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In politics, life and history, people have always made valiant efforts to convert the masses to their ideologies, with religion as one of the core objectives. I already told you about The River Walk in San Antonio, but visitors to the region will also be encouraged to see the San Antonio Missions. The outposts were established by various religious orders, mostly Catholics, to spread Christianity among the local Natives. They also formed part of the colonization system that stretched across the Spanish Southwest in the 17th - 19th centuries. I've seen so many churches in Russia and all of my travels that they are of little interest to me now, but I took the time to visit one of the Missions during my business trip, and met some interesting locals in the process. These human encounters make any expedition worthwhile.Read more... )
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A Utah Senator recently declared a crisis in the State by introducing a new bill that describes porn as a public health risk that must be curbed to "protect our families and young people." The core essence of the bill is that porn is bad - very bad. You can read the full text of the bill here. In the Senator's view, porn "perpetuates a sexually toxic environment" and "is contributing to the hyper-sexualization of teens in our society." Basically, porn treats women as objects and commodities for the viewer's use, teaches young girls they are to be used, and condones men as the "users." In the Senator's mind, all of this porn culminates into an epic disaster because it lessens the desire of young Mormon men to marry, leads to dissatisfaction in marriage, and promotes infedility.

So what should Utah do about it? The Senator isn't trying to ban porn, but advocates for Utah to take steps to conduct more research to measure the detrimental impact all these sex videos and images cause to the mostly religious State, where over 60% of residents identify as Mormon. He pushes for education to curb and prevent addiction, and better policy making, but of course doesn't offer any concrete means to achieve these policy changes. What do I think?Read more... )
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© The Telegraph

What does the Orthodox priest say to you, or he simply watches? I don't understand the rituals behind this Orthodox tradition, but the wonderful feeling of being half-naked in the snow, I know well. How refreshing to work up a sweat in the banya, and jump naked into the flurries, with your bare ass and breasts hugging the snow! Your body shivers, you see the vapors of your own breath swirling in the forest mist, and toes tingle! Probably one of the authentic Russian experiences I'll remember most from all my journeys. :) Do nonbelievers also partake in the Epiphany festivities? The spectacle seems entertaining to watch, although I'm certain many people view this behavior and tradition as foolish. 
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This is perhaps the most existential question of all time. In yesterday's post about Christmas, one of my readers commented that my audience is filled with nonbelievers. What does that say about me, or the content of my blog? I'm not sure. :) So, it's time to take a poll. Do you believe in God or some other deity? What is the foundation for your belief or disbelief? Maybe some of you are undecided? I know many Russians don't like to talk about personal details, but it's interesting to know more about the strangers around the globe who read me. Please answer to help me understand more about the demographics of my audience. If you want to know my views on this topic, simply click on the "religion" tag in my blog to see relevant stories, and my opinion will be easy to decipher. Thanks and a pleasant weekend to all!
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I don't understand this holiday in Russia. Is it merely a religious observation, or do people also exchange gifts on Orthodox Christmas as they do on New Year's? Congratulations to those who celebrate! I'm not sure how the Orthodox church observes Christmas day, or if it varies from the Christian rituals in the USA and Europe on 25 December, but I hope everyone has a festive day! Cheers from the USA! :) Please share Orthodox Christmas traditions in comments. I'm not religious and don't observe these holy days, but is interesting to learn about cultural distinctions for celebration.
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There are some words which have purely subjective meanings in my view, and "spirituality" is one of them. For me, this word has nothing to do with God or religion. As an agnostic, I'm not attached to any church or religious rituals, yet I still consider myself a spiritual person. This seems to be a key word in Russian media and culture, as discussions about "spirituality" are constantly thrown around on LJ and in comments, usually to insult the non-spiritual and decadent West. I saw it just this week when the pro-Kremlin blogger "politichanka" grew outraged at Varlamov's recent posts about bad Sevastopol, particularly his focus on all the trash in the city. The reason for all this shit on the ground? She claims that "Ukraine in 23 years failed to instill spiritual values in the youth. Therefore, young people behave like pigs and there is garbage everywhere." Of course, this is an absurd statement but I grew curious and decided to ask her what her definition of "spirituality" is. Her answer? "Actually I don't know."

I never use words I don't know or understand, especially when I'm insulting people. For me, spirituality is an aura, the energy and emotion that you evoke when encountering complete strangers, your charitable contributions to the overall good of humanity, a connection to something bigger than yourself, and an overall sense of openness and positivity toward the world and its inhabitants....and how about you? How does Russian culture define "spirituality," and why is the term so commonly used there? Help me understand. :)
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"When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That's my religion." - Abraham Lincoln

I'm ambivalent about organized religion. I'm glad it's there to provide hope, comfort and a sense of purpose for so many humans around the globe, and I respect the right to practice any faith. Yet I must be honest and say I don't feel comfortable in overly religious settings or environments. My mentality is more aligned with Abe Lincoln's statement or the doctrine of karma. In my childhood, I was constantly surrounded by religion because I attended a conservative Baptist school from 5th - 12th grade. All the Biblical tales were embedded in my head, but once I graduated I never thought of them again, or picked up a Bible. After 20 years, it's difficult for me to remember the significance of all these holy sites in Jerusalem but many people in my group knew every detail and even recited Bible quotes to remind us of their relevance. Today, we take a quick look at some of the most popular pilgrimage sites in the ancient city.Read more... )
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At one point in history, working for the airlines was a glamorous profession. Beautiful, young and sophisticated flight attendants served passengers who were flying in high style, and for many it was even a big social event. A level of class and service was expected, and airlines delivered. Now, it has become one of the most thankless, mind numbing jobs on the planet. I know because I used to work for United Airlines before I became a lawyer. Dealing with annoyed, angry, drunk and frustrated passengers on a consistent basis is mentally draining and requires the highest level of patience, which I sometimes lack in my older years.

El Al, the national carrier of Israel, is legendary for its top notch security. However, security screening has absolutely no impact on abhorrent human behavior, which becomes more difficult to control at 35,000 feet above the sky. Last week, chaos ensued on an El Al flight from New York to Tel Aviv, when a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews boarded the flight to celebrate Rosh Hashanah in the Holy Land. Hundreds of the men demanded that other passengers switch seats, claiming they can't sit next to women on the long flight due to religious beliefs. Some of the men even offered to pay female passengers to move seats, but most refused. In some cases, because they didn't want to sit apart from their spouse, in others simply to make a statement that they didn't condone the extreme behavior of the men. Once the flight took off, most of the ultra-Orthodox men remained in the aisles, refusing to take their seat next to a woman. One fellow passenger called the flight an "11 hour nightmare!" Flight attendants couldn't serve drinks, meals, etc. because the aisles were blocked by the ultra-Orthodox Jews. Here's a photo from Twitter:Read more... )
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Why do people read travel blogs, delve into the pages of journey books, or become intrigued by stories and landscapes from far away countries they will likely never reach? The answer is simple - many people have a strong curiosity about the way others live. The curiosity is often heightened for groups of people who belong to unique sects. Personally, I count the Orthodox Jews in this category. In Old City, Jerusalem they are everywhere yet to photograph them or obtain a stand alone image is very difficult. First, there were immense crowds in Old City, no matter the day I visited. I don't know if this is always the case, or if the crowds swelled due to the overlap of Easter and Passover during the week I was there. Second, they don't like to be photographed. So, when I obtained this photo of a young man walking the street I was happy. I posted the image a few days ago on Instagram, and was immediately attacked by someone with the username "madeinjerusalem."  What upset him?Read more... )
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Before every trip, especially solo ones, my mother goes into a complete panic. It doesn't matter if I'm traveling in the U.S. or overseas. In her mind, there's always an irrational fear that something tragic will happen and her daughter will never return. I can honestly say I don't fear many things in life, and certainly not death. In fact, I spend almost no time thinking about it, yet there are some who expend a lot of thought and money on death and what happens thereafter. One example I encountered during my trip to Israel is the maze of tombs atop Mount of Olives. Rows and rows of monochromatic slates pressed against each other on a sacred site. This is the most ancient and holy place for Jews to be buried, some paying up to $25,000 USD for a slot.

I'm not an expert in Judaism, but it's my understanding that many Jews believe when the Messiah returns the dead will rise from their graves and walk to the holy Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City. From this cemetery, that's only a few hundred meters, thus people who are buried here will be amongst the first to greet the Messiah upon his return. I even read that everyone in the cemetery is buried with their feet facing the Temple Mount so they can come straight up on the big day and not have to adjust themselves. Amazing preparation and global positioning! :)Read more... )


Apr. 28th, 2014 10:26 am
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Who is an expert on Judaism? I know a lot of Jews in America, but none are overly religious or hard core practitioners. Many things I witnessed during my trip confused me. For instance, why must men and women be separated at the Western Wall? For some reason, this shocked me. Why do people sway back and forth while reading the Torah? It appears they are almost in a trance like state. One reader recently told me about "Jerusalem Syndrome." I thought it was a joke, but it's a real psychological phenomenon where religious people enter into an altered state or engage in odd irrational behavior after viewing the holy sites. For me, there was absolutely no psychological or emotional impact when visiting these sites as a non-believer, yet they are still interesting from a historical standpoint. Many people in my group became emotionally overwhelmed walking in the footsteps of Jesus, including two pastors who were my companions on the trip, though not rising to the level of hysteria.

Tell me other interesting facts or insights about Judaism. Of course, I can go on the Internet and read more about it, but it's more interesting to learn from people who practice the faith, or have a lot of knowledge and insight about it. 
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I sometimes see it on the streets, in the office and in stores. People merely walking through life with no passion or purpose, simply going through the daily motions. You can see it in their eyes - completely dead and tired. I promised myself when I became a lawyer that I would never become a corporate slave or desk drone, and I can honestly say that after twelve years I haven't. For most, finding your purpose or passion in life is a long journey but for one man it came instantaneously. It was in Crossville, Tennessee that I met Horace Burgess, builder of the world's largest tree house. It all began in 1993 when Horace had a vision from God telling him to build a tree house. In the vision, God promised Horace he would never run out of materials if he followed God's will. So, Horace embarked on the project and began construction with the goal of making the structure open to everyone. The "people's house," as he calls it. I've said many times that I'm not a religious person, but Horace's story really touched me. Let's continue...Read more... )
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I'm not a believer, but have been surrounded by religion my entire life. As a young child, I was christened Catholic and routinely attended mass. The whole ritual intrigued me. Listen to the man in the robe sing, stand in line, put a wafer in my mouth during communion, and then kneel on a hard bench and pray to some mysterious figure called "God." I never felt any connection to the process, or any solace from prayer. At age 10, my parents sent me to a conservative Baptist school and I remained there until graduation. I don't have much to say about the experience except that it completely turned me away from religion. To this day, many of my friends are deeply religious and I respect their faith. But what happens when religious beliefs become so extreme that they endanger the life of a child? This saga currently is playing out in America.
Read more... )


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