-Rev Melissa Fain-
I'm going to throw down some terms in this post, but don't worry, I'll define everything as I go.
I'm secretly a gal who loves the Liturgical Calendar. This is basically the Christian Calendar. Most Christians follow it to a very loose degree by celebrating Christmas and Easter. I go one step further and include lesser known Christian times: Advent, Epiphany, Lent, and Pentecost. You don't need to know all those words, but here's a very crude summary:
Advent- Preparing for Christmas
Epiphany- Celebrating the three Magi after Christmas
Lent- Preparation for Easter
Pentecost- Celebrating the Holy Spirit
I want to spend some time on Lent, because ironies of ironies, we are smack dab in the middle of it.
Lent isn't exactly giving something up.
Shrove Tuesday is the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. If you want to know what those two things are look to New Orleans. Shrove Tuesday is historically the time when you used up your yeast, because in the Christian calendar, Lent is a time to fast. This has morphed to the celebration we know today as Mardi Gras.
Ash Wednesday is when Lent officially begins. Many in the Christian tradition will go to an Ash Wednesday worship, where they will have ashes put upon their forehead in the shape of a cross. Those ashes, are supposed to be the burnt remains of the palm fronds used in the previous Palm Sunday. It is death. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.
I have a very difficult time visiting non-denominational churches during the Lenten season. Lent is sacred. It must exist if we are to fully understand the scandal of an empty cross. New life will always be preceded by death.
Lent is choosing what you're not taking with you
So you gave up Facebook for Lent. How's that working out for you?
Snark aside, The superficial giving up has never really sat well with me. Sure, we can give up chocolate for 40 days, but is that really preparing us for what's coming? Lent is about preparation. Sometimes that involves giving something up. In my mind, unless you're fasting, it should be something that doesn't get picked back up after Easter. If Facebook keeps you from Jesus than why are you going back to it when Lent is over?
Lent should make us consider what shouldn't be brought before God's eyes. Our desire for the easy answers keeps us from the hard truths. Lent is a time where we kill what shouldn't be given new life. We sacrifice sin. We give up that which takes away from life.
Lent is also choosing what you're picking up
Endurance, relationship, hope... Maybe it's not Facebook that's the problem, but how we use it as a people.
I don't think many are preparing for the Easter that's coming this year. I think many congregations have chosen the band-aid approach to all this. I've read multiple posts across multiple platforms that basically read, "This Lent is too real for me." That's because many of us are only okay with superficial death. We don't want to admit that something cannot be, and because of that, nothing new can take its place.
You cannot worship on Easter the way you planned on worshiping. Now, you can either mourn what cannot be and find Christ in the digital wilderness, or you can try to hobble together to create a golden fraud in the meantime. This is going to sound backwards, but now is the best time to be mourning! This might be the Lent-iest Lent ever, that might roll into the most un-Easter-like Easter, but maybe we can prepare for that. Maybe this Easter can be a time where we can pause and reflect. Maybe as we mourn what cannot be on Easter day, there will be some early risers who will find the tomb of their beloved worship is empty. Something new has taken it's place. BUT- we must lay to rest what cannot be.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
To all the families of those who have recently passed away, I am so heartbroken for you. You deserve a funeral. You deserve your loved ones friends and family to give hugs and look you in the eye when they tell you they will be missed. It is not fair that you must process without all of them sitting next you; lamenting with you.
Damn this virus. Damn how it has made our lamentations more difficult. It's not fair, and I'm going to push into that invisible cruelty. "How do we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land?"
Roger was relentless.
Everyone that I've ever met has given me something. They're little nuggets that I can either fertilize or polish.Some haven't even realized what they've given. me something, because I've quietly taken their connection, torn it apart, and used to it to grow something else.
With my descriptive language, my use of illustration, Roger and I didn't always get one another. I play with the written word, while he built with them. He thought very highly of education. He used it in everything he did, from preach, to tweet, to try to save the church.
That's right, he tried to save the Church. All of us have failed so far. All of us have made attempts and those attempts have backfired, but Roger was relentless. He kept trying. He kept pushing. He wanted people to know what they didn't know, and he wanted to know it all, even though he already knew- that was impossible. As I watched minister after minister give up or give in, he kept going. He kept trying. He kept fighting.
What can never be.
I believed some day he'd say he knew me, and was part of my theological formation. Partly, like the Church, he wanted to save me, and he wanted to save me by putting me somewhere where I could save something too. Partly, I believe he saw something in me. Something worthy of redemption.
I believed he wanted to be part of what I was, and what God called me to be. I ended up not playing by his rules, and we parted ways, but I still believed he waited. Now he's gone. The man who just kept trying has left a legacy in the people he's left behind. We have a mandate to be better, to do better, to rise above our mediocrity. We have a call to go and do. Roger won't be part of my story if there's ever a point I break through the noise, but I can say it for him. Roger was part of my story, and I'm grateful for his inclusion.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
Last week you made yourself a cup of coffee, you rolled up to your desk in your PJs, and you lounged back to watch your specific church do worship.
It felt fake. That God feeling you felt in the sanctuary didn't translate. Well... there might be a reason for that.
Worship is more than what is presented to you.
Probably your whole life you've lived in the lie that having everything worship related pre-planned and laid out for you was all you needed. You didn't need do anything but show up.
Your space was built for you.
Now, only 1/2 the work can be done to prepare you to meet God. You are the power chord, the livecast is the outlet. (very very quick side note- not all livecasts see themselves as conduits or outlets, so not all outlets will produce a connection.) If you have not prepared your space to meet their space, you will not find a connection.
"Nothing before God's Eyes"?
That little sign above (which is a copy of a much larger sign in my basement) is a reminder of the beginning of the 10 Commandments: "Your God is a jealous God, you shall have no other God's before me." This commandment is literally talking about what we put in God's temple. Another way to see this could be, "Don't put other gods in my temple!" or from our perspective, "We shall have nothing before God's eyes."
Are you scrolling through your phone while you watch on your desktop?
You've brought something before God's eyes that is not your worship.
Are you not intentional about your half of the worship space?
You've created a space where you're bringing unneeded things before God's eyes.
Have you not changed your clothes for God?
You are bringing that before God's eyes when you "tune-in."
If God can be anywhere- God can be online.
When Fig Tree Christian did their second livecast ever years ago- we made that sign.
Why? Because look at your power outlets. They are worthless without connection. Your half has to be as intentional as my half.
I've read so many disheartened ministers trying to do it all. I've read so many disheartened congregants already missing their live space. Stop. God is real. God is online. Take a breath before you log on, and create your half of the space.
SHARE THIS POST! SHARE IT LIKE CRAZY! I don't need people at Fig Tree today, but God does want you in worship, wherever that might be. Find your space, to connect to their space, and you will find God.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
I started writing this up on Friday, because I had this sixth sense about what was coming. Call it an intuition. First, I knew how brick and mortar churches have talked about digital worship experiences already, and second I knew how those who recorded their worships did their recordings.
My intuition on the churches that already did livecasts was everything was going to be exactly the same, but with 5-20 people present. Even though most people would be watching via video, the minister, musicians, and everyone else would just pretend their congregations were not viewing from a camera, but were actually in the audience. It was exactly what I expected.
My intuition on the churches that had never done this before was not what I was expecting. I was expecting a minister, sitting in front of a laptop or phone, delivering a wooden sermon to a camera, (because a live audience really does add something to the delivery of a sermon). I was half right. No one considers camera angles. Looking down at your phone means you are forcing the congregation to look submissively up at you, but I digress. I also saw attempts at big church production value with a small church budget, Not only were they forgetting where the congregation was (hint, hint, behind the camera) once again had an entire room of one person delivering to no one.
What are you doing? Do you think this is what online worship is? No wonder you think it's a waste of time! I get it now. I wanna help. Let me help.
Ways to be a digital church
One last note:
You need to know a couple of points before you continue:
TL:DR- Find where God is already present, and show the people God. Anything else is wrong.
I want you to read the above Tweet. Really read it. Soak it in. Let it sit. When you've had ample time to understand what she's saying, continue reading here.
That Tweet became the final piece for me to understand Zombie Church. I wanted to write this post weeks ago, and connect what I've been saying to Undead churches, but her account is private. It would have been crossing a boundary to share her Tweet without her permission. So, I messaged Jen Coles and asked for permission to share her words. Just recently she gave it and now I can finally continue.
The Fragile Nature of Brokenness
What I'm about to share is deeply personal and raw. You will see me differently after reading it. Trigger warnings for sexual abuse below.
When I was much much younger, my mom and stepdad took me to the hospital to see if I'd been raped. (As far as I'm aware, I hadn't, but my stepdad was grasping at straws, and he was a bad man..) They were trying to keep custody of my sister and myself. It was for those sweet child support payments. I would hear stories years later of my stepdad approaching my father and telling him, "We'll let you take the kids, and you won't have to fight it in court. All you have to do is keep paying the payments."
This all led to my first remembered sexual experience being me lying on a cold metal table. The doctor coming in with someone else and asking ME, an underage minor, if he could educate the other doctor about my private parts. I was a little girl suffering with mental abuse and neglect at home (yes, related to the same above stepfather) and I was afraid to say no. So as the doctor checked me to see if I'd been raped, they treated me like a lab specimen- naming off my parts that I didn't even know I had at that age.
To top it all off- after they'd finished, they took me to a room and questioned what my dad had done. I honestly told them he'd done nothing. I felt the moment gave me the space to tell how bad my stepdad had been. I began recounting stories of his late drunk nights. I began telling how he'd threaten to murder me. But I never really told, because that's when my stepdad threw the door open, called me a liar and dragged me to the car. It was no wonder, when months later the judge would have my sister and I in a private room asking for our testimony, I'd stare at the door wondering if he was on the other side. (Adults don't get it.)
We are not specimens.
I was turned into an object at 8 years old, because of an asshole that wanted money, and a jock that wanted to show his buddy girl parts. From the brokenness that already littered my tiny existence, new brokenness arose from being turned into a specimen.
Adults really don't get it. There are two terribly wrong things we do to victims of any kind of abuse.
To ignore. Most of us can just continue. Out of sight; out of mind. If we pretend the atrocity didn't happen, then it didn't happen. Only, the person who suffered the abuse can't do that. It did happen, and they're bleeding out, and no one seems to care because everyone has decided it didn't really happen. In church, this is part of Zombie Churches, and broken systems as a whole. It's a "flee" response built into our DNA. We see damage and our first instinct is to run. We can't run anymore.
To kill and examine. "You may be a wounded healer; just don't bleed all over them." Those were words spoken to me directly after my ordination. I took them to heart. My passion was drained out and taken away. I pinned my experience to a dissection table, and explained the parts. I was no better to myself than those stupid doctors years before. But I did it for every one else. If I turned myself into a specimen, then the others didn't need to be in my place. Fine! Kill me! Autopsy me! Now save them! Only, my failing was in believing they would want to go save anyone else. They want us all dead. If we're dead they could be sad for a moment, while they examine the corpses and move on. Just don't bleed all over them. Blood is a sign of life, and they don't want us living.
Read that tweet again.
Read the tweet again.
Read the testimonies of Kristy and Jessica again.
Read my stories I've been sharing throughout the years again.
I'm sorry we're bleeding all over the place, but we're still alive. It happened and it's happening.
If you examine our stories and walk away, you're treating us like specimens. You're breaking us further. You're making things worse.
If you ignore and walk away, you're treating us like we don't exist. You're breaking us further. You're making things worse.
For God's sake, stop acting like there's nothing there and the need isn't urgent!
Help! For God's sake, help!
-Rev Melissa Fain-
3 “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. 6 And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. 8 Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” 9 And he said, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”
Mark 4:3-9 NRSV
Watching people hurt sucks!
When it comes down to it, we don't want people to feel pain. I believe if most of us could take away pain with a push of a button, we would. No more tears. No more heartache.
There's a catch- there usually is.
Pain serves a purpose. Pain let's us know our body needs help. Pain also serves as a warning that something bad is happening, and if not reacted to immediately would continue to happen.
Many are now probably amending their idea, and push the button to end senseless pain but not all pain.
I get it. I'm right there with you. But we tend to lump unhealthy and healthy pain together, and avoid them both equally. If we embraced healthy pain, we'd all be healthy. (Well, many more of us would be healthy. Never speak in absolutes. Crap, that's an absolute. Try not to speak in absolutes.) You get what I mean.
Planting hope is easy, but growing hope is a painful process.
Back in my youth ministry days, I used to do this activity. We'd sit in a circle, and I would pull out brand new Play Doh from a container. I'd announce the Play Doh was God's plan. God wants us to build something. I'd mention something it was supposed to be. A heart. A cat. Just something that would be relatively easy for the group to make. Then I would pass the Play Doh around the circle. My only rule was everyone had to touch it as it went by.
I feel it's important to add, this was always with middle school youth. You can tell them to make a ball, and two people in you have this perfect ball that would make Leonardo Di'Vinci proud, just to have the third in the circle squash it. I found it hilarious, while almost all the youth in the circle were in mental anguish. (See, I didn't use absolutes.)
The point of the activity was two-fold. First, our fingerprints are necessarily all over God's plans. It's part of the activity. Unless we're willing to take hold of what God gives us, it simply sits as an unrealized idea. Nothing can happen unless we're part of what's happening. Second, being part of anything naturally means failure and failure almost always hurts.
"Saving" us from eminent failure
There are two levels of pain here: There's the pain of the person you see with the hope, and there is your pain in helping that person.
Don't be mad at the animals in the Little Red Hen, because most of us are those animals. We live in an immediate culture, and that immediacy has made us lethargic and took away our desire. Our intelligent selves have streamlined life, took away pain, and destroyed passion in the process. This was the piece I was missing every time I talked about immediate gratification: the death of passion.
Now I'm back to Brueggemann and the Prophetic Imagination. (If you've been following over the past few months, you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't, go back and read January and February's posts.) Comfort is the killer of God's call. Comfort are the birds, path, rocky ground and thorns. Under the guise of ease, God's plan, or hope, is often destroyed:
Let me say it: It's not fair. It's healthy to name the truth in this case.
It's not fair that anyone who is writing about taking God's plan are all telling these bouncy stories of success, where their only trial involved praying for a week and everything magically appearing in front of them. Those books and stories are used as ammunition to destroy those who don't just magically get everything they pray for. They're used to further demoralize those who have had their words stolen by birds, trampled by strangers, and strangled by thorns.
It's not fair that all the power is held by thorns. It's not fair that God is calling those with no power to change a broken system that has all the chips. When the thorns offer power it's only to further the growth of more thorns. You can't take their power, because they ask you to leave God's hope at the door. Taking a piece of their power turns you into a thorn grower. So you sit in the wilderness with nothing, completely demoralized, and lost.
God can work with nothing. Back when I first began, I knew what I had. I didn't have a single thing. Nada. Ziltch. I was ashamed of this fact, and didn't know how to verbalize that deep inner call with the nothing God gave me. It often left me speechless when people would ask what this whole Fig Tree thing was. In reality, I should have been excited by the void. It was fertile ground for God's' plant to be whatever it was supposed to be. What was Fig Tree? A seed. A tiny hope. An unknown that has the potential to be anything God wanted it to be. I didn't trust God enough to express this desire, because I kept waiting for something. Anything. That's my failure. I couldn't trust. What am I doing now?
I'm at a place where the story hasn't reached it's best selling conclusion. I feel when I've reached the end of a chapter to Fig Tree's epic story. The Zombie Church section was one of those moments. Now I'm just sharing the awful truth: Hope is painful. Hope is work. Hope if filled with heartache and loss. I'm sharing because all of these things are healthy and someone, anyone, needs to say it. We are a sacred remnant. Hope comes from the ashes of the refining fire. What I love about Jesus' parable is the mass of it all was never considered. Yes, some of what God has given has been gobbled up by greed. Yes, some of what has been given has been planted in shallow graves. Yes, some of what has been given has been destroyed by those who fear it. But that sacred remnant still remains. God gave so much, so something would still remain to save us all.
That hope has been secretly growing in the wilderness away from everything else.
That hope has been growing deep roots that are years old in the making.
That hope might not be Fig Tree Christian when it's all said and done, but that hope will save us all.