In Exodus, Moses get's frustrated with God. Well, less with God directly, and more focused on the unknowns. Moses wants to know it all. He wants to have a clear path to the Promised Land without the lingering doubt that sits with any plan.
When he talks to God, his discussion is very similar to prayers I've prayed over the years. Let me give you an example of one of my prayers:
"God? I've been taking this path for years now. I feel like I'm going to right way. I feel this is helping others, but couldn't you just speak it to me and then I'll know, know? Can't I just see 5-10 years in the future and then I won't have this fear?"
The future, no matter how planned or thought out, will always be filled with unknowns, even for Moses. God is everything, and even Moses could only see a piece of everything: ie, God's back. There has been no journey, and there never will be a journey, where we know all the answers going into it.
If we refuse to move forward because we're waiting for all our questions to be answered, all we're doing is stalling. All your questions won't be answered. That's part of the deal. The future would be very boring if we saw the cliff notes before we journeyed on. For Moses they were lucky to know their "now" was impossible. It's one of the reasons the Israelites couldn't stay in Egypt. At least in Egypt they had a home. At least in Egypt they had the illusion of security. The wilderness is nothing, and that's why we're called to it first. We must be unsettled in our now, to successfully seek our future.
We can't know it all. We can let go and seek something better. Will it end well? Well, there are really selfish people in this world who are spiteful to the point of hurting goodness, so I can't promise you perfection. No one can. I can promise you, stagnation never has a good ending. Ever. If that's where we're at, you have to make your choice. Fester, or attempt something radically new. If you want me to tell you exactly what that will look like, sorry. God didn't even give Moses the entire picture. I just know I'm not staying in the wilderness.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
1 Jesus responded by speaking again in parables: 2 “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding party for his son. 3 He sent his servants to call those invited to the wedding party. But they didn’t want to come. 4 Again he sent other servants and said to them, ‘Tell those who have been invited, “Look, the meal is all prepared. I’ve butchered the oxen and the fattened cattle. Now everything’s ready. Come to the wedding party!”’ 5 But they paid no attention and went away—some to their fields, others to their businesses. 6 The rest of them grabbed his servants, abused them, and killed them.
7 “The king was angry. He sent his soldiers to destroy those murderers and set their city on fire. 8 Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding party is prepared, but those who were invited weren’t worthy. 9 Therefore, go to the roads on the edge of town and invite everyone you find to the wedding party.’
10 “Then those servants went to the roads and gathered everyone they found, both evil and good. The wedding party was full of guests. 11 Now when the king came in and saw the guests, he spotted a man who wasn’t wearing wedding clothes. 12 He said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ But he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to his servants, ‘Tie his hands and feet and throw him out into the farthest darkness. People there will be weeping and grinding their teeth.’
14 “Many people are invited, but few people are chosen.”
Matthew 22:1-14 CEB
People can tell you they are anything. They can espouse a belief system they don't personally follow. Not much is stopping anyone from being absolute liars to your face (or online).
Take Frank Abagnale Jr.. In the 1960's he ran away from home with just a few dollars to his name. He then faked at least 8 identities, and created fake checks and cashed it. What he told others, was not at all who he really was. Abagnale would write a book about his journey in 1980, and Hollywood would pick it up 20 years later and make the movie: Catch Me If You Can.
On one hand, we have a responsibility to fact check our sources. Take me, for instance. I tell you I'm a minister and I've been doing online ministry for 8 years now. There better be something that backs that up. Well, if you look to the right you can see eight years of archived posts. If you click the about tab you can see how I became an online minister including my schooling. I know people who can say, yes, Melissa Fain went to Candler School of theology and she graduated with a Masters of Divinity. There are people who will say I put my actions where my words are. I take the truth very seriously. I make that transparent because there are plenty who don't. Not all people who say they are a minister online, are really a minister.
Therefore, on the other hand, we need to see how a person's actions speaks to their real purpose. For example, I'm basically a full time sub. That's how I've gotten paid for the past 4-5 years. The school I sub has had zero confirmed cases since they opened back in early August. Masks are also "strongly encouraged," and not mandated. It would be easy for me to just go maskless. There are so many students that have begun to feel comfortable and stopped wearing theirs. Yet, the thought of being the family that starts a super spreader event at that school horrifies me. I love the staff at the school. Maybe I'll never catch it or spread it, but I cannot know. It is for that reason I wear a mask at all times. It's not comfortable, but it is the easiest way to show love to these teachers and staff that didn't have a choice about going back to school.
How we're like the scripture for today
The craziness of the world today has clarified many scriptures for me.
When one dismisses or ignores something, it's not because they believe it. Kids ignore their parents all the time because they think they know better. In other words, they don't believe their parents when their parents tell their child something is dangerous.
We don't act from other's beliefs. We act from our own belief systems. We also lie from those same systems. When we lie to someone about our belief, our actions are saying, "I don't trust you enough to treat me the same way if I tell you what I believe."
When a person stops hearing differing points of view, it's usually because they've become a person who can't be trusted with other people's belief. They've lost the power to change anything.
The scripture today is about God's story to the people, and the people's rejection of the story. It is also our rejection. There are times God tells us to go and we stay. There are times God invites us and we reject that invitation or kill it. Perhaps we don't kill it like the prophets were killed, but it's dead by the time we're done with it. Death happens in many ways.
I get this scripture better today because I can see how belief plays out in our actions. We support what we believe. We act from that belief system. Saying you believe something is different than the actions that show that belief.
You believe something? It shows.
So you say you want the 10 Commandments in front of the courthouse because it unifies multiple faith traditions and exemplifies codified law. Or to simplify it: Everyone gets the 10 Commandments.
Only- that's not exactly true. It's often times presented in ways that not only point only to Christians, but not even all Christians. Let's pretend we are going to commission someone to build the 10 Commandments outside our local courthouse. Here are the questions I'd ask before we set to work.
The easy answer is Exodus 20. Yet, Exodus 20 is not the only place the commandments appear. It also appears in Deuteronomy 5:6–17 and Exodus 34. The scripture changes depending on which one we pick. Below are some ways they change.
How are you separating them?
In 1551, Robert Estienne put verse numbers in the New Testament. We generally use these separations when reading anything from the New Testament.
Around 916 AD the Hebrew Bible had stops added to the texts. When the Hebrew Bible was eventually translated into English, most of these stops became the natural ending of one verse moving into another.
Verses and chapters are meant to help a group of people find a specific text together. That does not mean it was how the original author intended his work to be separated. This is true of the 10 Commandments. The way the scripture is separated into Commandments greatly depends on one's faith tradition.
Below is a chart I did not create myself. Clicking it will take you to a Catholic Blogger and a pretty decent article on idols in the Church.
The moment we begin numbering, we've made a statement regarding our specific faith tradition. Just because it's the 10 Commandments, doesn't mean we are including Jewish, Islamic and Christian faith traditions. It wouldn't even include all Christians, as Catholic and Protestants number the commandments differently. Still, there's one more hang up to consider.
Every translation of the original text is a theological statement. What do I mean? Let's look at the Protestant and Jewish 6th Commandment.
Depending on how you understand the original Hebrew it reads two ways:
There are translations where the translation team decided murder was the more appropriate word. There are other translations where the translation team believed kill was the more appropriate translation. Many of these modern teams put the opposite word in the margins so the reader can see there was not consensus on the translation. (If you have one these, that's what those tiny words are at the bottom of text. The one that wins goes in the text, and the one that held a contingent of support but didn't win goes in the margins.
These questions come up throughout the Bible as translation is an art. Words don't have a one to one ratio. The translation used not only expresses the 10 Commandments in a certain language, but it also makes a statement on broader beliefs tied to that translation. Yes, the King James Version has beautiful language, but it is also rejected by modern scholars. It was phenomenal during the time, but we've learned so much more about the original text, and English has evolved.
The Commandments are different for my two favorite translations, the CEB and NRSV. The NRSV uses "shall not" while the CEB uses "do not." The NRSV uses the "shall not covet" while the CEB uses "do not desire." Going back to the first example, the NRSV is written, "You shall not murder," with "kill" in the margins. The CEB, conversely, has "Do not kill," in the text and "murder" in the margins.
I would translate the original Hebrew to mean "murder," yet I prefer the modern language of "do not." We can see the issues translation alone can create.
I just want you to take something you might have considered easy, and realize it's not. We are living in a world where we're being told it's yes/no, right/wrong, Choice A/Choice B. God didn't create the Earth in that manner, and we shouldn't separate it in that way. We're breaking apart. Whatever cracks existed in our society, the Pandemic has come through like a earthquake and pulled them apart. What would have taken years, has taken place in 6 months. ALL THE CRACKS.
I'm asking. No, I'm pleading. The next time you see something that has painted an issue as clear cut, stop. Try to see at least two more points of view. Try to understand how something isn't a good choice you fully believe is. Try to see how something is a good choice, that you fully believe is not. That's the glue we need right now. Honestly, it's too late to change what's coming. Our minds are made up one way or another (and I'm talking way more than just a political race.) We have reached the point of no return. What's coming is coming. We need to prepare to honestly and genuinely reconnect after everything has hit. That starts now, and it starts with seeing the glory in God's creation, and the diversity in God's work.
There will always be a time after you.
Leadership is the ability to work for the team, not the ability to make your skill set indispensable.
I hate bubbles.
Let me clarify, I love actual bubbles. There used to be this whole area of Silver Dollar City where anyone could put themselves in a giant bubble. I loved seeing the swirling rainbows all around me as the bubble was pulled up around my body. I also love seeing actual bubbles in general. I think part of that fascination is their use in the movie Labyrinth. I want to catch one like David Bowie did, not that he ever really did, but still wanting to try.
What I hate is leadership bubbles.
Leadership bubbles are situations where one person makes themselves indispensable by creating a skill set they do not help others earn. The system runs great while they are in it, but the moment they leave, the bubble pops, and everything fails.
When you know an institution would fail if that one person leaves, you know you've met a bubble maker.
I don't want to be in the bubble making business.
I'm in a strange place with Fig Tree. I'm like a mother with a toddler. I'm both protecting and empowering. These are formative years, years that set the tone for the remaining years.
At the same time, I HATE the Melissa show! The Melissa show is one big bubble, waiting to be popped.
It's technically great for me. I get all the focus. It's terrible for Fig Tree. I've always had bigger vision for this, and it never ended with me. I saw a ministry for the broken, not just me talking about it in front of a camera or in a blog. I saw digital ministry being more than a Sunday worship.
I'm guarded with my celebrations, it's because I've always been playing the very long game. I could write or produce something, and it could get thousands of views, but until there is more than me doing it, it's a failure. Not because it's a failure right this minute, but because we're at a point where if I were to die tomorrow, Fig Tree and everything it has been building up to be, would die with me.
I see the potential, The loss of what could be, is greater than what we have now.
Church is not a business
Corporations have trained us to be bubble makers. We want our specific skill set to be so unique that upper management can't easily replace us. It turns skill into a resource, and takes community out of the equation.
Church can't work that way. True, we are individuals, each with our own perspective. It's impossible to see the world through anyone else's eyes. It is through our individual perspective that God calls us to be a communal group. We must trust God enough to make our skill set a communal skill set. To trust in God's overarching story over and beyond our desire to be more than obsolete. We are never obsolete in God's eyes when we are in a true community of believers.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the workers and give them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and moving on finally to the first.’ 9 When those who were hired at five in the afternoon came, each one received a denarion. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more. But each of them also received a denarion. 11 When they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 ‘These who were hired last worked one hour, and they received the same pay as we did even though we had to work the whole day in the hot sun.’
13 “But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I did you no wrong. Didn’t I agree to pay you a denarion? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I want to give to this one who was hired last the same as I give to you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with what belongs to me? Or are you resentful because I’m generous?’ 16 So those who are last will be first. And those who are first will be last.”
- - -
Matthew 20:8-16 CEB
Your value is not in your salvation. Also, your worth does not go up once you've found salvation.
We are called to treat people like their value.
God has deemed everyone has value. Everyone is priceless.
The lost coin still had value even though it was lost.
The lost sheep still had value even though it was lost.
The prodigal son still had value while eating the pig's slop.
My younger self saw Matthew 20 all wrong.
I was baptized when I was eight. It was a personal choice, one that my father let me make when I felt ready to make make it. I had heard Matthew 20 preached 4-5 times before seminary, and every time the minister never had me hooked. The longer I was a Christian, the more I realized I was the grumbling workers. I was putting in a full day's work, for the same pay as the ones that came at the last hour.
Every minister I had heard had taken this pay being salvation. I don't think so.
Coming to work is salvation. The denarion is placing value on the people. All of us have value. Just because I was baptized when I was eight, grew up in the church, and eventually went to seminary and was ordained, doesn't make my value any higher than anyone else. Instead of grumbling, I should see what is lost.
There are so many in this world who cannot see their inherent value. Be it because of Christians that have overinflated their own value, or circumstances that have demoralized and brought the person low.
I'm not the same person who started this Christian journey. I've gone from a puffed up idiot, grumbling to God about fairness, to helping others see they deserve as much as anyone else, even those who have been lost most of their lives.
That changes the ending of Matthew 20. We choose whether it's good or bad to be last.
If we're in it for ourselves, the ending is punishment by being put in our place at the end of the line.
If we're in it for the whole, everyone, the ending is reward. We have the opportunity to see people discover they have worth. It's a celebration of God's generosity. "Wow, God! Those people found themselves, and you gave them their own finder's fee! I'm glad I got to see that."
That's where our hearts and minds need to be. Jesus often didn't make the "new way" a path that had never been walked, but a new perspective on the path we walk every day.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
Eight years ago, I tried to wrap my head around church abuse. Not only had I been witness to it on multiple occasions, people were beginning to come to me with stories. They were stories different from my own, but contained the same vulgar grains. All but one attempted to cover over or cover up the indiscretion. All were attempting to gain or keep power. I remember pulling out Matthew 18:15-20, and seeing it for the first time for the victim.
15 “If your brother or sister sins against you, go and correct them when you are alone together. If they listen to you, then you’ve won over your brother or sister. 16 But if they won’t listen, take with you one or two others so that every word may be established by the mouth of two or three witnesses. 17 But if they still won’t pay attention, report it to the church. If they won’t pay attention even to the church, treat them as you would a Gentile and tax collector. 18 I assure you that whatever you fasten on earth will be fastened in heaven. And whatever you loosen on earth will be loosened in heaven. 19 Again I assure you that if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, then my Father who is in heaven will do it for you. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I’m there with them.”
Matthew 18:15-20 CEB
I needed the church to engage the guilty in this very way. Talk to them privately. If that didn't work, have two or three talk with them. If that didn't work, make it a whole church matter. I felt like church abuse, in all it's forms involved augmenting, hiding, and destroying. God's light needed to get in there and exact some good change.
Well, let's just say any scripture can be used in multiple ways. When it comes to broken churches, they break scripture.
In a broken church, abusers will use this scripture to attack the abused.
When a tool is turned into a weapon
There are a few ways broken churches break this scripture:
If your brother or sister sins against you...
If you're a minister, and planning on preaching this scripture on Sunday, realize the power it wields.
When weaponized, it can destroy your church from the foundation up. It won't be an obvious destruction. It will crack your foundation and seep into your walls like black mold. The only people who will see what you've done are the ones you've hurt.
If used as Christ intended, to bring us to wholeness. It's meant for church disputes, not abuse.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
"Love should be shown without pretending."
Romans 12:1a CEB
There have been two times where I've thought the Bible basically preaches itself. In both cases they've been Paul writing about love.
The first time was my very first sermon on Youth Sunday my senior year of high school. The scripture was 1 Cor 13- the "Love Chapter." I boldly stood at the pulpit and said, "You should love, that's it! It's that simple.!" I remember how on fire I was sharing this simple message. I remember how graceful the congregants were in accepting it. I've since preached multiple sermons on 1 Cor 13. (You can find at least three on this site.) My words have been trained and honed. I do more than just throw it out there. I give reasons. Buuuuut... I still can just sit in 1 Cor 13 and feel the message stands: Just love. That's it. It really is that simple.
Today marks the second time Paul's words just gets me. In Romans none-the-less! Just a few weeks ago I explained how I started my journey reading Biblical letters (about the same time I gave my first sermon) in Romans. Sure it's the first letter, but it's the most condensed book. Every word counts. It's a tapestry of theological knowledge that needs to be slowly explored to get a full and honest picture. It's a beautifully written letter.
"Let love be genuine." That's how it reads in the NRSV translation. If your not careful you'll miss the power behind that small sentence. It wasn't the NRSV that stopped me. It was the CEB:
Love should be shown without pretending.
Well, if that doesn't speak to my soul right now. We are a tense, pressurized people right now. Pressure can be a good thing, but most have never had to live with it. To suddenly feel it we've gone into the flight or fight mode. I've heard it on both sides:
"I'm shutting down. Not going to engage. I've just got to get away." If this is you, you are reacting to all this with flight. It's instinctual to run away from the problem. Only the problem remains. It's not some saber-tooth tiger that found some other tasty snack. What you've left behind are the others, and they are fighting.
I'm not talking good fighters. I'm talking people who are feeling the same tension and pressure you're feeling and they are barking to look scarier than they are. This is instinctual too. Only the problem isn't something we can scare away with big angry words.
Not easy empty love. Not love that is shown with cards and flowers. That kind of love is like balloons in a pressure chamber in this environment. They simple pop. We need something that can withstand the growing tensions.
Love should be shown without pretending.
Oof! Showing love, sure, but without pretending?
Hot take: We pretend love. All. The. Time. Wanna hear something crazy? It's a form of flight. It's a safe backdoor to quietly sneak out and not have to engage. You get to play nice, without really doing anything.
The whole book of Romans is love without pretending. It's Paul's swan song, the last writing before he was executed for being what God called him to be. It's a love built on the grace of God. A love that seeks out in order to relieve the tension and pressure building up in this world. It's a love that faces the anger and fear, no matter the consequence.
The answer is easy, love. The practice of it is anything but easy. Individually, none of us are called to save the world. All of us have lives. All of us have things we need to save. Including me. That's what makes it so very difficult. If you want to know how we sell the world, this is how. Fake love. Love that doesn't change anything. Love that gives us the easy out.
For me the words are comforting. People will attack you for showing love without pretending. You need to know it is right even when others attack or run away. I can sit in those words. For me it is that simple. Love.
Over the past five months I have seen some amazing articles and misinformed attempts on understanding Covid-19. We are at the restlessness stage of this pandemic, and we just want to get back to normal. I've heard this in relationship to school, church, and general life. In the past month, I've probably heard it 8-10 times.
The purpose of this writing is to pull reliable links, and bring them together in a way to understand how dangerous our restlessness truly is. By the end of this writing, I hope to inform you, and give you an easy resource to share with others.
Pathogens need a carrier
Pathogens are a fancy word for diseases. Some diseases are fungal, some are bacterial, and others are viral.
It's important to know, most pathogens need something to carry it to a host. For example:
Diseases transmitted through poop or food: Cholera, typhoid, Hepatitis A and E, and tapeworms, Ebola and salmonella
Diseases spread through sexual contact: gonorrhea, HPV, chlamydia, HIV
Diseases spread through air: measles, TB, flu, cold, Covid-19
When we think "airborne" we imagine the little virus or bacteria coming out of our mouth, all by itself, flying across the room into someone else's unsuspecting lungs. Viruses and bacteria can't do that. They are dangerously simplistic in their design. Because they are simplistic, their transmission (or how they spread) happens by hitching a ride on something. When it comes to airborne transmission, it happens through our snot or saliva. Our breath is very wet, and we breath out that saliva with every breath we take.
With the flu or cold, most of the danger is in snot. We touch our runny nose, and then touch objects. The snot carries the virus to an object where it waits for someone to touch it, and later bring the unwashed hand to their mouth.
With Covid-19 the danger is in the breath.
Check out this link for more information on carriers:
How a mask helps to stop the spread
There's a great meme going around I want to share with you:
Unless you've lived under a rock, or been in a coma, you've probably seen this meme.
I saw a video the other day that suggested this meme is garbage because the virus is smaller than the holes in a face mask. Pee is liquid, the virus is a virus.
Let me break it down:
Like I mentioned above, the virus needs a carrier.
For Covid-19, that carrier is our breath.
Imagine we were talking people rather than viruses. Of course a lone person can't get very far on their feet. An average person can maybe get 5 miles in a day. You give them a bike and now they can get 15 miles. You give them a car and now they can get hundreds of miles. You give them a plane and now they can get thousands. The bike, car, and plane carry the human further.
Now, let's say you want to keep that human from getting out of their city. You build a 20 foot wall around that city. They can still get in their car and drive, but if they try to drive out of the city, they would run into that wall, and it would stop them.
Is it possible for that person to get out of the car, and try to climb around or through the wall? Sure, but you've taken away what is carrying them, and they won't get very far past that wall.
This is how it is for Covid-19 and masks. The virus is like the human, the breath droplet is like the car, and the wall is like the mask. The mask is not trying to stop the virus, only the vehicle the virus uses to infect others. This is also why it's still important to social distance while wearing a mask. Wearing a mask means the virus can only travel a foot, vs the 6-10 feet without a mask.
Check out this link for more information on how masks stop the carrier of Covid-19:
Why 10 minutes breathing someone's air is enough
A virus needs multiple copies of itself to infect a person.
Think of it this way:
The bigger the army, the easier it is to overtake the stronghold. If you got one person with a gun (even a big gun) it's pretty easy for the stronghold to take out that person and stay safe. If you instead have thousands attacking the stronghold, the stronghold find's itself spreading their resources thin to protect itself.
It's also like ants. An ant bites you, you can smack that ant, and you're done. On the other hand, you step on an ant pile, it's going to be extremely difficult to kill all those ants quickly. They can overtake you, and you might have to take drastic measures to get rid of them.
This is like viruses.
Breathing releases 33 viral particles per minute. You might walk next to someone with Covid-19 for a minute. Breathing in their direct air for that short amount of time is not enough to get infected. That's like the lone human attacking the stronghold.
Talking releases 200 viral particles per minute. One minute talking to an infected person would not be enough of a load to infect you.
You need to take in about 1000 virus particles to become infected. That means, you chat with an infected person for 5 minutes, you've breathed in enough of their infected air to catch Covid-19.
Here's where things become dicey. Someone who is infected coughs. If they didn't contain that cough, they've released enough of a viral load that you need 0 minutes breathing it in. One breath is enough. Also, if you are in an enclosed room with someone infected, all it takes is 50 minutes anywhere in that room to breath in enough virus to catch it.
Check out these links for more information on viral loads:
Air Conditioning: The biggest spreader
Most transmissions are happening in places with central heating and air. To understand why this is happening, we must first understand how air conditioning units work.
Air conditioners are designed to push air down to the people. Velocity, or the speed, the air is going helps quickly cool down a room. It lowers the cost of an air conditioning system, because faster air means fewer vents are required to cool a room.
There are those who believe air conditioning units don't play a role in the spread of Covid-19 because the breathed and spoken droplets are too heavy to be sucked into the unit, and spread back out. For the most part this is true. It's this truth that undermines the real danger of air conditioning and the spread of Covid-19.
(I've gotta go off track for just a moment, but I'll come back around, I promise.)
One of the ways major theme parks keeps guests comfortable is by misting them. These literal water droplets can only go so far on their own. To spread them further parks will put big fans behind the spray. This gives them the most bang for the buck.
We can see these droplets and can avoid them if we wish to.
Back in April we learned something about air conditioning units and Covid-19. In a restaurant in China, someone had unknowingly been infected with the virus. Not only did the person spread the virus to those at their table, they spread it to two other tables in a straight line across the room. These two other tables were more than 6 feet away. How did that happen?
The air conditioning unit picked up the breath and pushed it across the room. Air conditioning vents are like the fans behind the misters as theme parks, only we can't see our breath. It obliterates the 6 ft rule.
Check out these links for more information on air conditioning and viral spread:
What to do with this information
Share. I put this together to be an easy resource to share with congregations and groups. Misinformation is our biggest enemy right now.
Maybe we're all going to get it eventually, but we don't need to all get it at once. Getting it at once puts a stress on our healthcare industry, and it forces them to choose who lives and who dies. Any death is tragic, but when that death could have been prevented by simple steps, it's overly tragic.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
I feel like there are times a piece of me shines. That piece, by itself, looks like something. It's easy to take the piece out of context, because no one realizes the whole. Also, no one realizes the tools I've collected to bring me to this point in our shared history.
What happens when all those pieces come together? Well, let me lay them out for you:
1. I healed from being a child of brokenness.
I don't talk about my past as much as I want to or used to. I've remained guarded for multiple reasons. Some of those will come out in due time. One of those are important now.
I've learned, we are not defined by our brokenness, but what we do once we've been broken. Most of our villains were created from their brokenness. Instead of seeking restoration and stopping the cycle of abuse, they pushed into their brokenness turning them into abusers. Many of these abusers define themselves by their brokenness, unable to see how their brokenness has begun to break others.
Seeing this encouraged me to find healing to end the cycle of abuse. It helped me see self-care as a way to care for others. My personal healing took away the need for others to potentially go through the same process in their own lives. Self-care is a cycle breaker. In this way, caring for one's self is caring for others.
Brokenness broke me, but it ultimately didn't define me. My path to healing defined me, and it gives me a compassionate view of the world and those around me.
2. I was witness to church brokenness.
I truly feel I was called to be witness to brokenness in the church and the aftermath of its destruction. From 1999 to 2012, it felt like these churches were handpicked for their personal moments of brokenness. (All except Brookhaven, where I still feel it was a bad fit, and I was always called to First Atlanta, but somehow God's plan was subverted until a few years later.) I realize now I was never called to fix anything in these years, but to simply take note.
I now personally know and been witness to:
Ministers breaking a church.
Congregants breaking a minister.
Ministers breaking ministers.
Congregants breaking congregants.
I know the problem is prolific. There are systems that have been built to hide or protect abuse and neglect. There are statements that exist to deny accountability. "Not at my church," being one of them. The Body of Christ is ultimately one church, so if it's happening anywhere, it's happening in your Church.
Because I've witnessed and ultimately felt the brutal sting of Church brokenness, I have eyes trained to see the problem. My compassionate view will not let me take just any church job to fix the problem.
3. Paulding County is my home.
I'm about to blow some teacher's minds here.
I do not like substituting. I'm going on my 5th year in the schools, but I know I'm much more relatable to the students in a youth group setting than I am in a substitute setting.
That being said, I know the implicit power I wield being both a parent, and an employee. I've seen substitutes throw this power around in defense of their specific child. It's a power greater than a certified teacher who is also a parent.
I'm also the spouse of an educator within the county. I've been the champion for the front line, aka the teachers, for years now. If you are not taking care of the teachers, than you are not taking care of my kids, and then I get loud.
I don't like subbing, but I love the people in the system. They know me, and I know them. I've used my power carefully, speaking up for subs in an open letter written in 2018. When I talked with someone from the AP about schools reopening, it was to be the teacher's champion. I only spoke as a parent sending her children back to school, but my view as a parent has a very supportive view of our educators. Most parents are having trouble seeing the humanity in their child's educator. I'm a minister. I see the human first.
Without realizing it, I had placed myself on the front lines of the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. More than that,it was a place I'd already been, for years.
4. Creativity is One of my Talents.
My brain is a hot mess! Seriously.
There are days when I know the information, understand it, but can't say it. I know it's there. I know the definition, but not the word attached to it.
Then there are other days where I can make the connections others are not. (Very helpful when it comes to Biblical interpretation btw.) Most see this in my crafts. I make polymer clay earrings by looking at a picture and recreating it. I make Halloween costumes the same way. My son wanted to be Finn from Adventure Time? Done!
People see a project I do and they don't understand it's a skill set I've picked up from having little to nothing to work with. Stuck in a room with a piece of cardboard, scissors and string? Fine! Turn the cardboard into a loom, and weave. Need a perfect circle for a class but you don't have a protractor? Tie a piece of twine loosely on a one pencil while you tie it tightly on another. Automatic circle maker! Don't have glue? Go to the kitchen and start mixing ingredients until you have something that sticks. (In my case water and flour.)
My brain allows me to put the pieces together in ways many don't consider. My brain allows me to pick up skills as needed. I learned middle school math two years ago. Actually sat down and learned it. Why? Because it was needed. I picked up Adobe Photoshop and Premier on my own and just started using it. Why? Because a photo lab was hiring a Photo Restorationist, and I needed a job.
My brain is both my super power and my kryptonite. I know there are those who see my struggles and write me off. It's because I've had to rewire my thought process, that I can see connections others overlook. Creativity is a gift we undernourish in others. It has made me an endangered species.
I know when someone wants you out, you can't win.
There is something crucial about complete and total failure. Almost all of us have no idea what rock bottom feels like. (In many ways I still don't.) If you haven't felt rock bottom, that is amazing. It's not a fun place to be. You've got nothing, no one, and no where.
I lived it in ministry. I've felt complete and total crushing defeat.
It gave me context.
Now I know there are situations where you are destined to fail. In moments like that, one is defined by what they do leading up to that failure. It is always better to do the right thing, because even in personal destruction, the seed of justice can be planted for the future to reap their rewards.
I also learned when others are out to destroy you there are aspects of your life they have no power over. You sell your integrity. You forfeit your freewill. These are things that can only be handed over if you choose to hand them over. Yes, there will always be consequences for not giving in, but giving into those consequences will always be far more destructive in the long run if you submit.
The biggest gift of rock bottom is I know it. I've felt it. I'm not as scared of it as I was before I felt it's pain. In the biggest picture there is, that's what truly makes me the most dangerous.
All the pieces together means I've been put in the right place at the right time.
I'm an online minister. I have been for 8 years now. That really came in handy 5 months ago when all ministers had to be online.
I live in Paulding County, Georgia (Yes, that Paulding County) and I have for, once again, eight years now. Part of that eight years was used to research the county to prepare for a church plant. I understand this county better than many of her residents. There are two counties living here. Old blood. Cobb flight. Two very different groups of people, who act rather oblivious of one another. I feel it in my gut. There's a reason I'm here.
I know how to build, self-motivate, create and explore.
If the right side gets a hold of me.
We could change the world.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
(Edited for clarification 7/28/20)
A friend mentioned that he wanted to go back to the Tiger King portion of the pandemic. That was fun, wasn't it? Watching insanity that somehow was more insane than real life. No? Well that portion has come and gone. We are in the Hamilton portion of the pandemic.
I'm behind the curve on some things. I just finished watching Tiger King with my husband, (Did you know Carol Baskin legally gained ownership of GW Zoo back in June? Also, they've reopened her late husband's missing person case. Finally, she covered a 50 Cent song? We've might have moved on, but that story's still going.)
Forget that real lives continue over there, have you seen King George in Hamilton? Best part, amirite? Wow, such a funny moment. Is it wrong that King George is my favorite part?
Is it wrong that he's my favorite part? I was thinking it, but my husband verbally asked it.
I reflected on that question. Yeah I do, and I think that's the point. He's the abusive husband. Making him so likable should lead the viewer to introspection. We should be asking, "How are we like King George, and how can we act differently?" In what ways do each of us wield power and abuse it?
I love King George, but probably not for the same reason you do. You probably love him because he gave you a break. Hamilton is packed! You can watch it three times and still not see everything. George comes in with something completely different, and it feels refreshing. He's stealing the show. Literally, he's taking the story away from the actors. I love King George because I'm unsettled by him. I know he's stealing. I know he's abusing, and I know the audience is publicly loving him for it. It forces me to see something that's happening in real life, and consider how I can change it.
Okay. If you thought the subject of this piece was Jonathan Groff's performance, you are wrong. We're about to take a hard left into the real subject of the post.
The Church and Covid-19
I sat at my computer for about an hour trying to write out how to engage this subject. I realized the best place to start is scripture:
1Then the Spirit led Jesus up into the wilderness so that the devil might tempt him. 2 After Jesus had fasted for forty days and forty nights, he was starving. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “Since you are God’s Son, command these stones to become bread.”
4 Jesus replied, “It’s written, People won’t live only by bread, but by every word spoken by God.”
5 After that the devil brought him into the holy city and stood him at the highest point of the temple. He said to him, 6 “Since you are God’s Son, throw yourself down; for it is written, I will command my angels concerning you, and they will take you up in their hands so that you won’t hit your foot on a stone.”
7 Jesus replied, “Again it’s written, Don’t test the Lord your God.”
8 Then the devil brought him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 He said, “I’ll give you all these if you bow down and worship me.”
10 Jesus responded, “Go away, Satan, because it’s written,You will worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” 11 The devil left him, and angels came and took care of him.
Matthew 4:1-11 CEB
I think it was during the Tiger King portion of the pandemic that a minister told his congregants they were "Covered in the Blood," and to meet at church because God would protect them. (Not a thought that has disappeared in our Hamilton portion of the pandemic.)
Since then, multiple churches have reopened. Many with singing. Many churches have also seen outbreaks of Covid-19 in their sanctuary.
God will save them, right? Why would God kill people going to worship God?
"Don't test the Lord your God."
There's another factor at play here that never went away. #ChurchToo. While the #MeToo movement is sexual abuse, #ChurchToo has taken on all abuse within the sanctuary doors. It is a movement you learn about after you join it. I can remember my induction. I couldn't wrap my head around what had happened, when a minister offered to take me out to eat. Slowly and lovingly she told a story that shared similarities with my own. Since then I've heard the similar stories countless times. People who don't understand why they've been cancelled or ghosted by the church. When the entire church was kicked out, I had hoped we would feel that pain and want to fix the system for those who haven't been back for years. Instead, we continued to be blind.
I believe that God has been unsettling us for years. Preparing us to be a church in exile, and church without doors. Most have taken that discomfort and used justification to settle that Cognitive Dissonance. Some have just lived with the dissonance stating, "Something doesn't feel right." I've heard that very phrase at least half a dozen times just months before everything was shut down.
Now we're outside, and we lack the creative force to do anything but want back in. But we just gotta get back to church, amirite? Is it wrong that we just wanna hug our neighbor, and sing our songs?
Yes. Right now, yes. It's very wrong. It's wrong because we didn't learn anything. It's wrong because it's dangerous. Want me to say it another way? If a congregant dies because it was your decision to reopen the church, and they caught Covid-19 in worship, it's their blood on your hands. You'll be covered in the blood. Covered all over. In fact, many of us are already covered, and don't even know it. They yell there wounds from the wilderness, but no one with power hears.
The Church and King George
On July 26th I saw a Priest do a parody of "You'll be back."
I just want you to keep everything I wrote about the above King George and the church in mind as you watch the Priest parodying him below.
Sometimes parody can divorce itself from the source material, only related in the way the material is presented, not in the message the source material presents. This is often the case for pop songs. This is because we're not listening to the words beyond the chorus. Weird Al is the master of this, and almost all of us can name one of his parodies off the top of our head. When we're talking about songs that tell specific stories, like musical theater does, it opens up a whole new can of worms. Parody, in those cases, cannot be divorced from the source material. In fact, the source informs the viewer of the parody.
In this case, while there are a growing number laughing, and longing for the Priest's promise to be true, I'm unsettled.
Before I get hate for not getting it, I get it. We want what we can't have. We want to sing. We want to hug. We want to worship in our mildew smelling sanctuaries. Believe me, I've heard enough laments. I've lament myself. There is nothing for my children. I want to fix that, but not in a church right now.
When paired with this specific song, though, it turns the church into the abusive ex. In a system that prides itself in patriarchy and years of church abuse, that message didn't sit well with me. Guess what? I appreciate it. I love it, because it unsettles me. I want more things that unsettle me, because it forces me to contemplate and consider. The joy others are taking in the song is like buying into Hananiah's promise in Jeremiah 28. That unsettles me more than the song itself does. The reason the broken have been cancelled and ghosted is because it's so easy to devour the lie and leave the truth to rot. The lie is sweet. It's like candy. The truth is rough, and never digests well.
Oh really? We'll be back? What if we're not? What if this is the beginning of a church revolution? This is a moment to rethink worship! This is a moment for those broken by the institution of church to speak up! That's what I'd love the comment section for this meditation to do. Speak up! I've heard you! Now you tell them. Why have you not been back in the church? Tell your story. Don't let "King George" steal the story. Take it back. It belongs to you. Just don't be surprised if their voice stays silent. They've been hurt and it's unfair to ask the abused to fix the abuser. What I ask, more than anything, is let the Priest's video unsettle you some. They may not say anything today, but make room for their voice. This is their moment.