Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Stairway to heaven

On November 8, 1971, the British rock group Led Zeppelin released “Stairway to Heaven”, which subsequently was called “the greatest rock song of all time”. Although it’s a bit long, at roughly 10 minutes, it’s worth listening to again (just for old times sake, you know):

stairway to heaven

The song came to mind the other day, when we received our latest copy of Arizona Highways in the mail. Both of us were surprised to learn that the Vatican, of all places, has a telescope in Arizona. The Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope is located is located on the top of Mount Graham, just a little north and east of Tucson. The mountain is one of the highest in Arizona, with a summit that is 10,695 feet above sea level. By a happy coincidence, it also happens to be a sacred Apache Peak, which should make it a very spiritual place indeed.

It’s purpose, according to Pope John Paul XXIII, is to explain the church to scientists, and to explain science to the church. According to its current vice director, Father Paul Gabor, it has been much more successful at the first goal than of the second.

The original Vatican telescope was established near St. Peter’s basilica in 1891. Eventually, light pollution caused it to move (in the 1930’s) to Castel Gandolfo , the papal summer residence, which is about 25 miles outside of Rome. Eventually, that location was also compromised by light pollution, and other locations (including Sardinia) were considered.

During the reign of Pope John XXIII, Father George Coyne was the Vatican Observatory’s director, and he also was the acting director of the University of Arizona’s Steward Observatory. Due to his strong connection to Arizona, the Vatican observatory was moved to the Tucson area roughly 50 years ago.

There are countless ways to get to heaven. If you’re smart, though, you’ll likely want to consider a starting point that is 10,000 feet closer to your ultimate destination than many other places in America.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Why can’t we all just get along ?

On the third day of the Los Angeles riots of 1992, the late Rodney King (who was, arguably, the root cause of the riots) held a news conference in front of his lawyer’s office on May 1, and tearfully said, “people, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along?”. The Marines and the 7th Infantry moved into the city the next day, and order was quickly restored, although troops remained in Los Angeles until as late as May 27.

Even today, tensions still exist between “people of color” and white police officers, although significant progress has been made in that area since the Los Angeles riots. Apart from race relations and politics, few topics cause as much inflamed debate as religion. When politics and religion are combined, truly crazy (but deeply religious) people like the people pictured below get elected to office, and foolish laws (like Indiana’s SB 101) get signed into law.

(The man on the top is Texas representative Louis Gohmert, and the woman at the bottom is Arizona state senator Sylvia Allen).

Since religion can be such a volatile topic, it may surprise you to know that efforts at working together date back as far as 1893, when the World’s Parliament of Religions met during the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago. In 1993, the now-titled Parliament of World Religions returned to Chicago, and attracted over 8000 people of various religions from all over the world.

Subsequent to the 1993 conference, meetings have been held in 1999, 2004, 2007, 2009, and 2014. The Parliament will return to the United States on October 15-19, and will be held in Salt Lake City.

My wife and I have been inside the Baha’i temple in Wilmette, Illinois on a number of occasions, and we have friends who have been Baha’is for a number of years.

The video below was produced by their daughter last fall (she has worked at the Baha’i temple for a number of years) and will be shown at the 2015 Parliament in Salt Lake City.

Kari’s video

Although I won’t be attending the conference in Salt Lake City, I DID attend an inter-faith Thanksgiving service in Evanston, Illinois in the fall of 2010, which caused me to have Northwestern chaplain Tahera Ahmad (a devout Muslim) get invited to give a talk at the Lutheran church that I was attending at the time.

There are always going to be a few of our fellow Americans who firmly believe that ALL Muslims are killers, and there will always be conservative Roman Catholics who feel that the current Pope “isn’t playing by the rules” because he is too compassionate, but I hope that somehow, and sometime, a lot more of the people of the world will come to respect each other’s religious beliefs (or lack thereof) instead of demonizing them. When (and if) that every happens, we’ll finally achieve true peace in the world, and we won’t have to wait for “the rapture” to enjoy it.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Greensboro - again

On February 1, 1960, 4 black students from the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro, North Carolina sat down at a “whites only” lunch counter at a Woolworth’s store in Greensboro to protest racial segregation. Within a week, similar demonstrations had spread to other North Carolina towns, and then spread to other states.

By July 25, 1960, Woolworth had lost nearly $200,000 (equal to $1,585, 959 in 2015 dollars) due to the demonstrations, and decided that it might be a good idea to start serving black patrons at its lunch counters.

Last week, Governor Mike Pence of Indiana signed a “religious freedom” bill that would legally allow businesses to refuse service to certain individuals if those individuals violated the owners “deeply held” religious beliefs. The vast majority of the country immediately interpreted the law as an “anti-gay” bill, and the criticism of the state has been coming from numerous states and businesses around the country.

The truth of the matter, though, is that the law signed by Governor Pence last week (SB 101) IS an anti-gay bill. One of the legislators who was present at the signing believes that homosexuality is a treatable disorder, and another legislator who was present at the signing equates homosexuality with bestiality.

Arizona governor Jan Brewer wisely vetoed SB 1062 last January, thus saving the 2015 Super Bowl for the city of Glendale.

Initially, Arkansas governor Asa Huthcinson had indicated that he was going to sign a law that was similar to Indiana's, but under pressure from Walmart Corporation (which has its headquarters in Arkansas) and his son, he decided not to. He has since asked the legislature to amend their bill, which they did this morning.

Both the mayor of Indianapolis, and Subaru (which has a large plant in Lafayette, Indiana) have soundly criticized the new law, and have vowed not to follow its provisions. Once the state of Indiana starts to really feel the financial pinch from the new law, the only alternative is to repeal the law entirely, since “clarifying” the language of the bill will accomplish very little.

The late Casey Stengel once said, “its déjà vu all over again”, so he would be pleased to see the cartoon that appeared in this morning’s Arizona Republic.