Month: February 2014

Karl Barth and the Barmen Declaration


Karl who? Does Barth rhyme with hearth?

When I decided to do a sermon series on creeds of the Presbyterian Church, I knew I’d be including the Barmen Declaration. I love the story behind it. Written in 1934 by a number of people, most notably Swiss Theologian (and Princeton Theological Seminary’s patron saint) Karl Barth. The creed was written with a particular context and political situation in mind: Nazi Germany. The writers got together and drafted a document that said, essentially, no. 

This Sunday I challenged the congregation to think about when it’s appropriate for Christians to say “God is not…” I asked each person to think of one way they can confidently finish the sentence “God is not______.” Mine was probably similar to a lot of others: God is not hate.

In my research this week I was charmed by this two minute video of Karl Barth (does not rhyme with hearth, rhymes with cart) talking about the confessing church. Such carefully chosen and pointed words and his manner seems humble and confident:

We speak a lot about what God is but there are times, it seems, when it’s important to speak about what God is not.  What do you think?

For further reading: Disruptive Grace: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth  by George Hunsinger


Sermon Remix: The Apostles’ Creed


At Northwood, we’re continuing our study of the Creeds. Last week we finished week 2, “The Apostles’ Creed.” We talked about how the creed has a long history and wasn’t written in one “working session” like the Nicene Creed was.  After learning a little bit about the creed and its history, we used it as a launch pad for a discussion about our core beliefs. What are three things we know to be true in our own lives? Each person was challenged to write down three things they knew were true about anything, science, art, faith. These were my three: 

  • I know my name, Traci Smith, is a very common name and that when you google it, a lot of other Traci Smiths come up. 
  • I know that Northwood served pancakes on Sunday to the entire church. 
  • I know that Clayton and Samuel bring immeasurable joy to my life.

After we wrote our three things we knew to be true in life we were challenged to write just one thing that we knew to be true about our faith. I wrote this:

  • I know God is love.

One of the things I love about “remixing” the sermon for this blog every week is the ability to link up some of the things that were an inspiration to me in the creative process that didn’t exactly fit in to the final sermon or the worship service. The idea of stating “three things I know to be true” came from a Ted Talk by a fantastic spoken word poet whose work I greatly admire, Sarah Kay. 

The final challenge for the week was to think not just of one thing you know to be true about faith, but ten things. If you put them all together, you have your own personal creed. I would love to see what people have come up with this week. 

Other inspiration:

Creed by Rich Mullins (The Apostles’ Creed set to music)

Manifesto by The City Harmonic (a modern/rock interpretation of a creed)



4 Techie Productivity Tools for Pastors (and anyone who has a lot of different unconnected things to organize)

1592-businessOne of the things that pastors have to do (which I’m sure is not unique to a ministry job) is organize a whole lot of different things at the same time… sermon materials, lots and lots of meetings, little tasks, big tasks, on it goes. Everyone has their own system, but here are some tools that have really been helpful for me recently. I thought I’d share the love. None of these are “sponsoring” this material nor have they asked me to promote them… just my own experience and love of these products. Enjoy!

TeuxDeux – TeuxDeux’s byline is “a simple, designy to-do app” and it describes them perfectly. It’s an app that allows you to create multiple to do lists and sync them with your smartphone. On the top is the to do for the day (and anything you don’t do automatically shifts over to the next day) and on the bottom you can create other lists (I have someday, projects, groceries, mealplan, & blogpost ideas as other lists). It’s very, very simple, and in its simplicity, it’s very effective. I’ve used a variety of online list making tools and this is the best, and the only one that works for me.

Pocket – Pocket is a browser extension that allows users to save material to read later. What makes it different than other bookmarking tools? 1. One click. Unlike Pinterest, Delicious, and other bookmarkers I’ve used in the past, pocket requires just one click, and you don’t have to enter another site to create the bookmark, just grab it with the pocket button and it’s done. I use it to “clip” articles I want to read later or articles I’ve read that I know I want to reference in a sermon sometime… not right now. Easy. Done.

Followupthen – I think of “followupthen” as a snooze button for email. If I receive something that needs to be followed up with and I’m worried it’s going to drop down to the bottom of the ever expanding email inbox, I forward it to follow up then. Follow ups can be short “” or long “” The service then emails me the follow up when I have told it to. The big hassle for gmail priority inbox users (me!) is that followups don’t end up in the priority box, but filters can be set up to workaround that problem (I don’t usually need to do that because I check all of the inboxes with some regularity).

Coffitivity – Ok, so this one is wacky, but it works for me. Coffitivity streams background noise sounds (like a coffee shop) through your computer so you can focus. I love it. For me, hearing streams of indistinct noise helps me to focus where playing music or silence can be productivity killers. It’s free to stream on both Mac and PC or a one time 99 cent purchase to add as a desktop app (mac only).

Sermon Remix: The Nicene Creed


For the next four weeks we’re studying creeds at Northwood. We’re getting a little academic (in today’s sermon alone we learned about ousia, orthodoxy and the council of Nicea. We also talked about Constantine and Arianism. (Basically, we tried to cover a semester’s worth of Church History 101 class in approximately 10 minutes. What!? It can be done!) In our exploration of the creeds, we’re also going to be thinking about what it means to use the creeds as a launchpad for personal devotion, and to look at these ancient words and be open to where the spirit might be speaking to us.

If you were at NPC today and want to dive into some of the history of the creeds, I urge you to take a little spin around the wikipedia and other articles above as well as some of the sources cited. They give a great overview.

For the second part of thinking about the creeds, that is, picking a word or phrase and using it to let your spiritual imagination wander, I talked for a few minutes about the phrase “We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.

This idea has been rolling around in my head for awhile. What does it mean to be seen, to let others see us as we really are? I had a friend staying with me this week who was attending a training with Dr. Brene Brown. As we chatted about what she was learning this week, that theme came up several times. Dr. Brown researches this very question and tries to help people overcome some of the barriers to being fully seen. I talked, too, about this fascinating study about why young children cover their eyes when they hide. The easy answer is that they’re not able to see things from the point of view of another person. In other words, if they can’t see you, they assume you can’t see them either. This leads to some really hilarious photos of children who think they are winning at the game of hide and seek, when, in fact, they are in plain view. I also read from this lovely post about what happens when people let their guard down for a photography session.  

What does it mean to be seen?

Reviewing #Her (the new movie by Spike Jonze)

When a friend encouraged me to see the movie Her a few weeks ago, my obligatory “What’s it about?” was met with “Huh?” when I learned it was about a romance between a human being and an operating system. “You will love it,” was the confident response. I did.

The film is stunning on many levels with beautiful cinematography and art direction and a thought-provoking screenplay. Most of all, though…


[Read the rest on The Jesus Review at Fidelia’s Sisters]

Some thoughts on being a pastor and a mother — a reverend mother?

Reprinted from the church newsletter. Enjoy (if you can get past the giant run-on sentences!)

When I was interviewing for the position as pastor at Northwood, I was very pregnant with Samuel, and it was a phone interview. I was full of nerves when I considered what would happen when I got to the stage where the committee might want to meet me in person. I had already had one church write me a letter that said “If you weren’t pregnant, you would have gotten the job” (I’m serious! I have it in a file, and I’ll show you.) I wondered what the folks would think. When I said to the search committee “I’m expecting a baby” they all smiled broadly! One person said “That’s great!” It was a defining moment for me in the process. I thought to myself. I might be moving to Texas. There is something special about this group of people. I know it must have been a surprise to invite a pastor with a 14 month old and a 2 month old. It was definitely a risk. In my opinion, however, it’s a risk that will continue to pay off. I remember one of my first weeks here a little boy from the Day School was walking by and he came running in to play with Clayton and Samuel’s toys. “There are toys in that office!” he exclaimed, his eyes bright with hope and joy.  At that moment, I thought to myself “Yes, this is going to work!” While every day is not rosy and perfect and I get overly busy just as we all do, for the most part, I love the ways my two vocations: motherhood and ministry come together. I have a supportive partner in Elias who does his share of parenting and supports my career, and a loving congregation who is proud to watch two little ones grow up before their eyes. (Please ignore Clayton’s attempts to rip the cloth off the communion table last week!) In the past two years I’ve been also working on another project, publishing a book about ways parents can bring faith to their homes through simple practices. It’s called Seamless Faith because when we bring faith to our children’s lives, it should be woven in naturally as a part of every day life. It was not easy to write a book while being in full time ministry and parenting my boys. I wrote the book in 15-30 minute snippets before bed or early in the morning. One of the reasons I was able to do it, though, and to forego most other free and leisure time while I was writing it was because I am so passionate about this topic. As I watch Samuel and Clayton receive hugs and kisses from all of you on Sundays and hear them shout HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO JESUS! and say “Mama, Amen! Amen, mama!” my heart is full to overflowing. I want to do my part to make sure that families know that there are easy ways to bring faith into their lives. The book is going to the printer as I write this and will be available in about 8 weeks to hold in our hands and read! I can’t wait for you to see it, and see that you are acknowledged in the beginning pages for loving and supporting me and my family as your pastor.  I feel incredibly blessed.

With grace and peace,

Pastor Traci