when referring to a small group of mystics who did wear wool. In Arabic, 'sufi' comes from 'safi' which means "pure", and Sufis are the "pure at heart".

A Sufi can be distinguished from others through his detachment from mate-rial life and his ecstatic devotion to "The Divine Life", free from pain and sorrow. The Sufis are people who prefer God to everything else and God prefers them to everything else.Sufism or tasawwuf, in Arabic, is the inner mystical or psycho-spiritual dimension of Islam. Today, how-ever, many believe that Sufism is outside the sphere of Islam. Despite its many variations and expressions, the essence of Sufi practice is that the Sufi surrenders to God in love, over and over; which involves embracing with love at each moment the content of one's consciousness as gifts of God or, as manifestations of God.

Allah uses many different ways of awakening people from slumber and attracting them to Him. Once awake, people become seekers and travel on the path or salek. As they start their journey Divine, their thoughts and feelings shift, and they begin to behave and live differently in varying deg-rees. Why the change?

Because it helps them distinguish between the 'reality' that they have always known and the reality that truly is. They begin to realise that the purpose of this life's journey has far greater depth and meaning than they had ever imagined. The innermost part of their self responds strongly to this realisation and the outer mechanics of the person therefore shifts.

There are various spiri-tual paths that attract people but, sooner or later, all these little roads lead to that one main road and unless one travels the distance of this grand highway, one will not get far. To travel on this highway, one must disable and break down the self or nafs, dethroning it from its position of King and ruler, making it the slave. While the terms used may differ, all the mystical paths are in agreement on this fundamental aspect. In Buddhism, they speak of suffering and killing the ego; in Sufism, they speak of servanthood of the nafs to Allah. This also marks the separation between the real traveller and the pseudo traveller. The vast treasury of Sufi teaching and writings points out this fundamental and uncompromising stage of spiritual unfoldment. This road is marked with many teachers and once one surrenders himself to be taught and becomes a salek, he is well on the road to God discovery.

Guided by his teacher or murshid, the salek follows and obeys the murshid, whose job is to prevent the salek from falling into the trap of self. The self uses every ploy to get the traveller off the road that will ultimately lead to the self's demise. Its tool include man's mind, emotions and belief systems — a dange-rous and powerful array of weaponry. One must be most aware and equipped to defy the attempts of the nafs. The irony is that man is in the grip of his demanding self and is a slave to the material world, but he is not aware of it. Modern society promotes 'individuality', which in reality is 'slavery' to materiality, yet it ignores and/or shuns servanthood to God, which is the true purpose of Creation. It is only through servanthood to God that man can actually be freed from servanthood to material life. One cannot be a servant of God and a servant to oneself at the same time.

(Excerpted from 'Sufi Saint of Ooty' by Ramu Baba.)

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Bhutan's beauty buries message

It's not every week that Toronto sees two Buddhist-themed movies (Travellers and Magicians and Ong-Bak) opening on the same Friday, and that alone calls for a moment of meditation. So inhale deeply: Who knows when it will happen again?

The fascinating thing is, as ostensibly different as the two movies are, they both tend to emphasize the fundamental contradiction in the very idea of "Buddhist entertainment." Because, as I understand it, if your Buddhist practice is working, you shouldn't need entertainment.

Where the contradiction in the ridiculously visceral Ong-Bak is embedded in the very concept of a pacifist martial-arts bonecruncher, in Travellers and Magicians you find it in the movie's setting, the startling natural splendour of Bhutan. For here is a place one cannot look at without wishing one was there, and yet this is a movie about learning to accept where one is.

The second feature by the monastery-raised high lama Khyentse Norbu, Travellers and Magicians is, like the 1999 soccer-fixated fable The Cup, a cautionary tale about earthly western temptations. But where the earlier film depicted the invasion of secular consumerism via electronic channels, his new film is about someone who has heard the ruckus and wants to find it. -read more-

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Mountain Defender

With fierce faith, Julia Bonds works to save the land and people of West Virgina.
by Beth Newberry

Julia Bonds wears her faith and her mission as an environmental activist on a shirt that says "‘Stop destroying my mountains!’ - God."

As outreach coordinator of the Whitesville, West Virginia-based Coal River Mountain Watch, a watchdog and advocacy organization that works to end mountain top removal strip mining, Bonds, 52, has raised the attention of her mountain neighbors as well as the ire of the coal industry. In 2003 she catapulted into the international spotlight when she was one of seven activists from across the globe to win the Goldman Environmental Prize, the largest award ($125,000) given to grassroots environmentalists, sometimes referred to as the "Nobel Prize for the Environment."
Bonds says of her awakening as an activist, "I think it was a process that started with what was happening in Marfork Hollow. The slap that woke me up was my grandson lying in bed at night plotting an escape route [from a potential sludge flood]. It broke my heart and made me wonder, why is my grandson’s life forfeited for profit? Why are all these children’s lives forfeited for profit?

"I didn’t have the heart to tell him that he wouldn’t make it out of the house if the slurry dam would break, because there wouldn’t be enough time to escape," she says. "That smacked me in the face. It turned my life around. I knew then that it was a spiritual journey."
As Julia Bonds struggles to protect and restore the culture and environment of Appalachia, she will continue to encourage her neighbors and other Americans to renew their covenant with God. "The mentality is that there is nothing you can do to fight this evil giant," says Bonds. "They ignore the obvious: the Bible’s David and Goliath story.

"Sometimes people ask me, ‘Why do you bang your head against the wall? Why do you even try?’ The fact of the matter is, I can’t hide up in a corner and take it. I think the greatest mistake and the worst sin I could make would be to go back to my materialistic, vain life. I would know it in my own heart; it’s not the right thing to do. I can’t ever give up." -read more-

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Anthology of spiritual writings reveals Americans to themselves


The Best American Spiritual Writing 2004 offers us 25 essays and 10 poems that touch our emotions. Through the skillful use of word and image, the authors allow us to tap into their thoughts and experiences. We are once again thankful to Philip Zaleski for providing us with the “best” of American spiritual writing, something he has been doing since 1998.

There are many wonderful essays in this year’s compilation. Three in particular show the diversity of content and purpose: “A Texas Childhood” by Rick Bass; “Miss Ivory Broom” by Robin Cody; and “Good Grief” by Thomas Lynch. Bass describes what he calls “lightening strike moments” where nature reveals more than any human artifact ever could. One example of such a moment is his realization gazing at a frozen pond one clear winter night that fish live in a world different from ours; that other worlds exist beyond our immediate sensations. “Miss Ivory Broom” describes the interaction between a school bus driver and a child with spina bifida.

Thomas Lynch has written and spoken a great deal about funerals. In his essay, he takes up the way some spiritualities avoid the importance of the body at death. In opposition to these modern spiritualities, he proclaims the Christian importance of the body:

In each case these holy people treated the bodies of the dead neither as a bother or embarrassment, nor an idol or icon, nor just shell. They treated the dead like one of our own … temples of the Holy Spirit, neighbor, family -- fellow pilgrims. They stand -- these local heroes, these saints and sinners, these men and women of God -- in that difficult space between the living and the dead, between faith and fear, between humanity and Christianity and say out loud, “Behold, I show you a mystery.”

These three are a brief taste of the “best” in America. But why did Mr. Zaleski choose these as the best? He tells us that for a certain piece of writing to be considered “spiritual,” its author must always be striving to be the best, as a writer and as a person. There can be no mediocrity in either the writing or the person. A true spiritual writer must also recognize that writing is a moral act. “Such recognition inoculates the writer against the three deadly literary vices of pandering to popular taste, creative laziness, and didacticism.” No free grace here. -read more-

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Award-Winning Techno-Spiritual Web Epic Comes To DVD
posted by brokensaint

'Back in Jan 2001, ex-EA videogame producer Brooke Burgess and two young artists launched a humble Flash web comic series that hinted at heavy social, political, technological, and especially spiritual themes. They didn't expect a large audience to take note of their modest venture, but since then over 4 million Flash-heads, comic/anime fans, media critics, and tripped-out 'soul seekers' have opened the virtual doors to Broken Saints.

'With themes that parallel works from the graphic novel greats - the likes of Grant Morrison (Invisibles), Neil Gaiman (Sandman), and Alan Moore (Watchmen) - Broken Saints has garnered countless industry kudos (including a Sundance Audience Award), and the first inklings of mainstream attention.

'And now, with the help of a timely grant from the Canadian government, the creative team has produced their crown jewel: a 4-DVD Special Edition Box Set that completely re-imagines the 12 hour Broken Saints saga and peers behind the curtain at a team of rogues who just wanted to wake some folks out of The Matrix in style.'

'Inspired by a South Pacific backpacking escape after his days in the cubicle barnyard, Burgess cashed in his stocks, sold anything of value, and joined his friends in using Flash to fuse text, images, and a haunting musical score (created by respected Berlin composer Tobias Tinker) to tell his archetypal tale. Broken Saints follows four unique strangers - a Catholic-American programmer, a Buddhist/Shinto priest, a Muslim Mercenary, and a mysterious Fijian orphan - as they are gripped by a series of Apocalyptic visions. With their individual faiths shaken and their waking lives pulled mysteriously to the American West Coast, the four converge and discover that their fates - and the spiritual destiny of humankind - is somehow tied to a global satellite network, a military implant project, and a terrifying plot to 'herald God's return'.

'Hailed by Wired Magazine as "Philip K Dick meets the Tibetan Book of the Dead", the mesmerizing 'cinematic literature' style of the Broken Saints series is entirely unique, and the DVD version builds upon the presentation with all-new art, intense visual effects, completely immersive Dolby 5.1 Surround, and acclaimed voice narration from a Vancouver cast that includes William B Davis (Cancer Man from The X-Files).

Sunday, February 6, 2005

Co-opted by the Right, Dismissed by the Left

Many of us feel that our faith has been stolen, and it's time to take it back. In particular, an enormous public misrepresentation of Christianity has taken place. And because of an almost uniform media misperception, many people around the world now think Christian faith stands for political commitments that are almost the opposite of its true meaning. How did the faith of Jesus come to be known as pro-rich, pro-war, and only pro-American? What has happened here? And how do we get back to a historic, biblical, and genuinely evangelical faith rescued from its contemporary distortions? That rescue operation is even more crucial today, in the face of a deepening social crisis that cries out for more prophetic religion. -read more-

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Mike Scott and The Waterboys

Through the curtain the daylight crept
I looked at my lover as she slept
And as I watched her face I wept
It was a wonderful disguise.

Scott recites the strangers he encounters throughout the day: a driver turning to look at him in traffic; a blind man addressing him outside a museum; a fat woman in a queue; a drunk on the stairs as he returns home; and the president “on the news at 10, looking like he could use a friend.” All of them, he decides, wearing a wonderful disguise.

Stood in front of the mirror all alone
Examined my features, skin and bone
Looked at the face I’ve always known
It was a wonderful disguise.

He explained the inspiration by email. “I was living in the Findhorn community in the mid 1990s and started to see divinity in peoples’ faces, in their eyes. I told a more experienced community friend and she said ‘you are seeing God in all his wonderful disguises’. I knew in my heart then she was right – and now I know it in my whole being.”
“(Findhorn) changed the way I look at life and other people forever,” he noted on the Waterboys’ official website. “I realized everyone really is the same deep underneath, with the same longing to love and be loved. Behind all our appearances, as one writer says, ‘There is only one of us here.’ ” -read more-

Tuesday, February 1, 2005

Gere, Deepak Chopra plan film on Buddha: Modi:

[Hollywood News]: New Delhi, Feb 1 : Hollywood star Richard Gere plans to make an epic film about the Buddha, which is to be scripted by new age spiritual guru Deepak Chopra.

"The film's aim is to raise global awareness about Buddhist philosophy and the Buddha's message of love, compassion and equanimity," said B.K. Modi, president of the Maha Bodhi Society of India, Tuesday.

The $100 million film, to be produced by Gere, will be released in 2006 to coincide with the 2,550th anniversary celebrations of the Buddha, Modi said.

Although the film's cast has not been finalised, Bollywood stars Vivek Oberoi and Aishwarya Rai have evinced interest in the crossover project, which will involve specialists from Hollywood and the Indian film industry.