Jesus on Your Grilled Cheese

July 31, 2021 by  
Filed under Humor, Stories

By Carol Barnier –

Warning: Serious Cynicism Alert

Few of you will ever know the thrill of seeing the face of our Lord Jesus on your drywall. I can tell you first hand, there’s nothing like it. The problem is, in my case, the face that emerged looked more like the Sith Lord from Star Wars rather than Jesus. And that’s not the first time I’ve seen a clearly-not-Jesus face appear. Karl Marx appeared in my wooden door grain, Mark Twain on my marble floor, and I’d swear I saw John Goodman in a cow pie (my apologies John, but it is what it is).

There have been Jesus sightings by people all over the world in the most unlikely of places—places like Cheetos, clouds, banana peels, baby scans, end of a log, grain of a rocking chair, stained tea towel, rusty side of a refrigerator, bacon drippings, freeway underpass, tortilla, granite countertop, bottom of a turtle shell, and my personal favorite—stains on the coffee mug of an atheist. These people are serious. They take photos, slap them onto Facebook, and start a viral ooh-and-ah fest round the world with amazed and reverent supplicants. This behavior actually has an academic latiny-shmatiny name: pareidolia, which loosely translates to I think I’m in love with my toast. So powerful is this longing to see the face of Jesus in an unusual place, this year’s Christian Retailer’s extravaganza provided the opportunity to purchase a George Forman-like grill that imprints the face of Jesus on your grilled cheese sandwich—(No. I’m not making this up. Google Grilled Cheesus if you don’t believe me . . .which begs the question, just how do we know what Jesus looked like, and moreover, does He prefer Gouda, Brie, or Cheddar?

I don’t want to rule out the possibility that there may indeed be some authentic appearances, but you’ve got to know how to evaluate these things. The Catholic Church, being fully aware of just how often this can become silly, has taken this evaluation process very seriously, even producing a checklist of Rules Regarding Apparitions explaining how to judge the validity of a sighting. Among other things, it includes looking at the individual who found the sighting with a very cautious, even cynical eye. Is she a true adherent? Or did she jump on this bandwagon recently, bringing with her other questionable practices like swinging dead chickens over her head before prayer? Is this an unusual thing in her life? Or did she also see David Bowie in her freezer’s frost last week?

My sightings of the Sith Lord, Mark Twain and John Goodman have taught me something; if you look around long enough, you’ll see faces in everything.

But I think I’ve also learned something else. Rather than looking for the face of Jesus in our coffee stains and our mulch piles, I think our time is better spent trying to BE the face of Jesus. Doing an act of kindness when others turn away. True—it’s not Facebook worthy. No one’s going to line up and pay money for a trinket representing your act of kindness. Little bobble-head dolls aren’t going to appear with your giant grin nodding reverently toward an adoring fan club from the back of someone’s Kia.

No. There is a hurting world out there. They need to feel a loving embrace, a drink when they’re thirsty, a hand when they’ve fallen. They need to know hope. They need to know that the God of the Universe knows their face. And I suspect, that no matter how beautifully rendered, they’ll never find such truth in a cow pie.

Back by Closing Hymn

June 19, 2021 by  
Filed under Humor, Stories

By Carol Barnier –

I love going to church. My favorite time is not the singing. Nor is it the time of greeting when we wander about the congregation seeking people with hands to be shaken and peace to be shared, and then once safely back in the pews, quietly put on disinfectant to avoid one of the Holy Plagues.

Nope, my favorite part is . . .

The sermon.

Not just the sermon, which is always good, but my mental meanderings away from the sermon, which delight me just as much.

Here’s how it works.

Pastor: Paul was lowered over the side of the city wall in a basket.

Me: Wow. That must have been some basket. I don’t have a basket anywhere NEAR strong enough for that. Grant you I have one that holds about 50 pounds of onions…which, come to think of it is almost empty…I wonder if Paul ate onions?… I’d better get to the store this week…but I really hate shopping…although they’ve installed that little café mocha dispenser now… I just wish it wasn’t in the refrigerated foods section—waaay too cold…I suppose I could wear my winter coat…I wonder if Paul ever wore a winter coat? What’s winter even like in Jerusalem? I wonder if…wait…what is that sound…I hear music…why is everybody standing…oh…it’s the closing hymn. Time to rise Carol.

I’ve heard there are people who have linear thoughts. Supposedly, these folks start a thought, think about it, and then complete it. They can focus intently on a 90-minute lecture regarding the historical derivatives of the word hermeneutics while never losing their train of thought. They actually have a train. I have more of a hot air balloon. I’m just as interested as getting to my location as the folks on the train, but I’m blown about a wee bit by the wind, meandering here and there, seeing things that weren’t on the agenda, but nonetheless are still quite lovely.

On any given Sunday, my mind will wander off the sermon, just the tiniest bit, and is now thinking about the back of that woman’s head, and why she let her roots grow so long and if the root plants in my garden are ready to be pulled since it looks like snow and I really should stop and pick up a new shovel and … “Carol,”…the pastor says cheerily, “Could you tell us why you believe the Apostle Paul was so quick to judge the church in Ephesus?”

Blink.

Blink Blink.

I’m pretty sure it had nothing to do with roots. And my other usually safe fallback of always answering “Jesus” wasn’t going to work here either. Man! Where do I get one of those linear thought patterns?

So far I’ve been lucky. My pastor has continued with the traditional model of preaching as a single participant event, not a team sport. That’s good because. . .I’ve never been good at sports. . .although I once thought I’d like gymnastics. . .till I saw that Olympic girl bend herself in half backwards. . .which I’m thinking causes spinal cord damage. She looked like a pretzel. . .we haven’t had pretzels in a long time. . .maybe I should get some next time I’m in. . .  <watch the balloon drift away>

Salvation in a Running Shoe

May 16, 2021 by  
Filed under Humor, Stories

By Carol Barnier –

Have you ever met folks who have only one message? They seem to have the same answer for every single problem that might come your way.

“My life was forever changed when I. . .{insert amazing trendy habit of choice, be it ionized toothbrushes, red pepper colonics, or—I kid you not, purposely induced malaria-therapy.}

No matter what you’ve got going on, this one thing, they are certain, could turn your life around.

I met a guy some time ago who apparently had found the single magic antidote for all life’s issues: running. No really. There was not a single conversation in which he didn’t bring up this miraculous panacea.

Got a drinking problem? You should take up running.

Struggling with focus? You know a good run will really help you zero in on focusing.

Robbed several convenience stores? I know a guy who ran a marathon, and never robbed anyone again.

Marital problems? Irritable bowel syndrome? Never won the lottery? Take up running. It’ll change your life. I took up running and in six weeks, my stock market portfolio tripled!

Big sigh. He has one message. Get fit. I don’t know if you’ll feel better, but I’ll feel better looking at ya.

I’ve seen this same mentality prescribed in spiritual circles as well. I saw one recently that I found just as frustrating.

Not feeling close to God? Feeling ineffective in your witness? Just not the Christian you need to be?

Eat raw foods.

The presenter of this piece of wisdom went on to say that God cannot use us if we don’t take care of ourselves.

Whaaaaa?

Don’t misunderstand me. I know that running is a great activity that will bring a boost of health to my plump and too-sedentary self. I also know there is great merit in eating well, including raw foods. I get that. But one of God’s amazing habits is to use people who aren’t in perfect shape, people easily dismissed by others. Moses. . .with a speech problem becomes the mouth-piece for the Hebrews. St. Augustine—a drunken womanizer becomes one of the most influential writers of Christian thought in history. Even in our own day, if the ability to run and maintain a rigorous fitness schedule makes one more God-usable, then Joni Eareckson Tada and Nick Vuyacic wouldn’t have had a chance to reach the tens of thousands of people that they have with their powerful ministries. Many people, their bodies wracked with cancer and disease, have been fully used of God in their final days to share something of eternal value with those they left behind.

Too often people seem to confuse the salvation of God’s amazing grace with pathetic human activities. Oh sure, we should strive to be healthy but only because we’ll enjoy life more and it shows a respect for the body God has given us. But some folks seem to imbue a sort of holiness into the self-improvement actions themselves, as though we could somehow render ourselves more worthy of God’s use.

Truth is, none of us is worthy of His use, whether bent and broken, or fit and strong. Frankly, it’s a wonder we gain His attention at all, let alone be chosen to do anything for His kingdom. So eat well, yes. Run, exercise, and work out, yes. But don’t be surprised if the donut eating, sedentary guy with bad fingernails is the one God chooses to change the world.

History of Church Seating

April 14, 2021 by  
Filed under Humor, Stories

By Carol Barnier –

It’s happening again. Another local church is talking about ditching the traditional pews in favor of something more plush and comfortable. I really feel uneasy about this. I’m pretty sure I read somewhere in Leviticus a warning about the ungodliness of a relaxed posterior and the slippery slope of comfortable worship.

Amazingly, the idea of sitting in church didn’t even emerge until the Reformation. It’s true! Up till that time, those poor German peasants worked hard all week long and then went to church on the day of rest to do what? STAND and listen to a sermon in a language they didn’t even speak. You may not have known this, but when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenburg, thesis number 58 was, “It’s time to let us sit down in church for crying out loud!”

In some churches today you’ll see kneelers. These little flip down steps of wonder were put in place for the ease of congregants whose church liturgies involved more and more kneeling. But no such devices can be found in the earliest church structures. That’s because the preferred submission position was prostrate (face down, flat on the ground) and the early church architects felt a flip down panel accommodating this practice would require too much space between the pews. Besides, early attempts of this device revealed a flaw that sometimes catapulted would-be-supplicants up and over the altar.

Eventually kneeling did emerge as the preferred method of humility. However, for quite some time, the earliest congregations needed no such kneelers. They were of hardier stock and found the cold solid stone against their knees refreshing. But then the Church Potluck was introduced and folks began having problems with the getting back up part. Enter: the kneelers. Followed by kneelers not quite so close to the ground. Then, the padded kneelers. Then ,the intricately needle-pointed padded kneelers. I think heated gel pads and a lift ticket are the next obvious mutation.

Now seating is growing more and more like expensive theatrical events. Stain resistant. Deeply cushioned. Padded armrests. Sometimes even with cup holders. I fully expect this trend toward more technology will eventually include an electronic circuitry panel embedded into the backs of the seats in front of us allowing us to provide constant assessment and feedback of the pastor’s efforts.

My current level of interest….hmmm…my mind did wander just a bit there. I’ll give him a 4. Clearly he’s trying. But that passage about Cain and Able could have used a bit more action and drama. A video clip would have been nice. Well, maybe just a 3 then.

I’m thinking we’ve got this backwards. The technology should be on the side of the preacher. If we begin to whisper and be distracted or start nodding off, he would have several buttons of wonder at his disposal. First offense, the chair simply vibrates. Sort of a you’ve-been-warned sensation. The second option would be a sort of elevator that lifts you up over the crowd a good three feet, so that others will know of your transgressions. For the really offensive congregants or those who’ve completely gone to sleep, I’m thinking a mild seat-imbedded tazer is in order.

Okay, perhaps a bit much. But you know what they say.  If you laid all the sleepers in church end-to-end along the pews … they’d be a lot more comfortable.

The Love of God, from the Roots Up

February 13, 2021 by  
Filed under Humor, Stories

By Carol Barnier –

“This is where we create the gold bowls that prayers are kept in.” The small group of newcomers moved along behind the winged angel tour guide and nodded as they viewed the large room of worker angels pouring gold into bowl-shaped molds.

The group shuffled along to a massive room that looked like an airplane hangar, open at the far end, with angels coming and going at a rapid rate. “This is our message dispatch room where delivery angels get their assignments to carry personal messages to folks on earth. Lots of serious stuff coming and going in this room.” Indeed, the looks on the faces of these angels were all business, even grim, but the occasional beaming smile crossed the face of a delivery angel when given some obviously joyful news. One can only imagine.

The small group moved down a long hallway, and on to a quieter wing. In a room off to the side sat a group of angels, each with an iPad™ looking device in their hands. They were chatting merrily with each other. There was no tension, no seeming deadline or urgency. There was even a seeming merriment in the exchanges between them.

“This is the hair counting room.”

“The what?” a confused tour group member immediately interjected.

“Hair counting. You know. . .even the very hairs on your head are numbered? In God’s word?”

The tour guide suggested they take a closer look and the group was allowed to mill about, spreading out in the room to get a sense of what was going on in much greater detail. The device held by each of the angels displayed the names of dozens of people, each name with a corresponding number. Every so often an angel would tap a name, note an increase in hair number, and return to the name to adjust the entry. It seemed a pretty easy assignment. But as the group of newbies moved on a bit, going deeper into the very long room, they noticed that the angels seemed busier, less chatty. And finally at the very end of the room, the angels were downright intense. They were constantly checking the names and adjusting the numbers. They clearly had more to deal with, and the demands of their increased work load evident on their furrowed faces.

Finally one of the group spoke up. “What’s happening here? Why are these guys so much busier than those at the start of the room?”

“The folks at the beginning of the room were tracking the hairs of babies.” The smiling guide continued. “That’s pretty easy duty. You add about 100 hairs a day and you’re done. But at the end here, we’re tracking folks over 50. They’re losing hairs at an alarming rate. And if the person gets a shampoo, you almost have to do a total recount.”

At that moment an angel taped his iPad and gleefully said, “Yay. We’re up two for a change!”

“Angel Jarrod. . .” Our guide directed his very serious tone at the delighted angel, who now looked up with a sheepish expression. “We’ve talked about this before. What is the rule?”

The angel dropped his winged shoulders, made an adjustment on his iPad, and said, “We don’t count stray chin hairs. It’s just not nice.”

“And what else?”

He dropped his head ashamedly and added, “Or nose hairs or ear hairs.”

I’m immensely grateful that God is so invested in us that He even numbers the hairs on our heads. I’m perhaps more grateful that He keeps that number to Himself.

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