Category: Seamless Faith

Goodbyes, Hellos, and New Projects… What a Strange Summer it Has Been.

Where to start, where to start? I’ve been way far away from this site this summer, and many of the things that I planned to write this summer have been postponed or put on hold. Slowly, very slowly, I feel like I’m coming out of a sort of hibernation. For the past six weeks or so, I’ve been able to do the necessities of job and home, but nothing extra. No extra writing, no hobbies, just work and family and sleep. It feels good to be able to start to add some of those things. I actually cleaned out a drawer the other day. Progress! I feel a bit like a butterfly coming out of a cocoon or a bear coming out of a cave!  This site isn’t usually a personal diary of sorts, but I felt like there was just so much going on that a little “here’s the news” would be great before diving in to lots of new articles and such (and boy are there a lot in my ‘drafts’ folder! Lots to look for!)  So here goes…
.
Saying Goodbye
.
kellyDQ

Priceless selfie! Traci & Kelly

This Summer I said goodbye to Kelly who was a dear friend, mentor, and colleague. The last post that I put on this blog over a month ago was a copy of the remarks I said at her memorial service. Her sudden death, at just 50 years old, has been a life challenge I’m still working through. The only way to describe it has been to say that it feels like getting booted out of orbit and flung in to outer space. I count Kelly among life’s greatest friends, and she was also a mentor to me in ministry. Some day I will post about the common sense lessons she taught me, because she was an incredibly gifted minister and her wisdom helps me on a near daily basis. Kelly and I were presenting together at a conference the week that she had her sudden stroke, and we had spent a lot of time together that week, walking the labyrinth, talking about life, sharing plans for the coming year, years, and decades. It was a privilege to be with her through those dark moments of illness and confusion, though it was obviously unimaginably difficult. I am grateful for that time and for every single moment I was able to spend with her. I continue to miss her terribly, and will for a long time, I suspect. I continue to pray for her family and those closest to her. See you soon, Kelly.
.
Waving Hello 
.
NewBaby

Hello, little baby!

Just twelve days after I said goodbye to Kelly and in the very same hospital, Elias and I heard the heartbeat of a new baby boy or girl that we are expecting to welcome some time at the end of January(ish). (After two babies who took their own sweet time to arrive, I think I will hold off on predicting actual dates.) Elias and I have gone back and forth wondering and dreaming about how many children we would parent, and we are beyond excited to be expecting this new little one. Clayton (5) and Samuel (4) are thrilled as well and can’t wait for a new brother or sister. Point of clarification: we are not “hoping for a girl this time.” We are praying for a happy, healthy baby. This new life, while an amazing joy, is also a big part of the reason I’ve been “off the grid” recently. In both of my first two pregnancies, the first trimester was the most challenging. This time, though, the challenge has risen to a whole new level. Lots of nausea, vomiting, and going to bed at 8 pm (or earlier!). I’ve finally gotten the medication that seems to work well, and the baby is growing big enough that I feel much better. Excited to feel more like myself again. Much more to come, I’m sure!
.
New Adventures for Seamless Faith 
.
Seamless_Faith_cover_5th_proof

Getting ready for a new edition!

Finally, this summer Chalice Press and I agreed to re-release Seamless Faith with new activities, a new  (super exciting!) forward, bonus materials and more. I have been working on it a teeny bit so far, but am planning to do the bulk of the re-writing in August while I’m on vacation from church. Y’all, I can’t wait! Not only do I think the re-release will be just as awesome for churches and individuals who want to practice faith at home, it’s going to be even better. Much more on this to come, but I wanted to throw it out there for a couple of reasons: 1. If you really are attached to this version time to buy it now because it will be going away. (New version won’t be out until March or April, so if you need ’em for baptisms or whatever, I’d suggest getting the current version). 2. I really want to know what fun ideas you have or activities and faith practices you’ve wanted to see included. Please comment on this post or drop by Facebook, and let me know what you’d like to see in the new version! Now’s your chance to influence the new version. Stay tuned for all sorts of fun info about the re-release. Yippee!
In sum, the following image is me, about to wake up. Look out world.
Nap time for Yogi

How to Help Your Grandchildren Grow In Faith: Ideas for Grandparents

 

I’m speaking about faith practices and families this week at Mo Ranch in Hunt, Texas. I’m half-way through the workshops (two down, two to go!) but one of the things that I’ve found so far is the same thing I find nearly every time I present about faith practices and children: a lot of grandmothers show up.  They tell me the same things, these faithful grandmas:

  • “I am the person who is present to pass on faith to my grandchildren, I want them to grow in faith and I need some ideas.”
  • “My children don’t go to church, but they don’t seem opposed to the idea that I would share faith with the grandchildren.”
  • “I want to share my faith with my grandchildren, but I’m worried about crossing a boundary or interfering somehow.”

Grandmas (and grandpas too!) I have excellent news for you: I have a TON of ideas to help you pass on your faith to your grandchildren in ways that are easy, respectful of your children, and create memories that will help your grandchildren to understand and love the faith you so want to share with them. Keep reading! 

  1. Be the initiator (or guardian) of tradition for your family. Grandparents and tradition go together like peanut butter and jelly! So many among us remember how every year grandma and grandpa would (fill in the blank). Create a tradition with your grandchildren that you stick to as much as you possibly can. Perhaps your tradition is to take the grandchildren to church on particular holidays or to say a special prayer with them before every meal. My book, Seamless Faith has traditions for every day and traditions for Holy Days (holidays) that you will want to use. Whatever tradition you choose, make it your own.  Traditions should be memorable, they should be simple, and they should happen frequently.
  2. Make faith connections with your grandchildren about the things you already do with them.  Do you go out and look at stars with your grandchildren at night? Take the opportunity to talk to them about how God made the stars and the world and everything in it. Do you have bird feeders outside? Let your grandchildren fill them up and talk to them about how important it is to take care of God’s creatures. Do you cook or bake with your grandchildren? Make extra goodies and take them to folks who need them, explaining to your grandchildren that you do this because you believe it’s important to care for others. Your grandchildren will get the message, I promise. It’s not necessary to have a separate “faith time” with your grandchildren, just weave it in to what you are already doing!
  3. Provide faith connections with your grandchildren during key transition moments in their lives. In the book, I call these “ceremonies” but you can call them rituals, or celebrations, or whatever you like! Find a way to “mark the moment” with your grandchildren in a way that honors faith. Perhaps it is the first day of school and you’d like to honor that moment with a remembrance that God is with your grandchildren wherever they go. The same is true of graduation, or the birth of a new grandchild. Ceremonies can also be valuable with your grandchildren when they experience hard times. Be there for them when they are anxious, lose a pet, or have to deal with the hard current events stories they are sometimes faced with.
  4. Think creatively about spiritual practices that you can teach your grandchildren. Often when we think about spiritual practices to practice with our grandchildren, we remember prayers and meals or bedtime. This is great, but there are so many other spiritual practices we can use, too. Again, if you’re not interested in coming up with your own, you can use the ones I lay out in Seamless Faith, some examples are: creative prayer, imagination, and meditation. There are also plenty of ancient spiritual practices that speak to children today. Things like the daily examen, the labyrinth and lectio divina can all be used with your grandchildren.

A lot of times people ask me some variation of this question: I raised my children in the faith, but they don’t go anymore. How can I get them to take the grandchildren to church?  

This is a tough one, and certainly something that I hear a lot. Each family situation is unique, but I have a few “dos and don’ts” that grandparents I’ve talked to have found to be helpful:

  • DON’T say things that inspire guilt or drive a wedge between your children and you. 
  • DO talk with your children respectfully and with genuine curiosity about why they’re not interested in church. Perhaps you will find that there is something about the theology in which your children were raised that doesn’t seem to fit with what they believe now. Many children who were raised in the 70s, 80s and 90s found that when they became adults, the faith of their parents was too judgmental, too exclusive, too difficult to relate to. They need sympathetic ears who will listen to the kind of faith they are looking to embrace. There are plenty of faith communities out there that are daring to reimagine faith and Christianity, but a lot of people don’t know where to look, or how to start.
  • DO share your faith in ways that are natural and not preaching. St. Francis of Assisi’s most famous quote is, arguably, this: “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” Your grandchildren and children will continue to remember how important your faith is to you when they see how it affects the way you life your life. When I learned how to crochet, my brother said “Yeah, I remember how grandma used to crochet those little hats for babies in the hospital. I always thought that was really cool.” I never knew she did that, but clearly it had a profound impact on my brother.
  • DO ask your adult children how they feel about your incorporating your faith stories or activities with your grandchildren. If you say “I would love to make a bird feeder with the children and talk to them about how God cares for the earth, is that ok?” your children are likely to say “Yes! That sounds great!”
  • DON’T tell your grandchildren everybody must believe the same way you do. One of the number one reasons hear from parents of young children who have decided to stay away from the church is that they feel the church is too closed-minded and is not open to a diversity of opinions. Even if you have strong beliefs about right and wrong, your children and grandchildren may not. It will help you to maintain a strong relationship with your family if you are clear that you are sharing your beliefs and do not expect them to think exactly the same way you do.
  • DO provide unconditional love and acceptance of your children and grandchildren, no matter what. 

Interested in resources that you might want to use with your grandchildren to help them grow in faith? I have some ideas about those too!

  • Here, again, is a link to my book Seamless Faith. It has 50 easy to use traditions, ceremonies and spiritual practices. I’d say about 1/2 (or more!) of the people who buy this book are grandparents.
  • Would you like to have a grandma “faith jar” on your counter? You can get the resource here. It’s 48 different faith practices that you cut in to strips. Each time you are together with your grandchildren, pick out a practice from the jar, and do what it says!
  • My favorite Children’s Bible is the Children of God Storybook Bible   I also recommend the books God’s Paintbrush, In God’s Name and Love Letters From God.

Grandparents: What ideas do you have about sharing your faith with your grandchildren? I’d love to hear them below! Also, what questions can I address in a future post? 

 

 

April Fools’ Day Conversations

aprilfools

My parents always succeeded in getting me to fall for age-appropriate April Fool’s Jokes. I still remember the first one, I was very small. Five years old, maybe younger. “You have dirt on your face! Go wash it off!” I went to the mirror and looked “No I don’t!” I said to which I heard the resounding “April Fool’s!” When I was older my dad said “Traci, there are some ducks out in the backyard.” I was wiser and so I said “No, there aren’t, it’s April Fools’ Day!” but when he left the room, I had to look just to be sure. 

There are a lot of great and silly April Fools’ jokes for families to do together, and I’m linking to them at the bottom of this post. It occurs to me, though, that April Fools’ Day is also a wonderful day to talk to kids about kindness and compassion. Some kids love jokes, some kids are sensitive and feel picked on if they don’t understand them. Here are five pointers for April Fools’ Day Conversation with Kids:

1. Talk about how April Fools’ Jokes should never hurt the person (physically) or hurt their feelings. Ask children: What kind of jokes hurt feelings? Have you ever had your feelings hurt by a joke? Explain to children that they can tell you if a joke ever hurts their feelings and tell them that you will tell them if their jokes ever hurt your feelings.

2. Talk about mutuality in practical jokes. It’s not kind to always play a joke on someone that can’t also play a joke on you. Explain that you can’t play the same types of pranks on children much younger than you because they might feel hurt or left out.

3. Talk about asking permission to play jokes. Parents can be accomplices in helping children play pranks on siblings or family members, but sometimes jokes can cross the line. Establish a culture of asking permission.

4. Talk about the difference between playing a joke and telling a lie. I saw a clever April Fools’ Activity for parents that involved making a “sunny side up egg” from a cut peach and a pile of whipped cream. Is it a lie, or a joke? How do you know the difference?

Note: This article was referenced in my monthly Seamless Faith Newsletter. This month there is a free download to an Easter Activity for New Subscribers. 

For Further Exploring:

Fun April Fools’ Activities 

 

Traci Smith is Author of Seamless Faith: Simple Practices for Daily Family Life 

 

6 thoughts on plagiarism, creative expression, and sermon writing

Stock Image  sxc.hu

Stock Image
sxc.hu

I’ve been thinking a lot about creativity recently as my book inches (and simultaneously sprints) toward the finish line. The whole process of coming up with ideas, letting them take root in my mind, writing them down, spiffing them up and sending them out into the world (with a team of people) has been hard work, and it has been a very personal process. I’ll write more about how the publishing process has intersected with my personal and professional development, but right now I want to weigh in on some thoughts about sermon writing, creative expression, and plagiarism. This is a topic that comes up a lot ministry circles, usually when someone gets busted for ripping off someone else’s work. As always, these are my thoughts and opinions, and don’t necessarily represent the thoughts and opinions of any institution I’m associated with.
1. Preachers have to be idea factories which is both invigorating and draining at the same time.  Pastors who preach every week are called to come up with new, fresh, and relevant information to speak to their people for at least 10 sometimes up to 30 or more minutes every week. That’s every seven days. The invigorating part of this is that our brains are always turned on to creative stories. We’re constantly looking for snippets of things that can be woven into sermons. Sunday comes, whether we’re ready or not. The invigorating part about that is that we always have to be plugged in to the creative energy within ourselves, we have an “excuse” to go browsing through current news stories and the New York Times Sunday section. When I want to relax and watch TED talks or browse what’s current on Twitter, I feel like even my “down time” can be useful. The draining portion of that is the exact same thing. Sometimes I feel like I can never turn my brain off.
2. Imitation is flattery, plagiarism is an insult. I think preachers need to be very clear on this point: if you rip off my work I will not only be insulted, I will use any means available to me to make sure that it never happens again. My own opinion is that this is not a usually grey area. I shake my head when classically trained pastors claim to not know it is wrong to steal someone else’s work. We know. We went to graduate school. We know the difference between imitating someone’s style, retelling their stories in our own words and straight up plagiarism. Preachers should never shy away from using someone else’s ideas or stories or inspiration, but they should always always acknowledge when they have done it. When they heard a story “somewhere” but aren’t sure where, they should just state that: “It didn’t happen to me, but I remember hearing a story one time about a…” Google is a preacher’s best friend.
3. Preaching and sermon writing is a creative work and those who preach are regularly giving away pieces of themselves. I could write about this one for a long time, but what I’m getting at is simple: be gentle and don’t take it for granted. That goes for both the writer and the hearer. Preachers take their ideas, they mull them around, and they offer them to communities of faith, with great hope that their words will make a difference in the lives of others. Certainly preachers also believe that the Holy Spirit is at work through the whole process and that the preachers is often just a vessel for something greater. Still, when a preacher is getting up in front of you, she is painting a picture, singing a song, building a bridge. The takeaway, I think, is simple, be gentle.
4. Some sermons are great; some are terrible. Oh well. Except for instances where a preacher has unlimited time for sermon preparation and research and/or is exceptionally gifted for the work of preaching and teaching (Hi, Rob Bell! I heart you!) there are weeks when the sermon isn’t the work of art everyone was hoping it might be. The best advice I ever got on this I got from the Rev. Doug Learned, PCUSA pastor and mentor who probably got it from his mentor: “Feed the people, Traci, that’s your task. Some weeks they’re getting a steak dinner and sometimes it’s PB&J, you just have to feed them. That’s your task.” I live with this analogy every week. I told it to my congregation the first week in the pulpit: “You’d better get ready for some PB&J weeks,” I told them, “but it’s my prayer you never leave this place hungry.”
5. Preaching is a two way street.  Rob Bell talks about this in his lectures on preaching, and I relate to it all the way down to my toes. He says that when people say to him “You did a good job” he wants to respond, “And how did you do?” Preaching is about conversation. It’s talking and listening. Good preaching inspires something in the listener. (Incidentally, on this, I am the first “listener” of my own messages…)
 
6. The question we should be asking about preaching isn’t “is it good?” but rather “Is it effective?” or “Does it inspire change?” Again, I think the art analogy is a useful one here. When I think about the types of art pieces that have changed my life for the better, it’s hard to say that it was “good.” I think of a piece I saw once in the San Antonio Museum of Art… it was a beautifully framed pair of ballet slippers with the title “desaparecido.” The artist was Colombian. It spoke volumes, but it was terrifying. I was drawn to it and I’m thankful for it as a work of art, but I can hardly call it “good.” What do we mean when we call preaching “good…” do we mean entertaining, or funny, or easy to stomach, or do we mean something else?
I think I could easily come up with six more but I’ll save that for another time because, well… I have a sermon to write.

Ten Things Parents of Teens are Doing Right

Stock Photo  Source: sxc.hu

Stock Photo
Source: sxc.hu

Recently an old post (from 2010) called “Top Ten Mistakes Christian Parents of Teens Make” started making the rounds on Facebook again. While I don’t know much about the author, I’m deeply interested in the subject matter. Encouraging parents as they raise faithful children is a passion, and I wrote the book on it. (Ok, a book. Ha!) One of the things that frustrated me about the “Top Ten Mistakes” post was the way it was all couched in negative terms. From the start it’s labeled as “top ten mistakes” and then each bullet lists something parents of teens aren’t doing right. I’m not the parent of a teen, but reading through the article left me feeling deflated, inadequate and hopeless. I thought of all the parents of all the teens who I’ve been privileged to work with as a youth pastor and pastor and all the stories I have heard as we’ve worked together to try and instill a sense of faith and wonder in their teens. I decided to write a post of Top Ten Things Parents of Teens Are Doing Well for all of them. I hope that all parents of teens find something useful here.
 
1. You love your teens. Deeply and insanely. Why don’t we start here? You, parents of teenagers (not just Christian parents… all parents…) really love your teenagers. It oozes out of your eyes and drips off of your lips. I feel how much you love them when you look down at my toddler boys and say “I remember when…” Or when you nudge your teenager in the side and say “Can you believe you used to be that tiny?” Your love for your teenagers is long and high and wide and deep.
 
 
2. You are praying for them. A lot. Here’s the thing: I know this because you ask me to pray for them too, and I do. You ask for prayers for your teens more than you ask for prayers for yourself. You worry about their health, their sanity, their pressure, their workloads. You want them to know God, you want them to be happy, you want them to succeed. I know you, moms and dads of Christian teens, and I know you pray.
 
3. You are working hard to provide for them.  You’re juggling demanding jobs in business, education, law, medicine, retail, hospitality and a myriad of other industries. Some of you work the night shift so you can spend time with your teens during the day. Some of you work two jobs. I see where you spend your money: you spend it on them. If you can, you are saving it for college, using it to support extra curricular activities, making your home. I don’t see you spending money on lavish things for yourselves.
 
3. You brag about them. I read your Facebook posts and spy on your Instagram photos. I see you talking about that lunch you had with your teen and that touchdown he made. You’re proud of your kids and they know it.
 
4. You remember their past and envision their future. You tell me stories about what they were like when they were little and share your dreams of what you hope they will become. You’re thinking about these things, constantly. I know, because you tell me. You tell me how your little boy used to splash in the tub and you say things like “I know she’s going to make a difference in this life.” You can’t believe that they’ve grown up so fast and to you they are still so young, so little, so unprepared to step out in to the world. Yet, you bravely lead them there, to where they need to go, and you pray. A lot. (Remember #2?)
 
5. You support their interests and endeavors. I’m talking to you Mamas of Eagle Scouts and Papas of Viola champions. I see you in the grandstands and the ceremonies. You skip church meetings for their games and their practices, and I’m proud of you for that.
 
6. You are keeping track of “what’s next.” You missed church last Sunday because you were on a college tour, and your teen can’t come help at church activities on Saturday mornings because she’s got a college prep test, or school work, or other school activity. You’re working hard to make sure when your child graduates from High School she’s academically prepared for what is to come.
 
7. You care about their spiritual well-being. You manifest this care and concern in different ways. Some of you drag your teens to church by their ears when they don’t want to go. Some of you have deep, engaging conversations with your teens around the dinner table. Some of you feel at a loss for how to connect your kids with faith and belief, though it’s deeply important to you. Maybe I can help you or point you to resources that might be of assistance, but the last thing you need is a lecture that you’re not doing it right.
 
8.  You are looking for help. You are reading parenting books, asking for parenting advice, seeking out communities that can share ideas. You aren’t satisfied with the status-quo; you want to be excellent. My pastor’s heart sometimes feels burdened for you, because I worry you’re not giving yourself enough credit. Parenting is hard. Parenting teens is really hard. You already know it, but it’s a good reminder — no book or blog post is going to give you everything you need.
 
9. You are helping them with moral and ethical decisions. When you come to me, the questions are usually complicated and the answers are not clear cut. You have to help your teen make choices about boundaries and sexuality and respect for their own lives and you also have to help them make sense of the brokenness and chaos of the world around them. It’s an impossible task, and you bravely take it on, because you know your teen needs you most of all.
 
10. You’re doing the best you can. Despite all of your efforts sometimes things don’t go smoothly. Your teens are sometimes in trouble, you are sometimes in trouble, and you almost always blame yourself when this happens. I wish you wouldn’t. It’s not that you are blameless (nobody is). It’s that in the overwhelming majority of cases you’re using every tool available to you. Maybe someone has some more tools they can share with you, but piling on guilt and feelings of inadequacy won’t help you to be a better parent. Be gentle with yourself, remember #1, and ask for help when you need it.
Good job, Mamas and Papas of teens! I’ll be giving you a call in about 12 years.