-Rev Melissa Fain-
I've sat on this post since November. Advent, Christmas and Bible 101 were distractions to coming back to this. Lent's "God is," series was a needed reminder.
Six months on the internet is a really long time! Memes are born and die in that time. Campaigns rise and fall. A collective can feel the pride of success and the bile of defeat. When I took on this six month endeavor is was to do more than follow through on having a male pastoral handle for six months on Reddit. It was also to keep track of my feminine experience IRL (in real life). We don't often pay attention to what's happening around us, because it is our "normal." I didn't want to do something digitally without questioning what was physically happening at the same time.
Where I was: I'm at a place today where this is genuinely a difficult question to answer. I remember there was a time when elbow grease and gumption could get you anywhere. When an ordained minister, and woman flat out told me, "I hope you have skills somewhere else, because you'll need them," I did't listen. Well, I listened, but I had my naive hope. If my chips start lower than the boys, than I just have to be better than the boys. If people are throwing out biblical passages without context, I just have to be prepared to explain them in a well thought out way. Ministerial respect was always earned; not blindly given.
I had to believe this was all there was. There's no other way around it. Why would a seminary accept my money and let me focus my education on biblical and spiritual studies if it wasn't true? Why would a denomination allow me to even enter the ordination process unless my call was going to amount to something?
Where I am: PastorJerome came about because I finally saw something, and I knew there was a way to show it. I wanted to take the male username for two reasons.
First, if males were truly the ones called by God, than it wouldn't matter whether people thought my username was male or female, God would not allow me to look pastoral. I know that sounds ridiculous, but hear me out. I'd listen into conversations where someone would explain how they just felt he was the right minister for them. The way these congregants believed the Spirit moved them, seemed like an easy test. The same people who callously wrote out that they knew I wasn't a minister, would have the same feelings when the username was masculine.
Second, I wanted people who were not normally on the internet to see what I saw. We are all cloistered in our protective little bubbles, with people who think just like us. People are not in church anymore. That's why I'm outside church. It has given me a different experience than those female ministers who are loved by their congregations. I wanted to show the battle is far from over.
What I discovered was not even close to what I was expecting. Unhealthy levels of trust was thrown my way with a male username. When I expressed this fact after everything was done, the detractors came out of the woodwork. I was called a deceiver. Basically, how could I make someone feel I was Spiritually called by God? They couldn't see the other side of the coin, in that, giving a male minister trust for the sake of trust is dangerous. In their eyes, I stole their trust. The language immediately changed when my true identity was known. Being known only made the blatant double standard easier to see. Although, I'd doubt the people pronouncing it would realize what they did.
Where am I going? Six months was supposed to be my finish line. I'd carry this project to a point, express what it meant, and move on. Let me make this crystal clear: By moving on I meant it could reignite or extinguish whatever was left of my willpower. It was either going to be the beginning of a new chapter, or an explanation for why this minister was spiritually crucified. Some of the congregants of Fig Tree heard the dire tones in my words. Even if they had no idea what the context was at that point, they pulled me aside to express why this ministry means something to them.
What ended up happening was different. The IAMA didn't give me a bouncing off point, nor did it douse the flame. There were people who wanted me to continue. I remember saying to a friend, "Continue what?! The six months are over!" At the same time, there were those trying to convince themselves and myself that I did absolutely nothing meaningful for the past six months. That IAMA was seen 118 thousand times just a few weeks following it's publication. Since then, the story has been on Pathoes and the Disciple's News Service. That audience is bigger than any of the mega churches within my denomination.
Here is the cold hard truth: I need help. Part of the reason Fig Tree has been at 2pm is for convenience. You can go to your traditional worship experience, and make it to Fig Tree's livecast while still having time for a sit down lunch. Back when we first started livecasting I thought that was the answer. It's not. We need a "board of innovators." (Thanks James Brewer-Calvert for giving me that term.) We need ministerial help that thinks outside the physical building of church to find God's call to church beyond walls. We need people, male and female, who are willing to sacrifice their Israel to come join me in Babylon.
I'm not done yet. You have yet to start.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
1 Very early in the morning on the first day of the week, the women went to the tomb, bringing the fragrant spices they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in, they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 They didn’t know what to make of this. Suddenly, two men were standing beside them in gleaming bright clothing. 5 The women were frightened and bowed their faces toward the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He isn’t here, but has been raised. Remember what he told you while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Human One[a]must be handed over to sinners, be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8 Then they remembered his words. 9 When they returned from the tomb, they reported all these things to the eleven and all the others.10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles. 11 Their words struck the apostles as nonsense, and they didn’t believe the women. 12 But Peter ran to the tomb. When he bent over to look inside, he saw only the linen cloth. Then he returned home, wondering what had happened.
Luke 24:1-12 CEB
Today is not Lent. Lent ended at midnight. Today is Easter, but Lent can never end with Lent. How dare we conclude with "God is dead"! How dare we stop in a cosmic tragedy. That's not the Christian story at all!
Christ is alive! The chapter ended with death, but the book concludes in life. We have good news! We have something to share. Christ is alive! Christ is alive indeed! The light has won, and today we celebrate the dawn!
-Rev Melissa Fain-
John 11:35 NIV
I was in middle/high school. This was before I realized I would go to seminary, and it wasn't even on my radar. I did not have a public speaking voice, and speaking in public terrified me. I knew what good preaching was, and I wasn't it. Still, I had this desire to learn and know. I would pull my minister, Rev. Dr. Jerry Gladson, aside and just ask questions. I used to pick books in the bible and just email pages of questions. Romans broke me. This is why you don't read the Bible from front to back. Both of the Corinthians are better first letters.
Anyway, When I approached Jerry this particular time I wasn't currently reading scripture. I was mourning. My grandmother on my Dad's side passed, and it left me with questions. Why do we, as Christians, mourn? Do we believe in Heaven or not? If we believed in Heaven why did we weep?
I'm an adult now. I've been a minister myself for nine years. I get the look he gave me when I asked the questions. I can put myself in his shoes. Usually my questions were emailed, carefully numbered for easy separation. I engaged him after Sunday worship with no time to research. I don't recall anymore what he told me, only that I had clearly unbalanced him as I would have been unbalanced myself. I remember he didn't give me much, which was understandable. Not many of us spend time contemplating death.
I, however, could not let it go. While theological questions have come and gone, this question has remained with me. Many years later, I have an answer.
Some things stay dead. Heaven is not a place for our human selves. Heaven is not a place for our racism, misogyny, addictions, lusts, or [insert things that keep us from God here]. At the same time, those are things are things that shaped who were are or were. When someone passes it marks the end or conclusion to something. We will never know that person, as we knew them, ever again. Their memory eternal, but their physical being gone. That is the space where Christians mourn. Even though many of us believe there is something more, we also know somewhere, we've lost something forever.
The Disciples had an example of how to behave the day after the Crucifixion, and that example came from Jesus himself. In the passing of Lazarus, in that moment of true death, Jesus wept. No words. Just tears.
Why do we, as Christians, mourn? Because Jesus gave us space to mourn. Something has died. It will never exist in that way ever again. God is dead.
Let us pray
(Sit in a space and let the silence speak to you.)
-Rev Melissa Fain-
32 As they were going out, they found Simon, a man from Cyrene. They forced him to carry his cross. 33 When they came to a place called Golgotha, which means Skull Place, 34 they gave Jesus wine mixed with vinegar to drink. But after tasting it, he didn’t want to drink it. 35 After they crucified him, they divided up his clothes among them by drawing lots. 36 They sat there, guarding him. 37 They placed above his head the charge against him. It read, “This is Jesus, the king of the Jews.” 38 They crucified with him two outlaws, one on his right side and one on his left.
39 Those who were walking by insulted Jesus, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “So you were going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, were you? Save yourself! If you are God’s Son, come down from the cross.”
41 In the same way, the chief priests, along with the legal experts and the elders, were making fun of him, saying, 42 “He saved others, but he can’t save himself. He’s the king of Israel, so let him come down from the cross now. Then we’ll believe in him. 43 He trusts in God, so let God deliver him now if he wants to. He said, ‘I’m God’s Son.’” 44 The outlaws who were crucified with him insulted him in the same way.
Matthew 27:32-44 CEB
At nineteen years old I walked into the Holocaust museum in Washington, DC. I wasn't mentally in the place I needed to be half a lifetime ago. Perhaps my mind was incapable to process that level of horror. Perhaps, and I think this is more likely, I hadn't my own family as context. I couldn't put a face to the abuse and death.
Then I got married and had kids.
This series happened because of the forward in Elie Wiesel's book, "Night." I read it during Advent, or what most call the Christmas season. Thirty-eight years old, I'm ready now, especially for the boy.
Wiesel, a man who had survived the Holocaust when the rest of his family had not, meekly told the prolific writer, François Mauriac, about this boy. The concentration camps would do hangings of the "guilty." Most of these hangings had been a numb experience. So much death and no time to process. Then there was this boy, too light for the drop to break his neck. He fell, and he was slowly being suffocated. Someone behind Weisel remarked, "Where's God?"
The answer brought me to tears. God is the hanging boy. God is being executed.
Mauriac, left speechless by this story, realized far later that this boy was also the Christian story. We can talk about God being just that. We don't need to sit down and watch a movie to reenact the the Passion of Christ, not when our own history does it all on it's own.
We kill God all the time and force others to watch. This is the only day out of the Christian year where the Good News is terrible. Good Friday is our condemnation laid flat. We have been found guilty, and someone else is paying the price. Do not smile, and don't look away. The person we've condemned is not guilty at all. Something has terribly and completely broken. Where is God? God is a hanging boy.
Let us pray:
Forgive us, for we know not what we do. Amen.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
23 I received a tradition from the Lord, which I also handed on to you: on the night on which he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread. 24 After giving thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this to remember me.” 25 He did the same thing with the cup, after they had eaten, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Every time you drink it, do this to remember me.” 26 Every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you broadcast the death of the Lord until he comes.
1 Cor 11:23-26 CEB
I love communion. It is the richest symbol in the Christian tradition. I just don't think we fully understand how backwards it must of felt to the Disciples. Scripture told them Jesus was the mighty warrior Christ, come to smite all those against Israel.
Communion happened during Passover. Passover is a sacred meal. It was a reminder of the last plague in Egypt where the Spirit of God literally passed over the Israelite home while killing the first born of the Egyptian families. All they had to do was sacrifice a lamb and put it's blood by the door. That's the God these Disciples were looking for. They wanted to be excluded from the pain, while pain was being wrought on their enemies.
Then he said those words. Bread is Jesus' broken body? What does that mean? This cup is sacrificial blood? Jesus! Please no! God should be the one smiting the enemies, not becoming the blood at the doorway!
I get agitated, angry, and/or arrogant sometimes. Communion is my reset button. Communion is a reminder that I don't always get it. Maybe I get ahead of myself, or lose perspective. I forget that my forms of servitude were set free by the sacrificial blood painted on the door to my escape. Then I come to the table, not as a sinless child of God, but as a repentant one.
I still don't think the Disciples got it, even after the symbol was first enacted. They wouldn't get it until everything was said and done. That's later. Now we sit with the scandalous truth. God is Communion.
Pray with me:
Dear Lamb of God, As you break, mend me. Amen.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
1 Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was making more disciples and baptizing more than John (2 although Jesus’ disciples were baptizing, not Jesus himself). 3 Therefore, he left Judea and went back to Galilee.
John 4:1-3 CEB
I buried my head in my hands as I contemplated what to write. Outside, the night continued. The dawn just around the corner, but our piece of Earth remained dark and cold. Was there room for jokes? Could I lighten this just a bit? After all, it was Wednesday. Holy week doesn't fully begin until Maundy Thursday. Right?
The seriousness of it all was taking hold. This really was the point of no return. The seat belts have been buckled. we've been given a go, and now we are headed for our first drop. The click-click-click of the roller coaster car a constant reminder of what's coming. Was that excitement or fear making my heart beat a little faster? I couldn't tell.
We all have those moments of no return, and the realization of what they mean. On the Wednesday before Easter it means God is not winning. The Pharisees had been playing a deadly game with Jesus since he rode into Jerusalem. In the middle of the week we have our pivot point. Jesus has been able to avoid falling into those traps. The Pharisees are going to get what they want.
The very people tasked with keeping God safe and secure, are the ones who are doing it. But destroying this Jesus character is for the best. He was too radical. He didn't really understand the law. He couldn't hear when told there are times and places for these things. The people will understand, eventually. It had to be done...
Careful. This is not a game we want to to win. God is not the winner.
Pray with me:
Dear God, Loss is not an easy idea for me to wrap my head around, but if you are there,.. Amen.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
Looking up, Jesus saw rich people throwing their gifts into the collection box for the temple treasury. 2 He also saw a poor widow throw in two small copper coins worth a penny. 3 He said, “I assure you that this poor widow has put in more than them all. 4 All of them are giving out of their spare change. But she from her hopeless poverty has given everything she had to live on.”
Luke 21:1-4 CEB
That King Herod was a great guy, wasn't he? Oh, he wasn't? Are you sure? If I remember my history, he was the one who rebuilt the temple after the Babylonians destroyed it so many years before.. Doesn't that put him in the good category?
One of the key points of our faith is the journey. Change is only meaningful if there is a path we take to get there. However, we live in an impatient culture, a culture that does not honor hard work. Immediate gratification, and those who can obtain it, are societal celebrations.
(Here's where I upset a nice large group of people. To be clear, I understand I've upset several for the last few months. I'm pretty sure this is where I'm going to upset those who haven't been upset yet.)
When we give our journey to government, we've failed. Of course there are exceptions, but please play this out with me.
Herod failed because he was an all around terrible guy. He was all about himself, to the point that he named his own children (male and female) after himself. The Israelite people failed because they gave the sacred duty of rebuilding the temple over to the Roman Government instead of doing it themselves. Herod was allowed to look like a hero while tainting the sacred space of God's home. Rome now had a foot hold in something that didn't belong to them. The symbol for their government was at the entrance to God's home.
I know the frustration. If a group of people are not going to help the least of these willingly. It's far too easy to then find the next steps to force them to help. It completely destroys the journey to get straight to the outcome.
I'm far more radical than I often let on. I believe Church, and other religious and social organizations, are the best givers of social assistance. (When they are actually doing such things.) These groups know the needs of their community, and can meet them faster than any government program.
Now- would I suggest we cut all social government programs tomorrow and give it to the community? No. We're lazy. We've given the temple to Herod, and now there's a red white and blue flag waving in front of our missions. We have to step up, and step out. In other words, we need to take back our purpose towards service to the world, and get out of our sanctuaries, and into the world to do it. Like I said at the beginning. That's a journey. That's a relationship. God is not theirs.
Pray with me:
Dear God, help us take back our service to you. Amen.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” 39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth. 41 The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here! 42 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here!
Matthew 12:38-42 CEB
Here is my go-to on Biblical interpretation: We should read scriptures for action. What should we, the reader and listener, be doing? If the action falls on someone else, we've done it wrong.
This is why many Pharisee centered sermons get it wrong. Many take them as opportunities to pat their own congregation on the back. The Cliff Notes version being: "Ain't it great we're not them! Look at what those silly Pharisees did? Yep. Jesus is good. Go enjoy your lunch.,"
Anyone within the church should see themselves as the Pharisees. We are prone to fall into habit, and to avoid accepting wrongdoing. That's all of us. None of us want to believe we could be doing something wrong, but at some point all of us find failure. That's the nature of the imperfect human.
In the scripture above, Jesus is in a verbal battle. The Pharisee's not only want to crucify Jesus, they want a reason to do it. They were not happy because Jesus was, almost bluntly, saying "God is not yours." This is not to say God excludes. That's not what those words mean. The above scripture puts the Pharisee's on the outside, and the Gentiles (the outsiders) as those from Nineveh. The "Queen of the South" are the Gentiles. Jesus is basically telling the Pharisee's that the power is going to shift, and those who were hurt by their power grabs, will be vocal about their pain.
Ain't it great we're not them?
Well... we have a choice. We are the Pharisee's: Insiders who are clueless to the needs outside our own context. We are also Nineveh: Someone's enemy who God is calling to be part of the flock. In both cases, God is calling not for our own benefit, but for the sake of those we might be unknowingly (or sadly knowingly) hurting.
Here's my other part of Biblical interpretation- it hits upon the universal story. I believe that story is about God's love for the creation, and the redemption of that order. God calls us to that choice because God loves us. God wants us to see beyond ourselves. God doesn't belong solely to one group of people. God belongs to everyone. God is not yours.
Let Us Pray:
Dear God, help me see you through someone else's eyes. Amen.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
8 Now a large crowd spread their clothes on the road. Others cut palm branches off the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds in front of him and behind him shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” 10 And when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up. “Who is this?” they asked. 11 The crowds answered, “It’s the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
Matthew 21: 8-11 CEB
I used to love Palm Sunday. It was my third favorite day of the Christian year. It was a chance for me, a lowly child, to be part of the worship. With fanfare, I'd get to wave my palm frond to the congregation and place it at the Communion table. I loved seeing Jesus as a celebration. I loved seeing everyone smile.
Then I grew up and learned a few things about the Bible. Palm Sunday is less like a birthday party, and more like a death march. Yes, everyone is celebrating, but that celebration is a farce.
Palm Sunday is a day we joyfully throw palms and coats down for our Lord and Savior just to march him to his death. We yell out "Hosanna," not realizing that while we think it means "Praise him," we are also yelling, "Save us!" (The link will take you to the meaning behind the word Hosanna, and why it's important to keep it in Hebrew rather than translate it.)
As an adult, this scripture is scary. It shakes me to my core. It is a realization that society will go into war with joy and singing. We will seek murder with a smile on our face. We are being told to stay out of the marsh, but we are going into that marsh! (That last one is a Monster Mansion reference btw.)
Now's the time to shift the focus. Now's the time to know why we are here. We are not singing "Praise Him." We are headed down a dangerous road. Yes, there is a celebration, but first their's torture and death. A hanging boy. We need to start next week knowing we used Hosanna to say, "Save us." Save us all. God is a Hosanna.
Let us Pray:
Dear Lord, give me the first step, so I have the courage to walk the rest of the way. Amen.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
6 When Jesus was at Bethany visiting the house of Simon, who had a skin disease, 7 a woman came to him with a vase made of alabaster containing very expensive perfume. She poured it on Jesus’ head while he was sitting at dinner. 8 Now when the disciples saw it they were angry and said, “Why this waste? 9 This perfume could have been sold for a lot of money and given to the poor.”
10 But Jesus knew what they were thinking. He said, “Why do you make trouble for the woman? She’s done a good thing for me. 11 You always have the poor with you, but you won’t always have me. 12 By pouring this perfume over my body she’s prepared me to be buried. 13 I tell you the truth that wherever in the whole world this good news is announced, what she’s done will also be told in memory of her.”
Matthew 26:6-13 CEB
I don't know, maybe between two to four years ago I had this conversation about boundaries in the church, and our sacred duty to keep them. I suggested that even if your specific congregation claims to have no boundaries, they still exist. I have this go-to example I use. There was a church I visited that claimed the overused phrase: "Come as your are." The minister announced, "Anyone can come here! We are welcoming to all." The church dressed in nice casual attire, and they were called to register for the upcoming series on their smartphone. Do you see the boundary that exists in this church? I could.
Churches don't meet the need of the poor well at all. We talk a big game, and set aside space for those who struggle. We set up systems to take their already depleted funds through prayer oil and surprise offerings. Our problem is we don't get it, like really don't get it.
When we read "the poor will always be with you," we assume that means the poor, in some form, will always exist. If that were the case, why is Jesus comparing this to him not being there? We have one of two scenarios, and both of them would shake the foundations of Chrstiandom. Perhaps Jesus is truly dead and gone, but the poor will always exist. That seems like an understandable reading if we are to take Jesus' words to say poverty is an incurable disease. The reading I like better is, Jesus is no longer with the Disciples/Apostles of the world, but we are with the poor. We should treat all people like part of the the Body of Christ, not as a tool to accomplish our service project for the week/month/year.
Walking with the poor is hard work for those who have never been poor, and for most ministers, they have absolutely no context. I had a taste of poverty, but I'm still clueless of it's terrible power to demean and destroy. Over the past month I've paid over a hundred dollars to various organizations so my children can have enriching activities. I remember the time that was no even possible. I will always remember needing to count down to the pennies in my hand for groceries. See, I get the value of $100. I get how much can be done with it, but I don't get it at the same time because I now have it for purposes outside direct needs.
"The poor will always be with you," is not a statement of failure (because if the poor always exist, then we are failures as Christians). It is a statement of mission and presence. We are always called to walk beside, not lord over. The poor are with us, not in the next room, or only on every other Tuesday of the month.That' how we meet God in the world. God is in poverty.
Let us pray:
Oh God, Meet us in our need as we meet the needs of others. Amen.