No Cause for Celebration: Question Six of Ten


Taking The Dave Test during the Holiday 

Question Six: “Can I stop blowing smoke?”

Introduction to the series

Much of the last year was thread through with considerable loss.  My brother, Dave, battled a fatal brain cancer for nearly eight years and he died this last January as the result of a fall that was due in large part to his disease.  He would have been 58 years old in October.

In reaction to Dave’s quest to find a durable faith and supportive friends, I wrote a book called The Dave Test, which was just released by Abingdon Press The book distills Dave’s quest into ten questions that any of us can ask ourselves, when we are in one of life’s hard places or when we are trying to support those we love.  Whether that hard place revolves around divorce, death, unemployment, abuse, illness, or some other misfortune, I hope that the questions I ask and the answers the book offers will help us all sit a bit more easily with life’s ragged edges.

Over ten weeks I plan to apply the questions in The Dave Test to our preparation for the holidays.  At this time of year for many there is — as the expression goes — “no cause for celebration.”  But I am convinced that there is reason for hope and I don’t believe that we need to navigate the holidays alone.  I hope that the book and this application of The Dave Test’s principles to the holidays will help ease the sense of isolation that is so much a part of life for many of us at this time of year.


This week’s Dave Test question: “Can I stop blowing smoke?”

Have you ever tried to reassure someone in a hard place by lying to them, by “blowing smoke?”  I think all of us have at some point in life…because we were afraid that the truth would be discouraging or even devastating…because we thought that people would lose hope…or because we found it difficult to face the truth ourselves.  During the holidays, we are particularly prone to blowing smoke in order to preserve the nostalgic feelings — for ourselves and for others — that we associate with holiday celebrations.

As good or caring as our motives might be, there are multiple problems with managing the truth for others:

One, the truth of someone else’s life is not ours to manage.  When we insert ourselves into another person’s life and blow smoke, we act like a “little god,” managing, if not creating an alternative reality for them.  We take control of decisions that are not ours to make by shaping the perceptions that shape the decisions they make.

Two, we postpone the inevitable.  If someone has suffered a genuine loss, sooner or later they will grasp the truth and by that time they will have lost precious time needed to come to grips with reality.  Rather than work through the reality, they begin by working their way through our smoke screen.

Three, when we blow smoke we sever the relationship between love and the truth.  The truth, without love can be harsh, if not unbearable.  But love without the truth degenerates into controlling pity.

By contrast, holding both love and truth together in a single act of caring for those who are struggling with the frayed edges of life is the best gift that we can give one another during the holidays.  This year, let’s trade our obsession with trouble-free nostalgia for memories made where we are, in the full acknowledgement of the complexities that are our lives.  It may seem counterintuitive or impossible.  It’s definitely not easy.  It requires attention to the truth and unflinching love.  But the best holiday memories we can ever make are memories made by embracing one another as we are, without blowing smoke.

About Frederick Schmidt

The Reverend Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt, Jr. holds the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and directs the Job Institute for Spiritual formation. He is an Episcopal Priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, writer, and Consulting Editor at Church Publishing in New York. He is the author of numerous published articles and reviews, including forty-four entries in Doubleday’s Anchor Bible Dictionary, as well as articles in Feminist Theology and The Scottish Journal of Theology. He is author of A Still Small Voice: Women, Ordination and the Church (Syracuse University Press, 1998), The Changing Face of God (Morehouse, 2000), When Suffering Persists (Morehouse, 2001), in Italian translation: Sofferenza, All ricerca di una riposta (Torino: Claudiana, 2004), What God Wants for Your Life (Harper, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Revelation (Morehouse, 2005) and Conversations with Scripture: Luke (Morehouse, 2009). His latest work, The Dave Test (Abingdon Press) will appear in the autumn of 2013. He is also the series editor for the new Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars Study Series.

From 2000-2012, he worked as Director of Spiritual Life and Formation and Associate Professor of Christian Spirituality at Southern Methodist University, Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, Texas. As one of Perkins’ senior administrators, Dr. Schmidt was responsible for programs in formation, serving over 500 students. He developed the School's program in Spiritual Direction which has thus far served over 150 students from across the country; the program in Anglican and Episcopal studies; and the spiritual formation track in the Doctor of Ministry program. Prior to his arrival at SMU, he served as Canon Educator, Director of Programs in Spirituality and Religious Education, and Acting Program Area Manager at Washington National Cathedral. In this capacity Dr. Schmidt was responsible for the development of a program of religious education and spirituality that annually provided resources for broad-based audiences of over 5000 adults. He also designed and produced workshops and seminars for ecumenical and interfaith constituencies; hosted foreign dignitaries from the Middle East and the former Soviet Union on behalf of the Meridian Institute; and developed the programmatic work and daily operations of the Cathedral Center for Prayer and Pilgrimage. Before going to the Cathedral, Dr. Schmidt served as special assistant to the President and Provost of La Salle University in Philadelphia and as a Fellow of the American Council on Education. From 1994 to 1995, he resided in Jerusalem, where he was Dean of St. George’s College and Residentiary Canon of the Cathedral Church of St. George the Martyr. He has also served in numerous parishes, including St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, All Saints Episcopal Church in Hershey, Pennsylvania and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Dallas, Texas.

His work in higher education includes service as associate professor of New Testament Studies, as a lecturer in New Testament studies at Oxford University, and as a tutor at Keble College, Oxford. He has been a guest lecturer at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC, at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland and the Southwestern Medical Center at the University of Texas, Dallas.

Dr. Schmidt holds a bachelor’s degree from Asbury College, the Masters of Divinity from Asbury Theological Seminary and the Doctor of Philosophy from Oxford University. His honors include a Fellowship in administrative leadership with the American Council on Education; a Senior Fellowship with the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research; the Young Scholars Fellowship presented by the Catholic Biblical Association; nomination to Class XI of the Clergy Leadership Project, sponsored by Trinity Church, Wall Street; the Angus Dun Fellowship (Episcopal Diocese of Washington); and an Ecumenical Service Award given by Christian Churches United (an ecumenical organization covering a tri-county area and based in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania). He is a recipient of the F. W. Dillstone Scholarship awarded by Oriel College, Oxford; the Hall Houghton Studentship awarded by the Theology Faculty of Oxford University; and an Overseas Research Student Award, presented by the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals of the Universities of the United Kingdom. Dr. Schmidt is a member of the American Academy of Religion, the Society of Biblical Literature, the Catholic Biblical Association, the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, and the Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality. From 1998 to 2000 he served as a member of the Institutional Review Board for Heart, Lung and Blood Research at the National Institutes of Health and he currently serves on two Data Safety Monitoring Boards for NIH. He is Secretary-Treasurer of the Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars and a member of the Board of Examining Chaplains for the Episcopal Church, USA.

In addition to his work in the academy and the church Dr. Schmidt currently serves as a patient safety and ethics consultant on Data Safety Monitoring Boards for the National Institutes of Health and Allergan, Inc.

He lives with his wife, Natalie (who is also an academic and an Episcopal priest), and Hilda of Whitby, their Gordon Setter.

  • Chris Madison


    What an honest approach to grief! I really like the idea of “not blowing smoke.” Another way to present that is to say that we may not listen at all to the pain underneath the words, but simply try and substitute “stock” sayings, scripture texts, or platitudes. To walk with someone who is working through grief requires patience and true love. Truth will emerge. And a new worldview will emerge. Bless you for your question. I look forward to reading the rest of the work.

    • Frederick William Schmidt

      Thanks for the kind words, Chris. I hope you find the book helpful. God’s keeping, Fred

  • Janet McKinney

    As a ministry team at our church, we are all reading this book – it expresses in so many ways the experiences we have had this past year or two – both personally and in walking with others. Thank you for your honesty and clear expression of real truths.

    • Frederick William Schmidt

      Thanks, Janet. I’m delighted to hear that you’ve found it helpful.