Category: personal

Creating Your Own Traditions (Not Somebody Else’s)

This morning I was cleaning out some “miscellaneous drawers” (aka “junk drawers” aka “drawers with the following things: a paperclip, hundreds of multiplying art projects and worksheets I couldn’t throw away at the time, books I meant to read but only read the first chapter or two, and assorted half burned candles.”) Also, a bird ornament.

As you can see, the wing broke off. It was in the drawer because (since Christmas) I’ve been planning to glue it back together. There’s a deeper story behind it though. See, I heard a story of someone who, when she moved out of the house, got a box of ornaments from her mom that were labeled with every year of her childhood. It seemed like such a beautiful idea. I thought to myself “I’m going to do that when I have children.” And so I started to do it, sort of. In practice, it’s been a big mess. The ornaments are all in different boxes, some of the labels have fallen off, and the bird one with the broken wing was shoved in the drawer. If you know me, you know this project was probably doomed from the get go. It’s got a lot of steps that I’m not good at, and it requires things like cataloging and organizing and labeling and storing things in the same place for 18 years in a row. This is not me.

I think I knew in my heart this tradition was not a good fit for me when I set about it, but there was a part of me that wanted to be a different person. I wanted (want?) to be the type of person who can easily keep track of ornaments every year and add to the pile and catalog them and then effortlessly turn them over after 18 years. The truth is, I’m not that kind of person. The fact that this ornament was sitting in my drawer, broken, for almost a year was a pretty good indicator. And so, I threw it away, along with the whole idea. “I’m not going to do that,” I said to myself. I felt lighter when I threw that ornament away because I freed myself of the burden of having to stress out about this for another 18 years. (My youngest is still a baby, I would have had to start with her first ornament this year.)

You know what? It’s totally fine. My children will grow up decorating the tree, like I did. They’ll pick their favorites, like I did. They’ll leave home with a box of those ornaments, like I did. They won’t have a neatly organized and categorized box of ornaments that are labeled by date. Oh. Well. They never knew this was my original plan, and I don’t think their lives will be fundamentally different because of it. Good bye birdie ornament! Good bye unrealistic pressures and expectations!

Here’s the thing: a full 1/3 of Faithful Families is traditions. I love traditions, but I also believe they need to work for you and your family. What’s the use of a tradition if it’s going to stress you out, feel forced, or cause frustration? I fully embrace the idea that some families will read some of the many tradition ideas in Faithful Families and say “No way. That will not work in our house.”

Sometimes giving a tradition the boot is the best thing you can do. If the whole family is moaning and groaning over something that’s supposed to be fun or meaningful, it needs to go. If nobody can figure out why you do it, it also needs to go.

It reminds me of a story I heard one time. It’s one of those stories that gets passed around from preacher to preacher so I’m not sure of the original source, but the idea is something like this:

A child is watching his mother make the Christmas ham and notices she cuts off the ends before putting it in the pan. “Why do you do that?” he asks.

The child’s mother (or father as the case may be, certainly moms aren’t the only ones who prepare the Christmas ham, right? RIGHT?!) replies “I don’t know, go ask your grandmother.”

Off the child goes to ask grandma. “Grandma, why do we cut the ends off the Christmas ham?”

“I don’t know, ask great grandma.”

Off the child goes to ask his great grandma. “Great grandma, why do we cut off the ends of the Christmas ham?”

“Oh for pity’s sake” great grandma replies, “It was just because I didn’t have a big enough pan.”

[cue knowing laughter]

It’s ok to retire traditions that are out of date and not of use. Traditions can also be good for a season. Perhaps there’s one that resonates while children are young. Conversely, why not pick up new traditions when children are older? One of the things I hear a lot when I speak about Faithful Families is “I wish I had this book when my children were younger.” I understand why people say that: it’s fun to think about “starting over” and trying something new. At the same time, it’s never too late to start a new tradition. When I was in Seminary my parents hid Easter Eggs for all of my friends. We were in our early 20s, and it was a blast.

What about you? What traditions are you ready to retire? Which ones feel like they’re more “trouble than they’re worth?”

Doubts and Questions as Teachers of the Faith #KidMin

I went to seminary to get the tools and training to help teach people faith, never expecting my own faith would be challenged nearly to the point of breaking. And yet, like so many others, that’s exactly what happened. The story of Joshua and the walls of Jericho snuck up on me out of nowhere. Though it was more than 10 years ago now, I remember it like it was yesterday.

I was in the basement of the Princeton Theological Seminary Library during my first year of studies, and the article I was reading was discussing how the walls of Jericho might not have existed at all in a literal sense. I don’t remember the details, but I remember the article presenting a case for there being no archeological evidence for those walls. The premise was mind-blowing to me. “Not literal walls? What?” My mind flashed back to being a small child in Sunday School, marching around in a circle, singing “Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho. Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, and the walls came a-tumbling down.”

As I replayed that scene of that little girl, marching around the (actual, literal, real) walls the idea that there were no such walls was unbearable to me, and I started to cry big sloppy tears right there in the library. (Lots of people cry in seminary and university libraries, but it’s usually because papers are due the next day, not because crises of faith are commencing.)  The article about the walls stuck with me for weeks. “If the walls weren’t real, what else isn’t real? Have I been sold a bill of goods? What am I doing here?” The walls started to feel like a metaphor. My faith was crumbling, just like those walls, which (by the way) weren’t even real! I kept my thoughts mostly to myself as I trudged on from class to class, learning and reading and turning in assignments. There’s not an end to this faith crisis I can point to as easily as I can the beginning, but it did go away, eventually.

Eventually I came to a place where I was able to say, truthfully, that it didn’t matter to me whether the walls of Jericho were actual, literal walls or whether the story about them in the Bible points to a deeper truth about who God is. By the end of seminary I was able to distinguish a theological truth from a scientific truth in a way that made my faith infinitely stronger. For me, the story turned out just fine, and the wrestling I did in seminary turned out to be an experience I would not trade for anything. I think I’m a better minister because of it. And yet, as I reflect on the my season of doubts and questions in seminary now as an adult, I wonder how it might have been different if I were better prepared for it.

When we think of the most helpful tools for children’s ministry and faith development we often talk about age appropriate lessons, craft projects, or creative ways of telling the stories of our faith. But what about doubt? Doubt rarely makes it on any list of appropriate “tools” of the faith. And yet, we as Christian Educators and Pastors might actually serve our congregations well if we talk about doubt a bit more than we do. So often, doubt is talked about as something to get through or leave behind, rather than something to sit with for awhile as it marinates in us and transforms us. I agree wholeheartedly with theologian Paul Tillich:

Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith. 

It makes good sense to think about faith and doubt as two sides of the same coin. Wrestling with doubt, asking questions about our faith, and teaching children to embrace doubts is a way to strengthen faith, not tear it down. Doubt is like a mysterious muscle. The more we exercise it, the stronger our faith can become. How can we flex our doubt muscles and teach children to do the same?

Doubters and Questioners in Scripture

Scripture is full of great figures who doubted and wrestled with their faith. In these cases, the doubts and questions end up leading to a more mature faith that can withstand storms and trials. When we teach children about these figures, we would do well to emphasize their doubts and questions, not downplay them. Here are five stories of doubters that  can be woven in to discussions about doubt. This list isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a great place to start:

Abraham and Sarah: God promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations. When Sarah learns of this promise, her response is to doubt by laughing. “Yeah right,” she says in so many words, “I’m way too old!” But the prophesy comes true and Abraham and Sarah do become parents. When do we say “Yeah, right!” to God? When do God’s promises seem ridiculous to us?

Gideon: Gideon is one of the judges in the book of Judges who God chooses to deliver the people of Israel. Gideon can’t believe it, and puts God to the test by using fleece. One night he asks God to make the fleece wet and the surrounding ground dry. In the morning, there is so much water in the fleece he has to wring it out. But this miracle isn’t enough for Gideon. The next night he reverses the test, asking God to make the fleece dry but the ground surrounding it wet. Again, God answers the miracle. How do we test God? What does it mean when God answers us in the same way God answered Gideon? Even more challenging: What does it mean when God doesn’t answer us?

Thomas: Thomas is the quintessential doubter in the New Testament. When Jesus is raised from the dead he wants proof. He won’t believe it, he says, unless he can actually see Jesus and touch him. For Thomas seeing is believing and he will accept nothing less. We ought to raise Thomas up, not put him down. “Do you have questions? Would you like proof? You’re just like Thomas, he wanted those things too, and he was one of the disciples.”

Jesus: In Jesus’ darkest hour he doubted God and felt abandoned by God. From the cross he cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When children or young people express doubts we can remind them that nobody, not even Jesus, has a faith that can withstand every trial or every question.

Do’s and Don’ts for Handling Doubts and Questions in Children’s Ministry

  • DO: Encourage questions and doubts. “Tell me more about that” or “Oh that’s interesting, I never thought about it that way,” or “Thank you for sharing that” are all affirming ways of hearing children and young people expressing their thoughts. Use them liberally. Don’t be afraid to follow conversations where children want to take them. I also love the idea of having a question box in the classroom where children can anonymously write down their thoughts and questions.
  • DON’T: Teach that faith is not an “all or nothing” game. Some faith systems are so rigid and so fragile that questioning just one tiny premise makes the whole thing fall down like a house of cards. Remind children that just because they question or disbelieve in one area doesn’t mean they have to give up all of their beliefs. There are many different types of faithfulness. My faith doesn’t have to look exactly like yours. The pastor’s faith doesn’t have to look exactly like yours.
  • DON’T: Give answers when you don’t have them. As I say in Faithful Families, the word “mystery” is a great one. I think the word mystery allows for room for a not knowing that has confidence. “That is such a mystery, isn’t it?” is a way that I answer a whole variety of questions. Another answer that inspires confidence and trust is this one: “Nobody knows.” Somewhere along the line, particularly in Western culture, we’ve gotten the idea that teachers know the answers and students are the ones who are there to receive them. Remind the children in your care that you’re there to learn together, and talk about mysteries together.
  • DO: Lift up stories of those who had questions and doubts, including your own story (as you are comfortable.) The stories listed earlier in this article are a great place to start, but there are dozens of characters in the Bible and throughout church history who wrestle and doubt. Explore them together, and lift up their struggles and challenges as well as their virtues. Our heroes are complex. It makes them more interesting.
  • DO: Maintain a sense of humor, joy, and curiosity when teaching. This is good advice all the time, not just when working with doubts and questions. Faith is playful, joyful and fun. There are so many lighthearted ways to approach ministry together with children and young people. Enjoy!

So what about you? How do you handle doubts and questions in children’s ministry? Do they seem like challenges to overcome, or a wonderful and necessary part of faith development?

Snuggled Under God’s Wings and the Butterfly Prayer – Two Practices for Children Experiencing Natural Disaster

Dear Friends,

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, I want you all to have two practices from Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home that can be used with families and children after a trauma. Both of them allow opportunities for children to feel safe, loved and cared for in the midst of chaos all around.

Pastors and children’s ministers: you can make these available to your congregations so that children may have some practical and hands-on ways to cope.

Parents: these practices require only materials you have at home, and you can do them with children of any age.

The first, “Snuggled Under God’s Wings” provides assurance of safety and an opportunity to talk about what it means to be safe.

The second, “The Butterfly Prayer” is modeled after The Butterfly Hug.

Both of these practices can be downloaded for free HERE, courtesy of Chalice Press. Excerpted from Faithful Families

All of my prayers and love,

Traci Smith

PS – For more practical and hands on way to talk with children after a natural disaster, please see THIS POST. 

 

 

The Things I’ve Learned from Rob Bell Over the Years…

Yesterday I read this piece on CNN Outlaw Pastor Rob Bell Shakes Up The Bible BeltI have a few thoughts about Rob Bell worth reading, but I really want you to read that article. So if you click on it and read it, my work here is done. You can also read my thoughts and THEN click on it, because I’ll link it up at the end, too.

Where to begin? First can we talk about the fact that somehow talking about welcoming others, letting women preach (gasp) and standing up against hate somehow makes you an “outlaw?”  I mean, honestly. Reminds me a bit of, oh, I don’t know… JESUS. Silly headlines aside, I’ve been “tracking with” (as he would say) Rob Bell for years. One could say I’m a superfan. He would dislike that term, I think. At any rate, he’s in the hall of fame for people who have influenced my thinking and faith journey, and I’ve been wanting to thank him for that, but have missed out on multiple attempts to meet him in person (in recent years, that is.) Rob Bell is a lot like Jesus, methinks, and one of the ways is that people are always wanting to touch his robes and drain the life right out. I get it. It’s hard to narrow down all the things I’ve learned from him, but here are the top ones. Rob Bell, if you’re reading (haha!) thank you so much for everything you’ve taught me. Here are just a few things…

First thing I’ve learned from Rob Bell over the years: Don’t let people co-opt you into their “group.”

For years and years Rob Bell has refused to let people label him.

Then

Everyone: Aren’t you an evangelical?

Rob Bell: Uh….

Now

Everyone: Aren’t you one of those new progressive Christians?

Rob Bell: Uh…

Everyone has wanted to claim Rob Bell and then disown him. He won’t be put in a box. “You’re one of us!” and then “You’re not one of us!” He just keeps doing his thing. Writing his books, speaking his truth. Hanging out with Oprah. It’s annoying, frankly. It’s also inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Second thing I’ve learned from Rob Bell over the years: As you grow in faith, your faith changes. It evolves. This is not an emergency. It’s a good thing.

There’s a box somewhere, probably in my parents’ basement, that has a photo of 19 or 20 year old Traci hanging around a 27 or 28 year old Rob Bell at a Youth Specialties conference. It’s an actual physical photo because no Instas or Facebooks. Just an actual photo, taken with an actual camera. WITH FILM IN IT. (I am not lying.) In those days Rob Bell wasn’t talking about whether or not hell exists. Everyone assumed they knew what he thought about hell, because, “Doesn’t everyone think the same thing about everything?” Nineteen year old Traci had some different views back then. So did nearly 30 year old Rob Bell. You know why? Because people change when their faith changes. True. Story. Rob Bell is one of the few Christian leaders I can think of who has not apologized for changing his views but has said, rather, “Darn right I changed my mind. That’s what you do.” Mark my words, Rob Bell’s faith will continue to change and grow, and he will continue to write about it. More people will try to label him and put him in a box and it won’t work. New groups will try to claim him and dismiss him. It will be ok.

The third thing I’ve learned from Rob Bell over the years: Become a master at forgiveness.

There are a few talks/lectures/poems that I listen to multiple times a year, as therapy or routine. For the last five years, THIS TALK BY ROB BELL is one of them. DVD available HERE.

If you’re a pastor, it’s required watching. Yes, required. I can’t speak to other professions, but I really think it’s required watching for all human beings. It’s in my top five list of important talks OF ALL TIME. There is a draft in my drafts folder for this blog called “Write about the Rob Bell talk Death By Papercuts.” I may still write about it sometime and talk about why it’s so personally meaningful to me, but just, go… watch it.

Final Rob Bell over the years thing: (for now) Preach in the pulpit or outside the pulpit, just preach.

I’ve heard Rob Bell preach at Mars Hill, Youth Specialties, Willow Creek, and all the places. I’ve also heard him preach on CNN and theater stages, podcasts and Oprah. It’s all the same. Worried that the church is in decline, pastors? Don’t be afraid. There are pulpits everywhere.

Rob, thanks for everything. Traci

Here’s that article again from CNN, yesterday.

Mental Clarity and Peace for Parents: 4 Apps I Recommend

 

Last night on Facebook Live, I got to talking about some of the apps I use as Spiritual Practices. As I said on the broadcast, for me doing a spiritual practice isn’t an  “all or nothing” enterprise. I don’t use all four of these apps every day. Rather, I pick one up for a season in life and use it for awhile and then I’ll go to something else. Someone asked for a post with links, so here you go! Leave a comment with your favorite ones, or with questions about these! Ta da!

1. (In the top left of the photo) Gratitude 365. I’ve tried a few different apps for gratitude, and this is the best one. You take a photo each day and add (in journal form) your gratitude. There are several different views and layouts each day.

2. (Top right in the photo) Five Minute Journal. Most people who are talking about the Five Minute Journal are talking about the great physical book/journal. I’ve seen it: it’s gorgeous and great. For me, the actual book doesn’t work because it’s just one more thing to carry around. I love the app. The morning takes you through gratitude, an intention and affirmations. The afternoon has a reflection on the day. As the name suggests: it’s a five minute process each day.

3. (In the bottom left of the photo) Headspace. (The link goes to the Amazon subscription, but also available for iPhone and other phones) Headspace does what it says: gives you space inside your head! It’s a meditation app, but instead of being cheesy or hokey or weird, it’s really good and clean and methodical. There are guided meditations, unguided ones, short ones long ones, and “packs” that take you through whatever you’re trying to work on. I love it for personal spiritual practice, but we also use some of the short kid meditations, either at the dinner table or at bedtime. Love Headspace!

4. (Bottom right in the photo) Forrest App. I don’t use this as much as I did at one time in my life, but it’s still on my phone. Forrest is a way to focus and leave your phone to the side by growing virtual trees on your phone. For each tree you grow, you get little coins that can be redeemed for fancier trees or (if you get enough) to plant a real live tree somewhere in the world. Fun, and great for teens, I think.

 

There you have it! What are your favorites?

 

 

Birthday Tradition: A Birthday Plate!

 

Somehow, inexplicably, we woke up yesterday and our baby boy was six years old. How is that possible? How often I wish it would just slow down (a la Nichole Nordeman’s beautiful song, guaranteed to make you cry.)

I believe tradition, spiritual practice and ceremony can be a way to add meaning to our days, that we might capture them and engrave them on our hearts. When I talk to groups about this, it’s the traditions people can relate to the most. I love hearing stories about special traditions shared on holidays, birthdays and other special days. Traditions can be so comforting and act as an anchor for the soul.

Traditions need not be complicated to be powerful, and the tradition of the “Birthday Plate” is one of the simplest traditions of all. Have a special plate dedicated to birthdays and bring it out for each person, young and old, when it’s their birthday.

Here are three easy options for a birthday plate:

  1. Paint one at a pottery place (Google “paint your own pottery”) – This is how our Birthday Plate came into existence. My husband Elias and I painted one while I was pregnant with our oldest child. Doing a larger item like a plate can get expensive at a place like that, but for a plate that is to be so special, it’s worth it! Take your time, pick a design you really like, and paint over each letter several times to make it dark and vibrant.
  2. Make one using a plate from the dollar store and permanent markers. This is my new favorite way to make a gift for someone. I have used THIS TUTORIAL with great success. My children made gifts for their teachers using this technique, and we made plates for Father’s Day as well. Unique, simple, and fun. If your family doesn’t have a birthday plate tradition, get everyone involved in working on a plate together that can become the new tradition.
  3. Buy one! Etsy has a great selection.

Does your family have a special birthday plate? Post a picture in the comments or tell us about it!

 

If you like creating traditions, spiritual practices and ceremonies at home, check out my book Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home which has dozens of easy to implement ideas!

 

 

Fun Father’s Day Gift – Wearable Race Track

This weekend, I saw this great idea for a race track shirt and realized we had all of the supplies needed to make it. The boys were super excited for Elias to try it, and I wanted to share it on the blog so we went ahead and gave it to him a little early. This project is SO easy, inexpensive, and lots of fun. The boys had a great time testing it out on Elias, and he seemed to enjoy the little back massage from mini cars rolling all around!

 

Here’s how I made ours:

Materials 

  • Fabric markers – Whatever you have will do. If you need to buy some, they’re good for a lot of other things besides this. We use them to mark clothes, make costumes, etc. THESE are the ones we have, and the brush tip works really well. You could also paint this, and make it look even more awesome.

 

  • Plain white shirt – Again, whatever you have. If you get brand new ones, I would wash and dry first, though I don’t know if that’s a requirement. In our case, we just pulled out an undershirt from the drawer. Don’t go expensive or fancy here, the thin undershirt type works great because you can see through to the template.

 

  • Template – I used the template from THIS TUTORIAL which prints out on four pieces of paper, taped together

 

  • Piece of cardboard large enough for template

 

  • Tape

 

Procedure 

  • 1. Print out the template and tape together. As you can see, I did not take the time to perfectly align the edges, and it was fine. 

 

  • 2. Tape the template to cardboard. I used a flat rate priority mail box.

 

  • 3. Slide the cardboard between the front and back of the shirt so the template shows through. Note: As you can see from the photos, the road “bunches up” around Elias’s shoulders. If I were going to do it again, I wouldn’t have the image go up so high in the shoulder.

 

  • 4. Trace with fabric markers and paint if desired. We may work on this some more and color in the houses and add other details, or we may just leave it alone!

 

  • 5. Give to Dad and enjoy!

I love this as a homemade gift option. It’s not hard at all, and a great thing for children to be excited about sharing with their dad. Enjoy!

Original source: http://thebluebasket.blogspot.com/2011/09/tutorial-car-shirt.html

For many more simple and easy ways for family and children to create meaning together, see my book Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home

 

What fun and creative Father’s Day gift ideas do you have? Comment below with your ideas!

“Blink and she’ll be 24….” Thoughts on how fleeting it all is + a free practice from #FaithfulFamilies

not little for long!

This morning I was at a cafe getting some work done while my four-month-old daughter Marina Lynn was sitting beside me in her stroller. When her smiling and cooing turned to fidgeting and crying, I picked her up out of the stroller and started to pace around in the cafe. Two women caught our attention. “We’re grandmothers” one said.

“She’s gorgeous!” exclaimed the other  “I don’t suppose you’d let us hold her while you finish up your work.”

“Actually,” I said, “I would love it,” and I plopped Marina into their laps and hurried back to what I was doing.

I listened with one ear as they doted over her, and I finished up my emails as quickly as I could. When it was time to go, one of the grandmothers looked at me, teary eyed and said “I know old people say this all the time, but enjoy every minute. It goes by so, so fast.”

I recognize there are problems with that statement. One does not enjoy every moment of parenting. I did not enjoy it when one of my older children learned to remove his diaper and “made a mess” in his room (I promise you, whatever “mess” you are imagining, the reality was worse). I did not enjoy the dry heaves and vomiting when I was pregnant with Marina Lynn. I do not enjoy trying to balance the pressures of work and writing and parenting. I do not enjoy having to apologize when my child causes someone to trip in the grocery store because he’s not watching where he’s going. And so when these two grandmothers told me to “enjoy every minute,” it would have been tempting to say, “Yeah right! You forgot how it really is!” but instead I said, “You’re right,” because they are.

Whether we enjoy it or not, these years will fly by. Our children are four months old. We blink and they are four years old. We blink again and they’re fourteen. Blink one more time, and our children are having their own children. I know this is true because I have experienced it myself, and because my elders have told me it is so.

So how will we live out these precious few years we’ve been given? I’m a strong believer in tradition and ceremony. We ought to try and make these days count. My book Faithful Families is an attempt to create sacred moments at home. In between the chaos of daily living we can carve out moments of connection. A prayer here, a ceremony there.  Mother’s Day is coming up soon, and many of us will shower our mothers with candy and cards. There’s nothing wrong with that. And yet, my suspicion is that many of the mothers you know are longing for something deeper than this. We’re longing for connection. We want our days to count. We know they’ll be gone too soon.

Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home is a book of simple practices designed for mothers (and fathers) who want to create meaningful connections with their children. On this Mother’s Day our gift to you is the gift of gratitude. Download the free gratitude practice, and enjoy these moments, fleeting though they may be.

Princeton Theological Seminary, Rev. Dr. Tim Keller, and the Abraham Kuyper Lecture

When I was in my early 20s, I was unclear about whether or not I was “allowed” to be a minister. By “allowed” I mean if it was something that I thought the Bible permitted. Even though I grew up in a denomination that ordained women, I went to a college that was a part of a denomination that did not, and so I was confused.

See, I loved (and still love) my faith and I took (and still take) the Bible very seriously. Some Christians said I could be a minister, and some said I could not. At the time I was working as a youth director at a great church. The pastor of the congregation listened to my struggle and said something to the effect of “I respect your high view of Scripture, it’s the same as mine.  I want you to know our denomination allows for the ordination of women from a reformed perspective.” He went on to tell me about that reformed perspective and how it included women in ordained ministry. He even told me about all the women he met in seminary and how gifted they are. He further went on to tell me about the gifts he saw in me. He challenged me to rethink my views and consider whether or not the Spirit was leading me to ordained ministry. He is a graduate of Princeton Seminary. Without his influence in my life, I would have neither attended Princeton Seminary nor become a Minister of Word and Sacrament (Teaching Elder) in the PC(USA).

I’m thinking about that story this evening because I did a double take (ok, a TRIPLE TAKE) when I read that The Reverend Dr. Tim Keller is Princeton Theological Seminary’s choice of speaker for the Abraham Kuyper Lecture. He will also be awarded a prize for excellence in Reformed Theology and Public life.  Spoiler alert: Rev. Keller is arguably the most influential pastor of a denomination that is very clear in its assertion that women should not be ordained to ministry. He (and the denomination he serves) is also very clear in its exclusion of LGBT people.

I’ll let others argue finer points of Rev. Keller’s theology (hello, this is Princeton Theological Seminary here, arguing finer points is what we do.).  My personal soapbox is much less refined. It boils down to this: an institution designed to train men and women for ministry shouldn’t be awarding fancy prizes to someone who believes half the student body (or is it more than half?) has no business leading churches. It’s offensive and, as I have taught my four and five year olds to express, it hurts my feelings. 

But he’s not even talking about “women’s issues” or “LGBT issues,” some will argue. The lecture is on church planting. Who can argue with church planting? Can’t we look past what divides us find common ground? Of course we can find common ground. Let me state clearly and without equivocation: I believe Rev. Keller loves Jesus. I believe he is a man of faith. I believe he works hard and has a respectable career. I would happily go to the church he pastors and listen to him preach. He’s absolutely invited to come to the church I pastor and listen to me preach. We can totally hold hands during the hymn sing.  The reason that’s not enough in this case (and the reason he shouldn’t have been invited to give this lecture and receive this prize) is that this isn’t some minor thing. This is a giant lecture with a giant whoop-de-doo factor.  There’s a place for common ground, but unless Rev. Dr. Tim Keller is prepared to argue for the ordination of all the women students of Princeton Theological Seminary, the The Abraham Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Life is not that place in my opinion.

I would love to talk to the people from Princeton Theological Seminary who made this decision to better understand their position. Give me a call. Let’s chat.

UPDATE: The Seminary responded by referencing this email to the seminary community:

Dear Members of the Seminary Community,

I am aware that many in our community are deeply concerned by the invitation of the Kuyper Center at our seminary to have the Reverend Tim Keller come to campus next month. He will speak on the work of the theologian Lesslie Newbigin, and receive their annual prize as one who embodies their aspirations for extending the mission of the church in society. The focus of the concerns that have come to me is that Rev. Keller is a leader of the Presbyterian Church in America, which prevents women and LGBTQ+ persons from full participation in the ordained ministry to Word and Sacrament.

Our seminary embraces full inclusion for ordained leadership of the church. We clearly stand in prophetic opposition to the PCA and many other Christian denominations that do not extend the full exercise of Spirit filled gifts for women or those of various sexual orientations. We know that many have been hurt by being excluded from ministry, and we have worked hard to be an affirming place of preparation for service to the church.

The seminary has many student organizations and several theological centers that bring speakers to campus. While my office issues the official invitations to campus, I don’t practice censorship over the choices of these organizations, even when I or the seminary disagree with some of the convictions of these speakers. It is also a core conviction of our seminary to be a serious academic institution that will sometimes bring controversial speakers to campus because we refuse to exclude voices within the church. Diversity of theological thought and practice has long been a hallmark of our school. And so we have had a wide variety of featured speakers on campus including others who come from traditions that do not ordain women or LGBTQ+ individuals, such as many wings of the Protestant church, and bishops of the Orthodox and Roman Catholic communions.

So my hope is that we will receive Rev. Keller in a spirit of grace and academic freedom, realizing we can listen to someone with whom many, including me, strongly disagree about this critical issue of justice.

Sincerely,

Craig Barnes

If President Barnes and I were chatting over coffee or margaritas, I’d gently challenge some of these assertions and we’d probably have to agree to disagree on what his role is or should be in this. I admire many of the things he’s done for the Seminary, and I also appreciate that his job is unimaginably difficult in so many ways. It’s also worth mentioning that, though the buck stops with President Barnes and though he had (and still has) the option to be much stronger in his response, he’s not the one who extended this invitation. Those who still feel compelled to respond ought to write, not only to President Barnes, but also to the Kuyper Center who can be reached here: http://kcpt.ptsem.edu/contact-us-2/

Onward.

UPDATE #2 on this. From President Barnes:

Dear Members of the Seminary Community,

On March 10 I sent a letter to the seminary community addressing the emerging objections to the Kuyper Center’s invitation to the Reverend Timothy Keller to speak at their annual conference and receive the Kuyper Prize. Those who are concerned point to Reverend Keller’s leadership role in the Presbyterian Church in America, a denomination which prevents women and LGBTQ+ persons from full participation in the ordained Ministry of Word and Sacrament.

As I indicated in my previous letter, it is not my practice to censor the invitations to campus from any of our theological centers or student organizations. This commitment to academic freedom is vital to the critical inquiry and theological diversity of our community. In talking with those who are deeply concerned about Reverend Keller’s visit to campus, I find that most share this commitment to academic freedom.  Yet many regard awarding the Kuyper Prize as an affirmation of Reverend Keller’s belief that women and LGBTQ+ persons should not be ordained. This conflicts with the stance of the Presbyterian Church (USA). And it is an important issue among the divided Reformed communions.

I have also had helpful conversations about this with the Chair of the Kuyper Committee, the Chair of the Board of Trustees, and Reverend Keller. In order to communicate that the invitation to speak at the upcoming conference does not imply an endorsement of the Presbyterian Church in America’s views about ordination, we have agreed not to award the Kuyper Prize this year.

However, the Kuyper Center’s invitation to Reverend Keller simply to lecture at their conference will stand, and he has graciously agreed to keep the commitment.  We are a community that does not silence voices in the church. In this spirit we are a school that can welcome a church leader to address one of its centers about his subject, even if we strongly disagree with his theology on ordination to ministry.  Reverend Keller will be lecturing on Lesslie Newbigin and the mission of the church – not on ordination.

I want to thank all who have communicated with the administration of the seminary as this important conversation has unfolded on campus. We have heard many heartfelt perspectives from both sides of the debate. It has been a hard conversation, but one that a theologically diverse community can handle.

In the grace and love of Jesus Christ, we strive to be a community that can engage with generosity and respect those with whom we disagree about important issues.

Sincerely,

Craig Barnes

Well done, President Barnes. I appreciate this response, and you. This is the right move. Yes to academic freedom. Yes to listening to others whose opinions are different from our own (no matter how distasteful they may be.) No to giving large fancy prizes that can be confused with endorsement. Some may not be satisfied with this response. I think it’s a great compromise. Yes to this! -T

5 Things NOT to Say to Pregnant Women and Why (and What to Say Instead)

This post is a little “off topic” for me, but it was inspired by THIS POST  I wrote awhile back on helping speech. Since I was pregnant for the better portion of 2016, I feel like I know what I’m talking about on this one. Having heard other pregnant women concur with the challenge of some of these comments, I thought I’d post them here as food for thought. Interested in shoring up your helpful commenting when it comes to pregnant women? Read on!

“You look huge!” 

Variations: “Wow, I hope you don’t have the baby right here!” “Are you sure there’s only one baby in there?” “You’re gigantic!” “You look like you’re about to pop!

 Why you should avoid saying this: Unsolicited comments about the size of one’s belly are never welcome, but for some reason, people feel like pregnancy is an exception to this rule. Few people would walk up to an overweight person and say “Wow, you’re ENORMOUS!” Yet to pregnant women, it happens all the time. Baffling.  By the end of pregnancy, many women feel bloated and awkward, huge and uncomfortable. Nobody likes to be told that she is huge or large. It’s impossible to know how to respond to this. “Thanks?” “I know?” “You’re right?” What’s the proper response to having been told that you are gigantic? When these comments start coming when a woman has 3 or more months left in pregnancy, it makes the end of pregnancy feel even longer. I know women who had extra large bellies throughout their pregnancy who ended up dreading the daily comments about their size from friends, acquaintances and even strangers.

What you might say instead:  “How are you feeling?” or “You look beautiful/healthy/happy/wonderful/radiant” or “How is everything?”

“You look tiny!” 

Variations: “You hardly look pregnant at all.” “Are you sure there’s a baby in there?” “I can’t tell you’re even pregnant.”

Why you should avoid saying this: I have firsthand experience with this one. In a culture that values thinness and being small, I think many folks said this to me thinking it was some sort of compliment. What they didn’t know was that my baby was measuring small for her gestational age and was diagnosed with intrauterine growth restriction. Every day I was praying for growth and a bigger baby, and every comment that I was small or that nobody could see a baby in there reminded me of this. Toward the end of the pregnancy a stranger asked when I was due (I’m taking that one on next!) and when I told her she said “Wow, your baby must be really small!” I burst in to tears right there at the grocery store.

What you might say instead: “How are you feeling?” or “You look beautiful/healthy/happy/wonderful/radiant” or “How is everything?”

“When are you due?” 

Variations: When is your due date? When is the baby coming?

Why you should avoid saying this:  I completely understand why people say this as a conversation starter, and it may not be a problem for all pregnant women. It didn’t bother me when people would ask me when my children were due. On the other hand, I’ve heard a lot of women say that this question can get tiring when it’s asked all the time, particularly by strangers. (In part because the answer is often followed up with unwelcome commentary, but more on that in a different post!) Babies seldom arrive when they are “due” and they day they arrive can be wildly different than expected. Also, depending on the mother’s medical situation, the “due date” might be  a source of stress or uncertainty, and asking what seems like an innocent question might bring up topics the expectant mother would rather not discuss.

What you might say instead: “How are you feeling?” or “You look beautiful/healthy/happy/wonderful/radiant” or “How is everything?”

“You look tired.” 

Variations: “You look like you don’t feel well.” “You look exhausted.”

Why you should avoid saying this: Personally, I think “you look tired” should be stricken from everyone’s vocabulary. It feels like a socially acceptable way to tell someone they’re looking terrible. I’ve been told I look tired when I was feeling great and happy and wide awake. After being told I looked tired, though, I felt a responsibility to say “Yeah, I am sort of tired” and then high-tailed it to the bathroom to put on more lip gloss or eye liner. The same applies for pregnant women. What is possibly intended as concern comes across as a critique or insult.

What you might say instead: “How are you feeling?” or “You look beautiful/healthy/happy/wonderful/radiant” or “How is everything?”

“You know how this happens, right?” 

Variations: “Pregnant again!” “You and your husband need a different hobby!” “Don’t you have a TV at home?”

Why you should avoid saying this: I was subjected to endless comments in this category when I became pregnant with my second child a few months after giving birth to my first. Aside from being really awkward (Um, please stop talking!) it felt rude and invasive and judgmental.

What you might say instead: “Congratulations” “What a blessing!”

Pregnancy is a wild time for women. Some love it, some feel “so-so” about it. Some can’t wait to be done. For most women, though, simply being told that we’re looking wonderful or hearing a concerned “How are you” is more than enough commentary. If a pregnant woman has more information she’d like you to know, she’ll probably tell you.

So, what do you think? What unwelcome comments have you experienced during pregnancy? What would you add?