How To Fight Rising Food Costs

Last Saturday I went grocery shopping. I only filled my cart halfway and didn’t buy any meat, but the total cost at check-out was roughly what I would have paid for a full cart several years ago. The cost of food continues to climb at the grocer, and costs are even higher when dining out. We are experiencing inflation at a level that we haven’t seen in 40 years, and high prices are hurting everyone. However, these increases are most difficult for folks on low or fixed incomes.  

This simple restaurant dinner cost almost $90 when the tip was added (in a resort town). Eating out has become a very expensive proposition.

There are many videos on YouTube with titles like, “Eat for a week on ten dollars.” These videos are often an exercise in starvation and monotony. Usually, they consist of someone trying to stretch a pound of rice, a pound of beans, a bag of veggies, and a dozen eggs for 21 meals. Some people may have to resort to such extreme options, but most of these videos seem more stunt than substance.

In the mid-1980s, I was a medical resident and a divorced parent. Even when I became the chief resident of psychiatry, my take-home pay was low. Being chief resident of psychiatry gave me a lot of extra work, but only a $100 pretax bump in my monthly income. 

Because my daughter often stayed with me, I needed my own apartment. In my case, it was of the basement variety. I also needed a working car. Finally, of course, I had child support payments. These three expenses pushed my small salary to its limit, and I had to learn how to stretch every penny. Sometimes I made the mistake of being too frugal with my grocery purchases and bought inedible items. At other times I blew most of my week’s food allowance on a single restaurant meal. Eventually, I established a pattern of spending that struck a balance between economy and reality. I developed a system that worked for me.

During my many years of medical practice, Julie did most of the shopping and cooking for our family of five. I didn’t worry about cost; if prices went up, I just worked harder. I have been retired for four years and on a fixed income for the last three. I have saved during my working years, and Julie continues to work. However, I know that I am at a phase where I am spending more money than we are earning. When Julie retires, we will only be spending. I still have three adult children at home (although two are at boarding college during some of the year). Feeding 3-5 adults is an expensive proposition.

After my retirement, I took over many household jobs, including grocery shopping and some of the meal preparations. I’m a good and confident cook, but cooking multiple meals a week can be a drag, so I use a simplified system that I’ll describe later in this post.

My goal for today’s post is to give you some practical tips that will save you money. There are additional ways to cut your food budget, but these tips work for me. That last point deserves highlighting. It is critical to find a system that works for you. For instance, I know that I could save even more money by clipping coupons. However, I hate clipping coupons and I always forget to bring them when I shop.

In our family of adults, individuals are responsible for making their breakfasts and lunches. Julie and I take turns making dinner. I’m accountable for dinner four nights a week, Julie makes dinner twice a week, and Saturday is either a carry-out or YOYO (you’re on your own) meal.  

Carry-out food can be expensive, so why do we do it? This post is about saving money, but not about spending the absolute minimum amount of money. Our family likes a carry-out meal once a week. Lastly, we do go out to restaurants. However, as the cost of restaurant meals has gone up, our restaurant dining has gone way down.

To Costco or not to Costco, that is the question.

My friend, Tom, can go to Costco for a broasted chicken and leave with a broasted chicken. I go to Costco for a broasted chicken and leave with a $400 bill. That is not the way to save money. Costco prices are often excellent, as is the quality of their foods. However, the company uses shopping psychology to get you to buy more. If you want to save money at Costco, follow a few simple tips.  

  1. Decide what you need, and stick to buying only those items.  
  2. Make sure that you will use up an item before it goes bad. A massive bag of flour is only a bargain if consumed before it goes rancid.

Like other Costco shoppers, I have bought frozen foods that no one would eat. So they sat in the freezer, taking up space until I threw them out due to freezer burn. I’m now more cautious about purchasing untested items.  

The vacuum sealer.

Meat and cheese are expensive, but you can save considerably on them when you buy them in bulk. However, if you toss a giant package into the fridge or freezer, you will likely waste a significant portion of your purchase. I have used a vacuum sealer for years (mine is at least 20 years old). Vacuum sealers use unique bags that can be expensive, but I buy generic versions, which are significantly cheaper. It is possible to wash and reuse vacuum bags, but I’m too lazy to do that. The quart and gallon size bags work the best for my needs. When I get home, I divide up bulk packages into meal-size units and vacuum seal them. For instance, I’ll split a 5-pound block of ground beef into 4 or 5 separate vacuum packs. I’ll then place these packs in a plastic grocery bag and stick them in the freezer. It is easy to look in my chicken bag or hamburger bag and know if I need to buy more. 

Hamburger will last many months when frozen in a vacuum-sealed bag.

In the past, I had used Ziploc freezer bags for the same purpose. They work, but food stays fresher longer when vacuum sealed. However, Ziploc bags are an option if you can keep on top of your freezer’s contents. I also know people who wash Ziploc bags in their dishwasher and reuse them, getting several uses out of a single bag. 

The freestanding freezer

I bought a freezer about 25 years ago. It is a 14 cu ft upright model that needs to be manually defrosted. The freezer was inexpensive and has really served us well over the years. A frost-free freestanding freezer is not a good choice for long-term food storage as it has to heat up a bit when it auto defrosts. That process uses more energy and also shortens the storage life of frozen items. Freezers are energy efficient and use very little electricity. The chest-style ones are the most energy-efficient, but digging for things can be a pain. 

I’m not suggesting that you go out and buy a freezer if you are struggling to buy food. However, you could consider slowly saving for one or checking give-away sites like freestyle. I do think that our freezer helps us save money; equally importantly, it is really convenient to have the extra freezer space. Having items on hand makes it easy to prepare meals. I have even froze milk that I purchased during a 2 for 1 sale. All I had to do was remove a little from the gallon so it wouldn’t burst when frozen. 

Use less meat, cheaper meat, or no meat.

When we do use meat, we use less of it. Steak has gotten so expensive that it is a rare treat. When we make it, we will split a steak to serve two people. We are eating more hamburgers, chicken, and pork. We are also reducing our serving portions of these meats, often by combining them with other foods in one-pot meals. Lastly, we are moving towards more meatless meals. In fact, one of my kids’ favorite meals is my homemade mac and cheese, which I usually serve with cornbread and a vegetable. Eating less expensive food shouldn’t feel like a punishment.

My kids love my homemade mac-n-cheese.

House brands.

In many cases, I buy house-brand items. Are they as good as brand names? Honestly, I have been buying them for so long that I can’t say. However, I can say that in most instances, they are good enough. It may be cheaper to buy a brand-name item with a coupon, but I have never been able to get into clipping coupons. Items like flour, sugar and canned tomatoes are usually safe bets. In addition, many other items are of good quality. I’ll go with a house brand first and only buy a brand name if the house brand doesn’t cut it.

Brand names.

There are a few brand-name items that my family prefers. Bread, cheese sticks, and lunchmeat are some of them. I accept this and buy those items.

Dairy and eggs.

When it comes to items like milk, cheese, sour cream, and eggs, house brands are almost always cheaper, and I can’t tell the difference between them and brand name. House brand white eggs are nutritionally the same as brown eggs or free-range eggs. You may think that cage-free chickens happily roam an open field pecking for grubs. That is not the case; cage-free is closer to caged. Don’t buy advertising hype.

Bargains on meat.

I already mentioned that you can save by buying family-sized packages and splitting them up. In addition, stores will sometimes run buy-one-get-one-free sales on meat. Many stores will sell meat reaching its expiration date at significant savings. These markdowns are usually done at a particular time of day. Ask the person in your store’s meat department for more details. Buy and immediately freeze for future use.

Where to shop.

I hate shopping at Walmart, but this is where I buy most of my groceries. They offer lower prices, and they are a full-service store. I prefer smaller Aldi stores, which offer slightly lower prices than Walmart. However, the closest Aldi is somewhat out of the way and is limited if I need to buy items like toothpaste, TP, or shampoo. I also like a small nearby store called Fresh Thyme. Fresh Thyme has excellent produce that is reasonably priced. Their grocery selection is complete but less expansive than most stores. That is a good thing as I’m less tempted to buy a lot of stuff that I don’t need. Find the store that fits your needs.

Find a market that fits your needs.

Use a list.

One of the most beneficial things that you can do to save grocery money is to use a shopping list and (within reason) stick to it. In addition, you won’t come home without the eggs or butter that you were supposed to buy. Any list system will do. I use the Notes app on my phone. 

I use my phone’s list app. I check or uncheck items and I use the same list over and over.

Buy staples.

Having essential ingredients allows you to make a myriad of foods from scratch. A cake mix makes a cake, but flour makes a thousand foods. Items like flour, eggs, sugar, and rice should always be available in your kitchen. There are some more prepared foods that are inexpensive and good to have around. Pasta, peanut butter, and condensed cream of mushroom soup (as a casserole base) come to mind.

Making soda bread for a belated St. Pat’s celebration.
The end result was a bit messy but still delicious. Soda bread uses very basic ingredients and it is very easy to make.
When my daughter, Grace is at home she likes to bake with me. Here we made 6 loves of 100% whole wheat bread for less than $1 a loaf.

Buy frozen.

Certain foods can be good values when you buy them frozen. Items that we like to buy include frozen vegetables, frozen fruit, and frozen french fries.  

Use less disposable items.

Reusable items save money. My daughter uses a Rubbermaid container for her lunch sandwiches, and I use small towels to wipe up kitchen messes. However, we still use too many paper plates. Progress, not perfection!

Pack your own.

I recently bought coffee for myself and a friend; it cost over 6 dollars. I could have made the same amount of coffee at home for well under 50 cents. Using expensive K-cups is cheaper than buying coffee shop coffee, and using a standard coffee maker is much cheaper than using K-cups.

I guess we love hot beverages. It is much cheaper to make your own coffee. We usually grind our beans and use the Bunn to make a big pot. I need to drink special “low acid” coffee so I use a K-cup machine. The silver gadget is an automatic tea maker, a gift from me to my wife. She loves tea.

Buying lunch can cost around 10 dollars. Investing in reusable containers and a lunch bag can save you a fortune over time. My daughter packs a sandwich, yogurt, and fruit/or treats every day for lunch. My wife stockpiles cups of dehydrated soups and other lunch items in an office drawer. She keeps an electric kettle at her office for these soups and tea. When I was working, I would take the previous night’s leftovers in a microwaveable container and heat them up at work.  

Julie keeps a stash of lunch items in an office desk drawer. She also has an electric kettle so making a quick lunch is a snap.

Learn how to cook.

If you never learned how to cook, the prospect of doing so can be daunting. It is possible that you tried complicated recipes for an event or holiday and were left with frustration and a mess. There are an endless number of dishes that are both delicious and super easy to make. This is especially true if you have stock ingredients on hand. However, you have to accept that there may be a learning curve when you start. I guarantee that in short order, cooking will become easy. 

I would suggest buying a classic cookbook like The Betty Crocker Cookbook or The Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. Go with a hard-cover version. Caution is advised, I just checked Amazon, and someone was selling a ring-bound BH and G cookbook for almost $80! At most, pay around $25. I bought our Betty Crocker Cookbook new in 1991, and we still use it all of the time! Don’t be afraid to buy a used copy for a few pennies at a thrift shop. These books use simple ingredients, have tried and true recipes, and obvious instructions. Once you are a confident cook, you can branch out to the internet and other recipe sources. 

Using my 1991 Betty Crocker cookbook.

You need very few physical items to cook, and it is likely that you already have the basics. Are you just starting out and short on cash? Shop Goodwill or other resale stores. People get rid of cookware all of the time. All you need is a frying pan, a couple of pots, a pot lid, and a cookie sheet. Add a paring knife, a chef’s knife, measuring cups and spoons, a can opener, and a pancake turner and you are all set. Naturally, certain styles of cooking require additional equipment, which you can slowly buy as needed. You may need tongs, a vegetable peeler, mixing bowls, and more. However, you can often adapt what you have until you buy those items. I have turned meat with a fork and used a pot as a mixing bowl in my poor past. 

Clean as you go.

I can’t stress this habit enough. As I cook, I clean up. When I use a measuring cup, I wash it as soon as possible, so it is ready to be reused or put away. If you clean as you go, you will have very little mess at the end of meal preparation, and you will want to cook again. There is nothing more disheartening than having to deal with a massive mess after you finish eating your dinner.

Use it up.

It is estimated that Americans waste 40% of their food. This means that if you used up all of the food that you purchased, your food bill could be 40% less! That is a considerable number. I already talked a bit about preserving food using a vacuum sealer and using up leftovers. Also, consider using what you have in the fridge creatively instead of cooking a meal based on what you have a taste for.

The other day I made chicken soup for the family. However, the day before, my wife made dinner that included a small broasted chicken. I used chicken pieces that I had already thawed, but I also threw into the pot the broasted chicken carcass. The end result was delicious. 

Sometimes I’ll make banana bread using overripe bananas that I would normally throw away. Banana bread is simple to make, and my family thinks of it as a special treat. 

Banana bread is easy to make and really delicious!

Sometimes I add wilted salad greens or leftover rice to a soup. At other times I’ll use stale French bread to make delicious French toast. There are a multitude of ways to redefine leftovers or to use up food items that are still good but a bit past their prime. 

I added some wilted salad greens to this lentil soup.

One-pot meals.

I love one-pot meals. In fact, as I write this, I’m making one for dinner. This morning I drained some sauerkraut and added a little brown sugar, mustard, and a grated apple. I seasoned some pork chops and added everything to a slow cooker, which is now cooking on low. My wife made some excellent roasted cut-up sweet potatoes yesterday. I’ll reheat them for today’s side dish.

It took me less than 10 minutes to throw everything together this morning, and we will have a homemade dinner tonight.  

Pork chops and sauerkraut made in a slow cooker. This is our small slow cooker. I bought it in 1984 for $9 at the grocery store. I cooked countless meals in it when I was a resident doctor. After a long day, it was great to come home to a warm meal. We still use this gadget today, although we have a 6-quart model for larger meals.

One-pot meals can be made on the stove or in the oven. However, I like using small appliances, which I find to be more convenient.  

I love my pressure cooker and slow cooker. However, you don’t need an appliance to make one-pot meals. Here I’m using a dutch oven, but any appropriate pot would do.

There are an endless number of one-pot meals that use essential ingredients. Soups, stews, chili, casseroles, and much more. They are not only easy to make, but they are also economical. As a bonus, cleanup is a breeze.  

Should you buy small appliances?

Only if you use them. I have an air fryer that I never use. I know some people love them, but their capacity is too small for my large family. However, I am always using my slow cooker and electric pressure cooker (An InstantPot knockoff). In addition, I often use a waffle maker-an item that many would never use. Figure out what foods you make, and determine if an appliance would be helpful. I don’t want to be bound to the kitchen, so a gadget like a slow cooker makes my life easier. If you are on a budget, check out second-hand stores for appliances. You can always find items like toasters and slow cookers for pennies on the dollar. 

I have a few small electrics that I often use. One of them is an electric pressure cooker. Here I’m cooking corned beef. The vegetables will go in towards the end of the cooking cycle.

It is not a sin to use prepared foods.

Weigh the cost vs. benefit of your purchase. I’ll buy a frozen family-style meal, like lasagne or stuffed peppers on occasion. I find that the Walmart brand costs around six dollars and is tasty. For that price, three adults can eat dinner, and there are often leftovers for at least one lunch. I would never want an exclusive diet of these meals, but they are convenient when cooking motivation is low. I’ll add a salad, along with some bread and dinner is served. 

In addition, we frequently have a frozen pizza for Friday dinner. It is an easy tradition that isn’t very expensive. 

Bonus tip!

Make your own cleaning products.

Over the years, I have bought countless specialty cleaning products. Granite cleaner, stovetop cleaner, stainless steel cleaner, window cleaner, various toilet cleaners, mildew removers, you name it. All of these items are relatively expensive and come in single-use bottles.  

I now use homemade cleaners. I also use powdered Comet (around a dollar a can) to clean my stainless steel sink. A little goes a long way, and it does a better job than dedicated products.

I use any liquid soap (shampoo, shower gel, hand soap) to clean my toilets. One pump is all that you need.

It is easy to make homestyle window cleaner (2 cups water, ¼ cup white vinegar, a few drops Dawn).

For Mildew removal, I fill about ⅓ rd (or less) of a spray bottle with bleach and then fill the rest of the bottle with water.  

I use my homemade all-purpose cleaner for just about any surface. To make it, I add about 1 ounce of any all-purpose cleaner (Lysol, Fabuloso, PineSol, etc.), a few drops of Dawn dish detergent, to a 32 oz spray bottle, and fill the rest with warm water. I use this to clean everything from surfaces in my kitchen and bathrooms to the inside of the fridge and microwave, to the top of my glass cooktop, to my kitchen table.  

I use this cleaner multiple times a day on just about everything. One ounce all-purpose cleaner, a few drops of Dawn, and water. This one bottle of Fabuloso will make over 50 spray bottles of cleaner.

You can reuse an empty Windex-type bottle (adjusting the amount of your ingredients). However, a high-quality spray bottle is an inexpensive purchase and will last longer.  

Who cooks dinner when?

Monday Julie cooks

Tuesday I cook

Wednesday Julie cooks

Thursday I cook

Friday I cook (sort of)

Saturday Carry out or YOYO (you’re on your own)

Sunday I cook

I’ll leave Julie’s meals to Julie and only talk about what I make. I cook the way that I do because this pattern makes the task more palatable. In addition, I always involve my kids in the cooking process. This makes my job a bit easier, and it teaches them beneficial skills.

Tuesday- a light meal day. I’ll usually make something very simple for dinner. This could be breakfast for dinner (omelets with toast and sausage, waffles, and bacon), grilled hamburgers with frozen french fries, grilled cheese sandwiches, and tomato soup. You get the idea. 

My daughter, Kathryn gave me a new waffle iron for Christmas. My prior one was over 30 years old!
Waffles for dinner? Why not!
Eggs are another great “breakfast for dinner” option.
My kids love hamburgers. I’ll usually add some frozen french fries and “dinner is served.”

Thursday-a regular meal. This could be a one-pot meal, a meatloaf, homemade mac and cheese, and so on. Naturally, I’ll balance the meal out with vegetables and other sides.

I love one-pot meals. Here I’m making a cream of chicken wild rice soup.

Friday-Pizza night. I make sure that we have a frozen pizza (Home Run Inn is our favorite), but it is my daughter’s responsibility to pop it into the oven. Once done, I’ll take over and cut it up. A pizza costs around six dollars and will feed three of us, and there will usually be a piece or two left over for a late-night snack. We started pizza night when everyone was working. By Friday, we just wanted an easy-to-make dinner. Friday pizza has now become a family tradition.

Sunday-A regular meal. Many options here. Pot roast made in the pressure cooker and real mashed potatoes. Spaghetti with meatballs, garlic bread and a salad, oven-fried chicken, red beans and rice, and so on.  

If so inclined I’ll make a more complicated meal on Sunday.

I try to make things that we have in-house so that I’m not throwing out stuff. I’m far from perfect, but I know that I’m saving money.  

I know that some of you will be dismissive of our food choices. Perhaps you will think that we need to cook organic or reduce gluten or use less fat. Adapt your meals to your preferences. We love waffles for dinner, but they may not be your jam. You do you. 

Finding your balance is key to making this system work. You don’t need to do everything that I do. However, You may want to do more. I still have financial resources, so my choices may be different from someone else’s. Use these suggestions as a starting point, not as scripture. When I started along this journey, I just did a few things and then added more behaviors as time went on. Currently, I’m trying to use less disposable items (like paper towels and paper plates). Honestly, that has been difficult for me. As I said above, progress not perfection!

Good luck!

Peace

Mike 

How To Use Hate, Fear, And Scripture To Control Others

The following is my personal opinion.

Have you noticed that one thing leads to another when you research a topic, and soon you are down a rabbit hole? That has just happened to me.

A few posts ago, I wrote about why I’m leaving my Evangelical church. The church had always taken a neutral stance on controversial issues, but it transitioned into a more conservative organization. Recently, the lead pastor publicly announced his disavowing of same-sex marriages. I can’t say why he felt the need to do this, but it felt wrong for me to attend a church that was dismissive of the legal rights of a minority group.

Some churches take a negative stance on homosexuality and same-sex marriage because they believe that they are specifically banned in the Bible. These facts led me to do a deep dive into early Christianity, Judaism, and Scripture. I was raised in a Catholic family and eventually migrated to a large Evangelical church. I thought that I had a basic understanding of the ins and outs of Christianity and the Bible, but I was utterly wrong.  

I wrote a long post on the interpretation of the Bible, which you can read here. I discovered a lot more, but my post was already too long. For instance, when I searched for verses disallowing same-sex marriages, I was given a lot of quotes, but none of them specifically rejected same-sex marriages. Instead, many passages were along the lines of this one: 

MATTHEW 19:3-6

Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh?’ So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

Jesus supports marriage and is not supportive of divorce, but that doesn’t mean that he is rejecting same-sex marriage. That would require a jump in interpretation. Of interest, divorce is now common, and many churches have found a workaround for this passage. Divorce happens within the majority group, does that make it acceptable? Same-sex marriage happens in a minority group and remains unacceptable. This would imply a level of hypocrisy.

Although there is evidence of same-sex marriages in ancient cultures, that does not include the Jewish culture. However, same-sex relationships occur in all cultures. For example, some claim that King David had a romantic relationship with Jonathan, the son of King Saul.

1 Samuel 18:1-4

“Now, when he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his soul. 2 Saul took him that day and would not let him go home to his father’s house anymore. 3 Then Jonathan and David made a covenant because they loved him as his soul. 4 And Jonathan took off the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, even to his sword and his bow and his belt.”

This sounds like Jonathan and King David were a couple. However, you could also interpret this passage as they were just really, really close. We know that 1 + 1 = 2, that is a fact. However, written stories are interpreted by their content and the reader’s culture, experiences, and beliefs. Knowledgeable people have interpreted the above Scripture in several ways. Who is right? 

Interpretations get even more complicated when modern terminology is used when translating ancient passages. For example, here is the same passage using two different translations. 

1 Corinthians 6:9–10 — King James Version (KJV 1900)

9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, 10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.

1 Corinthians 6:9–10 — New Living Translation (NLT)

9 Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, 10 or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God.

The second translation specifically notes “practice homosexuality,” while the first translation says “nor effeminate.” The term homosexuality was coined by Karl-Maria Kertbeny almost 2 millennia after this passage was written. Concepts like sexual orientation did not exist in ancient times. Using the term “homosexual” would be like me translating the term “steam locomotive” to “Tesla.”  

It is also important to understand that the meaning of a word can drastically change over time.  The term “heterosexual” had a very negative connotation until the 1930s, as it implied someone who had a morbid obsession with the opposite sex. The sentence, Joe is a heterosexual, would mean that he had mental health issues if written in 1920, but that he was perfectly normal if scribed in 1935! 

If we read the KJV translation, are we to assume that gay sex is OK if the person is masculine? That is possibly true as ancient cultures did not like submissive men as submissiveness was supposed to be the role of women. The NLT version condemns male prostitutes but never mentions female prostitutes (the larger group). Is it OK to be a female prostitute?  

Dunkards are also condemned, likely because alcoholism was thought to be a moral failing. In 2022 we know that alcoholism is a diagnosable disease with known symptoms and progression. It is not considered a moral failing. We understand much of the biochemistry of this illness, including how the brain’s reward pathway is hijacked by alcohol. With our current knowledge, the above passage can be understood to say that people who have a disease will be denied the kingdom of God. Should we broaden this interpretation to other diseases? Diabetes? Cancer? Mental Illness?

Translations are imperfect; you can’t make an inerrant judgment based on a poor translation. Also, interpretations frequently fit the beliefs of the interpreter.  

What does the Bible say about pet ID chips, blood transfusions, and social security cards? Of course, it says nothing about these things; they didn’t exist in ancient times. Yet, it is possible to find a passage that can be twisted to develop an opinion, however disconnected that it may be. I have heard some say that your social security number is the mark of the beast! Now that is just plain silly.

Interpretations of the Bible can lead to prejudice and dire consequences. When AIDS erupted in the 1970s, it was understood by the medical community that it would become a severe epidemic. Initially, most victims were gay males; funding for AIDS research was hampered because it was labeled as the gay plague-a punishment for those who didn’t follow God’s law. But, of course, AIDS impacted other populations, and when politicians took off their gay blinders, funding started to flow. Bias against a minority group affected society as a whole.

How can discriminatory statements be made based on weak, variable, and subjective Bible interpretations? We are taught interpretations of the Bible by authoritative individuals who we admire and trust. If those interpretations are consistent with our belief system, we accept them. Couple the above with societal biases, and you can see how some very sincere pastors justify violating the rights of others.

Hopefully, I have demonstrated how fluid the interpretation of the Bible can be. It would seem that a person can find a way to support any opinion. The Bible has been used to discriminate against many different groups. Women, blacks, Jews, other Christians, LGBTQ people, and more. In addition, Bible interpretations can also be used to promote an anti-social ideology, often for personal gain.   

The power of hate, fear, Scripture, and a little psychology.

As I continued researching this topic, I realized that some use the Bible combined with psychology to create their custom narrative. 

The prosperity gospel preachers.

These preachers promise their followers riches, but they have to “sow a seed” of money to the pastor’s organization. They use Bible verses like 2. James 4:2 — “You do not have because you do not ask God.”

Prosperity preachers live wealthy lifestyles funded by donations. They prey on those most vulnerable and those who have the least to give. Some preach a divisive political agenda during their sermons promoting the Christian nationalist view. Prominent leaders of this genre include Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, and Paula White.  

Kenneth Copeland wanted a new private jet to replace his old private jet, as the old one needed to be refueled during transcontinental flights. Apparently, that was just too inconvenient. Mr. Copeland was originally Pat Robertson’s pilot before launching his dynasty. I guess he has a thing for airplanes. He said he needed private jets because he couldn’t ride in a commercial aircraft filled with a bunch of demons! (also called passengers.)

He eventually got enough donations for the multi-million dollar jet, but now he wants millions more to upgrade his private airfield. The believers are promised a great return to their investment or “seed.” There are many stories of poor souls “seeding” their rent money or their life savings with the hopes of having a better life. Who gets rich? The people on the top. Sort of like an MLM. 

Jim Bakker is another interesting case study. He lived a lavish lifestyle preaching the prosperity gospel on his PTL (Praise The Lord) TV network. That is until he went to prison for fraud. Now, out of prison, he is back on television preaching a fear-based apocalyptic gospel while making money selling dehydrated food for the end of times. If the last days are coming, why would you need dehydrated food? In reality, the apocalyptic gospel is just the flip side of the prosperity gospel. The end game is the same.

Faith Healers 

There are religious groups that reject modern medical care due to their interpretation of the Bible. Sadly, there are reports of children with treatable illnesses who have died because their parents or their religious community refused to allow them to have appropriate medical care. I can’t imagine someone letting their child die because they didn’t want to hurt God’s feelings. In some cases, this fear is transferred to a fear that medical treatment is not in God’s plans.  This can mutate into a hate of science. Discounting science is necessary if you are a literal Bible reader. Fear and hate fostered by a group’s beliefs can lead to dire consequences.

A permutation of this is the faith healer who uses a similar ideology but for profit. Benny Hinn comes to mind, but there have been many others over the years. For instance, Peter Popoff, Ernest Angley, Kathryn Kuhlman, and Kenneth Copeland. Naturally, they cite passages from the Bible to support their claims. Several documentaries expose the trickery of healing ministries. Very sick individuals are not allowed to go up to the healing stage. Tricks are used from faking leg growth to having people collapse with the power of the Holy Spirit.  

There are tragic stories of people losing their life savings with the hope of ridding themselves of cancer or other terrible maladies. I watched one sad video where desperate parents put their faith and money in Benny Hinn to cure their son of brain cancer. When the child died, they were told (apparently by Mr. Hinn) that it was because a curse was upon the family. There are other stories of people being shamed that it was their fault that they were not cured because of a lack of faith. Fear of illness drives the unsuspecting to seek help which faith healers then exploit. If these healers have the power to heal, why are they not demonstrating this power in hospitals rather than in paid venues?   

The Mega Church

In America, the number of churchgoers continues to decline, and the number of individuals who belong to traditional denominations is at an all-time low. However, one area of growth in Christianity is the Mega Church. These usually are Evangelical, non-denominational churches that follow a prescribed formula that simulates other familiar venues like sporting events and rock concerts. Mega Churches frequently incorporate other social activities that go beyond theology. For instance, a Mega Church may have a gym or even a sports complex for its followers.  

The above sounds like a great way to bring people back to God. Unfortunately, an explosion in size can disconnect the organization from the congregation. Historically, some large traditional denominations have demonstrated this, such as the Roman Catholic Church. The same problems occur when any church becomes so large that the leader’s behavior and actions can go unchecked. Of course, there have been many megachurch scandals, mainly of the sexual or financial variety, but that is not what I’m talking about today. I’m more interested in how an individual’s motivation shifts from religious teaching to expansion, power, and influence.  

The case of Greg Locke

Mr. Locke is the pastor of Global Vision, a non-denominational church in Nashville. His church had several hundred members before he started to preach a gospel of fear and hate. Political sermons on election fraud, conspiracy sermons saying that mask mandates are being used to see who the government can manipulate, stating, from the pulpit, that he would kick out anyone wearing a mask during his services. Publicity stunts, like a book burning of Harry Potter books (which is a fictionalized retelling of the story of Jesus, not a Satanic conversion book), are some of his strategies.  

This gospel of negativity has benefited Mr. Locke’s church, which has grown so much that its services are now held in a circus tent. In addition, he has a massive online following. He has gone from a nobody to an influential somebody by preaching hate and fear. For example, he recently claimed (with no evidence) that there were six witches in his congregation. An odd statement, but a useful one if anyone ever tries to dispute his authority.  

I watched several videos of Mr. Locke and his congregation. It would appear that the attendees seem transfixed by his fiery performance. When interviewed, it is clear that Mr. Locke is a savvy guy who sidesteps questions that could make him look foolish to a broader audience. 

Us vs. them

There is a common link that some of these preachers and other organizations use. I’m talking about us vs. them theology. Conservative politics vs. liberal politics. Individual rights vs. government rules. Church culture vs. popular culture. White vs. black. Straight vs. gay, and so on. You are demonized and hated if you are on the “them” side.

When these organizations preach these negative messages, they grow, become more influential, and more powerful.  That is sad.

We enjoy stories about UFOs, the Illuminati, Bigfoot, and conspiracies. It feels powerful to be on the inside track of unique information, look at the Q-Anon movement. A conservative church may tell you who to vote for; a more radically conservative church will tell you why the presidential election was a fraud. Churches that teach division know that it is an effective way to grow their loyalty and congregations. Naturally, this is entirely the opposite of Jesus’ message, one of tolerance and love. It is not possible to reconcile the two. 

As an aside, denominations and unaffiliated churches were given a tax-exempt status based on the concept of freedom of religion; taxation could be interpreted as a restriction of that freedom. For a church to retain its tax-exempt status, it needs to remain politically neutral for the same reason; church and state must not mix. Churches and denominations that tell you how to vote or promote political lies violate their tax-exempt status and, by law, should be taxed. Despite churches becoming political, the IRS has declined to pursue most cases. Some churches would love a public battle on this topic, and some preachers have sent the IRS DVDs of their political preaching. Why? Because such a battle would gain them national attention as well as achieve an increase in both their contributions and congregation size. 

Cult-like devotion

The Peoples Temple (Jim Jones), The Branch Davidians, and The Ant Hill Gang are just a few examples illustrating the level of control cult leaders have on their flocks. Cult leaders use basic psychological techniques combined with hate, fear, and Scripture to move their prey into their controlling jaws. Some (but not all) of their methods include:

  • Love bombing and acceptance of the disenfranchised. 
  • The Bible or other sacred document is used to bolster the leader’s claims.
  • The proclamation of some apocalyptic belief. This may mean the end of the world, but it could also mean the collapse of the government or some other tribulation.
  • Isolation from others who have conflicting ideas. This is often isolated from outside news, books, and people.
  • Outside information is labeled heretical, false, and not to be trusted. It is fake news.
  • Non-members or those that hold different beliefs are not to be trusted.
  • Fear is used to control the individual. Fearful people stay close to where they feel safe.
  • Hate is used against those outside the cult.
  • Complete devotion to the group leader is demanded, no matter what they do. Any questioning is reframed as being disloyal or siding with the enemy.
  • Membership rules and regulations can be strict or worse.
  • The leader’s beliefs are claimed to be inerrant.
  • The leader may say that they have special powers, including a direct connection to God and healing powers.
  • Members are expected to contribute financially to support the group. 
  • Some leaders may preach violence or retribution towards members or outsiders.

The reality is that these techniques also seem to be used by more mainstream groups, likely for similar reasons. See if you can notice some of these methods in your real world.

Cable news

Cable news networks fall into two distinct groups, liberal and conservative. Most of these stations’ airtime is devoted to opinion shows that look like news shows. They are biased and present an agenda rather than information. If you watch CNN, you will hear that the Republicans are evil, and if you watch Fox, you will hear that the Democrats are evil. 

These are for-profit commercial outlets whose purpose is to make money for their shareholders. The longer you watch, the more money they make. To keep you watching, the stories have to sell you on an agenda, and that agenda often includes fear and hate of the opposing side.

The case of Tucker Carlson

Tucker Carlson is a writer and opinion host on Fox News who is controversial and wildly successful. He can take a small piece of information and massage it to make a much grander suggestion. For instance, he stated that COVID infections could feminize men and then connected that theory to the political leader of another country. Naturally, he had a political expert present to support his hypothesis. It is unclear why he would think that being feminine is negative. A small Israeli study did demonstrate that some men post-COVID had lower testosterone levels. However, other experts were not supportive of this finding. He used a small, flawed study to discredit someone. However, to the masses, it was presented as the absolute truth.    

Controversy means ratings, and Mr. Carlson is an expert at stirring up controversy. After the Walmart shooting of Hispanics in El Paso, he stated that white supremacy was not a real problem. He noted that Adam Schiff was mentally ill (citing no evidence). When Lauren Duca wrote a commentary on Donald Trump, he said that she should stick to thigh-high boots and that  she was mindless and vapid. He stated that immigrants make a country poorer and dirtier.  

Despite his hateful and inflammatory comments, Tucker Carson is the most-watched opinion commentator on Fox. His words have been so egregious that many sponsors have pulled their adverts off his show. However, they just placed them into other slots on the network. Fox gets the best of both worlds; they have a media star with massive viewership while retaining profits. Hate sells.

Others who use hate and fear

Various other individuals and institutions use hate and fear techniques. A political example from the past is the case of Joe McCarthy, who was a US senator in the 1950s. He gained national notoriety and power by investigating prominent individuals. By using hate, fear, bullying, and allegations, he ruined the lives of countless public servants, actors, directors, university professors, and others. He would label these unfortunate individuals as Godless Communists, effectively ending their careers. Although his actions were extreme, such behaviors can still be seen in present-day politics.   

Closing thoughts

What happens when church leaders are more interested in power and contributions than saving souls? What happens when news organizations are more interested in advertising revenues than presenting an unbiased picture of what is happening in the world? What about politicians who will go to any lengths to advance their power and influence?

The sad reality is that hate, fear, and anger sells. Combine them with Scripture to seal the deal.  Who can argue with God?   

It is easy for me to tell you to not support organizations of hate and fear. However, I realize that such a comment will have little impact. Instead, I would ask you to take simple steps to move your life and our country forward.

Think about your pastor’s sermons or the tone of your church. Remember that Jesus’ greatest commandment was to Love one another. If you see a pattern contrary to this, or a pattern of splitting rather than joining together take note. Your church is not espousing true Christian beliefs and is sowing discontent.  

Get your news from regular network channels or other less biased outlets. If you must watch cable news, limit your viewing to no more than 30 minutes a day of newscasts (not opinion shows). If you must watch opinion shows, balance one hour on one network with a second hour on another. If you watch CNN, give the same amount of time to Fox and vice versa. You will be amazed at the differences in opinion and coverage. 

Politicians are supposed to unite people, not divide them. Unfortunately, hate and fear are very effective in mobilizing voters. There are egregious examples of this tactic, but most modern politicians use these techniques at some level. If you don’t believe me, just watch political commercials around election time. Not only do they spew hate and fear, they often present information that is so out of context that it is misleading and false. Vote for them if you believe in their platform, which you can find on their website.  Avoid BS political commercials.

In kindergarten, one of the first things that most of us learned was how to cooperate and get along with others. If someone was different from us, we were told to accept them. We were instructed to be kind to others and be responsible for our behavior. We were told to respect our environment and clean up after ourselves.

We were not told to hate, judge others against some imaginary yardstick, or demonize people who were not like us.  

It is time to return to what we learned.

Peace

Mike

Religion should join us, not split us.

Florida

I always have some anxiety before a trip, and that anxiety is even greater when I fly. I don’t worry about plane crashes; rather, I stress about the logistics of flying. Will we make it to the airport on time? Did I accidentally bring contraband items with me? Do I have the confirmation information? Will we be able to sit together? I know that this may sound silly for some of you, but these things worry me. By far, my biggest concern centers around time and not having enough of it. This used to be a point of conflict between Julie and me. Julie prefers to spend the least amount of time at the airport, and I want to be there several hours early. Thankfully, Julie now understands the stress that arriving late causes me, and we get to the airport with hours to spare. This one concession has made air travel significantly easier for me.

As a big guy, flying is no picnic. However, it seems that fellow travelers have become more considerate as of late. On both of my recent flights, the person in front of me did not recline their seat. You have no idea how uncomfortable airplane seats are for someone like me whose knees are crammed up against the seat in front of me. When someone reclines their seat, it becomes impossible to shift my feet, and I am locked into torture for the duration of the flight.

With the flight behind us, it was time to enjoy the trip. Our dear friends, John and Barb, are gracious beyond belief, and they would have allowed us to stay with them for the six days that we were in Florida. However, Julie and I chose a different option. Partly because I never want to burden anyone, and partly for a couple’s reasons.  

A few years back, we became empty-nesters. For two months, we grieved our loss; then, we settled into a couple’s life. After establishing a few who did what rules, we started to celebrate our newfound freedom. If we didn’t feel like cooking, we didn’t cook. If we wanted to lounge around the house however we chose, we did that. Suppose we didn’t have groceries in the house, no big deal. Then COVID happened, and our kids returned home.

Don’t get me wrong, we absolutely love having our kids around, but their return also meant the return of parental responsibilities. Our trip could give us a moment of being a couple again, so we decided to split the trip. During the first part of our travels, Julie and I would travel around the state. During the second part, we would visit with John and Barb.

Neither of us is very concerned about the hotels that we stay in. Our only requirement is that they are clean. Julie is the family travel agent, and she does a good job. However, the hotel that we had in Ft. Lauderdale did not meet any of our expectations. Light fixtures didn’t have shades, the microwave was missing its plate, and corrosion was on anything metal. Thankfully, we were there for one short night.

Anything metal was covered in rust.

Our other motels were circa 1960s and 1970s. They were kitschy, but we like kitschy. I was especially fond of the place we stayed in Naples. It was a bright flamingo pink and right out of the 1960s. A Hispanic family owned it with pride. The son checked us in, mom showed us around, and dad brought us our complimentary breakfast. Our room was clean and had a little kitchenette. Even the motel sign was super retro.

Our flamingo pink motel.
I really loved this old motel sign.
Our room in Naples was retro but clean.

Speaking of breakfast, I’m one of those guys who has to partake in a hotel’s complimentary breakfast. I’m especially insistent when we are traveling as a family. I’m sure that one of my kid’s memories will be me shouting, “Breakfast is ending in 30 minutes! I’m not going to stop and buy you breakfast when we can eat it for free!” Hopefully, it will bring a smile to their face and not a scowl when they recall this.

We are more National Parks people than Disney folk. We went to the Everglades on Monday, but from a different entrance point than previous trips, and took a boat ride to view dolphins and manatees. Monday was my 69th birthday, and we asked the captain for restaurant recommendations. He told us that the best seafood could be found at a local market/restaurant in tiny Everglade City, so that is where we headed. Everglade City is the Stone Crab capital of the world. I decided that stone crab was the birthday dinner that I wanted, but I was shocked to see how expensive it was. It was a special day, so I went for it. I did not regret my decision.

A dolphin greets us on an Everglades boat tour.
More dolphins.
A lazy manatee.
Typical Florida scene.
Our boat’s captain said that this was the best place to get stone crab in Everglade City.
My very delicious birthday dinner.

That night we walked the Naples city pier and viewed the sun as it sank into the Gulf of Mexico. A lovely day, indeed.

Sunset on the beach.
The beautiful Naples pier.

The next day we detoured Rt 41 onto a 25 miles scenic dirt road. We trailed a family who seemed to have eagle eyes. Every time that they stopped, we stopped and were treated to sightings of alligators, turtles, and exotic birds. We then dustily meandered on to Florida City at the tip of the peninsula.

One of many alligators that we saw.
Beautiful birds were everywhere.

The next day we drove two and a half hours on the beautiful Overseas Highway. Through towns and over the ocean, we traveled, stopping once in Marathon to use the bathroom and to buy car treats.

Key West was as I remembered it. Small, cramped, fun. Amazingly, we found free parking, which I immediately marked on Google Maps. Nothing is worse than trying to find your car when you are tired after a long day of walking. The last time we were in Key West, Hemmingway’s House was closed, so that was our first stop. Hemingway’s life is fascinating, but we were also there to see the six-toed cats. 

One of the almost 60 six-toed cats at the Hemmingway museum. They were all super chill and friendly.
One of the typewriters that Hemmingway used to forge his masterpieces.

We walked, shopped, and dined. However, our favorite activity was people-watching—another fun day.

Checking out candy in Key West.
Not the original, which was one of Hemmingway’s favorite hangouts.
Lunch in Key West. Not a lot and almost $90 with tip. However, it was tasty.
I thought that this boat (ship?) was pretty cool.

We toured other spots in Florida, but soon it was time to drive to Coconut Creek to visit with our friends. John and Barb were as wonderful as always; their house was bursting with Florida charm. 

Julie lives in our sunroom during the summer, so it was no surprise that she made a beeline to their lanai. We talked, drank coffee, laughed, and talked some more. John recently had a health crisis, but he has completely recovered. I talk to John regularly, and I was surprised that I was unaware of this recent event. 

We got to see more old friends, Debi and Val, and others. It felt like I had returned to my college days. A large group of us went to a local restaurant. A regular haunt of theirs where the waiters knew them by name. I had an enormous serving of fish and chips, so large that I had to request a doggie bag. Julie dined on a shrimp and rice concoction. We remembered old memories and past good times. More fun.

Dinner with old friends.

The next day the four of us went to Dearborn Beach and spent the afternoon watching the waves while baking in the sun. I neglected to put on enough sunscreen, a decision that I regretted later. That evening we ate at another fabulous restaurant dining in the sea air. We took our time and talked.

A day at the beach. I didn’t put on enough sunblock which became evident a few hours later.
Having dinner with John and Barb.

I have gone to school with John since kindergarten, and we became best friends in 6th grade. I forgot how we connected, but John remembered. It was time to line up after lunch, but only John and I did so. The rest of our schoolmates were still playing. I started a conversation with John by telling him some elephant jokes. I had just gotten the Scholastic book 100 and 1 Elephant Jokes, and I was apparently high on humor. At some point, I asked him if he wanted to come to my house to do homework, and the rest is history. We have been friends since that time. We went to the same high school, and we roomed together in college. You never know how a chance encounter can lead to a life-long friend. Over time, John has become more of a brother than a friend. We have known each other for almost 60 years. As an aside, it was interesting to recall how incredibly nerdy I was. Standing in line when the others were playing, telling elephant jokes, socializing by asking someone if they wanted to do homework with me… I am what I am.

I met John’s wife during orientation day at college. We have been friends for well over 40 years.

The trip was just what Julie needed. She had been working hard and needed a break. I’m retired, so I can’t say that I needed the trip. However, it was delightful. I have been to Florida many times, but always in the summer. I don’t do well with extreme heat, and I generally felt exhausted when I was there. However, being in Florida in winter is an entirely different experience. The weather was perfect, and I didn’t feel like I was dying from heatstroke.

I’m a person who doesn’t need a lot of friends, but I do need some. Those who are willing to put up with me will be rewarded with my loyalty, and I will be rewarded by theirs. There is something special when you know someone for more than a short time. Pretense drops away, and you can just be yourself. There is no need to impress the other person because they already know and accept you. Spending time with them is like putting on a comfortable pair of slippers. It is a nice feeling.

Now, back in Naperville, I sit in my chair and type this story for no other reason than to relive those recent memories. What memories will I make today?

Peace

Mike