The Blame Game

#iseethismoment via tiffkei
#iseethismoment via tiffkei

This was the most powerful group I have led up to this point. It was a Spirit filled, Holy night.

I do not think I will ever be able to explain the power of this video! The large group gathering was contemplative and quiet. As the leader, I was very intentional about using few words, I did not want to fill the space with too much chatter. It was powerful for both youth and adults alike! Below is an outline of the evening, what and how I taught, and the small group/TAG time questions.

This is my take on it…but the creativity and artistry of the video demands conversation…so I wonder, what would you do? How would you frame a class around this video? Adult? Student? Multi-generational group? Drop me a comment below! Thanks! Tiffany


  • Title: The Blame Game
  • Theme: Blame and Condemnation
  • Audience: Middle School – High School, youth and adult leaders
  • Biblical text: Good Samaritan, Luke 10:25-37
  • Flow of night:
    • Leaders meeting
    • Dinner
    • Large group games
    • Large group gathering
    • Age based small groups

Large Group Gathering (30 Minutes)


  • Introduce theme and video (1-2 Minutes)

“We all struggle with issues of blame and condemnation. They are the weapons we often use to hurt others in our culture. We are going to watch a short video. After the video you have two choices; you can either grab a blank piece of paper and draw or write whatever you want. Or you can take one of the papers that have questions for TAG time (TAG = Time Alone with God).”

(On the floor in the middle of the room I had crayons, markers, blank sheets of paper, and a stack of printouts of the nights questions.)


  • TAG Time (5 Minutes)

(TAG Time is “Time Alone with God.” It is a time of intentional quiet, answering questions, drawing, praying or contemplation.)

  • Instructions for second time watching (1-2 Minutes)

“There are a lot of characters in the video. When you watch it this time, notice how many different characters that are in the video. Which one is you? Your friends? Your family? Where is Christ?”

  • Play the Video a second time:  To This Day (8 Minutes)


  • TAG Time (5 Minutes)


  • Biblical Text – Good Samaritan Story – Luke 10:25-37
    • One of our youth read the story to the group.


  • Teaching

“I realized something as I watched this video and read the story of the Good Samaritan again…I realized the power in this story is that it is a story about all of us. I would like to say I am the Good Samaritan, but that’s not always me. Sometimes I am the innkeeper, willing to help people who are helping others. Sometimes, I am the priest and the Levite, judgmental, hypocritical…too good to stop and help when I see someone in need. And I hate to say it, but sometimes I am the robber…the one causing pain in others. And sometimes I am the one being beaten up by life, the one in need of help. And yes, sometimes I am the Good Samaritan, the one that sees the pain and is willing to step in and sacrifice my own time, money, and reputation to help. Jesus calls us to be Good Samaritans, to be the ones not only willing to help, but willing to sacrifice to help.”

  •  Prayer/Blessing and sending to small groups


Leaders Meeting (30 Minutes)

  • Orientation
    • I began by explaining the theme and flow of the night. (We did not watch the video in the leaders meeting. We could have but I am not sure how it would have changed the “feel” of the rest of the night.)
  • Framing
    • Youth leader read the text: Good Samaritan Story – Luke 10:25-37
    •  I explained my understanding of the text (basically I taught the “teaching” from above.)
    • After a short example of how our youth group has been the “Inn Keeper” I asked for further examples of how we are the characters in the story of the Good Samaritan (<— This led to some great conversation!)
  • Other business and calendar stuff
  • Prayer



These are the questions used for TAG time and small group discussion. Most of them were adaptations from chapter 4 Blame and Condemnation, from the book The Search for Significance: Student Edition
by Robert McGee. (The Blame Game – TAG Time Questions PDF File)


“Every day, students and teacher alike enter their schools packing a concealed deadly weapon…that weapon is our ability to send a message of condemnation or blame to another person using words, physical force, facial expressions or silence….and we are as likely to be hit as pull the trigger” (The Search for Significance Student Edition, Robert S. McGee, pages 71-72).

As we watch the video, To This Day think about these questions and then take some Time Alone with God (TAG Time).


–          What mistakes have you made in the past that your parents, friends, or others keep bringing up to make you feel bad? How do you react? Do you laugh it off? Get angry? Feel rejected? Blame yourself?


–          Remember a situation where you have heard someone being ridiculed or verbally abused. What could you have done to help? What did you do? What will you do next time?


–          Remember a situation, whether at school or at home, where you were the one doing the blaming and condemning. What did you do? What could you have done differently? How did you feel later?


–          There are many characters in the video. Which one is most like you? What does the character do, say, or feel that you identify with?


–          Christ spends much of his ministry loving people that are unlovable; he loves the tax collectors, prostitutes, and other sinners. He asks us to love the unlovable too. Who are the people in your live that are hard to love? What are ways you can show them love? What would you have to sacrifice to show them love in this way?




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My prayerful response to this writing (below) by Henri Nouwen and read by Jane Vennard during a spiritual leadership class. This was the final drawing of five.

Many Blessings,

Henri J. M. Nouwen:

We are the Beloved. That’s the truth I want you to claim for yourself. That’s the truth spoken by the voice that says, “You are my Beloved.”

Listening to that voice with great inner attentiveness, I hear at my center words that say: “I have called you by name, from the very beginning, You are mine and I am yours. You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests. I have molded you in the depths of the earth and knitted you together in your mother’s womb. I have carved you in the palms of my hands and hidden you in the shadow of my embrace. I look at you with infinite tenderness and care for you with a care more intimate than that of a mother for her child. I have counted every hair on your head and guided you at every step. Wherever you go, I go with you, and wherever you rest, I keep watch. I will give you food that will satisfy all your hunger and drink that will quench all your thirst. I will not hide my face from you. You know me as your own as I know you as my own. You belong to me. I am your father, your mother, your brother, your sister, your lover and your spouse…yes, even your child…wherever you are I will be. Nothing will ever separate us. We are one.”

Speaking of spiritual practices….

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The first time I read a description of a Zen Koan I was very excited. “That’s what I do!” I thought, “who knew that something I naturally do has a description! And a name! And other people do it too!” You know that excitement that can only be born from a moment of realizing that you are not alone in this world.

That was three or four years ago now. Not all explanations of Zen Koans speak to me in this very clear way…but unfortunately, I can’t find the original piece I was reading. (I’ll probably search up some links and add them to the bottom of this post for you to check out!) I have never really studied Zen Buddhism, nor have I ever practiced it but I want to explain my spiritual practice, which sounds a lot like a Koan to me.

Koans are not easy to define or explain. They are a way for me to seek deeper meaning from every day events or words. It is a way to quiet my thinking mind and listen for spiritual truth. I often see “what” is going on around me, Koans are a way to ask “why?”  Often the question is simple and sometimes there is an obvious answer (part of the practice is putting down the answer so new thoughts can emerge!).

Discovering the answer is a bit more like practicing communication than thinking through a problem. Well, I think through the problem too. I’ll look up words, definitions, stories, and as I come up with more questions that tie in, I look those up too (I know…not very Zen!). But I am a grad student I think through a lot of questions…what’s different is the way in which I listen. I listen to my spirit and the subtle, quite hints, that may not seem to tie in, but somehow I feel like they do. It ends up being a conversation between my active thinking mind and moments of listening to the quite whispers of my soul. Besides thinking and listening to my soul, I am also seeking clues in my day. Suddenly sermons are answering my question, leaves falling from trees, conversations with friends, they all seem to speak to my question, hinting towards an answer.  Even when I am not really thinking about my Koan, it seems to hang in the air. In some ways, I would say it is practicing awareness.

Finally one day I understand. I would say, “one day I have an answer,” but I don’t usually end up with an answer, often it is just an understanding. Even then, questions often come back in a new form or needing a new understanding.

All of this to say a mentor and guide (hi!!) gave me a Koan, even if I am not sure if that’s what she meant to do or not! My new Koan is: “What is authority?” Which I will post about in the day and weeks (months? years?) to come.


I really like the “Life is a Koan…!!!” Blog post (link below). It is not all about how a Koan is supposed to be done, but rather it is more about the goal/purpose of a Koan.

The purpose of Koans is to upset or dislocate the mind from these habitual ideas of reality and open the mind to the other possibilities and, eventually, knowledge of reality.” <–Good quote!!

Practicing: Relationship, Growth, and [NOT] Christmas…

Centering prayer does not work; Lectio Divina does not work; there is not a spiritual practice on the planet that “works.”

We know when something “works,” right?

When you sit down with family…

(the people who know you BEST!)

…on the best day of the year…



…you open that perfect gift…

(What is your perfect gift? An iPhone? iPad? Xbox? Playstation?)

The second you open that gift you know it “worked.”

The present gave you overwhelming joy, the feeling of love and appreciation, happiness beyond happiness. This is how we know something “works.” Something is doing its job and fulfilling our every need when we experience joy and stop experiencing “want” or “need.”   We know when something works!

Lectio Divina, centering prayer and other spiritual practices are so counter cultural to that message of happiness and joy that comes with the opening the best Christmas present. We do not expect a Christmas morning experience with Lectio Divina. I know it is not something I look for or expect to happen. In fact, I expect nothing…and I am content with nothing. (Well…I practice being content with nothing…)


As a requirement for my United Methodist History class, I prayed with Lectio Divina six days a week for nine weeks. I choose my iPod as my starting point. First, I created a playlist on my iPod and named it daily prayer. Using my iPod had a few advantages: I could adjust my time in prayer by adding or deleting songs, it allowed me to clip the beginning or ending of audio tracks, and if I fell asleep in the midst of prayer (oops!) I could stay asleep because the end of a playlist means the end of all iPod generated sounds! Nine weeks ago, my playlist contained three tracks: a piano solo, Lectio Divina when in doubt by Rev. Todd Spencer, and finally O Lord Hear My Prayer by Taizé Community Choir. Every Monday I delete the old Lectio Divina Podcast and replace it with the new one.

Having it on my iPod made it easy for me to make adjustments. For instance, I found that I was uncomfortable moving straight from Lectio Divina to O Lord Hear My Prayer, there was not enough transition time between the two. To fit my needs, I added Tibetan Singing Bowl Meditation by Sounds for Life between the two tracks. Only to discover that the Tibetan Singing Bowls were too loud, (especially if I had drifted off to sleep! Ouch!). Luckily, this is an easy fix in iTunes; I just turned the volume of this track down. Unfortunately, adding the Tibetan singing bowls made my total time in prayer too long. iTunes allowed me to cut out some of the singing bowls, which was enough of an adjustment to the time. I think the ability to make small adjustments like this made the assignment more manageable and enjoyable.

As the weeks went on, I also adjusted what I did while praying. I tried an assortment of activities while listening: I walked or sketched, sometimes I followed along with the text, and occasionally I would journal or blog after praying. Some of these adjustments grew out of impatience, others out of the need for a better fit. For instance, I often had a hard time focusing. Suddenly, I would catch myself planning, scheduling or thinking about homework. However, when I read the scripture while listening to it I could focus with ease. This adjustment fit my spirit. On the other hand, drawing had the opposite effect. I can draw OR I can listen, I cannot do both at the same time! Two things that were most helpful were blogging and journaling in response to the time I spent in prayer. Every time I responded in some way, it was a deeper more meaningful experience.

Journaling or blogging was important whether in the form of a written prayer or a quick sketch (which worked just fine after listening to the text!). This assignment led me to the discovery that I need to respond in some way, it is not a place for me to receive something; instead, it is a time for me to join in conversation with God.

Relationship, Growth, and NOT Christmas

What did I get out of it? Let’s be real…it was never anything like Christmas morning! There was not a moment when I was suddenly overwhelmed with joy and happiness because of this newly opened gift. Spiritual practices, including Lectio Divina, do not offer the instant fulfillment our culture has grown to expect from Christmas Day. We often believe that change must happen in a “WOW!” moment. The tradition of Lectio Divina exists in a world that moves much slower. We slow down to enter into that world. Growth…from baby…to child…to wise adult, takes decades, not a moment or two. This ancient practice seeks to remind me to slow down. It holds me lovingly in God’s hands and gives me the courage and confidence to grow and learn. It is a slow process.

I  did not experience Christmas morning but I did find time and space to think about what was works and what doesn’t. I cannot draw and listen at the same time, but I can read and listen. I can rest or walk away when I am done, but putting effort into responding is an important part of growing my relationship with the One that is always inviting me closer. So, no Christmas morning, no dramatic change…but day after day, year after year, decade after decade, I am shaped by God.


P.S. As an interesting addition to my practice of Lectio Divina this quarter: For an (unrelated) history course we created projects in groups. A member of the group suggested that we create a project on Lectio Divina. So, by a random coincidence  I also studied the history of Lectio Divina AND had the opportunity to have a few conversations with other students/pastors. What a great experience :-) Anyway, here is one video that we created for our project. (We also created a Google Site: Lectio Divina)

Distracted…busy…tired…and oh ya, sick…

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Sometimes, life gets in the way of spiritual practices. Things like school, work, parenting, and sometimes unexpected things like colds. So, what comes first? Spiritual practice or sleep? Every once in awhile, it does not seem to be our choice. After sleeping through Lectio Divina (twice), I am calling “sleep” my spiritual practice today.


September 30, 2012
Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Read the texts online at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library:

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22
Psalm 124 (UMH 846)
James 5:13-20
Mark 9:38-50

Color: Green