Month: September 2013

What Does the Gospel Smell Like? (Some thoughts on Pope Francis)…

The Pope is sure getting a lot of press today! He’s all over Twitter (even trending!) and Facebook. This NYT article is getting a lot of attention in particular.  The article is well worth the five minutes to read. The gist is this: The church has its priorities screwed up. In this case, of course, Pope Francis is talking about the church he leads, the Roman Catholic church, but when I read this “We have to find a new balance…otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel,” tears welled up in my eyes.  He’s absolutely right.

The freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. What does the gospel smell like? To me, the gospel smells like justice and freedom, new life and hope. But with our emphasis on judgment and infighting, worship wars and scandal, the church often makes the gospel smell like hatred and division. The institutional church is deeply flawed, everyone knows it. It’s refreshing that Pope Francis is boldly (and in my opinion prophetically) willing to challenge the church to ask itself whether or not the gospel we proclaim is sweet and fragrant or if it, well… stinks.*

* Yep, cheap pun. Roll with it.

For further reading:

A Big Open Heart to God, America Magazine 

Five of the Biggest Revelations from the Pope’s Stunning New Interview, Relevant Magazine 

Pope Bluntly Faults the Church’s Focus on Gays and Abortion, New York Times

Why I support the #NALT project despite its flaws…

Since I recently got back in to the blogging game, I’ve been keeping it rather light over here on Traci M. Smith… I’ve talked about Toddler Hotspots in San Antonio, I’ve shared some amazing things my congregation is doing, I’ve shared what I’ve been reading, I’ve even gotten crafty. This post gets into a much meatier topic, and I’m grateful for that. It’s time.  Remember, this blog is named after me, because these are my personal views. Here we go:

The NALT project is a project cofounded by Truth Wins Out and John Shore. It was inspired by the wildly successful It Gets Better Project. The goal of the project is simple: get Christians who support full equality for LGBTQ people to tell their stories and speak up. That’s it. Those who wonder “Are all Christians anti-gay?” or “Is it possible to be a Christian and support LGBT equality in the church?” can hear what other people think, how they came to their own conclusions.

Since its launch about a week ago, the NALT project has gotten a bit of press, some of it good, some of it bad. In reading almost all of the press, I still hold to my original view: The NALT project is worth supporting. Here’s why I think so:

The heart of the project is storytelling: Ask any Christian who has changed his/her mind on this issue, and you will likely hear some version of “I heard stories.” In general people don’t change their mind because someone yelled really loud, wrote an angry blog comment, or cited a variety of biblical texts. People change their minds in the context of relationships and stories.

Its art: “But it doesn’t do anything…” I’ve been hearing this a lot this week all around the twitterverse/blogosphere/internets. I disagree completely. The art of telling ones story is one of the most powerful things a person can do. Indeed, it’s the only thing that can be done that will make any difference at all. True, there is no petition attached to NALT, no “Here’s what you should do.” There’s no common creed, no mission statement, no bullet point, no marches, no protests. To that I say: exactly.

This is a theological project: This project is asking people to talk about their faith and how it relates to real life. Not just real life, but one of the biggest, hot-button issues of our time. Not only that but it was a non-Christian who named it, who said “Ok, Christians, tell me, what do you think?” Of course I stand behind that. Somebody wants to know what I think about my faith and what it has to say about this issue? Sign me up.

The name: NALT stands for “not all like that.” It came from the experience of one of the founders, Dan Savage, who heard it all the time. He would say some version of “Christians are hateful toward LGBT people” and people would say “Not all Christians are like that.” The name has been criticized for being, well, rude. I think this is a valid criticism. I would have preferred a different name, for sure. At the same time, can I say that I disagree with the name? No, I do not.

So… I made a video. You can watch it here, on the NALT website. It’s longer than I wanted it to be. It’s not perfect. It’s not edited. It is my story, though. I encourage any of my Christian brothers and sisters who are on the fence about making a video for the NALT project to go ahead and send one in!


What I’ve Been Reading — Summer 2013 Edition

Things have been so quiet here and over at Mrs. Smith Cooks, that one can actually hear the crickets chirping.  Here I am to help correct that! I hope that now that my manuscript has been turned in to the publisher, I can spend some of my writing time here and at MSC!

Though I was disappointed with the volume of books I was able to read this summer (re: above writing project and some other projects this summer) I wanted my first post back to be about what I *did* read because there are a couple of gems in there.  As I did in the Spring Edition, I’ll give my brief review and my “stars” out of five.

The Still Point of the Turning World Emily Rapp – Best book I read this summer by a landslide. This is a mother’s story of the very short life of her son Ronan who was born with Tay-Sachs disease. The book is agonizingly beautiful in its prose and its descriptions of her beautiful boy. The depth of pain in this story is overwhelming at times, as one can only imagine. I recommend this book to anyone, but particularly highlight it for anyone who is a minister, counselor, or just wanting to be a better friend to someone who is losing (or has lost) a child. Ms. Rapp does a fantastic job of explaining what she needed from friends or helping professionals as well as some of the things that were said or done that deeply wounded her. Love this book and give it six stars out of five.

Son of a Preacher Man: My Search for Grace in the Shadows Jay Bakker Somehow, even though the book was written in 2001, I had never heard of it. Furthermore, I never made the connection that Jay Bakker, cool progressive pastor of Revolution Church was the son of Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker. (Guess that he succeeded in making his own path apart from mom and dad, eh?). When I made the connection and learned of the book, I had to read it. I was fascinated by Jay’s story growing up with Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker, and to hear some of the details of his experience. Particularly moving for me (in a sad way) was hearing his sense of isolation and abandonment from Christians who cut him off or otherwise abandoned him throughout the scandal that rocked his family. It’s a wonder he returned to faith at all. A wakeup call for Christians to act like it. I give it 3 stars out of 5. The reason for the ho-hum rating despite the great content is that the writing is, well, ho hum. I recommend it for the content but you won’t find yourself glued to the seat.

Between Parent and Child: The Bestselling Classic That Revolutionized Parent-Child Communication by H Wallace Goddard – Clayton is getting to an age where he is learning how to say “no!” assert his opinion, express his wants and desires. In short, he’s learning to communicate. I was looking for some solid advice about parent/child communication that I could use in the long haul. This book is a classic and recommended by sources I generally trust for parenting advice. Perhaps it’s because I had overly inflated hopes for this book, but I was disappointed in it. (The same thing happens when someone describes a movie as an *amazing* movie. I see it, often and think “eh, it’s fine”). I found it to be mostly common sense (“listen to your child, don’t order her around.”) followed by examples that were painfully redundant. “This is what it means to listen to your child…”) It’s not that the content was bad. (In fact, it was quite good) it was that I was hoping for more. There were select passages where I found myself nodding along or reflecting on what I hope my approach will be in the future, and the book was good reinforcement for some things that I already hope I will put into practice, but it was not life changing. (Perhaps this is because the ideas have spilled over into common theories on parenting? Not sure of the reason, but this was my experience. I give it 3  stars out of 5.

Brim: Creative Overflow in Worship Design by Suzanne Castle and Andra Moran. Awhile ago Chalice Press (the publisher of my upcoming book…. yay!) had a free digital download sale. Did someone say free book? Yes please. I had this book on my list of books to check out and I’m so glad I read it. It’s full of imaginative ideas for worship. The context of your church will determine when these ideas would best be implimented. For my church, I’m planning on rolling some of the ideas out during our quarterly contemplative services. The services have creative prayer stations along with some really fantastic communal liturgies. There is a ton of brilliance in this book. I spent my time thinking “I would go to this service and feel completely at peace and at home.” and then I would turn the page to the next idea and think the same thing. I oohed and ahhed over this book. I give it five stars out of five.

Sustainable Youth Ministry: Why Most Youth Ministry Doesn’t Last and What Your Church Can Do About It by Mark Devries I had this book sitting on my desk for months and picked it up one day when I was needing to clear my head for a few minutes. It was engaging and I felt like it spoke to some of the specific problems our church (and so many churches) face. The problems, Devries suggests, have a lot to do with structural componets (job descriptions, planning calendars, databases, etc) and less to do with well designed programs. Without the structure, the program fails. The book is full of very practical ideas and plans. The book also references a study where youth were asked to list the things they think makes a youth group successful. “Having a Sr. Pastor that likes and understands youth” was ranked at #2, higher than almost anything else on the list. I recommend this one to my youth ministry and ministerial colleagues, highly. Five stars out of Five.

Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture by Ellen Ruppell Shell – Have you ever bought a cheap version of something only to have it break and have to replace it, only to have the replacement break and have to replace that, and then realizing “If I would have bought a quality one of these in the first place…” This is where the book Cheap begins. The book explores the US fascination with cheap goods and the industry created to deliver them. I though the book was interesting and worth reading, but I was bored at times. There is excellent information, however. For me, it led to some thoughtful reflection that will result in action. Three and 1/2 stars out of five.

Children’s Books I’ll end with a couple of children’s books my boys adore, as I did in the last review. We’re still in board book land around here. I’m going to highlight two bilingual editions, because there’s a few important things to highlight about bilingual editions.

 Where Is the Green Sheep? / Donde esta la oveja verde? by Mem Fox and Judy Horacek, translated by Carlos E. Calvo  – The Illustrations on this book are adorable. Brilliant, in fact. It’s a simple, sing songy story about finding the green sheep at the end. Part of the charm of the story, though, is that it rhymes in English. Obviously, when translated, it doesn’t rhyme. It’s not a bad book experience when it doesn’t rhyme (you’re still looking for the green sheep) but it makes less sense as a bilingual book. I think it would have been smarter to publish an English version and a Spanish version, because the resulting bilingual rhymes in one but not another mish mash is less successful, in my opinion. For the book itself 5 stars, for the bilingual edition 3 stars.

Mi Amor Por Ti/My Love for You (Spanish Edition) By contrast, My Love For You is a perfect candidate as a bilingual book. Great illustrations, great simple counting and repetition. I have a lot of love for this book and love to snuggle up with my boys and read it to them. Five stars.