Review of Soul Surfer: “Best Faith-Based Movie Ever Made”

April 6, 2011 by  
Filed under Spirituality

From the Orlando Sentinel

“Soul Surfer” is the best faith-based film ever made, an uplifting, entertaining and wonderfully-acted account of surfer Bethany Hamilton’s life before and after a shark bit her arm off in the waters off her favorite Hawaiian beach.

It’s corny in all the right ways, from the voice over narration in which Bethany (AnnaSophia Robb of “Race to Witch Mountain”) explains how she was “born” to do this and the surfer’s credo that kept her going after that fateful day — “Life is an adventure, and sometimes you wipe out and land in the impact zone.”

Co-writer/director Sean McNamara, a veteran of many a TV show, TV movie and “Bring It On” sequel, recreates Hamilton’s seaside Hawaiian life, complete with surfing siblings and surfing parents. A coup; landing Oscar winner Helen Hunt to play the mom and the always athletic Dennis Quaid as the dad.

Bethany and her best friend Alana (Lorraine Nicholson) are rising starlets on the local surfing scene, friendly competitors with endorsements lined up. They’re like sisters, going to the same open air church, both members of the same youth group led by Sarah, winningly played by singer Carrie Underwood. Sarah sings in the pop-gospel group at church and tries to get the girls to think about their priorities, “Get a new perspective,” especially when it comes to volunteering on youth missions.

But the girls are all about time on the water, and that (with digital trickery polishing their surfing skills) is accompanied by foreshadowing. Arresting, faintly menacing underwater shots show how vulnerable one is while paddling out to sea on a surfboard.

And sure enough, 22 minutes into “Soul Surfer,” there’s a shark attack. In a moving, alarming and electric six minute long sequence, we see the bite, the quick reaction of those with Bethany (Kevin Sorbo is wonderfully credible as Alana’s save-the-day surfing dad), the nerve-wracking race to the hospital and the panic in her parents. Hunt, as a mom weeping and praying “Please don’t take her” as she races to the hospital, will make you cry.

Craig T. Nelson offers solid support as the doctor who treats Bethany and reassures the always-calm kid when she wakes up, “Those things you’re not going to be able to do? So small.”

In many ways, the movie turns “Lifetime Original Movie” as Bethany recovers. She’s a tough kid and is determined to get back in the water “as soon as my stitches come out,” and just as determined to compete again. Robb plays her as plucky, but no Pollyanna. Nicholson, as her friend, and Sonya Balmores Chung, as Bethany’s cutthroat surfing rival, are given wonderful shades of grey to play in their differing reactions to her injury.

To read the rest of this review, click here.

Christian Dead Sea Scrolls… or Known Forgeries?

April 6, 2011 by  
Filed under Spirituality

The Middle East in turmoil, newly discovered ancient texts carried across borders and offered for sale to the highest bidder: It reads like the Dead Sea Scrolls story. Only this is now and some people say these texts could be a Christian type of Dead Sea Scrolls if they are authentic. That’s a big if.

British media first reported on the discovery of 70 lead codices, metal plates barely bigger than a credit card, bound together with lead straps. Their text is in ancient Hebrew and Greek. They also contain Christian and Jewish symbols.

The codices are currently in the possession of an Israeli Bedouin who says they’ve been in his family for 100 years. However the reports also say that they were discovered a few years ago in a cave in a remote area of northwest Jordan. This is near the area where first century Christians fled when Jerusalem was attacked by the Romans.

The Jordanian government is trying to get them back. “They will really match, and perhaps be more significant than, the Dead Sea Scrolls,” the director of Jordan’s Department of Antiquities, Ziad al-Saad, told the BBC.

To which Larry Hurtado says, “Chill, take a breath.” Hurtado is Professor of New Testament Language, Literature & Theology and Director of the Centre for the Study of Christian Origins at the University of Edinburgh.

Hurtado says dangling such discoveries in front of the media, before making them available to scholars, is becoming a tired game. “I’m impatient with people who go to the press and claim that they have something of enormous scholarly value and do not provide the materials for independent scholarly analysis. Controlling access to information is not how we do business in scholarship.”

Other Bible scholars and archaeologists contacted by Christianity Today were equally skeptical. “Don’t get too excited until we know what we have,” said Darrell Bock, Research Professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. Archaeologists pointed out that any ancient item discovered out of context faces huge hurdles before it can be authenticated and properly dated.

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Tibetan Singing Bowls Help People Embrace Lenten Goals

April 6, 2011 by  
Filed under Spirituality

During the period of Lent, Christians from many difDferent denominations focus intensely on their spiritual selves through a variety of devotions and disciplines.

From fasting to good works to prayer, Lent is a period for people to step back from the busyness of life and reflect on the religious or spiritual paths they are called on to undertake.

Knox United Church in downtown Calgary on Sunday is hosting a Tibetan Singing Bowls event which, through sound and light, helps people adopt a more meditative experience throughout this Lenten period.

This is the second time Knox has hosted John Akim Gosaw, says Rev. Drew Strickland.

“It was an overwhelming response last year,” he says.

Many people resonated with the meditative sound and light experience.

“We’re heading into the spring. Lent in the Christian traditions is about the lengthening of days,” adds Strickland. “There’s a lot of people who are moving in the meditative direction either doing meditation, mindful meditation or yoga of various types. John is someone who came to my attention, probably about five years ago, because . . . he has sound sessions for therapy.

“The sound of the Tibetan bowls historically and today touches people and touches deep areas of their unconsciousness and it tends to bring people into the state of real peace where they are decluttered. And their inner interior decluttering opens them for healing to take place in their lives.”

The Tibetan Singing Bowls with John Akim Gosaw takes place Sunday at 7: 30 p.m. at Knox United Church, 506 4th St. S.W. For more information and tickets contact or 403-266-6450.

Strickland says the evening will move people into a reflective state of awareness. It’s an opportunity to go deeper in the understanding and practice of meditation and prayer.

According to the website promoting this event, Gosaw, at age 15, was initiated into the nada or sound. He discovered the Tibetan Singing Bowls after a near-death experience at age 25. “True healing and insight touched him from the sounds and vibration from these ancient instruments.”

Strickland says the Lenten time of the year is a time of preparation for the great celebration of Easter and traditionally that has included the spiritual practice of fasting.

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Has Yoga Strayed Too Far From Its Hindu Roots?

April 6, 2011 by  
Filed under Hatha Yoga, Spirituality

For centuries in India, yoga has been a practice rooted in the Hindu faith. Today, it is a massively popular fitness tradition in the United States, part of a wellness lifestyle for some 15 million Americans. And some Hindus are not happy with the way yoga is treated in the US. The Hindu American Foundation claims the tradition has strayed too far from its Hindu roots and has launched a campaign called ‘Take Back Yoga.’ In Tell Me More’s weekly “Faith Matters” conversation, guest host Farai Chideya puts the question, “who owns yoga?” to Sheetal Shah of the Hindu American Foundation, and Virginia Cowen, a yoga instructor and body trainer.

Now it’s time for “Faith Matters,” the part of the program when we talk about matters of spirituality.

Today, a practice that has its roots in India but has become part of a health and wellness lifestyle for some 15 million Americans: yoga. Yoga has been practiced as part of the Hindu faith for centuries. But in the U.S. and other Western countries, it has evolved.

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CHIDEYA: Now, one group says this has gone too far. The Hindu-American Foundation claims yoga in the United States has strayed too far from its roots in Hindu philosophy and religion. They’ve launched a campaign called Take Back Yoga, which asks Americans to appreciate yoga’s debt to Hinduism.

The issue has sparked a heated debate within the tranquil world of yoga, and we wanted to know more about it. So we’ve called on Sheetal Shah of the Hindu-American Foundation. She heads the Take Back Yoga campaign.

And we are also joined by Virginia Cowen. She’s an associate professor of health, physical education and dance at Queensborough Community College in New York. She’s also a board member of Yoga Alliance, a group that works to encourage a standard for yoga instruction. They’re both in our New York bureau. Thank you both so much for joining us.

Professor VIRGINIA COWEN (Board Member, Yoga Alliance; Queensborough Community College): Thank you.

Ms. SHEETAL SHAH (Director of Development, Hindu-American Foundation): Happy to be here.

CHIDEYA: So Sheetal, let me begin with you. When you talk about this campaign, Take Back Yoga, what – specifically – is it asking people to do, and who is it asking to change?

Ms. SHAH: The impetus of this campaign really began a couple years ago, when we noticed in countless yoga magazines, and specifically Yoga Journal, the lack of reference to Hindu or Hinduism. But it was full of references to other faiths, particularly Buddhism – and even mystical Christianity, for example.

So ultimately, when we got a hold of somebody at Yoga Journal and they told us that yes, in fact, we avoid using the terms Hindu and Hinduism because they carry too much baggage, we, as an advocacy organization for the Hindu-American community, obviously felt compelled to speak up.

CHIDEYA: Let me bring in Virginia Cowen. You teach health and physical education; you’re a yoga instructor. So do you agree with Sheetal’s perspective on the practice of yoga in this country, and what Take Back Yoga is trying to do?

Prof. COWEN: I’m not Hindu. I am a body worker so I practice massage, Pilates, personal training, in addition to yoga. And my training in yoga included instruction in yoga philosophy. And I will, as a practitioner, do anything that’s legal to get people to stretch, because I think it’s very good for them.

I think people need to practice stress reduction, and however people do that is great by me. But many of the classes, I think, have evolved into something else, and then yoga is just the sales tool rather than something that’s an intact practice.

CHIDEYA: And so, what about this hybrid fitness genres? I want to ask both of you about this, but Virginia first. You know, we heard about lip yoga and, you know, Mommy and Me Yoga, and power yoga. I mean, do you think that it’s been over-marketed or over-specified?

Prof. COWEN: A spa director I heard at a conference once said that she did a class called facelift yoga because she just wanted to get people in the door. And so when you get that extreme – disco yoga, for example, or yoga with loud music totally defeats the purpose of withdrawing your senses and turning the attention inward.

CHIDEYA: Sheetal, what do you think about that?

Ms. SHAH: I actually agree with a lot of what Virginia said. I think that there are spectrums that are pretty legitimate, and then there are some that you hear about – yoga and wine, yoga and chocolate, naked yoga – makes you kind of wonder exactly what’s going on, and is that really yoga? Is that really serving the purpose of what yoga was meant to do?

CHIDEYA: If you’re just joining us, you are listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

We’re speaking with Sheetal Shah, of the Hindu American Foundation; and Virginia Cowen, associate professor of health, physical education and dance at the City University of New York. We’re talking about a campaign by the Hindu American Foundation called Take Back Yoga, asking Americans to recognize yoga’s roots in Hinduism.

Virginia, I’m going to go back to you. Do you think that it’s important to explicitly talk about the link to Hinduism, the link to all of the different Vedic texts, and the gods that are incorporated, even, into the names of the poses -or is that not important to you?

Prof. COWEN: As an instructor, it’s not important to me. And I guess if you look at the eight limbs of yoga, there are some basic tenants in that, that sort of apply to human nature – nonviolence, noncompetition. And that part of philosophy, I think, can be easily incorporated even into a fitness class.

To listen to this program, click here...

Review of American Veda

April 6, 2011 by  
Filed under Spirituality

By Michael J. Altman

A Methodist church near my house advertises for “Gentle Yoga Classes” on one of those church signs usually reserved for witty and redemptive one-liners like “Jesus: Your Get Out of Hell Free Card.” Meanwhile, a local pizza place lists a “Kosmic Karma” pie on its menu. Indian spiritual language has crept into American vernacular culture. But where did it come from? Is there some connection between karmic pizza and yoga in church?

In American Veda, Philip Goldberg tells the story of a new American tradition, derived from both the practices of yoga, and the philosophy of Vedanta. He names this “Vedanta-yoga,” as distinguished from other aspects of Hindu religious culture (such as the worship of multi-limbed deities) that might be less meaningful for Americans.

For Goldberg, it all adds up to the slow “Vedicization” of American spirituality. By this he means that Americans have become more comfortable with a view of the world ultimately found in the ancient literature of India—the Vedas, the Upanishads, and the Bhagavad Gita. First, there is the idea that the self and the ground of Being (or the Divine, God, Brahman, Consciousness, etc.) are one. The full realization of this truth leads to liberation and the cessation of suffering. Second, there are a number of paths toward this realization and no single path works for everyone. Third, it follows then that, at bottom, all religious and spiritual traditions, while looking different, share the same goal of divine realization. Vedanta-Yoga is thus a monist, pluralist, and perennialist tradition of American spirituality built from Indian religious sources.

Two Hundred Years of American Vedanta

In the nineteenth century the first wave of Vedic thought broke on American shores. Transcendentalists, including Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, read the Bhagavad Gita and found in it a spiritual solution to the materialism of early American industrialism. Helena Blavatsky and Henry Steel Olcott turned to Vedic sources and combined them with Western esoteric and occult traditions to produce Theosophy. Goldberg also finds Vedic influences in the 19th-century births of Christian Science and New Thought movements.

The nineteenth century was capped off with the 1893 arrival of Swami Vivekananda, a Hindu monk and disciple of the Bengali guru Ramakrishna, to the World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago where he spoke to a crowd of liberal Protestants about the basics of Vedanta philosophy. Vivekananda stuck around and established the Vedanta Societies that are still with us today. Vivekananda offered a flesh and blood example of the Vedic philosophy Americans had found in ancient Indian texts throughout the century.

To read the rest of this review, click here.

Evangelicals Try Yoga with a Twist

April 6, 2011 by  
Filed under Yoga

Christians stand on mats at a church hall, stretching their arms to the heavens and bending to their toes. They lay their palms on the floor, the soles of their feet perfectly flat. Chants spill from a stereo.

It looks as though the group is doing a yoga pose called Downward Dog – but it isn’t. Group members, who meet weekly in Roanoke, bend into postures they call the Tallit, not the Big Toe, and the Dove, not the Pigeon.

They are participating in a program called PraiseMoves, not yoga.

The name changes are a subtle indicator of the sometimes tenuous relationship between the Eastern discipline of yoga and Western religions. While many Christians have practiced yoga for years, some Christian leaders have denounced it as pagan and demonic.

“Everybody has their own path that they have in terms of their spiritual journey, and my point of view is that I would want everybody’s path to eventually merge into the Christian path,” said Nancy Harvey, who leads the PraiseMoves group at Huntington Court United Methodist Church in Roanoke. “But it’s not my judgment to make one way or the other.”

To read more of this article, click here.