-Rev Melissa Fain-
For the next month or so I'm going to shine the light on myself. I'm doing this because all of us within the church are guilty, and someone has to be the example for others. Part of embracing God's grace, is admitting our fallibleness.
I'm going to draw heavily my childhood during these first few meditations..
I know there is something forgivable about the actions of a child. For me, those actions shaped who I would later become. That's what makes them so important. All of us have those formative moments, but not all of us are confident enough in ourselves or God to admit them.
When I was in elementary school, I craved positive attention. I wanted someone, anyone, to pat me on the back and say, "Great job, Melissa!" Therefore, I looked for that opportunity wherever I could.
It was when I was at Church Camp that I finally jumped at an opportunity. It was a long time ago, so the memory has become a little fuzzy. We were in our cabins for the night. Many of us were just hanging in the middle living room area, when (I think) a girl fell out of her bunk bed. The counselor went to help her, but she was having trouble getting first aid on the walkies.
I jumped into action! Melissa Russell, to the rescue!
The counselors could no sooner yell, "No! Stop!" before I was running down the gravel path in a rush to get to the nurse.
No, if it were just a gravel path, it would have probably had been just fine. I would have ran safely to the nurse. This was no ordinary gravel path. This was the gravel path of doom!
There were these wooden beams that ran across it, and were equally spaced. They jutted up, grabbing poor children's ankles; pulling them to the callous ground. (At least that's how my 4th grade mind viewed it.)
That night, trying to save the day, one of those jutting wood slabs caught me, and I fell hard, leaving big scraps on my elbow and knee.
The counselors were smart. They knew in my zeal, they couldn't stop me. Instead, they sent someone to go with me. When I kissed the gravel, he was there to help me walk painfully to the nurse.
It turned out the girl that fell from her bunk was just fine. No more than a little wounded pride. Me, on the other hand, was all bandaged up in my attempt to do something good.
The problem: I was being selfish, looking for a way to make myself look better. In this foolish quest, I made things worse instead of better.
What I learned: Things that are done for selfish gain often have negative consequences. I now try to focus on the need instead of myself. Unless it's clear that I'm the one who is the most qualified, I ask the most qualified how I can help.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
Six years ago I was driving home. I noticed there were people parked in front of the church where I was the senior minister. I knew nothing about a meeting, but I didn't need to know. They were meeting because of me.
I was almost to term. A baby Caitlin almost ready to be born. They were putting their ducks in a row. As I passed the cars, I remembered that two of the elders had personally met with me.
Instead of coming to me with ways to help or truly discuss problems, they were meeting with me to check it off their to-do list. Then they could go to the regional minister with clean hands. "We told her there were problems. We met with her." I was broken (Literally, my ankle broke not long after taking the job, and I needed someone to help me make home visits) I was pregnant, and it was a rough one. I spent a night in the hospital during the General Assembly.)
Only there was more to that two elder meeting. There always was. I countered with the truth. "If someone has a problem with me, you have to tell them to come to me. Only bad things happen when we create triangle relationships." (Triangle relationships are when a third person is brought into a two person relationship, just to relay information between the two parties.)
Flash forward to one week after Caitlin was born. The same elders came to me, "Do you feel you are ready to come back?" I thought the question was their fear of giving me too much time off. "Yeah! I prepared for this." (I had. Using my day off for three months to write two months of sermons. ) "Well, we want to meet with you."
It didn't matter. Of course it didn't. They had played the same song and dance with almost every minister since the early 80's. It was my turn. A week after giving birth, they were going to ask for my resignation. Brokenness breaks. Woundedness wounds. Always.
"Are you okay?" my husband asks.
That's when it hit me. It's that time of year again. Yeah, it was hitting a little earlier because of some other things going on in my life, but it's happening. It was also hitting harder than it ever had. I feel the anxiety filling me up. The triggers were hairline thin. I didn't answer his question with words, I began to cry. Big, wet, ugly tears began to fall down my face.
This is not the story I wanted to tell. I had this naive hope after everything fell apart. God would step in, and make everything better. Good would triumph bad. Let's not call it evil. They are humans hurting other humans. Light would shine in the darkness, and the right choice would be chosen.
Only 6 years taught me a very hard truth. It's the truth that causes this year's anxiety to hit harder than it has ever hit:
People will work harder to hide fault than to fix brokenness.
It's in our nature to spend more time justifying our actions, pushing away common sense, and hiding from conflict. Dictators still kill thousands of their people. We know who does it, and still we do nothing. This world is a fallen mess. We don't face the light, we scatter from it like roaches after a side board is pulled up, revealing their nest..
I know that's dark. It's unlike how I've spoken for, well, ever. I've been praying to God for a re-energized purpose. Why are we in a wilderness, kicking up stones metaphorically and literally?
I realized we are all guilty. I most certainly am. The reason we scatter from the light, is because we know what our peers would do to us if we choose to stand in it. In their own guilt, they would destroy the person who dares to step within it's blinding brilliance and stay still. Sure, we willingly shine the light on something else, anything else. Shine the light on the evangelical church. That's the easiest target. Just avoid that light shining on ourselves.
I say that with more than a hint of sarcasm. God promises the light will not destroy us, but the darkness within us. God made no promises about the people around that light. But, someone needs to be the example. For the next few weeks I'll step into the light. There is a problem, and I'm going to use myself as an example. I grew up in the church, and I'm guilty of pain. I might invite others to share too.
It is my hope, that this will help people stop scattering, and start gathering. The truth is a mighty powerful disinfectant. There is a problem, and together, we can fix it.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
About a year ago, Lindsey Ellis did a two-part film documentary on 9/11. It delved into multiple examples of media getting it wrong. I watched it May of 2017, and was captivated by just how wrong we get the attack, or better put, just how disconnected we already are.
I watched those videos in May of this year. This is important, because only a week or two later I came across a Tony article that discussed the possible contenders for best Musical. Dear Evan Hansen and Come From Away were apparently neck in neck. With no context, I discovered the production team had put the Come From Away soundtrack on Youtube.
Pulling on my headphones, I let it play in the background while I did other things on the internet. Then I stopped. "Turn on the radio," the voice said. The singers began frantically explaining what they were doing. First day at the station. Getting coffee for the picket line. Five minutes until her smoke break.
"Holy crap!" I realized. "Are they going there?" It wasn't explicit. It wasn't the graphic depiction I'd become desensitized to, and had driven me further away from the moment. This was far away from the moment, a play that takes place in Newfoundland on September 11, drawing me in. I stopped everything and just listened. I cried multiple times. I hadn't cried about September 11th in years. I can't really remember know if I cried on that day. It was all so raw that I just kept going, but I cried while I listened to average people doing exceptional things.
Come From Away is the true story of the people of Gander, Newfoundland during the tragedy of September 11, 2001. Over the course of a week their tiny town doubled in size. No one was allowed back into American Airspace, and 38 planes had nowhere to land except Gander. Listening to just the soundtrack it felt real. Like a boulder being thrown in a pond. Most of us felt the after shocks of the event, even if we were not at Ground Zero. I felt most of the feelings expressed on stage. I knew most of the fears being told and sung to me. It captured the moment perfectly, because like those people, I was far away too.
Flash forward to two weeks ago. I was sitting in on a teacher's meeting when a phrase stuck with me. "We can talk about Chernobyl during 9/11, because these kids are not connected to the event." I won't lie, there was a sense of morbid truth when it was said. We allowed the silence to follow, like a brief memorial, and then everything moved on. It was an unspoken moment we all understood. I knew we were all playing that day silently in our mind.
Little did any of us know, a storm was coming.
Irma has given society a cultural turn. Just like she turned into Florida, we turned away from 9/11. MSNBC chose not to replay the Today Show footage from that day. I make a point of listening to the Glenn Beck program on 9/11, and for the first time I didn't want to listen to his recollections speaking over the audio from that day. Not because it was jarring, but because I had other focuses. Irma. Nature changed the dialogue, and just like that we moved on. Sixteen years for the ripples to die down. The shock still real at ground zero, but not as connected hundreds of miles away.
I think this is the first year we've collectively accepted that going back to 9/12 isn't going to save us today. September 11th forced us together on September 12th. Democrats and Republicans held hands and sang "God Bless America." We shared in collective sadness. Some of us, in this age of divisiveness, want that unity. I truly believe people turn back to that time, not because they want to relive the horror, but because they yearn for that brief dropping of arms that happened directly afterwards. Only, I think we collectively realize, as Irma washes away more than trees, that unity from that source is finally too far to reach.
Except what? Except 16 years after the fact Come From Away can bring me to tears. Except now we have a new horizon with new people who need support. I believe we are collectively, as a nation, choosing to turn towards our future, instead of recalling something that can never be again. There is hope in that story. We can unite now. We can put down our weapons. It is possible. Today we fight for peace. Today we divide out our anger. Today we look to help our neighbor on 9/12/17. Today, we see tomorrow.
1When God began to create the heavens and the earth-- 2 the earth was without shape or form, it was dark over the deep sea, and God’s wind swept over the waters-- 3 God said, “Let there be light.” And so light appeared. 4 God saw how good the light was. God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God named the light Day and the darkness Night.
There was evening and there was morning: the first day.
Gen 1:1-5 CEB
-Rev Melissa Fain-
It was one of my favorite class Star Trek episodes. The Enterprise goes to check up on a culture the Federation hasn't checked up on in a hundred years. When they get there they are surprised to see it has reverted to a 1920's Gangster planet, with crime lords and everything. Come to find out, a book left by the first mission, "Chigaco Mobs of the 20's," was influencing their choices
It was very on the nose. I understand that those kinds of cultural changes don't happen in a mere hundred years. There would also be more retained from their culture, as they attempted to copy someone else's culture. In reality, this was more about putting the crew in a situation the audience could understand, and the crew could not. That aside, it's a nice example of why we don't take Genesis word for word.
I remember, when I was working on the introduction to the bible, bible study, I had an "ah ha" moment. We were looking at the creation narrative all wrong. There were those who wanted to take it word for word. If the bible is the literal Word of God, then Genesis is the literal story of creation. This leads to songs about dinosaurs being around during the time of Noah, explorations for a literal Eden, and overlooking contradictions that happens as soon as the first chapter of Genesis.
Why would God talk to them in a language they couldn't yet speak? The chosen people of God didn't exist until Abraham. This means the people were sharing other creation narratives up to this point. Then, it would remain oral tradition until they were in exile. There, (based on linguistics) the priests would expand the story. If you are reading the creation narrative looking for something scientific, you will be left wanting. That's not why it exists.
It exists in the same way a parent would talk to a young child. What's the message in Genesis one? Order and creation is good. In some ways it's like saying, you exist because I love you. Sometimes it's as simple as that.