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October, 2004

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Psychiatrist: spiritual belief helps mental illness
By Times Group

People suffering with mental health disorders who have a faith in a higher power' have a better chance of managing their illnesses and improving their health.

They even live longer, Dr Andrew Powell, a member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, told a multi-faith meeting of mental health professionals, carers and patients in Avenue House, East End Road, Finchley, on Thursday last week.

Dr Powell, who edits the College's newsletter, told the meeting of more than 40 guests from all over the borough of Barnet, that scientific studies carried out by the medical profession in Britain and America in recent years prove that a belief in a higher power or higher consciousness is as valuable in the pursuit of sound mental health as traditional medication and therapy.

Dr Powell, a retired NHS psychologist, said it was unthinkable a few years ago for medical professionals in the fields of psychiatry and psychology to consider the value of spirituality in their ongoing search for better ways of treating mental health patients.

"But the time has arrived when many in my profession now believe a belief or faith in a higher consciousness is as important, if not more important, than conventional medicine," he said. "Quantum physics has provided an important platform for such a belief in recent years. There are many in my profession who now believe that medical science is the pursuit of helping the patient from the bottom up while a belief or faith in a higher consciousness is helping the patient from the top down."

Dr Powell, who was brought up in the Christian tradition', and has published medical papers in which he admits experimenting with LSD and mescaline with his professor's approval while studying medicine and psychiatry, was careful to make a distinction between religion and spirituality when describing what he meant by a faith in a higher power.

"I see the world's religions as rivers, all flowing into the same sea," he said.

During a question-and-answer session, which followed Dr Powell's talk, a member of the audience drew a round of applause when he described how he had witnessed what the doctor had described, first hand, after attending addicts' meetings He said: "People who have repeatedly failed to stop drinking or taking drugs for many years, miraculously stop when they find a higher power through Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous."
This has been the entire article.

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Zen and the Art of the $55,000 Stove

The Molteni, by contrast, offers a flat, open surface that lets cooks observe and work with each other in a more organic manner. "You can look across and almost don't have to talk to each other, because you can see each other and feel what the other is doing," Mr. Bouley said.

Instead of being rushed along by an expediter, who in many kitchens tells the meat cook to hurry it up because the fish is almost done, "the hands are synchronized so everything is at its peak,'' he added. "It's a more Zen way of working, more at one with their work instead of being part of some circus in service of a ringmaster."

The Molteni range has different sections, whose varied features have been allowing Mr. Bouley to evolve a fresh fall menu. On the flattops, broad heating surfaces that are 912 degrees at their centers and cooler at the edges, the chef will be setting portable steamers into which he can put spices and scents like verbena. On the burners, beneath which a water bath creates a vapor to keep food moist, Mr. Bouley will place individual hand grills, inside of which he will tuck such flavorful things as grapevine branches, pine cones and licorice sticks.

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Movie Review: Well-crafted 'Therese' falls shy on its impact

HOLLYWOOD - Although Therese Martin's "Story of a Soul" has been translated into 60 languages and has sold a reported 100 million copies since its 1898 publication and led to Martin's canonization in 1925, Catholics will best appreciate Leonardo Defilippis' film of her brief life.

"Therese" is decently acted and well-crafted, but it essentially is an illustrated Sunday school lecture for true believers.

The film comes across as more an exercise in determined piety than an evocation of the transcendent spirituality that suffuses the films of Robert Bresson and Carl Theodor Dreyer, which have an overwhelming impact even for audiences that are not conventionally religious.
Therese Martin clearly led an exemplary life, but this film is unfortunately pretty lifeless. Younce's Therese seems self-absorbed, so focused on the afterlife that she shows little interest in what life has to offer beyond opportunities for gestures of self-sacrifice.

Although production notes suggest that the sisters actually had differing personalities and temperaments, on screen they are bland to the extent that they are virtually interchangeable. There's no question that Defilippis means to celebrate the life of St. Therese of Lisieux, but instead he embalms it. -more-

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Going Places

(Original publication: October 27, 2004)

The bar is set pretty low for a good commute.

Most of us consider it a good ride if we get to work uneventfully, without delays caused by breakdowns, road work or bad weather.

Not Stewart Bitkoff, a former Yorktown Heights resident, who wrote "How to Attain Enlightenment on the Major Deegan Expressway."
The self-published book aspires to help commuters transform the daily grind of navigating potholes and poor drivers into a spiritual journey or, at least, a less stressful trip. If you didn't get one Monday when volunteers gave out copies to commuters during rush hour outside Grand Central Terminal, you can download one for free on his Web site.

Bitkoff, 58, wants to help commuters transcend the aggravation of stop-and-go traffic, late trains and rush-hour snarls. A mental health administrator who drove for 20 years from Yorktown Heights to psychiatric hospitals in the Bronx and on Wards Island, he had plenty of experience with crazy commutes. His interest in mysticism and meditation led him to look beneath the surface of the routine. He began to take notes on the things that irked him, as well as those moments of wonder and beauty he found during his 45-mile ride. -more-

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Ray's Ladies

A week before almost anyone has seen the movie, most people already know about Jamie Foxx's amazing portrayal of singer Ray Charles in the upcoming biopic Ray, and the early buzz that Foxx is a shoe-in for an Oscar nomination. His ability to perfectly mimic Charles on stage and in the studio makes the movie a must-see, but one can't neglect the importance that women played in Ray's life and career. In the movie, Kerry Washington, last seen in Spike Lee's She Hate Me, plays Ray's wife Della Bea, while Regina King plays Margie Hendricks, one of Ray's backup singers in the Raelettes who Charles has an affair with while on the road. The two actresses portray two women who had to deal with Ray Charles' darker side of womanizing and drug use, both coming at it from different sides, and their scenes with Foxx play a large part in the movie working as well as it does.

While both actresses did research for their roles, Ms. Washington had the benefits of being able to spend time with the real Della Bea Robinson. "We literally talked about everything from cooking to love to raising kids to wearing long sleeves in church. We talked about it all," she told us. "I spent quite a bit of time with her, and she's one of my favorite people. She's just really a lovely woman, and the time I spent with her was like a little jewel that I carried with me on set all the time. I didn't talk to her while I was shooting, because I like her so much that I didn't want my fear of wanting to make her happy with the film get in the way of me playing a person with vulnerability and humility. The most important to me in my portrayal of Della, was her sense of spirituality, and her sense of divine good." -more-

Monday, October 25, 2004

Explosion of Postwar Humor Helps Iraqis

BAGHDAD, Iraq - In debt, jobless and fed up with power outages, Abu Qadouri and his wife have themselves frozen to be revived when life is better. Ten years later, they are thawed out.

"Turn on the TV so we find out if elections were held and a democratic government installed," Abu Qadouri shouts at his wife. She yells back: "We have no electricity!"

The scene is from "Aqid al-Mikabsileen," or "Alley of the Junkies," a comedy that began airing last week on a privately owned Iraqi TV channel. Broadcast daily, it has taken the country by storm.

Many Iraqis readily admit that humor is not considered an Iraqi characteristic. Egyptians have a reputation as the jokesters of the Arab world. Iraq (news - web sites) is better known as a nation of avid readers.

But the unbridled freedoms that followed the fall of Saddam Hussein (news - web sites) and the misery of a constant cycle of bombings, kidnappings and murders have kindled a national sense of humor.

Much of it is satirical and can be seen in street graffiti that makes fun of everyone, starting with the 140,000 American soldiers in Iraq. Other targets include insurgents, common criminals and political parties.

"The black humor you see on television is the only way for us to vent frustration," said Qasim al-Sabti, one of Iraq's leading painters. "We cry one minute and laugh the next when we watch 'Alley of the Junkies,'" he said. -more-

Thursday, October 21, 2004

New book charts rise in alternative spirituality

Within three decades as many people in Britain will be involved in alternative spiritual practices as in traditional churchgoing, according to a new book by Lancaster University authors.

The book, which is set to cause a stir in the study of religion and contemporary culture, draws on findings from a locality study of religious and spiritual activity in Kendal, Cumbria.

‘The Spiritual Revolution: Why Religion is Giving Way to Spirituality’ by Paul Heelas and Linda Woodhead (Religious Studies) will be published next week.

The research, carried out by full-time researchers Ben Seel and Karin Tusting and directed by Heelas, Woodhead and Bron Szerszynski (Institute for Environment, Philosophy & Public Policy), found that church attendance had been declining rapidly since the sixties. Meanwhile forms of alternative spirituality including Alexander technique, Buddhist groups, herbalism, reiki, tarot card reading and yoga have flourished in the last twenty years.

Relating these findings to wider trends, the authors argue that changes in religious practice reflect a wider flight from deference and a concern with personal experience and growth.

They also reveal a shift in which women come to play more prominent, active and leading roles in defining, channeling and interacting with 'the sacred', a role previously reserved for a male priesthood.

The authors commented: “It was interesting to find that the spirit of the Romantics was still alive and well – in the gateway to the Lakes. The forms of spirituality that are doing best are those which have to do with the cultivation of what Wordsworth called ‘the spirit of life’.”

The findings have attracted the interest of The Westmorland Gazette, Channel 4 (‘Do You Believe in Magic’), the THES and The Times.
This has been the entire article.

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Wednesday, October 20, 2004

"The Motorcycle Diaries"

By Andrew Nuth
October 18, 2004

Two young men set off on a motorcycle journey through South America. Their motorcycle breaks down and they learn about the human spirit as they hitch and walk their way across the continent.

"The Motorcycle Diaries" is the true story of two young men, Ernesto Guevara (who later in life becomes a communist revolutionary also known as El Che) and Alberto Granado, who travel through South America in 1952 on a lame motorcycle called "The Mighty." Ernesto, played by Gael Garc?a Bernal, is going to college to become a doctor specializing in leprosy and is taking a year off to travel through South America. Alberto, played by Rodrigo de la Serna, is a biochemist and is making the journey to celebrate his 30th birthday.

At the beginning of the movie, the subtitles move very quickly and are hard to read, but after a few minutes the story becomes so interesting that it is easy to forget the subtitles are there.

The indigenous people they meet along the way make a strong impression on Ernesto, Alberto and the audience. It is difficult to hear the stories of people who work so hard just to feed themselves. One man they meet on the road is searching for a job so he can educate his children. Many of the people have been kicked off of their land by the government and are not even allowed to farm their own food anymore. The documentary-style film making creates an illusion of reality.

Ernesto goes from being a medical student to a dedicated humanitarian.

The movie has poor quality filming and a fairly low budget, but is driven by wonderful actors and the fact that it is based on an amazing true story.

"The Motorcycle Diaries" is a movie with a purpose - it shows a part of the world, a culture and an experience that most Americans will never know.

Four out of four

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Comedian brings seriously funny message to Napa students, parentsSunday, October 17, 2004

By Pat Stanley
Register Staff Writer

Michael Pritchard is a deadly serious comedian.

The 55-year-old stand-up comedian brought his message of love and humor to students and parents in Napa Valley this week, mixing his gut-splitting humor with serious underlying messages for good living and good parenting.

In her introduction for students and parents, Harvest Middle School principal Linda Beckstrom said, "He speaks with warmth in his inner heart."

"People need to connect with each other," Pritchard said following the Harvest program. "When the leading cause of preventable death of women in the workplace is homicide, the (antidote) for that is compassion. If kids grow up with a cold heart, you know these kids won't have relationships -- they'll have hostages."

Many of his one-liners were designed to bring hope to concerned parents. "Fear is the little darkroom where negatives are developed," he told his audience. "Blessed are the flexible, for they will not get bent out of shape. If you laugh at your troubles, you'll always have something to laugh about. Anger past 30 seconds is ego. A cynic is someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing."

In a world rocked by violence, he said, people need to not hate each other. Instead, he said, we should "listen with our hearts."

Pritchard, who grew up in the St. Louis area and now lives in San Rafael, has made his mark as a comedian. His big break came after winning first place in the San Francisco International Stand Up Comedy Competition in 1980. Soon after that he was asked to appear on the "Tonight Show." He has been featured on NBC's "Today" show, CNN, and CBS's "Sunday Morning with Charles Kuralt." -more-

Monday, October 18, 2004

UK churches pray for slaughtered animals
Posted: Tuesday October 12, 2004 1:49 PM EST
By Cedric Pulford
Ecumenical News

Churches across Britain have held prayers for animals killed for food as well as hunted animals and those used in laboratory experiments. To correspond with Animal Welfare Sunday, 3 October, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals distributed thousands of free copies of a service for animal welfare, by Andrew Linzey, a prominent theologian and animal rights advocate.

It is a new edition of a service Linzey first wrote in 1975, when he was a theological student. “We’ve had a tremendous response,” he told Ecumenical News International. “Thirty years ago animal services were unknown. Now they’re almost commonplace.” He echoed the 19th century English preacher Charles Spurgeon, who said a person “could not be a true Christian if their cat or dog were not the better off for it”.

Linzey, a senior research fellow in theology and animal welfare at Oxford University, said that services too often focused on domestic pets. He wanted to see more stress on other suffering of animals caused by people. “Clergy often don’t appreciate that animal welfare is a Christian duty,” he added. “The Bible says we may use, but do not own, animals.” -more-

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A Kiwi's spiritual mission
18 October 2004

New Kadampa Tradition buddhism is growing in New Zealand at a phenomenal rate. TINA NASH talks to monk Kelsang Vajra, who was charged with establishing the religion in New Zealand.

In 1996 David Stewart left New Zealand as a wide-eyed 22-year-old eager to see the world.

Five years later he came back as Kelsang Vajra, New Zealand's first Kadampa Buddhist monk. He was charged with the job of setting up the Western-style Buddhism in New Zealand.

Vajra grew up in Kaitaia and wasn't really sure what he wanted to do with his life, so he went to London in 1996 and did some modelling, which he was doing in New Zealand.

He was in Vogue magazine, and lived a party lifestyle. Looking back now he can see he was looking for a spiritual journey and wasn't getting that in modelling. He came across Buddhism and immediately knew he had a strong understanding of the teachings.

He lived like a monk for a year before he was ordained and then he was sent to New Zealand, as the national spiritual director, one of only 12 in the world. He had to give up smoking, after having 25-30 cigarettes a day. He can no longer had drink alcohol or have sex.

"I really didn't find any happiness in it. I've found what I'm looking for, what is there to miss?

"You've got to lead a pure life. That's the way to inspire people. They need to see in their teacher something to aspire to." -more-

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Stan Padilla, Artist

Three years ago, Roz died of a massive heart attack in Padilla's arms and his world abruptly changed. After that tragedy, Padilla said he had to decide whether to go on or die from a broken heart.

After an extended period of grief, Padilla chose life.

"Out of that crack in a broken heart came new light," he said. "I found a new reverence for life, a reverence for living."
Padilla's reawakening set off a surge of creativity that has now manifested itself in a gallery exhibit "Blue Altars," that shows off his lapis blue painting series. The exhibition was shown at Rocklin's Sierra College in October and Padilla has plans of bringing it to other cities for exhibits.

"It shows others that they can go on," Padilla said.

Works from the "Blue Altars" exhibition have been an inspiration for viewers like Auburn massage therapist Karen Trowbridge.

"It's a healing journey," Trowbridge said. "You go at your own pace."

Auburn fiber artist Sandy Wythawai Starbird said she admires the way Padilla steers away from incorporating any artistic ego in his works.

"He's not saying, ‘Hey, I have something to say n look at my artwork,'" Starbird said. "It's left for you to take what you want from it. It's both gentle and persuasive." -more-

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Experts say politics, science not enough to solve world's water woes

By Sarah Delaney
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Conflicts over fresh water sources are likely to increase in coming years, but political and scientific approaches are not sufficient to resolve them, said participants in a workshop at the Vatican.

Spirituality, ethics and a strong commitment to justice must be part of the solution, agreed the water experts gathered at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences Oct. 14.

"The survival of humanity and of all other species on earth depends upon the fate of water. Where water is absent, life is absent," said Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, chancellor of the academy.

People have fought over dominance of water sources for thousands of years, said Peter Gleick, one of the organizers of the workshop titled "Water Conflicts and Spiritual Transformation: A Dialogue."

But the need to share the precious resource has generated a surprising amount of cooperation over the centuries as well, he said.

"It seems clear that there is a spiritual or religious dimension that can connect people when it comes to water," said Gleick, director of the Oakland-based Pacific Institute, which researches water-related environmental and developmental issues.

"Technological, economic and scientific solutions are not enough," he said. "Water is different than other resources, such as oil. People of different religious and scientific backgrounds treat water in a special way.

"We are coming together to foster that, to prevent the risk of conflict. We want to figure out how to move from conflict to cooperation," he said.

Several religions and many countries were represented by the workshop's 25 participants, who included scientists, scholars, government officials, aid workers and religious leaders.

The sometimes lofty discussion was brought down to earth by Bishop Sanchez.

"There must be two approaches to the problem. Scientists must work to conserve, locate and even produce sources of fresh water. And the social sciences, including religions, must try to ensure justice in the distribution of water. Water must be available to everyone," the bishop said.

Water, which is "valued and respected in all religions and cultures," has become a "symbol of social equity," Bishop Sanchez said. The lack of water in many parts of the world is not a question of actual scarcity, but of the distribution. One of the biggest threats to equitable water rights is the trend toward privatization, he said.

Bishop Sanchez said he hoped the workshop would result in the resolution of a fundamental agreement among religions to work toward justice in water supplies for all populations.

Mary Evelyn Tucker, professor of religion at Bucknell University, Lewisburg, Pa., said: "There's the realization that scientific and political approaches are needed, but they are not sufficient. A spiritual and ethical approach is needed as well."

She added: "There is nothing abstract about it. Water is life; without it there is no life."

As co-director of a Harvard Divinity School project studying ecology and the role of religions of the world, Tucker said that a religious approach to the environment is relatively new.

"But all religions value water," making religions natural advocates of the need to protect it, Tucker said.

"And ethics have been the missing link in the environmental discussion," she added. "We need another dimension."


~ ~ ~

Latest book in series offers odd mix of spiritual writings
For The Tennessean

The Best American Spiritual Writing 2004
Philip Zaleski, editor
Jack Miles, introduction
Houghton Mifflin Company
275 pages, $14

Sometime in the 1990s, ''spiritual writing'' became a movement, a sign of the times.

It claims ancient roots — Augustine's Confessions — but in the '90s, spiritual writing became a defiant hybrid. It was impatient with two opposing trends — 1. Sappy devotional Christian writing and 2. Secular literature that cluelessly ignored the spirit.

The new aim was to write about spirit in everyday life without jargon, sentimentality or embarrassment. The new spiritual writers included poets, scientists, therapists and essayists (Kathleen Norris, Thomas Moore, Bill Mc- Kibben). If they wrote about religion, they avoided formulaic doctrinal conclusions. If they wrote about baseball or gardening, they looked for a spiritual dimension, a core of mystery or redemption.

Often they're baby boomers trying to reconnect with the faith of their churchgoing past — but without giving up their insights as writers, naturalists or biochemists.

This new volume is the latest in an annual flagship series that, since 1998, has helped publicize and shape the spiritual writing creed. It's an odd mix of magazine pieces and poetry; writers include Rick Bass on the moral necessity of wilderness, Natalie Goldberg on the Zen of writing, Thomas Lynch on life as a funeral director. The contributors usually share emotional honesty, graceful prose, an undistracted search for God.

Here's how three essays begin:

• ''Of the seven deadly sins, only envy is no fun at all.'' (''The Green-Eyed Monster: Envy is Nothing to Be Jealous Of,'' by Joseph Epstein)

• ''Judaism is the story God chooses to tell the Jews, and they choose to hear. But Judaism is in grave trouble, because it has difficulty saying what the point of the story is.'' (''Judaism Beyond Words,'' by David Gelernter)

• ''I hold the thing we call 'nature' to be the divine manuscript. ... Human industry is shredding this book like an Enron document.'' (''Earth Music,'' by David James Duncan)

A mark of contemporary religion is its freedom of movement across every theological boundary. Spiritual writers exploit that. Where shall we find religious depth in the 21st century? In worship? The backyard garden? Daily headline tragedies? Ancestral memory? This annual book keeps pressing for answers.

The Best American Spiritual Writing 2004

Philip Zaleski, editor

Jack Miles, introduction

Houghton Mifflin Company

275 pages, $14

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Out-of-the-way Oregon town is latest to lure the spiritually minded

ASHLAND, Ore. – In North America's newest spiritual mecca, the well-off, well-educated residents who fill the coffee bars, boutiques and healing centers do not see themselves as mere Americans. They see themselves as citizens of a sacred cosmos.

In this resort town of 20,000 in the isolated south of Oregon – roughly 100 miles inland and just north of the California border – it seems harder to find someone who hasn't written a book on spirituality than someone who has. Many people here are spiritual seekers who have been flocking to Ashland because they believe it has a last-gasp chance of becoming a new paradise on Earth.

And many scholars say that spiritually, Ashland – until recently best known for its seven-decades-old Shakespeare Festival – may represent the wave of the future.

Nestled in the soft-green Cascade Mountains, Ashland is at the forefront of the fastest growing "religious" group on the continent: the spiritual but not religious. These "nones" – so called because, if asked their religious denomination, they would answer "none of the above" – have more than doubled their numbers in the last 10 years. There are an estimated 30 million in the United States; if they were a religious denomination, they would trail only Catholics in membership.

The "nones" are more prevalent in the Pacific Northwest than anywhere else in the States. In Oregon, the percentage of residents who claim to have no religion is 21 percent. In Washington state, "nones" account for 25 percent. (And in British Columbia, it's 35 percent.) -more-

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Shunmyo Masuno

Zen practitioners in the 14th and 15th centuries invented the now globally admired garden look of austere beauty and manufactured naturalism, but professionals took over their work generations ago.

Shunmyo Masuno is trying to take some of the ancient art back. He is not only a designer, practising the art of traditional Japanese garden design, but also the resident priest at Kenko-ji temple in Yokohama. When I ask him whether he is the only monk in Japan still doing this work, he laughs and says, "The only one in the world, I should think."

Masuno's Zen designs range from moss-and-pond stroll gardens at other temples in Japan to modern urban plazas around the world. Examples of the latter, including the dramatic 4F deck of the Canadian embassy in Tokyo, look nothing like a Kyoto postcard, but, he insists, still embody the Zen ideal.

"A Japanese garden is a work of art with spiritual significance," the amiable 51-year-old explains in an interview at his home temple. "It leads to a series of questions in the viewer: Who am I? Why am I here? What should I do?"
Masuno may be the only landscape architect in the world who will first "talk" to the stones and trees before deciding where they go. This conversation with the materials, he says, is necessary if you're going to produce art that endures. -more-

Saturday, October 16, 2004

"Hunger No More" Documentary to Air Oct. 24 on ABC-TV Affiliates
Posted: Tuesday October 12, 2004 3:20 PM EST
By Christina Bahamonde Ali
[email protected]

NEW YORK / Elkhart, IN –"Hunger No More: Faces Behind the Facts,” a new TV documentary, takes an unflinching look at the persistent problem of hunger in the 21st century – and offers solutions.

Just as Church World Service CROP Walkers march to raise funds to fight hunger, the agency’s executive director and CEO, the Rev. John L. McCullough, joins Senator George McGovern and others in this documentary to bring awareness of the enormity of the issue of hunger and issues related to hunger throughout the world.

A program of the National Council of Churches USA for the ABC-TV “Vision and Values” series, the one-hour, closed-captioned special will begin airing on ABC affiliates on October 24, 2004. (Check local listings.)

Most of us don’t often ask where our next meal is coming from. But for millions of people in the United States and nearly a billion people worldwide, such food insecurity is a daily reality.

“Hunger No More: Faces Behind the Facts” approaches hunger from the perspective of faith, declaring that hunger is more than a social issue. “World hunger exists for a variety of reasons,” says McCullough. “Certainly one of these we’ve learned over time is the constancy of instability around the world … I think we underestimate the magnitude of conflict and the kind of impact that it creates.” -more-

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The Gospel of Mary Magdalene
Posted: Wednesday July 07, 2004 7:03 PM EST
By Jason Jeffrey

Of all the earliest followers of Christ, none has sparked the level of interest generated by one particular woman – the biblical figure known as Mary Magdalene. Revered as a saint, maligned as a prostitute, imagined as the literal bride of Christ, Mary of Magdala stands apart as an enigmatic individual about whom little is actually known, despite centuries of scholarly scrutiny and wild conjecture.
The stain of immorality attached to the figure of Mary Magdalene averted attention away from the significant role she plays in the unfolding of Christ’s teachings. The importance of Mary is especially apparent in Gnostic texts – some among the earliest accounts of Jesus’ ministry – which have been largely suppressed and ignored by Church authorities.

The Gnostic picture of Mary departs – in some ways, dramatically – from the historical and biblical image of perhaps the most significant female follower of Jesus.

The second-century Gospel of Mary was found in the late 19th century by archaeologists but remained largely ignored and untranslated for 50 years. It is the only account named for a woman and offers a different view of Christianity – one that describes an “interior spirituality,” says Karen L. King, author of The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle. -more-

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Transforming the Faiths of Our Fathers : Women Who Changed American Religion

Far from being a dry anthology of essays about the movers and shakers of religious feminism in the late 20th century, this book dares to let these iconoclastic women speak for themselves, in all their pain, wisdom and glorious humor. Some of the writers’ names may sound familiar, particularly to those who have read feminist and womanist theology: the roster includes Rosemary Radford Ruether, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Judith Plaskow, Carol Christ and Delores Williams.

Other contributors, such as Lois Miriam Wilson, the first female moderator of the United Church of Canada, are not household names, but readers will be fascinated by their experiences. The contributors come from mainline Protestant, evangelical Protestant, Catholic, Islamic, Jewish, Mormon, Buddhist and goddess backgrounds. As the women share their spiritual journeys, they talk about how religion has both limited and empowered them. The book can be revisionist; several essays challenge the idea that womanist theology was created by black and Latina women because “whitefeminist” theology had ignored their needs. (Ruether in particular argues that religious feminism was concerned about racism from the beginning.) Readers will be encouraged by these women’s bravery, as well as by the book’s implicit reminder of how far women have come in a relatively short time. -more-

Friday, October 15, 2004


What the American Islamic world needs now is love, sweet, love; fortunately, it's the only thing one of this country's most popular poets has just too much of.

So what if Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi died more than 700 years ago.

The Sufi saint celebrated for his message of universal love and tolerance is enjoying a spiritual and cultural renaissance as a welcome symbol of a faith beleaguered by associations with terrorism.

Rumi, a 13th-century poet and philosopher, is hot. Madonna and Demi Moore performed Rumi's work on a CD produced by New Age guru Deepak Chopra, and his poetry has been set to music in New York fashion shows.

There are annual Rumi Festivals in Chapel Hill, N.C., organizations such as the Rumi Art Society in Austin, Texas, the Rumi Forum for Interfaith Dialogue in Washington and Rumi reading groups in homes and college campuses nationwide. -more-

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‘Team America’ sure to offend all moviegoers amid the laughter

"Team America: World Police" is the most offensive movie ever, and I think it might be boycotted and protested by all registered voters.

The world is troubled. Florida is really troubled. We need hugs. Oprah can’t do it all alone.

And we don’t need this right now, people will say. This movie will further divide people. It makes fun of Sean Penn. -more-

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Non-denominational Circle Church provides a space for creative souls to pursue a personal spiritual path
The intersection of creative expression and spirituality is at the core of the Circle, co-founded by Harst and his wife Zet Baer. "I've been studying spirituality and religious traditions for 30 years," says Harst, "and the more I study the less I know who or what God is, but the clearer I am on what God feels like. I feel called to say out loud, wherever I can, through words, with music, through theatrical performances, through poetry, I have no idea what God is but I think it's important to be feeling it." -more-

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Psychologists explore traits, experiences that enable some to transcend self

"It does appear that there is some sort of relationship between spirituality and practical wisdom," Ms. Kelly said. As seekers, spiritual people "tend to search for knowledge, which is similar behavior to those who are described as being wise."

Other research presented in Honolulu supports the idea that women may be more likely to exhibit another factor that appears related to wisdom, a quality known as self-transcendence.

Self-transcendence is the ability to stop being preoccupied with one's own life and instead focus more intensely on others and the whole of humanity, said Patricia Jennings of the University of California, San Francisco.
Scientists are also exploring how wisdom differs across cultures. In Western societies, wisdom seems more directed at logic and pragmatics – that is, how best to achieve the good life, said Thao Le of Cal-Davis. Eastern cultures appear more concerned with transcendent wisdom – with its focus on transforming consciousness, and setting oneself free of objects and beliefs. "It's about personal insight, developing self-knowledge, and even questions of does the self really exist?" Dr. Le said. -more-

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The language of powerlessness

by David Lewis, Collegian columnist
October 14, 2004

...we can now add "globalization," "privatization," "commercialization," "institutionalized," "disenfranchised," "mainstream," "capitalist," "counterculture," and "revolutionary," to the list of words that have been systematically overused until they become essentially meaningless. They are sucked dry of all of the power and potency that they once contained. The words we use are absolutely essential to communicate and derive meaning from our dialogues. Without an appropriate and relevant language with which to describe the world, we are effectively left once again without a voice. Just like "equality," "diversity," "social justice," "community," and "spirituality" have been reduced to meaningless catch-phrases over the last quarter-century, so too has our post-modern vocabulary been drained of substance and discarded leaving words that are just empty shells taking up space.

There is a McDonald's commercial in which urban youth are rapping and playing basketball in roller blades, kneepads and helmets. I know that this has nothing to do with hip-hop, but is simply an empty skin marketed to vaguely resemble a culture that McDonald's has no connection to. Nowadays when I hear discussions about globalization, I hear words that once contained meaning and relevance for a whole generation of disenfranchised people that are now simply another means of power for the very people that they were originally aimed against.

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OCTOBER 4, 2004

And they hijacked Jesus. The very Jesus who stood in Nazareth and proclaimed, “The Lord has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor.” The very Jesus who told 5000 hungry people that all of you will be fed, not just some of you. The very Jesus who challenged the religious orthodoxy of the day by feeding the hungry on the Sabbath, who offered kindness to the prostitute and hospitality to the outcast, who said the kingdom of heaven belongs to little children, raised the status of women, and treated even the tax collector like a child of God. The very Jesus who drove the money changers from the temple. This Jesus has been hijacked and turned from a champion of the disposed into a guardian of the privileged. Hijacked, he was made over into a militarist, hedonist, and lobbyist….sent prowling the halls of Congress in Guccis, seeking tax breaks and loopholes for the powerful, costly new weapon systems that don’t work, and punitive public policies.

Let’s get Jesus back.

The Jesus who inspired a Methodist ship-caulker named Edward Rogers to crusade across New England for an eight hour work day. Let’s get back the Jesus who caused Frances William to rise up against the sweatshop. The Jesus who called a young priest named John Ryan to champion child labor laws, unemployment insurance, a minimum wage, and decent housing for the poor – ten years before the New Deal. The Jesus in whose name Dorothy Day challenged the Church to march alongside auto workers in Michigan, fishermen and textile workers in Massachusetts, brewery workers in New York, and marble cutters in Vermont. The Jesus in whose name E.B. McKinney and Owen Whitfield challenged a Mississippi system that kept sharecroppers in servitude and debt. The Jesus in whose name a Presbyterian minister named Eugene Carson Blake - “Ike’s Pastor” - was arrested for protesting racial injustice in Baltimore. The Jesus who led Martin Luther King to Memphis to join sanitation workers in their struggle for a decent wage.

That Jesus has been scourged by his own followers, dragged through the streets by pious crowds, and crucified on a cross of privilege.

Mel Gibson missed that.

Mel Gibson stopped short of the whole story. So obsessed with the gore of the crucifixion – he missed the glory of what followed. He didn’t wait for the resurrection – so he missed the power of the Pentecost. We must pick up the story where Mel Gibson stopped. Our times call out for a new spiritual revolution. Our times cry out for a new politics of justice. This is no partisan issue. It doesn’t matter if you’re a liberal or a conservative, God is neither. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat or Republican – God is neither.

To see whose side God is on go to Deuteronomy to read: “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor…Give liberally and be ungrudging when you do…” Go to the Psalms and read: “For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy…From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight.” Throughout our sacred text it is the widow and the orphan, the poor and the stranger who are blessed in the eyes of the Lord; it is kindness, relief and mercy that prove the power of faith – and justice that measures the worth of state. Poverty and justice are religious issues. Kings are judged on how the poor fare under their rule; prophets speak to the gap between the rich and the poor as a reason for God’s judgment. And Jesus moves among the disinherited. In one of the greatest sermons ever preached we hear from his own lips: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothing. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family you did it to me.” Let’s get Jesus back. -more-

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

An evening of poise and perfection


In man's attempts to comprehend the world around him, the number seven has, since the vedic period, formed the basis for representing several fundamental aspects of nature, science, spirituality, religion, dance, music and socio-cultural rituals.

        Mystical Seven, a group presentation by a renowned dance troupe Abhinayaa in New Delhi, performed at Naradha Gana Sabha here on Sunday in front of an appreciative audience.

        This Bharatanatyam group presentation weaves through many of these manifestations in Indian and World culture, tradition and reality. It is a testament to the mystique of this unique number that has, and continues to parent many an illuminating thought.

        On these lines, Jayalakshmi Eshwar, Maya Ratnam, Rajneetha Kamath, S Vasudevan, Swati Biswas, Priya Bhaskar, Reshma Ria Sooden, Saya Oshima, Joanna Grazyana, Isha Sharma and Anca combined to capture the very essence of music and dance in various forms and hues.

        Jayalakshmi, who doubled up as the choreographer, brought out the Aachiyar Kuravi, a dance of the cowherdesses from Silapadhikaram, with all its splendour.

        The seven girls - the names of whom are in accordance with the seven strings of the ancient instrument Yaz - holding their hands to sing and dance merrily in praise of Lord Krishna in the presence of Kannagi - were at their best bringing in the prevalent mood and not getting carried away.

        The Kundalini effect passing through the seven etheric webs surrounding the Chakras and depicting the bipolarity of feminine and masculine energies were brought out with an aura of calm and picture of poise.

        The Sapta Tandava which preceded that were identifiable for their vigorous energy, dance and movement. That the Puranas speak of seven main Tandavas that are performed by Lord Shiva in the seven holy places reflected well in the poise and perfection of the artistes.

        The musical score of O S Sridar and Durga Prasad was an apt foil to the drum syllables of Lalgudi Ganesh and V Krishnamurthy.

- K V Vasudevan

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JOSEPH BEUYS: ACTIONS, VITRINES, ENVIRONMENTS will be on view at Tate Modern in London, February 4, 2005 – May 2, 2005.

Joseph Beuys (1921-1986) is regarded as one of modern Europe’s most important avant-garde artists, teachers, and activists. A pioneering figure who redefined sculpture, invented new kinds of beauty, and gave new voice to Germany in the international art world. Beuys paved the way for a subsequent generation of major German artists, such as Georg Baselitz, Anselm Kiefer, Sigmar Polke, and Gerhard Richter. Arguably the most influential artist of post-World War II Europe, Beuys left behind an intensely moving body of works.

Organized by The Menil Collection in collaboration with Tate Modern, London, JOSEPH BEUYS: ACTIONS, VITRINES, ENVIRONMENTS is the first Beuys sculpture exhibition in the English-speaking world in 25 years. It will be on view at The Menil Collection — its sole U.S. venue — through January 2, 2005.
Beuys’s often misunderstood statement that "Everyone is an artist," reflects his idea that every person can be creatively active. "To make people free is the aim of art therefore art for me is the science of freedom," he said. Beuys believed that all human intelligence, especially scientific and political knowledge, is derived from artistic creativity.

Throughout his career, controversy followed Beuys, who often outraged his peers and the public. A prime example of the emotional response his work evoked occurred at a 1964 Fluxus festival at the Technical College Aachen in Aachen, Germany. During the performance, which involved melting chunks of fat, outraged spectators stormed the stage, one punching Beuys in the nose. Beuys let the blood flow and saluted the crowd with a crucifix. To Beuys sculpture was not a rigid art form but a process (he sometimes likened it to heat or a power station, with special, medicinal, soul-healing properties). Integrating spirituality, environmentalism, and social activism, Beuys’s art was meant to release Western culture from social, political, and ecological malaise. -more-

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David O. Russell: A free-flowing mind gushes with ideas

Between all of these diversions, and a couple of dances, David O. Russell traced the history of “Huckabees,” a comedy in which a young activist (Jason Schwartzman) attempts to sort out his life by hiring a pair of existential detectives (Dustin Hoffman, Lily Tomlin). The film has been in the making since 1990, said Russell, but it really began with his first spiritual experience, as a child, while walking on a field behind his middle school. Later readings of J.D. Salinger helped shape his ideas about spirituality and the self, as did his later studies at Amherst College with Indo-Tibetan scholar Robert Thurman (yes, Uma’s father).

“Dustin Hoffman’s character is based on him – he always wore suits,” remembered Russell. “So it was very important for me to have these suits in the movie, a certain formality.”

Fast-forward to 1990, when Russell was a waiter living in Manhattan. He wrote a short film about a man who sits in the back of a Chinese restaurant, with little microphones concealed on every table. “He eavesdrops and writes insanely personal fortunes for these people, gets involved in their lives. He becomes sort of an existential detective.” -more-

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What Would Columbus Think of Today's Indians?
By David Yeagley | October 11, 2004

American Indian leaders today often brag about the spirituality of Indian people. They point out that this spirituality was one of the first things Christopher Columbus noticed when he initially encountered Indian people. But what would Columbus think today, if he were to encounter the modern, casino Indian? What would he think of the tribes and leaders who enrich themselves by the white man’s vice, and neglect their own people?

Let’s say Columbus landed in Connecticut, rather than the West Indies. Suppose he first encountered the Mashantucket-Pequot club, and their Foxwoods casino. The first thing he would notice is that they aren’t Indian, but black. (Brett D. Fromson, Hitting the Jackpot, Atlantic Monthly, 2003, pp.9-18.) So, that would have made him think he landed on the East African coast. That would require a serious re-adjustment of his geographic orientation.

Then he would have been stunned by the club’s billions, indeed. With that kind of wealth available, the European invasion of the Americas would have happened a lot sooner, more quickly, and with a much more intense effort (if that were possible). But Columbus would have also seen in the fake “Indians” an economy based solely on the vice of “foreigners,” hardly the mark of transcendent spirituality. -more-

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Q&A with Heidi B. Neumark

04:16 PM CDT on Friday, October 8, 2004

The Rev. Heidi B. Neumark spent 20 years as pastor of Transfiguration Lutheran Church in the South Bronx, a blighted area of New York City. Working and living among crackheads and prostitutes, pimps and pushers, she served a bilingual congregation of Hispanics and African-Americans.

She and her church members proved that even those surrounded by misery can achieve good things if they maintain hope. Ms. Neumark helped found South Bronx Churches, an ecumenical group that has trained local leaders, built hundreds of low-cost homes and established a top-ranked high school.

In her book Breathing Space: A Spiritual Journey in the South Bronx (Beacon Press, $16), she describes how a church and a community grew in strength and wisdom and experienced a transformation.

Ms. Neumark, currently pastor of a Lutheran church in Manhattan, will be in Dallas to speak at King of Glory Lutheran Church on Oct. 17. She discussed her book and her work in the South Bronx with Special Contributor Mary A. Jacobs. Here are excerpts:

Question: In the book, you wrote about stopping traffic while a woman washed her murdered son's blood off the street. How does a pastor begin to minister to people in such horrible circumstances?

Answer: Sometimes there really isn't something that you can say. In the case of someone who has lost a child, there aren't a lot of comforting words. But letting the person know they're not grieving alone can make a difference.

So many faith communities have abandoned areas of poverty. Many mainline, middle-class churches abandoned cities as their original constituencies moved to the suburbs. People just walked away, saying, "No, this is too hard, this is unpleasant, these people don't look like us."

Just being present makes a difference. The church needs to be in places that other people are ignoring. -more-

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At Zen cafés, Tokyo trend-setters nuture inner well-being
Kaori Shoji IHT
Thursday, October 7, 2004

TOKYO Fashion-conscious natives of Tokyo are turning their attention inward these days - what they eat is as important as what they wear. Several years ago, the Tokyo fashion slave wouldn't have been caught dead dancing at a less-than-happening club; now the same people refuse to be seen in the presence of ugly (read: unhealthy) food products.

No longer content to swill frappuccino at the nearest Starbucks, they are opting for Japanese green tea, "matcha," ground young tea leaves concoctions and the gentle, caffeine-less "hojicha," which is made from roasted tea leaves - all consumed in any of the Japanese-style "wa" cafés that are cropping up all over the city.

In their clean, green-leafy atmosphere (all these establishments are smoke-free), one finds a menu virtually free of all traces of animal protein and oil. There are organic soy milk products in place of cream and milk shakes, healthy Japanese sweets instead of butter-saturated pastries. Most popular are the "onigiri," or rice balls - palm-sized packets of rice with dried fish or salted plums wedged in.
"I never knew it would be possible to feel this good on so little calories, but I do," says Junko Kawase.

She also says that a steady Japanese café diet has made her more sensitive, more feminine and more attuned to what makes her look good. "I think over all, that a Japanese diet keeps a person calmer and more patient."

It is also more ecological. A huge part of the success of green café franchises lies in the simplicity of their operations. Compared to burger chains or Western-style cafés, there is less trash, almost no grease and drastically less industrial detergents used on the premises.

Customers relax in a décor scheme that speaks of Zen and nature.

"Simplicity is a must," says Tohru Takeda, who runs one of the Ony café franchises. "The fare we provide wouldn't taste the same in a cluttered or overly decorative environment." -more-

Friday, October 8, 2004

Eco-Activist's Tale Headed to Big Screen

USA: October 6, 2004

LOS ANGELES - Eco-activist Julia Butterfly Hill's nonfiction book "The Legacy of Luna" is headed for the big screen, and the film's producers plan to make the feature on an ecology-conscious set.

Baldwin Entertainment Group, the company behind the upcoming Ray Charles biopic "Ray," starring Jamie Foxx, has acquired Hill's book to develop into a true-life feature film.
The tome, which will be adapted for the screen by David Ward, centers on Hill's two-year stint living in a tree she called Luna in an attempt to thwart Pacific Lumber's plans to destroy a forest of California redwoods. In December 1997, Hill climbed the tree and refused to come down, hoping to bring attention to her cause and save the forest.

She came down 738 days later, after reaching an agreement that provided permanent protection for the tree and a buffer zone around it. Her book is described as part diary, part treatise and part New Age spiritual journey.

Documentary filmmaker Doug Wolens chronicled Hill's "tree sit" in his 2000 film "Butterfly."

For the upcoming feature, company topper Howard Baldwin said the producers plan to film on a very green set. "We want to show than an ecology-minded production is doable. We hope it will start a trend in the film industry by encouraging others to follow suit," Baldwin said.
This has been the entire article.

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Hospital opens healing labyrinth
By MadhuKrishnamurthy Daily Herald Staff Writer
Posted 10/6/2004
After spending millions of dollars on high-tech medical technology, Lake Forest Hospital's latest healing tool is nearly 4,000 years old.

The hospital has a 55-foot-long, 45-foot-wide labyrinth, courtesy of Lake Forest Garden Club. It is a single, circuitous pathway cut into the grass lawn outside the new Hunter Family Center for Women's Health.

"It's a totally healing experience, so it seemed a perfect match for a hospital," said Posy Krehbiel, a member of the garden club and the hospital's women's board.

The seven-circuit labyrinth is one of possibly only two public paths in Lake County. The other belongs to St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Waukegan. The church has a portable, 11-circuit labyrinth painted on a 24-foot-diameter canvas, which it uses for its ministry.

Historically, labyrinths have been used by many cultures, including ancient Hindus, pre-Christian religions, in Christian-era churches, Medieval times and with American Indian ceremonies. Recently, the practice has been revived by many area suburban churches and communities.
"It was designed on purpose for a reason, basically as a walking meditation," said Carol Sweigert, a trained labyrinth facilitator and director of rehabilitative services at Lake Forest Hospital. "It's different from a maze where you might be lost. There's no tricks. It's one path in, one path out. It helps you to calm your mind." -more-

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Biography of Kepler shows man of rare integrity
Astronomer saw science and spirituality as one

Reviewed by JOHN L. TRELOAR

James Connor early in Kepler’s Witch shares an encounter with a German student on a train from Stuttgart to Prague. During the course of their conversation the student asks Connor, “Why Kepler?”

Connor’s reflections concerning this question succinctly summarize his book. Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) “is the man who finally confirmed Copernicus. He made a first, close attempt at defining a law of gravity. But above that, he was a man who contemplated in mathematics the glory of God. His life, his work, his mathematics were always about God. Everything he did was about God. Kepler found God in the hidden mathematical harmonies of the universe in as deep a way as he found God in the revelations of scripture. This is a man worth knowing.”
In a letter to an anonymous nobleman, Kepler explains his life and work: “I cannot be hypocritical in questions of conscience. … I want no part in the fury of the theologians. I shall not judge brothers; for even if they stand or they fall, they are still my brothers and brothers of the Lord. Since I am not a teacher of the church, I should pardon others, speak well of others and interpret favorably, rather than indict, vilify and distort.”

Connor shows that Kepler lived this charity, for his science taught him to stand humbly before God and strive for the truth God manifests in nature. -more-

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Remove Christian Nation Nonsense
The Post (Lusaka)

October 5, 2004
Posted to the web October 5, 2004


WHILE no one would oppose the protection of our people's right to a religious faith or belief, a right to profess a religion of their choice, we feel it was madness to legislate faith and religion into the Republican Constitution.

And apart from its potential for fundamentalism which could one day be used against Christians by a leadership of another religious persuasion which the Catholic leadership has aptly analysed, we feel it not even be justified biblically or otherwise.

And we agree and support the position taken by the Catholic Church in their submissions to the Constitution Review Commission that the declaration of Zambia as a Christian nation in the preamble of the constitution should be omitted.

Yes, Christianity might be the religion of the majority Zambians, but there are many dedicated Zambians who profess other faiths, or don't profess any faith at all, and that the constitution belonged as fully to them as it does to those that profess Christianity. And truly "no loopholes should be left in the Republican Constitution, which might, at some further date, lead to non-Christian Zambians being regarded as second-class citizens or even excluded from public office".

And we share the Catholic leadership's position that the Church and the state should continue to remain separate.

We also agree with their view that the nation was not Christian by declaration but rather by deeds, "Zambia can be a Christian nation only if Zambian Christians follow Jesus in a life of love and respect for one another, a life of dedication, honesty and hard work."

After all that has been said by our Catholic bishops on this issue, we remain with only one thing to say and we will say it at length. -lots more-

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True Love: A Practice for Awakening the Heart

(Shambhala, $12.95) by Thich Nhat Hanh.

The promise of true love is certainly an eye-catching topic. But in this book by the Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, true love is not something so romantic or passionate. It is quite simply rooted in understanding.

"Understanding is the essence of love," he writes. It is not only the desire to make someone happy or to ease their pain and suffering, but also the ability to do so. This notion of love is in the context of Buddhism and, ultimately, it is about being present.

The peacefulness of Buddhism has such an appeal, but there are times when its teachings and writings require multiple reads. Although the concepts may be simple to grasp, sometimes their descriptions are a little muddled.

That's what happens in this book. But it also contains gems, such as vivid descriptions of the practice of mindfulness, the act of being present and mantras and meditations to awaken the love inside.

This increased awareness leads to understanding that can be applied in your loving relationships. For example, "You will be aware that a knot has been formed in the person you love and you will know how to untie it," the author writes.

Offering a method for loving properly is a tall order for any book to fill, particularly one so slim. On first reading, I found its language somewhat confusing. But as I reread the book again, the meaning became clear.

Ultimately, we need to take care of ourselves, our pain, suffering and joy much as a mother cares for her young child. She comes to comfort a baby even when she is unsure about what is causing the baby discomfort. Taking care of ourselves in such a way opens us to love properly. This has been the entire article.

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Zen and the art of landscaping
David Tracey International Herald Tribune
Thursday, October 7, 2004

YOKOHAMA, Japan Zen monks may have invented the traditional Japanese garden, but they got out of the design business long ago. Now one is back to reclaim the legacy. As if that isn't work enough, he is also updating it with some of the most innovative outdoor spaces being created today.

Shunmyo Masuno is a link to the age when Buddhist contemplatives expressed spiritual ideas through landscape. With his immaculate robes and serene bearing, the 51-year-old looks every bit the role of the resident priest at Kenkoji, a Soto-sect Zen temple near Tokyo.

He's more difficult to picture as the head of Japan Landscape Consultants, a small design studio with a growing reputation for blending old and new ideas in place-making. Commissions now come from throughout Japan and abroad. Recent projects include a series of Zen rock gardens representing the afterlife for a crematorium in Hofu City and a fjord-themed combination of rock, concrete, plants and water for Norway's University of Bergen.

It seems a tall order to rework a venerated garden style now recognized and imitated worldwide. Even in contemporary Japan, a design-watcher's wonderland where streetscapes seem to change appearance overnight, there are gardens no one has dared tinker with for centuries.

Masuno has the insider's edge when it comes to rethinking Zen style. He discovered garden creation as a teenager helping workers renovate the grounds of his temple, headed at the time by his father. He went on to study design in university, but always with his calling as a monk in mind.

A grounding in both camps helps him work the line between Zen and landscape architecture, and between convention and innovation. "As long as you keep the essence of a tradition," he says, "you can do whatever you want with contemporary styles." -more-

Tuesday, October 5, 2004

Ex-nuns start community for spiritual exploration


Associated Press

When she was a nun, Dene Peterson had expected to grow old in the convent, in the care of her other Roman Catholic sisters.

But she left her vocation and learned that retirement would be different on the outside. Peterson's contemporaries seemed to spend their final years contemplating nothing more than shopping or golf.

'I saw `Leisurevilles' everywhere,'' Peterson said. ``You could be rich and have leisure and entertain yourself -- if that's going to mean anything to you -- or you could just plod along and then eventually someone will put you in a nursing home.''

Peterson would have none of this. Instead, she reconnected with other former nuns who had left their order, as she did, over disagreements with church leaders. Together, they started planning a retirement community dedicated to communal living and a serious exploration of the human spirit, which they regarded as the best parts of convent life.

''People should be able to have more choices than those anonymous rest homes you see all over the place,'' Peterson said. They called it ''ElderSpirit Community.'' And this time, the former nuns were determined to run the place their way.

The 29-unit retirement community will sit at the foot of a wooded hill on the outskirts of the Appalachian mountain town of Abingdon, Va. When completed next year, ElderSpirit will be open to men and women of all religions. There will be rental homes available for people with low incomes.

Even before the foundation has been laid, all but a few of the 29 homes have been reserved, an unexpected response that has Peterson considering building another ElderSpirit as soon as the first is completed.

Residents will be required to spend four hours a week helping neighbors. And they'll share a common house where Peterson hopes for some heavy discussions.

Most of the former nuns who joined Peterson remain practicing Roman Catholics, but their new community will welcome those of all faiths. The years out of the convent gave each a greater respect for different religions, said ex-nun Catherine Rumschlag, and including other viewpoints can only make discussion more interesting.

''We have a really good group,'' said Rumschlag, 77, who has met many of the future tenants. ``They are people who want to grow spiritually, who want to help their neighbors.''

More information is at

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Could chocolate be the key to spiritual harmony?

SUSIE MAGUIRE October 04 2004

Bloomsbury, £7.99

Michael Crichton
Pan, £5.99

Apparently, the Church of England is piloting a scheme to encourage the lapsed by offering them chocolate. Interesting idea; it suggests the intelligence of the congregation is estimated as low, and that where the creed of Life Everlasting has failed to sell, brightly-packaged vegetable fat will bring doubting Thomases back to the fold.
Who thinks up these things? Might it work? When organised religions are increasingly being discarded in favour of "spirituality", is the God business bankrupt? Spirituality – it's a pick'n'mix sort of notion, suited to the era of individualism, but what does it mean? These two books looking at the subject in different ways provide some context for discussion.

When journalist and broadcaster Mick Brown undertook his "adventure of the spirit", the impetus came from the desire to keep asking questions, and the hope that the answers would allow him to live more "in harmony with the people, the world around me". His explorations take him from North London to Australia, India, and parts of the US, where he encounters gurus and swamis across the gamut of beliefs, and listens to their advice.

Brown's book is a fascinating odyssey; intelligent, open-minded, and highly stimulating. In this passage from the introduction, he muses on the nature of epiphany.
"Transcendence is a natural human condition which we may all experience from time to time. A rhapsodic piece of music, a beautiful painting, a glorious sunset or some peculiar communion with nature – all may offer us moments of a particular clarity, in which our vision seems to grow larger and we are no longer looking at the world through the muddy glass of our preconceptions but seeing it as it truly is; where we become momentarily aware of some pattern or order greater than ourselves, and of which we are an intrinsic part."

Michael Crichton is best known for thriller fiction which sets humans against nature and science. At the age of 30, and despite a successful career and lots of money, he undertook a personal quest to combat disillusionment. His book, Travels, contains chapters about his years as a doctor, about psychiatry, climbing Kilimanjaro, diving with sharks and spirituality. With his background, investigating the mind-body connection was quite a challenge; after new-age therapies such as channelling and regression failed to convert him from scepticism, he tried astral travel. When he 'met' his dead father, all their past difficulties were reconciled in a fraction of a second. "In less time than it took to open my mouth to speak, something extraordinary had happened. I knew it would last.

"This made me wonder if my ideas about the normal speed of psychological change might be incorrect. Perhaps we could accomplish massive change in seconds, if we only knew how."

Maybe those moments of bliss experienced when eating quality chocolate could open doors to both psychological and spiritual change?

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Are we born with a God gene?

Molecular biologist explores idea that we're hard-wired for faith

Religion News Service

Since the dawn of our species, spirituality has been deeply woven into the human experience.

More than 30,000 years ago, our ancestors in what today is Europe painted the walls of their caves with images of strange chimeras representing sorcerers or priests. Across millennia, religion has produced innumerable acts of charity and unspeakable acts of violence. Today, the forces of fundamentalism -- whether Christian, Jewish, Hindu or Muslim -- are sweeping the globe, from the Middle East and Africa to South America and Asia.

Why is spirituality such a universal force? Why do people from all walks of life, regardless of their religious backgrounds, value spirituality as much as, or more than, pleasure, power and wealth?

The answer is, at least in part, hard-wired into our genes. Spirituality is one of our basic human inheritances. It is, in short, an instinct -- rooted in a "God gene" folded deep in the intricate strands of our DNA.

This may sound like a controversial assertion, but it reflects the startling advances of modern biology. The question of "Is there a God?" may be beyond science, but a deeper understanding of why we believe in God may be within our grasp.

The implications will no doubt prove unsettling to many people. Nonbelievers will argue that finding a God gene proves there is no God -- that religion is nothing more than a genetic program for self-deception. Believers, on the other hand, can point to the existence of God genes as a sign of the creator's ingenuity -- a clever way to help humans acknowledge and embrace a divine presence.

But these arguments mix theology with neurobiology. The one thing we know for certain about spiritual beliefs and feelings is that they are products of the brain -- the firing of electrochemical currents through networks of nerve cells. Understanding how such thoughts and emotions are formed and propagated is something science can tackle. Whether the beliefs are true or false is not. Spirituality ultimately is a matter of faith, not of genetics. -more-

Monday, October 4, 2004

A respectful look at native spirituality

The eclectic and prolific Philip Jenkins asserts that during the past century, a profound shift has occurred in the mainstream acceptance of Native American spirituality. What was once considered demonic is now followed as a way of salvation.
We now enter a time when Native American spirituality is respected for what it really is, says Mr. Jenkins. This respect is still plagued by significant misunderstandings and abuses (such as the misappropriation of native spirituality by New Age "wannabes" and entrepreneurial opportunists both within and beyond native communities). Still, the end result of this new respect acknowledges the need for restitution for cultural losses and a recognition of aboriginal land rights. "Respect" implies a redefining of traditional non-native understandings of what constitutes religion and acknowledging First Nations peoples and their spiritualities as valid in themselves. Aboriginal spirituality is a living faith tradition alongside the other great world religions and this recognition bodes well for the future. -more-

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Zen and the art of naked honesty: Natalie Goldberg's fearless memoir

A monk helps her heal from wounds inflicted by her father, but she discovers the monk is not always holy
Sunday, September 19, 2004

Natalie Goldberg was a blessing to countless would-be writers when she connected Zen to the art of writing in her popular 1986 guide, "Writing Down the Bones," urging them to trust their own talent and showing the way to write fearlessly. Now in "The Great Failure: A Bartender, a Monk, and My Unlikely Path to Truth," Goldberg sets out to explore both the demon and the savior who were, by turn, muse or goad in her own life. Her coarse, intrusive father was the bad guy; Zen master Dainin Katagiri Roshi was the good guy, a near-messianic figure who helped her find her way along a spiritual path. Or, maybe things weren't that simple.

This memoir changes shape often. It begins as a brave head-on revisiting of a troubled father-daughter relationship, and a realization of a revered teacher's failings. At times it is reminiscent of a jilted suitor picking through a paramour's pockets for proof of infidelity. There's more than a whiff of narcissism here; but often, when the self-absorption gets too thick, there appears a reflection so baldly honest that the reader has to admire Goldberg. No one can accuse her of taking the easy path as a writer, daughter or spiritual seeker. -more-

Saturday, October 2, 2004

Shekhar Kapoor plans a film on Buddha
30th Sept 2004 18.00 IST
By ApunKaChoice Bureau

Shekhar Kapoor has plans to direct a $50 million production venture on the life of lord Buddha.

The project, still in nascent stages, has brought together the Dalai Lama, Shekhar Kapoor and the famous spiritual guru Deepak Chopra. India's largest Buddhist group, the Mahabodhi Society of India, is commissioning the film.

Kapoor reportedly met the Dalai Lama early this month in Dharamsala (the seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile) to discuss the project.

The Dalai Lama provided his suggestions for the script. He also wrote to his famous disciples in Hollywood to help the project.

If things go as planned, the shooting for the movie could begin early next year and the project would be ready for release by 2005-end to coincide with the 2,550th birthday celebrations of the Buddha.

The film will be shot in India and may be distributed by Sony Pictures.
This has been the entire article.

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Mainstream pop music:
Hip-hop spirituality

By Aymar Jean

Religion News Service

WASHINGTON (RNS)--Both pious and theatrical, rapper Kanye West's new video is not typical of MTV.

A prison inmate, arms extended and back rigid, stands resolute on a barren field. His guard blindsides him with a gun. A Ku Klux Klansman drags a burning cross up a hill and is himself consumed by the flames. And, sitting in a back seat during a car chase, a drug mule utters with her crimson lips, "I want Jesus."

All the scenes are set to an intoxicating, militant beat from West's hit single "Jesus Walks."

West's success highlights the noticeable increase of religious or spiritual lyrics in mainstream music.

Many songs, artists and albums have embraced spirituality in recent years. Some advocate religion, often Christianity, while others couch their lyrics in more universal themes. Some artists are crossovers, and a few have made mainstream hits without ever crossing over.

What binds them together are their spiritual messages and their incredible success.
Photo: Kanye West -more-

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Buddha Board

Buddha Board Inc., the company founded by the former Lethbridge-area entrepreneur, produces a line of products that encourages users to “live in the present” by providing an artistic outlet that lasts but a few moments before fading into memory.
For anyone with a yen for Zen, the Buddha Board is a perfect medium. The board is placed on a small stand that doubles as a water vessel and includes a Japanese-style paintbrush. The user paints an image on the special surface of the board, which initially darkens like jet-black ink and then gradually fades away. -more-