Want to go to Church?

See oil painting “Jesus at Calvary” come to life: singing “I Can Only Imagine” cover + new lyrics

If you watched the above video (a clip from this year’s Easter Show), you saw how emotional I was while singing the cover of “I Can Only Imagine”. I could barely choke out the new lyrics I added to reflect the dark times we live in. Why?

Why do we get emotional when singing, painting, or maybe even some of you got a little teary while viewing my art? Just seeing the image of Jesus may make us feel powerful emotions. For some, it’s intense anger and malice, for others it’s overwhelming love and forgiveness.

I’ve attended many kinds of churches in multiple states and multiple countries. When living in Ireland, my family attended a church in downtown Cork. They were excited to see Americans, as an American had recently returned home and they were now without any in their congregation. They were keen to show off their “light lunch”, which they started up as a new tradition after their American friend told them about potlucks after church. Well, something got very lost in translation!

Yes, Irish and Americans both speak English, but trust me, Cork English is very different and hard for the uninitiated to understand. Also, the use of language and story telling, our different backgrounds, and the way we turn a phrase can cause some confusion. However it happened, the event they called “light lunch” was the biggest church feast I’ve ever had!

They were interested in our response. Did the Americans think that they’d done it up well? I’m laughing just thinking about it. It was a buffet rivaling a casino’s all you can eat binge fest- nothing like the more modest potlucks with casseroles (or “hot dish” as the Minnesotans call it), baked goods, and a few sides. Not that I haven’t been to large potlucks in which people went all out, but the Irish really took it to a whole new level. I have no idea how they got such an impression about American church lunches, but it was quite the experience!

I bring this up as an example of how church is all about perception. What we think church is, what we think it should be, and what it really is can sometimes match up perfectly, but often does not. A church is run by imperfect people and attended by imperfect people, so it will never be perfect. The history and religious foundations may be misunderstood, altered by political powers, or lacking understanding. The music may be off key. The speakers might stumble. The sound system may malfunction. Worst of all, people may leave church feeling more alone than when they came in.

The social and political aspects of church sometimes distracts and suffocates us. Maybe all we really want is the shared hope of life after death and seeing our loved ones again, redemption, mercy, unconditional love, forgiveness, deliverance, peace (“it is well with my soul” even when troubled times come), and gathering with other human beings who also want these spiritual gifts; sharing our lives with other families, seeing babies grow up, couples marrying, and supporting those who grieve- a community based on a genuine desire for everyone to be blessed by God. But the reality of how a church operates can be a vastly different experience than the raw honest emotion and connection that we long for.

So do we want to go to church? Is it worth the risk of feeling angry by something said at the pulpit, or by interactions with the congregation? It is worth feeling lonely, misunderstood, and rejected? Is it worth getting up early, making ourselves presentable, and pushing ourselves socially?

These, and more, are the questions I ask myself every time we move to a new place and need to settle the church question. I also go through this when a church situation is dysfunctional for our family and we need to look at making a change.

We’ve made changes. We’ve taken breaks. And we’ve somehow managed to still want to go to church. There are times when the Holy Spirit is in that place, and the love between fellow humans- many times complete strangers- is very real and powerful.

We have our boundaries though, and 2020’s government control of churches was one of them. We were half the choir, but when they banned singing as a response to orders without scientific foundation, we decided that they banned us. We did not return. For me, a church must be about the people who attend. More so than the political and religious order, more so than the government, more so than history and tradition, the church must be about the people. Jesus never pushed the lepers away, He went to them. He never rejected the elderly or the children. I can’t imagine a scenario in which Jesus would have agreed with the order to ban singing.

And in the end, I will not attend a church that violates my individual sovereign beliefs. Because, what critics say is largely untrue. Many of us do not attended church as cult-like drones, but instead our personal faith is the deciding force wherever we are, including church. And because of this, church (in many cases) is real. It is a space where humans gather, where personalities sit alongside each other, and our differences are tamed only by our desire for love.

When the government goes after the churches, we can imagine it’s because our gathering together gives us power that they do not want us to have. That alone should be enough reason to want to go to church? Maybe so. As I sit here today I don’t feel ready to face a new church experience, but I’m open to changing my mind and heart. I still want the things that I go to church for.

Be Thou my Vision

Singing “Be Thou my Vision” in English and Irish (Gaelic) with my daughters for Easter Show 2022

I hope you are enjoying this Easter weekend with loved ones and are feeling peace in your spirit. I’ve uploaded the Easter Show 2022 in separate short videos of the different segments (two oil paintings “Easter Lily” and “Jesus at Calvary”, two songs “I’ll Fly Away” and Irish hymn “Be Thou my Vision”). The best viewing experience is here on this site because I can upload the highest quality large HD files. However, your family and friends probably prefer to click on a platform link that they know, so I’ve put these clips and the entire show on YouTube also.

To be Hated

See my oil painting called “Jesus at the Table” come alive in 2 minutes (time lapse)

I decided to give YouTube another try. My videos weren’t been seen on there anymore so I gave up on it. My subscribers weren’t getting notified and it seemed as if my account had been (secretly?) turned off. Many of my painting videos had ZERO views on them. None at all. That’s a bit hard to believe because surely someone would have at least accidentally clicked on one of them! Anyway, the platform seems to be different from what it was a couple of years ago so I thought maybe I could start putting my videos there again. Indeed, it seems as though my videos are seen now.

Well, today I put this painting of Jesus on YouTube and it triggered a copyright notice. No problem, I have permission to use the song, but it meant that the copyright holder could monetize my video and therefore profit from my art of Jesus through ads. I didn’t like that idea. I am not monetized and I’m not sure how I feel about ever doing it with particular subjects. I was inspired to paint this and the purpose may be cheapened by ads and the tacky nature of it.

But also, it bothered me that the copyright holder is a big record label, so there was an element of big corp involved too- once again exploiting those of us who actually CREATE things and don’t have the visibility or power that they do to turn our work into wealth. The music was on a site that advertised royalty free music that creators could freely download and use however we wish. What wasn’t understood is that the minute we publish our videos on a site that allows monetization, the copyright holder will claim our videos.

This means we can’t monetize our work now or in the future, and will never get paid for it. So, the music is NOT “free” then. Our work is the payment. It feels like stealing when big business profits from clever tricks like monetization, while the creators don’t earn income from the work that is monetized. I can understand sharing the monetization, that would be fair, but only one copyright is allowed per video. That’s convenient for big business, isn’t it?

So, in the end I quickly deleted the video I’d just uploaded. I removed the copyrighted song and replaced it with a copyright free one. The result is that the new song choice is a better fit for my painting. I’m glad that I listened to my intuition and didn’t give in to the unwanted 3rd party profiteering from my art.

So, there’s that… but it’s not hate. It’s just the cold side of big business. They grow rich from the work of others, and that’s infuriating, but if I let that get under my skin it would only make me bitter. Usually I put it out of my mind and don’t think about it. Today I was pushed to think about it because I had to make that decision about my painting of Jesus.

Now I want to talk about the hate part of what happened. The “syncing” or “mirroring” feature (copying the video to another 3rd party video platform) was still active, so this Jesus painting video was also simultaneously published somewhere else- where it was nearly instantly downvoted. I figured it was downvoted by someone who had an issue with Jesus, and not with me or my art, but I didn’t know. Maybe someone didn’t like my painting. I tried to set it out of my mind. A few minutes later a comment appeared and the downvote mystery was quickly resolved.

The person had an issue with the ethnicity of Jesus. I depicted him to be of historically noted Middle Eastern and Jewish heritage. The comment claimed that Jesus was white and not an “Arab”. I am very suspicious of this exchange because it seemed that this person was trying to bait me into an argument that would make me appear to be racist in some way. I’ve had trouble before with trolls trying to get me cancelled in a setup argument. I did not fall for it then, and I did not fall for it now. I replied simply with a link to an article by historical experts who discuss what Jesus likely looked like. If this harassment continues, I’ll block future contact. This incident was not a big problem, and it’s not why I bring it up.

My point is not this specific incident, but the pattern and cycle of hate. When we pour out love, we will- to a certain degree- receive hate in return (along with love, thankfully!). We must be willing to be hated if we want to do big things. Big things attract hate. That is the price we must pay to be a shining Light of creative energy. No matter what new ideas you may contribute, someone will counter your creation with destruction. There is a yin for every yang.

We cannot avoid hate or control everyone’s actions around us. What I find peace in, is the acceptance that hate exists and I am strong enough to face it. My response is not to uselessly try to eradicate it, or force others to give me a safe space. There are no safe spaces when we choose to expand ourselves. Instead of controlling others, I give power to myself. I can see hate as it presents itself, calmly observe the probable motive for it based on the words or behavior displayed, do a risk assessment of how dangerous the incident is, and carefully consider my response.

My rules of engagement are these:

  1. I do not respond if the attack is stupid, silly, pointless, off track, etc. If it’s simply provocative and meant to get a reaction from me, I do not give that person the attention that they are seeking. I don’t reward abusive behavior or encourage more of it by engaging. So, NO engagement for this type of incident.
  2. However, if the attack can harm my brand, my work, my reputation, my character, or my family, then I will respond. I keep the reply very short, just a simple short explanation in logical defense of myself, or my choices, or my work. I will reply in a way that would hold up well in a court of law if any of these attacks should ever escalate. I am never rude, emotional, or on the offensive. I respond specifically and directly to the accusation or insult.
  3. If the attack involves a criminal offense (slander/libel, character defamation, hacking into secured areas of my site, putting me on a target list for harassment and harm, mob/group targeting, threats upon my life or my family, etc.), then I issue a public legal warning statement that they must cease immediately or the authorities will be involved and I will bring a legal suit against them. Know your rights and defend yourself.

I don’t know if any of you may find those rules of engagement useful, but those are just the practical literal ways to respond. What’s a bit murkier is the emotional, mental, and spiritual response- the private response that the hater will never see, and that we may not even fully realize has happened. Hate is powerful. Its destructive force may settle into our soul, causing us to doubt ourselves, our purpose, and whether or not we are worthy. We may wonder if what we do is worth it. We may crave solitude to hide from how much it hurts to be hated.

When I feel this way, as I did today, I remind myself of how positive, confident, and cautiously hopeful I was before someone burst my bubble. There are two well known stories that come to mind to illustrate how I can mentally/emotionally/spiritually choose to respond to hate. One of them is from the long running Peanuts comic.

Lucy invites Charlie Brown to kick the football while she holds it. Time and time again, good old Charlie Brown gets his hopes up and runs with his full heart to kick that ball high, high, high to the sky! But of course Lucy yanks it away from him every time. He’s never going to kick that ball because Lucy (life) is hateful, and Charlie is a loser. He is stupid to trust her and stupid to get his hopes up. What a fool he is. What a fool I am when I put my heart out there time and time again, only to have life yank the ball away from me!

But the second story is quite different. It’s called “The Little Engine who Could”. In it, a little engine has an impossible challenge that other bigger and more capable engines refuse to accept. A stranded engine needs help and the little engine helps him, never giving up even though the mountain is steep and the burden is heavy. He continuously tells himself “I think I can, I think I can!” When others don’t even try, he not only tries, but he refuses to give up when the journey is difficult. He thought he could, and he did. I am unsinkable! I will take on worthy challenges and never give up!

So, I can choose which story is my response to being hated. Do I respond with, “Of all the Charlie Browns in the world, I’m the Charlie Brown-iest!”, and tell myself that I’m a fool to get my hopes up? Why even try anymore! That ball isn’t that big of a deal anyway. I’ll stop trying to kick it. I’ll stop wanting to kick it. I’ll avoid that horrible Lucy forever.

Or, do I respond with the little engine’s attitude? No matter how hard the journey, how impossible the task, how negative others are, or how heavy the burden, “I think I can, I think I can!” And I will.

I will achieve my lifetime goal of 1k finished oil paintings. I will continue to paint whatever inspires me, and share it freely. No matter how negative the forces around me are, I will persevere with the right perspective and unsinkable optimism.

Jesus at the Table oil painting by Natalie Buske Thomas
Jesus at the Table” oil painting by Natalie Buske Thomas

New Painting, Nativity Scene

See oil painting “Nativity Scene” come to life in 2 minutes (time lapse)

This is the short time lapse version of one of the featured paintings in Christmas Show 2021 (the full 45 minute variety show with painting, singing and dancing is available on this site, YouTube, and BitChute). This nativity scene is larger than the one I’ve done in the past, as this one includes more than the central figures of Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus. Added are the wise men, shepherds, animals (cow, donkey, sheep) and angel. The Christmas star is included in both paintings.

“Nativity Scene” oil painting by artist Natalie Buske Thomas

I hope that you are enjoying a peaceful time with your loved ones, as we reflect on what Christmas means to us as individuals, and as we participate in our family traditions. Speaking of traditions, old and new: Tonight was the last surprise meal for our Secret Santa game. I said yesterday that I’d talk with you about that, so here it is: our youngest daughter made chicken gnocchi, and it was DELICIOUS!

Our youngest daughter’s chicken gnocchi
She took a lot of care to slow cook the chicken, grate the carrots, finely chop the celery, and chop the fresh spinach and onion. She spent two hours preparing and cooking this dish.
Here it is, served up and ready for me to light the candles before we pray together and eat.

We had a wonderful Secret Santa exchange this year and now we have gourmet leftovers to help us through the busy day tomorrow. I hope our family has inspired you to give this idea a try sometime. The week leading up to Christmas is a good time for families to share the cooking and try new special dishes.

Tomorrow is already Christmas Eve! I wish all of you peace, love, and joy. God bless you and your families.

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Launching Tomorrow!

Watch oil painting of Mary and Baby Jesus “Christmas Star” come alive in 2 minutes (time lapse)

This was last year’s painting from Christmas Show 2020. Tomorrow I plan to launch Christmas Show 2021. This year, there are TWO featured paintings as well as a variety show format of other entertainment- singing, dancing, merriment and holiday sentiment. Please tune in tomorrow and share our special show. It is a longer show and I hope that you will enjoy it.

Season of Advent

Watch oil painting “Angel Watching over Baby Jesus” come to life in 1 minute (time lapse)

I have quite a lot on my heart about Advent, but this will have to keep until tomorrow. I need to wash some paint brushes as I’m running out of time to get my special Christmas paintings done on time and I’ve made a mess of my supplies. When my best brushes are all dirty it’s a frustrating session. I also have a kitchen full of dirty dishes, and a family that has a very early morning of final exams and other stressful events that they need support for. So, it will be a bit of a late night for me and a very early day tomorrow. Today I baked an important cake that went well for the most part. I will explain more about that later also. Sorry to push my stories off, but I’m sure you understand. Life is about balance. When I need more time to take care of the household, I prioritize that. I will “see” you tomorrow. Until then, good night, dear friends. Sleep well and God bless you.

Christmas Star and Curry

Watch oil painting “Christmas Star” come alive in 2 minutes (time lapse)

This art of Mary and baby Jesus features the Christmas Star, which was visible in some parts of the world the year I painted this for the Christmas Show 2020. The star will sadly not make another appearance for 2021. And neither will my dinner gift from last year’s Secret Santa exchange.

Yesterday I mentioned the Secret Santa homemade dinner exchange that my family does (the five of us- husband, our three kids and I). I told you that there’s a funny story about this, but I was too tired to tell it and I promised I would talk about it tomorrow. And now it’s tomorrow. So, here goes:

Last year instead of cooking for the whole family (which we are doing this time), we drew names and cooked for only one person. I drew my husband’s name. Since I’ve been cooking for him for many years, I wanted to make things very different by making something that he likes, but I’ve never made because I have an aversion to the main featured spice- chicken curry. It seemed to be some sort of allergy to curry, that I only discovered after repeated ingestion of it.

Well, when I cooked with the curry, the allergy was so strongly felt that I had difficulty breathing! It was quite scary really. My throat was closing over and I had to actually leave the room, where my husband had to eat alone and then clean everything up by himself! LOL, well, that didn’t go as I’d intended it to! He enjoyed the chicken curry, so that’s a positive note. Most importantly, he was touched that I was willing to make something I’m allergic to, but he assures me that I should never attempt that again! 🙂

This year I’ll stay away from curry! I’ll share how this goes when it’s my turn to cook (as opposed to most days when I do the cooking, this will have the fun surprise factor). They never know what I’ll do. And neither do I! But it will be more interesting to see what the rest of the family comes up with, as they don’t usually cook for the family.

If you’ve not already tried a Secret Santa dinner exchange, it really is great fun. It makes for wonderful memories, and if your chefs do well, everything is delicious! You can make the surprise the dinner part only, and each person cooks for everyone on their turn (as we are doing this year), or you can exchange names and the surprise is both the person you’re cooking for and the dinner you’ll make (we did that last year, but now prefer to cook for the whole family). If you try this Secret Santa dinner idea, don’t forget to take pictures of everyone’s culinary creations!

“Jesus at the Table”

Watch Natalie paint this art in 2 minutes (time lapse)

There is always enough room for you at Jesus’ table.

Come as you are.

Matthew 14:14-21 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.” Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered. “Bring them here to me,” he said. And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Jesus at the Table oil painting by Natalie Buske Thomas
Oil painting “Jesus at the Table” by artist Natalie Buske Thomas

“Jesus at the Table” is featured in the book “50 Oil Paintings Inspired by my Christian Faith” by artist Natalie Buske Thomas and can be purchased as gifts for yourself or others