Some holy humor

I just love all those funny church memes. Who says Christians can’t have a sense of humor? Here are my “Top 10” favorites this week.

When I saw this meme, I could still hear my own mother holding forth with one of her many “Momisms.”

Talk about missing the boat …

Needless to say, I made sure my sweet hubs saw this:

For anyone who has ever had to mess with technology at church …

And while we’re on the subject of technology …

As someone who had to do a lot of academic research over the course of my career, I find this one seriously funny.

I’m getting to just about the right age to appreciate this one.

There’s gotta be at least one COVID-19 meme in every bunch these days. I have a pair of “Cat in the Hat” slippers that would be perfect for the occasion.

Here’s one of my all-time favorites.

And another favorite … LOL!

Virtual blessings

My husband Pete and I have been part of our congregation’s choir for several years, and I’ve REALLY missed it since our church stopped having in-person Sunday services.

But, if there’s a silver lining behind the quarantine we’ve been living under for the past three months, it’s that I’ve discovered some absolutely superb “virtual choirs.”

Virtual choirs are a global phenomenon in which singers or other musicians record and upload their videos from their own homes or various other separate locations. Each one of the videos is then synchronized and all are combined into one single “performance.”

Since the COVID-19 “lockdowns” began in March, Christians around the world have come together in virtual choirs to sing blessings over their communities and nations. These choirs have showed us that, while many of our church buildings may be closed, church itself is alive and well.

I’m sharing some of my favorites here.

What better hymn can one possibly ask for in a season of stress, trouble and uncertainty than A Mighty Fortress Is My God? This virtual choir piece features the performances of 176 singers and musicians from 34 countries.

The Nashville Studio Singer Community formed a virtual cell phone choir to perform It is Well With My Soul. I’ve had a special sentimental attachment to this hymn since it was sung at my mother’s funeral.

The New York City Virtual Choir and Orchestra performed another one of my personal favorites, How Can I Keep from Singing?

Choristers from 50 countries affected by COVID-19 formed a virtual choir to sing Amazing Grace in a multitude of languages. The result is … truly amazing. I could watch this one 20 times and not get tired of it.

So far, choirs from at least a couple dozen countries have sung The Blessing. Christians all over the world have gathered in virtual choirs to sing blessings on their respective communities and nations in their own languages. This has been a truly ecumenical effort — churches represented range from Catholic and Mainline Protestant to Evangelical, Pentecostal and Coptic Orthodox. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed these renditions from the United Kingdom, France, Sweden and Ghana.

And this hauntingly beautiful hymn from a Middle Eastern virtual choir goes to show that a hymn need not be familiar, or even in one’s own language, to inspire. Listen to Healer all the way through — helpful English subtitles are provided — and prepare to be blown away!

Alas, Pete and I haven’t figured out the technology yet for joining any virtual choirs. However, we did manage to make this little video for our own congregation’s online service on Pentecost Sunday.

Blessings,

Recipe: Pineapple lime jello salad

This salad was a Sunday dinner staple at my grandparents’ house when I was growing up, and I still think of it as comfort food.

I took the classic recipe and removed some of the calories, fat and sugar content by using fat-free cottage cheese, sugar-free jello and pineapple canned in its own juice rather than syrup. And the salad is still delicious.

Ingredients

  • Small .3 ounce package sugar-free lime jello
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup ice cubes
  • 8 ounce can crushed pineapple in its own juice (no added sugar)
  • 1 cup fat free cottage cheese
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Directions

Bring the water to a boil and add the powdered jello, stirring until dissolved. Remove from heat and add the ice cubes, stirring until all the cubes have melted.

Drain the crushed pineapple and add to the jello.

Add the cottage cheese, then the chopped nuts, and stir until well blended.

Refrigerate for at least four hours, or preferably overnight.

Makes approximately 6 servings.

Nutrition Information

Serving size: 2/3 cup | Calories: 85 | Carbohydrates: 9 g | Protein: 6 g | Fat: 4 g | Saturated fat: 0 | Cholesterol: 2 mg | Sodium: 195 mg | Potassium: 140 mg | Fiber: 1 g | Sugar: 7 g | Vitamin A: 0% | Vitamin C: 7% | Calcium: 3% | Iron: 2%

Book excerpt: Are we part of the problem?

Note: This is an excerpt from We Need to Talk, my book in progress, which examines the polarization ripping apart our society and discusses what might be an appropriate Christian response. To read my first two excerpts, link HERE and HERE. For an overview of the book, link HERE.

Those of us who identify as Christians are in no position to judge secular society when it comes to polarization. We often stand justifiably accused of stirring the pot ourselves — and not in a good way. 

Granted, it’s irritating to hear atheists refer to our God as “your Sky Fairy.” But realistically, how many atheists have been brought to Christ through exchanges like this one, which appear all too frequently on social media sites?

Atheist: Your “god” is imaginary.

Christian: Your mind is of a reprobate. 

Atheist: I suspect even you know your own criminal religion is a joke. 

Christian: In the name of Christ, you are condemned. Make no mistake about it, with your beliefs you will positively burn.

And we’re not sparring solely with atheists. Here are just some of the things I’ve heard Christians say about other Christians in recent years:

That church is nothing more than a glorified country club. Their minister preaches heresy so as to avoid offending the rich people who support the congregation financially. … It would be nice if the folks at that church spent more time actually reading their Bibles and less time thumping on them. Maybe then they wouldn’t be so bigoted toward anyone who is different from them. … That church doesn’t preach the gospel. It offers entertainment. … You need to stay away from that church. Those people are not real Christians. … I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that church is the Great Harlot mentioned in the Book of Revelation.

A couple years ago, I joined an invitation-only Facebook group made up of people from a denomination that shall remain mercifully nameless — and felt like I’d entered the Twilight Zone. From the “About This Group” description, it was clear the administrator envisioned this discussion group as an outreach and evangelism tool. However, several conversation threads consisted of little more than name-calling and expletives NOT deleted. You are the anti-Christ and Were you born that stupid or do you have to practice? were just two of the lovelier sentiments expressed by commenters. F-bombs dropped on people left and right. Whenever someone responded to the nastier threads with the observation that we could all use a bit more civility, they were met with the kind of hostility one might expect if they’d suggested we all start cooking and eating puppies. 

Progressive and conservative Christians regularly maul and skewer each other on Web sites such as Patheos, both in the articles themselves and in the comments sections that follow: 

“Progressive Christian” is an oxymoron. … The Christian Right is neither. … Anyone who would vote for [a Democrat, a Republican, fill in the blank] has no right to call themselves a Christian.

Though I suppose nothing should shock me in the current political climate, I must admit I’ve been more than a little taken aback as I encounter these flame wars between Christians on the various social media sites. Even more disturbing is the fact that some of the ugliest vitriol has come from seminary students and members of the clergy.

As with the Culture Wars in our larger secular society, staying off social media does not necessarily keep us out of the line of fire. 

Pastors or congregation members who bring up moral issues ranging from abortion and gun violence to racism, immigration and economic justice are accused of “getting too political.” If we don’t believe this, we can go to a service where the gospel message is Matthew 25, Isaiah 1:17, or the Beatitudes and see how long it takes for someone to say, “Let’s not bring partisan politics into church.” Got a stopwatch? 

The Worship Wars transcend denominational boundaries. For years now, Christians of all stripes have been locked in an unyielding struggle over whether a congregation’s worship and music style should be traditional or contemporary: 

Okay Boomers, if you want to attract young people to your congregation, you need to lose the geezer music. … When I attended a contemporary service recently, I felt like I was in a bar rather than a church. … I do not want to see drums in the sanctuary!

Of course, one could argue that bickering among church people is nothing new. It’s been going on at least since New Testament times, judging from 1 Corinthians 1:11-13: 

For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brethren. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

In the Middle Ages, some Christians burned other Christians at the stake or subjected them to imprisonment, starvation, thumbscrews or the rack for alleged “heresy.” Depending on where one lived and which denomination’s leaders had power, one could face these forms of execution or torture for being a Catholic, a Lutheran, a Calvinist, an Anabaptist or just about any other sect in existence at the time.

While we no longer burn people alive in the 21st Century, we continue to divide ourselves and judge each other relentlessly. One reason we have literally hundreds of Christian denominations lies in our inability to agree on much of anything. The various sects and denominations offer contrasting teachings on everything from baptism (Sprinkling or immersion? Infant or older?) to communion (Wine or grape juice? Open or closed?) to how one gets “saved” (Baptism or personal decision?). Whether our brand of Christianity is conservative or progressive, some of us are very quick to label those who disagree with our interpretation of the truth: Heretic! Apostate! Satanic!

I have to admit I’ve been guilty of waxing snarky about other Christians myself at times. One day in Sunday School class, someone asked the group, “Do you think [well-known person] is really a Christian?” I replied with the proverbial wink-and-nudge, “By their fruits we shall know them,” and was gratified when several people laughed. I probably should have deposited a $20 fine in Rachel Held Evans’ Jar of Contention for that one. (For more about the Jar of Contention, link HERE.) I also have to admit several less-than-charitable thoughts came to mind as I wrote this blog post about divisive behavior among Christians. 

But in the end, this all leaves me feeling more sadness than anything else. Name-calling, flaming, trolling and other rude behavior stop genuine discussion in its tracks. Lashing out with insults toward those who disagree with us only gives others an excuse to discount us and dismiss our message. For those of us who claim to be people of faith, spewing hurtful and gratuitous snark gives people ammunition to call us hypocrites and declare they want nothing to do with either us or our religion. 

Yes, I get that church is a hospital for sinners and Christians need to attend precisely because we are less than perfect. In fact, most of us, myself included, tend to need forgiveness of the seventy-times-seven variety. But there has been a lot of talk in our congregations in recent years about the increasing numbers of young people who identify as “none” when asked their religion. If we were an unchurched young person and came across the behavior described here, would we want to come to church?

I’m certainly not suggesting we must all paste fake smiles on our faces and agree with everyone about everything in the name of civility. I’ve witnessed lots of sincere and intelligent Christians taking opposing stands on various hot-button issues and backing up their positions by pointing to relevant Biblical passages. Perfectly honest people can honestly differ. But to say that people who disagree with our own interpretation of the truth aren’t “real Christians” simply doesn’t strike me as helpful. 

Christians could show love for our neighbors by offering the secular world an example of how to disagree without being disagreeable. We need to start now.

Questions for readers: How has our society’s polarization impacted you personally? How do Christians avoid becoming part of the problem? I’d love to hear your responses to these questions, as well as your comments on the article itself. Just hit “Leave a Reply” below. When responding, please keep in mind the guidelines I’ve outlined on my Rules of Engagement page (link HERE).

Time for some cute animals

I know I’ve been spending way too much time on Facebook during this dang quarantine. But so far I’ve been resisting the urge — at least most of the time — to share the dozens of political memes that have been popping up on my news feed lately. I’d prefer to let others fight about the upcoming election and the best way to handle the coronavirus.

Cute animal memes help me maintain this discipline. So I’ve been collecting and sharing my favorites. Here are my “Top 10.”

Of all the variations on the “Woman Yells at Cat” meme, I think I like this one the best.

If the animals really could talk they’d probably say we taste like chicken.

Ms. Kitty means so well. How can we NOT be appreciative??

Get the tomato juice ready.

No truer meme was ever created.

An oldie but goodie.

Gotta have at least one bad pun.

Or two.

This is SO sweet.

And last but not least, my absolute favorite meme of all time.

God’s other book: In memory of a beautiful little show-off

Is it normal to be in mourning for a tree? Because I certainly am.

Spring tried to come a little too early to the Midwest this year. Normally, I love an occasional 60-degree day in January, but there really can be too much of a good thing at times.

The unseasonably warm weather lasted a couple of weeks instead of a couple days and caused several of my perennials to start coming up. Some of our trees began to bud. Not good. Usually this doesn’t happen until March. Winter came roaring back, like it always does. Most of my perennials survived, but my beautiful Rose of Sharon tree didn’t make it.

My Rose of Sharon sat on the front corner of our house. From midsummer until the first frost, this lovely little show-off greeted me with hundreds of blossoms as I pulled into the driveway. Its abundant profusion of blooms seemed to shout, “Glory to God!” The bees and the hummingbirds loved it.

I’ll never know if it was climate change that caused such an abnormally warm January, but I do know I’m going to miss this amazing little tree.

Mystery Blogger Award

First of all, I’d like to thank Alicia at For His Purpose (link HERE) for nominating me for the Mystery Blogger Award. Alicia shares heartfelt stories that keep Jesus at the center, told with refreshing honesty and a sense of humor. I always enjoy reading her posts. Be sure to check out her blog if you haven’t already. 

About the Mystery Blogger Award

This award was created by Okoto Enigma (link HERE) to recognize bloggers who “find fun and inspiration in blogging” and who “do it with so much love and passion.”The award also gives us a chance to create a friendly blogging community by telling others about our own favorite bloggers.

Here are the guidelines:

  1. Put the award logo on your blog.
  2. Thank the blogger who nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
  3. Mention the creator of the award.
  4. Answer the five questions you were asked.
  5. Tell the readers three things about yourself.
  6. Nominate 10 bloggers.
  7. Notify the bloggers that you nominated them by commenting on one of their posts.
  8. Ask your nominees five questions with one weird or funny one.
  9. Share a link to your best posts.

Three things about myself:

  1. I love cats.
  2. I have an insatiable sweet tooth.
  3. I have WAY too much stuff – I hope to use this quarantine period to sort through it all and discard about half of it!

My best posts:

  1. Spiritual Lessons from Animals (Link HERE)
  2. Confessions of a Spiritual Mutt (Link HERE)
  3. A De Facto Theist (Link HERE)

Five questions I was asked:

  1. Why do you write? I actually answered that question at length in a post titled “Why do I write?” (Link HERE)
  2. How long have you blogged with WordPress? A little over three years now. Wow, has it really been that long??
  3. How often do you post blogs? I try to post about once a week.
  4. What makes you laugh? My cats. They’re a source of continual merriment.
  5. Are you a night owl or a morning person? Night person, definitely. Repeated efforts to change this over the years have been utterly futile.

My nominees:

  1. Pete at Ordinary Time. (Link HERE.) A spiritual journal featuring the musings of a fellow “spiritual mutt” with “amoeba-like ecumenical tendencies.” 
  2. Chrissie at Word Quilt. (Link HERE.) Chrissie’s job title says it all: Happiness engineer. In addition to a great blog, she has provided me with lots of encouragement as I got my own blog up and running.
  3. Anne at Mehrling Muse. (Link HERE.) Delightful slice-of-life vignettes about family life in the North Carolina mountains.
  4. Kavita at Sunshiny SA Site. (Link HERE). Fascinating slice-of-life posts about living in South Africa.
  5. Elizabeth at Saved by Words. (Link HERE.) Thoughtful reflective essays and short memoir pieces on topics ranging from politics and religion to memories of her growing-up years.
  6. Annie at Seeking Divine Perspective. (Link HERE.) Lots of common-sense wisdom about seeking God’s perspective in our daily lives, told with refreshing humility and an engaging sense of humor.
  7. Sally at Theology of a Newfoundland Housewife. (Link HERE.) Meditations about Christian unity and rural life in Newfoundland.
  8. Jennifer at Feeding On Jesus. (Link HERE.) Countering the “angry bully” image of God that some of us picked up in childhood, by illustrating repeatedly that God is love. 
  9. J. Mankowsky at From My Window. (Link HERE.) Amazing photographs taken with a compact camera celebrating daily life in a variety of landscapes through the changing seasons.
  10. Susanne at Cats and Trails and Garden Tales. (Link HERE.) More fantastic photography, plus stories about her pair of adorable cats. What’s not to love?

Questions for my nominees:

  1. How would you describe yourself?
  2. What inspired you to start your blog?
  3. What’s one thing you’ve changed your mind about over the years?
  4. Funny question: Have you been able to find toilet paper?
  5. Weird question: What’s your weirdest quirk?

To my nominees, please don’t feel pressured to participate. (Or, if you’ve been nominated before, don’t feel obligated to participate again.) Just know that I appreciate reading your posts, I’m so grateful you read mine, and your comments and feedback help me grow! 

If you do participate, send me a link and let me know. I would love to read your answers! Stay healthy!

Blessings,

Recipe: Homemade granola

Granola is so-o-o-o tasty. 

But alas, the store-bought variety is often chock-full of unhealthy ingredients – refined sugar, saturated fat and salt. And did I mention that most granola is a veritable calorie bomb? Some store-bought granolas have as many as 250 calories per 1/4 cup serving. 

So I decided to make my own. This version replaces the unhealthy fat with omega-3-rich olive oil and eliminates both the added sugar and added salt. The recipe can be made gluten-free as well. (Just make sure the rolled oats are certified gluten-free.) 

What’s left is good-for-you protein and fiber and about half the calories.

Now I’m going to confess: I just go ahead and allow myself a more realistic 1/2 cup serving rather than limiting myself to 1/4 cup if I’m eating my own granola as cereal. And I add 1/4 cup rather than the recommended two tablespoons to my yogurt if I’m having a fresh fruit parfait. That means I’ll end up consuming the same number of calories, but I get to eat twice as much.

This recipe makes approximately 4-5 cups of granola, depending on whether one adds the optional dried fruit. I generally make some with the fruit to enjoy as cereal with nonfat milk, and some without the dried fruit so I can add it to a fresh fruit parfait.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup sugar-free maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 cup unsalted sliced almonds or chopped pecans
  • 1 cup unsweetened raisins or dried cranberries (optional)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the oil, syrup, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg in a large bowl. Use a stick blender if necessary to mix thoroughly.

Add the oats and nuts and stir until completely coated with the oil and syrup mixture.

Spread the mixture onto a large baking sheet sprayed with nonstick cooking oil.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes or so, until golden brown.

Add the fruit after removing from the oven.

Allow to cool completely before storing in an air-tight container.

Nutrition information for plain granola

Serving size: 1/2 cup | Calories: 200 | Carbohydrates: 19 g | Protein: 5 g | Fat: 13 g | Saturated fat: 1 g | Cholesterol: 0 | Sodium: 20 mg | Potassium: 90 mg | Fiber: 4 g | Sugar: 0 | Iron: 3% 

Nutrition information for granola with dried fruit added

Serving size: 1/2 cup | Calories: 245 | Carbohydrates: 32 g | Protein: 5 g | Fat: 13 g | Saturated fat: 1 g | Cholesterol: 0 | Sodium: 20 mg | Potassium: 90 mg | Fiber: 8 g | Sugar: 5 g | Iron: 3% 

Sometimes I just pour skim milk on the granola and enjoy. But on mornings when I have a little time to relax, I figure, “Why stop there?”

One of my favorite breakfast treats is a fresh fruit parfait. I start with about 3/4 cup of fat-free plain Greek yogurt, pile on a generous layer of fresh fruit such as strawberries, raspberries or blueberries, add about 1/4 cup of my homemade granola, and top with a dollop of sugar-free whipped cream.

Yummmmm!

Nutrition information for Fruit Parfait

Calories: 235 | Carbohydrates: 25 g | Protein: 20 g | Fat: 8 g | Saturated fat: 1 g | Cholesterol: 10 mg | Sodium: 75 mg | Potassium: 395 mg | Fiber: 4 g | Sugar: 11 g | Vitamin C: 50% | Calcium: 15% | Iron: 1%