-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.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
When I was about 10 years old, my dad took my sister and I to a Renfest. It wasn't a big one. It wasn't the production value of the Atlanta Renfest.
We did want to dress up. Dad took XXL shirts, and died them a dirty brown. He also bought rope from the local hardware store. The shirt fit like a dress and with the rope, it made us look like peasants. I can't tell you how much I loved that outfit. I'd look at those girls in the fancy dresses and I'd be proud. My dad made my costume!
Anyway, at one of these Renfests there was a competition for the kids. Who stole the king's cake? There were a set of clues to find the culprit. My sister and I scoured the land, asking the blacksmith, the nobles, and even random people. Meanwhile, the Jester taunted us. He'd come by and tell us we couldn't find the person who stole the cake. He did that to all the kids.
Wouldn't you know it, the culprit was the Jester the whole time? As I watched another kid taking the Jester in, I wanted in. All the kids wanted in. We all followed the real winner trying to get something for not getting it. At the end of the day, the kid got the cake, and we all got a piece.
I was jealous. I wanted to win. I didn't win. Even though I got a piece of the winnings, I wanted the whole thing. I'm sure many of you can relate. My grace today is because of my lack of it as a child.
Maybe today it's not a cake. Maybe it's a job. Maybe it's a skill set. Perhaps it's simply someone being praised for something you are doing too. It's easy to get bitter. You're not really mad at the person, but at the situation in general. Sound familiar? It's because I've been there. Today I can check myself when I feel those frustrations rising. There are tools I use to help me.
Tools to destroy bitterness
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
I watched the first episode of "The Chosen." Before I begin you should know this is full of spoilers for the first episode. It's based on the Bible, so perhaps spoiling anything seems silly. I have only seen the first episode, so everything I say will be based on that episode.
Quick review: On face value this series appears rather innocent. There are enough theologically aware moments that made me happy, while other moments that made me pause. Some of those moments are related to issues outside the episode.
Should we hold ourselves accountable?
My knee jerk response was to let it alone. There are bigger fish to fry. I mean, have you seen Noah the Musical?! Woof! If I wanted to pick something apart, I should pick that to pieces. Only, picking apart something gives it credibility. In this world no news is actually bad news. We live in a very loud world. If no one is talking about you, good or bad, then you are irrelevant. Wanna destroy someone? Ignore them. Ignorance is like water on rock. It seems so innocuous until you realize it has the power to destroy mountains.
What this all boils down to was accountability. I saw enough issues with the series to give me pause. I know Christianity has a dwindling stage to present their case. Most figure this means we need to ignore the flaws and let whatever gets the attention get the limelight. That has not helped us. If anything it has furthered divide within our faith tradition, as we've started ignoring one another.
This is an act of love. Speaking to issues within an institution is to do so believing that institution can be better and do better. Love is kind, but kindness and nice are not the same thing. As Red Riding Hood would sing in "Into the Woods": "Nice doesn't always mean good." We've been to the land of nice. It's time to be good.
First: What am I praising?
I need to start by saying there are things worth watching. I appreciate Nicodemus calling God "Adonai." This respects the Hebrew tradition of replacing the written place holder YHWH with Adonai, which means "Lord."
I also believe the narrative style, despite what I'm going to write, was a good move. The Bible is like a puzzle with big pieces missing. We don't know certain things. We don't know Jesus' inflection as he talked to people. We don't know time and sometimes place to the stories. There are times Biblical narrative conflicts with other Biblical narrative. (That exists more than you might want to realize.) I like to see how others presume the missing pieces. Generally speaking, their presumptions were innocent. The character of Matthew had a really good introduction with his good shoes. A good storytelling arc would lead him to Jesus washing his feet.
Like many others, I also appreciated the Middle Eastern cast.
That's all for good, but realize those are two pretty big pieces. I don't want to keep you from watching it. Just take everything below to heart as you watch.
This is a sermon- the problem with relatability.
There is a move among modern ministers to fill in the Biblical gaps with current culture. There are so many who love this. They call it "relatable." "It was like he was talking to me."
Many times this modern accessibility is innocent. They play like Jesus is Horatio dropping that one liner while also dropping down his sunglasses. It's so outlandish the audience would easily see it doesn't fit, but it's fun.
Other times it hits against other verses that show it to be false, or it plays in ways that are racist or sexist. For example, I watched a minister play the Pharisee's like a bunch of jelly sorority girls at a "party". There are plenty of sermons where I'm in line until they start painting between the established pieces I don't agree with their assumed lines.
You might want to call me a hypocrite here. Sure. We all do it. The moment you read the scripture you are assuming almost everything. I try to paint with context. If I relate something to modern times I try to explain it from distance.
The Chosen's gap filling, like I said above, is mostly innocent. Something I didn't like, but wasn't terribly upset with, was the nicknames. It was totally what a modern preacher would do. Nicodemus' wife calls him "Nico." Lilith get's the same treatment with the bartender calling her "Lil." Yeah, it's relatable. It rubbed me the wrong way, but it's innocent.
What wasn't innocent was something many film companies are doing today- revisionist history. In this case, it was revisionist history in the form of male care for the female. There was a reason it was so incredibly scandalous Jesus was giving females voice. When you have the random bar keep caring for the demon possessed woman, and the wife being given agency to her Priestly husband, you take away the scandal. Half the world was born property through their gender. That tension is completely lost. Do I want to see Lilith being treated like a dog? No, but seeing it would give Jesus more realistic power when he treats her like a human. (Also, this doesn't deserve it's own paragraph, but calling Mary "Lilith" was a bit on the nose.)
The Chosen shows the major problem with modern sermons. Yes it's relatable, but is that good?
I'm curious what they'll do with Stephen.
Honestly, I'm interested in their theological journey for many Biblical characters. I want to know how they treat Judas. Our theological interpretations of sin and sinners are rooted in how we build the missing pieces of Judas.
I can't speak to Judas in this meditation because he doesn't show in the first episode. Who I can speak to are Simon and Stephen. Two fishermen, fishing on Sabbath and catching nothing. Simon is our future Peter, or Rocky- because he's the rock on which the church will be built. (With all these nicknames, I really want Jesus to call Peter, Rocky, which would be a fitting English translation, but I doubt that will happen.) In this first episode, Stephen is the centered of the two, who doesn't want his brother to take unnecessary risks.
Now, this is the same Stephen who would eventually be bold enough to call out a city of people and get himself stoned in the process as a future Paul watches.
They are going to have to take Stephen on that journey. He's the character to watch.
American or British
This will be impossible to ignore once you hear it. Every actor has their own dialect, and it's impossible for a few of them not to stick out like a sore thumb. Especially, the American accents are very obvious next to the high British accents.
The Miracle Problem
There is a growing group who don't believe in Jesus' miracles. All of them could be explained away by science or just didn't happen.
There are a group of people who believe everything happened in the Bible exactly as it was written, miracles and all.
I'm somewhere in the middle. When we are introduced to Mary she is going by the name Lilith, and is literally possessed by demons. In my mind, this takes away from the potential discussion about mental health and wellness. This was a woman who was mentally unwell, and the people during the time didn't know how to talk about mental illness. What is more powerful: Jesus removing demons, or Jesus healing mental illness. I feel the later would give us space to talk about how far science has come with understanding brain chemicals- and God moments in the hearts and minds of scientists and we understand brain chemistry better. Also, we can then talk about God's love for the depressed, and manic. God wants them to find wholeness in their fragmented world. I just think an opportunity was lost with making Mary have literal demons.
The real problem: Behind the scenes.
Everything else is small potatoes up to this point. I'm going to have to bullet point the rest.
About three months ago, when I first watched the first episode, there was a promo that has since been taken down. (For good reason.) There were things in this promo that deserves our undivided attention, because they haven't magically gone away because the promo is gone.
Final Thoughts: It's relatively harmless
It's not amazing. I think Godspell took bigger risks with Jesus than this is doing. Speaking of which, I think white directors and producers turn to a Middle Eastern look because they are afraid of seeing God in other areas. God is in all of us, so we can have a black God, or a female God. This series is not written to be on point Biblically, so I think putting it in 30 CE was to play it safe.
And that's what this is, safe. Not going to destroy your faith. Not going to bring anyone to faith. Just safe for those who already have faith. Enjoy watching. Don't feel guilty about it. Do question why they are not being completely transparent. Always question transparency.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
Let's be clear, we are not living in the end times. The end times are code for "I don't want to have responsibility for what is happening in this world, so I'm going to say it's all going to end soon anyway."
Let's also be clear- we all have our own personal end times. We are all headed for our own personal end to this world. I know, that statement will be enough to cause many of you to click the X and do something else. If that's the case, I hope you do so to process and come back. I do not share darkness without highlighting the hope within it. It's not my M.O..
We are not in this world to glorify a past we cannot return to.
We are not in this world to hasten it's end.
We are in this world to live. We are in this world to bring God's Kingdom to earth.
There I go again. Whoever I didn't scare away with my previous comment, will see I'm talking about God and bringing Kingdoms and wot-not, and I've scared them away too.
That's the rub that I hate. I hate to talk to Christians we can't say anything that hasn't already been said for 2000 years. I hate that the vocab of Christianity has so much vitriol around it I can't say those things either. I hate that evangelism has turned into which group of people who already call themselves Christian are you trying to reach?
It's time for a hot take.
Jesus told his Disciples this:
9 “As the Father loved me, I too have loved you. Remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy will be in you and your joy will be complete. 12 This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.
We want to equate easy for right, and I think this Bible verse is a huge reason.
I remember this minister (who will remain nameless, but I'm sure he's not alone) wrote a book regarding his journey to beginning his church. His journey was rather uneventful. Some friends stepped up and helped. There were some superficial miss-steps. The comments on Amazon said what I was thinking: How is this helpful? This isn't the journey for average person? His path was easy, but was it right?
Those on the inside of this church talk about how they love it. Those on the outside talk about it like a black hole. It sucks all the resources, and potential out of the local area and away from other needed ministries.
It's difficult to talk about this church in honest tones. They are too masculine. They are too focused on power. There message is too easy. It's a difficult discussion, but is it wrong?
We are at a crossroads...
In the next 10-12 months the televangelist will be replaced by the intervangelist. (Internet Evangelist) The ones who don't want to talk faith, and are turned off by the mere mention of anything even remotely faith related, are handing the responsibility over to the wrong people. The church has taken the easy path and preaches to itself. It reaches in instead of out. It's message is to people who already believe it, and with no one telling them otherwise, there's no push back on what they are being told. They think the ease at which they've existed means they are right. When that is not at all what Christ's yoke is about.
Christ's yoke is about the action within love. Hard work is easy when we love what we do. When we act within Godly love, we become the faith that can take down mountains. Taking down mountains is hard work, but it's easy because we are acting in love.
For example, everything I've done for Fig Tree has felt easy. It's been a long eight years, with tiny baby steps. If I talked through everything I've had to do so far, it would look like heavy work with little payout. That would be true, if not for Christ's love pushing me forward making the heavy lifting appear easy.
We are at a crossroads. There is an incredible potential to do something radically different. Who we give the internet mic to will set the tone for our permanent death or ultimate rebirth.
We are only a few reboots away from losing all creativity. Do you really want to reboot the Church online? That's the internet version of colonialism. People who look for faith online are doing it to get away from the brick and mortar church. Copy/Paste church will simply add to the noise that is already deafening, and make it harder to hear the Word. You won't be evangelizing, you'll simply be meeting the need of those already "inside" the building.
It is hard, back breaking work ahead of us. If it's genuine, and if it sees how God is already present in this digital landscape- then it will also be right.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
I stood on the beach watching wave after wave roll in. They looked dangerous from a distance, the white foam a sign of the moon's gravitational force on the water.
I stood on this same beach years before standing at the edge, reminded of Job. A scripture where God reminds Job it is God that commands the seas. It is God who tells the ocean they may come only so far and no further. The ocean was considered the primordial chaos, the place where the un-created live. I needed to make that comparison years ago. My life was chaos. I was displaced, unorganized, and broken. To see there are limits to that insanity was not only helpful, but needed.
Two years ago the chaos was set loose on that same beach. it tore apart homes and obliterated businesses. Places that had stood the test of time were left vacant and bulldozed. Sometimes chaos breaks the line. Sometimes what is stable and normal is turned upside down and destroyed. That happens too. There are limits to insanity until there is not.
So two nights ago I stood on that beach not watching the shore. Not looking behind at what was rebuilt, but looking ahead at the waves. Those scary waves. I considered how they would feel crashing on me. Pushing me around. I knew, out in that water, in that chaos, they held power. Yet, I watched those scary waves from the distance come in. Time and time again they couldn't hold their strength. They would roll my way, but fizzle out before reaching the shore. Their powerful wave turned into soft laps at my feet. I needed that image. There are people puffing themselves up in the distance. From the chaos they have power. In the un-created they hold dominion.
I realized on that shore, there are places God just let's go. Lets chaos be chaos. They look scary from the distance, but they don't have the power to break beyond it.
It was important for me to see. Our big bad angry monsters are sometimes all bark and no bite. They know they don't have the power to reach you, but if they look big and bad enough, maybe you'll back down before they arrive. Everything has a space, and no one can inhabit all spaces. There is a safe space.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
15 Then the prophet Jeremiah said to the prophet Hananiah: “Listen, Hananiah! The Lord hasn’t sent you. All you are doing is persuading these people to believe a lie. 16 Therefore, the Lord proclaims: I’m going to send you somewhere—right off the face of the earth! Before the year ends, you will die since you have incited rebellion against the Lord.” 17 The prophet Hananiah died in the seventh month of that year.
Jeremiah 28 CEB
This past weekend, I went to Cades Cove up in the Great Smokey Mountains in Tennessee. Most of my trip was to take my kids to meet up with my sister in a relatively central location. Some of the trip was to take pictures and videos to update this website. I've been talking an awful lot about being in the wilderness, but the wilderness is not always desert. Sometimes it's forests and mountains. It's still a difficult place to live, but a beautiful and Godly place too.
While I was there, I came across some history I didn't previously know about the Cove.
A Tale of Three Churches
I've been to Cades Cove about half a dozen times in my lifetime. It's probably the national park I've visited the most. (That's saying something considering Kennesaw Mountain is a quick 45 minutes drive from my house.) There are three churches in the Cove, and I'd always treated them with passive ignorance. If you've seen one, you've seen them all. Only this time I heard their stories. This past weekend, this Cove, ourselves, and Jeremiah came together and I found God.
Methodist Church: I've never liked the churches that separate the men from the women and children. The Bible is a family story, that requires the unity of the family for it to thrive. For years, I assumed this church sat men on one side and women on the other. If you look inside, the seating is split into thirds. This has always been confusing with my assumption. Who sat in the middle? This past weekend, I learned this church never sat by gender, or used the doors for that purpose. There were fewer Methodists in the Cove. It meant they built this church on a budget. Actually, they built it in 115 days for $115 dollars. One of there cost cutting measures was to use the plans for another church, that happened to follow the practice of separating the men from the women and children. Context is important. Yet this church never stopped meeting. These next two churches did, and there's a reason why they are important to this story.
The Primitive Baptist Church, and the Missionary Baptist Church: This church (the Primitive Baptist Church) and it's sister church split below (the Missionary Baptist Church) did not meet during the Civil War.
The Primitive Baptist Church would write about the closure following the war: "We the Primitive Baptist Church in Blount County in Cades Cove, do show the public why we have not kept up our church meeting. It was on account of the Rebellion and we was Union people and the Rebels was too strong here in Cades Cove. Our preacher was obliged to leave sometimes, and thank God we once more can meet."
You should let that sink in for a minute. These churches believed the Union was correct while they lived in the South. They were willing to forgo Church during the Civil War because of the power of that belief. That's years, not months. That's without Zoom or Facebook Live. How their heart must have ached at the years of absence. How they must have celebrated when the war was finally over. How they must have known the danger their pastors were in and how they loved their clergy enough to let them leave for a time.
While these two churches stopped meeting, the Methodist church suffered a split, creating a new church with Pro-Union members. That specific church no longer stands today.
The Allure of False Prophets
If you're a Lectionary pastor you're probably wondering why I've posted the end of Jeremiah 28 rather than vv 5-9 listed as the Hebrew Bible scripture for this Sunday. It's because I've got this feeling there are going to be some bad sermons done out of context based on Jeremiah 28:5-9. Even Jeremiah wants to believe it! Why wouldn't you? All things stolen are going to be returned? That is a seductive scripture in this current climate. Forget the seduction of sitting next to your spouse in church- give us back our 11am worship with singing and hugging! Seduce us with that!
Only, we can't take vv 5-9 without including its sister verses around it. Hananiah is a false prophet. There are no costs to his promised returns. That's not how God works. Loss is either given meaning, or loss has a context for the greater good. Meaningless loss is tragic. God gives purpose to meaninglessness or God takes away for a purpose.
Let's remember who eventually gave the Priests back their temple. It wasn't God- but Herod. It would be Herod's temple that would ultimately be rebuked by Jesus. It was Herod's temple that took the widow's last coin, and refused to help the least of these. It's right for Hananiah to be rebuked! His prophecy, as alluring as it sounded, was dangerous and dark. Hananiah would die for it.
Real Prophets don't need to exist when everything is going well and good.
Real Prophets always want to avert the disaster they are sharing.
A Tale of Three Timelines
You cannot undo what has already been done.
Wait. I feel like I need to write that again, only make it big and bold for emphasis:
You cannot undo what has already been done.
Therefore, you cannot go back to do things the way they were previously done. Yes, some of you want to sit in your big amphitheaters, listen to your professional band sing from their expensive sound equipment with their slick lighting. But packing them in means you have to breath your neighbor's breath for longer than 10 minutes, putting you at higher risk of catching Covid-19. Yes, some of you want your intimate church experience where you can hug your neighbor, but personal contact is dangerous right now, especially when most small churches hold most older congregants.
90% of us will eventually get it, but we don't need to all get it at once. It will overwhelm the hospitals and more people will unnecessarily die if that happens. It is selfish to want your previous experience. Maybe I need to write that again, only make it bigger and bold for emphasis:
It is selfish to want your previous experience.
Many are getting upset because they have missed 3 months of physical church. Well, the Primitive Baptist Church, and the Missionary Baptist Church in Cades Cove missed 5 years of physical church. God didn't give the Cove church for 5 years. What makes you think you're entitled to your church in three months?
Many are getting upset because they're not getting everything back once they return to church. The Israelites were not getting everything back when they returned to Judah DECADES after being exiled. What makes you think it's healthy to go back to everything you lost after Covid-19? Maybe some things need to remain lost. Maybe we shouldn't be asking Herod to give our things back. We shouldn't force the good prophecy, because in doing so, we are forcing a lie and making things worse in the process.
God is still present in this digital landscape. I will write that again and make it bolder and bigger than the others, because it's the most important point.
God is still present in this digital landscape.
We are not called to restore what can no longer be, but to walk with God in the now. God is here. God is present. God never left. God is bigger than a building. God is more important than our stuff. Until we realize that those wanting to give it all back are false prophets, we won't be able to lament our stuff is actually gone. Until we finally lament, we can't move forward.
Keep this in your heart: What Jesus preached was heard the best outside the Temple. His words were lost inside the Sanctuary.
Are you listening to the tough truth of God spoken through Jeremiah or sweet seductive poison of Hananiah? God's path is tougher. God's path will hurt. Ultimately, God's path is right. Follow God.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
Last Wednesday I spent a few minutes talking about Cognitive Dissonance.
To sum up:
Cognitive Dissonance is when a person holds two or more contradictory ideas or values at the same time, creating stress. Often times the item creating the dissonance is something that holds great investment, so to break with it would cause major loss.
There are four kinds of cognitive dissonances:
I did say that breaking free becomes so much more difficult once one falls into that trap. I suggested grace in this case. Many feel the anxiety of the stress from cognitive dissonance, but can't name what is causing that stress or is too deep into ignorance.
Breaking someone free from the dissonance:
I have inundated myself with videos on cults recently. They are difficult to watch, but I want to figure out how the ones who broke free did it. What is the compelling factor that can help someone see the magnitude of dissonance in their life? I've seen two recurring themes:
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
I've finally finished! After three months all mentions of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) have been cleaned from the website, Facebook, Twitter, and subreddit.
Now, my Disciple colleagues and friends. I know you. I know how you've reacted to this.
Some of you have lamented. I've heard your words, "We should have done more." Believe me, those very words have been spoken to me too many times. I know you. I love you. I get that you personally mean those words. It's just that those words have been said enough to me personally that it they have begun to feel like the abusive spouse pretending to be better. I've heard them since I first started working in the church. "We should have done more," turns into "We'll be better this time, baby. Promise."
Some of you have been confused. You are wondering where this is coming from. That's because the internet has a short memory, and is selfish in nature. We don't consider our selfishness. We are so hopelessly detached we just don't consider it when we come online. Most of us use the internet to fill an immediate need. You need to know something. You need to get something. You need to get paid. The very idea to start our internet journey with "they" is foreign. I have wanted others to see the "they" too. I have literally wept with people who know how I've struggled with these truths not for days, but years. My tears were realizing the mission was always met with confusion in seeing the internet as a personal tool, not a land where people meet. Even in this isolation I've heard more ministers talking about how to save their church, not evangelize within a digital landscape.
Some of you have been passive aggressive, which equates to mean when it comes to church. Did you know I'm dangerous now? I'm un-tethered? No accountability? I've lost all ability to make mature leadership decisions with this step! Meanwhile the Region's passive aggression is keeping us listed as a congregation within the denomination while excluding us as an online resource. Let me return to the abusive spouse because those actions feel like the spouse saying, "You can't do this without me!" "Just say sorry and we'll welcome you back." Only, there is no coming back. I've already said that words lose power when you take them back. If this makes you angry, good! A church should lament. A church is allowed to explore confusion. Passive-aggression is cancer, and should be defeated. The truth always lives in the light. Don't stand for things being hidden. I'm not the one in the darkness. I'm not the one trying to hide this. You should ask yourself, what does that mean?
Those things are reactions, not reasons. You need reasons. Let me explain how we are a rational community of faith, acting in a God-like manner.
We are too diverse a community for one denomination.
The blunt truth: Fig Tree did the poorest the more she was pushed into the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Also, as much as I asked for help from ministers and congregations, I never really gained any support from within. We were "by name only" years before this departure ever happened. I begged for it to be different, but it was to no avail.
Real support from outside: Last year someone asked me, "How have you had so many diverse writers at Fig Tree?" It's true. I think over the years of who has offered up guest meditations, and the list has grown pretty long. Ministers. Writers. Chaplains. Congregants. Differing political opinion. Differing theological opinion. Differing people. Years ago I described Fig Tree to be like glue. It's not substantial like paper or stone, but it binds the substantial together. It acts in a way we need so desperately right now. In being glue we've grown diversely. That means while the denomination has been there in name only, those outside the denomination have been there in action.
Denominations are scary to the broken.
Very few join Fig Tree explicitly for the denomination. People become attached because we're saying what they need to hear. It has been a field clinic for the spiritually wounded and broken. In this way we're glue too, joining the broken person back together in a loving way. Then they leave.
It's amazing to see them find a house of worship- to try out their newfound wholeness. Always in a faith tradition that's something other than the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ.) I am not going to give that up to be a glorified IT person for a church. (Yes, that was suggested to me as a way to use my calling instead of supporting the real ministry that already existed.)
Those who come to Fig Tree need the antiseptic space of non-denominationalism. These people need to know they are safe here. I'm not going to make them join or accept anything specific. They are here to heal. They are here to become. Just like you don't make a baby digest meat, or a patient who needs open heart surgery run, you don't overwhelm those at Fig Tree with any denomination. (And don't throw out the anti-creedal nature of Disciples, because we both know they are quickly becoming more pointed in their beliefs over the past 20 years.)
I'd rather you celebrate.
The time for lamenting what could have been is over. What's done is done. I can no more change it than you can. I forgive y'all. It's not worth carrying the weight of frustration and bitterness with all the important things I have been called to carry.
The time for confusion is also over. If you don't get what's happening here after half a dozen posts stating it boldly, you are not going to get it. There are those engaging in the land of make believe, and God's Kingdom is real. Soooooo- good luck with that.
Passive-aggression is not done, and I'm going to attack it. If we are not living in the light, I plan to drag our butts out into it. If we are found wanting, good! We can deal with that in the sun, not growing stagnant in the shadows. Nothing good comes from hiding our iniquity. Nothing.
I want y'all to celebrate. Things are happening! We are getting funds! We are getting volunteers! As I write this I have people seeking out guest writers, diverse voices that can tell certain Biblical truths from a perspective I can't! That's exciting!
More than that, I want you to be part of this excitement! I want your church to be a ministry partner and donate time, money, and talent. I want you to be part of the party, not be a party pooper. Let us go, and support our departure. Or not. Just let us go. Let me just say this. There is a kindle; a spark that has ignited. It's not the flash in the pan like the previous times. I have felt the heat of those moments as much as I've felt their brevity. This is something that can last and grow. I'm asking two things: Let the flame burn in the wilderness where it started. Then, add to it. Be part of it.
The first is greater than the second, but I don't want to leave you out. We all need something celebrate: An ecumenical online ministry that is growing? That's worth some celebration.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
Seminary was a spiritual buffet for me. I was hungry for knowledge. I had listened to the sermons since before I was baptized, and they had begun to feel empty. Well, less empty, and more I already knew. I wanted new knowledge. The stuff they weren't preaching on Sunday morning. Seminary was a 10 course meal with seconds thirds and fourths.
True, my pregnancy brain struggled with the likes of Augustine and Maximus Confessor that first year. (I entered seminary only a month pregnant.) Sometimes I read the same passage three times before I digested their words, but there was zeal in getting new spiritual food. The best part being, I was taught how to enter that land and pull from those trees of knowledge, and eat of their fruit. (Not THE tree of knowledge. Don't get antsy on me.) I had been given keys to a spiritual orchard!
The People are Hungry
I have witnessed the excitement at a minister giving a congregation just a tiny morsel of Biblical knowledge A Greek word here. A contextual clue there. They treat these minuscule pieces like a full meal.
Their eyes betray them. You see their hunger. You know they want more. They don't realize this because they don't realize they're starving. They've always been starving.
I exited seminary knowing I couldn't withhold the truth in that manner. I had entered the orchard, and I wanted to be a minister who taught IN the orchard. I wanted congregants that pulled freely from the fruit and asked my opinion on it's taste. Only it's a long road from Biblical starvation to satiation. The people have to be led to the fruit or they'll think it's poisoned and turn away.
Ten years ago, I decided to stand between the two. Speak to both worlds. I learned that while seminary had spiritual food through knowledge, Churches had spiritual drink through the Spirit. Too far in one direction or the other would cause the people to die of thirst or starvation.
My promise as a minister
I believe there is more than what we understand.
Many churches profess something called the Apostles Creed. It's rooted in the first ever statement of organized religion, the 1st Council of Nicaea in 325.
The Apostle's Creed goes like this:
As someone born into the Campbell-Stone tradition of "No Creed but Christ," I have always bristled a little at the Apostle's Creed, and the numerous Christians that announce you can't be a Christian unless you profess it. (To be fair, my statements cause many of those people to bristle at me.) Part of the reason we even have our first council of Nicaea was because of a group of people making their own statements of faith. Statements as crazy as, there are really two Gods- Old Testament and New Testament. Statements and interesting as- Judas was working with Christ the whole time. Also statements we will never know because most of it was destroyed in counter protest.
Back in 325 the people generally believed in gods. They needed to explain what it meant to believe in the God of Abraham. This meant faith was not the starting point. Many had faith in something. The question was "What faith?" not "If faith?"
Today, the above Creed is difficult to digest. We don't consider the path to faith to be a journey, because many Christians grew up in it. That's just not the case for the average person anymore. Then, many who have were hurt by faith just walk away completely.
So we have a crisis of Spirit and Knowledge. It's not enough to just lead those of faith to knowledge. There are also those of knowledge who need the Spirit. Then there are countless others who have neither.
That's why my promise is simple: I believe there is something more. If that is making you knowledge camps and Spirit camps bristle, it's because you are at a destination, and I am at the trail head. It's okay that those at the beginning don't see a well or an orchard. You can't tell a people to eat or drink if they are nowhere near the food or beverage. That's why Sunday has become a journey to the Spirit, while Wednesday has become a journey of knowledge. Some people only need one. Some people need both. I know the fine line I'm walking in both camps, but luckily I'm unpaid so I can walk that path unleashed.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
Over the past couple of weeks, I've been referencing Biblical understanding of the Universe. I realized it might be good to do a quick lesson to know where the brains of the Ancient Near East people were as we read Scripture. I want to stress, this is not a modern Christian interpretation of the universe, but an Ancient Near East understanding.
The Abyss of Waters or AKA the Un-Created: Creation is not really creating as it is ordering. Specifically, it is the ordering of the chaos. Specifically, the seas are the unordered chaos. There are chaotic monsters, like Leviathan. The real fear of an ancient people are not demons/devils (which are part of the Divine council btw) it's the encroaching chaos. We are made from that chaos, and are drawn to it.
Sheol or AKA grave/pit: Every time I see one of these depictions, and they are easy to find, I always see grave written in Hebrew. There's a decent blog on this topic I'll link if you want to learn more.
Earth or AKA the Created Order: We are part of the created order. That includes the ordered waters, earth, sky and lights. The heavens are also part of that created order.
Heavens or AKA where God lives: This is why many will look up to reference God because God was literally above their heads above the vault above the sky. In the Ancient Near East mind the sun, moon and stars were much smaller than they actually are. God had to fit beyond all of that.
The waters below and the waters above AKA what shouldn't exist anymore: A literal reading of the Bible would mean that the Creation of rain was when Noah built an ark. That was when the waters beneath and the waters beyond the vault opened and flooded the entire earth. Now that it's been emptied, it remains emptied and that's why we have rain.
The Pillars of the Sky and Earth AKA What's holding everything up: To the ancient near east people those mountains are what is literally holding up the sky! That's why Moses went up a mountain to talk to God. It was a path to literally reach Heaven. Babel was a way to build a new pillar to God, a way which failed. With this depiction there are pillars below like table legs, holding up the created Earth.