The Church

Q&A with Kyndall Rothaus, Author of Preacher Breath

Front Cover

It’s with great joy that I’m hosting this Q&A with my friend Kyndall (pronounced like Kindle. In fact, we call her Kindle Fire in our house.) Rothaus.  Kyndall is a preacher-poet. Ever met one? Me neither. Let me say this: everybody needs a preacher-poet in their life. Kyndall recently published a book all my preacher peeps have to read, and I asked her to do a Q&A for the blog to start getting the word out. 

TS: Kyndall, thank you so much for stopping by my blog and doing a Q&A about Preacher Breath. I’ve been waiting for this for a long time! Ok, how about I give you a question that sounds kind of artsy and awesome and gives you a wordy challenge. You are a poet, after all. Here goes. Give us your resume in 10 words: 

KR: pastor, poet, lover-of-words-and-nature, very solidly human

TS: Yup. That describes the Kyndall I know, at least. Ok, how about something juicy. Three pet peeves: 

KR: ?

TS: Seriously? No pet peeves to report? I assume those will be revealed in your second book. Moving on… Three hidden talents?

KR: I am an eighty percent free throw shooter, I can fit in small spaces, and I am almost always the coldest person in a room no matter how many layers I am wearing, which I find remarkably inexplicable.

TS:  How about three writers who influence your work?

KR: Hard to narrow it down to three! At the current moment, these three writers are near the top of the list: Anne Lamott, Richard Rohr, and Alice Walker.

TS: Ok, so the reason we’re all here. You just published a book! Tell us a little about your book, Preacher Breath

KR: Preacher Breath is a written reflection of my ongoing journey to live as a wholehearted person, to preach with sincerity and imagination, and to approach both Scripture and world with a sense of wonder and playfulness. The last two years of my life have been extremely difficult, but out of that dark place emerged this book—evidence to me of the light that dawns after long nights.

TS: Who is the target audience?

KR: I sorta see Preacher Breath being for anyone on the journey towards an authentic life, but of course I imagine it having a special appeal to preachers who are fed up trying to be perfect.

TS: Wait, I’m supposed to be trying to be perfect? Ha! I know what you mean. As a pastor, I found it to be so affirming and just… gentle. I love how yur book is organized around the human body. There are chapters like “Heart: Purpose in Preaching” and “Veins: Emotion in Preaching.” So clever and so true. How did you come up with that? Was there one chapter/part of the body that inspired all the others? 

KR: The chapter titles sort of just poured out of me. But I think the chapters happened that way because the connection of the body to the soul has been a significant aspect of my spiritual growth. I want a full-bodied faith, you know? It’s easier for me to stay stuck in my own mind, but I’m on a quest to let faith seep all the way down to my toes. A disembodied religion just doesn’t do justice to the miracle of the

preacher, poet, friend, Kyndall

  incarnation. 

TS: The chapter that was the most interesting to me was “Skin: Vulnerability in Preaching.” With Brene Brown’s work on vulnerability, it seems to be a “hot topic.” For me, I always feel like I’m walking a thin line between some of the things you say (vulnerability is good for the congregation when tastefully expressed) and some of the other wisdom I’ve heard (namely that too much vulnerability or “falling apart” is unhealthy for the congregation.) How do you balance the two? How does a preacher know when she is being “tastefully” vulnerable, or just a wreck? 

KR: Well, the preacher rarely knows for certain when she is being tastefully vulnerable versus being a wreck. You have to make your best guess and go with it. I know my natural tendency is to be private and to hide, so if something is prompting me to be more honest and open, that prompting is probably exactly what I need to do. I don’t know how to balance it perfectly, but I do think it helps to pay attention to your motives. If you’re being “vulnerable” to get attention, to make people feel sorry for you, or to try and feel better, that may be a sign you are falling apart and expecting the congregation to fix you, which won’t work. If you’re self-disclosing your human struggle and feel scared to death what will happen when you do, chances are, you’re on the right track.

If you believe your troubles are worse than anyone else around you, and that by sharing them, you’ll get sympathy, this is not good. If you think by daring to expose what is most personal to you may in fact have the capacity to resonate with other hurting people, this is good. Very good. I think it means you’re getting it—that we are all having a hard time and that we are all connected.

Share in order to connect, not to get attention. But do share. If you want your people to stop hiding, you have to be willing to go first.

TS: Which chapter/passage of the book are you most proud of, and why? 

KR: Well, I feel proud of “Bones,” but it is hard to explain why—I’m not even sure I know myself. I can tell you I am most surprised by “Legs”—the last chapter of the book. It was the unexpected chapter that came to me after all the others were finished. I wrote about “authority in preaching,” which just shocked the socks off me as I was writing it, because I’m rather averse to the word authority. But as I wrote, I redefined the word, and I was startled to learn I rather liked my own definition.

TS: I rather liked it, too. In fact, I loved the whole thing and encourage everyone to get it. Get it from the publisher HERE or Amazon HERE. Keep up with Kyndall at KyndallRae.com

Thanks for stopping by, Kyndall and congratulations on Preacher Breath!

The Confirmation Project: Guest Post by Katie Douglass, Co Director of the Confirmation Project

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Traci’s Note: One of the things that always seems strange to me in the protestant tradition is that of confirmation. If done right, I think confirmation can be a rich time where young people grow to understand their faith and their role in it. Many times, though, students report confirmation as a time where they are asked to “jump through hoops,” or are “kicked out of the church.”  It makes me sad and angry to hear stories of young people who are experiencing a normal part of faith development — questioning — and are then made to feel unwelcome in the church. I don’t believe the church should get rid of confirmation, but I do think it needs some serious evaluation and discussion.

Enter the confirmation project. The confirmation project, co directed by Katie Douglass and Richard Osmer is an academic study of confirmation. I can’t tell you what they’ve found yet because, well, they’re still finding it. Read a little from Katie below and if you are interested in participating in the survey, please get in touch with them via http://www.theconfirmationproject.com  I’ll keep you posted on their findings. This research is important to how we pass on faith to our kids!  

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Katherine M. Douglass, Co-director of The Confirmation Project

Princeton Theological Seminary

December 2, 2014

Thanks for inviting me to share a guest blog post on your website Traci. Like you, I want to help parents and ministry leaders encourage growth in the faith of youth and their families. Confirmation is one of those traditional practices in the church that is meant to do just that. I currently co-direct a research project called The Confirmation Project with Richard Osmer that is aimed at discovering how congregations practice confirmation and equivalent practices. We are interested to discover how participation in confirmation intensifies faith in youth and integrates them into the body of Christ, the church.

For this project we are only studying five mainline Protestant congregations that practice infant baptism: the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the United Methodist Church. Through the survey and site visits we hope to hear from youth, parents, volunteers, mentors, and ministry leaders.

Every church in these five denominations is invited to participate. If your church has not received an email invitation, you can request one through the “Contact Us” link at our website. http://www.theconfirmationproject.com

The survey takes 15-20 minutes to complete and asks questions about what people believe, their involvement in the church, their interest in various topics, and what they think the point of confirmation is. The parent and leader survey ask many similar questions and, in a more detailed way, about how confirmation is conducted.

Some confirmation programs happen all year and some happen in the spring. Because of this we are keeping the survey open for almost all of the year (fall 2014-spring 2015). The goal is to have youth, parents, and ministry leaders take the survey at the beginning and at the end of confirmation. We are interested in seeing how participating in confirmation brings about spiritual formation in youth.

This study was inspired by a research project happening in Europe. In some European countries, like Finland, confirmation was something almost everyone participated in (over 80 percent of youth!), however, it did not result in high levels of congregational participation (only 2-3 percent of Finns attend church weekly.) In other countries, like Austria, only 10 percent of youth participate in confirmation, however, those who do are much more likely to be regular members of congregations. This study also showed that confirmation gives youth the opportunity to volunteers in ways that are otherwise inaccessible to them. Their study was very well received and as a result they have been awarded further funding to conduct two more waves of the study.

From talking with ministers and pastors early in our research we are interested in knowing if there is agreement between parents, youth, and ministers as to what “confirmation” actually is. If what we heard from the ministers is correct, there is quite a big disparity between what people think this practice is.

We also believe that we will see a higher correlation between participating in confirmation and being an active church-goer. In the US, congregations seem to have higher levels of retention than in Europe anyway, however, we have a hunch that “believing” and “belonging” will go together (i.e. when youth are convicted about their beliefs, they will be more likely to see these beliefs as part of their identity as a Christian, to belong to a church).

Our goal for this project is to help ministers grow in their awareness of what this practice can or could look like. Many ministers we have talked with feel like they are at a loss as to what they are supposed to be doing.  Many, although not all, feel frustrated that despite their efforts to help youth “confirm” their faith, they are seeing this function as the final graduation for youth out of the church. Some have seen great fruit from their confirmation ministry – and through our site visits, we plan to share these stories. I am hopeful that through our research, we will be able to help those frustrated ministry leaders have the resources they need to change confirmation into a practice that integrates youth into the body of Christ and intensifies their faith.

World Mental Health Day: 5 Thoughts from a Pastor’s Perspective…

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Today, as I’m sitting in a hospital waiting for my mother to come out of recovery for her knee surgery, I’m reminded that today is World Mental Health Day. Here are five things that are on my mind a lot when it comes to mental illness…

1. Mental Illness deserves the same treatment as physical illness in the church. I’m talking about the casseroles, the cards, the prayer requests, the phone calls from the pastor, the full court press. People who are suffering with mental illness (and their families) need real support. So many times, though, we’re afraid to mention it. There’s a stigma and a shame we can’t get over. I know the reasons for this are varied and complex, and I don’t have easy answers. I think the first step is for us to admit that we don’t talk about it enough. Maybe the first step is for everyone to say to each other “You know, why don’t we bring someone a casserole when they are depressed?” or “Why don’t we know when someone is suffering with bipolar disorder?” Mental illness is largely hidden away under layers of shame and silence. Lifeway Research points out how infrequently mental illness is discussed by church leadership which is part of the problem.

2. Colleagues… how can we help each other when we ourselves are suffering with mental illness? The same study referenced above also found 1 in 4 pastors reporting that they (we) are suffering from mental illness. We need to speak up in our clergy groups. We need to seek counseling and help if (when?) we suffer. We need to help each other.

3. Another reminder to my colleague brothers and sisters We need to find the best therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists in our town and refer to them often. In the same way: parishioners – your pastor is not a therapist (usually). Most ministers are not trained mental health professionals yet many people with mental health needs come to us. This is only a problem if we aren’t clear on what will (should) happen in that situation. We should provide appropriate spiritual care and then refer out to excellent appropriately trained mental health professionals. Every pastor has his or her own policy on how and when to counsel and the “rules” are different depending on circumstance. I usually agree to meet with someone (or a couple) up to three times about the same issue or situation and then always refer out after that. Sometimes it takes even less meetings to know when something is out of my area of expertise and education. It’s not a sign of weakness to admit that we can’t help, it’s a sign of strength. 

4. A word to all of the mental health professionals out there: thank you! Your work is so important and often invisible. Thank you for working long hours and taking on difficult cases. Another word — pastors in your community can help. Though we’re not trained to treat mental illness, we are trained to provide spiritual care. Many of your patients need that too. We can help. Let’s work together.

5.  I want to pledge to keep learning more I want to end this post with a shoutout to fellow Chalice Press author Sarah Lund and her new book Blessed Are the CrazyI’m not going to lie, the title of this book makes me nervous. I was really happy to read the Huffington Post Article she recently published explaining and defending the title. The book is important. It’s Sarah’s story about mental illness in her family. I think she’s exceedingly brave to tell it. More than this, the book aims to bring the topic to churches around the country that we might begin (or continue) to talk about it. What an important and worthy goal. Congratulations, Sarah, and I can’t wait to read your book.

On Friendship, Mentorship, and Kelly Allen for Moderator of the PCUSA

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Kelly Allen for Moderator

www.kellyformoderator.com 

OK, warning… this post might be boring if you are not Presbyterian (USA). I say might because it’s also a post mostly about friendship and what it means to be a good friend, which I think applies to everyone.

Every other year in the Presbyterian church we all get together and vote for someone to lead us. That person has a largely symbolic role. (sorry moderator candidates! It’s true!)  After all, the moderator doesn’t have much actual power. He or she can’t decree something or change the rules. Nevertheless, it’s a huge deal and what that person represents and says and does can make a lot of difference in the culture and climate of our denomination.

This week I saw the Presbyterian Outlook’s spread on the three moderator candidates and it sort of took my breath away to see the picture of my friend, colleague and mentor Kelly Allen smiling up at me. I’m so proud of her and excited about her candidacy. Though I’ve wanted to write a post about this for months, it almost feels overwhelming because there’s so much to say (hence the reason you should just read about the candidates for yourself on the article I just posted.)

There are a ton of things I could say about Kelly:  I could say she is a passionate advocate for society’s most vulnerable (it’s true). I could say she loves Jesus (true.) I could say she’s a bridge builder and a master dialogue-r (those things are true, but dialogue-r is not actually a word. Whatever.) I feel fortunate and confident that Kelly’s views on all kinds of matters in the PC(USA) align with the direction I think we need to be going, but I don’t really want to write a blog post about those things, because what took my breath away when I saw that picture smiling up at me was that this is a great friend, and mentor, and while that might not make a difference in the race for moderator, it makes a difference to me.

My first introduction to Kelly was shortly after I moved to San Antonio. She dropped by my office to welcome me to town. As in, she called me up, asked if she could come over, made an appointment and came over. That very simple fact speaks volumes. She didn’t say ‘Stop by, anytime!’ She didn’t say ‘my door is always open,’ she made the effort, and there was no real need to do that other than what I saw (and still see) as a genuine desire to be present for a new colleague At a time when we need to be reaching out to others, (and when isn’t there a time when we need to be reaching out to others) she shows what that means.

One of the things that Kelly said to me in that first meeting was this: “When I was first starting out in ministry, I had a lot of people helping me, and so if you ever need anything, I would be glad to listen and tell you what I know.” In the past two years, I’ve taken her up on that, many times. Without getting too sappy and boring and long winded, let me tell you some things that I’ve learned about Kelly as a friend and mentor that I have 100% confidence would translate over to her work as moderator:

1. She has time: I’m not going to read her impressive resume of all the impressive and fancy things she does, but she does them. Her church is big, it’s busy, it’s all of those things that people who run for moderator have. But I have never, not once, not even for a minute thought “I bet she doesn’t have time to help with my silly old problem.” I’m guessing she feels cramped for time, but I’ve never seen or felt it.

2. She’s collaborative: I’ve worked with Kelly in a number of settings and they have one thing in common: bringing people together. She makes introductions and lets people share their own gifts. She doesn’t hog the spotlight; she facilitates discussion.

3. She’s fair: Good friends and mentors don’t just listen to what you say and then rubber stamp it. They challenge you and say “I wonder if you’ve thought about that in this way.”

4. She doesn’t just regurgitate what she thinks she’s supposed to say: Kelly recently posted on her Facebook Page a long and interesting question about what it means to talk about a theological or political “spectrum.” One of the things she said was  

I am passionate about Jesus Christ being the center of my identity as a person of faith and committed to sharing this good news AND I am passionate about honoring the dignity and learning from the wisdom of people of other faiths. Does that make me a right wing evangelical or a left wing liberal or do those do just cancel each other out and put me in the muddled middle?

I love that because 1. It sounds just like the Kelly I know (asking brave and challenging questions that make a lot of sense) 2. After that she said “So help me come up with a metaphor that works. (see also: collaboration!) Love.

Ok, so what I really want to do is keep going and gushing and using words like awesome and amazing and “I want to be like her when I grow up” (true, true, and all true) but I don’t want to be like that person at a wedding that keeps yammering on at the speeches time (you know who I’m talking about). I’m sure that in the coming weeks there will be lots of endorsements and opinions coming out and running around and I wanted to put mine out now, before I start to censor it and wonder if I should write it at all. Because here’s the thing: she’s a good friend and a good mentor, and that matters. It would matter to me if I were voting in this election in Detroit this summer.  Good Luck, Kelly!

 

Four Reasons Why This Pastor Encourages Egg Hunts in Churches

eastersheepandegg

The Saturday before Easter, my lovely congregation will be holding a little Easter Egg hunt with cupcakes, cascarones, music and laughter. Some pastors might argue this is liturgically, theologically or spiritually inappropriate. I don’t think so, and here are four reasons why.

1. The Easter date was chosen to coincide with a pagan festival... there’s already ample historical precedent for the church putting itself squarely in the middle of culture. The early Christians thought it was a good idea to celebrate the risen Christ in the middle of where the party already was. They contextualized it. It doesn’t make Jesus any less risen, it makes him risen at a time when people are already having a party. I’m fine with that. Eggs and bunnies, chicks and candy aren’t going anywhere, culture-wise. Children will associate Easter with bunnies and chicks and candy and eggs even if there is no egg hunt on the church lawn. So why not have a celebration that includes these things in a place where there are adults who love them and will also share the message of Jesus and resurrection and new life?

2. It’s a great way to reach out to people who don’t have a faith home. Eggs and candy and games are a very low-stress way to drop by a church. If a child and his or her parents drops by and has a great time and is inspired to come back, I see that as a huge win. If not, it’s an opportunity to share our love and joy with the community.

3. There is time for deeper reflection and Good Friday Mourning later One of the arguments against holding Egg Hunts before Easter (during lent or on Good Friday or on Holy Saturday) is that it is to be a time of penance, mourning and reflection. I agree with this, and I think that families can do a lot of age-appropriate things to teach their children about meditation and grief and restraint. At the same time, let’s let children be children, let’s let them be joyful even if we ourselves are in mourning Life is hard and our children will be adults soon enough. I believe that we, as adults, have a responsibility to shield our children from some of the darkness that is Good Friday. There is a balance here. We can’t ignore the truth of what happened on the cross, but we have to be mindful of what little heads and hearts can grasp at tender ages.

4. There is room for both. I don’t think we should baptize the Easter Bunny, but our children can have both. They can understand that Easter is about the Resurrected Lord and it’s also about celebration and joy (and sure, candy eggs, why not?) There is nothing to fear. If we do our jobs, Jesus will become more real with each interaction they have from loving adults and pastors who will stop at nothing to make sure that they grow up to be fun-loving, Jesus-following, life-giving people.

What do you think?

For Further Reading: Where Did the Easter Bunny Come From?

Heaven… ticketed guests only?

A Ticket to Heaven... The Worst Idea I've Seen in a Long, Long Time.

A Ticket to Heaven… The Worst Idea I’ve Seen in a Long, Long Time.

Like just about anybody who works in a church, I get a lot of catalogues. I mean, a lot. I usually flip through them quickly before dumping them in the recycle bin, but this week, a particular catalog caught my eye. It’s not important which one, but it was for children’s spiritual formation-type things: Vacation Bible School, Sunday School, children’s church and other similar things. I took a look at it while I was waiting for the rice to boil and it turns out that my blood ended up boiling right alongside the rice when I came across the product pictured above (side note: I just read some sort of article that suggested I use the time waiting for water to boil to “see how much I cleaning you can get done in your kitchen.” Ha. Ha ha ha.)
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So… color your own “Jesus is my ticket to heaven” tickets for kids. Let me count the ways this product is upsetting to me. I wanted to let this one go. I really did. After all, there are a lot of Christian products for kids out there that aren’t my cup of tea. A lot of it is cheesy, or poorly made, or not my style. This “Jesus ticket” is not your run of the mill Jesus Junk, it’s actually offensive (in my oh so humble opinion). Some thoughts:
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1. I don’t want my children (or any children I minister to) to get the idea that they need a ticket to get into heaven: Not a “be good” ticket, not a “believe exactly this” ticket, not a “if you’re not doing it right you won’t get there” ticket, and certainly not a paper ticket. There is a view out there that you have to have some sort of “ticket” to get into heaven. I think it’s hogwash.

 

2. Though adults can clearly understand that this craft is meant to be “symbolic” (of a ridiculous concept, see point #1) Many young children will view this as a  literal ticket to heaven. Sound ridiculous? It’s not. This is an object lesson, and many object lessons are too complex for young minds to grasp. For more on this, see Fowler or any other writer on faith development. Young children need safety and security not an implicit “You need this or you might not get to heaven” message. If even one child leaves the ticket making activity with the impression that they need that actual piece of paper to make it in to heaven, that is one child too many.

3. Jesus as a ticket to heaven completely misses everything Jesus was and is about.

So… what do you think? What am I missing here?

Sermon Remix: The Nicene Creed

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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?