Monday, September 2, 2013

Documentary review: The Secret

The Secret - 2006
The film The Secret came out in 2006, quickly followed by the book in February 2007. It is written by Rhonda Byrne, produced by TS Productions, and directed by Drew Heriot and Sean Byrne.

I am going to state up front that I did not like this film. It was overdone and overly dramatic, and presented no 'secret' to the world. In fact, the basic premise from the beginning is that “past leaders” (with images of cardinals, Nazis, and past American presidents) hoarded “the secret” for themselves in order to keep all the power. If you actually follow the philosophy set out in the film, you will see how impossible that scenario is (going by the rules as presented).

I found the film repetitive. They stated the same thing (positive thoughts lead to positive results) over and over again, as if for small children or village idiots, in the most basic of scenarios. Not once did the film touch on such meaty topics as the meaning behind third world starvation levels or the innocent Middle Eastern citizens who've been destroyed by the current wars and conflicts going on around them by rebels and rogue governments. Instead, they chose to focus on some pretty basic stuff.

Despite all that, the “secret” (while not really being a secret at all) is actually a fairly common sense thing known by most mystics and philosophers from the dawn of time. In a nutshell, your vehicle will go in the direction you are looking. In other words, if you focus on the negative all the time, that's where you'll end up. Conversely, if you focus on the positive, that's where you'll go.

They used a rather long list of big names, including Jack Canfield, author of the Chicken Soup books. His sections, and those of the physicists (there were two or three) were the most interesting and useful to me. They spoke in a very factual way, making excellent similes and connections without getting into a lot of spiritual clap trap.

The cast of the show continually make the comment that, “it's that easy.” I have a question in response to that: if it is that simple, why is it so hard to do? Yes, I believe the basic principle they are touting is a real one, and have experienced it in my own life. Most of my readers probably have as well, using daily positive affirmations or prayers to bring about positive change in their lives. It does work. But it isn't a secret tool, hidden by the elite and kept from the masses.

Several people in the film, including Bob Vitale (a metaphysicist), made some statements that I found high disturbing. Some of the reviewers of the film on IMDB called it “victim blaming” and I am afraid I have to agree. Mr. Vitale says, in response to whether we've brought on cancer or poverty or rape or other negatives, “Yes you did attract the negatives.” While that may be true at a certain level, I don't know a single person who's made a decision to step into poverty and live there. I don't know a rape or cancer victim who wants or wanted anything to do with either. I find it disturbing that these well known authors and personas saying such things (Mr. Canfield, I'd like to note, did not say any such thing, and stuck to very positive, affirming, verifiable statements).

The video goes over so much ground, talking about money, relationships, family, success, finding the right career, and health, just to name a few. It always comes down to the bottom line, the Secret, though. Be happy, and the world will go your way.

Another moment in the movie which really bothered me was one where they were talking about how people will follow the Secret path for “a little while” (time undefined) and then give up because nothing has happened. At this point, they blame the people who failed, stating that they just didn't hold on long enough or didn't visualize well enough. This has the same feel to it as so-called faith healers, who spend their time telling people who don't get better that their faith or the faith of their families has failed them, not God. What I heard was that you have to believe wholly (not a bad thing) and basically forever, even if nothing happens, because if you wait months and nothing happens, then you must obviously have just been on the verge of all that you could image, but you gave up.

They don't make any differentials between good or bad desires, nor do they say how long you should expect. I realize you can't put a time limit on much of this, but with it being so incredibly open-ended, you run the risk of poor people devoting their lives to this Secret, and then waiting passively for years and getting nothing. It feels like they're suggesting people become slaves to their desires, almost, even though this is not the main point of the documentary.

There are some great points made. About half way through the film they talk about how having one bad thing happen in the morning can really ruin your whole day, and that you can spread that dis-ease to others as you move through your day. This is a very true thing. The suggestion for turning life around was to spend time with pets or a loved one, to watch a laughing baby, or even to go look up LOLCats on the internet. Changing the focus of your outlook will change the focus of your day. This is a very wonderful technique, and has the potential to make a positive change in people's lives.

Jack Canfield also talked about his vision boards, cork boards he set up years ago with images and write-ups about the things he desired in his life. He would look at those things, those desires, every day and visualize them happening. He continued to work, accept opportunities, and move forward in his life, as well. The end result was, as we all know, his becoming an incredibly popular author and speaker.

At the same time, other speakers pointed out that focusing on scarcity is a good way of bringing it to fruition. Going to the mailbox with the expectation of finding a bill is going to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Going to the mailbox with a smile on and an expectation of a fun catalog or a check will change YOU, and therefore change your response to what's in the box.

Changing your focus to the positive definitely won't harm you, provided you keep your feet on the ground. The problem with The Secret is that they don't get very deeply into how to keep your feet on the ground, and spend almost the entire film explaining how to get sky high on your dreams and desires. I don't see it as a good balance.

Near the end of The Secret, Jack Canfield explains one of the rules he has for his family, a rule they repeat a lot: “If it ain't fun, don't do it.” I think that's a marvelous way to deal with life. His family enjoys several pursuits together, and in doing so, they create positivity around themselves.

To wrap up, the film has some beautiful imagery from around the world, and many inspiring stories and anecdotes. Unfortunately, it seems much more like fluff than substance. What I heard was not far off from what my Wiccan mentor taught me years ago, nor from what I heard at seminary. “Feel good” and “pay attention to the positive” are hardly the “secret” this film plays it up to be.

Check back often for book reviews, prayers, ceremonies and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect. If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site! 

You may also be interested in:

Dream Weddings

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Dream weddings

Serena and Marcus

I've performed many weddings over the years, and I'll admit, it is one of my favorite things to do as a minister. There's just an aura of joy around weddings that exists at no other time. It's a moment of pure hope, pure love, and pure potential.

When I get together with a couple in regards to their upcoming wedding, I always take the time to get to know them. I see that as my job. I want to dig into the details of their lives, find out how they met and where they fell in love, where their first kiss was, and what it is that keeps them together in the tough times. I know it might seem invasive at first, but the final results are a wedding ceremony that reflects who you are, both individually and as a couple.

R and T
Whether you get married in a cathedral or your mom's backyard,  you deserve a wedding service that is fit for royalty. While there are plenty of jokes about everything being about the dress (in the case of brides), it's just not true. Your wedding day will stick in your mind for years to come, hopefully until the end of your days. Every person involved in your wedding (from the tiniest flower girl to the stuffiest caterer) should be invested in your happiness. If nothing else, vendors need to be aware that word of mouth is one of the strongest (and cheapest!) forms of advertising.

I try to work with a couple to get a feel for what they want and what their family expects. Sometimes it's a very fine line, but my own personal bottom line is that I am employed by the couple, not their families. One of my instructors at seminary, Rabbi Ross, told us that if a parent is being very pushy about their child's wedding, we should retort politely with, "What a charming idea! Have you talked to (bride) about that? I'll be happy to include it if (she) wishes me to!" I don't mind doing a bit of go-between on the wedding day to ensure peace during the ceremony, but ultimately, my responsibility is to the couple. Most pushy types come to me, the minister, because they know darn well that the couple will say no to their ideas.

Amanda and Jason
Creating a dream wedding is not as difficult as you might think, and it need not be tremendously expensive, either. In today's permissive atmosphere, some people even have pot luck weddings, where everyone brings a dish to share (and the recipe to put in a book for the new couple!). Wedding favors can even be picked up in the Dollar Store nowadays, whether you're looking for bubbles, balloons, tablecloths or cutlery.

If you can't afford or don't want a professional photographer, why not pick up a dozen of those disposable cameras, and hand them out at the beginning of the service? Encourage people to take as many photographs as they like, and later you can have them processed and pick out the ones you like best. This idea will produce some truly candid images that will take your breath away, along with a few thumbs and blurry shots. Music can be as simple as a speaker set hooked up to your tablet or smartphone, playing a loop of your favorite songs. You don't have to wear a white dress or tux to get married, either. For hundreds of years, people simply got married in "their Sunday best" and that was good enough.

Stephanie and Darren
Whatever your dream, do work to make it come true. No matter the budget, you can find creative ways to make your wedding incredibly special, and a tribute to your new life together!

If you're thinking of getting married and are looking for a minister, feel free to email me or give me a call. I'll also have a table at the Keene Bridal Show on Thursday, July 25th from 5:30pm-8pm. If you'd like to meet me, come on down! You might win a prize while you're at it!

Check back often for book reviews, prayers, ceremonies and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect. If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site! 

You may also be interested in:

Patchwork Interfaith Community
When people ask for prayer
Grace Bombs
Mary Magdalene - the mystery woman
Working at Cathedral of the Pines 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Patchwork Interfaith Community

"Come, come, whoever you are,
Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving.
Ours is no caravan of despair!
Come, yet again, come." 
 -- Rumi

Patchwork Interfaith Community is proud to announce its launch on June 27th, 2013, as well as our first two services. On July 7th and July 21st at 1:00pm, please join us at the Cathedral of the Pines, down at the St. Francis of Assisi chapel.  Rev. Allyson Szabo will be leading worship services dedicated to bridging gaps, smoothing communication lines, and raising spiritual awareness. There will be song, prayer, poetry and holy words from a variety of religions and spiritual paths.

Patchwork has been created by Rev. M. Allyson Szabo as a gathering for developing communication between the various religions in the southern New Hampshire area. All religions have the well-being of their followers in mind, but not everyone is suited to attend a formal church. At the Cathedral, we'll be outside in a beautiful, natural setting with Mt. Monadnock behind us. This "church not made with hands" is nestled within the Cathedral of the Pines, an interfaith-oriented place of worship as well as a memorial for all those who have died in service to our country.

"The Cathedral has been an integral part of the Rindge, NH religious community for many years now," shares Rev. Allyson, founder of Patchwork. "They provide an open, affirming place for people of all religions and beliefs to visit, worship, and find peace. It is the perfect place for Patchwork to be formally birthed. We hope people from the surrounding communities will join us for worship!"

Patchwork Interfaith Community is a brand new ministry, founded by Rev. Allyson. Its mission is to provide a place for mixed-religion families, those who are not a part of a formal religious body, and those who wish to have more community oriented services in addition to their own, to come and worship together. Building bridges of communication between various religions' adherents is a goal that Rev. Allyson hopes to see fulfilled as Patchwork grows. 

The first two services offered by Patchwork will be held in July as previously noted. However, Rev. Allyson hopes to midwife Patchwork into a more steady, weekly worship service that will appeal to a broad section of the local community. If she gathers enough interest, services may continue over the winter, and could even include an interfaith 'Sunday School' for younger children.

"Interfaith service is what I am called to," Rev. Allyson admits. "I hope to help teach the people in my community that all faiths have similar ideals, morals, and joys. The rituals may look very different, but the underlying awe and love for a Creator of some kind is a thread that runs through almost all religions." You can find Rev. Allyson on the internet at her website or her blog.

For more information about the Patchwork Interfaith Community, please visit the Patchwork FaceBook page, or contact Rev. Allyson at or (978) 616-9654.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

When people ask for prayer

Fervent prayer (1)
Prayer is a part of all religions and many spiritual traditions. People pray to their gods, to saints, to ancestors, to spirits of the elements. The words said and actions done are often wildly different from one another, but the actual act of prayer itself is almost identical.

At some point, I think everyone whispers a prayer. Sometimes it's just a series of heart-felt words that are said to the sky, with a hope that whatever is out there receives the communication. There's a joke that says so long as there are exams in school, there will also be prayer in school, and it's funny and very true at the same time. While they might not be the most orthodox, those prayers are just as real as the ones said in a church, synagogue, or temple.

Artistic prayer (2)
As a minister, people often come to me and ask for me to pray for them. There are several ways I accomplish this. The first is to simply stop what I'm doing when a request arrives, and to say a prayer to the Divine that is appropriate to the request. This is the most simple, and often the most real of my prayers. There's no planning, no time to search for fanciful words. There's just a strong sense of wanting to help another person in whatever way I can. There's a lot of power in that instant response.

Another method that I use for praying for others is a prayer bowl. I sometimes keep a bowl on my altar that I fill with prayer requests. These might be printed emails, jotted names from church or temple, or a more formal prayer list shared by another. Once a week, I will sit down with the bowl, and take out each paper, and read the important parts out loud. It might be just a name, or it might be a story with a plea for help. It doesn't matter. I ask the Divine to give to these people the healing they require, and to bring a measure of strength and joy into their lives.

Formal prayer (3)
If I am blessed with preaching in a church or other formal gathering, I will lead the people in a formal prayer for healing. I often include the names of people who are important to the world (Nelson Mandela comes to mind at this time), and also the names of any people in the gathering who have requested prayer. I ask for healing, for patience, for happiness, for acceptance, and sometimes I even ask for miracles.

I don't know if there's any particular magic behind prayer. I just know that it does no harm at all, and that it often brings about startling results. There are studies that show prayer helps people to heal, even though science hasn't explained why. Whether it's an act of Divine guidance from above, or a miracle, or even if it's just the placebo effect, it doesn't matter. What matters is that prayer has the ability to make people feel better, act better, and BE better.

What do you do when people ask for you to pray for them? Do you have a special way you pray for others?

Check back often for book reviews, prayers, ceremonies and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect. If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site! 

You may also be interested in:

Grace Bombs
Mary Magdalene - the mystery woman
Working at Cathedral of the Pines
What does it mean to be holy?
Cathedral of the Pines

1) Image by ensignmedia / morgueFile
2) Image by iamagoo / morgueFile
3) Image by xenia / morgueFile

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Grace Bombs

Fireworks - happy bombs (1)
Our world is filled with a lot of uncomfortable and downright disturbing things right now. Terrorism, rape, forced marriages, genital mutilation, and hundreds of other horrible acts are being committed across the globe. Some are done in the name of religion, and some are just happening for no particular reason. It goes across culture, gender, age, orientation... there is violence everywhere. Even when we look away from the media, we still hear about people with botched surgeries, families losing babies at birth, tornadoes and hurricanes wiping whole cities off the map, and freak weather causing damage to crops all over. There seems to be no end to the number of upsetting things you can read in a day. And in a way, you don't really want to ignore it, because to do so seems to be sticking your head in the sand, or putting your fingers in your ears and humming, "La la la!"

New focus (2)
There's a line from a silly movie called Death to Smoochy: "You can't change the world, but you can make a dent." - Sheldon, aka 'Smoochy the Rhino' (IMDB) While Sheldon is a bit of a nutter, he's an honest guy. He knows he can't change everything. He's not going to stop world hunger tomorrow. Instead, he focuses on doing his little bit, what he's able to do. If everyone did just a little bit, the world would be a much better place. Imagine every person in the world doing one good deed a day. The whole focus of the world would change, overnight. If we stopped worrying about how we can't possibly affect the Big Picture, and started doing something about what's local to us, change would simply happen.

Smile, make people wonder (3)
Today, I was introduced to a group called Grace Bomb Ministries. What they do is create Grace Bombs, which, ". . . can consist of many elements: cards, letters, e-mails or social media notes, audio and video messages, care packages with gift cards or other gifts, a mix tape with positive music, etc... which are all created and sent to express to someone that they are loved and supported." (GBM main page) They collect up all the items and letters and pictures, and send them to the person who needs the emotional boost. Anyone can participate, and anyone can ask for help. The flood of support that comes in to a person who is low for whatever reason can make a huge difference in how that person copes with their personal tragedies and tribulations. Becoming a part of the Grace Bombing by sending something in also provides a lift for the person helping, as we're well aware that helping others helps ourselves.

The sun will come out soon (4)
On their project page, they list a couple of on-going ministries. You can pick or choose if you'd like to participate. There is no coercion. This is done by you for your own reasons. You don't have to give your name if you don't want to. You just send whatever you're sending, and they see that it's delivered. You give a gift of grace, a gift of love, a gift of much-needed attention to someone who was lacking. You make a dent, as Sheldon would say. What a fantastic type of ministry, open to all religions (and none), to people of all races, genders, creeds, colors, orientations...

No one is excluded. Everyone is included. Hurt is acknowledged and soothed. This is, I believe, the ultimate expression of interfaith love. I plan on joining this movement today, and will be sending a little letter off to the two people currently listed. I hope you'll consider joining the movement as well, whether by sending a letter to these two or by helping someone in your own community that you know needs a lift.

Give the gift of grace to someone who truly needs it. Feel free to share with us how you felt when you did so (though please use only initials of people so that they are not unduly exposed).

Check back often for book reviews, prayers, ceremonies and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect. If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site! 

You may also be interested in:

Mary Magdalene - the mystery woman
Working at Cathedral of the Pines
What does it mean to be holy?
Cathedral of the Pines
Accepting yourself

1) Image by dantada / morgueFile
2) Image by Darren Hester / morgueFile
3) Image by dhester / morgueFile
4) Image by Irish Eyes / morgueFile

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Mary Magdalene - the mystery woman

Passionate (1)
 Mary Magdalene is one of those figures in Christian history and mythology that has no set story to her. She's presented as the bad girl, the whore, as an early leader of the church, the Apostle to the Apostles, Jesus' wife and/or concubine, the carrier of the Holy Grail, and dozens of other things. Which one is right and which is wrong? Could they all be right? The mystery of Mary of Magdala is shared with us in the movie Secrets of Mary Magdalene (directed by Rob Fruchtman).

While the movie was not the most in-depth look at Mary of the New Testament, the presentation is entertaining and interesting. It's easy to follow, and contains enough information to allow you to do some decent research on your own, something most documentaries today do not bother with.

The documentary starts out looking at ancient sources and moves into the modern era, showing that very early views of Mary are fairly close to where we're at today. Those lost perspectives have been rediscovered and brought to life thanks to modern archeaology and  the discovery of the Gnostic Gospels.

There's a habit of conflating all the various Marys of the gospels, something that modern scholars are now trying to untangle. The name Mary was one of the most popular female names during the era of Jesus. We know of Mary of Bethany (the sister of Martha from the Lazarus story), the Mary that washes and anoints Jesus' feet (often said to be the repentant whore who had demons cast out of her), Mary who was Jesus' mother, and another Mary who was possibly Jesus' sister. None of these are Mary of Magdala or Migdal, who is the one who first sees the risen Christ.

Penitent (2)
We know that Mary Magdalene followed Jesus, and that she and the other female followers provided for the needs of the men in the company. Likely this referred to cooking, cleaning, and mending as needed. We know that she was considered important because she is the first person recorded as seeing Jesus after his death. She is mentioned in all four Gospels as being one of the witnesses at the cross. The documentary notes, however, that Mary is not mentioned as being in the crowd that first receives the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Scholars are unsure if this was left out because everyone was aware of it, or because Mary did not play a vital role in the Pentecost tale.

Regardless, Mary has become a focus for women to rally around. She seemingly defies the gender inequality of her time. She follows a teacher and is apparently unattached to anyone as a wife, daughter, or sister. She's unusual, but not any moreso than the other women following Jesus.

As the documentary develops it delves deeply into the history behind the Holy Grail. There are myths and legends of Mary and a female child coming to France, bringing with them the grail. Some believe that "the grail" was Mary herself, bringing Jesus' sacred blood line in the person of her child (often identified as Sara). The most detailed exploration of these myths can be found in Holy Blood, Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln.

It was author Dan Brown and his book The DaVinci Code that brought Mary back into the spotlight. His fictional work highlighted the legends of the Merovingian kings of France, the early Templars, and later the Cathars, and where Mary of Magdala fits in. That spotlight is hotly debated, mostly because it touches on the idea that Jesus and Mary had more of a relationship than just that of teacher and student.

Mary washes Jesus' body (3)
There is some credibility to the idea that Jesus had a wife. During the time the New Testament describes, a male holding the title of Rabbi would have been required to be married, just as orthodox Rabbis are required today. It makes a certain sense that this strong female character would be Jesus' foil throughout his ministry. No other woman is mentioned repeatedly except for his mother.

One of the websites mentioned in the film is, a site dedicated to education about and research on Mary. There, you can find all of the information that was in the film, and much more.

The most interesting point made during this documentary was that the current trend of seeing Mary as an independent woman actually takes away a positive figure that many women have clung to across the centuries. Mary as a penitent sinner, a reformed whore, was much more human and easy to acknowledge than a bunch of holier-than-thou disciples who lived a very ascetic lifestyle. Her sins were so grievous that she provided people with an "in" to Christ. If Mary the whore could repent and become a good and wholesome person, then so could anyone!

Mary Magdalene's elasticity as a character in the tale of Jesus and his disciples makes her an excellent leading lady in any and all of the myths and legends that exist. There is no way to tell for sure that she was one way or another, and so she bends and sways, taking on whatever traits are necessary to help people reach their goals. Sinner or saint, she has always been a central figure in Christianity.

I give this documentary 3 stars. It was quite good, but some of the information was out of date (for example, the information about the Gnostic Gospels found in Nag Hammadi neglected to mention that other Gnostic Gospels existed for a very long time prior to the Nag Hammadi ones being discovered). This is definitely worth a watch if you're interested in obscure church history, or are a student of the role of women in the Christian religion.

Check back often for book reviews, prayers, ceremonies and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect. If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site! 

You may also be interested in:

Working at Cathedral of the Pines
What does it mean to be holy?
Cathedral of the Pines
Accepting yourself
Mother Teresa

1) Painting by Fra. Angelico (Wikimedia Commons)
2) Painting by Nicolas Régnier (Wikimedia Commons)
3) Painting by Vasily Perov (Wikimedia Commons)

Monday, May 20, 2013

Working at the Cathedral of the Pines

Rev. Allyson on the path to the Altar of the Nation

Yesterday, I had the honor and joy of offering the invocation and benediction at a service held at the Cathedral of the Pines. It was the annual memorial service held for the Fraternal Order of Eagles members and friends. I have never worked with the Order before, but I would be more than willing to do so again. They were wonderful people, with big hearts and open minds.

I sat in the front bench with other presenters at the memorial, and soaked in the slightly diffused sunlight and the majestic view of Mount Monadnock behind the altar. Wreaths were laid out, and flowers as well. Bells were run, and praises sung. I spoke my invocation proudly, happy to be a part of a group of people who have played such a strong part in the success of the Cathedral.

The benediction I used actually comes from the Lutheran Book of Prayer, one which I found while leafing through the book earlier in the morning. I had planned something completely different, but this seemed to fit the situation exactly.

Lord God, in whom there is life and light:
     our thanks for those who died for us,
     our prayers for those who mourn,
     our praise for the hope You have given us.
Refresh our hearts
     with dedication to the ideals of heroic men,
     with appreciation for the honesty of just men,
     with obedience to laws of upright men.
Forgive us
     when our patriotism is hollow,
     when our nationalism is arrogant,
     when our allegiance is halfhearted.
Stir within us
     thanksgiving for all we have inherited,
     vigilance for the freedoms of all men,
     willingness to sacrifice for fellow citizens.
Comfort us with the joy that Christ died for all those who died for us,
     bringing life and immortality to light for all.

There was unbroken silence during that benediction, and even the birds were quiet. It seemed a fitting prayer for the men and women who had died in service to our country and to New England in particular. I spoke it slowly, because I wanted to express the feeling of being a part of something larger than ourselves. I felt I achieved my end.

After the service, I wandered around the Cathedral grounds, stopped to talk to a few people, and met up with an old friend. It was lovely to have this chance to be with people who give so much of their lives in service.

What was your Sunday afternoon like? 

Check back often for book reviews, prayers, ceremonies and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect. If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site! 

You may also be interested in:

What does it mean to be holy?
Cathedral of the Pines
Accepting yourself
Mother Teresa

Thursday, May 2, 2013

What does it mean to be "holy"?

The grail (1)
There's a lot of talk about holy men and holy women, holy spaces and holy places. People point to cups or beads or papers and say they are holy. What is it, exactly, that they are saying? What are they meaning? What are they expecting from the people and items they label as "holy"?

When it comes to ministers, priests, pastors, rabbis, and other faith leaders, there is an expectation that they are somehow holy. They are set apart from the normal people in the world. They are better, different, singular, and different. Perhaps there is a belief that they are somehow touched by the Divine, making them separate from the rest of the human race.

  1. Dedicated or consecrated to God or a religious purpose; sacred: "the Holy Bible"; "the holy month of Ramadan".
  2. (of a person) Devoted to the service of God: "saints and holy men".
This definition is somewhat lacking, though. Many things and people are dedicated to the All and Many. By this definition, pretty much everyone who does a moment's service at a church or temple is to be considered holy. Then again, perhaps that's not so wrong after all.

 Sheila na gig (2)
Several weeks ago, I had someone berate me for not being holy enough. Initially, I was confused, as I wasn't speaking to the person in "minister mode". I had been discussing politics and personalities. Neither of these things seems very holy to me, and in fact seem almost opposed to holiness. They're still important, just not a part of spiritual things. The fact that I am a minister was not even discussed that day.

Later that evening, I got to thinking. What does it mean to be holy? Did I perhaps make a mistake in what I had said or thought? Had I somehow presented the All in a way that was less than pleasing? I went over my conversation with a fine-toothed comb (both mentally, and via FB because it stores your messages), and couldn't find anything to do with spirituality. Not only had I not presented the All negatively, I had actively avoided discussing spirituality and drawn the conversation away from it. Where, then, did this accusation come from?

I can only assume that it came from the accuser. I began to think about "holy" versus "secular" and how they apply to me, and to other ministers, priests, Rabbis and other spiritual leaders. Of the many leaders I've spoken to over the years, none feel holy all of the time, and some don't ever feel holy at all. Most seem to fall into the category that I do, where we draw "holiness" on like a cloak when we're acting on behalf of the All as if it were a prayer to be worn. When our time as leader is done, it is removed, and we're no more holy than the next guy.

It seems that a lot of people feel that those who take the title of spiritual leader, in whatever religious path they follow, should be wearing that holiness all the time. It should be evident from morning to night, on display for the comfort and joy of all those around the person. It doesn't work that way, though. Nor do I think it should.

Shofar (3)
Holiness doesn't come with a seminary education or a Masters of Divination. It doesn't appear because of a laying on of hands or a muttered prayer. Holiness has nothing to do with your prayer mat or your undergarments. Each of these things might enhance holiness, at a particular moment or time, but they do not bring it about.

So what does bring holiness into a person? I think the only real answer is "intent." There are moments when we open ourselves to be channels to the All, and those are the moments that we can achieve holiness, if only briefly. I tend to use my stoles as a method of showing the world when I am opening to the All, and setting myself apart from everyone else. This is a visual cue for something that's very much invisible.

While there is holiness to me working in my garden, volunteering around town, or snuggling with the kids, I don't think that's the same thing that people expect when I am speaking in a pulpit or leading a ritual. To think that I will routinely channel the All while I am kneeling in muck and weeding my cabbages is, I believe, asking a little much.

There are people in my life that I look up to as being holy. Rabbi Roger Ross and Rev. Deborah Steen-Ross, Rev. Sarah Margaret, Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, Rachel Held Evans, Pastor Alison Jacobs, and all my fellow students, Deans, and instructors from seminary come to mind. Yet each one of these people who I hold in such high esteem has been depressed, cried on my shoulder, ranted to me, made silly remarks, made mistakes... We're all human. If I call on these people and say, "Hey, be my minister today, please?" then yes, I expect a moment of holiness from them as they listen with the ears of their God. Just as often, though, I enjoy hearing their laugh, seeing their smile, or feeling their hug.

It is my strong opinion that you can't "be holy" all the time. Each of us has things to deal with on a daily basis that are far from holy. Cars break down, and marriages too, and people die. Bad things do happen. We get sad, we cry, and we retreat from being holy to needing holiness brought to us by another. That's the beauty of holiness, though. It can come from anyone, and anywhere.

Check back often for book reviews, prayers, ceremonies and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect. If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site! 
You may also be interested in:

Cathedral of the Pines
Accepting yourself
Mother Teresa

1) Image by ronnieb / morgueFile2) Image by Jusben / morgueFile
3) Image by davi / morgueFile

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Cathedral of the Pines

Memorial Bell Tower
The Cathedral of the Pines (10 Hale Hill Rd., Rindge, NH) is a beautiful place dedicated to those of all religious and spiritual paths who wish to visit and worship at it. The main worship areas are only lightly touched by the guiding hand of Man, and instead are naturally designed by Nature herself.

The Memorial Bell Tower was dedicated in 1967 and was built as a tribute to all the American women who sacrificed their lives in our country's wars and conflicts. The pillars of the Tower are built from field stones, removed from the surrounding fields.

Within the base of the Tower is the Tree of Life fountain, a beautiful copper structure bearing twelve varieties of fruit. It commemorates the lives of American nurses lost in the wars of America.

Altar of the Nation
The main altar is called The Altar of the Nation, and it overlooks Mt. Monadnock. It was built in 1946 and is made up of stones from around the country and world. It is recognized as a National Memorial to all American war dead. Throughout the summer, the Altar hosts weddings, funerals, and worship groups from many different religious and spiritual groups. To date, 56 religious denominations and faiths have held services at the Cathedral.

Path to the Altar
There are many other small outdoor chapels behind and surrounding the Altar of the Nation. The Mother Chapel is a tribute to all mothers. There is a small Zen Garden. Down the path you will find the St. Francis of Assisi Chapel where the annual Blessing of the Animals is held. Hilltop House contains the Chaplains' Altar, a memorial to the first American Chaplain who died in action in WWI. Hilltop House also contains the Cathedral Museum, and the items used for Jewish services.

Memorial bench
The Cathedral has a tiny staff, and a Board of Trustees. Costs are kept low whenever possible. While wedding parties do pay to book the main Altar for their ceremony, the entire Cathedral is open daily to the public from May 1- Oct. 31 every year, for free. Donation boxes line the walks, but much of what is done to the gardens and grounds is done by volunteers who give of their time and energy to keep it up.

This weekend, on Saturday, April 27th, the Cathedral is hosting a clean-up time. Volunteers are asked to bring rakes and shovels and gloves and give a hand at tidying up the altars, walk-ways, and public spaces. The clean-up begins at 9am, and everyone is invited to join in. If you are able, please come join in the efforts and become a volunteer and supporter of this wonderful and amazing interfaith arena. Celebrate the re-birth of spring and flowers and warmer temperatures amidst the grandiose beauty of the Cathedral!

If you'd like to get more information, check out their website or give them a call at (603) 899-3300.

Check back often for book reviews, prayers, ceremonies and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect. If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
You may also be interested in:

Accepting yourself
Mother Teresa
The Silence

Monday, March 11, 2013

Accepting yourself

"I accept myself unconditionally right now." This is the quote that stuck most in my mind from a documentary I watched this weekend (Hungry For Change, currently available on Netflix). It was said by Louise Hay, who is an insightful lady who has written a host of self-help books. She uses it as a prescription, and I have decided to take up her challenge.

Look in the mirror (1)
Stand in front of the mirror twice a day (I plan on morning and evening), look yourself in the eyes, and say, "I accept myself unconditionally right now." Then wait. Soon you'll hear it. The negative voices in your mind will comment on your weight or your complexion, your hairstyle, your eating habits, or whatever else they can pick on. Just listen for a moment, and don't condemn the voices. Then turn away and go on with your day. It is suggested you write or print out the words and stick them up on the side of your mirror so you see them all the time.

Ms. Hay says that about the 28th day, something wonderful happens. The view you see changes. The voices fade. I have no idea if it's true, but since it's both free and relatively easy, it seemed that it was a positive and affirming thing to do.

I started last night. As I got ready for bed, I popped in for my nightly routine in the bathroom.  I stuck up my little card with the words written in purple sharpie. My mirror is small, so I taped it to the wall at my eye level. I steeled myself, because these kinds of things are never all that comfortable.

Look into your own eyes (2)
I've done exercises like this before. In Seminary, we started out the first class of our first year by walking around the room, mingling together, pausing every few moments to clasp hands with a random person and look them directly in the eye. We said, "I see you, (name)!" They would say, "And I see you, (name)!" in return. It was also the last exercise we did in the last class of Seminary, and the differences were huge. My comfort level had changed dramatically, both with myself and with the others in the class who had made it to the end of the journey with me.

That was different, though. I was looking into the eyes of people who were there to hold me up. There isn't much point in dragging down fellow Seminarians, after all. You're there to support one another. I am my own worst critic, though, and the thought of having to look myself in the eyes made me shiver. I did it, however.

It's not comfortable (3)
I looked up into my own eyes. I stumbled through the words. Then I waited. It was a dismally short wait, of course. I'd say I lasted maybe two seconds before I began to criticize myself. I didn't mean to, but my inner voices immediately noted the dark circles under my eyes, and that my complexion is currently not the best. I let them natter on for about 30 seconds and then smiled at myself and went off to bed.

This morning, I repeated the exercise. I'll continue to do so twice a day for 30 days, and see what happens. I don't believe the blessed silence lasted much past the two second mark this morning, either, but I knew I was resolved to do it and it had an energy to it that last night's practice did not.

I encourage you to join me in 30 days of self-appreciation. Remember that accepting yourself unconditionally doesn't mean you can't be aware of flaws that need to be improved on. I know I need to lose weight, and I accept that. It doesn't mean I have to like myself or accept myself any less right now, though. So, do you think you can make it through 30 days of this?

Check back often for book reviews, prayers, ceremonies and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect. If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
You may also be interested in:

Mother Teresa
The Silence
Women in Shawls

1) Image by Kenn W. Kiser / morgueFile
2) Image by Iván Melenchón Serrano / morgueFile
3) Image by Charmaine Swart / morgueFile

Friday, March 1, 2013

Mother Teresa

Rosary (1)
Mother Teresa: Anything but a saint...

I want to share this article with people. I share it not to trash Mother Teresa, but because I have heard several times now from people who have either lived or visited Calcutta who warned me away from the beatific myth of the saint.

This is not an article written by "people who visited" but by researchers. I doubt they have much to gain by writing what they have. They systematically point out problems and errors with Mother Teresa's propaganda and media campaigns.

I also share the article because of the final paragraph, which basically says the woman is dead and if a myth of her being a saint makes other people more comfortable with helping others, then maybe it was worth it. I very much love that they are doing their best not to take away from the positive things that were and ARE done in Mother Teresa's name.

Check back often for book reviews, prayers, ceremonies and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect. If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
You may also be interested in:

The Silence
Women in Shawls

1) Image by clarita / morgueFile

Thursday, February 28, 2013


Alright, I'll admit, this isn't terribly spiritual or "holy" of me, but I can't help it. I am a stationery junkie. I love new notebooks, pens, paper, sticky notes, and especially business cards. These are my new business cards, and I just had to share!

I know it's a little silly, but I am very much in love with them. I love the colors in them. I chose bright colors to reflect my nature, which is somewhat day-glo according to some. The world is a wonderful place!

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


Look at yourself (1)
Every morning when I get up, I look in the mirror. What I see depends on many factors: what time I awoke, what time I fell asleep, whether I slept well, if I'm healthy or ill, and whether I've had my morning coffee yet, as well as countless others. Some days when I look in the mirror, I see a sleepy but beautiful woman with eyes that shine brightly. Some days I'm more inclined to be judgmental, and I see the messy hair and the squinting eyes.

We're all like that. Some days we see the positive, and others the negative. I think it's natural to find ourselves more attractive when we're feeling up and good, and less attractive when we're feeling down and sad. Of course, what we see is not what the world sees.

It can be very disturbing to look at yourself closely. I don't mean the time you spend examining your teeth for plaque or worrying over the pimple that's cropped up on your chin. That's just paying attention to the minutia. What I am referring to is looking into the mirror and observing yourself as a whole, as a single entity, rather than as your various bits and pieces.

Try looking into the mirror and saying, out loud, "I see you." I'll bet that the first few times you do it, you'll be uncomfortable. You might even blush, or stammer. It will probably be difficult to meet your own eyes. If you master that one, try expanding it: "I see you, and I accept you."

Ouch. For someone with low self-esteem, that one actually hurts, at least for a while. There's a part of the brain that tells you you're lying when you say that. It makes it even more difficult to meet your own gaze, to look yourself in the eye with head held high. When I started doing this exercise (as a part of my seminary journey), I saw myself as shifty, unattractive, and aloof.

Allyson at her ordination
By the time I made it through to ordination, I was still occasionally uncomfortable but I could look myself in the eye and grin as I said it. It might be hard to do, but it was no longer a lie. The more effort you put into looking at yourself, the better you get at it. When you're comfortable knowing what you look like, what you really look like, you can begin to accept yourself.

A lot of self-help books talk about learning to love yourself. It's an important thing. But most of them seem to neglect this simple external exercise. Who are YOU? Your insides are important, yes, but so are your external parts. Your face, your hands, your belly and butt,  your thighs and sexual organs are all very much a part of your existence, and if you're not comfortable with each and every one of those parts, then you still have work to do.

This is not to say that you can't be critical about your external self. When I look in the mirror, I know that I need to lose weight. I'm okay with that. I accept that. It doesn't make me look away from my reflection, though. I love myself and my body, as I am, flaws and all. I can want to make it better, work at improving it, and still be supportive of its current state.

The world is full of people who want to put us down. Let's not let ourselves be a part of that morass of negativity. Take the two minutes to look yourself in the eye and say hello. Get to know yourself anew!

A challenge: over the next week, every time you pass a mirror, look in it. Be observant, and jot down notes when you can. What time is it? How do you feel? How did you sleep? What just happened to you that may affect how you look or see yourself? Be descriptive, noting your feelings, your sense of attractiveness (or lack thereof). See if you can find any patterns, and then decide if they're positive or negative, and what to do with those patterns.

Check back often for book reviews, prayers, ceremonies and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect. If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
You may also be interested in:

The Silence
Women in Shawls
Imperfect Perfections
Old Poetry

1) Image by mensatic / morgueFile

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Silence

Victims suffer (1)
Victims of abuse suffer.

It's a statement everyone can agree with. It's a fact. The problem is that we, Community, make it worse. In our response to abuse, to the sharing of abused people, we worsen the degree of that abuse. This is especially true when it comes to the kind of abuse that doesn't leave broken bones, visible scars, and bruises. When you can't immediately see the effects of abuse, it's possible (even natural?) to try and dismiss it.

In general, your run of the mill abuser is very good at blending in. They look "just like everyone else." Ask anyone who has just found out they lived next to a Jeffrey Dahmer or Ted Bundy for years and they'll tell you that the abuser was a quiet person, seemed nice, very calm. They talk a good talk, and at least on the surface appear to walk their talk. Their victims certainly see the reality, the horror, the abuse, but they can't talk about it.

We, as a society, are aiders and abettors to the abuser. We make it difficult, almost impossible, for the victim to talk about what is happening to them. I don't say this lightly. I have been in the position of the victim, both as a child and as an adult. I am ashamed to say that I've also abetted in someone's abuse, albeit unknowingly.

I know that when I see a hint of abusive behavior from someone, I question myself. "Did I really see that? Surely there must be extenuating circumstances . . . ?" It's a normal reaction. We try not to jump to conclusions about other people, and that's a good thing. That is the same reaction we give, however, when the partner of an abuser comes to us.

Think about it. Your best friend comes to you and says, "My wife is abusing me." What's the first thing that comes to your mind? For me, for many, the response would be, "Um . . . really?" Our first natural response is to tell the victim that we're not sure we should believe them. Our hesitance is then translated inside that abused mind into a loud disbelief. We may express hesitance but they hear denial.

Society has taught us to doubt. In some cases it's a good response. Not every claim of abuse is true, and when you're talking about people being emotionally or physically abusive, you certainly don't want to jump to bad conclusions immediately. You're talking about a person's honor, their dignity, their ability to tell the truth. You don't throw that away on one claim.

Look at it from the victim's point of view, though. Put yourself in their shoes. You've been hit or verbally blasted for years. Your self-esteem is in the basement. You cry yourself to sleep every night. You finally manage to gather up the strength to tell someone about the abuse, and instead of help, you get doubt. "Oh . . . really?" You deflate. Likely you cry. If you're lucky, the person you're talking to listens longer. Most of the time they just turn away. If you happen to be unlucky, they put you down for telling lies or "airing dirty laundry" in public.

The problem then becomes one of perception. The abuser often hasn't said anything nasty about you in public. Now you're saying something nasty about them. Suddenly the public eye is on you, and people who have been friends may be wondering why you're saying these horrible things about their other friend. You become branded a troublemaker, insincere, a liar, a hypocrite. Reality is turned on its head and now you come across as the aggressor. Your abuser stands to the side, a smirk on her face that only you can see.

By talking about their abuse, the victim gains even more abuse from other people around them. It isn't purposeful; it's a natural response to hearing something that seems so out of character about another person who you may or may not know well. The victim begins to hear things from others about what a bad person they are, how they're maligning the character of the abuser. Often, it goes much farther as the abuser begins to manipulate and misdirect the people around the victim. Worse, the abuser often ramps up the abuse through words or actions, goading the victim into trying to find more help. Since it appears that the abuser is doing nothing, again the victim is seen as the bad person.

Our society, by being generally nice, silences the victim.

Depression (2)
The worst is still to come, however. The victim eventually begins to doubt themselves. Depression sets in. They cease talking to anyone, and are then branded "depressed" or "antisocial". People stop wanting to be around the victim, because the victim never seems happy. The fact that the victim is unhappy because they can't talk about their abuse or find a way out of it doesn't occur to those silencing them. If they're very smart, the abuser has already "predicted" this withdrawal from society as a symptom of the victim's vengeance and pointed it out to those involved.

If it goes on long enough (such as when a parent abuses a child), the victim begins to see themselves as the problem. They begin to question if they perhaps harmed the abuser in some way. Did they say something wrong? It must be their own fault; if it wasn't, everyone would still love them and talk to them, right?

It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It becomes a horrible, awful, downward spiral.

How do we help these victims? I don't know. I wish I did. I'm guilty of doing it myself. I doubt when I hear about people I think of as "good people" doing horrid things. I think of the people in my own life who thought of my abusers as being normal, happy people. They weren't bad people. They were just misguided, unable to see past the manipulations of the abusers. How can I blame them when I AM them, in some ways?

Perhaps the best thing we can do is listen. Have we heard both sides of the issue? Do you have any reason (previous lies, for instance) to doubt either party? If we can garner the strength to simply be there for both sides, to listen and discern and not judge either party, eventually the truth may become clear. Regardless, listening almost always helps. People generally don't do enough of it.

Understand that victims may need to be urged to share their feelings for a long time before they trust that it's okay to do so. They are often used to trust being broken by their abusers. They are used to being told how horrible they are for airing their abuse. Listening with them can help, if they are receiving communications from their abuser. Let them know that you can see it, too, or give constructive criticism if you do not see the abuse.

Help them to record abuse that happens. Write down times, dates, and events. Write down names. If it ever becomes necessary to tell the authorities about abuse, or if it becomes (or already is) physical abuse, having months or years of records does help. The unfortunate truth is that if they ask for help, they are going to have to prove to others that they are, indeed, being abused. That burden always falls to the victim.

When dealing with victims of abuse, I try to remind myself that they are actual VICTIMS. I will pause, and put into my mind that they are victims of a disease, like cancer or HIV, and that it is not their fault. A simple test would prove either disease, but proving abuse is a longer and more nasty affair. Unlike a disease, abuse is easy to disbelieve.

If someone said to you, "I'm dying of cancer," you would be immediately sympathetic. When someone says to you, "I'm being emotionally abused by my boyfriend," there is no immediate sympathy. You question them. Even if you never say it out loud, they can hear the hesitance in your voice. Their "disease" has the ability to kill them just as much as cancer or HIV but they have to defend that they actually have that disease. They have to live and re-live it for an endless parade of people who want to know every detail. They don't get one round of chemotherapy and hope for the best. They get endless rounds, and people continually telling them that they're stupid and not really suffering.

Abuse is invisible (3)
Abuse is a terrible thing. It's pervasive. It invades every cell of your body. It harms you, and it also forces you to hide that harm from the world. It makes you small, helpless, and reclusive. It makes people hate you. It has mental impact, and it also has a physical impact that results in aches, pains, depression, and a lowered immune response leading to general illness.

If you are in a helping profession (teaching, health care, ministerial work), you should be thinking about this long before it arrives on your doorstep. At some point, every person in a helping profession (and many who are not) will be put in the position of dealing with someone claiming to be abused. Sometimes it's easy to see. The broken arm or bruised face can be shown to a police officer and help is often quick to come. The broken spirit and bruised ego are not so easy to heal, though, and they don't show up on a medical scan.

When I was researching this article, I talked to people who were survivors of abuse. I listened to their feedback on what I had written. I asked if there was anything they would add, or that they thought needed saying. Unanimously, I was asked to include information about what happens in court.

I heard how victims of abuse (especially those who haven't been free of it long enough to be termed survivors yet) approach the legal system with a hopeful eye. Here, they think, is justice. Here is where someone will see my suffering, where I will finally get to say my word, and where I will be given justice. And then they arrive at court and realize that it simply doesn't work that way.

The court system is an unwieldy machine that rumbles on regardless of the emotions involved. Frequently, victims are held up as not trying hard enough. They are often told that, despite the fact that their abuser has taken everything, emptied bank accounts, sold off assets, they somehow owe something to their abusers. Even if they aren't put in the position of having to pay their abuser to get away, they can lose family heirlooms, jobs, vehicles, and even children. The court system is not your friend. Your lawyer may or may not be your friend. If you go into a legal case with the knowledge that no one is there to truly help you, and that you're going to be doing the emotional journey alone, you can prepare yourself.

It's not easy. It's not nice. At times you will find yourself wondering, "How come this is happening to me? I was the nice one!" You may discover you're thinking or dreaming about hurting your abuser in terrible ways. Don't get down on yourself about it; just be sure that it's a mental fantasy and not a reality. Remind yourself daily that you ARE better than your abuser, and that you can break that cycle of abuse. You do not need to stoop to lying, threatening or harassment in order to succeed. You are a good person.

If you need help, there are people and places that will do everything in their power to help you. Though this list is not exhaustive, I've tried to include a number of places that can offer solace. In case of any immediate physical abuse or threats to you or your children's lives, please call 911!

How will you deal with someone who is claiming to be abused? Can you open your heart to them? Can you listen without judging? Can you be there for them? Can you simply hold sacred space for them?

Check back often for book reviews, prayers, ceremonies and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect. If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
You may also be interested in:

Women in Shawls
Imperfect Perfections
Old Poetry
Morals and ethics are not equal to religion 

1) Image by dpawatts / mourgueFile
2) Image by clarita / mourgueFile
3) Image by hotblack / mourgueFile