Does music strike a chord with everyone?

STEPHEN McAdams, professor of music research at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, played movie tunes to Mbenzélé pygmies in the Congo rainforest to find out whether music is a universal language.

Here’s a brief interview that has just appeared in New Scientist.

Why do you want to know whether music has the same effect on everyone?

Every culture has music, so if we want to understand humans, we need to understand why music is there and why it is used in different ways. Deciphering what aspects of it are dependent on our basic biology and what aspects are dependent on culture will help us find answers to these questions.

You played movie tunes to Mbenzélé pygmies in the Congo rainforest. Why them?

Their exposure to Western music was nil: they are hunter-gatherers who live in the forest. They rarely go into big cities and they don’t have radios.

You also played the tunes to a group of Canadians. So is music a universal language?

In some ways, yes. Emotional arousal was the same in both groups – a reflection of whether the music was exciting or restful. That was assessed subjectively by the listeners, and objectively by measuring heart rate, breathing and so on. This common response is probably driven by certain acoustic properties, such as tempo.

Why would some elements of music do this?

Arousal is probably linked in evolutionary terms to preparation to deal with a threat or new situation. When music accelerates or suddenly gets shrieky, for example, it seems to cue this alert response – the heart rate rises and so on.

What aspects of the music did not prompt a universal response?

We looked at whether the music evoked happy/joyful or sad/scary feelings, and got a positive/negative rating. We used music from three films: the melancholy theme from Schindler’s List, the scary shower scene from Psycho and the upbeat Cantina scene tune from Star Wars. The Canadians reacted as you might expect. For the pygmies, we got no clear physiological results and subjectively, they found all the music negative.

Why might the Mbenzélé not like the Western music?

All the pygmies’ own music is highly arousing and positive. They feel negative emotions disrupt the harmony of the forest and they depend on the forest and so they want it to be happy.

What is the Mbenzélé’s own music like?

Mostly vocal, with some clapping and beating on log drums, but of a sophistication that is comparable to Western symphonic music, with extraordinary polyphonies and polyrhythms.

Did they have a favourite movie tune?

Music for them is functional – they don’t sit around and consume it. Music accompanies various kinds of activities. I don’t think the idea of having a favourite would make sense to them.

Australian Senator asks regulator to consider revoking Scientology’s registration

AN AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL regulator has been asked to consider revoking the Church of Scientology’s registration as a charity in the wake of a damning documentary about the religion.

The film, Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief , based on Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Lawrence Wright’s 2013 book, made shocking allegations about Scientology, including that members were threatened and tortured in prison-like camps, forced to endure hard labour and beaten in ‘The Hole’.

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon is concerned by allegations in the film and has asked the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission to urgently review the church’s registration.

“These allegations included that the Church of Scientology … tortures its members, that it has stolen US Government documents and requires current members to cut all ties with friends and family members,’’ Senator Xenophon said in a letter to the charities commission.

He said he was deeply concerned about the harmful influence the global Church of Scientology could be having on its Australian branches.

Acting Charities and Not-for-profits commissioner David Locke confirmed that the commission had received Senator Xenophon’s letter and would respond directly to him.

The commission has revoked the registration of 10 charities since 2014.

In 2009, Senator Xenophon used parliamentary privilege to reveal allegations from former members that the Church of Scientology had engaged in forced imprisonment, coerced abortions, physical violence and blackmail.

Prominent Scientologist and Hollywood actor John Travolta has rejected claims in the American documentary that he was being held captive by the church which holds a “dirt file’’ on him.

First-Century gospel manuscript


A text that may be the oldest copy of a gospel of Mark known to exist — written during the first century— is set to be published.

At present, the oldest surviving copies of the gospel texts date to the second century (the years 101 to 200).

The first-century gospel fragment was written on a sheet of papyrus that was later reused to create a mask that was worn by a mummy. Although the mummies of Egyptian pharaohs wore masks made of gold, ordinary people had to settle for masks made out of papyrus (or linen), paint and glue. Given how expensive papyrus was, people often had to reuse sheets that already had writing on them.

In recent years scientists have developed a technique that allows the glue of mummy masks to be undone without harming the ink on the paper. The text on the sheets can then be read.

The first-century gospel is one of hundreds of new texts that a team of about three-dozen scientists and scholars is working to uncover, and analyze, by using this technique of ungluing the masks, said Craig Evans, a professor of New Testament studies at Acadia Divinity College in Wolfville, Nova Scotia.

“We’re recovering ancient documents from the first, second and third centuries. Not just Christian documents, not just biblical documents, but classical Greek texts, business papers, various mundane papers, personal letters,” Evans told Live Science. The documents include philosophical texts and copies of stories by the Greek poet Homer.

The business and personal letters sometimes have dates on them, he said. When the glue was dissolved, the researchers dated the first-century gospel in part by analyzing the other documents found in the same mask.

Scholars who work on the project have to sign a nondisclosure agreement that limits what they can say publicly. There are several reasons for this agreement. One is that some of the owners of these masks simply do not want to be made known, Evans said. “The scholars who are working on this project have to honor the request of the museums, universities, private owners, so forth.”

Evans said that the only reason he can talk about the first-century gospel before it is published is because a member of the team leaked some of the information in 2012. Evans was careful to say that he is not telling Live Science anything about the first-century gospel that hasn’t already been leaked online.

Evans says that the text was dated through a combination of carbon-14 dating, studying the handwriting on the fragment and studying the other documents found along with the gospel. These considerations led the researchers to conclude that the fragment was written before the year 90. With the nondisclosure agreement in place, Evans said that he can’t say much more about the text’s date until the papyrus is published.

Evans said that the research team will publish the first volume of texts obtained through the mummy masks and cartonnage later this year. It will include the gospel fragment that the researchers believe dates back to the first century.

The future map of religions


Muslims will grow, “nones” will lose market share and Christians will hold steady, according to new projections from the Pew Research Center.

The report predicts Muslims will overtake Christians by 2050.

India, now mostly Hindu, will become the world’s largest Muslim country.

The numbers of people with no religious identity will soar in the United States and Europe, but the unaffiliated will lose worldwide market share as Christians maintain a steady growth.

All these changes are drawn from the Pew Research Center’s new projections that map global faith traditions and how they’re likely to shift by 2050.


As of 2010, Christianity was by far the world’s largest religion, with an estimated 2.2 billion adherents, nearly a third of the Earth’s 6.9 billion people. Islam came in second, with 1.6 billion adherents, or 23 percent of the global population.” Four in 10 of all the world’s Christians will live in sub-Saharan Africa by 2050.

•While Christian numbers will continue to grow, Muslims, who are younger and have a higher birth rate, will outpace them. By 2050, “there will be near parity between Muslims (2.8 billion, or 30 percent of the population) and Christians (2.9 billion, or 31 percent), possibly for the first time in history.” Barring unforeseen events — war, famine, disease, political upheaval and more — Muslim numbers will surpass Christians after 2070.

•Worldwide, the unaffiliated will fall from 16 percent to 13 percent.

Quake reveals day of Jesus’ crucifixion, researchers say

SOME Geologists say Jesus was most likely crucified on Friday, April 3, in the year 33.

The investigation, reported in International Geology Review, focused on earthquake activity at the Dead Sea, located 13 miles from Jerusalem. The Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 27, mentions that an earthquake coincided with the crucifixion:

“And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open.”

To analyze earthquake activity in the region, geologist Jefferson Williams of Supersonic Geophysical and colleagues Markus Schwab and Achim Brauer of the German Research Center for Geosciences studied three cores from the beach of the Ein Gedi Spa adjacent to the Dead Sea.

Varves, which are annual layers of deposition in the sediments, reveal that at least two major earthquakes affected the core: a widespread earthquake in 31 B.C. and a seismic event that happened sometime between the years 26 and 36.

The latter period occurred during “the years when Pontius Pilate was procurator of Judea and when the earthquake of the Gospel of Matthew is historically constrained,” Williams said.

“The day and date of the crucifixion (Good Friday) are known with a fair degree of precision,” he said. But the year has been in question.

In terms of textual clues to the date of the crucifixion, Williams quoted a Nature paper authored by Colin Humphreys and Graeme Waddington. Williams summarized their work as follows:
•All four gospels and Tacitus in Annals (XV, 44) agree that the crucifixion occurred when Pontius Pilate was procurator of Judea from A.D. 26 to 36.
•All four gospels say the crucifixion occurred on a Friday.
•All four gospels agree that Jesus died a few hours before the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath (nightfall on a Friday).
•The synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) indicate that Jesus died before nightfall on the 14th day of Nisan, right before the start of the Passover meal.
•John’s gospel differs from the synoptics, apparently indicating that Jesus died before nightfall on the 15th day of Nisan.

When data about the Jewish calendar and astronomical calculations are factored in, a handful of possible dates result, with Friday, April 3, 33, being the best match, according to the researchers.

Williams is studying yet another possible natural happening associated with the crucifixion — darkness.

Three of the four canonical gospels report darkness from noon to 3 p.m. after the crucifixion. Such darkness could have been caused by a duststorm, he believes.

Williams is investigating if there are dust storm deposits in the sediments coincident with the earthquake that took place in the Jerusalem region during the early first century.

Easter is the reason we use the Gregorian calendar

BY the 16th century, scholars had realized that the Roman Empire’s Julian calendar was out of sync with the solar year — and that Easter was falling further away from the spring equinox.

In an effort to close the gap, Pope Gregory XIII introduced the Gregorian calendar. But because of old religious rivalries, Protestants in Europe were dead set against the change. It wasn’t until 1752 that

England adopted the Gregorian calendar. On that day, the country skipped forward 11 days overnight, going from Wednesday, September 2, to Thursday, September 14. The Gregorian calendar is still the most widely used civil calendar today.

Eastern Orthodox churches still use the Julian calendar to calculate religious holidays. As a result, while most of the Western world will celebrate Easter on April 5 this year, Orthodox churches are celebrating on April 12.

Can open, worms everywhere

Days before the body of Jesus went missing from the tomb, Pontius Pilate, a Roman bureaucrat stuck between a rock and a hard place, looked at Jesus standing before him and asked: ”What is truth”.

No answer to the question is recorded, because Jesus probably didn’t give one. He must have thought His life and imminent death were answers enough.

Not that many understood it at the time. Even his disciples were confused. Why did He have to die? Why didn’t he conquer the Romans and establish His kingdom on Earth? Why didn’t He just come to the planet and say, “I love you and if you want, I’ll forgive you and you can live with Me in Heaven when you die.”

It was never going to be that easy. The grace we live in didn’t come cheap.

Jesus claimed without ambiguity that He was the Son of Man. It sounded like blasphemy.

He deliberately set Himself on a collision course with the authorities. He knew it had to end in His execution. He told his disciples that it was the only way.

In the end, he said, he understood his own impending death as a ransom for many. That statement alone made him either crazy or divine. The crowds loved Him. He healed them, taught them . . . loved them. And then he died.

Jesus’ message was simple – the world was in chaos and someone had to pay.

The life and death of Jesus are historical facts. The resurrection is, even to believers, somewhat a matter of faith.
If you’re sure there’s no God and that the laws of the nature are the only things operating in the universe then it is absurd to believe Jesus could have risen from the dead.

The gospel accounts of the resurrection are not particularly poetic. Just the bald statement proclaimed as fact that Jesus had risen.

After the resurrection, we are assured, Jesus’ tomb was empty and he was seen around Jerusalem, sometimes by up to 500 people at a time. People could touch him, he ate food with them, he was not a ghost.
Strangely, after he rose from the dead, Jesus was seen by some, but not by others on the same streets; understood by some, but not by others. Some understood his triumph over death and it changed their lives, others were indifferent to him.

The possibility that the resurrection actually occurred still shakes the world to its foundations.

This week, millions of people will pack churches, stadiums and homes to claim that something that happened 2000-plus years ago has caused them to be resurrected in their lives, resurrected in their marriages, resurrected in their homes, and resurrected in their communities.

Selling the sacred cow


WHILE India bans the slaughter of cows, its beef exports are growing. What gives?

It’s true that 20, out of 29 states in India now completely ban cow slaughter. But although the population of India is 80 percent Hindu and so largely non-beef eating, India is the second-largest exporter of beef in the world after Brazil.

The 1.89 million metric tons of beef India exported in 2012-2013 were derived largely from herds of the native water buffalo Bubalus bubalis. This beast is beef, according to the United States Department of Agriculture and the global meat industry, but in India it is known as “buff” and doesn’t count as forbidden flesh. The new slaughter ban laws apply only to Indian cows and bulls.

One consequence of the general taboo is that bovine flesh is often one of the cheaper forms of protein around, and a staple for many underprivileged communities

Cattle are still valued as a source of manure and draught power, and are left to reproduce freely at pasture. Restrictions on slaughter mean that herds in India are not culled as in countries with regulated beef industries, contributing to a large surplus of animals, particularly older males.

Heaven on Earth is possible


HELEN Keller, deaf, blind and mute from an early age, inspired millions with her writings about recognising the divine on earth.

“I thank God for my handicaps, for through them, I have found myself, my work and my God,” she wrote.

In March, 1887, Helen Keller was first introduced to her teacher and life mentor Anne Sullivan. With the help of Sullivan, Keller, went on to become the first deaf-blind person to graduate from college.

“Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it. ” she said.

Dostoevsky, in The Brothers Karamazov, wrote of one of his dispirited characters waking from a dream, transformed by a glimpse of heaven.

Something buried in his heart burst forth and he walked out into the night to see the stars.

The silence of the Earth, wrote Dostoevsky, “seemed to merge with the silence of the heavens, the mystery of the Earth touched by the mystery of the stars.

‘IT was as if threads from all those innumerable worlds of God all came together in his soul, and it was trembling all over, touching other worlds.”

There is a story told about ancient monks who searched earth looking for the door to heaven. Finally, they found it, the place where heaven meets earth. When they opened the door, they were back at their monastery, where they lived their daily lives.

Bach to the future.


NEXT tuesday is the 330th birthday of J.S. Bach.

Musicians around the world this month are giving listeners the gift of music with free performances in public spaces – including subways – of some the Bach’s greatest works.

Johann Sebastian Bach is considered one of the greatest and most prolific composers of all time. He crosses the barriers.

He had 20 children. spent a month in prison for angering a boss – and composed “Book One” of the “Well-Tempered Clavier” while there. At the age of 14, Bach received a scholarship to the famous St. Michael’s school in Luneburg near Hamburg, Germany. He reportedly walked the more than 175 miles from his home to the school.

A new music video dubbed “I Want You Back/Bach” shows The Piano Guys performing a mashup of Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” and several pieces composed by Johann Sebastian Bach

Glimpses of Heaven

FRENCH scientist and mystic Theilhard de Chardin said our lives would change if we realised we were not human beings having a spiritual experience, but spiritual beings having a human experience.

And if we’d only just stop for a minute, we could hear the God of the universe whisper: “I love you.”
That has an otherworldly ring about it.

We are living on the edge of eternity, but it’s sometimes hard to get glimpses of heaven in this world. It’s easier to glimpse hell on a planet seemingly fuelled by anger, greed, lust and ignorance.

French poet and playwright Jean Cocteau was once asked what he thought about heaven and hell.

“Excuse me for not answering,” he said. “I have friends in both places.”

Who can’t relate to that?

Mark Twain said he wished to go to heaven for the climate and hell for the company.

Earth is an in-between world, touched by both of the other venues.

Our profound human predicament is that we only occasionally dream beyond our earthly existence.

When good things happen, we may think we are in heaven; when bad things happen, we are in hell.

The fragmentary nature of our experience shatters us. One minute the world is full of lightness, then suddenly full of darkness.

No wonder we want to cry.

God says that when we get to heaven, he will wipe every tear from our eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.

But that’s in heaven.

The writer Mary Antin had a theory that we are not born all at once, but by bits. First comes the body, then the spirit, slowly and often painfully. Our recognition of heaven on earth is not automatic.

Oklahoma is banning atheists (and others) from getting married

THIS week the US state of Oklahoma has seen fit to restrict marriage to people of faith.

A bill that would restrict the right to marry to people of faith and require all marriage licenses to be approved by a member of clergy was approved by the Oklahoma state House .

House Bill 1125, which would effectively ban all secular marriages in the state, was passed by a Republican majority and will now go to the state Senate for consideration.

“Marriage was not instituted by government. It was instituted by God. There is no reason for Oklahoma or any state to be involved in marriage,” said one of the bill’s Republican supporters Rep. Dennis Johnson, though marriage is a legal contract.

It seems this bill isn’t fuelled by a desire to segregate atheists however but is a thinly-veiled attack on gay marriage. By restricting the issuing of marriage licenses to the clergy and not judges and court clerks, the bill would make it harder for same-sex marriages to take place.

Troy Stevenson, head of the LGBT advocacy group Freedom Oklahoma, said that the community would ‘fight back’ against the ‘discriminatory legislation’ – but added that there was a silver lining.

‘There are… 160 members of the clergy who have publicly declared their willingness to marry LGBT people [in Oklahoma],’ he said.

Religion And Science Are Not In Conflict


The sociologist who busted myths last year with her study finding that the majority of scientists are religious, not God-denying atheists, is at it again.

Elaine Howard Ecklund, director of Rice University’s Religion and Public Life Program, said 70 percent of self-identified evangelicals “do not view religion and science as being in conflict.”

Now, the myth that bites the data dust, may be the one that proclaims evangelicals are a monolithic group opposed to the scientific view of human evolution.

Last year, at an AAAS’s Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion, Ecklund presented the first wave of data that examined the beliefs of self-identified scientists. It was drawn from a survey of 10,000 U.S. adults that claims to be the largest study of American views on these issues.

The headline then was that 76 percent of scientists in the general population identify with a religious tradition.

This year, the news from the second wave of data in the study was the high degree of science acceptance among evangelicals. The study found:

Overall, 85 percent of Americans and 84 percent of evangelicals say modern science is doing good in the world. The greatest areas of accord were on the pragmatic side of science such as technology and medical discoveries that can alleviate suffering.

However, Ecklund also noted a finding that may make the evidence-based science world uneasy: 60 percent of evangelicals said scientists “should be open to considering miracles in their theories.”


Pope Francis: ‘All I want is to go out for a pizza!’


Pope Francis has given a lengthy — and fascinating — interview to a Mexican television station, to mark the second anniversary of his election.

Speaking to the program “Noticieros Televisa,” Francis displays his usual candor, dishing details about the secret conclave that elected him, talking about how he senses his papacy will be short, how the church must get tough on sexual abuse, and how all he really wants “is to go out one day, without being recognized, and go to a pizzeria for a pizza.”

Here are some of the highlights based on Vatican Radio’s English translation and the original Spanish:

On whether he likes being pope:

“I do not mind!”

On what he does not like about being pope:

“The only thing I would like is to go out one day, without being recognized, and go to a pizzeria for a pizza. … In Buenos Aires, I was a rover. I moved between parishes and certainly this habit has changed. … It has been hard work to change. But you get used to it. You find a way to get around: on the phone, or in other ways.”

On how long he thinks he will be pope:

“I have the feeling that my pontificate will be brief: four or five years; I do not know, even two or three. Two have already passed. It is a somewhat vague sensation. Maybe it’s like the psychology of the gambler who convinces himself he will lose so he won’t be disappointed, and if he wins, is happy. I do not know. But I feel that the Lord has placed me here for a short time, and nothing more. … But it is a feeling. That’s why I always leave the possibility open.”

On criticisms that he talks too much, and too spontaneously:

“I talk the way I talk, like a parish priest, because I like to talk that way. I’ve always spoken that way. Always. For some it’s a defect, I don’t know. But I think the people understand me.”

On how voting works in the conclave:

“The phenomenon of a conclave vote is interesting. There are very strong candidates. But many people do not know who to vote for. So six, seven, names are chosen that are a kind of depository, while people wait to see who to definitively vote for. This is how people vote when the group is large. I was not the recipient of definitive votes, but provisional ones, yes.”

On his surprise in being chosen on the second afternoon of voting:

“Something happened, I do not know what. In the room I saw some strange signs, but … they asked me about my health … and stuff. And when we came back in the afternoon (after lunch) the cake was already in the oven. In two votes it was all over. It was a surprise even for me.”

On whether popes should retire at 80, as cardinals are required to do:

“I do not really like the idea of ​​an age limit. Because I believe that the papacy is a kind of last instance. It is a special grace. For some theologians the papacy is a sacrament. … I do not think so, but I want to say that it is something special. To say that one is in charge up to 80 years, creates a sensation that the pontificate is at it’s end and that would not be a good thing. Predictability.”

On preventing sexual abuse by clergy:

“Just one priest abusing a child is enough to move all of the structures of the church to confront the problem. Why? Because a priest has the obligation to help a child grow, in sanctity and in his or her encounter with Jesus. Whoever abuses destroys the encounter with Jesus. One must listen to those who have been abused. And I have listened to them here. … The interior destruction they have suffered. They (the abusers) are cannibals. In other words, it’s as if they have eaten these children up. They destroy them, no? Even if it’s just one case, it’s enough for us to be ashamed and to do all that we can do. In this, we must go forward, we cannot take even one step back. To destroy a child is horrible; it’s horrible.”


The myths and legend of St Patrick


FEW of the Catholic saints are more celebrated than the fiery St Patrick.
On March 17 – St Patrick’s Day – the death of the Apostle of the Irish will be marked with huge parades through cities including Tokyo (pic above), Moscow, Mumbai, Oslo, Singapore and Buenos Aires.
The man credited with banishing snakes and paganism from the Emerald Isle, was not Irish.
Historians have labored for years to uncover St Patrick’s roots. Some believe he was born about 390 in Glasgow. Others have insisted on Cumbria, Wales, Northhampton and even France.
Respected British archeologist Nicholas Fuentes claimed St Patrick was born in a Roman town that is now known as Battersea in London.
His real name wasn’t even Patrick. It was Maewyn Succat.
But no matter.
He impressed the wild Irish with inventive teachings – he used the three-leafed shamrock to explain the doctrine of the trinity – and miracles supposedly supported his words
St Patrick probably died about 460 but the place of his burial is unknown.
When he started his mission, Ireland was one of the few countries not under Roman rule. Pagan traditions, such as sun worship, the quick divorce, polygamy and slave hunting, were rampant.
Irish missionaries sent far and wide by St Patrick were credited with bring-
ing Europe out of the Dark Ages.
These few facts about St Patrick have been embellished by his biographers.
Thus we have an unconfirmed story that St Patrick cleared Ireland of snakes.
The story goes that one old serpent resisted him so he made a box and invited the snake to enter it.
The snake objected saying it was too small, but St Patrick insisted it was large enough.
Eventually the serpent entered to prove the box was too small. St Patrick slammed down the lid and cast the box into the sea.
It’s traditional to wear green on St Patrick’s Day. But in Ireland the color was long considered to be unlucky. Irish superstition holds that green is the favorite color of leprechauns, who are likely to steal people, especially children, who wear too much of the colour. Why did green become so emblematic of St. Patrick that people began drinking green beer, wearing green and, of course, dyeing the Chicago River green to mark the holiday he inspired? The association probably dates back to the 18th century, when supporters of Irish independence used the color to represent their cause.
St Patrick’s Day celebrations have been , naturally, always big in Ireland.
But until the early 1970s, successive governments had banned alcohol on St Patrick’s Day in all areas of Dublin except the annual Dog Show.
Not surprisingly, the attendances at this event were huge.

How An ‘Angel’ taxi Driver Saved This Former Addict’s Life (VIDEO)

You never know how a few kind words from a stranger can change the trajectory of a person’s life. Ester Nicholson, a former drug addict, learned this firsthand when a cab driver showed her compassion when she needed it the most.

Nicholson grew up in a mentally and physically abusive household where she was repeatedly told by her mother that she was a “mistake.” Drugs and alcohol provided a brief escape, but her habit soon turned into a crippling addiction. As a teenager, Nicholson became pregnant and gave birth to Shawntee, a baby girl. Not able to provide her daughter with the care she needed, Shawntee was taken away from her. Though it was a wakeup call, it wasn’t enough to stop Nicholson from using.

In the above clip from “In Deep Shift with Jonas Elrod,” Nicholson opens up about the moment things finally changed. Though she says she hit a “million” rock bottoms, one time was different.

“My mouth started watering,” she says. “I got that urge, that thing that happens when an addict is in the midst of an obsession. And I ran out of my house with no shoes on and I hopped in a taxi.”

After driving Nicholson for about a mile, the cab driver pulled over and turned around. “He looked at me in my eyes and he said, ‘Young lady, please don’t do it. You don’t have to live this way anymore. Don’t kill yourself. God loves you. I love you.'”

If Nicholson had carried on with her plans to buy more drugs, she now feels certain she would have died that day. “A demoralizing death,” she says.

“I believe that the only reason that this taxi driver, out of the blue, turns around and talks to me is because it was divinely ordained,” Nicholson says. “And an angel showed up as a taxi driver.”

Nicholson is now 25 years sober and the author of Soul Recovery: 12 Keys to Healing Addiction. She continues to work on rebuilding her relationship with her daughter and breaking the cycle of abuse and neglect.

Israel’s Chief Rabbi Backs Down On Christmas Tree Ban In Hotels

Israel’s Chief Rabbinate has backed down on its long-standing prohibition against placing Christmas trees in the country’s hotels, as well as other rules related to the Jewish Sabbath and holidays.

The Chief Rabbinate’s new regulations came in response to a petition from Hiddush — Freedom of Religion for Israel, a nongovernmental organization that fights religious coercion. The group filed the petition with Israel’s attorney general and the Ministry of Religious Services.

The former regulations stated that hotels that included “references to gentile holidays” would lose their kosher food licenses, a step that would make it impossible for observant Jews to stay at the hotels.

The regulations also stated that events taking place on the Sabbath and on Jewish holidays must comply with strict Jewish law. That meant a ban on filming, shooting photographs, playing music or offering laundry and ironing services. In addition, any exchange of money would have to be given “covertly” to “gentile cashiers.”

Hiddush argued that the Chief Rabbinate, the sole arbiter of Jewish law in Israel, was overstepping its authority by linking kosher certification to other rules that have no bearing on whether food is kosher.

“The importance of our victory is twofold,” said Rabbi Uri Regev, president and CEO of Hiddush.

“First, it will finally give the numerous Jewish and non-Jewish groups that visit Israel the freedom and respect which has been denied them by the Rabbinate’s extortionist demands. And second, it is an important lesson in the development of the rule of law in Israel, which emphasizes that the Chief Rabbinate is bound by Israeli law and is not above it.”


Religion still has a prayer in the US

American religion is on the ropes, but it has a prayer.

A record-low share of Americans attend church regularly, affiliate with a religious faith and see themselves as religious, according to a major survey released this week.

The findings from mark a continuation of a decades-long departure from the pews along with a growing share who profess loyalty to no religion at all. But whatever Americans’ hang-ups with weekend services and denominational ties, they haven’t stopped praying on their own.

Fully 57 percent of respondents said they pray at least once a day, little different from 54 percent in 1983, when the question was first asked on the survey. Three-quarters of respondents said they pray at least once a week, while 1 in 4 pray less often or never.

The national survey is the broadest study of attitudes in the United States. It has been conducted at least every two years since 1972 by the independent research organization NORC at the University of Chicago.

The stability of prayer contrasts sharply with erosion on other measures of religious commitment.
The resilience of prayer reflects a broader shift in Americans’ understanding of religion, according to Christian Smith, a professor of sociology who leads the University of Notre Dame’s Center for the Study of Religion and Society.

“Religion is gradually becoming more personal, private, subjective in practice” and “less public, institutional and shared,” Smith said. “People still believe religious things and practice religion ‘in their heads,’ as in prayer, but are less institutionally connected and engage in fewer public, institution-centered observations.”

Many who have shed affiliations or seldom attend services continue to pray regularly, according to the survey. Roughly 1 in 4 Americans who report no religious preference say they pray at least once a day, as do about 3 in 10 of those who never attend religious services.

Get over yourself

LIFE is unpredictable, no matter what we do or how we live. It’s too short to be preoccupied by the small stuff. Spiritually, we often need to get over ourselves.

Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life begins with the line “It’s not about you” – an unusual and daring opening for a self help book. The book goes on to explain how the quest for personal fulfillment, satisfaction, and meaning can only be found in understanding and doing what God placed us on Earth to do.

It is the first basic step to spiritual consciousness.

“Love yourself” is a popular cultural message, but it is not found in the Bible. Selfishness seems to be at the core of most of our problems.

The antidote for this, suggests Rabbi Harold Kushner, is a clear sense of humility, not the false humility that might mask a large ego, and not what the dictionary describes as meek, deferential and submissive, but the simple and hard-to-face recognition that we are not God and we don’t run the world.

Life is sometimes unfair. Sometimes people get what they deserve, and sometimes not. And we can’t really do anything about that.

Another wise rabbi, Mordecai Kaplan, said, Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are an honest and virtuous person is like standing in a field and expecting the bull not to charge at you because you are a vegetarian.

Virtuous or not. we are destined to cry and die, but the gospel message is that creation will one day be redeemed from all the pain.

One day, the world of terrorist attacks, poverty, billion dollar bailouts and stimulus deals and own little worries will pass away. They will all seem like small stuff in comparison to the vast love of God. So don’t sweat the small stuff.

God grant me serenity, to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference Serenity Prayer

Faith, Aspergers and God

A writer with Aspergers talks of faith

I was asked one day, “if you see everything so black and white, how can you believe in God?” My answer dumbfounded the inquiring person : I said “because everything IS black and white, how could I NOT believe in God?”

Yes I live in a literal world. No doubt that I do not work in subtleties. So I can understand asking how can I have faith. Isn’t faith believing in something you can’t see?

To me faith in God as related to Aspergers has three elements: logic, hope and acceptance.

Let me insert my honest disclaimer here before we begin. I am not one of those self-righteous people who thinks I am better than everyone just because of my faith. I am actually quite the sinner. I can cuss a sailor out of the room, I smoke, I am FAR from perfect. This post isn’t about how you should save your souls (although I hope you do!) It is about the perceived conflicts between having Aspergers and having faith in Jesus Christ.

Being an Aspie, there is a down side to my faith; I don’t communicate my emotions well. You won’t find me jumping up and down screaming Praise God and Amen in church. That used to bother me. I just couldn’t be like that. Did that make me less o a Christian? Now I am comfortable with how God made me. Now I know how my Aspergers works. So its no big deal to me.

My faith in Jesus has always been easy because I CAN see things logically. I think it is my logical brain that helps me see better than most NT’s. When I see payers get answered I don’t try to second guess if it was really an answered prayer or coincidence. I watch NT’s do that a lot.

As an Aspie, there are questions that can only be answered with God. Watch a baby come into this world. A billion things had to happen to get to the point of birth. How can something that complex happen by accident?

I love when people argue the Big Bang theory. They can be so passionate about their believe of the creation of the universe. For the record I believe in the Big Bang as well. However they can’t explain what made the Big Bang happen. I can; God.

Evolution? What about dinosaurs? I say what about them? Noah didn’t bring any on the ark. Duh (sic).

Then people go after the big question: ‘where did God come from?’ I like to pick this apart. The people who ask that question are the same ones who love science fiction stories of space and worm holes and time travel, but refuse to admit that God is not bound by time as we understand it.

To my Aspie Brian, that is the only logical answer.

There is so much LOGIC to God. Let me give a few examples-
If the dinosaurs didn’t die we would not have oil. Logical.

The intricate process of the food chain. That delicate balance can’t mathematically happen by chance.
There is almost a mathematical formula to everything. Even to following the bible. When I gladly pay my tithe, I have no money troubles. When I don’t pay my tithe thus keeping that extra money, it seems I always have money trouble.

So logically looking at the odds, the bible is right.

What is faith if it isn’t hope?
As an Aspie, I take comfort in my faith. I have hope for a future and my place in this life. I hear some Aspies saying they don’t fit in. Why me? Whine and cry… I never really feel that way. God gave me gifts. I have this gift to see things clearly. I tend to be smarter than most people. I don’t panic. And most importantly I have hope; I know I have a purpose to my life.
I am so thankful for all that I am! Thankful for all that I have. Thankful for hope. Life as an Aspie is awesome.

If you can say the universe is just one big accident, then you can say that I am just an accident. And if I am nothing more than an accident, I serve no purpose. In the words of Spock “illogical”.

Then there are my personal selfish reasons for my faith. I like to feel loved and accepted. Who doesn’t? Yes, we Aspies spend most of our life being judged and misunderstood by NT’s. Yet I am never judged by my ‘church friends’ they always accept me for who I am. We don’t always agree, but I am always accepted. I love that feeling of acceptance and I always have.

If you are the parent of an Aspie child, consider ways to give him or her that hope and acceptance.

The question isn’t How can I have faith? The question is How can I not?!?

Cardinal Pell slammed for ‘lavish’ spending

POPE Francis’ finance czar has defended the expenditures of his office following leaked reports it had racked up a half-million euros ($575,000) in bills in the past six months.

Australian Cardinal George Pell’s office has been insisting on a spending review elsewhere in the Vatican.

A spokesman for the Secretariat for the Economy, in a statement, said the expenses were normal for a new operation and below budget.

Italian newsweekly L’Espresso recently detailed opposition within the Vatican to his financial reforms, and cited receipts for expenditures including the salary and housing costs for his Australian aide and clerical tailor’s bill for more than 2,500 euros ($2,800).

The paper said he also spent about $6650 on kitchen-sink fittings, paid an assistant a $21,600-a-month salary and has chosen to fly business class.

While Pope Francis is known to live modestly, Cardinal Pell is reportedly spending $5100-a-month on rent for an office and apartment, including $87,000 on new furniture

Happy birthday George Harrison

George Harrison would have been 72 today,

Harrison once said his biggest break in life was getting into the Beatles, and that his second biggest break was getting out.

Meanwhile in news today, the George Harrison memorial tree in Los Angeles, ironically killed by beetles, is to be replaced .

in George’s honour we bring you this…Here Comes The Moon (one of his lesser known but beautiful songs)