Posts Tagged ‘yoga’

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez announces ‘self-care’ break before congressional session even starts

December 18, 2018

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez needs a break.

The Bronx-bred democratic socialist heading into her freshman term in the House of Representatives announced Monday she’s taking some time off to take care of herself before she officially starts her new job — and she’s taking her supporters along for the ride.

“I’m taking a few days to take care of myself before what is sure to be an eventful term,” the incoming New York congresswoman tweeted.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez announces 'self-care' break before congressional session even starts


Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez walks up to draw her number during the Member-elect room lottery draw on Capitol Hill in Washington on Nov. 30. (Susan Walsh / AP)


“For working people, immigrants, & the poor, self-care is political — not because we want it to be, but bc of the inevitable shaming of someone doing a face mask while financially stressed. So I’ve decided to take others along with me on IG as I learn what self-care even means and why it’s important.”

The 29-year-old progressive champion encouraged her followers to share their self-care regimens and followed up the post with a string of Instagram messages about how she had to give up her Zen lifestyle when she launched her congressional bid.

“Before the campaign, I used to practice yoga 3-4x/week, eat nutritiously, read and write for leisure,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote. “As soon as everything kicked up, that all went out the window. I went from doing yoga and making wild rice and salmon dinners to eating fast food for dinner and falling asleep in my jeans and makeup.”

Ocasio-Cortez — who unseated longtime Queens Rep. Joe Crowley in a stunning primary upset that made national headlines — vowed to not pretend to be something she’s not as she officially starts representing New York’s 14th congressional district on Jan. 3.

“I believe public servants do a disservice to our communities by pretending to be perfect,” she wrote. “A lot of campaigns are based on telling a ‘superhuman’ story and I respectfully disagree with that tactic…You don’t have to be perfect, but you do have to be 100% committed.”


Tourist who went missing from yoga retreat in India was raped and beheaded

May 5, 2018

Ramstein Air Base anti-drone protests: The Germans taking on the US military

September 10, 2017

A week of protests against the US drone program drew some 5,000 protesters to its most important air base in Europe. DW’s Kathleen Schuster met with several of the people taking on the world’s most powerful military.

Protests at the Ramstein US army base in Germany (picture-alliance/Sputnik/V. Melnikov)“To be or NATO be”: Protesters hoped to capture the attention of the transatlantic military alliance and the German government

Every military specialist agrees that Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or drones, are the future of warfare – but what are the major types of drone and who makes them? DW explains. (30.06.2017)

At first it’s difficult to reconcile the week’s itinerary at the “peace camp” — yoga, reggae, poetry slam – with the gray-haired audience gathered in this dusky room.

Taking up every seat and windowsill, the crowd of at least 150 listens intently as each speaker outlines how the US government is leading an ‘illegal war” in their backyard. The city is Kaiserslautern, the Air Force base in question is Ramstein and the war is that waged by US’s drone operations, which they say violate German law.

“Our government must review and prohibit the drone war,” Otto Jaeckel tells the crowd to loud applause. He called on German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen to take action: “Ms. Merkel and Ms. von der Leyen bear personal responsibility here!”

Under the banner of “Stop Ramstein Air Base,” a nationwide campaign has drawn peace activists from across Germany and other countries to Kaiserslautern, calling for the base to be shut down.

The audience of protesters comprises mainly the over-50 crowd, however. The ethics of using drones are the draw for these activists, but for the local organizers, the problem with Ramstein Air Force Base runs deep. To them, drones are just one symptom of a larger problem they’ve been warning about for years.

Read also: A guide to military drones

Silent partner in a silent war

Already controversial for its extrajudicial killing of several thousand suspects on foreign soil, revelations that Ramstein played a vital role in the US’s drone program sparked a frenzy among German politicians and peace activists in 2013.

Upon parliamentary inquiry, the German government said it had no information about the program. Only later did Angela Merkel’s government confirm that no drones were being directed or flown from US’s most important air base in Europe – which is, incidentally, also the headquarters for NATO’s Air and Space program (AIRCOM).

Ramstein does, however, house satellite relay stations, which whistleblower Brandon Bryant, along with subsequent media reports, allege are key to drone operations. According to these revelations, the signal sent from drone operators on Creech Air Force Base in Nevada travel via translatlantic fiber optic cables to Ramstein, where they are then transmitted to satellites positioned above the Indian Ocean — thus allowing them to strike targets in Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia by way of drones.

The founding principles of post-war Germany were “never again war, never again fascism,” Konnie Schmidt told DW.

“It’s not only the right, but the duty of every German” to rebel against a government violating these principles. “That’s our inheritance.”

Read also: Berlin powerless to challenge US drone ops at Ramstein air base

In 1983, Germany's then-capital, Bonn, saw massive demonstrations against the atomic weapons held on US bases in Germany (picture-alliance/dpa/H. Wieseler)In 1983, Germany’s then-capital, Bonn, saw massive protests against the atomic weapons held on US bases in Germany

‘Living on a powderkeg’

Schmidt, like many of the peace activists of his generation, marched against the Vietnam War. Revelations during the 1980s of atomic bombs, Pershing-2 ballistic missiles and the storage of poisonous gas at nearby US bases unleashed another wave of peace protests still well-known in Germany today.

The native Ramsteiner, now a retired teacher at 69, shares a similar story to other local activists of how he became aware of the US military presence near Kaiserslautern.

“I’ll put it this way: my mother was very conservative and so was my father. And my mother always said, if things heat up, we’re the ones sitting on the powder keg.”

Ramstein airshow catastrophe in 1988 (picture-alliance/dpa/Füger)Ramstein airshow disaster in 1988 claimed 70 lives

For Erika Christmann, 73, the key moment was in August 1988. Almost 30 years later, she like most locals still shudders at the mention of the air show disaster.

Billed by critics at the time as a display of militarism, the spectacle turned deadly when three Italian fight jets collided while trying to perform a stunt. The collision left 70 people dead and more than 1,000 injured.

“It’s difficult to talk about,” she says, taking a long pause, her rainbow necklace expanding and slowly relaxing around her neck. It’s hope that people are waking up and deep anger about what people do to each other in the name of security that keep her going.

US Air Base Ramstein (Getty Images/AFP/J.-C. Verhaegen)Activists take issue with the existence of the base and the activities carried out there – and thus want it shut down

US ‘protector image’ in question

Indeed, the man credited the most often in local peace activities is Wolfgang Jung, 79. The vivid memories of a childhood shattered by WWII have left the 79-year-old impatient with the military’s agenda.

Along with his wife, the native Ramsteiner documents information about the controversial military base on his own website, The log has annoyed many politicians, he says gruffly, then letting a rare smile escape.

The air base scares him for a number of reasons. Although he sued the German government for allowing the US to use Ramstein in its drone operations  a suit he ultimately lost because he personally was not affected by the drones, three different courts ruled — he considers Ramstein’s function as the headquarters of NATO missile defense more dangerous.

He still has hope of informing the public that a continued US military presence doesn’t protect Germany. On the contrary, it puts Germany in the middle of any missile scenario. “They could be dead within five minutes.”

Protests in Ramstein (picture-alliance/V.Melnikov)This was the second year in a row that the Ramstein protest drew thousands

Withdrawal unlikely

Even after years of protest, Jung, like Schmidt and Christmann, consider a US withdrawal unlikely.

The area counts roughly 22,000 military and Department of Defense personnel in total. With family members, it’s 54,000, the largest concentration of US citizens outside of the US.

Local residents and officials see an economic benefit to hosting American troops. Not only do 7,000 German civilians work for the US military, but the housing sector alone brings in an estimated 220 million euros annually, according to a German parliamentary report about Ramstein’s effect on the local economy.

State officials do not have data on how much the military community contributes to the economy annually. However, the 86th Comptroller Squadron in its 2013 Fiscal Report put the number at $2.26 billion, according to the same parliamentary report. Other estimates, for example by the Handelsblatt in 2016, have put the number as low at $1 billion.

Nevertheless, the three have no intention of giving up their decades-long fight. This time it’s a call on the German government to prohibit the drone program.

Or as Jung put it: “I’d like to make the most of the few years I have left and not suddenly sink into an atomic crater, you know?”

Looking at U.S. Colleges and Universities — Total disregard of time-tested truths — Judeo-Christian ethic Lost — We should stop extolling entitlement

November 23, 2016

.We are all striving to end our “brokenness.”  What is the “hurt” we seek to “heal?” Why do we believe “practicing wisdom” makes our culture and our world any better?

Dr. Everett Piper, President of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, was asked to explain the Millennial Generation’s cry for “safe spaces,” their demands for “trigger warnings,” their repudiation of “micro-aggressions,” and now even their insistence that the results of this country’s presidential election be reversed, because they, our privileged progeny, don’t like it.

” My response in brief: Why would you expect anything different?

This is what you get when you send your kids off to colleges and universities that teach politically correct pablum rather than the time-tested truths of a free people and civil society. This is what you get when you entrust your sons and daughters to sit under the tutelage of faculty who proudly pan a Judeo-Christian ethic and praise its antithesis.

This is what you get after years of teaching our next generation “it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as it works for you.” This is what you get when you tell our youth that there is a “moral equivalency” between America and its enemies, and imply our nation is bad and the rest of the world is right to hate us.

This is what you get after years of instructing our students to laugh at those who warn of the loss of individual freedom and the rise of government largesse. This is what you get after instructing an entire generation that Marxism has its merits and that liberation theology is the only “good religion,” that socialism is better than free enterprise and that capitalism is the cause of crime. This is what you get when you foment class resentment and racial animus. This is what you get when you diminish excellence while extolling entitlement.

This is what you get when you trust your sons and daughters to professors who tell them their pastors and priests are stupid and that it’s more important to learn how to use a condom than it is to obey God’s commandments. This is what you get when you spend tens of thousands of dollars a year to enroll your kids in institutions that vaunt moral nihilism while vilifying their parents’ morals.”

Read Dr. Piper’s full article at his Talking Points blog site.


Absolute Surrender by Andrew Murray.

Image result for Oklahoma Wesleyan , photos

Oklahoma Wesleyan University


Talking Points With President Piper: Practicing Wisdom

The four pillars of the Oklahoma Wesleyan University mission statement are “the primacy of Christ, the priority of Scripture, the pursuit of Truth and the practice of Wisdom.” While the first three of these pillars are likely self-explanatory to most of you, the fourth may appear less so. What do we mean when we say this university is a “community of learners that works to promote healing and wholeness in a broken culture and hurting world by ‘practicing Wisdom?” What is the “brokenness” that we seek to make whole? What is the “hurt” we seek to “heal?” Why do we believe “practicing wisdom” makes our culture and our world any better?

A man with a strange name, who was an abolitionist in the mid-1800’s, may shed some light on this question. His name was Orange Scott. He was an Episcopal Methodist pastor and, later, the founder of what is now the Wesleyan Church.

In the midst of the national debate leading up to the Civil War, Orange Scott did not apologize for his passion for the primacy of Christ and the priority of Scripture. He, likewise, was relentless in his pursuit of truth. For Scott, it was self-evident: all human beings had dignity and the subjugation of a one human being to that of another was a national disgrace. Scott, likewise, challenged his church’s willful ignorance about the sin of slavery. Political and cultural disengagement was simply not acceptable. He believed it was clear: the Church had no option but to enter the town square and shine the light of truth on the darkest corners of our culture. “We must,” he said, “examine faithfully and critically the condition of the country…[calling] attention… to the wrongs and outrages suffered by the [its] wretched slaves … [Lighting] a torch… to the slumbering national mind [so that] it would be roused to see the evil and defilement of our land.”

By teaching our students to pursue truth and practice Wisdom, we at OKWU hope to, likewise, “light a torch to the slumbering national mind…” We hope to draw attention to the “defilement of our land;” to the “wrongs and outrages” suffered by the “wretched” victims of our time who are held in no less bondage than those slaves in the day of Orange Scott:

  • The multitude of men and women who have bought the lie that they have no freedom to rise above their biology and have no choice but to be governed by their genetics.
  • The millions of babies that are being slaughtered every year under the banner of “choice” and “family planning.”
  • The masses of men, women and children who still experience the evil of slavery in the form sexual trafficking.

Orange Scott understood that Wisdom is something you don’t just think about. Wisdom is not just a noun. It is a verb. Wisdom speaks the truth. Wisdom takes action. Wisdom sets the captive free. Wisdom “arouses the slumbering national mind.” Wisdom works for “healing and wholeness in a broken culture and hurting world.”

At OKWU we believe that Jesus is the Son of God, the Bible is the Word of God, Truth is given by God and Practicing Wisdom is, indeed, demanded by God. At OKWU we have have no option: We Practice Wisdom!

Talking Points With President Piper is a weekly column featured in the Examiner-Enterprise newspaper. In addition to serving as the Oklahoma Wesleyan President, Dr. Everett Piper is also a frequent guest commentator on a variety of talk radio programs across the nation, as well as a published author and essayist. 

Meditation and Vacation — Easing The Mind in Troubled Times — Psychiatry, Psychology and Cutting The Ego Down To Size — Taking care of your brain…

August 31, 2016


Scientists from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, the University of California, San Francisco, and Harvard Medical School used a rigorous study design to assess the biological impact of meditation compared to vacation. They examined the effect of meditation on gene expression patterns in both novice and regular meditators. The researchers found that a resort vacation provides a strong and immediate impact on molecular networks associated with stress and immune pathways, in addition to short- term improvements in well-being, as measured by feelings of vitality and distress. A meditation retreat, for those who already used meditation regularly, was associated with molecular networks characterized by antiviral activity. The molecular signature of long-term meditators was distinct from the non-meditating vacationers. The study was published today in Springer Nature’s journal Translational Psychiatry.

The study involved 94 healthy women, aged 30-60. Sixty-four women were recruited who were not regular meditators. Participants stayed at the same resort in California for six days, and randomized so that half were simply on vacation while the other half joined a meditation training program run by the Chopra Center for Well Being. The meditation program included training in mantra meditation, yoga, and self reflection exercises. It was designed by Deepak Chopra, MD, who did not participate in data collection or analysis.

For greater insight into the long-term effects of what scientists dubbed the “meditation effect” compared to the “vacation effect,” the team also studied a group of 30 experienced meditators who were already enrolled in the retreat that week. Researchers collected blood samples, and surveys, from all participants immediately before and after their stay, as well as surveys one month and ten months later.

“In the spirit of other research efforts we have pioneered with other groups, this work underscores the importance of studies focused on healthy people,” said Eric Schadt, PhD, senior author on the paper and the Jean C. and James W. Crystal Professor of Genomics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and Founding Director of the Icahn Institute for Genomics and Multiscale Biology. “By combining an interrogation of gene networks with advanced data analysis and statistics, we have generated clinically meaningful information about stress and aging that is relevant to the broader population.”

The research team examined the changes in 20,000 genes to determine which types of genes were changing before and after the resort experience. Scientists performed an integrative transcriptomic analysis, comparing gene expression networks across all three groups of participants and finding unique molecular profiles and pathway enrichment patterns. Study results show that all groups — novice meditators, experienced meditators, and vacationers — had significant changes in molecular network patterns after the week at the resort, with a clear signature distinguishing baseline from post-vacation biology. The most notable changes in gene activity were related to stress response and immune function.

Researchers assessed self-reported measures of well being. While all groups showed improvements up to one month later, the novice meditators had fewer symptoms of depression and less stress much longer than the non-meditating vacationers. The psychological effects appear to be enduring and it is unknown how much of this longer lasting benefit may be due to continued practice or lasting changes in how people view events in their lives.

“It’s intuitive that taking a vacation reduces biological processes related to stress, but it was still impressive to see the large changes in gene expression from being away from the busy pace of life, in a relaxing environment, in such a short period of time. These findings will have to be replicated to see if the changes are reliably invoked under the same circumstances, in future studies, and compared to an at-home control group,” said Elissa S. Epel, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry at University of California, San Francisco and first author of the study.

“Based on our results, the benefit we experience from meditation isn’t strictly psychological; there is a clear and quantifiable change in how our bodies function,” said Rudolph Tanzi, PhD, the Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard University, and Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital. “Meditation is one of the ways to engage in restorative activities that may provide relief for our immune systems, easing the day-to-day stress of a body constantly trying to protect itself. The prediction is that this would then lead to healthier aging.”




After the November, 2015 attacks in Paris, Parisians created a mural vowing not to be cowed by terrorist attacks. Photo by Demotix

Unless you become like little children

Perhaps the most used phase in the Bible is: “Do not be afraid.”

Learn more (at the search term):

Lost of information on this site about what happens when we over-use medication instead of meditation:

, ,  ,

(Always see your doctor….)

 (Whenever everything else fails, God will take you Back)


Corpses, Pythons, Sleep Deprivation: Meditation Rituals in Thailand Can Be Intense

A decomposing body may not seem like an ideal meditation aid, but at some of Thailand’s tens of thousands of Buddhist temples, it is common to find monks reflecting while seated before a rotting corpse.

The practice of corpse meditation, largely limited to Thailand today, is an ancient concept in Buddhism, sanctioned by the Buddha himself. There are centuries-old murals and manuscripts depicting scenes of meditation next to different types of cadavers, some infested with worms, others cut in two or being picked at by crows.

The unpleasant sight and overpowering stench of flesh decaying in tropical heat can impart lessons about important Buddhist precepts, like nonattachment to one’s body and the impermanence of everything, said Justin McDaniel, a professor of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

The ritual is viewed as a powerful way to learn selflessness, Professor McDaniel said, “and the more selfless you are, the closer you are to nirvana.”

The corpse is often that of a child or young adult who has died unexpectedly. A family will donate the body to a temple, hoping something good can come from the tragedy.

The monks see the deceased young people as “representing the best of humanity,” Professor McDaniel said. “They’re innocent — not so selfish and greedy and ambitious. If something so beautiful can decay, why are you so proud and vain? You’re even uglier.”

Read it all at the Source

Why Go To Church? Many people looking for “meaning” and a sense of peace

October 12, 2015


Church attendance is down, but those who go are more devout. Here’s what draws them.

St. Bartholomew’s Church, commonly called St. Bart’s, is a historic Episcopal parish founded in January 1835, and located on the east side of Park Avenue between 50th and 51st Street in Midtown Manhattan, in New York City.

By Mary Beth McCauley
Christian Science Monitor

It could be hard to make your way to pray at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Manhattan on Sunday mornings. There’s the distraction of New York City pulling you elsewhere – the pace, the intensity, the famousness of it all. Then there are the thoughtful, sometimes vital, diversions of the St. Bart’s community itself: the outdoor cafe, the homeless shelter, the Thomas Merton books in the lobby. There are invitations to programs ranging from mindful eating to Bible study, yoga, and tai chi.  Church attendance is down, but those who go are more devout. Here’s what draws them.

Amid these distractions, hundreds nevertheless do find their way to pray on Sunday mornings at the imposing complex on Park Avenue. They filter into the vast space, gradually replacing the tourists who have been tiptoeing down the side aisles, taking pictures of the dark Byzantine interior. Soon, richly vested clergy, cross bearers, torch holders, and choir members begin making their way up the center aisle – in an entrance procession 30-strong.

The congregation knows its job: Sit, stand, recite familiar prayers in between the Scripture readings, sermon, and announcements. Pass the collection plate. Periodically, in Latin and English, the legendary St. Bart’s choir leads a hymn, sometimes in a crystalline a cappella. Finally, the worshipers’ own moment seems to arrive, as row by row they stand and slowly make their way forward to the communion rail. They are of all races, men and women, old and young, singles and couples, families with carefully dressed, well-behaved children in tow.

“I don’t think it’s just the desire to have prayers answered that brings people to church,” says the Rev. F.M. Stallings Jr., recently retired rector of the church. “I think people do want to come for a sense of peace.”

The tableau on Sundays at St. Bart’s symbolizes an important reality about religion in America: It is far from dead, even though it may not always seem that way.

While headlines often decry the “dechurching of America,” and experts talk about the country becoming more secular, like Europe, people are going to church – and embracing religion – in numbers that defy popular perceptions.

True, recent figures from the Pew Research Center show that 35 percent of Millennials – adults born between 1981 and 1996 – identify as “nones,” saying they are atheists or agnostics, or have no religious affiliation. And, yes, a host of other studies have, over the years, noted a similar drop in religious attendance in the United States, especially among the young. Many mainstream denominations, too, have been closing or consolidating churches.

Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor

But, experts note, America is far from becoming a churchless nation. On any given Sabbath, for instance, some 4 out of 10 Americans will make their way to churches and synagogues, mosques and temples – a number that hasn’t fluctuated dramatically in the past half century.

Gallup polls, along with other data, seem to support religion’s resilience. More than 81 percent of Americans say they identify with a specific religion or denomination; 78 percent say religion is a very or fairly important part of their lives; 57 percent believe that religion is able to solve today’s problems.

Organized religion this summer ranked fourth among 15 American institutions in the degree of public confidence it inspired – ahead of the presidency, the US Supreme Court, and medicine, behind small business, the military, and (perhaps surprisingly) police. The company’s data also suggest that the secularization trend may have slowed if not halted.

In fact, Gallup reported recently that while attendance may be off, Americans are no less likely now to attend religious services than they were in the 1940s and ’50s. This was the period just before the über-religious years of the mid-1950s and early ’60s, when Americans, in lockstep, got married, had children, and went to church. The lesson, says Frank Newport, editor in chief at Gallup, whose company has tracked church attendance for 70 years, is that religious worship in the US is cyclical.

Forecasts for the future don’t portend a religious resurgence in the US, but neither do they predict a faith-free culture. Pew predicts a drop in the number of Americans identifying as Christian, for instance, from three-quarters of the population today to two-thirds in 2050. Many consider that a slim decline over 35 years – especially in a material age and when society no longer exerts the pressure it once did to believe in God.

More than anything, some experts argue that the US isn’t becoming more secular as much as it’s becoming more devout – a country with fewer followers but ones who are more serious about their faith.

“There’s a greater willingness now to say ‘I’m not religious,’ ” says Christian Smith, director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at the University of Notre Dame and co-principal investigator of the noted National Study of Youth and Religion. As a result, he adds, “for people who do continue to practice religion, [their communities] tend to be made up of the seriously committed, not just those swept along by obligation.”

•     •     •

Meghan Cokeley’s devotion to church today is rooted in a religious experience she had when she was younger. Brought up Roman Catholic, she says she had a kind of “conversion” when she was 18 years old.

As she learned about St. Francis of Assisi, who chose a life of poverty over his family’s riches, she began to feel “restless” about her own, less-than-
serious lifestyle. When visiting the town of Assisi during a senior year high school trip to Italy, she recalled, “At the tomb of St. Francis, I had my first experience of the palpable love of God. I was so deeply moved I wept.”

She came home, switched majors from chemistry to theology, and 18 years later is now director of evangelization at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Such an “encounter with God” is not rare, she believes, but each “looks different,” some dramatic, some subtle.

A personal religious experience often drives people to worship. “A lot of people claim to have had a moment of access to a divine being,” a feeling that God is holding them or comforting them or similarly is present with them on a personal level, says Christian Miller, who teaches philosophy of religion at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. “It can lead the person to respond by practicing religion.”

Many other factors bring worshipers to the pews as well. Habit. Social expectations. Upbringing. Guilt. Many also come seeking a sense of purpose, a feeling of community, meaning, self-improvement, assurance that one’s faith is true, and answers to questions about death and the afterlife. Studies say worshipers tend to find all this in religion, as well as peace and joy, security, and freedom from guilt over past wrongdoing.

Ideologically, Professor Miller adds, liberals tend to look for a sense of community in religion, while conservatives want to live in alignment with the Bible, which they believe is true. Even in the South, fear of hell is less a factor in attending church than it used to be, while there is more yearning for meaning and purpose.

People who go to services regularly are more likely to be older, female, and Southern. They have a better education and higher economic status than those who don’t, says Mr. Newport. What’s uncertain, he says, is whether the less-practicing Millennials, who thus far are putting off having children, will marry, have kids, and follow their predecessors into the sanctuary.

If they do, they’ll find a vibrant religious landscape. There are churches like St. Bart’s, where parishioners recite the ancient Nicene Creed, affirming beliefs they share with many of their fellow Christians. At the opposite end of the spectrum are the nondenominational churches, which have undergone the greatest growth in recent decades. Unanchored by a shared creed and often reliant on a single charismatic leader, these churches can adapt to changing interests quickly, evolving their theology as they go. Some of these ministries are stadium-size megachurches; others are storefront operations. Still others offer religion via radio, television, or the Internet.

With the shedding of widespread traditions and “shalt nots,” creeds – when recited – may be said with less fervor these days, and the denominations’ books of rules (where they exist) may be stored in a closet.

As Cynthia Bond Hopson, a Methodist from Lebanon, Tenn., puts it: “Certainly hell is real, but I’d much rather focus on God’s grace.” Of the traditional sanctions against things such as alcohol, tobacco, and dancing, she quips, “I never got the memo.” Competition from the nondenominational movement has made mainline Protestantism, which as recently as the mid-20th century banned contraception, softer across the board with its demands, say observers. Some believe that trends such as the move toward Calvinist theology among evangelical Protestants may have developed in response. Ironically, as standards drop, says Mr. Smith, religions that place high demands on their members are gaining in appeal.

This is causing a conundrum for leaders of that less-fervent mainline Protestant middle, whose attempts to appeal to everyone may wind up making the religion itself less compelling.

“Everybody tells me to be a nice person,” says Smith, but people want more from their religion than the kind of answers they can get anywhere.

•     •     •

In Gladstone, Ore., Dennis Dalling has long been a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, one of the rapidly growing religions. “One of the hallmarks of the church is that family is the most important element of society,” says Mr. Dalling, the father of 6, grandfather of 29, and great-grandfather of 33.

Dalling says the decision he and his wife, Ramona, made 64 years ago to become “sealed for all eternity” by marrying in a temple ceremony, as opposed to a less demanding and more permissive civil ceremony, “has been the supreme blessing of our lives,” removing the option for divorce and strengthening the couple in demanding times. Mormons tithe 10 percent of their earnings; eschew alcohol, tobacco, and coffee and tea; and are expected to live a morally upright, honest life.

Sometimes what brings the worshiper into the fold is not religious belief at all, says Rabbi David Teutsch, former president of Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and now head of its Center for Jewish Ethics. “Everyone is battered by a culture of increasing materialism and isolation,” he says. “There is a lot of meaning-seeking going on in America, and Judaism has a lot to say about that.”

According to Mr. Teutsch, middle-ground Jewish congregations tend to appeal to seekers through interest in one of three areas at first: spiritual life, social action, or community. The longer that members stay with the synagogue the more they participate in all facets, he says.

It’s that way for Methodist LaNella Smith from Durham, N.C., too. She says that for her, church is part worship, part song, and part social justice work, through her affiliation with United Methodist Women. She begins each day praying quietly with a devotional text, “a constant reminder that God is with me, no matter what is going on,” she says.

Her keenest sense of God, she says, came the day of her grandmother’s funeral. “I was very, very, very close to her.” That day she went alone, early, to the funeral home. She recalled simply, “I had a conversation with my grandmother. I had a conversation with God.” She sang the beloved hymn “Blessed Assurance” and went home. “I felt so much better in my soul, after that time alone, me believing in that ‘blessed assurance,’ ” she recalls. “God assured me everything was going to be OK.”

If the great hymns of American worship provide comfort to Ms. Smith, so the great traditions of Judaism delight and direct Mitchell Marcus, professor of computer science, linguistics, and artificial intelligence at the University of Pennsylvania. Having been brought up on “Judaism lite,” Mr. Marcus saw in college the “tremendous value” the great faith traditions had for his non-Jewish friends.

“I realized there are a number of these ancient traditions around, and [learning] your own seemed like a really good place to start,” he says. Thus began a love affair with Judaism that continues. “Sabbath for me has always been very, very important,” he notes. While he worships in a Conservative synagogue, he incorporates many Orthodox Jewish practices into his own life. He loves studying his sacred texts while awaiting a Sabbath visit from his daughter and her family.

In his form of voluntary Orthodoxy, he keeps kosher at home and has Friday night meals only at home, or at the homes of his children or his friends. “For me, observance is a spiritual practice rather than a ‘have-to,’ ” he says.

Structure is a tough sell in the free-for-all of American culture, but for some believers it illuminates the journey. Muslim Sarah Ali, a young economist from Washington, D.C., had a “moderate” religious upbringing, one she believes allows her to enjoy her faith all the more as an adult. Not only did she avoid the teenage temptation to rebel against too-strict parents, but because she needed to study much of Islam on her own, she feels she better appreciates her religious traditions.

“I fast for Allah, not for the whole world,” she says. Even as some of her Muslim friends eschew the hijab – or headscarf – hoping to increase their chances of finding a husband, Ms. Ali wears one. She tries to say her prayers (five times a day) at home, but sometimes she needs to find a mosque or even a store dressing room for prayer. She prays formally, in Arabic, then includes her own petitions.

Typical of these were her prayers for a better work situation, which she says were answered. After praying about it, she waited, and eventually got five new job offers. The scrutiny accorded Muslims after 9/11 is never far from her thoughts. “I have to be very vigilant with how I conduct myself in public,” says Ali, who was born in Texas. “It frustrates me, but it’s part of life for me.”

While some people today may get their moral education from YouTube and Twitter, many others see social media as a superficial spiritual guide. Theological nuance can’t be had in 140 characters, says Emily Sullivan, a Millennial who notes that religions need to distinguish themselves from upbeat Oprah-like sentiment.

The Pennsylvania stay-at-home mother of two practices what some dub “John Paul II Catholicism,” an observant, orthodox approach to the faith gaining popularity among some young people. Working part time from home, speaking and writing content for the World Meeting of Families, she pushes back against what she sees as a mind-set that insists that a male-only priesthood demeans women, and that a sexually permissive culture frees them. She believes that the theology underlying the morality of her church – which addresses divorce, abortion, contraception, and restriction of sex to marriage – has been poorly taught for generations and as a result is misunderstood. She readily admits she and her husband view themselves as “countercultural.”

•     •     •

Every age seems to put religion in the middle of the latest cultural controversy. A flashpoint for many today is same-sex marriage. But while a public debate rages, individual believers are pursuing their faith in their own way.

New York art dealer Tod Roulette, for example, who is gay and black, found his place at the table at Harlem’s St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, which is a departure from the lively but strict Pentecostal congregation of his Kansas childhood. His Kansas congregation reviled homosexuality, and still does, while at St. Philip’s, Mr. Roulette not only sings in the choir, prays the rosary, and serves as Eucharistic minister, but he also participates in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender ministry.

He’s looking for an app to help him recite the Holy Office prayers of the priesthood, practicing for the day when he might become a monk. On his most recent trip home to Kansas, the Pentecostal clergy were less judgmental with him than normal, he says, and he has developed some insight into their theology. “I can see [being against homosexuality] if you’re wedded to a certain translation of the Bible,” he says. “There’s no way around that. I can support that.”

Ms. Sullivan’s objection to same-sex marriage, she says, has nothing to do with individuals, but rather is rooted in a Catholic theological principle that limits sex to within marriage, that defines marriage as between a man and a woman, and that applies to single people “across the board.” She makes sure her gay friends don’t feel “Emily’s coming after me,” when they talk religion. By sticking to ideas, rather than passing judgment, she says she has been able to remain friends with a gay couple even though she didn’t attend their wedding for religious reasons.

In Oregon, one of Dalling’s granddaughters is marrying a woman this year, prompting him to stretch his Mormon thinking. Though he senses that the marriage “thwarts the plan of salvation in a way,” he and his wife have decided to attend the wedding and to love the granddaughter’s spouse as much as they do the rest of the family. “We try to be in the world but not be of it,” Dalling says. “But we can’t isolate ourselves anymore.”

The current rise of atheism – exemplified by a range of figures, including writer Richard Dawkins, author of the 2006 book “The God Delusion”; outspoken talk show host Bill Maher; and British scientist Stephen Hawking – highlights another enduring clash: that between science and religion. It suggests reason and religion are perpetually in conflict.

But that’s not necessarily the case. People at the University of Pennsylvania think Marcus’s PhD students, smart as they are, must be avowedly secular. But the professor finds the opposite to be true. His students, regardless of faith, have in fact been religiously curious, often very devout, and eager to talk about their beliefs, he says, and he encourages it.

The many wrongs associated with religion over the millenniums don’t negate its value, he believes. “Being human is hard and is challenging,” he says. “Religion holds up for us an ideal behavior and ideal practices to strive for.”

Samantha Evans, a newly ordained Presbyterian pastor doing a residency at Philadelphia’s Broad Street Ministry, was herself once a physics major bent on saving the world through biomedical research. After college, she followed a vague hunch and decided to apply to the Princeton Theological Seminary. For her, the limitations of science often bolster religious faith.

“At the end of the day, I think a lot of people are seeking understanding,” she says. Ministering to them requires stepping away from the need for answers and finding “room for ambiguity.”

For Mr. Stallings – you can call him “Buddy” – his time at St. Bart’s caps off a career’s worth of working on Sundays. His ministering took him from San Francisco to Mississippi to 9/11-ravaged Staten Island.

Despite his love for liturgy, he thought he might take a well-deserved break from Sunday services when he retired. Read The New York Times. Linger over coffee. But after hanging up his vestments in May, when he finally had his Sunday mornings to himself, he was surprised to find himself back in church.

“I went. And I will go again,” says the erudite priest, who has a slight Southern drawl and a full New York skepticism. Though as a priest administering communion he felt “more connected to others than anywhere else,” he has no desire to preach again, no desire except to be back at the communion rail on the receiving side. To Stallings, what happens on Sundays is simple:

“I don’t think it has to do with correct belief, not with orthodoxy but with people joining together – the sights and sounds of people getting up from their pews and going to communion … there’s something so common about that desire to come and receive.”



Conversion: Finding The Guidance From God (You Have Mail Waiting)

August 25, 2013

File:Colosseum in Rome, Italy - April 2007.jpg

Man has struggled for thousands of years….

Over the last few years I have been blessed with several “spiritual masters” or guides in my journey toward more faith.

My old Vietnamese Spiritual Father often comments upon people he has seen or sees developing much stronger faith. He always calls the revitalization of lives a “conversion.”

The most memorable conversion in the scripture is undoubtedly the startling dismounting of St. Paul on the road to Damascus.

But throughout Christian history there have been many other stories of dramatic conversion.

St. Augustine tells his own conversion story in the “Confessions” – a story that has become perhaps the most significant conversion story in Christian history.

Augustine’s experience speaks to a difficulty many encounter when contemplating a conversion to Christ.

By John Francis Carey

Augustine first concluded intellectually that the way of Jesus Christ was the best way for man to lead his life — yet he was unable to part with so many wonderful attractions of his pre-Christian existence.

Like many of us: Augustine loved his “wine, women and song.”

“The way of the savior attracted me greatly,” he wrote,  “but I was reluctant to pass through the straight and narrow gate…I loved the beauty of your house but I was tightly bound by the love of women…I was weak and chose the easier way, and for this single reason my whole life was one of inner turbulence and listless indecision. I had found the pearl of great price; but I hesitated to sell all that I had to buy it.”

After a monumental struggle – not unlike Jacob wrestling with the Angel – Augustine hears the voice of a child chanting over and over again “take up and read…I snatched up the apostle’s book, opened it and read the paragraph on which my eyes first fell…At that moment there was infused in my heart the light of full certainty and all the gloom of doubt vanished away.”

In mid-life, when I was faced with total defeat by my own worldly ways, several suggested I “pick up and read” St. Augustine’s “Confessions” myself.

When I stumbled upon Augustine praying what some have come to call “The Not Yet Prayer,” I was delighted to find out many of the saints before us were not too much different from modern man in the 21st Century.

With his live-in girl friend pregnant and while living in his mother’s house, Augustine prayed, “Lord grant me chastity and continence — but not yet.”

Ah, “The Not Yet Prayer” — my all time favorite!

Recently, in my own ministry, I heard a younger man tortured by his desires of the flesh cry out, “I want a spiritual life — but I still want to be a big shot!”

As Hamlet said, “There’s the rub.”

His “Big Shot Prayer” is almost identical to Augustine’s “Not Yet Prayer.”

We have to reach  out toward Christ all the way. But not all the way in one day!

“Time takes time” as they say. We start by reaching out toward God. Prayer and meditation often leads to greater understanding, the alleviation of anxiety, and a sense of peace.

But don’t stop there! We want the “whole enchilada.” We want, and need, many of us, what my old Vietnamese friend calls “a conversion.”

St. Augustine writes:

Our Lord’s words teach us that though we labor among the many distractions of this world, we should have but one goal. For we are but travelers on a journey without as yet a fixed abode; we are on our way, not yet in our native land; we are in a state of longing, not yet of enjoyment. But let us continue on our way, and continue without sloth or respite, so that we may ultimately arrive at our destination.

Any person at any time in life can experience a conversion or a re-awakening.

But why do it?

“There’s the rub” AGAIN!

Well, eternal life of course.

But before that: don’t we all want peace in this world? Peace in our hearts? What Bishop Fulton Sheen called “Peace of Soul”?

Many can’t get peace because they are always “peaced off” at somebody or something!

“John is on a spiritual path but he’s no saint….”

Experts say it matters little what we follow while seeking  God — as long as we keep seeking Him and His will for us…..

So that means we need a housecleaning. For Catholics that means a really in-depth confession of our own. But nobody has to be Catholic to clean up their spiritual house — their soul.

Alcoholics in A.A. call this phase the Third and Fourth Step. That’s simply part of confession and housecleaning for people too proud to go into Church!

Every one of us, on our Odyssey through life, has experienced regrettable episodes.

In Homer’s Odyssey, years of travail are the story of the journey:

A storm sent by Zeus sweeps them along for nine days before bringing them to the land of the Lotus-eaters, where the natives give some of Odysseus’s men the intoxicating fruit of the lotus. As soon as they eat this fruit, they lose all thoughts of home and long for nothing more than to stay there eating more fruit. Only by dragging his men back to the ship and locking them up can Odysseus get them off the island.

Even our brother in the ancient world succumbed to temptation!

What we really want — what we really seek — is some spiritual energy or power just like that experienced by so many saints before us!

I want whatever drove St. Francis of Assisi to hear the voice of God.  I want what “The Little Flower” Saint Thérèse of Lisieux found.

Just last week, Pope Emeritus Benedict, when asked how he decided upon retirement — the first pope to resign in hundreds of years said, “God told me to do it.”

I want that. I want a personal relationship with God just like the one Pope Benedict has!  I want to know what to do during the rest of my life. I want to know God’s plan for me!

And what’s the daily pay off? I sleep great (no worries). I help out others. I don’t need medications or electroshock or snake oil or any of a zillion other cures and self-help techniques.

People have been asking for God’s help for more than 2,000 years. And it works. I just don’t believe yoga, zumba dance or the Dalai Lama is going to get me where I need to go.

I am pretty sure, for most of us, we need a little more than a “Happy Meal.”

We may need “The Bread of Life.” “The Lamb of God.”

I have a friend who actually went all the way up to a Himalayan monastery in his search for inner peace. He came back in a week, ending that chapter in his journey by saying, “It sure is cold up there!”

“There’s the rub.”

After my Vietnamese friend said one day, “You’ve had a conversion,” what seemed like  several messengers from God came into my life. One said “Cherish what you have.” Another said, “We have everything we need.” And finally a priest said to me:

“Now that you are finally on the right track, you can’t turn your back on the Crucified Christ, can you?”

I hope not. I need God. I need my higher power. I need the community of saints and the community of others seeking God.

The world has become a dangerous place.

Maybe it has always been dangerous. But now we seem to have drugs all around, practitioners of every kind of human behavior at one’s fingertips through the Internet, and God only knows what else.

And it seems like half the world is driven by some “religion” of blowing people up.

I am pretty sure I need never go over to that team.

Ready for your own conversion? “Pick up and read.”

Here’s my prayer for those in search of a conversion:

God, I offer myself to Thee-
To build with me
and to do with me as Thou wilt.
Relieve me of the bondage of self,
that I may better do Thy will.
Take away my difficulties,
that victory over them may bear witness
to those I would help of Thy Power,
Thy Love, and Thy Way of life.
May I do Thy will always!
Thank you, God, Amen!


The Holy Spirit in Our Lives:

Psalm 123: