Sunday, January 27, 2008

Late Afternoon in Trexler Park

I am sometimes quite content to cocoon in my home in the depth of winter. Occasionally, the stark beauty of a frozen landscape does not hold as much appeal as the warmth of a fire, a good book, and a pot of hot coffee. But, today, as the temperatures climbed into the balmy mid thirties, once again I was drawn to the beauty of the outdoors, so I went for a late afternoon walk in Trexler Park in Allentown. Very quickly I was rewarded with the sight of a red bellied woodpecker foraging for insects in a tree and a blue grey nuthatch regarding me with curiosity from a nearby branch.

Late afternoon sun casting long shadows on a blanket of pine needles

Winter reflections in the chilly stream

Bare branches provide for interesting patterns against a winter sky

Friday, January 25, 2008

Let All Associate In This Great Human Garden

Tonight I had an interfaith gathering at my home based on the Different Conversation About Religion developed by the Interfaith Youth Core.

We started out by introducing ourselves, and happily we found out we had a diverse group with nine participants from a variety of backgrounds including Lutheran, Jewish, United Church of Christ, Moravian, Catholic, Coptic Christian, and Baha'i.

I played a song based on the scriptures of the Baha'i Faith which described the tone that I intended to set for the meeting, Let All Associate. The lyrics are:

Let all associate, therefore, in this great human garden even as flowers grow and blend together side by side ...Love ye all religions and all races with a love that is true and sincere and show that love through deeds..." (Abdu'l-Baha)
The Tongue of Grandeur hath, however, in the day of His manifestation proclaimed: "It is not his to boast who loveth his country, but it is his who loveth the world."(Baha'u'llah)

The goal of this gathering was to discover the shared value of service to humanity across different religious traditions using scripture from the world and our own stories about how we incorporated service into our lives as encouraged by our faith. We found out that the value of service to others is truly universal in religious traditions as well as in secular thought. Compassion towards others seems to be the natural response of human beings, we all share a common humanity and can easily relate to the feelings and sensitivities of others.

We read from Baha'i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Muslim, Secular Humanism, and Sikh traditions, including the following beautiful and inspirational passages. It is quite apparent how similar they are, and how they inspire us to care for others as we have been cared for in our lives. We had a wonderful time, got to know each other and share our values and inspiration, and grew in appreciation of the wonderful and diverse religious traditions of our world.

Christian Tradition of Service (Matthew 25:35) "For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me." Then the righteous will answer him, "Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?" And the king will answer them, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me."

Jewish Tradition of Service (Deut 10:17) For the LORD your G-d is G-d supreme and Lord supreme, the great, the mighty, and the awesome G-d, who shows no favor and takes no bribe, but upholds the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and befriends the stranger, providing him with food and clothing. You too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Muslim Tradition of Service (Surah 93:1-11)
I call to witness the early hours of morning, and the night when dark and still, your Lord has neither left you, nor despises you. What is to come is better for you than what has gone before; for your Lord will certainly give you, and you will be content. Did He not find you an orphan and take care of you? Did He not find you perplexed, and show you the way? Did He not find you poor and enrich you? So do not oppress the orphan, and do not drive the beggar away, and keep recounting the favors of your Lord.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Youth Can Unite the World

This morning Robin Roberts of Good Morning America interviewed Eboo Patel, founder of the Interfaith Youth Core, and seven young members of the group. Youth participate in volunteer projects which help others, and then discuss the shared values which inspire this service. Individual uniqueness and diversity is valued; participants often find that their own faith identity is strengthened in the process, and they also learn to know and appreciate others who may follow a different tradition. Eboo Patel states the vision which inspired him to create the group: "I believe in the power of young people to change the world, and I believe that we need to find bridges between our different faiths".

See this inspiring video here: ABC News- Many Faces of Faith .
Also part two here :ABC News - Have a Little Faith in Me

Uploaded on June 17, 2007 by Zesmerelda on flickr licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

Monday, January 21, 2008


My latest selection of books includes "Winterdance- The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod" by Gary Paulsen. This is a wonderful book, filled with beautiful descriptions of the vastness of the Northern wilderness, the striking beauty of a pristine forest by the light of a dazzling full moon and a sky full of stars, mountain ranges to the horizon, and rivers meandering through unknown territory. This is also the story of the interaction of the dogs with each other and with the author, who clearly loves these magnificent animals. When the author and his wife begin to admire the intelligence and personality of animals and the sanctity of life, they stop hunting and trapping and even stop eating meat! Paulsen also describes other wildlife he meets on the trails, including a beaver who holds his own against a pack of sled dogs and a wild coyote who uses intelligence, planning, and even tools to hunt grouse! Above all, this is an adventure story, of taking on an incredible challenge, facing obstacles along the way, and ultimately running the legendary Iditarod.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

A Time To Remember A Great Man

In anticipation of Monday's Holiday, treat yourself and listen to the full "I Have A Dream" speech of Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered August 28, 1963. Full text is also available here .

"..when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, 'Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!'"

Sunday, January 13, 2008


Today I saw the movie The Kite Runner at the Nineteenth Street Theatre. It was truly one of the most beautiful, touching, soul-stirring movies I have ever seen. One of the central themes revolves around young Amir's decision to look away when his loyal, devoted childhood friend Hassan is the victim of human cruelty, racism, and class prejudice. Now, as a young man, Amir has the chance to redeem himself and refuse to turn a blind eye in the face of hatred, violence, and abuse.

Although the movie is centered around a friendship and a war torn culture, perhaps the lesson it teaches is universal. The movie causes us all to ask ourselves in what way we look away in the face of human unkindness, and worse, war. The courage to stand up for our fellow humans is perhaps the only way that we can, indeed, find hope for a better future.

Another unmistakeable theme is the horror inflicted upon children in times of conflict or war. UNICEF advocates children's rights and brings awareness and protection to children. The world is no longer looking away.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Hawk Mountain, Kempton, PA in the Winter Season

Today I hiked the trails of Hawk Mountain. Sadly, I left my camera memory card at home, so hopefully my words alone will be sufficient description of a beautiful Winter day.

I hiked to the North Lookout, where the lush greens of Summer and the brilliant vermilion of Autumn has given way to an expanse of browns occasionally interspersed with the green of a pine tree. The clear blue sky had wisps of white clouds high overhead, blending into smokey purple and grey where the rolling hills met the distant horizon. It felt good to lace up the hiking boots again, after about a month in between hikes. Visiting the mountain is always like seeing a familiar friend, I've seen these trails over many seasons.

These trails are well used, but to me the human element is one of the most charming aspects of Hawk Mountain. In general, these hikers have at least some awareness of the vision with which the sanctuary was founded, not only for protection and preservation of wildlife, but also for public education and outreach. Today I spoke to a young family from Philadelphia visiting the mountain for the first time. I encouraged them to come out again in the Spring or Fall for the hawk migration, and to bring a pair of binoculars. I also conversed with an elderly gentleman who visits the trails several times a week about the joys of being in nature, breathing in the crisp air, and enjoying the vista.

Hawk Mountain is a local Pennsylvania treasure to be enjoyed when the world is waking up again in Spring, and also when the mountains are arrayed in the brilliant hues of Autumn, but the quiet and gentle beauty of Winter on the mountain is an experience not to be missed.

Memories of other seasons- North Lookout in Summer

South Lookout in Autumn

For visitor information, see Hawk Mountain .

Friday, January 11, 2008

Friday Funny

I don't usually include videos just for their humor, but this one is just too funny to miss. It warms the heart of us techie types who like to think, beyond hope, that we might someday be considered "cool".

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Waking Up to the Wonder That Is Around Us All the Time

I have been reading with pleasure the writings of the so-called "New Atheists" including Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. There is much that an open minded person of Faith can gather from these prominent thinkers. Two salient points bear mentioning. Religion must be examined by the light of our own reason. It is important to question our assumptions and make our own informed decisions regarding our beliefs about the world and our place in it, using the full capacity of our intellect. Secondly, religion has a powerful influence on our thoughts, opinions, and most importantly, our behavior towards our fellow humans. I believe we have a responsibility to ask ourselves if our beliefs lead to division and separation, or towards tolerance and unity.

Lest anyone think that these authors are not aware of the mystery and beauty of our universe, listen to the brilliant Oxford scientist Richard Dawkins' series of lectures regarding the elegant process by which life gradually evolves on this planet. In these lectures, Growing Up In the Universe, Professor Dawkins encourages "shaking off the anesthetic of familiarity and waking up to the wonder that is around us all the time".

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Impressionism at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Today I went with a friend to see an exhibit of the Landscapes of Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841 - 1919), a leading Impressionist painter, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The exhibit was absolutely exquisite, it included some of the most beautiful paintings I have ever seen on display. Renoir was innovative in his representations of nature, with bold beautiful colors giving the viewer the experience of being in the painting. Figures were sometimes seen in his landscapes. The collection also included gardens, cityscapes, and sea paintings. Renoir often painted plen aire (in the open air), and his paintings were set in France, Italy, and Algeria. A representative sampling of the exhibit can be seen here: Renoir Landscapes . I was unable to take photos in the main exhibit, but I was able to photograph the museum's permanent collection. I've included some selections of other Impressionists here to give an idea of the style. (The photographs were taken without benefit of tripod or special lighting, so I am certain that a bit of creative internet searching can lead to a more faithful reproduction of the style).

Outside the museum

Under the Pines, Evening, Claude Monet, 1888

Claude Monet

The Sheltered Path, Claude Monet, 1873

Marine View with a Sunset, Claude Monet, 1875

Customhouse, Varengeville, Claude Monet, 1882

Bend in the Epte River near Giverny, Claude Monet 1888

The Japanese Footbridge and the Water Lily Pool, Giverny, Claude Monet 1899

Sunflowers, Vincent Willem van Gogh, 1888 - 1889

Mont Sainte-Victoire, Paul Cézanne, 1902 - 1904

Two Girls, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1892

Highway of Combes-la-Ville, Giovanni Boldini, 1873

Friday, January 04, 2008

Two Gems in the Night Sky

Tonight was slightly warmer than last night, the temperature was in the thirties. The sky was cloudy most of the evening. For a brief moment the clouds parted, and the sky was dark and clear, like only Winter skies can be. The stars were shimmering, Orion was high in the sky, and Mars was overhead. Then, just as suddenly, the clouds moved back in, and the evening stargazing was over.

The jewel in the sword of Orion, the Orion Nebula.

Also had a nice view of Mars, which is high in the heavens right now.

A Long Way Gone

My current selection of books from the public library includes "A Long Way Gone, Memoirs of a Boy Soldier" by Ishmael Beah. The book is his story of experiencing the 1991 civil war in Sierra Leone. Not only does he witness unimaginable atrocities, but he is also forced into warfare as a young soldier. Honestly, it is one of the most disturbing books I have ever read. But yet I am recommending it. Why?

I encourage you to read this book because it places a human face on war, and that face is the face of a child. Never again will I be able to see a story on the news about a skirmish or an uprising in some part of the world without realizing that somewhere there is a twelve year old searching for his parents, or a mother who can't find her child, or a boy who will never have the chance to grow into the young man he is meant to be.

Thankfully, Ishmael has grown into a young man, and is educating the world about war atrocities. Only with education can we bring awareness to the immeasurable human cost of war. Ishmael Beah is also advocating the rights of children, especially in war torn areas.

Here is an interview with this remarkable young man:

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Happy New Year! Behold, a Beautiful Garden

Happy New Year! I've been away from the blogging world for a while while I've attended to all the family and friend activities which are part of this wonderful time of year. I plan to add some new posts on the weekend, so until then I'll share with you a beautiful talk from 'Abdu’l-Baha which he gave in Paris 1n 1911:

Flowers at the World Centre, Haifa, Israel, Reproduced with permission of the Bahá'í International Community

Behold a beautiful garden full of flowers, shrubs, and trees. Each flower has a different charm, a peculiar beauty, its own delicious perfume and beautiful colour. The trees too, how varied are they in size, in growth, in foliage-and what different fruits they bear! Yet all these flowers, shrubs and trees spring from the self-same earth, the same sun shines upon them and the same clouds give them rain.

So it is with humanity. It is made up of many races, and its peoples are of different colour, white, black, yellow, brown and red-but they all come from the same God, and all are servants to Him. This diversity among the children of men has unhappily not the same effect as it has among the vegetable creation, where the spirit shown is more harmonious. Among men exists the diversity of animosity, and it is this that causes war and hatred among the different nations of the world.

Differences which are only those of blood also cause them to destroy and kill one another. Alas! that this should still be so. Let us look rather at the beauty in diversity, the beauty of harmony, and learn a lesson from the vegetable creation. If you beheld a garden in which all the plants were the same as to form, colour and perfume, it would not seem beautiful to you at all, but, rather, monotonous and dull. The garden which is pleasing to the eye and which makes the heart glad, is the garden in which are growing side by side flowers of every hue, form and perfume, and the joyous contrast of colour is what makes for charm and beauty. So is it with trees. An orchard full of fruit trees is a delight; so is a plantation planted with many species of shrubs. It is just the diversity and variety that constitutes its charm; each flower, each tree, each fruit, beside being beautiful in itself, brings out by contrast the qualities of the others, and shows to advantage the special loveliness of each and all.

Thus should it be among the children of men! The diversity in the human family should be the cause of love and harmony, as it is in music where many different notes blend together in the making of a perfect chord. If you meet those of different race and colour from yourself, do not mistrust them and withdraw yourself into your shell of conventionality, but rather be glad and show them kindness. Think of them as different coloured roses growing in the beautiful garden of humanity, and rejoice to be among them.
-'Abdu’l-Baha , Paris Talks, p. 21 - 22

Free Hit Counters
Free Counter