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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Catholics, Protestants, and the Shroud of Turin

If anyone can identify this picture, please write to me.
I found it unattributed on the web and I'd love to know more about it.
I am scheduled to give a talk about the Shroud of Turin on Wednesday, April 30, at six pm, at the CCMC on the WPUNJ campus. Details here.

I mentioned this upcoming talk on Facebook. A Lutheran friend wrote,

"Shroud? I think it's from the era – not THE McCoy. My citations are from scripture. A separate cloth was used for the face. I'm not into my faith being affirmed by objects. They are temporal."

I was shocked and offended. I hadn't even mentioned the talk to her – she lives too far away. I had certainly never implied that anyone should base her Christian faith on the Shroud of Turin.

I posted a question – do Protestants view the Shroud differently? My Facebook friend Joe responded, "The face of Jesus has been claimed to have been found in everything from sliced tomatoes, to clouds, to tree bark. There are no sketches of the way Jesus looked from antiquity, so even if this is the face of some human, how does anyone know it is Jesus? I don't claim to speak for all Protestants, but I am skeptical of all such claims."

I wrote to Barrie Schwortz, one of my personal heroes, and the Shroud spokesperson par excellence.

In spite of his pressing schedule, Barrie took the time to write back and gave me permission to quote him. Barrie wrote,

"I actually have a special introduction to my presentations for non-Catholic Christian venues which I call: 'The Top 5 Reasons Why Some Christians Are Shroud Skeptics.' It addresses the primary reasons why some Christians deny or ignore the Shroud (and I've probably heard them all over the past 20 years). Here are the issues I discuss in the form of a 20 slide PowerPoint presentation:

1.The Shroud is a "graven image.“

2.The Shroud is just another Catholic relic.

3.The Gospels state that Jesus was tied with linen strips, yet the Shroud is a single large cloth. It further states there were 2 cloths in the tomb.

4.The Man of the Shroud has long hair, which is forbidden in the Gospels.

5.The Prophecies say the Man's beard was plucked, yet the Man of the Shroud has a full beard.

Properly addressing these issues has been very successful in Protestant churches (i.e. Lutheran, Methodist, Evangelical, Messianic, non-denominational, etc.). I was fortunate to have some help from my board member, Diana Fulbright, who is a Biblical scholar who reads and writes Greek, Latin and Aramaic. She helped me with the biblical references to answer the last two on the list."

I am very grateful to Barrie Schwortz for all that he does, and for this illuminating reply. I love it that Barrie is of Polish-Jewish ancestry. Barrie's mother is from Wisznice. Barrie, like me, grew up with immigrant parents. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Requiem for an Oak Tree

Angel Oak Tree
I walk to work, and I am alone. I love nature. I pass many trees. I become attached.

Just in the past year, I discovered a magnificent oak that stands just off my beaten path. I altered my path in order to walk under this oak.

It is magnificent ("It is" in my memory, still present tense.) Lush, powerful, sheltering, sculpted, manly in the best way, womanly in the best way.

"My" oak tree was cut down today, Wednesday, April 16th. I stopped my commute on foot. I stood and I watched, sobs choking in my throat. I wanted to stand there giving the bastards the finger with both hands, but they were doing dangerous work with massive, noisy machines – power saws, wood chippers – and I did not want to kill them, as they were killing my hero, this oak tree.

I will never forget this tree, or stop being grateful to it. If nothing else, as I was walking past its corpse, I thought, for more than a few minutes, whether or not trees have souls. I thought that for this tree.


I posted the above message on Facebook last week after seeing the oak tree cut down. I was deeply moved by how many people responded.

Katie Lynch wrote, "If only trees could talk…the story they could tell of all the things they have witnessed over all the years they have been alive. Watching all the changes that took place in the world, from dirt paths and horse-drawn buggies to major four-lane highways with super-fast cars... There are witness trees in the battle fields of Gettysburg, and Saratoga, trees that witnessed the stories of all the families who lived in the old houses they shade, majestic oaks on the Southern Plantations that witnessed Slavery... Just imagine the stories they could tell if only trees could talk…

I have a giant one oak overlooking my back yard and when I sit out there in the summer, those are my thoughts, of all the things that tree has seen and all the changes that have come since it was a little seedling."

Dina Coldrick wrote, "I have a dozen beautiful live house plants in my home. One palm in particular I bought as soon as I got my first apartment ... she's still with me 25 years later!!!!! Thank God she can't talk!" Dina mentioned a photography book, "Trees and Things," that includes photos of "mutilated" trees.

Carol Moessinger wrote, "A nondescript tree stood sentry on the corner up the street. It was tall and the wind had caused it to sway then lean in one direction as though its branches were in supplication to the Great Mystery. I almost cried when I came home one day and the tree was nothing more than chunks of firewood and kindling."

Sandy, Sandra, Vivian, Ellen, Anna, Malgorzata, and other friends posted supportive and caring messages.

Rusty Walker posted his painting of an oak, along with a poem.

Weathered Oak, You and Me
by Rusty Walker

Twisted oak, reach high, bow low,
Lived long enough to see you go;

I met you when you were a sprig,
So small was I, you were so big.

As older age twists you and me,
I turn a leaf, your leaves fall free.

Too much sun, too little rain,
Both you and I do weather the strain.

Only in hearts and minds in the end,
If you should go, as I, my friend.

Rusty Walker
Napa Oak Tree
I googled the phrase "Requiem for an Oak" and found this text:

"Hearts were once built of it. Three thousand
Trees went into Billy Ruffian, before
Steam and steel ruled. Wine was once
Brewed of it; sows grew fat on pannage.
Now, we picture it, pixel it and Flickr it,
Knowing well, Napoleon went down before it,
Robin Hood took shelter under it,
The Green Man glowered through it,
And cavemen hollowed boats in the bole
Of it. Will we let it wither, like an English
Elm, beetle-bored and riddled? Oaks
Send no suckers to sustain them. Science
Sees the riddle: could solve it.

Will we let it?"

Source of the above text is here.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Bad News on Easter Sunday: Health Care Update


Today is Easter but not for me.

I got some bad news in the mail yesterday.

Oh, gosh. Where to begin.

In a previous post I talked a bit about my status: I have always been working poor. I'm a really hard-working person. I started working when I was fourteen years old, as a page in my town's newly founded library. I moved on to being a nurse's aide. I did that to pay college tuition, room, and board, sometimes working full time while attending classes full time and maintaining an A minus average. I entered Peace Corps and served twice, came back to the states, entered grad school, and earned a PhD. While doing the PhD I worked as a landscaper, carpenter, live-in domestic servant, cook, cleaner, tutor, exam grader, and telephone surveyor. I love work. I completed with PhD with no debt.

After completing my PhD I fully expected to get a tenure track job. I spent most of my free time for many years doing nothing but applying for tenure track jobs.

Didn't happen; I am an adjunct. I earn less than minimum wage (most of the hours an adjunct works – preparing lessons, grading papers, meeting with students, creating courses we are assigned at the last minute – are unpaid) and I have no health insurance.

A couple of years back I was diagnosed with cancer. After many days of intense effort on my part and supported by Robin Schaffer, I was able to find charity care. Surgery. Recovery. Good news – my prognosis improved a lot.

But then I was diagnosed with a new, chronic condition. I've since learned it's fairly common and relatively easily treated. Problem. With the onset of Obamacare, I lost charity care. That happened months ago.

Since then I've been phoning, emailing, visiting people in person, begging.

I got a letter yesterday that appears to be my final rejection.

I lost charity care, and I've been turned down for my last hope for any coverage. Coverage I desperately need to treat the new, chronic condition that really wouldn't be that big of a deal – if I could afford to go to a doctor.

I'm crushed.

Tomorrow I will start phoning and emailing and begging again. I need medical care. Given the letter I got yesterday, and what I've been told so far, I have no reason to hope.


My book "Save Send Delete" is a declaration of Christian faith.

I'm not even sure why I'm trying so hard to say alive, any more. I accomplish nothing and I am alone. My life is just a series of pointless struggles.

Do I still believe in God, even at moments like this?

Yes, I do.

This is the best way I can put it. Right now I feel like I'm totally alone in a blizzard. It's dark. The wind is pounding against me. Pellets of snow blast my face and all but blind me. I am lost.

Somewhere out there, somewhere – I don't know where – I don't know how to get to it – I don't understand why I have to be alone in the dark while others are safe, warm, connected and comfortable – I don't know why I have to fight pointless, petty, losing battles while others can relax and enjoy  – I don't know what this means to me, exactly but – I think – I think – that somewhere out there one candle flickers.

At this moment, that is the best I can do.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Shroud of Turin, Joe Nickell: An Interesting Phone Call; Skeptic Double Standards?

I'm scheduled to give a talk about the Shroud of Turin at the William Paterson University Catholic Campus Ministry Center on Wednesday, April 30th, at six p.m. The talk will probably be to a small audience. It might just be me and my host!

Even so, I want to be as thorough as I can be in my preparation.

A few days ago I phoned the office of Joe Nickell, author of Inquest on the Shroud of Turin. I got an answering machine. I asked, "How does having a PhD in English qualify you to assess the science on the Shroud of Turin?"

I asked this because the New Atheists, Skeptics, etc, repeatedly insist that Christians and other people of faith are anti-Science and lack the proper education to speak with any authority. They insist, further, that they uniquely possess the bona fides to speak with authority. They insist that they follow Science, the only true guide to truth.

Why, then, does a New Atheist like Richard Dawkins, a biologist, have the qualifications to speak with authority about theology? In fact, Dawkins does not have that authority, as Terry Eagleton made clear in his essay "Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching," found here.

I ordered Joe Nickell's PhD dissertation and skimmed it. It addresses the disappearance of Ambrose Bierce, the source of Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Veiled Lady," and William Shakespeare as the possible author of "Pericles."

These are interesting and worthy scholarly topics but they do not qualify Joe Nickell to assess the blood on the Shroud of Turin. Alan Adler assessed the blood on the Shroud of Turin as real blood. Alan Adler was a chemist with a distinguished career one can read about here.

Scholars are qualified to comment on their area of expertise: Isn't that a basic tenet that the New Atheists, if they really practiced what they preach, would embrace enthusiastically?

Joe Nickell called me back this morning. I salute his courtesy in returning my call and I am grateful for his time.

Nickell began the conversation by asking me repeatedly to say and spell my name. This was repeated multiple times. He also wanted to know where I was. I have to admit that I wondered if this method of beginning our conversation was meant to intimidate me. Like many Polish Americans, I'm used to having to repeat and spell my name, but not that many times!

I didn't record or transcribe the conversation and my account here is as I remember it.

Nickell asked me repeatedly if I were Catholic.

I found this question offensive. What difference does my identity make to the truth? None, of course. Truth is truth, no matter the ethnicity or religion of speaker or hearer.

After being asked more than once if I am Catholic I said that I am. He seemed disapproving. He said that Catholics have behaved badly toward him.

He has my sympathy, but as a citizen of the great, and very diverse state of NJ, I have had negative encounters with persons of any number of ethnicities. I don't harbor ill will toward any, and I don't ask people, "Hey, are you Etruscan? An Etruscan sold me a really bad car once" before interacting with another person.

He said that he has conducted many investigations. That's good, but investigators typically commission experts to comment on key points. He said that he consulted a doctor, Michael M. Baden, who supported his conclusions that the Shroud is inauthentic.

It is good that Nickell consulted Dr. Baden, but Mark Antonacci's book lists 24 doctors who assess the Shroud as authentic. Is the one dissenting voice really proof that it is inauthentic?

Nickell called those with whom he disagrees "shroudies." The term sounded contemptuous to me. Nickell said that "shroudies" are all Catholic and they conclude that the Shroud is authentic and then work backward in an attempt to discover data that will support that conclusion.

I thought immediately of Barrie Schwortz, Shroud spokesperson par excellence. Barrie is of Polish-Jewish ancestry. He grew up in an Orthodox home, complete with separate plates for meat and dairy. Barrie did not want to participate in STURP but did so on the advice of a friend. It took Barrie many years and a lot of study to conclude that the Shroud was authentic. As far as I know, Barrie is still Jewish. (You can read Barrie's story here.)

I could mention others, like Thomas de Wesselow and Yves Delage who were not Christian and who concluded that the Shroud is authentic.

Joe Nickell is simply factually wrong on this point.

Nickell asked me twice if I knew what the word "iconography" means. I was so offended by this I did not answer.

He asked me how my training prepared me to speak authoritatively on the Shroud. I told him plainly that my training does NOT prepare me to speak authoritatively on the Shroud's authenticity; I said that my goal was to present a variety of points of view, including his.

Nickell said he was able to produce a reasonable replica of the Shroud. You can find Barrie Schwortz's assessment of Nickell's claim that he has reproduced the Shroud toward the bottom of the page linked here.

Nickell mentioned Ian Wilson's proposed provenance for the Shroud going back to the time of Christ, and pooh-poohed Wilson's work. Nickell mentioned that a bishop had denounced the Shroud.

I am grateful that Mr. Nickell called me back and answered my question. I am confused by our conversation. It is my subjective impression that Mr. Nickell sounded angry and defensive. He is a famous and successful author, and I am preparing a talk that maybe five people will attend, if I am lucky. Nothing I say at this talk will have any negative impact on his life. It's not clear to me why the anger and defensiveness are necessary.

I'm also confused by the double standards so common among the New Atheists.

Joe Nickell pooh-poohs Catholics as unreliable … and he attempts to strengthen his own case by citing a Catholic bishop.

Joe Nickell insists that scientific training is necessary in order to speak authoritatively, but he does not have a degree in science and I don't see his work being published by scholarly journals, as much pro-authenticity work is.

Joe Nickell casts aspersions on faith … but cites the Gospel of John as supporting his point (when in fact it does not.)

Again, I really do salute and appreciate Joe Nickell's courtesy in phoning me back and answering my question. My points here are meant to be larger points that contribute to how New Atheists and skeptics convey their message. If I notice an inconsistency in behavior and message, I'm sure others do, as well. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Shroud of Turin Talk. Catholic Campus Ministry Center, WPUNJ, Wayne / Haledon New Jersey, Wednesday, April 30th, Six PM

Very grateful to Lisa Osborne and Anna Martinez for designing these fliers for the upcoming talk on the Shroud of Turin at the Catholic Campus Ministry Center on the William Paterson University Campus in Wayne, New Jersey, 219 Pompton Road in Haledon (Wayne and Haledon border each other; most of the campus is in Wayne) at six pm on Wednesday, April 30th. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Female Genital Mutilation. First Person Account

Brandeis University recently offered an honorary award to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, one of my heroines. She campaigns against female genital mutilation. You can read my review of "Infidel," one of Hirsi Ali's books at this link.

CAIR complained to Brandeis, and Brandeis capitulated. It rescinded its offer of an award to Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

CAIR compared Hirsi Ali to Nazis.

CAIR's twisted – but effective – rhetoric is straight out of George Orwell's 1984.

Below please read Nawal El Saadawi's account of her genital mutilation. This account appears in the book "The Hidden Face of Eve."


I was six years old that night when I lay in my bed, warm and peaceful in that pleasurable state which lies half way between wakefulness and sleep, with the rosy dreams of childhood flitting by, like gentle fairies in quick succession.

I felt something move under the blankets, something like a huge hand, cold and rough, fumbling over my body, as though looking for something. Almost simultaneously another hand, as cold and as rough and as big as the first one, was clapped over my mouth, to prevent me from screaming.

They carried me to the bathroom. I do not know how many of them there were, nor do I remember their faces, or whether they were men or women. The world to me seemed enveloped in a dark fog winch prevented me from seeing. Or perhaps they put some kind of a cover over my eyes. All I remember is that I was frightened and that there were many of them, and that something like an iron grasp caught hold of my hand and my arms and my thighs, so that I became unable to resist or even to move.

I also remember the icy touch of the bathroom tiles under my naked body, and unknown voices and humming sounds interrupted now and again by a rasping metallic sound which reminded me of the butcher when he used to sharpen his knife before slaughtering a sheep for the Eid.

My blood was frozen in my veins. It looked to me as though some thieves had broken into my room and kidnapped me from my bed. They were getting ready to cut my throat which was always what happened with disobedient girls like myself in the stories that my old rural grandmother was so fond of telling me. I strained my ears trying to catch the rasp of the metallic sound. The moment it ceased, it was as though my heart stopped beating with it. I was unable to see, and somehow my breathing seemed also to have stopped.

I imagined the thing that was making the rasping sound coming closer and closer to me. Somehow it was not approaching my neck as I had expected but another part of my body. Somewhere below my belly, as though seeking something buried between my thighs. At that very moment I realized that my thighs had been pulled wide apart, and that each of my lower limbs was being held as far away from the other as possible, gripped by-steel fingers that never relinquished their pressure. I felt that the rasping knife or blade was heading straight down towards my throat.

Then suddenly the sharp metallic edge seemed to drop between my thighs and there cut off a piece of flesh from my body. I screamed with pain despite the tight hand held over my mouth, for the pain was not just a pain, it was like a searing flame that went through my whole body.

After a few moments, I saw a red pool of blood around my hips. I did not know what they had cut off from my body, and I did not try to find out. I just wept, and called out to my mother for help.

But the worst shock of all was when I looked around and found her standing by my side. Yes, it was her, I could not be mistaken, in flesh and blood, right in the midst of these strangers, talking to them and smiling at them, as though they had not participated in slaughtering her daughter just a few moments ago. They carried me to my bed.

I saw them catch hold of my sister, who was two years younger, in exactly the same way they had caught hold of me a few minutes earlier. I cried out with all my might. No! No! I could see my sister's face held between the big rough hands. It had a deathly pallor and her wide black eyes met mine for a split second, a glance of dark terror which I can never forget.

A moment later and she was gone, behind the door of the bathroom where I had just been. The look we exchanged seemed to say: 'Now we know what it is. Now we know where lies our tragedy. We were born of a special sex, the female sex. We are destined in advance to taste of misery, and to have a part of our body torn away by cold, unfeeling cruel hands.

In "Save Send Delete" I provide my own account of why I am a Christian. "In Christ, there is no male; there is no female." Jesus Christ is the best friend women ever had.

Thursday, April 10, 2014