-Rev Melissa Fain-
One of the big dangers of ministry is burnout. It seems no group is more susceptible to burn out than ministers.
One cure for the burnout blues is something called a sabbatical. The sabbatical can be used in a multitude of ways. It could be time to research for a new book, take a class for a degree, but mostly it's the opportunity to pause and drink deeply from the spiritual well. While there is no hard line on when one should take a sabbatical, the general consensus is once every five or so years. (Some going as long as ten years.)
The last sabbatical I took happened right after my daughter was born. That was five years ago. I know, without a doubt, it's time to step back for a few months. I'm like a classic car with a dead alternator. All the right pieces are there, but they can run because the part that charges me is out of commission.
Therefore, I'm stepping back until the beginning of August. My plan is to fill this page with guest meditations until I come back. I've asked writers to connect scripture to a movie currently out or on Netflix.
Show them the same love you would show me. Keep me in your prayers. Hopefully, when I come back, I'll be ready to take on the world with you again.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
"You're lost," she says.
"I'm not lost! I know exactly where I'm going," he replies.
"Oh really? Where are we then?"
"We should ask for directions."
It's a classic pre-GPS story. Guy get's lost, and girl calls him out on it. It always involves stopping and asking for help. If you know this tale you know how it continues. The assumption is made that it's either her fault for not reading the map correctly, or he'll eventually figure it out if they only drive a little further. Inevitably it always ends with the guy admitting they're lost and going into a gas station to ask how to get to that preferred destination.
What is it about our nature that keeps us from admitting defeat while on a journey? It can't be our Candy Crush, constant action oriented lives. The fast paced commercials, explosive games and fidget spinners came long after our desire to keep from admitting failure. It's ingrained in us. It must have started a millennia ago when failure meant the wolf or lion dined on your flayed rib cage. Back then the stakes were much higher than they were when an aggravated driver had to admit there was a need to stop and ask for help.
This primal instinct might explain individual distress of admitting failure on a journey, but what about a church? Churches spend big bucks to create a vision plan. Right now, they are a dime a dozen. Wanna' fix the church? Follow our 5 easy steps for only $5,000! At the end of the journey, you will have a completely rebuilt church! For those it works for, it really works. The money is well spent, and at the end of the journey these churches have a new beginning. But, for the churches it doesn't work for it seems they don't want to admit they need something that is just right there within reach.
They need to stop and ask for directions. It sounds so simple, I know. It's actually the first step in most guides when one is lost. Here is the BSA (Boy Scouts of America) version:
Sit: Or in other words: stop!
Think: What tools and abilities do you already have?
Observe: Take in your current situation. What do you need to deal with as soon as possible?
Plan: How are you going to get out of the mess you are in? Do you need to build a shelter to survive the night?
Every group or person can get lost. Our ability to survive being lost often requires our ability to stop.
The first step to stopping is admitting we are actually lost. It means accepting the fact that we are not following God's path anymore. God wants us to admit error, not so we can suffer God's divine red pen, but so we find the right path again.
It's so easy... but yet so hard.
This is the day the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
Light Warning for those who dealt with depression, as I will be discussing my journey through it.
Tuesday, I was driving to drop my daughter off at Pre-K and get to work. In my head, I was running through the final two weeks of school.
In two weeks we'd be on break. In two weeks, I'd never have to drop my daughter off at car rider line again. She would ride with my husband and son to school. My work schedule would be able to change. I wouldn't have to rush. I could focus more on home and ministry... I stop working through my list.
"This is the day the Lord has made," I murmur, "let us rejoice and be glad in it."
Suddenly, I begin to take in the day. The mist rising from the lake. The morning sun hitting the trees. My daughter belting Let it Go from the back seat.
That snip-it of Psalm is a spiritual mantra for me.
It was only seven years ago I felt the dark abyss of depression. It didn't matter that we had insurance, we couldn't afford the mental help I clearly needed. Some days it was realizing that black ice nugget of emptiness was simply emptiness that day. Other times, it was practicing deep breaths while my children played around me. It was extremely difficult, and four years later I began to make substantive strides to pulling myself out of that pit.
Anyone who has made it to the other side of depression can probably understand what I'm about to say. Depression is like a boat being cut from it's anchor. At the time, I knew the cold emptiness of it. I just didn't understand the disconnect. Sure I felt like a ship lost at sea, but I thought I was making that choice. I was choosing to distance myself from my friends and family. It was like depression would cut the tie, and hand it to me. Sure, I never had to let go, but it was tiring holding ties that normally stay connected without any intervention. Eventually, it was just easier to let go, than hold on.
Four years later, I knew what I needed. I needed an anchor. I needed a way to bring everything into clarity. An old camp song came into focus. The day. The moment I was in. It was created by God. I should rejoice in it. Sometimes, that rejoicing was a tired thank you, with little or no joy. Sometimes, it was grateful thanks, spoken with a smile on my face. It anchored me. It gave purpose to my day. Today, it reminds me that there will always be things to dislike and wish would be over, but it doesn't change the purpose of the day: A day created by our Lord, and we should rejoice.
You can take this two ways. Either you can realize that everything, even the day we are in are gifts from God and we should cherish them. Or two, we can realize when all those anchors and ties are waving in the wind, God is still there to be an anchor. Both are true. May you take from it what you need.
“Don’t be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me. 2 My Father’s house has room to spare. If that weren’t the case, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you? 3 When I go to prepare a place for you, I will return and take you to be with me so that where I am you will be too. 4 You know the way to the place I’m going.”
5 Thomas asked, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
6 Jesus answered, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you have really known me, you will also know the Father. From now on you know him and have seen him.”
8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father; that will be enough for us.”
9 Jesus replied, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been with you all this time? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I have spoken to you I don’t speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Trust me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or at least believe on account of the works themselves. 12 I assure you that whoever believes in me will do the works that I do. They will do even greater works than these because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask for in my name, so that the Father can be glorified in the Son. 14 When you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it.
John 14:1-14 CEB
-Rev Melissa Fain-
This is part of the reason I inflect when I read scripture. Yes, by inflecting I'm incorporating my perspective, but come on! I'm a minister! I incorporate my perspective all the time! Every person who opens their mouth to explain what they think scripture means is doing the same thing.
This scripture is a doozy. We all know, if you read it as dryly as possible, it would cause your mind to literally explode. (Okay, that might be taking it a bit far, but it's still a difficult read.) It's an Abbott and Costello skit. Abbott is just saying what is true. Costello, as confused as can be, is just trying to understand what Abbott is saying.
"Is Jesus on first, or is the Father? I don't know!"
"He's on third."
If we just add the Spirit to this text we will have the trifecta of confusion.
That's one of the things I love about the Gospel of John. This writer doesn't appear to have a problem sharing moments the Disciples were completely confused with what Jesus was saying. I love this because if the people who were walking next to Christ had trouble understanding everything he was saying, it gives me and you breathing room to step back and give scripture time. In other words, the Disciple's confusion gives us grace to be confused too. It doesn't mean we give it up. When the Disciples were confused, they asked questions. We should ask questions too. It's just nice to know, we're called to question.
If you are in a healthy and right church, your questions will be accepted with love. I know when I was a child, mine were. It's Christ-like to encourage questions in the church, no matter how scary or confusing they are. If you are a member of Fig Tree, hopefully you feel that grace. If you are somewhere else, I hope it is the same for you.
42 The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. 43 A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. 44 All the believers were united and shared everything. 45 They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. 46 Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. 47 They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
Have you ever tried to start a camp fire without lighter fluid? There used to be a time when the thought to starting a fire without at least a little (or a lot) of help from lighter fluid sounded daunting at best, and impossible at worst.
Then one day, as I was building a fire for a summer camp, an older counselor changed my view. Together we were building the fire. He talked through each piece. "We put the kindling in the middle of the bottom. These are tiny pieces that easily catch fire, and burn fast. Then we put little twigs over the kindling. These will begin the real fire, but they won't last long. We put small sticks over that, but with some space. The fire needs air. Finally, we build a tee-pee type structure with sturdy but thin logs." He nodded his head in satisfaction.
"Wait!" I exclaimed. "We have one more thing." Then I grabbed the lighter fluid and fully doused the entire masterpiece.
"You ruined it!" Yep. I ruined it. It was made to catch without extra help, and I took away the wonder of watching the steps work the way they were supposed to.
The next time I was tasked with making the fire, the older counselor had gone home, and it was a new camp. Remembering the moment, I asked for the responsibility. I gathered my supplies, and yes that means I took the lighter fluid with me. I set up the kindling, the tiny twigs, then bigger sticks, and finally logs. I really took my time. Then ,knowing the fluid was there just in case, I bent down and lit the kindling. I watched as the pieces all began to work. The kindling lit the sticks, and the sticks lit the logs. It was beautiful. In that moment I realized how terribly I had ruined the previous fire. It was a strange moment, because I was both happy and sad. I was happy I was able to do something I hadn't been able to do before. I was sad because I had made the work of an older counselor useless, All he wanted was to see that moment of wonder on my face. I took that away from him.
I've seen a similar wonder happen in the church. The smallest idea catches fire. It gets picked up by some congregants and then you have a small fire. Finally, the entire church backs it, and it blazes. I've seen this happen with new program ideas, worship, and mission.. It's exciting to be part of, because the right pieces are ignited at the right time. God's perfect timing meets our burning nature. When done correctly we are drawn to give anything to make it happen. Our time, money, and talents.
Then I've seen the lighter fluid moment in churches. Now, before we continue, I'm completely okay with fires dying out. One thing I've learned about making fires with set-up over lighter fluid is they are stronger once they have a chance to really begin. Back in the day, I'd have to drench logs 3-4 times before they finally caught and took off. Today, I've made enough fires that I can start one in the rain without lighter fluid if need be. I've also sat over a pile of logs for up to a half-hour resetting the pieces. It's okay if the set up didn't work. Reset, and try again.
I've learned a very important phrase in ministry:
"That is a great idea! How do you want to make it happen?"
If the idea has been properly built, it will catch into a safe fire. If the idea has not been correctly built, it will die out before it burns the church down. That being said, I've been around church enough to see beautiful potential doused with the lighter fluid of "just in case." I've been around enough to see this turn one of three ways. I've seen the spark of an idea die out because it wasn't allowed to naturally build. I've seen that spark of an idea burn the church down because the fluid caught everything on fire. I've seen a wonderful idea lose it's wonder because the burning idea was not allowed to naturally catch.
This is where I tie it all back together. What does this have to do with the scripture? Everything. We read that everyone gave all their possessions and assume that's a step in building a church. That's not a step, that's the product. That's God's blazing, and controlled, fire. Forcing congregants to just give all their money and time up in the beginning is lighter fluid, and can explode into something dangerous. You know your church has some healthy fires going when people want to naturally feed it. The best way to feed it is with our time and money. The above scripture is amazing because it shows a spiritual blazing inferno. It's not the steps to get on; it's the end result. It's really that simple.
Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way.
All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.
Psalm 25:8-10 NRSV
-Rev Melissa Fain-
"Where's your humility?" my husband asked me in my late 20's. "You are so ready to take on the world, but what do you really know about the world?"
I shrugged my shoulders. "I'm just ready to do this!" And I was. I was like a yipping dog on a leash, dragging her owner behind her. I was so ready to just get to it! I was ready and willing, Ready to pastor and educate the love of God. "Where's your humility?"
If I were to compare myself to a biblical character during this time, I was completely Peter. Zealous to a haphazard degree. The first to raise my hand. The first to volunteer. The first to push away Job to hold a holier than though approach to life. Jonah running away?! Pshaw! I would have marched in exuberantly announcing God's word to the people! "Melissa, where's your humility?"
Where was my humility? It was on the journey. I've picked it up little pieces at a time. It came with the gift of time. The younger me would have seen it like the shipping and handling charges tacked onto that TV infomercial product that's just too good to be true. Humility cheated good people out of being able to speak up and act. It was because the childhood me knew the moment I opened my mouth was a nerve-raking moment. Even though I was born in the United States, you are not reading a native to the American Culture. I'm more like the feral child found in the woods and I have appropriated the American culture to speak the American language. My broken childhood stunted my social growth. This meant the first spiritual lessons I had to learn was as far from humility as it could be. My first spiritual lessons were in self-confidence. Therefore, when I began to master self-confidence I was all Peter. Try telling someone who hasn't had a cultural voice for a quarter of a decade to shut up when they finally find it.
Now I'm on the edge of middle aged. Where is my humility? I no longer see it like shipping and handling charges. Humility is more like the extra time put into the product. Time has taught me that humility is more than stepping back so someone else can step up. (That would be my late 20's answer.) Humility coats everything you say and do. It understand there will always be someone better than you. It's knowing everything you do speaks from the voices of countless thousands. This is because even the smallest conversation had the ability to influence you. Many of those relationships you don't even realize you had, but they still hold the grain of influence. My humility is in knowing any number of people would be better at my job than me, so I better realize it when I think I could do someone else's job better. My humility is in realizing my situation in life is made better or worse by those around me and sheer luck. Just because I may be able to pick myself up, doesn't give me the right to criticize others who haven't been able to do the same. I do not personally know their situation. That's humility.
It is in that spirit God works. Teaching Job the world is bigger than him. (Oh how I love that Job today.) Helping Jonah speak peace to the oppressor. (How I would never want to fill Jonah's heavy shoes.) In teaching Peter that denial comes to even the most fervent of believers. In our humility, God acts. May we all be vessels of that action.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
That evening a man named Joseph came. He was a rich man from Arimathea who had become a disciple of Jesus. He came to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate gave him permission to take it. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had carved out of the rock. After he rolled a large stone at the door of the tomb, he went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting in front of the tomb.
The next day, which was the day after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate. They said, “Sir, we remember that while that deceiver was still alive he said, ‘After three days I will arise.’ Therefore, order the grave to be sealed until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people, ‘He’s been raised from the dead.’ This last deception will be worse than the first.”
Pilate replied, “You have soldiers for guard duty. Go and make it as secure as you know how.” Then they went and secured the tomb by sealing the stone and posting the guard.
Matthew 27:57-66 CEB
I fully believe the bravest people in the world are the ones who have the most to lose, and they risk it all for the sake of others. That’s what I think of when I read Joseph of Arimathea asked for the body of Jesus and placed him in his tomb. Two important bits of context.
First, Jesus’ closest disciples were currently hiding. They were fearful for their lives. Second, during this time there were tons of really poor people, and a few very rich people. Forget middle class, that just didn’t exist back then.
For Joseph, there was nothing to be gained from admitting you were a disciple of Jesus, but there was everything to lose. That’s a kind of bravery I doubt many in America would understand. We know the ending to this story. We know what happens in act three. Joseph didn’t know.
Tomorrow we celebrate new life after death. Today we celebrate those who risk it all for the sake of others. Human or Divine, we should look on both with awe and respect.
- - -
We know the night is darkest before the dawn.
Before the sun rises on this Easter morn, show us the stars that still shine in the darkness.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
From noon until three in the afternoon the whole earth was dark. At three, Jesus cried out with a loud shout, “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani,” which means, “My God, my God, why have you left me?”
After hearing him, some standing there said, “Look! He’s calling Elijah!” Someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, and put it on a pole. He offered it to Jesus to drink, saying, “Let’s see if Elijah will come to take him down.” But Jesus let out a loud cry and died.
Mark 15:33-37 CEB
“Follow me, and I will make your fishers of people.”
By itself, what a ludicrous statement! This was a time when any sort of stable employment was looked on as incredibly lucky. Jesus wanted people to just walk away from it! Now, to be fair, it is very likely any of these fishers also continued to fish for fish in their journey to people fish. But, then they began to see something more. They began to understand; this was the savior written about in scripture. Their eyes were opened and they became willing to do almost anything for Jesus. This, in a world where Rome willingly and easily crucified anyone who appeared even slightly confrontational. Not many were willing to rock that boat. (See what I did there, with fishermen and boats… never mind. Moving on.)
I think we need to understand the fear that would have emanated from the Disciples at the moment Jesus died. In their mind, this guy was not supposed to die! This guy was supposed to raze the Romans, and give power back to the “good guys.” That’s not at all what happened. They didn’t understand what Jesus was trying to do, so when he died they did two things: They ran, and they hid.
When Jesus died everything pointed to them being next. That’s a very scary place to be. The darkness was doubly dark. When things are that dark perspective is lost. One can forget that light will ever exist again, but it will. Today is good because what needed to be done, was done. It is also good because as scary and dark as it is, it is not the end of the story. When you lose perspective remember this moment. There is light.
- - -
To The Light,
Please shine in our darkness, so the darkness can no longer hide.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take and eat. This is my body.” He took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from this, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many so that their sins may be forgiven. I tell you, I won’t drink wine again until that day when I drink it in a new way with you in my Father’s kingdom.” Then, after singing songs of praise, they went to the Mount of Olives.
Matthew 26:26-30 CEB
People who create icons are practicing an art form and living into a spiritual discipline. Icons follow a set of rules. Icons are always painted on a solid wooden board. The wood grain must run vertical to connect heaven and earth. Specific biblical characters hold or wear specific clothes or items. Not everyone has a painted halo. The gesso is painted in layers, from the darkest color to the lightest.
Lent is the wooden board that connects us humans to the divine. Maundy Thursday through Holy Saturday are the first few layers of paint. The final painting will be a glorious image of redemption and light, but we must paint those dark colors first.
You might wonder what could be dark about the first communion. As part of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), we denominationally partake of communion on a weekly basis. Sometimes, it is an uplifting and happy event. This first communion might have started that way, but the moment Jesus compared the cup and bread to blood and body that joy was gone. This is the meal where friends were called out as being deniers and betrayers. Maybe they ended with songs of praise, but for a bit, it was a dark meal indeed.
I know it’s difficult to accept the darkness in a world where companies are painting easy answers and guaranteed happiness. These next few days are the darkest in the Lenten season. We might want to put this devotional aside and just wait it out until Easter Sunday.
Don’t. The new life of Easter cannot happen without the crucifixion and death of Christ. The bright colors and gold will be meaningless without the darkness. This is the path we must walk to truly understand the glory and light of Easter. Let’s paint those colors and find the glory of the finished picture in just a few days.
- - -
As we take the bread and break it, help us understand the brokenness of your body.
As we take the cup, help us see the sacrifice of your blood.