Tag Archives: Christianity

50 thoughts on turning 50 #29: T.H.I.N.K.

Eugene de Blaas (1843-1932) The Friendly Gossip

Eugene de Blaas (1843-1932) The Friendly Gossip

Someone posed a question on Facebook recently, asking how you know when the story you’re about to tell someone is actually gossip.

Gossip. It’s a topic I’ve actually thought about quite a lot over the years.

I was at a women’s Bible study once, many moons ago. While I had been a Christian for a long time (at least in label if not necessarily in understanding), it was my first Bible study ever, my first women’s event ever, and I was really new at this church. The women broke off into small groups for prayer – another new thing for me – and started going around the table and sharing fairly lengthy stories about people they were requesting prayer for. Details that included at least first names as well as specifics about situations, illnesses, etc.

One women started talking about her baby sitter, requesting prayer for her while revealing where she lived and some specific details about her family. Turns out, I was pretty sure she was talking about a friend of my daughter, and when the story was finished I asked a question about the girl. The woman leading our group turned to me and said, “Joanne! We’re not here to gossip!”

I’m sure I turned 50 shades of red. I didn’t know any of these women, had never been to a Bible study before and was mortified that I’d been found out as an ignorant Christian. This was gossip?

The truth is, I had sat through some very detailed “prayer requests” that, if you really think about it, were just gossip. That they were shared in a Bible study didn’t change that fact. But in my zeal to learn how to be a Christian, I also learned how to share and receive prayer requests.

Yup, I learned how to be a better gossip in church. Continue reading

Be Nice: Do I need a receipt to return my spiritual gifts?


sample spiritual gifts

This is a sample of questions on a spiritual gifts test.

Once upon a time, in a religious galaxy far, far away, I took a quiz to determine my spiritual gifts. It was part of a Sunday School class at a church I’d just joined, and I was looking for some guidance about what God wanted from me.

For those of you outside the world of Christianese, a spiritual gifts test (or assessment; there are no wrong answers on a spiritual gifts test) is designed to evaluate what talents and abilities God has gifted you with to benefit the church. You might be suited to teaching, for example, or evangelizing, or serving meals, or opening up your home to people for Bible studies. It’s all designed to help a Christian grow in their faith and better serve his faith community.

The quiz usually asks questions like “I feel that I have a message from God to deliver to others” or “It makes me happy to do things for people in need” or “I often think about how I can comfort and encourage others in my congregation”. You assign it a number from, let’s say 0 to 5, for each statement, depending on how well you think it applies to you. There are no wrong answers; at the end you add up the score and, theoretically speaking, you should have some insight into how God has gifted you to serve Him and the church. Your gifts could be exhortation, giving, shepherding, prophecy, teaching, leadership. Stuff like that.

On my test, I got zero points for hospitality and serving others. Zero. Nothing. As in, I had no gifts relating to being nice or giving to others.

I don’t remember what my other scores were – I think I had some points for administration, which, given my inability to organize my own sock drawer or get my dog to sit even if I was holding a steak, should have been a clue the quiz was faulty). But overall, I wasn’t feeling very gifted. (And while there are technically no wrong answers on a spiritual gifts test, try sitting in an evangelical Sunday School class and telling the leader you have zero interest in helping other people.)

That test – or the constant desire to figure out what my spiritual gifts are – may or may not have eventually had a bearing on my involvement in organized church as a whole. I’ve never felt like I fit in, I’ve never felt as if I was needed. Well, I was needed, in a way. The minute you join a church you often are inundated with requests to serve on committees and help with projects, and while the goal is to help you grow in your faith, the reality is that in many churches, like in many other organizations, 80 percent of the work is done by 20 percent of the people. Any warm body will do when it’s time to paint walls or rock babies in a nursery.

But what am I good at? Why am I here? What do I have to offer the world? What does God want from me?

Over the years, I began to understand a little better where my gifts are – both in relation to God and to my place in the whole wide world. I tell stories. I give voice to people who can’t share their own stories. I honestly talk about my failings so that other people can relate and perhaps find comfort. My writing mission statement is “Connect. Inspire. Change the world.” Big dreams for a little writer.

But as for being nice?

I’ve had my own ups and downs. The zero on that stupid quiz had to be a fluke; I’ve gone on to do a lot of serving, a lot of being nice, a lot of opening my house to strangers. And I liked it. In fact, I loved it. Then I got burned out and retreated, almost to hermit status.

So for a while, I wasn’t nice. Then I was. Now I’m not so much. Was the test wrong? Or did it ask the wrong questions? Or, and I think this is more likely, did I change as a person, going through various periods of my life when my priorities shifted and became more focused?

So here’s the first Be Nice Project discussion question: Is being nice – or generous or giving or helpful or kind – something innate, or is it something we learn? How nice do you think you are right now and how nice do you actually want to be – in other words, are you as nice as you feel you can be or should be, and if not, are you desiring to be nicer? And honest, there are no wrong answers.

I’m blogging at Patheos.com

If you’ve been wondering where I am lately, here’s some big news: I’m recently taken over the Heavenly Creatures blog at Patheos.com, where I’m blogging about animals, life and spirituality! It’s a fun new writing opportunity, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to write about something I love and (hopefully) make a little money at the same time. Check out the new blog at http://www.patheos.com/community/heavenlycreatures!

Sanctuary is wherever I lie my head (or in this case, Sleepy Nap Time)

It’s more than a little ironic that this week I was supposed to write a piece on the idea of “sanctuary” as part of conversation hosted by the Patheos Book Club about the book, “ Sweet Sanctuary“, by Sheila Walsh and Cindy Martinusen Coloma.

It’s a lovely story about spiritual healing and forgiveness and … there’s a party … and … argh. If I could clear my head I could tell you more.

But my work to-to list has tripled in length in the last 72 hours. The cat is rolling around on my laptop keyboard (he’s already removed the “t”, “F3” and “alt” keys and sent an email I didn’t write). The dogs are barking non stop at the neighbor trimming his hedges, and the puppy is shredding yet another couch cushion.

Excuse me while I scream.

It’s not been a bad week, although it might sound like it from that little snapshot. I’ve gotten some paying work (yay!) and all of the dogs are healthy (yay!) and Bandit and I are planning a trip in a couple of weeks to go to a pet blogging conference (woof!).

But sometimes, even an overload of good things can be too much. Add in some wet dogs and pillow stuffing strewn around the living room and, well, let’s just say, Mommy needs a nap. Continue reading

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the dorkiest of all?

I'm definitely not as cool as I look like I think I am in this picture from 2008.

So my editor at Beliefnet wants me to send a photo for the new header they’re doing for the Gospel Soundcheck blog.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, I have gone back to blogging about Christian music at Beliefnet, after a hiatus of about 8 months. A year or so ago, the company was sold, and in the time I was away they’ve changed the blogging platform and given the blogs a nice little facelift.

So now it’s time for mine to get prettied up.

On a positive note, we’ve changed the tagline from something about being a backstage pass to  your favorite Christian music artists to “where Christian music meets the world.” Which really better reflects the direction I want to go. “Not so snarky anymore” didn’t seem quite so professional. Or realistic. (I’m trying, honest I am.)

But a photo? Seriously? Who needs to see my face on the blog?

When we first did the blog header back in 2008, I sent along a few snapshots I took using my camera and the timer feature. I don’t like seeing pictures of myself, and the one they picked to use I should never have sent. I look like I think I’m hip and cool, which I most definitely am not.

And one of the first readers to leave a comment on the blog said I was fat. So I don’t have any warm attachments to that picture. But trying to replace it isn’t going to be easy.

Not only am I … wait, let me count it out … 2008 … 2009 … 2010 … 2011 … that many years older, I also weigh a little more. And every picture I take using my camera or webcam looks ridiculous.

Plus, and this is going to be the most difficult, my editor said I can’t have any dogs in the photo. What?! All I have are pictures of the dogs. How about chickens? Or a duck?

Me and my snuggle duck.

Maybe I could wear a hat. I look good in hats.

Looks like rain!

I got a couple of OK pics from the webcam but the quality isn’t that great. The quality with my regular camera is super, but the pictures are stupid. That’s because the fuzzier the photo is, the better I look.

The webcam photos are ... eh, so so.


The fuzzier the photo, the better I look

Maybe they should use this school photo from my elementary school days. It is one of my favorites, after all.

When I look in the mirror, this is who I see!

Katy Perry on her gospel start, her music, and more on CBS Sunday Morning (video)

Back when I was writing the Gospel Soundcheck blog for Beliefnet, I wrote a story about Katy Perry and her gospel album. At the time, it wasn’t a fact much in the media, and since I was just starting to write the blog (in 2008) I needed a story that would grab page views … er, I mean readers.

Did it ever. That story even got me an interview request from a very popular entertainment show who wanted me to talk about Katy Perry and her faith. I declined; I don’t know Katy Perry or anything about her faith. But I knew Christian music. At least, Christian music in 2008.

Anyway, over the two years I wrote the  blog, I got to learn more about Katy Perry and sit in on a publicity teleconference. And I fell in love.

Sure, her music is a little edgy; hearing 5-year-olds on the playground singing “I Kissed A Girl” is a little weird. But Katy Perry is so darn likable it’s hard to judge her for making super catchy songs. (Go ahead, try and get that little ditty out of your head.)

Besides, she doesn’t seem to me to be an opportunist. She’s an artist with a super quirky personality, a super supportive family, lots of talent, and a marketable … well, everything. All celebs do the same thing; she’s just more honest about it.

You can check out my post about Katy Perry on the Gospel Soundcheck.
(UPDATE: I stopped writing that blog years ago … )

Christianity, compassion and man’s best friend at Patheos.com

I did guest blog post this week at Patheos. com for their book club, and I’d love for you to check it out! The book up for discussion is “The Friends We Keep: Unleashing Christianity’s Compassion for Animals.” I wrote about my favorite animal, dogs.

You can check the post here, and read more about the book on the Patheos.com book club page.