Recipe kits for your neighborhood micro pantry

About a month ago, I shared a post (link HERE) about the micro food pantries that are popping up outside churches, schools and businesses in communities around the country. The post included a list of nonperishable foods, cleaning supplies and personal hygiene items that people like to put in these miniature food pantries.

Here’s another idea for stocking your church’s or community’s micro pantry: Create the same kind of meal kits or recipe kits offered by meal delivery services such as Sunbasket, HelloFresh or Blue Apron.

I absolutely adore Sunbasket’s nifty little kits, which contain all the ingredients needed to prepare a recipe, thereby eliminating the need to run to the grocery store at the last minute for that one ingredient we need and don’t have in our fridge or cupboard.

So I got to thinking: Might a person using one of our community’s micro pantries appreciate finding a kit like this as well?

Of course, a major challenge when creating a recipe kit for a micro pantry is that only nonperishable ingredients can be used, which rules out ingredients like milk, eggs, fresh meats and most produce. But with a little ingenuity, it is possible to create a reasonably nutritious and tasty recipe using only nonperishables.

One of my favorite quickie meals at our house is tuna noodle casserole. All the ingredients for this super easy and filling recipe are nonperishable items, which makes it ideal for a micro pantry kit: a packet or can of tuna, a bag of egg noodles, a can of cream of mushroom soup, a can or jar of mushrooms and a container of parmesan cheese.

To make a kit, first create a label that looks something like this one, listing the items in the bag along with directions for making the recipe. (Note: When I make the tuna casserole recipe myself, I use a 5-ounce packet of tuna, 16-ounce bag of noodles, 10-ounce can of soup and 10-ounce jar of mushrooms, so you may want to purchase similar-sized containers of each of these ingredients for your kit in order to make the recipe work.)

Paste or tape the label to the outside of a paper bag. A plain sturdy gift bag with handles on it large enough to hold all the ingredients will work nicely.

Then just fill the bag with the recipe ingredients and place the kit in your church or neighborhood micro pantry next time you’re out and about.

If your church or civic organization wants to make this a group activity, some food pantries also welcome these meal/recipe kits. Or, if your community has several micro pantries scattered around town, you can make up several of the bags and deliver a few to each of the micro pantries.

At church, your youth group or community service committee could encourage congregation members to donate the ingredients. This project could also make a great service activity for other civic organizations you or your children belong to, such as Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts.

Our annual Christmas letter

Dear Family and Friends,

This holiday season finds us so sick of the pandemic we want to stick our fingers in our ears and scream until the frustration dissipates. And how are you??

We’re slowly beginning to grasp the reality that things aren’t getting “back to normal” anytime soon – if ever – so we might as well adjust to “the new normal.” Or – as we like to joke – “the new abnormal.” (Nobody’s ever been normal around our house.)

Among other pandemic activities, we’ve been growing ponytails. My hair hasn’t been this long since high school, and Pete’s wasn’t this long even during his hippie stage. Now that our hair has grown out, we’ve both decided we kind of like it that way. We can just stick it in a ponytail on bad hair days instead of having to fuss with it. Check out our “before” and “after” photos below.



Despite our COVID fatigue, this Christmas is a time for immense gratitude! We survived a major scare in October that culminated in a two-week hospital stay for Pete. His heart raced along at 130-150 beats a minute for several days; he had pneumonia; and to top it off, a CT scan showed a quarter-size mass on one lung, which the doctors seemed convinced was cancer. He was admitted to the hospital for a cardiac ablation, a PET scan, a biopsy and treatment for his pneumonia. For two agonizing weeks, we both pleaded with God. Our prayers were answered. The mass on his lung turned out not to be malignant – GLORY HALLELUJAH!!!!!!!! – and the ablation procedure went without a hitch. His pneumonia is slowly healing.

Prior to the hospital stay, we were beginning to feel like characters in the movie Groundhog Day. Since Feb. 29, 2020, we seemed to be living the same day again and again … and again. Once the hospital adventure ended, however, we decided, “Groundhog Day is over!” Time to turn the calendar to a new day.

So we’re now doing something quite new and different: We’re in training to become part of the Associates Program for the Dominican Sisters in our community. Associates assist, among other things, with the Dominicans’ social justice activities. We’ve both admired the Dominican Sisters for a number of years. During our 20-plus years of working for human service agencies and teaching at Benedictine University, we saw up close the many valuable contributions they’ve made to our community – from serving as board members or in other volunteer capacities, to mentoring and helping nonprofit organizations with badly needed funding, to working with the Christian community in Iraq and Kurdistan.

We continue to be involved in our own congregation, of course, but in some rather new ways. Since COVID broke out, we’re been “attending” church online and doing book group and Bible study sessions via Zoom. Our church’s choir, which we sang in for years, is not active at this time due to safety concerns, but we’re finding other ways to contribute our time and talents. After the beginning of the year, we’ll be leading an adult faith formation class on the Ten Commandments. We’ll do this on Zoom, which means we’ll need to get up to speed on that technology. Wish us luck.

On the home front, we started growing milkweed in one of our flower beds a couple years ago and this year we got our first monarch caterpillars. Six of them!! We were so excited. We loved watching them busily munching away on the milkweed as they grew … and grew. Those little guys are voracious eaters. Then they wandered off one by one to begin their pupa stage.

But later we spotted a small flock of monarch butterflies sipping nectar from the other flowers in our yard and we like to think these were our former caterpillars. To increase the possibility that we’ll get to host lots more caterpillars next year, we’ve added several more milkweed plants to our flower beds. In fact, we’re doing our best to turn as much of the backyard as possible into a giant butterfly garden. We like to think of this project as “God’s work, our hands.”

Oley and Champaign continue to be their feisty, sweet, ornery selves. So, we can’t finish up our Christmas letter without including at least a couple of cute kitty photos.

Here’s hoping everyone has a safe Christmas and an even better New Year.


Recipe: Ostkaka

This Swedish dessert is a favorite at our house during the Christmas season, and has been passed down in my family for several generations.

The name ostkaka can be roughly translated as “cheesecake” – “ost” meaning “cheese” and “kaka” meaning “cake.” But the dessert is a bit different from American cheesecake, not quite as sweet and with a slightly different texture.

To make it, older generations of my family used curdled milk, produced by adding rennet to a mixture of warm milk and flour. They then added heavy cream, sugar and eggs to make a batter. My parents’ generation simplified the recipe, using cottage cheese in place of curdled milk, and it tastes the same (at least to me). Needless to say, the latter version is much easier to make.

Over the years, my mother and I developed a few additional recipe adjustments to accommodate diabetes and other dietary restrictions. I use fat-free cottage cheese, substitute egg beaters for the eggs, substitute half and half or even whole lactose-free milk for the heavy cream, and replace sugar with an equivalent amount of sugar substitute. Rice flour can be used to make the recipe gluten free. The result is still delicious.

Our family likes to serve the ostkaka with lingonberries, but if these prove hard to find, strawberry jam or sliced strawberries can also be used.


  • 4 eggs or 1/2 cup egg beaters
  • 3 cups fat-free cottage cheese
  • 2 cups half & half or whole milk
  • 1/3 cup regular or rice flour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
  • Sweetener equivalent to 1/2 cup sugar
  • Lingonberries, strawberry jam or sliced strawberries


Blend together the eggs, sweetener, cream or milk, flour and extract until smooth.

Stir in the cottage cheese until well-blended and pour the mixture into a cake pan.

Bake in a 350-degree oven for an hour, or until it rises a bit and is slightly brown on top.

Allow the dessert to cool at least four hours or overnight in the refrigerator.

Top each individual serving with about a tablespoon of lingonberries, strawberry jam or sliced strawberries.

Nutrition information

My version, made with egg beaters, whole milk and sugar substitute, topped with a tablespoon of lingonberries.

Serving size: 3/4 cup | Calories: 120 | Carbohydrates: 14 g | Protein: 10 g | Fat: 2 g | Saturated Fat: 1 g | Cholesterol: 13 mg | Sodium: 300 mg | Potassium: 240 mg | Fiber: 1 g | Sugar: 9 g | Vitamin A: 9% | Vitamin C: 0% | Calcium: 17% | Iron: 1%

A great giving opportunity: Micro food pantries

One of the niftier ideas to gain traction in recent years has been the micro pantry movement. We now have about 20 of these miniature food pantries scattered around our community – including one we just installed this year at our church.

Micro food pantries operate on a simple premise: “Take what you need. Leave what you can.” There are no sign-ups and no strings attached. If we are in need, micro pantries are there for us. And if we’re extra-blessed, we can help someone else.

The micro pantry movement provides another source of help for those who may be too embarrassed to seek assistance from a traditional food pantry, those who feel intimidated by the bureaucratic paperwork involved in receiving assistance from a government program, or those who don’t quite qualify for public assistance but are still strapped for cash between paychecks.

These little pantries – which have begun to pop up in communities all over the country – have also provided a wonderful low-contact, high-impact way for neighbors to help neighbors during the pandemic when more traditional, face-to-face volunteer activities have posed too much of a health risk.

Our church built our own micro pantry this year. About the size of a large kitchen cabinet, it turned out to be fairly easy to construct. Click HERE for a link to the design and instructions we used.

We placed it in a well-lit area next to the sidewalk leading up to one of our front entrances. People can safely access it 24 hours a day, seven days a week, no questions asked. Congregation members are encouraged to bring items and help keep it filled.

Once our little pantry was built, here are some examples of nonperishable items that have made great micro pantry offerings.

  • Fixings for sandwiches: Bread, peanut butter, jelly, canned tuna, canned chicken, mustard, mayo, pickle relish.
  • Canned goods: Soups and stews, chili, fruits and vegetables, potatoes or yams, corn, baked beans, jars of baby food.
  • Canned or nonperishable meats: Tuna, chicken, Spam, sardines, Hormel Compleats.
  • Boxed meal kits: Macaroni and cheese, mixes such as Hamburger Helper, pasta noodles and pasta sauces.
  • Other shelf-stable foods: Rice, dried beans, Ramen noodles, instant mashed potatoes, powdered milk, evaporated milk, powdered eggs.
  • Breakfast items: Dry cereal, prepackaged instant oatmeal, fruit juice, fruit cups, shelf-stable breakfast pastries.
  • Healthy snack foods: Crackers, granola or cereal bars, trail mix, peanuts, almonds or any nuts, P3 protein packs, jerky.

We also like to put items in our micro pantry that people can’t buy using SNAP benefits.

  • Grooming supplies: Toilet paper, shampoo and conditioner, body soap, disposable razors, toothpaste and toothbrushes, tampons or pads, baby wipes.
  • Cleaning supplies: Dish soap, laundry soap, bleach, sponges, paper towels.
  • Disposable face masks. I’ve ordered them online in boxes of 50 and put them in plastic sandwich bags in batches of 5 or 10 per bag.
  • Pet food: I sometimes even like to leave a little something for Fido or Fluffy – small cans or packages of dog or cat food.

When contributing items for the pantry, I like to leave a combination of small serving/individual-size items for single individuals, and larger economy-size items for families.

I’ve also repurposed those little packets containing napkins and plastic silverware that come in to-go restaurant orders. That way, homeless people who avail themselves of food in the pantry have something to eat it with. The sample-size soap and shampoo picked up from hotel rooms are perfect as well.

Our church’s little pantry has been getting well-used and it has been a fairly easy project for our community service committee to maintain.

Perhaps just as importantly, it has provided a great way for my husband and I and other congregation members to keep contributing to our community despite quarantining and other restrictions imposed by this endless pandemic.

This adds up to a win-win situation for everyone, giver and receiver alike.

My gratitude list for 2021

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever.
– 1 Chronicles 16:34

Each year I like to celebrate Thanksgiving by reviewing my blessings. This year, I have even more reason than usual for gratitude.

My husband and I survived a major scare that began in October with a trip to the emergency room. Pete’s heart had been racing 130 beats a minute for several hours, he had pneumonia, and to top it off, a CT scan showed a quarter-size mass on one lung, which the doctors seemed convinced was cancer. He was admitted to the hospital for a cardiac ablation, a PET scan, a biopsy and treatment for his pneumonia.

For two agonizing weeks, I pleaded with God. After 36 years of marriage, my husband is still at the very top of my gratitude list. He’s kind, generous, decent and caring, my best friend, the wind beneath my wings, proof positive that there are good men, and the best thing that ever happened to me. If I must be stranded on a desert island (or in my home during a months-long quarantine, which sort of feels like the same thing), I can’t think of a better person to be marooned with. I love that man to the moon and back!

Our prayers were answered. The mass on his lung turned out not to be malignant – HALLELUJAH!!!!!!!! – and the ablation procedure went without a hitch. His pneumonia is slowly healing.

Just as we were catching our breath from that crisis, we got to take another trip to the emergency room – for me this time. As I rode in the ambulance, the pain in the lower right side of my abdomen was so excruciating, I was sure I was dealing with a ruptured appendix. Luckily the problem turned out to be a kidney stone that passed while I was in the ER, and the pain dissipated as quickly as it had come on.

I’m not sure God expects us to be grateful for affliction. However, I’m certainly grateful for the people God puts in our lives to help us through the scary stuff. The friends, family members, church people and total strangers who prayed for us, along with the steady stream of calls, get well-cards, Facebook messages and even bad puns helped us more than people could possibly know!

While the pandemic continues to upend our lives in a variety of ways, I have plenty of other things to be grateful for this year as well:

My family. I have sisters and cousins who double as friends, along with wonderful nieces and nephews. Perhaps it’s our increasing awareness of life’s fragility, but we’ve all made a greater-than-usual effort to stay connected this past couple of years, even when we couldn’t get together in person.

Our kitties. My life has been graced with some fine cats, dating back to earliest childhood. Oley and Champie are cuddly, entertaining, delightfully ornery and endlessly adorable. These sweet fur babies curl up next to me while I sleep, sit in my lap while I work at my desk, comfort me when I’m distressed, and love me unconditionally.  

Good friends, past and present. These irreplaceable people know my quirks and flaws and continue to stick around anyway.

Our church community. Our church has been a lifeline for us during the pandemic, with its live-streamed services and its Bible studies, book group and committee meetings all accessible via Zoom. We are especially grateful to the dedicated team of volunteers who quickly learned the technology necessary to make these virtual connections happen.

Other spiritual support. This month, Pete and I resumed our spiritual direction journey with a colleague of our beloved Sister M, who was our spiritual director prior to her death in 2020.

Zoom and FaceTime. These amazing technologies have helped us stay connected with family, friends, our church community and the rest of the outside world – even doctors – in spite of the pandemic. What a gift.

Essential workers. Thank God for the people who deliver our groceries, provide our health care and otherwise make sure we have what we need. These amazing people continuously remind me that our own ability to shelter in place and stay safe has actually been a privilege, not something to gripe about. And those essential workers – from doctors to CNAs – who helped nurse Pete back to health last month deserve a medal.

Our dream house. We have a cozy fireplace to sit next to during morning and evening meditation, a sunroom filled with plants, a large eat-in kitchen, office space for each of us, a yard filled with flower beds and a lovely neighborhood. 

Financial security. A secure source of retirement income means we can afford supplemental health insurance along with our Medicare, and we don’t have to worry about how we’re going to pay all those hospital bills. Being able to hire someone to mow our grass has certainly made my life easier as well.

Mother Nature in all her majesty. No matter which season we’re in, I love the wildlife that populates our backyard – the birds, squirrels, rabbits and butterflies. This year, a real highlight was getting to host a half dozen monarch caterpillars on the milkweed I planted.

Being alive. God has granted me another year. While many folks complain about aging (and I must admit I do this myself from time to time), today I choose to be grateful I’ve been able to grow old. Especially after the adventures of the past couple of years.

For all of this, God, I thank you.

And so, I resolve to keep reminding myself each day: Today is the day our Creator has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Here’s hoping everyone has a safe and happy Thanksgiving!


God’s other book: Fall colors and a bit of history

This week, both the weather and the leaves were simply too gorgeous for Pete and I to even consider staying inside. So we hopped in our car and drove up to New Salem, where we could drink in some history along with the beautiful fall colors.

Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site, one of several popular Lincoln sites in central Illinois, is a reconstruction of the 1830s pioneer village where Abraham Lincoln spent his early adulthood.

A statue of Lincoln as surveyor greets us just before we enter the village. Below is the path leading into the village, where we prepare to be taken back 200 years.

Along the path are a total of 23 cabins, shops and other buildings.

Most of the buildings contain period artifacts, many of which were gathered from descendants of New Salem residents. Lincoln’s surveyor’s tools are on display as well.

Visitors can walk at their leisure on self-guided tours through the grounds to view the buildings. Little plaques on the doors leading into each of the buildings explain their significance.

Costumed interpreters are also present in some of the buildings during the height of the tourist season, but this week, we pretty much had the place to ourselves.

A covered wagon sits along the side of the road. Wooden fences like the one below can be seen in several places in the village.

My favorite handsome gentleman posed for a photo as we got ready to leave.

Even the parking lot was pretty, as was the scene that greeted us when we turned onto the highway and got back to the 21st century.

Our Holy Land pilgrimage: Immersing ourselves

One of the best things about the Holy Land tour my husband and I took several years ago was the chance to totally immerse ourselves in once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

These unforgettable experiences included attending a church service conducted in three languages simultaneously, taking communion on a boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, placing our own written prayers along with millions of others in the cracks of the Western Wall, feasting on delicious food, taking a dip in the Dead Sea and even meeting a camel face-to-face.

Above is the kibbutz where we stayed for the first part of our trip. Everywhere we went, we encountered the most amazing food. We visited restaurants with whole tables full of vegetable dishes, like the spread below. Good thing, too, because there were equally large tables full of irresistible pastries.

At one of our stops we got to meet a friendly camel. We were offered a chance to ride a camel, if we wished, but I settled for petting this one. Below, several members of our tour group took the opportunity to wade in the Dead Sea.

The Ancient Galilee Boat, above, also known as the Jesus Boat, is a first-century fishing boat discovered on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. Members of our tour group shared communion in the middle of the Sea of Galilee while in a replica of the Jesus Boat, below.

For the communion service on the boat, we obtained the bread and grape juice, pictured below, from a little shop in Cana.

Several times during our trip, I found myself remarking, “This is what Pentecost must have felt like.” At each holy site we visited, we could hear tour groups, like the one above, from all over the world singing hymns or sharing devotions in every language imaginable.

On Sunday our own tour group attended a service at Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, pictured below. A German tour group was also present, along with the local church members. Everyone prayed and sang the familiar hymns in their own languages, so during the service, we could hear English, German and Arabic being sung and spoken simultaneously.

During the church service, we thumbed through a hymnbook in which we found Silent Night in Arabic. Note that the music and text are read from right to left on the page.

The “Pentecost feeling” continued at the Church of the Pater Noster, part of a Carmelite monastery in Jerusalem, where the walls are used to display the Lord’s Prayer in more than a hundred different languages and dialects. Below is the Lord’s Prayer in Hebrew and Aramaic.

Our tour group visited several programs operated by the Lutheran World Federation, including Augusta Victoria Hospital, above, in East Jerusalem. The hospital provides speciality care for Palestinians from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Quilts like those below, made by members of our congregation, are often sent to this hospital, and we were told the patients truly appreciate the quilts.

A special highlight of our trip was a visit to the Western Wall, below, a Jewish holy site in the Old City of Jerusalem. It has long been a practice to insert slips of paper containing written prayers to God into the cracks and crevices of the Western Wall. It is estimated that more than a million prayer notes are placed there each year. Of course, Pete and I added our own.

Our Holy Land pilgrimage: The Bible comes alive

Jerusalem … Bethlehem … Nazareth … the Sea of Galilee … the Road to Damascus.

From the time I was a child and began reading all the Bible stories, I had always visualized in my mind what these places looked like.

When my husband Pete and I checked off one of our bucket-list items several years ago and toured the Holy Land, many of these places turned out to be somewhat different from what I envisioned.

For example, the Sea of Galilee turned out to be … a very large lake.

I had always pictured Bethlehem and Nazareth as quaint little villages. While they actually were humble agricultural villages in the time of Jesus, they are now bustling densely-packed small cities of about 30,000 and 75,000 people respectively.

Modern Jerusalem did turn out to be much like I’d imagined, mostly because I’d seen so many pictures of it in the news media over the years.

Even though some of these places have changed considerably since Bible times, being there was an amazing experience. I had a sense of the Bible stories coming alive while I walked where Jesus and other people of the Bible lived and walked.

Here are some of the places we had the privilege of visiting, along with their Biblical significance.


The Bible mentions Jerusalem more than any other place (about 800 times). It was the city to which Jesus was brought as a child to be presented at the Temple and to attend festivals, where he preached and healed, and where he died and was resurrected. Pictured here is a panoramic view of the Old City.


The oldest still-inhabited city in the Middle East, Jericho is perhaps best known as the site of the Battle of Jericho described in the book of Joshua. Pictured here is the entrance to the modern city.


Bethlehem is where David came from, and where he was crowned king of Israel. And, of course, it was later the birthplace of Jesus. While many of the streets of the modern city had bumper-to-bumper traffic, parts of the city actually did look like I envisioned it looking in Bible times, including the street scene here.


The Gospel of Luke tells us Nazareth was Mary’s home village as well as the site where she learned from the angel Gabriel that she would give birth to Jesus. Joseph and Mary resettled there with young Jesus after returning from the flight to Egypt from Bethlehem. Pictured here is a panoramic view of the modern city.

Jordan River

The Jordan River features prominently in the Hebrew Scriptures as the border of the Promised Land. The Gospels tell us John’s baptism of Jesus took place there, as did many more baptisms conducted by Jesus and his disciples.


According to the Gospels, Jesus made Capernaum his home during the years of his ministry. Peter, Andrew, James and John were fishermen living in the village. Matthew the tax collector also dwelt there. Pictured here are ruins of the Ancient Synagogue in Capernaum, one of the oldest synagogue buildings in the world.


Caesarea, once the Roman capital of Palestine, was the place where Pontius Pilate governed during the time of Jesus and where Paul was imprisoned before being sent to Rome for trial. It was also the residence of Philip the evangelist and Cornelius the centurion. Pictured here are ruins of the city’s amphitheater.

Sea of Galilee

The Sea of Galilee was the scene of many, many stories told in the Gospels about the life of Jesus. Among other events, it is where he preached his Sermon on the Mount, walked on water, calmed a storm and showed the disciples miraculous catches of fish.

Mount of Olives

The Mount of Olives is first mentioned in Genesis when the dove returned to Noah’s ark carrying an olive branch in its beak. It also appears in the Gospels as the place where Jesus stood when he wept over Jerusalem and where he ascended to heaven. The photo of the olive tree below was taken on the Mount of Olives.

Road to Damascus

According to the Book of Acts, the Road to Damascus is where the Apostle Paul had his conversion experience that led him to stop persecuting the early Christians and become a follower of Jesus. Here’s the modern road, as seen from the back of our tour bus.

Golan Heights

Land now known as the Golan Heights was referred to in the Bible as Bashan. The word “Golan” appears to be derived from the Biblical city of “Golan in Bashan.” The land of Bashan is mentioned in several places throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. The photo below was taken on a bluff from which we could see into Syria.

Our Holy Land pilgrimage: Where Jesus walked

Several years ago, my husband Pete and I took the trip of a lifetime – a tour of the Holy Land. The tour, hosted by St. John’s Lutheran Church in Rock Island, Illinois, invited us to see the stories of the Bible unfold while we walked “as a pilgrim along the paths of Christ and the early Church.”

Titled “Peace Not Walls,” the trip went beyond simply touring the famous archeological and historical sites. We got to see the international church in action by visiting programs sponsored by the Lutheran World Federation, met personally for conversations with people on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and attended a church service conducted in three languages simultaneously.

Needless to say, visiting the holy sites themselves was an amazing experience. In many places, churches or shrines have been built in the exact locations where – based on best estimates by historians, archeologists and others – events mentioned in the Bible are believed to have taken place. Some of the churches themselves are hundreds of years old and still conduct services.

Shepherd’s Field (above) is believed to be the place where an angel appeared to shepherds and announced the birth of Jesus. The site is considered one of the best places from which to view Bethlehem as it would have been seen by the shepherds. Below are the ruins of a fourth-century Byzantine church at Shepherd’s Field.

The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem (above), built in 565 A.D. over the site where Jesus is believed to have been born, is the oldest continuously functioning Christian church in the world. Today, custody of the church is shared by the Roman Catholic, Armenian Apostolic and Greek Orthodox churches. Below, a 14-point star in the middle of the grotto located under the Church of the Nativity’s main altar is said to mark the exact spot where Jesus was born.

Tourists flock to the place along the shore of the Jordan River (above) where Jesus is believed to have been baptized. We saw a number of people getting baptized at the time of our visit. In the photo below, one can see in the distance a monastery built where Jesus is believed to have been tempted in the wilderness. (The monastery is nestled about halfway up the hill toward the right in the photo.)

In the photo below are the ruins of what is believed to be the house Peter shared with his mother-in-law and his brother Andrew. It was in this house that Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law, the paralyzed man and others.

The Church of the Multiplication (above) was built on what is believed to be the site where the miracle of the loaves and the fishes took place. The Church of the Beatitudes (below) is located on a small hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee, the traditional “mount” where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount.

The Garden of Gethsemane (below) is where Jesus experienced the agony in the garden and was arrested the night before his crucifixion.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre (above) is built on what are believed to be the locations where Jesus was crucified, buried and rose from the dead. It is considered by many to be the most important holy site in Christianity, and is visited by more than a million pilgrims each year. Inside the church (below) one can see the Stone of Anointing, where the body of Jesus was laid down in preparation for his burial after he was taken down from the cross.

The photo below was taken in the garden outside the tomb where Jesus is believed to have been buried, and where the women were told, “He has risen!”

Book Excerpt: More resources

Note: This is an excerpt from We Need to Talk, my book in progress, which examines the polarization ripping apart our society and shares my personal search for an appropriate Christian response. For an overview of the book and to read my other excerpts, click HERE.

As I’ve been conducting research for my book, I have come across some great resources for navigating the culture wars. In my last excerpt, I listed several thought-provoking books I’ve been reading.

In this excerpt, I include some additional resources. They range from organizations that help us have better conversations and improve our news media literacy to web sites that let us evaluate a public official’s truthfulness and fact check what we see on Facebook and other social media.

More in Common

With teams in the U.S., the United Kingdom, France and Germany, this organization seeks to counter polarization and build bridges across dividing lines through research, publications and other initiatives. Their detailed research into what drives fracturing and polarization incorporates insights from political science, psychology, sociology and other fields to map different segments of the population according to their values, beliefs and sense of group attachments. Their research is summarized in a number of publications on topics ranging from immigration to the COVID-19 pandemic. One of their most widely-quoted publications is Hidden Tribes: A Study of America’s Polarized Landscape, in which they identify an “exhausted majority” of Americans who are fed up with this country’s endless culture wars. Link HERE.

Braver Angels

Braver Angels (formerly Better Angels) seeks to depolarize the American public through grassroots organizing. The group offers a range of experiences including online and in-person workshops, documentary screenings, book discussions and one-to-one conversations on a variety of polarization-related topics. The group’s premise is not that we must change our mind on issues we’re passionate about in order to agree with people on the other side, but that we learn how to have more reasoned conversations. The organization emphasizes engaging those we disagree with, trying to understand the other side’s point of view even if we don’t agree with it, and supporting principles that bring us together rather than divide us. Link HERE.

Living Room Conversations

Dialogue experts have developed Living Room Conversations as a conversational model to help people bridge their differences by identifying areas of common ground and shared understanding. Within this model, the nonprofit organization has developed over 100 conversation guides on topics ranging from politics in faith communities to abortion, immigration, race and gender issues that can otherwise be tense to talk about. The conversations can take place in person or online. The organization has a Faith Community Team to help church congregations that want to host these conversations. Link HERE.

The Flip Side

The Flip Side promises to help us get out of our media bubbles and analyze important issues by presenting the best points from both sides of the political spectrum. An editorial team – consisting of both progressives and conservatives – sifts through more than 30 news publications daily, chooses one or two issues to focus on, and reads the recent op-eds and analyses about these issues, choosing the most thoughtful and informative articles from each side. The team then chooses the most representative excerpts and quotes from each side, has each of these fact-checked by at least one progressive and one conservative team member, and compiles them into an email that can be read in about five minutes. Link HERE.


The mission of AllSides is to expose people to information and ideas from all sides of the political spectrum so we can better understand each other. The site takes each day’s top news stories from the left, center and right of the political spectrum and displays them side by side so readers can get a feel for how each side’s news media may be slanting their coverage. The site also provides media bias ratings for over 800 media outlets and writers, so the reader can easily identify different perspectives. Their “Red Blue Dictionary” explains differences in perspectives on hot-button issues like climate change and racism. In addition, they offer “civil dialogue partnerships” to provide opportunities for respectful dialogue across political divides, and a school program to help students from middle school through college learn media literacy skills. Link HERE.

A project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, bills itself as a nonpartisan, nonprofit “consumer advocate” for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics. The organization monitors the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews and news releases. The web site also offers a guide on how to spot fake or misleading news, as well as step-by-step instructions on how to flag fake news on Facebook. Link HERE for the organization’s web site, HERE for the fake news guide, and HERE for instructions on flagging fake news.

American Psychological Association: Stress in America

Since 2007, APA has commissioned an annual nationwide survey to examine the level of stress across the U.S. and understand its impact. The annual Stress in America survey measures perceptions of stress among the general public and identifies leading sources of stress, common behaviors used to manage stress and the impact of stress on our daily lives. In recent years, the APA has consistently found that significant numbers of U.S. citizens feel stressed by the current political and social divisiveness. If nothing else, the survey results make clear that the culture wars are more than simply a petty irritant and draw attention to the serious physical and emotional implications of the stress caused by constant conflict. Link HERE.

Morton Deutsch International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution

The center, at Columbia University, offers programs which integrate the theory of conflict resolution with its actual practice. The center publishes an extensive list of more than 100 organizations/groups/web sites seeking solutions to toxic polarization. The focus of the organizations on this list ranges from government, news media and business/economics to education, the environment, technology/social media and faith-based initiatives. Link HERE.

Question for readers: Do you know of any additional organizations/web sites – particularly faith-based groups – that help the public navigate the culture wars constructively? I’d love to hear your recommendations. 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).