Today over 100 youth and adults gathered in a funeral home because someone's heart stopped. That's the long and short of it. We want life to work out like the movies tell us it should. People who are good live long and fruitful lives, and people who add nothing to society pass away sooner than most. Today was a reminder that that's just not the case.
I write this eulogy today not because Lisa was a member of Fig Tree. She was not. More than likely she had no knowledge of anything Fig Tree Christian related. I also don't write it because we were terribly close. In reality I barely knew her. So, why am I doing this? Something was lost today, but I want to redeem it this evening.
Lisa's heart stopped, but it never died. It lives on in ways that will impact that Paulding Community for generations.
Last Summer I sat at my computer for about 5-6 collective hours taking various online classes. Why? That previous Spring I took an outdoor class with Lisa. She was so proud of the Pickett's Mill Scout district, She beamed as she announced our district had the most trained adults.
I can't lie, she is the real reason the Webelos Pack 687 went to Raccoon Mountain. Her training on that day gave me the confidence to plan that weekend trip. That trip empowered other adults who are now planning a new trip for the next group of Webelos. Her passion impassioned me, who impassioned others.
She is the reason my son wants to volunteer as a Boy Scout at Day Camp. Pickett's Mill Cub Scout Day Camp was Lisa's baby. She nurtured and grew it. My son went to day camp from Wolf to Webelos II. Now, seeing how fun it has been for my son, my daughter gets to go for the first time as a Tiger Scout, and my son goes back to help make it happen.
This is the truth of life. Her heart lives on. Yes, we feel the chasm created from her death, but her impact will live on forever. Those she has impacted will impact others, who will then impact others. While we still wait to meet her in another life, there are echos and ripples of her heart that beats in each and every one of us. Her heart has touched me, and that connection will be with me in some form for the rest of my life.
-Rev Melissa Fain
-Rev Melissa Fain-
I'm going to lay out two important points. First, I'm going to also explain why traditional evangelism is not working. Second, I'm going to explain why the church needs to focus more on the internet.
Traditional Evangelism Cannot Work Today
Stick with me because I think this is going to make a metric ton of sense if you read what I have to say.
Generally speaking, the average human understands culture as geographical, as in, cultures are separated by land masses. Probably because of propaganda during the World Wars, our first thought turns to National Cultures. Whether we want to admit it or not, we still have an American culture.
Beyond that, I would say, most everyone would also be able to see smaller cultural identities. For example, in the United States, there is a Southern Culture, just as much as there is a Californian or Texan culture. Now, you might not be considering it, but socio-economic circumstances create cultural norms as well. There is a culture to affluence as much as there is a culture to poverty. There are also cultures around ideas or things. There is a sports culture, as much as there's a crafting culture. Even though I haven't played in a band in decades, I understand and know the band culture, and can slip back in when needed. I can translate that language.
Finally, families have their own culture. This is one we don't normally consider because our family culture is our base. We are born into it, and subconsciously or consciously, we judge everything around us by it.
Now, back in the 1950's, similar family cultures lived nearby. It was a good shot that your neighborhood would be filled with family cultures that were relatively the same. This was because people grew up and stayed in their community. This made evangelism easy too. Not only were WWII soldiers coming home and flocking to community organizations, the communities themselves were culturally similar, making it easy to speak and connect with one another.
Then something happened. Travel. Mass-transit to be exact. It used to be, if you wanted to work in the city, you had to live in the city. Then the automobile came and if you wanted to work in the city you had to at least live in the suburb of the city. Now there are people who live hundreds of miles away from their office, and they fly in during the week, and go home on the weekends. Our cultures are mixed beyond measure. No longer are we laying down roots. Instead, we are dropping an anchor. There is nothing permanent anymore about the word, "home."
What does this have to do with traditional evangelism? Because of how we travel and live, churches rarely mirror the culture they are rooted in. Even then, we are still using census data to help us understand the people outside our doors, When it comes to evangelism, the census is drastically flawed. Census data assumes two things: First, that there is a mass of similar people living in your area. True, they all might be making a similar amount of money, be around the same age, and other basic information, but those people are from all over. They are simply anchored by your specific congregation. Second, the Census data looks for things we can quantify. The base culture, the family, isn't something the Census can read or know. Those family cultures are becoming more and more jumbled. Evangelism, as we understood it, was reaching a demographic, when it needs to be a family by family event.
Back to the internet. We, as a people, feel that disconnect. We want to hang out with like-minded individuals. We don't feel comfortable getting to know our neighbor, because that requires learning a new culture. It's like learning a new language, and terrifies some, and overwhelms others. That's when the internet comes in.
Why Must It Be Online?
People are finding their voice online. Cultures are coming together around niche ideas and thoughts. For better and worse- the internet gives us communion. Like it or not, we are apprehensive in real life, and willing to connect online. If the church truly wants to evangelize, it now must be online.
I sat in a board meeting about 15 years ago listening to people talk about the advertising budget. For years, they paid $15 a month to have a larger ad in the phone book. Congregants concluded that people were not looking for churches in a phone book anymore, and they could make a free website, so they did away with their advertising budget.
Let's trade out the word "advertising" for the word "evangelism." This church basically did away with their evangelism budget because they saw the internet like a bulletin board instead of a community.
Consider this: Instead of using the internet to let people know the church is here, use the internet to let people know the church knows they are real and loved by God.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
Today I'm going to use Ready Player One as an example, but there are NO SPOILERS in this meditation.
Last Saturday we went to see Ready Player One as a family. My husband, son and myself had all read the book to varying amounts of enjoyment, so we were curious what Steven Spielberg would do in adaptation. A scene stuck out to me. IOI was wanting to know what they would do with control of the Oasis, or internet. Their solution? Sell add space.
Ready Player One aside, a couple of years ago on the show Survivor, Jeff Probst actually had to make a statement about in game ads. (Certain challenges or buildings are named after products.) He very bluntly told the fans, ads are how one gets a free product.
Then don't get me started on the gaming culture. I truly believe phone games intentionally make the ads annoying so you will pay $2.99 to get rid of them. The PC and console gaming can't put ads into their products because consumers bought the game first. Instead, they try to equal out with loot boxes, or in game content. I bet, if they began giving the option for in game commercials for new content, users would take it over paying $10-$20 for the new level.
Then we get to church. While we will live with ads in our games, movies, and television- most if not all will draw the line at our church. Why?
Ads are not evil, but they are surely not good in a church environment. Fig Tree doesn't do ads. That's why there wasn't an app last Advent. There was no way to do it without ads, so it was dropped. The website has NEVER EVER had ads. Sharing the content here will not put a cent in anyone's pocket. Fig Tree is about the message; not the bottom line.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
First of all, before I go any further, Fig Tree exists. Nothing died in it's entirety yesterday.
Now let me get to the reason why yesterday happened: Failure is always an option. I feel as though that's a foreign statement in today's churches. It's as though assuming failure negates God's presence. If anything, admitting failure is the time God is more likely to step in and help. Admitting failure is admitting humanness. It is our nature to fail, and it is in God's nature to extend Grace when we are willing to accept it.
Failure is also how we learn. This hasn't been Fig Tree's first failure, this is just the first one I've been open about. Most recently, the Lenten Devotional failed this year. Getting the Advent Devotional together this year took too much time, and I couldn't get the ball rolling fast enough on Lent to get the writers going. I see how I failed, and I will make conscious choices in future devotionals. But, devotionals as a whole work here because of previous failures before that. Fig Tree has grown from the compost of failure. Something doesn't work, tear it apart and use it to feed something new.
Why the Livecast was Failing
-Rev Melissa Fain-
"You are not alone." This is the uplifting point of Dear Evan Hansen, a Broadway musical that won Best Musical at both the Tony's and the Grammy's. It takes on some serious issues as it delves into anxiety, depression, and suicide, talking about the impact on families and on the people who are dealing with those problems. The statement, "You are not alone," goes viral, when the lead character speaks those words at a memorial for a young man who committed suicide.
Notice the words. They are negative. We could simplify that sentence by saying "You are loved," or "You are wanted." Instead, we are pitting the world against loneliness. Honestly, considering people are far more likely to share a negative sentiment, it makes more sense that the drive is written in the negative. I wouldn't believe a video with the phrase "You are loved," would go viral. If that bothers you, keep reading.
Like my title. I knew I could write, "This is a Good Post," but I also know something happens when I phrase it in the negative. You are drawn to what you consider is bad. You know what a bad post is. You know what to expect. Maybe it's a very clunky background that makes it difficult to read the post itself. Perhaps it's a convoluted message that appears pulled from an impromptu sermon. Maybe it's a page of text with nothing that breaks it up. It could be the post says nothing at all. (These are all things Fig Tree has suffered through, so I point the finger squarely at myself.)
There are also promises involved. I have told you this isn't a bad post. You do not know, before clicking the link, if I am going to deliver on that promise. Therefore, it's the internet version of gambling. The only cost to this gamble is time, so you are more likely to play- especially if the whammy means you are only stuck with the negative. When the post or video actually does deliver on it's promise, you are more likely to press that little upvote button. You won! That was nice. Thank you.
If the post fails, you want to share in that outrage. It's like giving fake lotto tickets to your closest friends. It's fun to know you are raising their hopes before dashing them to pieces. Then they are more likely to do the exact same thing. Posts that payoff are paid with upvotes. Posts that trick you into trash or negative feelings are shared... and gain more money from those sweet clicks. Guess what professional blog and vlog writers are more likely to create? (Side note- Fig Tree gains nothing monetarily through visiting the website. We don't have ads, and why will be a post next week. Share away!)
That's why it's interesting that Jesus tells the women at the tomb (and generally God tells pretty much everyone) "Don't be afraid."
But Jesus met them and greeted them. They came and grabbed his feet and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Go and tell my brothers that I am going into Galilee. They will see me there.”
How easy would it had been for God to say, "Stay calm." "It's Okay!" or simply "Peace"? Instead we get this phrase that returns time and time again, "Do not be afraid." That's not to say the positive is forgotten. The word "Peace" comes up over 400 times. It's said four times as much as "Do not be Afraid." We need that relationship of four to one. God's message is meant to be shared, but we simply don't share the GOOD news. It needs to be said four times as much just to get the coverage the scary stuff gets naturally.
That being said, the negative has to be shared too, but couched and honestly told in an uplifting way. Do not be afraid. That statement understands and raises what is scary and wrong, while calling it out as wrong. In the scripture I quoted, it accepts how scary pre-resurrection was, and letting the women know there is no longer anything to fear.
In many ways, Evan Hansen's saying "You are not alone," is the modern equivalent. Yeah, you're scared. You feel you are doing this alone, but don't be afraid, you're not really alone.
That's not scary at all, is it?
1 Lord, I have so many enemies!
So many are standing against me.
2 So many are talking about me:
“Even God won’t help him.” Selah[a]
3 But you, Lord, are my shield!
You are my glory!
You are the one who restores me.
4 I cry out loud to the Lord,
and he answers me from his holy mountain. Selah
5 I lie down, sleep, and wake up
because the Lord helps me.
6 I won’t be afraid of thousands of people
surrounding me on all sides.
7 Stand up, Lord!
Save me, my God!
In fact, hit all my enemies on the jaw;
shatter the teeth of the wicked!
8 Rescue comes from the Lord!
May your blessing be on your people! Selah
Psalm 3:1-8 CEB
-Rev Melissa Fain-
(Soft trigger warning for depression.)
Being able to read the whole story, and having read the whole story year after year, we forget how spiritually dark today really is.
As a camper I enjoy the predawn night. The campfires are out, the stars seem to glow in ways I couldn't see before going to bed. At that point I'm used to the dark. I've lived a whole night with it. Holy Saturday, in contrast is a quick and deepening darkness.
Now depression? That's a feeling and a darkeness I am not comfortable with, nor do I want to re-experience. It does trick the mind into thinking happiness and hope will never return. All appears lost.
I think many Americans can connect with the Disciples this Saturday before Easter. Their hope is dead. Jesus, the one they thought was going to take down the system and become the warrior king of scripture, didn't lift a finger to fight and died on a cross. On Saturday, not only could none of them understand what was coming, they were completely lost in the darkness. What do we do with that today?
The Disciples, the ones who saw Jesus face to face, and witnessed his ministry were scared. We, as biblical readers, know there is a blinding light on the other side of their darkness, but they did not. This day is here to remind us the truth about darkness: The darkness does not take away or destroy the things that give us hope and love, it simply hides it from view. God is always there, and always present. Just because you can't see it, doesn't make it any less true.
If this particular message seems to be speaking directly to you, I'm so sorry you are dealing with the weight of depression. My personal experience lasted about two years, and part of my journey was being honest about it. Please seek out people with spiritual flashlights to help you see what has always been there. You are not alone, and the light is right around the corner.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
The first Communion. It is a meal that has been discussed, explored, shared, acted and pantomimed out trillions of times over the centuries. The symbolism is easy enough for a child to understand, while complex enough for sages to write books upon books of what it means. The rich cultural understandings of Communion are all rooted in Maundy Thursday.
What is Maundy Thursday? (I just assumed some of the readers would be asking.) Maundy Thursday always takes place the Thursday before Easter. If we put the timeline together from Palm Sunday to the Resurrection, the first Communion takes place on that Thursday before Jesus is crucified. Maundy is one of those Latin holdovers. The closest word we English speakers have is "mandate." Since this is also the day Jesus washed the Disciple's feet, we are given a mandate to serve the world as Christ has served us.
Like I wrote so many years ago, there are tensions we should keep at the Communion table. Our experience should sing, so to speak. I compared these tensions to guitar strings. Both sides have to pull against one another or it is all mess. While there are many tensions I can discuss, here's the one I want you to take with you today.
We are called to be served, and to serve others.
Maundy Thursday should be a reminder that one of our focuses should be on being served and serving others. We are called to the table while we are also purposefully repelled from it. Being pushed from the table should lead us to service to others. Both of these actions create a beautiful tension that will help us through Holy Week. How are you letting Christ serve you this week? How are you serving others in return?
-Rev Melissa Fain-
"Do you know how they make this BBQ sauce?" my husband asks.
"No idea," I answer. "How?"
"They take vinegar that is so pure that if you were to drink it straight up it would kill you. Then they put just a little into the sauce." He knows this because he had a conversation with someone who has made the sauce. In his one sentence, he as turned my peaceful dinner into a life or death experience.
"I love red velvet cake," the student answers.
"Mmm, I do too," the teacher answers. "I love the icing. Cream cheese and vinegar."
"Ahh! Eww! Disgusting!" the students moan.
"That's how you add that tang of bitterness," the teacher says.
"I want my dessert all sweet," the student who loves red velvet comments.
"Cooks add bitter to sweet all the time. Some desserts are cooked with sour cream." The conversation was over. The students view of desserts had been smashed to smithereens.
In the right proportions bitterness can kill us. We don't want to straight up drink that. It's acidic, Our perception of bitterness is often understood in it's pure form. Meanwhile, we don't want complete sweetness either. All sweet is overpowering. It too can destroy the body, but in a different way. What we need is balance.
When we read the stories of people talking about the brokenness of the general church, we need to see ingredients to the perfect solution. Stories are our ingredients, and no one is going to swallow the undiluted truth. It would kill the soul of any congregant willing to digest it. Also, as I mentioned above, no truth at all will set the soul into a diabetic coma of which there is no recovery.
What the church needs is a master chef of folding sweetness into the bitter truth. If not that, mixing savory with the bitter to make it part of the main course. In blunt words, most of those wounded by the church haven't figured out how to make their woundedness palatable. I'm not saying create a deconstructed woundedness. I don't want to rip our stories to shreds, and hide them in other things. Rather, I think we need to highlight them in other things.
I cannot wrap my head around the idea that the modern institution of church has completely turned into dangerous acid. I also can't believe we have put ourselves into a diabetic stupor because we are stuck on only the good news (lower case done intentionally). I have to believe the Good News (uppercase intentional) can take our brokenness and make something beautiful and substantial with it. I have to believe that same Good News is so glorious we can't help but be in awe of that glory. BUT- we can't have pure anything. We have to believe the villainy can be saved while also accepting that villainy exists. To do this requires not tipping to far into one side or another. It requires balance. After all, we have to eat what we bake.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
I sat at my computer, staring at my screen. How does one talk about something that is so painful, while also vitally important? Eventually I typed out, "I don't know what to write here," saved the post, and went to work. Previous "Tuesday Reviews" were academic. I wrote them in an academic way. I could view it like a student looking at a dissected frog. I could examine and pull apart without fear of stopping something that hadn't already been stopped. This book, on the other hand, alive. Raw. It cried out to me.
This book hit me on so many levels.
On the most basic of levels, it hit me as a wounded human being. I could fully understand Kristy's brokenness as a child of brokenness. I know what it's like to not be able to name spiritual, and personal wounds, while the world doesn't know how to react to your woundedness. I know what it's like to have those discard you because they don't know how to deal with you, and (as a child) not understanding how that is fundamentally wrong.
It also connected to me as an adult person wounded by the church. I could personally understand how her particular situation wounded her so badly. I knew first hand how church woundedness could hurt so much more deeply than secular woundedness. It's being stabbed in the back by your closest loved ones while they lovingly tell you everything is going to be alright. It's knowing you are bleeding out, but they are prayerfully choosing to peacefully watch you die.
Finally, it reminded me I wound others because as a minister I am part of the church. I'll admit, Kristy personally gave me a super easy out. In the last few pages, I'm mentioned, and listed on the side of good. I'm not taking the easy out. As an ordained minister I need to be held accountable. I'm still part of the Body of Christ. Like, when someone murders someone else. We don't just punish the parts of the person that did the murdering. We punish the whole human. We have to see that within the Christian Context.. If a piece of us are acting outside our purpose as Christians, we are all acting out of that purpose. We are guilty, and instead of hacking parts off the Body, we need to holistically start spiritual rehab. Less "they" and "them" words, more "we" and "us" words.
What is this book about:
In one sentence: The true story of a pastor's daughter, and the church's poor reaction to both her and her stalker.
In a more extended way: Kristy tells the story of #metoo and #churchtoo with dark humor that leaves you sitting on the edge of your seat, throwing your book across the room, laughing or a combination of all three.
What should you do with this book:
Over the years I've received numerous certifications in First Aid and CPR. I'm currently certified in CPR. One of the key features to this kind of training is doing the same action over and over. This is so we become hard-wired when crisis hits. We naturally have a flight or fight response to immediate crisis. It's a holdover from our caveman brothers and sisters who had to immediately respond to that animal with sharp teeth eyeing them in the distance. Today it's far less helpful. If we know how to react in crisis, we are better prepared to deal with it.
I believe Act Normal would be a great book to pair with a Crisis Care series in the church. I could see working through Safe Sanctuaries, or Mental Health First Aid, and using Act Normal as a case study. I think there is something important with pairing this book up. Churches (and seminarians) need to see what happens when Spiritual First Aid is not in place, and what are the results. In the same breath, we need to see that there are things we could do, and those things are easy to implement.
It's also good because it hasn't been washed pure for the church. This book is honest and real. It doesn't try to fit anywhere specific, it just tells it how it is. The church needs more honest. It's needs a woman who is willing to speak honestly about premarital sex and honestly speak to the failure of the church during that time. It's so honest, I'd call it beautifully honest.
I was not paid to do this review. I personally purchased the book with my own time and money. If you would like to purchase your own copy of Act Normal, it is available to purchase on Amazon. This is a good book. It's written well, and worth your time whether you are a minister, congregant, or just someone who likes to read.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
Oh, I had it all figured out approaching my ordination. It appeared every female minister I knew was some kind of social justice feminist. I saw it like a one note song. I wasn't going to be like them. I was going to delve into the bible and be balanced. Sure, gender equality needed to be discussed, but it wasn't the only discussion point. I was going to be the one to prove being female and a pastor didn't mean one had to solely focus on feminism.
I was arrogant. I was like the Pharisee openly praying. "Thank goodness I'm not like them!" Then I was ordained, and I began to see the problem. Unless I was preaching in a brick and mortar church, I'm almost always immediately questioned about my call. Sometimes, it's as blunt as, "You can't do that." Sometimes, it's as passive aggressive as simply walking away. Always, my gender had to be "overcome" before the message could be heard.
Honestly, when I wrote the post "Dorothy Gale Never Grow Up," I wrote it as a catch all to get past that opening discussion and really get into the meat of scripture. Instead, it appears it has become the subject most would rather focus on when I want to talk about something bibically different.
Becoming the thing I swore I'd never become has been an interesting journey, but I have a deeper understanding as to why. Cutting conversation short is a tool people used because they think what I'm saying is dangerous. It's not that the content is terribly scandalous or way off base. It's that they fear even listening to me will damn them.
I went into ministry already knowing this, which is why I've taken those questioners seriously. Only, it's a constant barrage. If I want to talk about the Good Samaritan, someone tells me they will pray for my soul. If I want to talk through Job, someone decides to focus in on my username (RevMelissa.) I lose if I don't, because the person feels justified in hijacking the discussion. I lose if I do because I've removed myself from the theological discussion I originally wanted to be part of. But I try to remember what brought me to acceptance of female ministry to begin with.
My perspective on women being pastors was not won with proof-texts. I was changed when I went to a church and a woman stepped up and preached. That was in an institution that had already fought and won that battle. Online, that battle is alive and well. I have the opportunity to talk with people who are cloistered in traditions that would never even be given the opportunity to hear female clergy. Simply existing allows a seed to be planted.
That's still difficult. Countering a proof-texter feels like a nice safe shield to stand behind. There are so many personal attacks those people give unrelated to the meat of the messages I give, it's difficult to step back and let the content speak for itself. Yet, that's how minds are changed. It's letting our actions speak louder than our words. It's speaking with kindness when others react with venom. It's putting down the arrogance of the past, and realizing we are sisters in this fight, with brothers fighting beside us.
The real reason I fight this fight, is so some future minister can say she isn't going to spend her time focusing on feminism, and she won't have to.