One of the things we do when we gather in the community of faith every Sunday is to confess our sins. Every week we confess that we are broken and fall short: Continue reading We

Sympathy Preaching

“When people look for sympathy, it feels like a no-win situation. On the one hand they are telling us that they have it worse than anyone and no one can understand, but on the other hand they are looking for our validation” (Brene’ Brown, I Thought it was Just Me (But it isn’t), Page 52).

I listened to a sermon recently. The preacher began with the Crucifixion of Christ. She pointed out how “bloody, grotesque, brutal…beyond our imaginations” that scene was. She wanted us to understand the brutality of Good Friday by telling us there was no way we could ever imagine it. Sympathy…”Your telling us that no one can understand, yet you’re asking us to understand” (page 54).

Preacher…what do you want from us? Do you want us to get it? Or is that day, as you say, beyond our imagination?

For the rest of the sermon, that is where I stayed….

On the outside…

Unable to imagine….


I define empathy as the skill or ability to tap into our own experiences in order to connect with an experience someone is relating to us (page 33).

What if she set the scene at a place we could imagine? The bloody violence we see on the news every night. The fear that haunts us as we drop our kids off at school during those days and weeks after a school shootings… What if she reminded us of the tears that flow and the anger that burns for the nine people gunned down during a church bible study. Brutal. Bloody. Terrifying. A fear, a tragedy, a hopelessness we do understand.

Because we can tap into our experiences and imagine a day like Good Friday. We just need to turn on the T.V., watch the news, look back though our lives at the horror we have experienced…maybe its not exactly the same…but it is closer than “beyond my imagination.”

What if, as preachers, we invite people into empathy in our preaching. Come, see with me. Experience with me. Be uncomfortable with me. Feel fear with me. When we are together, then we can redirect our gaze towards the Love and Grace that God pours into the moment.

Suggested Donation

Suggested Donation….

A few years ago, a week or two before Thanksgiving my husband went to Wal-Mart to buy his lunches for the week. While he was there he purchased a couple of turkeys, and left them with Care and Share as he left. I wasn’t there when he returned to work, but according to him, one of his coworkers response to his act of generosity was “Why in the world would you do something like that?”

I don’t think most people’s response to giving is so…well…ungenerous! But I do believe there is a culture of scarcity that drives people to accumulate more and downplays the importance of giving. When it comes to the church in particular, I hear comments like, “If the church isn’t here to give [to me], then what is it here for?”….”Why in the world would people give money to the church, it doesn’t need their money.”…”I think it’s crazy that people give to the church first, they should give what they have left over at the end of the month.”

And I have to admit, tithing is a very odd behavior indeed! It is directly contradictory to the wider culture of “more, more, more.” It never did make any sense to me why my grandmother went without food for one day every month to give the money she would have spent on food to the church, and that she would give money to the church while she herself was in need, was a continuous source of family tension.

That we give as an act of worship, acknowledging that God has already given us all we need; That we give because it changes our hearts, growing us into generous, giving, grateful people; That we give because we know that what we invest in grows and we want to Kingdom of God to grow…that we give to the church because it is who we are…took me a long time to understand.

So, in a staff meeting we were talking about wording for upcoming fundraisers and Kent suggested that we just say, “Suggested donation $5.” It is for church fundraising, and I believe the people who will read that will get it, in fact because we are talking about fundraising within a church, I am sure that many will give more than suggested, because they want to support this particular church program.  But what about my demographic? The people who didn’t grow up in or around church? Although, I am sure they would give the suggested donation for a product that they are purchasing, isn’t this an opportunity to tell people why we give? So, on the invitations for our event Stories @ The Edge, I put, “We believe what we invest in grows, so we believe in investing in good things. And we believe this is a good thing, so please consider paying for your meal.” It of course is not a huge thing, just reading this isn’t going to make the unchurched tithe, but hopefully, it does start to plant tiny seeds (maybe the size of mustard seeds?) to get people, both churched and unchurched, to think about why we give.

My [Not Very] Final Conclusion about Rituals

A random response to a Facebook Question…

What are my “final” conclusions about rituals?

Although I reserve the right to change my mind, at the moment I would say that ritual is a unique form of communication, a type of language. Not simply words, written or spoken. Nor is it simply the gestures and non-verbal forms of body language. Ritual includes action, words, and emotion. Ritual is a form of communication between individuals, communities, societies, and the sacred…it is a language all its own.

Just like language, ritual can be used to build up or tear down. It can be used to create change or stop it in its tracks. It can bring order to chaos, help people see something they haven’t seen before, be a magnifying glass into the conflict between culture and society, or welcome an individual into a new community or way of being.

The only way to understand any specific ritual is by being part of the community or by learning the “language” the ritual is speaking. You can try to learn a ritual through translation but that will never be quite right. Because ritual is a complex mix of communication that includes performance, and play, seriousness and triviality, one cannot simply watch and see a ritual to understand. You must be a part of it to understand the language.

It can be performance, play, art, or seriousness, or all of these wrapped up into one. Ritual is repetition, rules, and structure, in much the same way that grammar is related to the spoken or written word. You can no more change the direction of polka dancers than change to order of words in a sentence. And the people know the rules. The “locals” know the rules of a Javanese funeral, a Bruce Springsteen concert, or a 4th of July fireworks show. If you break the rules of a ritual, it is kind of like putting words in the wrong order in a sentence; it sets you apart as an outsider, not a native of the language.

Ritual is language. It is complex; it is a way to communicate who we are and a way to set ourselves apart from others. It is language and just like language, it is a powerful force in creating and recreating communities.

….one final point…Durkheim rocks!! :-)

In the past…

I totally drew my theological method! :-) via ...
I totally drew my theological method! :-) via tiffkei

Today I am thinking about history…

I love Ancestry.com! Especially because I am stuck on this one man…my dad’s, dad’s, dad’s, dad’s dad…My 3rd great grandfather. He is there, I can see him, I just can’t find where he came from! Who are his parents? Were they born in the United States? If not where did they come from? I have spent hours looking, researching possible birthplaces, counties, and states. Considering the size of this industry, I know I am not the only one that does this kind of research.

Which always leads me to ask why? Why is this so important that I would spend my breaks from school trying to find this guy’s parents? Would knowing the name of my 4th great-grandparents really make a difference in my life? I wonder if I traced my family line all the way to the first humans: would their names make a difference?

As I prepare to write a theological paper, as I study mission, evangelism, and colonization, I keep circling back to the questions about history. When exactly does an event change from one that shapes and forms me…into “history” or “in the past?” At what point can I say…” that is history and does not matter” and be telling the truth? I know my parents’ lives affect me, so I would have to go back at least to their birth. Their lives were in turn shaped by their parent’s past…and my grandparents were shaped by their parents…so wouldn’t I have to go back at least that far?

What if I leave my direct family line and talk about the societies that shape us. I think most people would agree and say at least as far back as the writing of the U.S. Constitution, we know that document affects our lives; but then, of course, I have to acknowledge that the men who write it were shaped by their history, families, and society.

I would be shocked to hear anyone say “that’s history and we should just let it go” in a discussion about Jesus or the New Testament. But we couldn’t stop there since the New Testament was shaped and formed by the people and writing that came before it. We can clearly see that Judaism shaped Christianity, and of course, Jesus himself was Jewish.

I somehow know that the life of my 3rd great grandfather and the parents that raise him have some effect on me. Maybe slight…but then again maybe greater than I know. When is history … “history?”


English: Tibetan endless knot Nederlands: Tibe...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Humans need community; we need family and friends, human touch and conversation. Often, in our need to find community, we search for “looks like me.” Maybe the similarities come in the form of similar religious believes, social class, or ethnicity. But in our search for similarities we begin to behave as if similar means “exactly the same.” Like somehow, my Christianity is the same as your Christianity, that my small town upbringing was the same as yours. We start with similar and forget that similar does not mean identical. What if we begin relationships with the assumption that we are different, even in our similarities? What if we both appreciate our differences and treasure our similarities?



Two Kinds of Authority…

Winter break! Maybe I will find more time to write for a few weeks.

For now, I am returning to the question of authority, “What is authority?”

Two kinds of authority come to mind, “real” authority and “title” authority; Dave Ramsey calls it “positional power versus persuasive power.” The distinction between the two is a business school basic, one that most leaders intuitively understand: some people have authority because of their title; others have a different kind of authority one that is much harder to define. Positional power is easy to talk about, people slow down when they see a police car on the side of the road, they stop playing when the ref blows a whistle, and they quite down when the speaker steps up to the podium. The person in authority doesn’t need to spend time convincing people to follow, people follow based on their title and followers don’t need to know very much about the leader before they follow.

The second kind of authority is much harder to define.  It is hard to stand in a room and point to the person that has authority, sometimes even when they are using their authority. I am currently reading Reaching People Under 40 While Keeping People Over 60: Being Church for All Generations, the author tells a good story that illustrates the difference. When the author was first starting in ministry, his pastor asked him to move a Sunday school class to a new room because they needed the larger space for the growing number of babies in the nursery. He walked in and told the group to move. The result of his demand was months of heartache and pain. In addition, the group refused to move. After months of healing and rebuilding relationships, one of the members of the Sunday school class agreed with the need to move. She walked in the room, told them they were moving, and they moved. This leader had a “real” authority over the group. She cared about them and the group knew it. What she said mattered to them, and she knew it. They had a relationship that went deeper than a job title or positional authority.

Two types of authority, but I don’t think they are that distinguishable. Sometimes people may have either positional power or persuasive power, but usually, authority comes from a place of title and from a place that is much harder to define.   What do you think?