-Rev Melissa Fain-
10 When they were alone, the people around Jesus, along with the Twelve, asked him about the parables. 11 He said to them, “The secret of God’s kingdom has been given to you, but to those who are outside everything comes in parables. 12 This is so that they can look and see but have no insight, and they can hear but not understand. Otherwise, they might turn their lives around and be forgiven.
Mark 4:10-12 CEB
Oh how I loathed the phrase "God is a mystery." I banished it to the far reaches of my vocabulary, promising to never utter it out loud, and shun those who utter it themselves. I believed it was a cop-out; the mystery flavor of the theological world. In my circles of influence it was used when someone was afraid to search for the answer, knowing their belief system would crash around them if they questioned the wrong way. I knew when someone threw that statement my way, they were setting up a defense of sorts.
See, I love to ask those really difficult questions. I simply want to know the answers. It’s who I am. I am is a truth seeker, and I live into that. I know what it’s like to live into the lie. It’s like Netflix’s Haunting of Hill House where everything just looks beautiful, but really there’s a black death slowly killing everyone within it. When everything looks beautiful, we are more compelled to live in the lie. That phrase was a way to shut the door on the conversation and continue the facade.
So near the end of my my seminary career I took a class in Eastern Christianity. It was led by a former Eastern Orthodox Priest, someone who really knew his stuff. We looked at icons, and worship. We also delved into theology. In Eastern Christianity, “God is a mystery,” are the keys to the kingdom.
Oh how my eyes involuntarily rolled when I heard him say that phrase. I couldn’t see God as a mystery. Within my context, it was used as a cop out. In my context it was a conversation ender. Yet, he fleshed out the words in a way that made me sit up.
He told us Western Christianity, specifically seminary, was all mind and little Spirit. Theology is analytical in nature in the Western world. Eastern Christianity, conversely, is all Spirit and little mind. It was his belief when the two Churches split, they each took a vital part of the theological journey. They were both right, and the correct answer was to bring the two theologies back together.
I took it to prayer. I journelled it’s truth. “God is a mystery” is both an unanswered question, and beyond our understanding. God is bigger than any of us can comprehend. More majestic than majesty, more epic than we can fathom. At the same time, God is Truth. Truth is something that has an answer. We can find it and see it. In some cases, God is a mystery because we just haven’t yet discovered that specific Truth.
Our God journey is full of duality. If we push too deeply on one aspect, we break it’s tension with another. I’m grateful for a former Eastern Orthodox Priest giving me tension. God is a mystery.
Let us pray:
Dear Lord, from the depths of the cosmos, let me sit in your wonder. From the edge of my pen, let me find your Truth. Amen.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
1 The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Sin desert, which is located between Elim and Sinai. They set out on the fifteenth day of the second month[a] after they had left the land of Egypt.2 The whole Israelite community complained against Moses and Aaron in the desert. 3 The Israelites said to them, “Oh, how we wish that the Lord had just put us to death while we were still in the land of Egypt. There we could sit by the pots cooking meat and eat our fill of bread. Instead, you’ve brought us out into this desert to starve this whole assembly to death.”
Exodus 15:1-3 CEB
I had this story churning in my brain for a good part of my life. Mentally, I'd been editing it and revising it for years. Then, about three to four years ago, I bought a journal and began writing it out. Four journals later, I began typing it out, doing basic revisions as I did. Then, I went back to make major revisions. Now, I have a fully written, three book trilogy. It's never been copy edited. It has not been published, but I did it! (My first projects for anything tend to be huge. My first real crochet project was a queen size blanket.)
I physically chose to write out my first draft because typing it was an epic failure. I kept finding myself going back and editing. Before I knew it, I had only written one page, and nothing was accomplished. Handwriting it out meant I could go back and re-read, make notes in the margins, but I couldn't do anything substantial to the story except keep going.
Many of us tend to freeze when God calls us. We imagine the failures as we makes plans and imagine how it will play out. Then we realize what a mess it all is, and give up before it actually begins. Well of course it's a mess. When we first get started that plan of action is just a rough draft. Just like a seed doesn't instantly become a finished tree, fruit and all, a call requires substantial planning.
If I really had to get to why no one supports a plan of action, it would all come down to the amount of work the journey to the finished plan would take. I have never read a bible story, or heard about a church start that began with the finished product. The struggle, the tears, the tiredness and ache- that's all part of the call. So go and do God's work! Go and join someone else who is the process of doing God's work! Get it out on paper, and struggle as you revise and correct what didn't work. God is a rough draft.
Let us pray:
Dear God, Help me understand your plan, and give me courage to keep going as it goes through the revision process. Amen.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
12 Christ is just like the human body—a body is a unit and has many parts; and all the parts of the body are one body, even though there are many. 13 We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, whether Jew or Greek, or slave or free, and we all were given one Spirit to drink.14 Certainly the body isn’t one part but many. 15 If the foot says, “I’m not part of the body because I’m not a hand,” does that mean it’s not part of the body? 16 If the ear says, “I’m not part of the body because I’m not an eye,” does that mean it’s not part of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, what would happen to the hearing? And if the whole body were an ear, what would happen to the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God has placed each one of the parts in the body just like he wanted.
1 Cor 12:12-18 CEB
Three quarters of the way there, and things are playing out pretty much how I imagined they would. I had to truly dig deep to look into some of these topics. Hopefully you did too, seeing beyond yourself into someone else. In other areas, I'm surprised by my hesitancy. I thought once I did some of those difficult subjects I'd be able to jump in to other topics easier. In reality, it has been far more difficult, and pretty much impossible.
I struggled whether I wanted to seek out one of my clergy brothers or sisters who walk this path, or if it should be me writing this. In the end, I knew the answer. I had to give voice to this because I'm not this. This is what the entire Lenten season is about, looking beyond ourselves to see God. In the same breath, I know what's at stake even beginning to bridge that gap. I know building some bridges burn others down. I have spent a decade contemplating how to walk this path with both chasms crossed. Believe me, I've lost sleep over it. Maybe this is it. Maybe not.
There are a few things I've grown into since beginning this Christian journey. A big one is grace. I had already mentioned off hand that I learn from everyone and everything. Some of those lessons come in what not to do. One of the most formative moments in my youth was a non-moment. One of the best Elders (lay leadership in my faith tradition) in the church was gay. His sexuality was never a topic, nor should it have been. He was faithful. He was dedicated. His partner went to the church too. They both sang in the choir.
This was the age of don't ask/don't tell., the amazing 90's. Everyone knew, but as long as he didn't openly proclaim it, we would all look the other way.
As I've mentioned before, setting up systems to accept through back door understandings are lines cemented into our foundations, just waiting to be tripped over and really hurt people. That's what happened in this church. This Elder felt we were beyond the lines, and he decided to be open about what we already knew.
How dare us. We were the bad guys that day. Apparently giving voice to what was already known, was the real sin. The Elder was asked to step down. They left the church, and I do not know if they found a home after what we did.
Worship is beyond sexuality. It's a moment where we are not there for our desires to be highlighted. We are there to thank God. Our nature is laid bare. We are sinners. All of us. It's God's job to decide and judge that sinfulness.
Community is within sexuality, but sexuality is not the line for admittance. Guess what? That Elder was part of the Body of Christ. We, the church, cut that foot off and threw it away. Now the church is hobbled, and we are ignoring the reason why, because we did it to ourselves. We need to realize a piece of God is lost with our actions. We need to come to Jesus with the truth, like a guilty child with her hand still in the cookie jar. We amputated part of the Body of Christ. We hobbled ourselves. God is gay.
.Pray with me:
God, help me keep the front door open for your children. Amen
-Rev Melissa Fain-
22 Then God became angry because he went. So while he was riding on his donkey accompanied by his two servants, the Lord’s messenger stood in the road as his adversary. 23 The donkey saw the Lord’s messenger standing in the road with his sword drawn in his hand, so the donkey turned from the road and went into the field. Balaam struck the donkey in order to turn him back onto the road. 24 Then the Lord’s messenger stood in the narrow path between vineyards with a stone wall on each side. 25 When the donkey saw the Lord’s messenger, it leaned against the wall and squeezed Balaam’s foot against the wall, so he continued to beat it. 26 The Lord’s messenger persisted and crossed over and stood in a narrow place, where it wasn’t possible to turn either right or left. 27 The donkey saw the Lord’s messenger and lay down underneath Balaam. Balaam became angry and beat the donkey with the rod. 28 Then the Lord opened the donkey’s mouth and it said to Balaam, “What have I done to you that you’ve beaten me these three times?” 29 Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you’ve tormented me. If I had a sword in my hand, I’d kill you now.” 30 The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey, on whom you’ve often ridden to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?”
Balaam said, “No.” 31 Then the Lord uncovered Balaam’s eyes, and Balaam saw the Lord’s messenger standing in the road with his sword drawn in his hand. Then he bowed low and worshipped.
Numbers 22:22-31 CEB
I hate everything sometimes. Specifically, I hate when theologies break down a potentially good relationship. People can just be donkeys. (Yes, switch out words, because I'm not thinking "donkey.") You know, I can be a donkey every now again. It's not easy for me to engage those who are openly hostile to my calling. I've learned this hostility happens on both sides of the Spiritual spectrum, and happen for different reasons. Either way, it can, to put it nicely, irk me.
I just want to turn if off, shut it down, and walk away. To no one in particular I think, "Dude, I get what your problem really is, and it's not what you're saying it is." There are bigger issues, and I'm not going to unpack someone else's emotional baggage. I'm not going to engage. I'm not going to respond. I've mentally blown it up. Imagine me slow mo walking away from the epic explosion.
Sometimes, very rarely, the donkey is the voice of God. I never truly disconnect, not fully. Even my closest donkey could be a conduit to the Divine. As much as I feel broken and bent by those who are just hardheaded mules, I don't buy into the "unfollow" culture. Please know, I'm not going to seek or engage, but I'm not going to completely cut off either. I actually pray for God to speak through these people. Speaking through mules is a re-connection of community. We should all want that. So, until my burrow of a self speaks to someone who sees me as such, I'll be open to the same. God is a donkey.
Pray with me:
Holy God, If I'm the mule, help me transform to be a sufficient voice for you. Also, make me aware when you are speaking through my own burrows. Amen.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
3 The Lord’s word came to Jonah a second time: 2 “Get up and go to Nineveh, that great city, and declare against it the proclamation that I am commanding you.” 3 And Jonah got up and went to Nineveh, according to the Lord’s word. (Now Nineveh was indeed an enormous city, a three days’ walk across.)
4 Jonah started into the city, walking one day, and he cried out, “Just forty days more and Nineveh will be overthrown!” 5 And the people of Nineveh believed God. They proclaimed a fast and put on mourning clothes, from the greatest of them to the least significant.
6 When word of it reached the king of Nineveh, he got up from his throne, stripped himself of his robe, covered himself with mourning clothes, and sat in ashes. 7 Then he announced, “In Nineveh, by decree of the king and his officials: Neither human nor animal, cattle nor flock, will taste anything! No grazing and no drinking water! 8 Let humans and animals alike put on mourning clothes, and let them call upon God forcefully! And let all persons stop their evil behavior and the violence that’s under their control!” 9 He thought, Who knows? God may see this and turn from his wrath, so that we might not perish.[a]
10 God saw what they were doing—that they had ceased their evil behavior. So God stopped planning to destroy them, and he didn’t do it.
Jonah 3:3-10 CEB
Oh, how dare I! How could I? You've put up with me long enough!
As I say that to myself. There are lines one should never cross, and I'm crossing it. I'm going to put God in my worst enemy.
What does that mean?
Well, when I was eight a alcoholic drunk entered our lives in the form of a "step-dad." He was a leach. His brutality took different forms whether he was sober or drunk. Sober, he spent our child support money on guitars and old trucks. Drunk, he screamed and beat my mom. Really sets the tone for the rest of your life when you are comparing a good night to one where you're not afraid to die.
I should hate him. I should wish him to hell to burn for all eternity. No one would think less of me for thinking it. Many of us have made similar sentiments towards their own enemies. From our pain we claw out, don't we? I don't think less of you if you do. In fact, God gives us space for that anger.
I couldn't. No. I wouldn't. The church found me in my most broken place and told me I had a home. Then, in that home I was told everyone had a place. What they were telling me was little broken me had a place. Ostracized in school as I was, I had a place where I was not ostracized. Only, I heard what was also being said: He had a place too. He was the lost coin, the sheep lost in the wood...
Now let's be clear, I'm not going to seek him out or evangelize to him. Nor should anyone think that is the proper place for me or him. I do understand something vital- all means all.
I'm a minister because of that specific church that pulled me out of that specific brokenness. I'm not here to stroke egos. I'm not here for specific dogma or to "fall in line." I truly am here because I do believe all means all. Yes. Him too. Do I have answers for what that looks like? No, but his healing (if he is even alive) would stop him hurting others. Heaven on Earth, maybe? God is an abusive drunk man.
Pray with me like I actually pray by myself:
Hey. Well, it's me again. I'm struggling. Like, really struggling. I just want answers. Where were you when I made a fool of myself? Did I really need to do that? If you want me to follow some sort of plan, where's the list? Seriously! I'd be happy if you just sent me a list. It can have space for me to check things off. But, we know, don't we. Gotta figure it out because it means something more. Well- that sucks today. There, I said it, but... I love you. As frustrated as I get- thank you. I don't get it always, but I don't always have to get it. Amen.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
8 The boy grew and stopped nursing. On the day he stopped nursing, Abraham prepared a huge banquet. 9 Sarah saw Hagar’s son laughing, the one Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham. 10 So she said to Abraham, “Send this servant away with her son! This servant’s son won’t share the inheritance with my son Isaac.”
11 This upset Abraham terribly because the boy was his son. 12 God said to Abraham, “Don’t be upset about the boy and your servant. Do everything Sarah tells you to do because your descendants will be traced through Isaac. 13 But I will make of your servant’s son a great nation too, because he is also your descendant.” 14 Abraham got up early in the morning, took some bread and a flask of water, and gave it to Hagar. He put the boy in her shoulder sling and sent her away.
She left and wandered through the desert near Beer-sheba. 15 Finally the water in the flask ran out, and she put the boy down under one of the desert shrubs. 16 She walked away from him about as far as a bow shot and sat down, telling herself, I can’t bear to see the boy die. She sat at a distance, cried out in grief, and wept.
17 God heard the boy’s cries, and God’s messenger called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “Hagar! What’s wrong? Don’t be afraid. God has heard the boy’s cries over there. 18 Get up, pick up the boy, and take him by the hand because I will make of him a great nation.” 19 Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well. She went over, filled the water flask, and gave the boy a drink. 20 God remained with the boy; he grew up, lived in the desert, and became an expert archer. 21 He lived in the Paran desert, and his mother found him an Egyptian wife.
Genesis 21:8-21 CEB
Let's clear this up before I continue: It is super easy to be a Christian in the United States today. If you think I'm talking about being a Christian in 2000's USA, just put that away. People might not like that I'm an ordained female minister, but no one is trying to kill me for this fact. People might groan when someone starts evangelizing in public, but that's not a life threatening statement. When we start this crap about being a disenfranchised group we are completely demeaning real disenfranchised groups who stand for their faith in the face of death.
Okay- I'm putting my soapbox away.
This is about understanding logical fallacies. I lived in this topic while on Reddit. The straw man, the Fallacy Fallacy, and the Black and White were some of the favs used to poorly make a point. My daughter is a master of the straw man and Black and White. She loves to take my initial point, create a straw man, and suggest I'm actually trying to destroy her. Poor girl doesn't realize I spent 5 years dismantling those adolescent arguments online.
The fallacy I want to talk about specifically is called the Band Wagon Fallacy. This is the belief that something is true because most people believe or follow it. It's an easy one to fall into, because deep down inside we find comfort in the crowd. Only, we have historical events where following the crowd was not only wrong but deadly. In the Victorian era people were dying in their own houses because everyone was buying items with a vibrant color of green. That vibrant color of green was made using arsenic. Babies would put their green toys in their mouth, and minutes later die. Women were growing sick while lying on their green couches. There was something causing women to faint in their green drawing rooms.
The common thought for the time period was to say this shade of green was an important color to add to the home, that women were prone to fainting because of being women, and babies had to be at least one before they were strong enough to survive. The truth was that it was arsenic really killing the population. It was an unpopular view, but it didn't make it less right being unpopular.
That's an obvious example, but a not so obvious example lies in the pews. The church is living in the Band Wagon Fallacy. If they are meeting with people who think like them, than they must be in the right. Right? General agreement doesn't mean something is truth. The Israelites had a general belief that they were doing the right thing, and a few prophets later they're mourning in Babylon.
We want to believe God lives in the climate controlled church, because so many will sit beside us on a Sunday morning. We want to believe we have the higher ground because there are a few voices willing to back us up. God doesn't choose the loudest voice. God doesn't stand with the crowd. God is right, wherever right may be. God is not the popular choice.
Let us pray:
Dear God, Help me see when being with the crowd is wrong. Help me walk the right path, not the popular one. Amen.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
You are the light of the world. A city on top of a hill can’t be hidden.
Matthew 5:15 CEB
Technical expertise does not make an artist. It might show talent, but not art. As my husband aptly put it, recalling what an art educator had shared with him. Sure, technically expertise is a gift, but expertise does not make one an artist.
An artist gives vision or voice to an idea. Specifically, it's an idea worth knowing. It's not the technical skill of painting a flower, but the expression of the fragility of life found in that painting. It's not singing notes, it's the expression of love found in that song. If the expression is lost, than the person may be technically astute, but incapable of ever being an artist.
To be sure, it completely changed how I view other's "art." Raw talent is not about expertise, but the ability to express an important idea. An artist can tell me a story with sticks and mud if need be; a child's piano and a voice. An artist will move the soul. An artist could miss the notes, or not draw the right perspective lines. We give the artist the tools of education to clarify the point, but not to make them what they already are
Go find God in the artist. Find God in the point behind the painting or song. Go be an artist- while you are working on hitting the correct pitch. Sing because your soul yearns to be heard. Paint because there is a story to tell. Give vision or voice to an idea. God is an artist.
Pray with me:
-Rev Melissa Fain-
Do your work in six days. But on the seventh day you should rest so that your ox and donkey may rest, and even the child of your female slave and the immigrant may be refreshed.
Exodus 23:12 CEB
All of us need to rest. All of us will burn out at some point. We are not the energizer bunny. We will stall out.
Stall out moments are God moments. They are times we can reflect and change something. It's not a time to magically regain our momentum. That momentum is gone. Reset. Restart. Return. God is stalled out.
Pray with me:
God, as I stop, help me go. As I go, help me stop. Amen.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
1 The heavens and the earth and all who live in them were completed.2 On the sixth [a] day God completed all the work that he had done, and on the seventh day God rested from all the work that he had done. 3 God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all the work of creation. 4 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created.
Genesis 2:1-4 CEB
Architecture is beauty with a purpose. The curve of an archway, the purpose behind the molding. What catches the eye might also be what's keeping that building from collapsing over your head. In truth, architecture doesn't have to make you feel anything. In many cases it's meant to disappear and allow life to happen.
That's God. The design is so functional! We will never understand what wonders actually happens in an every day normal day. Our feet remain planted on a ball going thousands of miles an hour around a flaming ball. We take breathes from the perfect mix of gases. We exist, and just a moment of existence is a miracle. Then, those brief moments of realization, a glance at the painted sunrise, a feeling of the expanse climbing a mountain lets us view the wonder of design. Creation is functionally beautiful. God is an architect.
Let us pray:
Dear God, Here is where I thank you for your gifts. Here is where I raise my lamentations. As I deconstruct, reconstruct. As your design melts into normality, help me to occasionally see the majesty in those ordinary moments. Amen.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
58 As a result of all this, my loved brothers and sisters, you must stand firm, unshakable, excelling in the work of the Lord as always, because you know that your labor isn’t going to be for nothing in the Lord.
1 Cor 15:58 CEB
I’m a substitute, a job I've done for the past three school years. I’ve been spending my days almost exclusively in middle school. I get these kids, having felt the extreme struggle between turning from a kid to an adult. Those first few years of mental and physical changes were difficult for me. I get it.
I was in a math class, filling in because this teacher did not have a sub. It was the end of the day, and I was physically drained after a day in another grade. This is probably why she stuck around, a classroom teacher who didn’t get the memo that this specific job had been filled by me. I probably had the anxiety written all over my face. It would only be a few minutes later that this specific teacher would call in another. There was a problem she couldn’t figure out. Asking the other teacher in, they both talked through it, and it baffled both of them.
This was a unit was very aware of. I had taught almost all of it in another class a few weeks back. Only, I was also told the teacher that stepped in behind me and informed the students I had done something wrong. She never told the students what. Just something. It left me feeling disheartened and just wanting to quit.
When these two teachers couldn’t understand I pulled the second one aside. “I might have an answer key. Which question is it?”
Pulling out my own packet, I realized it was a question not completed, but I walked her through the question, set it up and solved it. She stared at my work as I waited for the shoe to drop. She was going to tell me how I was wrong. Considering these kids education sat in my lap off and on for three months, I was ready for failure. I was willing to accept how I had destroyed these kid’s life as the teacher was on on leave. “Ms. Fain’s got it!” she announced to the other teacher, as she returned to the circle of learning happening around the first teacher.
As the next few days progressed the first teacher continually pulled me aside to comment on how I "schooled her". She had no idea what she was saying after being completely destroyed by my previous experience, words never spoken directly to me, but still completely demoralizing. In the first teacher's grace and humility she was building me back up; telling me I had purpose and worth.
This is where I get to my point. There is grace and humility when it comes to helping these kids. Many of them just want to give up and not push forward. These educators true gift is being able to relight that spark for learning.
Teachers plant a seed that they will never see grow into their true purpose. By the time that seed grows and matures these teacher’s names will probably be forgotten. Lost forever in time. They struggle against the bitter winds of bureaucracy, and the changing climate of student emotions. Yet, they still plant that seed, nurturing the fertile soil, hoping that seed takes root.
I say all this because I make it a point to learn from everyone. True, some learning moments come in the non-example category. There are people who teach me how not to do something. Those moments are just as formative as the examples of people who tell me how to do the right thing. When a teacher pulls me aside to raise me up, I learn how to raise others up. When she tells me how great I’m doing, I know it’s because of her. I’ve been watching and learning from her the whole time. Taking everything as a learning opportunity. These teachers have made me a better minister, and re-lit my own purpose.. God is a teacher.
Let us pray:
Dear God, help us walk your path with grace and humility. Amen.