Faithful Families

April Fools’ Day Conversations


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

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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

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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.