Dogs, Cats, or People — Which Are Smarter?

It’s time to bring to a close the age-old debate about whether dogs or cats — and the people who prefer one to the other — are smarter.

Something for Everyone inspirational original oil painting of Santa and a cat with a mouse by Steve Henderson

Cats are smart, but we do observe that this one is fascinated by a fake mouse. Detail from Something for Everyone, original painting by Steve Henderson.

Not because the general populace has accepted the final resolution of the issue (easy — cats, paws down), but because we have a more pressing question:

Are house cats smarter than humans?

I know — you were expecting something more profound, but as we learn as we age, some of the deepest issues seem simple.

My whole point behind the question has to do with a quote from author Neil Gaiman, whose observation caught my eye:

“I would like to see anyone, prophet, king or God, convince a thousand cats to do the same thing at the same time.”

Anybody who has owned a cat knows that they do their own thing, and getting even two of them to agree on something we want them to do — or for that matter, getting even one cat to do something that we want it to do — is a feat indeed.

And yet, getting a number of humans — thousands, or even millions, of them, to do the same thing at the same time is something that happens every evening when whatever it is on TV comes on, and households wrap their entire existence around the next half hour, 45 minutes, or 2 hours.

This has been a part of our culture and lifestyle for so long — 70 years or so since the  TV was willingly invited into our homes, 100-plus years since movies entered general human existence — that we consider it normal and can’t see any problem with it. But how many people seriously contemplate the term, “mass media,” and wonder just who the masses are (it’s us, you know).

Please read the rest at my Commonsense Christianity blog at BeliefNet, Are House Cats Smarter Than Humans?

The Misfit Christian kindle and paperback book by Carolyn Henderson at Amazon.com

Dystopian Fantasy

Nowadays, dystopia is the rage. Books like The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Maze Runner seem written for the sole purpose of being turned into movies, with a concerted effort to engage today’s youth into the idea that life, and the future, are hopeless.

Child of Eden inspirational original oil painting of little girl in garden with radishes by Steve Henderson licensed prints at Framed Canvas Art and iCanvasART

Children are especially susceptible to teaching, and it would be wise to consider what it is that they are being taught. Child of Eden, original painting by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at amazon.com, Framed Canvas Art, and iCanvasART.

A highly promoted genre, dystopian fare addresses a (theoretically, set far-in-the-future) society characterized by overcrowding, human misery, totalitarian control, and a general feeling of despair.

In the last year, we’ve watched a number of these  depressing, dark, unhappy movies that — two or three sequels from now — promise to end on an equally disquietingly dispiriting note, with the bad guys taken down, sort of, but no real hope for rebuilding the future.

Which leads me to wonder — why this fascination with the dystopian world? And why does this message seem to be targeted toward young people?

And following this train of thought, I wondered further — what kind of message was I fed, quite a few years ago, when I was part of the younger generation? I remember — I learned about divorce and how it was normal and even healthy, dysfunctional relationships that were somehow supposed to be funny, and the genuine warm caring attitude of anybody in the police force or FBI.

In my youthful, formative years, what I learned about real life — or what I thought was real life — I learned from TV and movies. So, though the names of the actors have changed and the subjects of the shows and movies are different, the promotion of this idea — that mass media addresses and represents ”real life” — hasn’t changed.

Thankfully, what has changed is me (or I, if you want to be politically correct). I spend little time with mass media, and once we had run through every David Suchet Poirot movie on Netflix, we turned to one another and said, “Well, I’m done. How about you?”

There are better things to be done, like washing the dog, only she’s a short hair and keeps herself clean, and if more people opted for a decent book (Jane Eyre is a timelessly excellent book) over keeping current on anything and everything at the theater or on TV, perhaps we, as a nation, would be less affected by the opinions and beliefs of the people who create the stuff that we call entertainment.

You can read the whole thing at my Commonsense Christianity column at BeliefNet, Mass Manipulation by the Mass Media.

Grammar Despair by Carolyn Henderson at Amazon.com

These Gifts Are Better Than Toys — the Story of This Painting

The story of the painting, These Gifts Are Better Than Toys, by Steve Henderson at Start Your Week with Steve:
For being a time of peace, goodwill and joy, Christmas generates a lot of controversy, not the least of which is the variance between out-of-control materialism and the event, Christ’s birth on earth, that a number of people celebrate.
These Gifts Are Better Than Toys inspirational original oil painting of Santa painting nativity set by Steve Henderson licensed prints at icanvasart and give write cards

Christmas is what each individual makes of it, and we can consciously choose, like Santa, to focus on things other than materialistic frenzy. These Gifts Are Better Than Toys by Steve Henderson, original oil painting, sold. Licensed prints at iCanvasART and greeting cards at Give Write Cards.

It has always intrigued us that Easter, which celebrates the arguably more impressive resurrection of Christ, is generally observed quietly, with little controversy because there is less pressure to buy, buy, buy electronics and toys and clothes and DVDs and stuff. What is odd, however, is that despite this freedom from materialism, many within religious households make less of the day than they do Christmas.

Christmas does not have to be an us versus them thing, and indeed, as a cultural holiday, embraces many within the celebration. Santa does not have to be an evil, distracting influence, as some accuse him of being — and when he is separated from the glutted sense of marketing and frenzied attitude toward shopping — his message is a good one: he gives gifts. He loves children. He recognizes the child that lives within the adult. He rejoices in the lights, the music, the frost on the windowpane, the cookies, the warmth of friends and family gathering together.
These elements all fit into the spirit of the original Christmas story, and in the painting, These Gifts Are Better Than Toys, Santa focuses on painting, with infinite care and respect, figurines from the Nativity story. Though the figurines are smaller than Santa, what they represent is greater, and it is clear that Santa — though he is great and jolly and good — is subservient to One who is greater, and kinder, and better.
The purchaser of the original painting commented, “Santa has kind eyes,” and that observation speaks volumes. In a society that literally worships making money, and advancing up the ladder, and exhibiting cunning and craftiness as a means to achieve “success,” kindness is a virtue that does not — simply cannot — go out of style. If one cannot grasp the sheer goodness of God, and His kindness toward the human beings He has created, then Santa provides an example that the youngest child — dwelling deep within even the most cynical adult — can understand: Santa does not give lumps of coal, even to the naughtiest child.Read the rest – Steve’s Art in StoresTea by the Sea newly sold, at Start Your Week with Steve.

The original painting of These Gifts Are Better Than Toys is sold; the work is available as a limited edition print through iCanvasART. It is also available as a greeting card, individual or in sets, at Give Write Cards.Find the books and DVDs below at Amazon.com by clicking on the image.

The Misfit Christian Book by Carolyn Henderson at amazon.com Live Happily on Less book by Carolyn Henderson at amazon.com Grammar Despair paperback and digital book at Amazon.com by Carolyn Henderson Step by Step Watercolor Success digital DVD workshop by Steve Henderson at Amazon.com

God Is Never on the Evening News

Some unknown,  unnamed, presumably non-existent person, long ago, said that we should never talk about sex, religion, and politics. Aside from this eliminating pretty much everything interesting worth discussing — including the weather since, with the growing mantra of “Global Change,” the weather is now political (and religious, actually) — this pithy little saying isn’t followed by anyone.

Tea for Two inspirational original oil painting of little girl eating with Santa Claus by Steve Henderson

When we eat, when we walk, when we converse, we talk about the things that matter to us most. God’s a good topic to introduce into our lives. Detail from Tea for Two, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

If it were, I wouldn’t know more details than I ever wanted to know about same sex . . .  sex.

I know about a lot of things — some of which are true, some of which are not — more than I have ever wanted to know: zombies, vampires, global warming, my distant relation to some frog that hopped out of the sea, interpretation of current events by highly paid news anchors who read off of teleprompters (come to think of it, don’t high-ranking political leaders do that as well?)

The quantity of information is vast and unrelenting, and while I hear about just about everything, the one thing, or Person, actually, who is rarely part of the conversation — personal or public — is God.

For some reason, while we can go into graphic detail about what should be private and intimate matters, the one subject that is politically incorrect and prominently taboo, is God. And yet, if He’s real (and quite a number of people believe that this is so), He should be as much a part of our conversation as He is of our lives.

Please follow the link and read the whole story at my Commonsense Christianity blog at BeliefNet – God — Coming out of the Closet.

Live happily on less kindle and paperback at amazon.com by Carolyn Henderson

Why Group Prayer Isn’t the Only, or Best, Option

Although it’s been years since I’ve been in a regular church situation, I can still conjure up the feelings of dread I felt at ”prayer time,” sitting around a circle (we’re told it’s “intimate”) and sharing details about our lives. The worst part was when we all bowed our heads and prayed for one another, for several reasons:

Light in the Forest inspirational original oil painting of two women with candles in woods and Celtic overtones by Steve Henderson licensed prints at iCanvasART Framed Canvas Art and Amazon.com

God’s ear is always inclined to His children, and He does not require a crowd in order to get His attention. Light in the Forest, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, licensed prints at Framed Canvas Art, iCanvasART, and Amazon.com.

1) People mumble, and it’s hard to hear what they’re saying.

2) There is a subtle, yet strong pressure to speak up — even when one does not like talking in a group setting.

3) The present day set-up, which is almost universally adopted by churches, regardless of their denomination, is socially awkward.

4) Corporate group prayer, as practiced by corporate group churches, is shallow, and results in stilted, awkward prayers that could just as easily be read out of a book.

Prayer is a conversation, after all — and the best conversations are one on one. So it is when we pray to our God and Father: while group prayer has its place (and would have an even stronger place if it were more sensitively, thoughtfully, and effectively done), individual prayer between the believer and his Lord is vitally important.

The problem is, so many people associate modern corporate prayer as the “right” way to pray, that they translate this technique into their private conversations with God — resulting in stilted, awkward, shallow, frustrating monologues.

This is especially sad, because our God is a very personal God, one who desires a close and intimate relationship with His children. And one of the ways we can grow in this intimate relationship is through prayer.

Please join me at my BeliefNet column, Commonsense Christianity, to read The Inadequacy of Corporate Prayer.

The Misfit Christian kindle and paperback book by Carolyn Henderson at Amazon.com

Ask questions, and you’ll be called a misfit. The world needs more misfits. Paperback and digital at amazon.com

 

If We Don’t Forgive Others, Does God Ignore Us?

Too many Christians spend too much time trying to placate a God who will not be satisfied with anything they do, simply because He dislikes them so much.

Grace inspirational original oil painting of woman dancing on beach by Steve Henderson licensed print at Framed Canvas Art and amazon.com

As Christians, if we spent as much time reflecting upon grace as we do obsessing about sin, we might gain a deeper understanding of God. Grace, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, licensed prints at Framed Canvas Art and Amazon.com.

Despite this being an inaccurate understanding of the intimate relationship between a loving, gracious, merciful Father and His vulnerable children, it is the misconception under which a large number of believers labor. The result is that we feel unsettled, unloved, insecure in a relationship that is meant to bring us joy and peace.

This is so sad, because this is so far from where God wants us to be. The most important lesson we can learn from reading the Bible has nothing to do with memorizing verses, or parsing sentences, but rather, it’s coming to grips with the concept that God LOVES us.

Unconditionally.

And because of this unconditional love, He has not only forgiven us without our being worthy at all of being forgiven, but He continues to do so, even after we have laid our lives at our feet and are learning from Him.

One of the many things we learn about, throughout our lives, from our Master, Father, Lord, King, and God, is how to forgive. Like all things to be learned, forgiveness is something we don’t readily grasp, but pick up, bit by bit, as we grow and mature.

If you have difficulty with forgiving someone (and who doesn’t?) please consider reading the rest of the story at my Commonsense Christianity blog at BeliefNet, Forgiveness Is a Promise, Not a Contractual Agreement.

Grammar Despair by Carolyn Henderson at Amazon.com

All too often, we approach our relationship with God the way we approach the English language, as if it were no more than a set of rules to be memorized. Grammar Despair, a short, simple book addressing some of writing’s most common problems, at Amazon.com

Morning’s Glory: The Story of This Painting

The story of the painting, Morning’s Glory, by Steve Henderson at Start Your Week with Steve:

Morning's Glory inspirational original oil painting of still life floral roses in green glass vase by Steve Henderson

The message of flowers is one of beauty, joy, and hope. Morning’s Glory, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

Flowers are a symbol of hope, beauty, joy, happiness, good wishes, and cheer. We give them to one another on birthdays and anniversaries as an outward sign of our celebration; we bring them to people who are sick as a means to say express our love and wishes for their getting well; we offer them to one we have harmed as a tangible sign of apology.

Flowers are one of the few items in our lives that are associated with positive, good emotions, and while there will always be sadly perverse artists who twist the beauty of flowers into something glorifying death, decay, and depression, Steve is not one of them.

In Morning’s Glory, we find ourselves near a window, a vase of flowers basking in the sunlight of a new day. In the background, a wooden fence hints that we are in a rural area, quite possibly on a winter’s day as the foliage that we can see is not in full bloom.

Yet the flowers are — a reminder that, in all seasons and at all times, there is color, and life, and beauty around us, and when we see it, we celebrate it.

Morning’s Glory is an original oil painting on panel, 20 x 16, available through Steve Henderson Fine Art.

Read the rest — art at Amazon.com, our new newsletter format, at Start Your Week with Steve.

Steve offers a full array of original oil and watercolor paintings and licensed art prints, because he believes that art is a gift all people should be able to enjoy.

Step by Step Watercolor Success DVD digital workshop by Steve Henderson at Amazon.com

Forgiveness is Difficult

Forgiveness.

We all know we’re supposed to do it, we feel bad when we don’t, and sometimes it’s easier to just not think about it. But forgiveness is such a crucial element to Christianity — because it’s a major factor in love — that it’s worth asking God to help us successfully accomplish it.

Morning's Glory inspirational original oil painting of still life rose flowers in green glass vase by Steve Henderson

Forgiveness is a difficult thing, but a beautiful one as well, one worth seeking to accomplish. Morning’s Glory, original oil painting by Steve Henderson

Jesus spoke about forgiveness a lot (“Jesus talked about hell more than any other subject,” someone once told me. Seriously? What a sad, sad little religion this person follows), and it’s a good topic to explore, because all of us hurt, and are hurt by, others. Learning how to forgive is more important to civilization, and civilized behavior, then a shelf full of etiquette books.

The good news is, forgiveness is far less complicated than etiquette. The difficult news is, forgiveness is much harder to do than to learn how to properly set a table.

While there are many aspects to study about and meditate upon forgiveness, I’ve reduced them — in the spirit of 21st century simplicity — to five:

  1. Forgiveness isn’t easy.
  2. Forgiveness isn’t quick.
  3. Forgiveness isn’t always accompanied by positive, glowing feelings.
  4. Forgiveness is a process, not a one-time thing.
  5. Forgiveness takes a lot of practice, but fortunately, we get lots of opportunities.

Obviously, there are more than 5 key elements to forgiveness, but to read more about these five, please follow the link to my Commonsense Christianity article at BeliefNet, 5 Things to Know about Forgiveness.

The Misfit Christian kindle and paperback book by Carolyn Henderson at Amazon.com

I Really Did Learn Something in Algebra Class

Like many others who struggled through algebra and its highbrow cousins in school and wondered how they would ever be useful in my life, I have successfully lived that life without advanced mathematics.

Seaside Story inspirational original oil painting of child and woman reading book at beach by Steve Henderson licensed prints at art.com, amazon.com, Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art

We should reserve our trust for those who deserve it. While it sounds obvious, we frequently don’t follow our own advice. Original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, Framed Canvas Art, Amazon.com, and Art.com.

Not that it was totally useless — aside from being a mind-stretching exercise (although Logic would have been more useful) – higher math’s primary impact on my life was to teach me one salient fact:

Without sufficient information, we cannot come to accurate conclusions. I’m glad that somebody knows how to figure out how much water will will be in left in a 100-gallon-tank — after 3 hours — which is losing 8 ounces of liquid per minute through a little hole in the bottom, while gaining 6.75 ounces in the same period of time. I don’t. (And yes, I’m thinking this is more of a physics problem than an algebra one, but in my mind, all of those classes fused together into one hazy, distant memory.)

What I do know, however, is that without enough information, and the right information, even the finest mathematician cannot figure out the answer.

And yet, we operate without sufficient information all the time — this is not surprising, since we are not God. What is surprising is how much we rely upon things that are definitely not God — the nightly news, for example, to give us, and interpret for us, the facts.

Please read the rest at my Commonsense Christianity column at BeliefNet, Are We Being Manipulated? Let’s Just Say “No”

The Misfit Christian Book by Carolyn Henderson at amazon.com Live Happily on Less book by Carolyn Henderson at amazon.com Grammar Despair paperback and digital book at Amazon.com by Carolyn Henderson Step by Step Watercolor Success digital DVD workshop by Steve Henderson at Amazon.com

Fox, Facebook, Fear and Freedom — Go For Door Number 4

Christians are some of the most fearful people I know.

Well, let me rephrase that: people who call themselves Christians, judge their spirituality by church attendance, and rely upon Facebook postings and Fox News for keeping up on what’s happening in the world, are some of the most fearful people I know.

Spirit of the Canyon inspirational original oil painting of woman with cloth at Grand Canyon by Steve Henderson licensed prints at Framed Canvas Art, iCanvasART, Great Big Canvas, Amazon.com, and Art.com

This young woman, who looks free indeed, is not watching TV, a concept that seems foreign to a population raised upon what used to be called, “the idiot box.” Spirit of the Canyon, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at Amazon.com, Art.com, Framed Canvas Art, iCanvasART, and Great Big Canvas.

When a person’s major source of news is Facebook or Fox, life has the potential to be reduced to either digital farming and links to bad news bearers at the former, and coiffed heads fomenting cyber-panic attacks at the latter. (And to be fair and balanced to Fox, all corporate news stations foment; it’s just that many Christians are convinced that Fox is, well, Christian.)

It’s working.

Which brings to mind the question — in what way? What is the result of much of the “news” we panic about — regardless of which station we watch — other than that it causes us to breathe quickly, hyperventilate, wring our hands, and worry as we drop off to sleep. Is this the function of news — to freak people out?

From the little that I watch it, I’m nodding my head. And from the response that it generates from many people, I’m nodding my head more. We jump from one shooting to the next, one domestic terror threat to a second, one disease with the potential to wipe out the planet to another. When the lives of other human beings are reduced to 10-second clips, enough to entertain for one evening, and then dropped completely as the broken lives of new human beings are featured, we’re not learning about the world so that we can show the love and compassion of Christ, we’re being bombarded with sensational voyeurism that results, primarily, in a climate of fear.

Although we could end right here, please consider following the link to my full article at The Christian PostFree Yourself — and Your Family — from Fear.

The Misfit Christian Book by Carolyn Henderson at amazon.com Live Happily on Less book by Carolyn Henderson at amazon.com Grammar Despair paperback and digital book at Amazon.com by Carolyn Henderson Step by Step Watercolor Success digital DVD workshop by Steve Henderson at Amazon.com

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