-Rev Melissa Fain-
9 How can we thank God enough for you, given all the joy we have because of you before our God? 10 Night and day, we pray more than ever to see all of you in person and to complete whatever you still need for your faith. 11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus guide us on our way back to you. 12 May the Lord cause you to increase and enrich your love for each other and for everyone in the same way as we also love you. 13 May the love cause your hearts to be strengthened, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his people. Amen.
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 CEB
My friend and colleague, Rev James Brewer-Calvert told me some wise words before I got married: "You do not fall in love until after you get married."
Me, the know it all I was in my younger days, kindly nodded my head and decided to dismiss what he was saying. I already knew what love was. I was in love. I was engaged, and my heart was sold. There was no way that wasn't the real deal. It was like my future husband was all the things I liked about the guys I had previously dated. I had found him.
Flash forward to today. My husband and I have been married a dozen years and it will be a baker's dozen in February. Our understanding of love has been tested, torn, tossed and tumbled. Love was found through negotiation and patience in those times where things were being tossed and torn.
This was one of our very first ornaments. It is usually near the top of the tree. Don't try to read into why. When our son was born, he loved grabbing ornaments. For the first few years the bottom half of the tree looked bare except a few plastic ornaments, and the top half was filled with everything else. There are many parents that can relate to the 1/2 empty tree.
The point is, this ornament cannot stand for "love." We didn't know what love was. Instead, this ornament is a symbol for the hope of what our love would be. It is perfect in understanding Advent Hope. Marriage is a beacon of hope. We seek that hope as a promise that the couple is heading towards finding love, true love.
Let us pray:
Dear Lord, hold us fast in the anticipation of new hope. Help those hopes be first steps in healthy futures. Amen.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars. On the earth, there will be dismay among nations in their confusion over the roaring of the sea and surging waves. 26 The planets and other heavenly bodies will be shaken, causing people to faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world. 27 Then they will see the Human One coming on a cloud with power and great splendor. 28 Now when these things begin to happen, stand up straight and raise your heads, because your redemption is near.
Luke 21:25-28 CEB
As I've been saying, picking an ornament for our tree has become our family tradition. I love being able to look at the twinkling lights, and see our history in tiny ornament form. With that in mind, there are two ornaments that are not on our tree. One never existed, and one broke soon after moving into our current home. More about them in a minute. First, let me explain the ornament pictured above.
I've volunteered in churches my whole life. I've been paid staff in churches or some form of religious programming since 1999. I was ordained into a denomination as a minister on Valentines day, 2010. I remember it was a packed house. Friends I hadn't seen in years showed up. Choosing Valentine's Day perfect. It expressed how vital my relationship with the church had been. In the brokenness of my childhood, the church was there to pick up the pieces. Everyone sitting in the pews that ordination day already knew where I was going, and they wanted to see it come to fruition.
When I accepted a call as a full time minister in a small rural Kentucky church, everyone celebrated with me. Getting out of the Georgia region was going to be good for me. As Rev. Kathy McDowell aptly put it, "There's a reason Prophets don't prophecy in their home towns."
As my husband and I talked about our yearly ornament I just knew it had to be church related. Not only was it the realization of my hard work, it was symbolic for my hope for the future of the church.
Now let me tell you something about me. If I could sum up my "call" in any field it would be this: "Taking jobs where the system is not working in a natural way." Years ago, I wanted to start my professional Christian journey as a Camp Staff at Christmount. I emailed just in time to discover all the positions for that summer had been filled, but they needed Kitchen Staff, It was a simple answer. They needed it, so I did it. Time and time again, my church calls have not been to healthy churches or easy/fun positions. I'm drawn to things that need fixing.. Even as a sub, I'm more drawn to subbing knowing there is a need for reform. I've told teachers that I don't want to be certified, in part, because I see what they have to deal with, and I don't want to deal with it. If I can be even more honest, that's not the major reason. I see they are doing a great job, and I don't see a need for me to be part of a great collection of people. I purposefully enter broken systems to fix the systems.
My first full time ministerial job, conversely, was supposed to be a healthy system so I could get a feel for helping future broken churches. That was the hope when we got this ornament.
Flash forward two years later. It wasn't a healthy church, it was a broken church hiding their wounds. My hope was crushed into fine powder. What ornament do we put on the tree when that's the moment of the year? I knew. I wanted to craft a church on fire. There would be flames licking the steeple, and fire shooting through the windows. "Goodness, Melissa! A bit dark, isn't it?" my husband remarked. I responded, "Tell me a better option, and I'll listen." He remained silent, because we all knew that was the best ornament for that year.
I never made it. It still exists in my mind, invisibly hanging from our tree. It can't help but mentally exist. It was the ornament for that year. Some day, when I'm ready, I'll go downstairs and craft it. It will exist as a sardonically humorous reminder of a different time.
The other ornament I mentioned was purchased for the following year. It's a set of luggage. We moved three times in one year. This was the result of being thrown back into Georgia, with nowhere to call home. Everything was chaos, including our living arrangements. When the ornament broke, I searched for it's copy, but never found it. It too remains invisible on our tree.
There are very big thinkers that would tell me and you hope is pointless. The destruction and loss was the truth, and the hope was a lie. They would tell us to not hope, because hope keeps people from dealing with the hard truths of life. Hope keeps us from reality.
There can be nothing further from the truth. The stained glass ornament remains on our tree because without hope we are left with no anchor. Hope remains even when you know your hope can leave you lost and alone. Hope remains even when everything tells you it is foolishness. Hope remains because even in failure, the potential is still out there, within our grasp. Hope is out there to throw our failure on the ground and use it as a stepping stone towards a better future. Do not give up on hope because you know some hope will be unfulfilled. Give into hope because the potential will always exist, and somewhere it will be found.
Let us pray:
Dear Lord, help us find that hope in the midst of hopelessness. Help us trust you, as you lead us. Amen.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
14 The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill my gracious promise with the people of Israel and Judah. 15 In those days and at that time, I will raise up a righteous branch from David’s line, who will do what is just and right in the land. 16 In those days, Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is what he will be called: The Lord Is Our Righteousness.
Jeremiah 33:14-16 CEB
Right after having my first child I could be caught saying, "Choosing to be a parent is one of the most selfish decisions a person could make, and choosing to raise the child is one of the most selfless."
I still stand by that statement. You simply cannot wrap your mind around what it means to be a parent until you are neck deep in dirty diapers, baby in one arm, cold bottle in another, while you attempt to find the bottle warmer. Maybe not that exact same scenario, but you get the point. Almost all parents will tell you they had no idea what they were getting into. People can explain it to you all day long, but until you are in those trenches, you can't possibly know.
Hope is like your first unborn child. It's all potential. That child could be anything. You, as a parent could rock it or blow it all up. An entire life put into your hands whether you are ready or not. (Hint for those who are not parents, no one is truly ready.)
We don't hope for things we have solid answers to. Hope is similar to another word: Anticipation. We perceive the possibility for how things could be. Our imagination roots itself in our hope, and sets the sights on where we are going. Leading without hope, whether it's your child or a church, is a dangerous journey into darkness. We must hope, for hope sets our sights on the best possible outcome. We hope our child or church will grow up to be healthy and productive. If we do not hope, then when our child or church fails we don't attempt to course correct to put things on the correct path again.
We hope for Christmas, because hope shows us the path to peace. Peace brings us those moments of joy where hope is fulfilled. A joyful fulfillment of hope, takes us to love. Love is something we can't understand until we are weeping over lost opportunities, and rejoicing over expectations being exceeded. Hope must happen first before we can ever understand true love.
Let us pray:
God of all that is seen and unseen,
Let us hope with with excited anticipation!
-Rev Melissa Fain-
Every year, during this time, I try to take the perspective of an outsider. Churches tend to make too many assumptions about language and attitude. We don't consider if someone would know why we are standing, or what the words we use mean. When it comes to Advent, aside from being attached to the word "Calendar," it's not used in modern speech.
Unless we were raised in the tradition, most of us assume Advent probably begins Dec 1 and ends Dec 24. (You know, based on those calendars with the boxes filled with candy.) In actuality, Advent is a little more fluid. It's the four Sundays prior to Christmas. Advent can start on December 1 (when Christmas falls on a Wednesday), but it always begins the four Sundays before Christmas.
Four Sundays are vital, for each Sunday, one is supposed to remember a word, and take it like an instruction on a road map. Advent centers our hearts and minds on a baby in a manger, and helps us journey to that destination. Those four words are: Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. It must be in that order. It must follow this path. Those four words are transformative. They are lights in the growing darkness of shorter days, and longer nights. They sit on a wreath of new life, as so many things grow dormant. It comes at just the right time, when things begin to look bleak.
As I continue this ornament based Christmas, follow along. Learn something about the themes as I tell you a little about myself. If you would like to know specifics about this time, check out this previous meditation:
The Liturgical Calendar
Tomorrow we begin the journey with Hope. If you wish, read some of the previous meditations on Hope:
Beginning Again: Hope
Advent: Unfulfilled Hope
Modern Nativity: Hope
-Rev Melissa Fain-
When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.
Acts 2:1-2 CEB
Like I said two posts ago, every year we pick a new ornament to go on our tree. That ornament is symbolic of something that happened that year. This is our 2018 ornament. This past summer, my in-laws took all of us to Disney World. It was amazing. I don't think we could thank them enough for taking us. We all had the opportunity to do something fun and focused on what we liked.
Besides fun, my daughter and I each had our own life changing event. My daughter's event was very scary at the time, but welcome now. She saw food and water as optional. She disliked eating almost anything, and complained about most meals. Many mornings she would allow her milk to just sit on the table. Put that attitude in the blistering hot, humidity of Southern Florida with the body build of a beanpole, and you have the recipe for heat exhaustion.
I'd tell her to take a drink, and she would pretend to drink her water, while not actually drinking. Her reward? She spent about two hours heaving up nothing in the First Aid building of Hollywood Studios.
That day, she learned the importance of eating and drinking. Two week later, the two of us spent some days camping up north, she listened and followed direction when I told her to drink more. Today, she has a general respect for food and water.
Meanwhile, I was discovering a new truth.
Our Disney trip came with meal plans. I knew I couldn't put on any more weight, but I also knew there were some delicious food choices. I decided the best was by doing a basic math problem. I'd eat less the week before the trip to off-set the explosion of food options coming my way. Scout Day camp was the immediate week before the trip, so I had no trouble packing healthy calories. I was active, a den leader for a group of rising second graders. This is the first time I've shared this, but when I stepped on the scale to look at my amazing weight loss week, I discovered I put on three pounds that week! I would be going to Disney weighing more than I planned.
At the park, I began to see food differently. While my daughter was beginning to succumb to heat exhaustion, I was eating an apple crumble ala mode. Staring down at the quickly melting ice cream I realized I didn't have to do this. Tossing the remainder, I made myself a promise. I was going to eat less, and exercise more. I wasn't going to "diet." I wasn't telling myself, "I need to lose weight, so I'm going to follow this plan." I simply knew I needed to be healthy, so I was going to be healthy.
Now I've lost 30 pounds, and I have 10 more pounds to go. Being healthy, caused me to set goals. I feel good for the first time in years! Good days are active days!
You see Mickey Mouse on our Christmas Tree. I see a moment where half our family had a moment of clarity, and changed their life.
This is what it means when we are told faith produces fruit. What our soul believes, our soul speaks through our bodies and actions. At Disney World we changed, and the change produced action.
The Spirit is like fire because, like fire it bursts through everything false and burns down everything but the truth. We can't help but act towards God's Kingdom, because God's Kingdom is the truth, and everyone should know it. A Christian speaks truth all the time, and often without a single word.
The Spirit lit upon those Apostles that first Pentecost, It didn't matter what was going to happen (for most, terrible deaths), they were going to speak the truth into the world. Our actions speak to our souls, and a soul focused on God's love made manifest through Jesus speaks love into the world. As Advent begins this Sunday, let good change come from our core innermost being, and reflect in what we do.
Let us pray:
God of love, help change our soul so we can speak your Love into the world, often times without a single word. Amen.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
Important note: This was only on our tree for a couple of days many years ago. It was put there during the height of the Wreaking Ball video. I personally thought it was hilarious. Also, this is the week before Advent officially begins, so I'm being a little less serious, and a little more fun this week.
Half a decade ago our life was tough. Tough like scraping pennies together to have enough for groceries after coupons tough. Tough like needing to work difficult hours as a waitress to get those pennies tough. Christmas was just a reminder of how tough it really was. For me, I'd survive. I'd been through tight Christmas' before. My sister and I, as teens, decorated the house with dollar store decorations when we couldn't afford anything else. We celebrated with Coke bottles and knickknacks. My kids, however, had no context. How would we bring Christmas, when we could barely bring dinner?
I brought little things into the home. I left notes for my son, and printed out jokes to leave around the house. Yes, we bought dollar store items to decorate. Like, I still hang this green felt snowflake ornament I purchased all those years ago.
And yes, I found this printout of Miley Cyrus to attach to a Christmas ornament. It wasn't side splitting hilarious, but it was fun.
When we think of Jesus, we somehow get caught up in this stoic interpretation of events. All the hay was perfect, with nary a sheep dropping in sight. The weather is comfortable. The animals were all silent. You don't have to work on a farm to know that's not how it works. You are in a middle of a conversation and suddenly the sheep is dropping pellets right next to you. The smell is not peaches and cream, but animal urine and whatever they're eating. If there were pigs, then you can be promised slop will smell rancid.
Which reminds me: a manger is a feeding trough. You don't think the animals, who normally ate from where Jesus was sleeping, wasn't constantly trying to get to where he was? It wasn't a picture perfect sight, but it was something Mary and Joseph could laugh about years later.
The truth of the matter is, the more we are willing to see the practical reality of Christmas, the easier it will be for us to be content with the results. Christmas is real, warts and all.
Let us pray:
Dear Father in Heaven,
As we remember your Son, help us let go of our perfection to laugh at and enjoy the imperfection.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
I've had some Advent themes in the past. I've tied it into a devotional of ministerial colleagues, and I've done weekly themes. I've done Advent Goes to the Movies, and I've done Advent related to the parts of a tree. This year I want to relax, and do something kinda fun. I'm going to relate the Christmas season to Christmas tree ornaments. It may be one a week, or five. We'll play it by ear!
Our family will make a joke out of anything. Not at the expense of others. We're not that kind of family. Mostly at the expense of ourselves. Therefore, it shouldn't be too surprising that our humor makes it way over to our Christmas Tree.
Every year we pick an ornament that symbolizes our year. Last year's ornament perfectly captured the essence of our year.
In 2017 our septic tank exploded all over our house. Everything was stinky, including us. We couldn't get a plumber out to fix our problem, and we spent a good week without the ability to wash our dishes, clean our clothes or bath. It was pretty nasty near the end. Some of you shared our problem, when only a few weeks later many in our county was without water because of Snow-magedon.
So, the day after Thanksgiving, we were discussing what our yearly ornament would be. What big life event happened that warrants a specific ornament on our tree? Then my husband spoke up, "Oh, wouldn't it be hilarious if we found a poo emoji that looks like candy cane poo?" He quickly did a search and came up with the Christmas poo you see to your left. "Like this," he said, holding the image up so I could see, "but like a soft serve candy cane!"
I was sold at "soft serve candy cane." I went on the search. The idea was too hilarious not to exist, only... it didn't exist! It didn't matter how many places I searched, I couldn't find anything beyond the standard poo emoji ornament. (Yeah, they made those.) Talking it through with my husband, the answer was simple: We'd have to take the normal poo emoji, and paint it like it was a candy cane poo emoji. Both of us worked on it. A few failed attempts later, we had it. A merry reminder of a time we never wanted to relive again.
Sometimes we need to remember that life isn't just sunshine and roses, and sometimes Christmas is the most important time to remember it. Sometimes life is just throwing up crap. (Yes, sometimes that crap is literally being thrown up through a bad septic system, but sometimes that crap takes the form of other things, like family loss, or illness.) Crap comes whether you are ready for it or not.
It strikes me important that much of what Jesus said on earth was centered on dealing with adversity. Life's often tough, and life often sucks. That's simply true. You can either wallow in that crap, or do something productive with it. Turn it into manure, and cultivate it into something healthy and good. If you can't cultivate into something healthy, at least get it out of the way so healthy things can still grow. Jesus spent his short ministry helping people deal with and solve problems, not telling them they would magically go away.
This ornament is just a reminder that bad things do happen to good people, but Christ is there to walk through that crap with us.
Join me in prayer:
Sometimes liife stinks! Sometimes the crap piles up and I don't know how to deal. Help me find the tools to push it aside or turn it into something healthy.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
Six months on the internet is a really long time! Memes are born and die in that time. Campaigns rise and fall. A collective can feel the pride of success and the bile of defeat. When I took on this six month endeavor is was to do more than follow through on having a male pastoral handle for six months on Reddit. It was also to keep track of my feminine experience IRL (in real life). We don't often pay attention to what's happening around us, because it is our "normal." I didn't want to do something digitally without questioning what was physically happening at the same time.
Cub Scouts had to accept girls: I know that's a bold statement to make. There were many who were openly livid, like their verbal descent would somehow upturn the already voted and approved decision, but their bed was actually made months earlier in January of 2017. That was when the Boy Scouts of America decided they would not discriminate if the person who checked the "I'm a boy," box didn't appear to be a boy. It made headlines across the nation. While everyone was focusing on the transgender side of that decision, I saw something else. Now a girl could join Cub Scouts in a co-ed den.
I just want that last sentence to really sink in. Right now the BSA has stated girls can join Cub Scouts as long as their dens are separated by gender. I just wrote girls could be in co-ed dens. All girls had to do was fill out the youth form, check "boy," and they were in.
That's how I already knew my daughter had an in to Cub Scouts a year before the BSA made the "Scout Me In" campaign a reality. I seriously wonder if they were aware of the potential can of worms they had opened in 2017, and moving to add girls was being preemptive to that blow up. Even today, as those small Packs struggle with keeping the girls separate but equal, all they have to do is just mark everyone a boy on the form, and be co-ed. It's legal. Just questioning whether those girls were boys or girls would be against their own rules.
Why does it matter? I was ultra aware of gender exclusion and inclusion because I was Pastor Jerome. My daughter was joining Cub Scouts, and eagerly so. I heard arguments against girls joining Cub Scouts that were terribly hurtful. There were definitive comments made based on absolutely no scientific evidence whatsoever. I heard that girls will degrade the Cub Scout program because we would have to cripple the learning environment to help the girls accomplish the requirements. I heard that girls would take away one of the only places left for boys to be boys. I watched actual Boy Scout leaders tell stories where they broke BSA rules to keep mom's out of the program.
The experiment helped me separate hypothesis from fact. It is hypothesis that girls would cripple the program. People were stating it like they had evidence to show otherwise. Knowing that hypothesis, my district chose to run the Day Camp program as normal (with girl dens). No one was treated differently. I found the girls ability brought everyone up, not down. The irony did not escape me as the crying child I nurtured with a scraped knee was a boy, and the child terrified of the spider in our den area was a boy. The girls who scrapped their knee came for a band aid and went right back to playing. The girls were actually interested at getting a closer view of the spider and helped me shoo it back into the woods. Our girls are tougher than we realize, and making definitive statements about them before those statements can be tested is dangerous.
When one treats a hypothesis as a truth, we look for validation instead of testing the hypothesis. When one woman fails, all women fail. Personal failure becomes universal failure. It's difficult to digest the reasoning I cannot be considered as a minister in some congregations is because, "we've had one of those and it didn't work." (Exact quote, btw.) On one side males find their slip of verification and burn it all down. On the other side females become extra critical of one another because we know the stakes. It's an unhealthy dynamic that has existed since women openly entered the workforce.
And, I'm not done. I also can't help to see the parallels between the Girl Scouts and Women's Ministry. As guys throw out the suggestion that girls can just join the girl scouts, it echoes to my experience as a minister.
Speaking from my denominational background, we have struggled with keeping ladies in the Women's Ministries. I know I'm not terribly excited about them. Truthfully, it doesn't connect to me or my needs. Knowing the irony, in some cases it's the heightened expectations of work meeting the heightened requirements of motherhood. Also, many of the programs make outdated assumptions about femininity, and if I never see a floral cover again it wouldn't be too soon! I know not all women's program is made alike. Just sometimes it's not a gamble I want to make.
Now, just like women's groups in churches, Girl Scouts troops are not all made the same. To get your Gold Star you have to go camping and hiking with the best of them. That's great, except the women who lead the program were raised in an environment where they were not campers and hikers. Then, the Girl Scouts don't offer the resources to be trained in those areas like the BSA offers. It makes it so much more difficult to earn the BSA equivalent, the Eagle, not because girls are not capable, but because the resources are not available.
Final Thought: I know what I just wrote can be turned around and weaponized. Let me defuse it before it explodes: There are great Girl Scout Troops out there and there are great Women's Ministries. I personally know some amazing leaders on both sides. They serve a purpose for so many women and girls. I don't want to dismantle the programs, I was to deactivate the reaction to women trying to engage in the discussion. Men are not listening when women speak from women's group. Beth Moore is a great example. She is a powerhouse within the Baptist world, but has her words changed the system? No. Because the people who are breaking the system unconsciously believe the women's side is somehow less important. They never even read their words. Their wives did. and maybe that left some cracks, but they do not hold the power in the evangelical church.
The story of God can be followed through the changing of power dynamics. God chooses the youngest to inherit (David). God chooses the broken to redeem (Samson). God chooses the least of these to come forward (the children). Systems change from a place of power. We want to believe God can just appoint the right person and it magically changes, but often our power requires our sacrifice.
The forward movement to end Apartheid was the white South African college students speaking up. They had everything to lose, and nothing to gain, but still fought for what was right. I'm using the small amount of power I have to speak up for others. I think our big problem is we are not coming to the table to discuss. We are coming to the table to shut it down. We need male support. Not just the support where you pull a gal aside to tell them they are doing great, but the vocal active support. Join me.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
There is nothing communally special about today. Most of you will just go about your lives being none the wiser. But for me, seven years ago to the day, a small contingent of powerful church members put me on the path I'm on today. During a secret meeting, they decided it was time for me to go.
I was once a minister who was never whole. A three-part call of being without family, healing with a broken ankle, and finally pregnant. They would tell me to leave one week after my daughter was born.
Seven years later, to the day of their decision, I have a crystal clear perspective on church. I've been haunted by three spirits: The ghost of ministry past, the ghost of biblical truth, and the ghost of the church yet to be. They have all stayed with me, sometimes keeping me awake for hours on end. They were reminding me the cost of silence. The ghost of silence is the harbinger of death. It drives everything good and noble into the darkness and suffocates it. These spirits came with fierceness these past six months to remind me the cost of my silence. I must speak to my experience, or all would be lost.
On March 16th, 2018, I embarked on an experiment that would last me six full months.
About a year ago I wondered, am I being treated differently online as a female minister to my male counterparts? I wanted to do an informal study to find out. I would seek out a male minister to take on a female minister Reddit username. Meanwhile, I would create a male pastor name. We would have a site to record our data, and discuss as the project progressed. Only... every male minister was too busy for me. They all thought it was an interesting concept, but their schedules couldn't fit me in to find out how interesting.
Eventually, I knew I had to do it alone, if it were to happen at all. I meditated on the lack of male support early on, and I realized I didn't want it for comparison. I wanted a guy to walk six months in my shoes. I wanted a male minister to truly empathize and not just sympathize. It was my biggest defeat these past six months.
I created /u/PastorJerome as a way to peak into the online male pastoral world. I didn't anticipate much, but I went ahead and made a hypothesis.
Hypothesis: PastorJerome would get more karma each week than RevMelissa even though the same person is writing the posts.
I clearly had no idea.
Just as a side note, I was mostly raised by my father. He taught me some important lessons about gender equality. Many of them I still believe today. Like, if I want equality, I'd better be prepared to kill my own bugs and open my own doors. There were also lessons that were implicitly taught, and I took to heart. I already knew not all paths were paved equally. I knew childhood situations meant I had further to travel to reach equality. Basically, life isn't fare. I just also had this naive belief that the gender war had been fought and won. This whole experiment didn't obliterate my hope. I know major battles have been conquered, but I'm not sold on the equal part of all that.
What I Learned:
We have an unhealthy trust for male clergy: As /u/RevMelissa I had to earn the trust of other users. My first few months was spent being questioned about my education and my faith. I earned the title "Lady Pastor" from a Reddit user, and I carry that badge with pride. As /u/PastorJerome, I was immediately accepted. No one knew me from Adam, yet people willingly called me Pastor without any reservation. I just happened to be an ordained minister. Anyone could create a ministry username. That's not accreditation, but our society so willingly gives our trust and love to our male clergy. Lesson: I think men should be held to the same standard women have been held to for generations.
Our grace for our female clergy is too low: Part of this is personal experience, but because of the experiment, I can reflect on that experience. I have watched multiple male pastors who have crossed some serious boundaries be forgiven and given new jobs. Paige Patterson is going to be teaching a class on ethics after crossing some serious boundaries himself! Meanwhile we are looking for reasons to bury our female ministers. It's not that we shouldn't hold them accountable when they fail. It's that we want them to fail so we are merely looking for what we assume already exists. If congregants find anything, even something we'd brush off if it were male, we hold that woman twice as accountable. There is no winning in that world.
Everyone is male on the internet: (Unless you're female,) I was blown away at all the third person, personal pronouns being used for /u/PastorJerome. I immediately considered the possibility that I just didn't notice it as /u/RevMelissa. So, within two days of the experiment, I began to keep track. As Jerome, I got "Dude," "Brother," "he," on multiple occassions. Once again, I think it's the unhealthy trust, that basically everyone just believed I was male because I took on a male username. Meanwhile, /u/RevMelissa got one personal pronoun, and it was said by a person who personally knew me. When she called /u/RevMelissa "she," it made me cry. It was like being given personhood. Aside from my personal experience, I was hyper aware of gender being assigned to pretty much everyone, and it was all masculine. I asked a bunch of female Reddit users about their experience, and they all told stories about being given male pronouns. I saw a post where a woman showing a craft. Just her hands were showing, and the user base fell into male pronouns to describe her. I noticed when people drew non-gender specific animals, they were naturally called male. When it was brought up that we don't know the gender based on the drawing, it was downvoted. We disqualify our females with our words.
Social Femininity is a joke: I think this is the real reason no male minister wanted to join me during this experiment. Socially, I'm encouraged to explore masculinity as a female. When women are presented in media gender swapping, it usually ends with the woman having learned a valuable lesson about being human. Think along the lines of "Mulan," "Boys Don't Cry," "Just One Of The Guys." An important lesson is learned in those movies about life and being human. We look to the opposite direction and it's farce, "The Hot Chick," "White Chicks," "What Women Want" these are all examples where a guy taking on femininity is seeing as comical. The male becomes the clown, and we all laugh at him. Even in "Mrs. Doubtfire," a movie that successfully gender swaps, Robin Williams is not exploring femininity, but rather parenthood.
In this experiment, I was encouraged by the males to explore masculinity, as long as it didn't involve them exploring femininity. Only, I was never exploring actual gender, but the social construct of gender. It would have been nice for a male minister to explore the social world of what it means to be a female minister on the internet, but that will never happen.
When I tell people I'm a minister, I get reactions that range from confusion, to interest, to obvious disgust.
My son's Troop made me their Chaplain, and I don't think they have realized what a scandalous move that was for a Troop anchored in the deep south.
I'm scary for obvious reasons. I'm a paradox. On one hand I've professed my belief in a risen Lord, and therefore I've checked the salvation box. Meanwhile, the idea that I would be preaching that salvation has many thinking I'm wrong in some way but no one can verbalize to my face.
After this experiment, I understand why the only visible members of Fig Tree have been the females. I understand why the males have to tell me their support in private. Like I said two days ago, private support doesn't do anything. It is merely Nicodemus in a back room. He was a leader of the Jews. He was a member of the Priestly order that was part of the group that eventually succeeded in getting Jesus crucified. His actions would have spoken far louder than his private words. It's not until Jesus is arrested that Nicodemus speaks up, suggesting that true justice requires the accused to face trial, that he attempts to put actions to his belief.
I became ultra aware that a man's talent can be viewed ministerially while a female's is viewed as a skill. I'm good and teaching, that must mean I should become a teacher. I'm good at leading in scouts, that must mean I should be a future Scoutmaster. I'm good at planning and organizing, so that must mean I should be a secretary. I have great public speaking skills. Once again: teacher! Wow, I'm really good at at recording and editing video! I missed my calling! I've heard all of these. All but the last one in the past six months. At the same time, there were two male ministers who were earning money in another vocation. Their skills in that vocation was raised up as ministerial qualities. The sum of their parts was a whole minister. The sum of my parts, as a female, are quickly moved away from ministry.
The blunt truth is this: The only things that grows in darkness are things that fester and abscess. Things that are right and good (even tough truth) flourish in light. The #churchtoo movement exists because we've kept things in darkness. Speak up about your awesome female minister! Be an open advocate! See the parts as a whole minister! Stand boldly together, or die separate and alone! God is good.
Recently the North Carolina Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church released a video that struck a chord with me. Female clergy shared real words spoken to them by congregants, read out loud by male clergy. The shared comments became so terrible that the male clergy had trouble even reading them to the camera. Some even went as far as to preface with their non-belief before reading the line. (The video has been included at the top of this post.)
Meanwhile, most churches across the United States are oblivious of this video. They will go to their churches on Sunday morning, and continue to say the same scandalous things to their female clergy. Why? Because male ministers are so supportive of their female colleagues, until it comes to putting action into words.
How we have failed as clergy! How can our fellow ordained sisters live in this world without our ordained brothers rising up and speaking to this injustice? Have we learned nothing from Jesus?
One of the more frustrating aspects of being a minister is hearing fellow ministers swing the bible around like a mallet. They do it to take away the voice of the disenfranchised, smashing their sincere critiques to ribbons with quick take-away lines. One of those discussion smashing lines is Jesus came in masculine form to fortify that God puts power in exclusively male hands.
I'm here to say that nothing could be farther from the truth. Yes, Jesus was born male for a purpose, but that reason was never to subjugate women to masculine rule. In truth, God took on the power of the Ancient Near East male to give that power away to others.
The Woman at the Well (John 4:5-42): If Jesus were made male to retain power within masculinity, he would have been the person to preach to the Samaritans. It would have been his words who would have changed their hearts and minds. Instead, he spoke truth to femininity and put the power of evangelism in the hands of a female. That power was purposefully given away.
Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42): If Jesus were made male to retain power within masculinity, he would have worded his response to Martha differently. Jesus' response to Martha empowers her. All he had to say was, "I'm allowing it." This would have ended the conversation, and Martha would have returned to the kitchen. Just the fact that Mary was allowed to sit where men were traditionally only allowed was scandalous enough, but he also allows Martha to counter his decision as an equal.
Mary Magdalene (Matthew 28:1-10): If Jesus were made male to retain power within masculinity, the first words of a risen Christ would not have been given to a female. Realize Mary didn't have to tell the Disciples anything. Jesus would trump any words spoken for or against a risen Lord. Why give Mary the opportunity to tell the Disciples first, when just shortly afterwards they would see for themselves? It gave power to Mary to preach the Gospel.
All three of these examples would deflate if God had taken feminine form. Power was purposefully put in masculine form to share that power with females. No one saw it back then. Everyone was still looking for power for powers sake: A mighty Warrior King that would smite everyone and take back Israel. Instead, Jesus came as the Prince of Peace. Jesus came in male form because no one back then would have listened to a female. Then, God incarnate, at multiple occasions, gave power to the opposite sex.
Speaking directly to my brothers in Christ: That's a direct call. That's a call that is scandalous, and difficult. Jesus leaves Christendom with more than a backroom support. Jesus calls all males to act towards gender equality. To speak truth to the truths my sisters in Christ are already speaking.
To borrow from John Mayer:
...Even if your hands are shaking