-Pastor Melissa Fain-
8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the workers and give them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and moving on finally to the first.’ 9 When those who were hired at five in the afternoon came, each one received a denarion. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more. But each of them also received a denarion. 11 When they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 ‘These who were hired last worked one hour, and they received the same pay as we did even though we had to work the whole day in the hot sun.’
13 “But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I did you no wrong. Didn’t I agree to pay you a denarion? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I want to give to this one who was hired last the same as I give to you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with what belongs to me? Or are you resentful because I’m generous?’ 16 So those who are last will be first. And those who are first will be last.”
- - -
Matthew 20:8-16 CEB
Your value is not in your salvation. Also, your worth does not go up once you've found salvation.
We are called to treat people like their value.
God has deemed everyone has value. Everyone is priceless.
The lost coin still had value even though it was lost.
The lost sheep still had value even though it was lost.
The prodigal son still had value while eating the pig's slop.
My younger self saw Matthew 20 all wrong.
I was baptized when I was eight. It was a personal choice, one that my father let me make when I felt ready to make make it. I had heard Matthew 20 preached 4-5 times before seminary, and every time the minister never had me hooked. The longer I was a Christian, the more I realized I was the grumbling workers. I was putting in a full day's work, for the same pay as the ones that came at the last hour.
Every minister I had heard had taken this pay being salvation. I don't think so.
Coming to work is salvation. The denarion is placing value on the people. All of us have value. Just because I was baptized when I was eight, grew up in the church, and eventually went to seminary and was ordained, doesn't make my value any higher than anyone else. Instead of grumbling, I should see what is lost.
There are so many in this world who cannot see their inherent value. Be it because of Christians that have overinflated their own value, or circumstances that have demoralized and brought the person low.
I'm not the same person who started this Christian journey. I've gone from a puffed up idiot, grumbling to God about fairness, to helping others see they deserve as much as anyone else, even those who have been lost most of their lives.
That changes the ending of Matthew 20. We choose whether it's good or bad to be last.
If we're in it for ourselves, the ending is punishment by being put in our place at the end of the line.
If we're in it for the whole, everyone, the ending is reward. We have the opportunity to see people discover they have worth. It's a celebration of God's generosity. "Wow, God! Those people found themselves, and you gave them their own finder's fee! I'm glad I got to see that."
That's where our hearts and minds need to be. Jesus often didn't make the "new way" a path that had never been walked, but a new perspective on the path we walk every day.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
Eight years ago, I tried to wrap my head around church abuse. Not only had I been witness to it on multiple occasions, people were beginning to come to me with stories. They were stories different from my own, but contained the same vulgar grains. All but one attempted to cover over or cover up the indiscretion. All were attempting to gain or keep power. I remember pulling out Matthew 18:15-20, and seeing it for the first time for the victim.
15 “If your brother or sister sins against you, go and correct them when you are alone together. If they listen to you, then you’ve won over your brother or sister. 16 But if they won’t listen, take with you one or two others so that every word may be established by the mouth of two or three witnesses. 17 But if they still won’t pay attention, report it to the church. If they won’t pay attention even to the church, treat them as you would a Gentile and tax collector. 18 I assure you that whatever you fasten on earth will be fastened in heaven. And whatever you loosen on earth will be loosened in heaven. 19 Again I assure you that if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, then my Father who is in heaven will do it for you. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I’m there with them.”
Matthew 18:15-20 CEB
I needed the church to engage the guilty in this very way. Talk to them privately. If that didn't work, have two or three talk with them. If that didn't work, make it a whole church matter. I felt like church abuse, in all it's forms involved augmenting, hiding, and destroying. God's light needed to get in there and exact some good change.
Well, let's just say any scripture can be used in multiple ways. When it comes to broken churches, they break scripture.
In a broken church, abusers will use this scripture to attack the abused.
When a tool is turned into a weapon
There are a few ways broken churches break this scripture:
If your brother or sister sins against you...
If you're a minister, and planning on preaching this scripture on Sunday, realize the power it wields.
When weaponized, it can destroy your church from the foundation up. It won't be an obvious destruction. It will crack your foundation and seep into your walls like black mold. The only people who will see what you've done are the ones you've hurt.
If used as Christ intended, to bring us to wholeness. It's meant for church disputes, not abuse.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
"Love should be shown without pretending."
Romans 12:1a CEB
There have been two times where I've thought the Bible basically preaches itself. In both cases they've been Paul writing about love.
The first time was my very first sermon on Youth Sunday my senior year of high school. The scripture was 1 Cor 13- the "Love Chapter." I boldly stood at the pulpit and said, "You should love, that's it! It's that simple.!" I remember how on fire I was sharing this simple message. I remember how graceful the congregants were in accepting it. I've since preached multiple sermons on 1 Cor 13. (You can find at least three on this site.) My words have been trained and honed. I do more than just throw it out there. I give reasons. Buuuuut... I still can just sit in 1 Cor 13 and feel the message stands: Just love. That's it. It really is that simple.
Today marks the second time Paul's words just gets me. In Romans none-the-less! Just a few weeks ago I explained how I started my journey reading Biblical letters (about the same time I gave my first sermon) in Romans. Sure it's the first letter, but it's the most condensed book. Every word counts. It's a tapestry of theological knowledge that needs to be slowly explored to get a full and honest picture. It's a beautifully written letter.
"Let love be genuine." That's how it reads in the NRSV translation. If your not careful you'll miss the power behind that small sentence. It wasn't the NRSV that stopped me. It was the CEB:
Love should be shown without pretending.
Well, if that doesn't speak to my soul right now. We are a tense, pressurized people right now. Pressure can be a good thing, but most have never had to live with it. To suddenly feel it we've gone into the flight or fight mode. I've heard it on both sides:
"I'm shutting down. Not going to engage. I've just got to get away." If this is you, you are reacting to all this with flight. It's instinctual to run away from the problem. Only the problem remains. It's not some saber-tooth tiger that found some other tasty snack. What you've left behind are the others, and they are fighting.
I'm not talking good fighters. I'm talking people who are feeling the same tension and pressure you're feeling and they are barking to look scarier than they are. This is instinctual too. Only the problem isn't something we can scare away with big angry words.
Not easy empty love. Not love that is shown with cards and flowers. That kind of love is like balloons in a pressure chamber in this environment. They simple pop. We need something that can withstand the growing tensions.
Love should be shown without pretending.
Oof! Showing love, sure, but without pretending?
Hot take: We pretend love. All. The. Time. Wanna hear something crazy? It's a form of flight. It's a safe backdoor to quietly sneak out and not have to engage. You get to play nice, without really doing anything.
The whole book of Romans is love without pretending. It's Paul's swan song, the last writing before he was executed for being what God called him to be. It's a love built on the grace of God. A love that seeks out in order to relieve the tension and pressure building up in this world. It's a love that faces the anger and fear, no matter the consequence.
The answer is easy, love. The practice of it is anything but easy. Individually, none of us are called to save the world. All of us have lives. All of us have things we need to save. Including me. That's what makes it so very difficult. If you want to know how we sell the world, this is how. Fake love. Love that doesn't change anything. Love that gives us the easy out.
For me the words are comforting. People will attack you for showing love without pretending. You need to know it is right even when others attack or run away. I can sit in those words. For me it is that simple. Love.
Over the past five months I have seen some amazing articles and misinformed attempts on understanding Covid-19. We are at the restlessness stage of this pandemic, and we just want to get back to normal. I've heard this in relationship to school, church, and general life. In the past month, I've probably heard it 8-10 times.
The purpose of this writing is to pull reliable links, and bring them together in a way to understand how dangerous our restlessness truly is. By the end of this writing, I hope to inform you, and give you an easy resource to share with others.
Pathogens need a carrier
Pathogens are a fancy word for diseases. Some diseases are fungal, some are bacterial, and others are viral.
It's important to know, most pathogens need something to carry it to a host. For example:
Diseases transmitted through poop or food: Cholera, typhoid, Hepatitis A and E, and tapeworms, Ebola and salmonella
Diseases spread through sexual contact: gonorrhea, HPV, chlamydia, HIV
Diseases spread through air: measles, TB, flu, cold, Covid-19
When we think "airborne" we imagine the little virus or bacteria coming out of our mouth, all by itself, flying across the room into someone else's unsuspecting lungs. Viruses and bacteria can't do that. They are dangerously simplistic in their design. Because they are simplistic, their transmission (or how they spread) happens by hitching a ride on something. When it comes to airborne transmission, it happens through our snot or saliva. Our breath is very wet, and we breath out that saliva with every breath we take.
With the flu or cold, most of the danger is in snot. We touch our runny nose, and then touch objects. The snot carries the virus to an object where it waits for someone to touch it, and later bring the unwashed hand to their mouth.
With Covid-19 the danger is in the breath.
Check out this link for more information on carriers:
How a mask helps to stop the spread
There's a great meme going around I want to share with you:
Unless you've lived under a rock, or been in a coma, you've probably seen this meme.
I saw a video the other day that suggested this meme is garbage because the virus is smaller than the holes in a face mask. Pee is liquid, the virus is a virus.
Let me break it down:
Like I mentioned above, the virus needs a carrier.
For Covid-19, that carrier is our breath.
Imagine we were talking people rather than viruses. Of course a lone person can't get very far on their feet. An average person can maybe get 5 miles in a day. You give them a bike and now they can get 15 miles. You give them a car and now they can get hundreds of miles. You give them a plane and now they can get thousands. The bike, car, and plane carry the human further.
Now, let's say you want to keep that human from getting out of their city. You build a 20 foot wall around that city. They can still get in their car and drive, but if they try to drive out of the city, they would run into that wall, and it would stop them.
Is it possible for that person to get out of the car, and try to climb around or through the wall? Sure, but you've taken away what is carrying them, and they won't get very far past that wall.
This is how it is for Covid-19 and masks. The virus is like the human, the breath droplet is like the car, and the wall is like the mask. The mask is not trying to stop the virus, only the vehicle the virus uses to infect others. This is also why it's still important to social distance while wearing a mask. Wearing a mask means the virus can only travel a foot, vs the 6-10 feet without a mask.
Check out this link for more information on how masks stop the carrier of Covid-19:
Why 10 minutes breathing someone's air is enough
A virus needs multiple copies of itself to infect a person.
Think of it this way:
The bigger the army, the easier it is to overtake the stronghold. If you got one person with a gun (even a big gun) it's pretty easy for the stronghold to take out that person and stay safe. If you instead have thousands attacking the stronghold, the stronghold find's itself spreading their resources thin to protect itself.
It's also like ants. An ant bites you, you can smack that ant, and you're done. On the other hand, you step on an ant pile, it's going to be extremely difficult to kill all those ants quickly. They can overtake you, and you might have to take drastic measures to get rid of them.
This is like viruses.
Breathing releases 33 viral particles per minute. You might walk next to someone with Covid-19 for a minute. Breathing in their direct air for that short amount of time is not enough to get infected. That's like the lone human attacking the stronghold.
Talking releases 200 viral particles per minute. One minute talking to an infected person would not be enough of a load to infect you.
You need to take in about 1000 virus particles to become infected. That means, you chat with an infected person for 5 minutes, you've breathed in enough of their infected air to catch Covid-19.
Here's where things become dicey. Someone who is infected coughs. If they didn't contain that cough, they've released enough of a viral load that you need 0 minutes breathing it in. One breath is enough. Also, if you are in an enclosed room with someone infected, all it takes is 50 minutes anywhere in that room to breath in enough virus to catch it.
Check out these links for more information on viral loads:
Air Conditioning: The biggest spreader
Most transmissions are happening in places with central heating and air. To understand why this is happening, we must first understand how air conditioning units work.
Air conditioners are designed to push air down to the people. Velocity, or the speed, the air is going helps quickly cool down a room. It lowers the cost of an air conditioning system, because faster air means fewer vents are required to cool a room.
There are those who believe air conditioning units don't play a role in the spread of Covid-19 because the breathed and spoken droplets are too heavy to be sucked into the unit, and spread back out. For the most part this is true. It's this truth that undermines the real danger of air conditioning and the spread of Covid-19.
(I've gotta go off track for just a moment, but I'll come back around, I promise.)
One of the ways major theme parks keeps guests comfortable is by misting them. These literal water droplets can only go so far on their own. To spread them further parks will put big fans behind the spray. This gives them the most bang for the buck.
We can see these droplets and can avoid them if we wish to.
Back in April we learned something about air conditioning units and Covid-19. In a restaurant in China, someone had unknowingly been infected with the virus. Not only did the person spread the virus to those at their table, they spread it to two other tables in a straight line across the room. These two other tables were more than 6 feet away. How did that happen?
The air conditioning unit picked up the breath and pushed it across the room. Air conditioning vents are like the fans behind the misters as theme parks, only we can't see our breath. It obliterates the 6 ft rule.
Check out these links for more information on air conditioning and viral spread:
What to do with this information
Share. I put this together to be an easy resource to share with congregations and groups. Misinformation is our biggest enemy right now.
Maybe we're all going to get it eventually, but we don't need to all get it at once. Getting it at once puts a stress on our healthcare industry, and it forces them to choose who lives and who dies. Any death is tragic, but when that death could have been prevented by simple steps, it's overly tragic.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
I feel like there are times a piece of me shines. That piece, by itself, looks like something. It's easy to take the piece out of context, because no one realizes the whole. Also, no one realizes the tools I've collected to bring me to this point in our shared history.
What happens when all those pieces come together? Well, let me lay them out for you:
1. I healed from being a child of brokenness.
I don't talk about my past as much as I want to or used to. I've remained guarded for multiple reasons. Some of those will come out in due time. One of those are important now.
I've learned, we are not defined by our brokenness, but what we do once we've been broken. Most of our villains were created from their brokenness. Instead of seeking restoration and stopping the cycle of abuse, they pushed into their brokenness turning them into abusers. Many of these abusers define themselves by their brokenness, unable to see how their brokenness has begun to break others.
Seeing this encouraged me to find healing to end the cycle of abuse. It helped me see self-care as a way to care for others. My personal healing took away the need for others to potentially go through the same process in their own lives. Self-care is a cycle breaker. In this way, caring for one's self is caring for others.
Brokenness broke me, but it ultimately didn't define me. My path to healing defined me, and it gives me a compassionate view of the world and those around me.
2. I was witness to church brokenness.
I truly feel I was called to be witness to brokenness in the church and the aftermath of its destruction. From 1999 to 2012, it felt like these churches were handpicked for their personal moments of brokenness. (All except Brookhaven, where I still feel it was a bad fit, and I was always called to First Atlanta, but somehow God's plan was subverted until a few years later.) I realize now I was never called to fix anything in these years, but to simply take note.
I now personally know and been witness to:
Ministers breaking a church.
Congregants breaking a minister.
Ministers breaking ministers.
Congregants breaking congregants.
I know the problem is prolific. There are systems that have been built to hide or protect abuse and neglect. There are statements that exist to deny accountability. "Not at my church," being one of them. The Body of Christ is ultimately one church, so if it's happening anywhere, it's happening in your Church.
Because I've witnessed and ultimately felt the brutal sting of Church brokenness, I have eyes trained to see the problem. My compassionate view will not let me take just any church job to fix the problem.
3. Paulding County is my home.
I'm about to blow some teacher's minds here.
I do not like substituting. I'm going on my 5th year in the schools, but I know I'm much more relatable to the students in a youth group setting than I am in a substitute setting.
That being said, I know the implicit power I wield being both a parent, and an employee. I've seen substitutes throw this power around in defense of their specific child. It's a power greater than a certified teacher who is also a parent.
I'm also the spouse of an educator within the county. I've been the champion for the front line, aka the teachers, for years now. If you are not taking care of the teachers, than you are not taking care of my kids, and then I get loud.
I don't like subbing, but I love the people in the system. They know me, and I know them. I've used my power carefully, speaking up for subs in an open letter written in 2018. When I talked with someone from the AP about schools reopening, it was to be the teacher's champion. I only spoke as a parent sending her children back to school, but my view as a parent has a very supportive view of our educators. Most parents are having trouble seeing the humanity in their child's educator. I'm a minister. I see the human first.
Without realizing it, I had placed myself on the front lines of the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. More than that,it was a place I'd already been, for years.
4. Creativity is One of my Talents.
My brain is a hot mess! Seriously.
There are days when I know the information, understand it, but can't say it. I know it's there. I know the definition, but not the word attached to it.
Then there are other days where I can make the connections others are not. (Very helpful when it comes to Biblical interpretation btw.) Most see this in my crafts. I make polymer clay earrings by looking at a picture and recreating it. I make Halloween costumes the same way. My son wanted to be Finn from Adventure Time? Done!
People see a project I do and they don't understand it's a skill set I've picked up from having little to nothing to work with. Stuck in a room with a piece of cardboard, scissors and string? Fine! Turn the cardboard into a loom, and weave. Need a perfect circle for a class but you don't have a protractor? Tie a piece of twine loosely on a one pencil while you tie it tightly on another. Automatic circle maker! Don't have glue? Go to the kitchen and start mixing ingredients until you have something that sticks. (In my case water and flour.)
My brain allows me to put the pieces together in ways many don't consider. My brain allows me to pick up skills as needed. I learned middle school math two years ago. Actually sat down and learned it. Why? Because it was needed. I picked up Adobe Photoshop and Premier on my own and just started using it. Why? Because a photo lab was hiring a Photo Restorationist, and I needed a job.
My brain is both my super power and my kryptonite. I know there are those who see my struggles and write me off. It's because I've had to rewire my thought process, that I can see connections others overlook. Creativity is a gift we undernourish in others. It has made me an endangered species.
I know when someone wants you out, you can't win.
There is something crucial about complete and total failure. Almost all of us have no idea what rock bottom feels like. (In many ways I still don't.) If you haven't felt rock bottom, that is amazing. It's not a fun place to be. You've got nothing, no one, and no where.
I lived it in ministry. I've felt complete and total crushing defeat.
It gave me context.
Now I know there are situations where you are destined to fail. In moments like that, one is defined by what they do leading up to that failure. It is always better to do the right thing, because even in personal destruction, the seed of justice can be planted for the future to reap their rewards.
I also learned when others are out to destroy you there are aspects of your life they have no power over. You sell your integrity. You forfeit your freewill. These are things that can only be handed over if you choose to hand them over. Yes, there will always be consequences for not giving in, but giving into those consequences will always be far more destructive in the long run if you submit.
The biggest gift of rock bottom is I know it. I've felt it. I'm not as scared of it as I was before I felt it's pain. In the biggest picture there is, that's what truly makes me the most dangerous.
All the pieces together means I've been put in the right place at the right time.
I'm an online minister. I have been for 8 years now. That really came in handy 5 months ago when all ministers had to be online.
I live in Paulding County, Georgia (Yes, that Paulding County) and I have for, once again, eight years now. Part of that eight years was used to research the county to prepare for a church plant. I understand this county better than many of her residents. There are two counties living here. Old blood. Cobb flight. Two very different groups of people, who act rather oblivious of one another. I feel it in my gut. There's a reason I'm here.
I know how to build, self-motivate, create and explore.
If the right side gets a hold of me.
We could change the world.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
(Edited for clarification 7/28/20)
A friend mentioned that he wanted to go back to the Tiger King portion of the pandemic. That was fun, wasn't it? Watching insanity that somehow was more insane than real life. No? Well that portion has come and gone. We are in the Hamilton portion of the pandemic.
I'm behind the curve on some things. I just finished watching Tiger King with my husband, (Did you know Carol Baskin legally gained ownership of GW Zoo back in June? Also, they've reopened her late husband's missing person case. Finally, she covered a 50 Cent song? We've might have moved on, but that story's still going.)
Forget that real lives continue over there, have you seen King George in Hamilton? Best part, amirite? Wow, such a funny moment. Is it wrong that King George is my favorite part?
Is it wrong that he's my favorite part? I was thinking it, but my husband verbally asked it.
I reflected on that question. Yeah I do, and I think that's the point. He's the abusive husband. Making him so likable should lead the viewer to introspection. We should be asking, "How are we like King George, and how can we act differently?" In what ways do each of us wield power and abuse it?
I love King George, but probably not for the same reason you do. You probably love him because he gave you a break. Hamilton is packed! You can watch it three times and still not see everything. George comes in with something completely different, and it feels refreshing. He's stealing the show. Literally, he's taking the story away from the actors. I love King George because I'm unsettled by him. I know he's stealing. I know he's abusing, and I know the audience is publicly loving him for it. It forces me to see something that's happening in real life, and consider how I can change it.
Okay. If you thought the subject of this piece was Jonathan Groff's performance, you are wrong. We're about to take a hard left into the real subject of the post.
The Church and Covid-19
I sat at my computer for about an hour trying to write out how to engage this subject. I realized the best place to start is scripture:
1Then the Spirit led Jesus up into the wilderness so that the devil might tempt him. 2 After Jesus had fasted for forty days and forty nights, he was starving. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “Since you are God’s Son, command these stones to become bread.”
4 Jesus replied, “It’s written, People won’t live only by bread, but by every word spoken by God.”
5 After that the devil brought him into the holy city and stood him at the highest point of the temple. He said to him, 6 “Since you are God’s Son, throw yourself down; for it is written, I will command my angels concerning you, and they will take you up in their hands so that you won’t hit your foot on a stone.”
7 Jesus replied, “Again it’s written, Don’t test the Lord your God.”
8 Then the devil brought him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 He said, “I’ll give you all these if you bow down and worship me.”
10 Jesus responded, “Go away, Satan, because it’s written,You will worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” 11 The devil left him, and angels came and took care of him.
Matthew 4:1-11 CEB
I think it was during the Tiger King portion of the pandemic that a minister told his congregants they were "Covered in the Blood," and to meet at church because God would protect them. (Not a thought that has disappeared in our Hamilton portion of the pandemic.)
Since then, multiple churches have reopened. Many with singing. Many churches have also seen outbreaks of Covid-19 in their sanctuary.
God will save them, right? Why would God kill people going to worship God?
"Don't test the Lord your God."
There's another factor at play here that never went away. #ChurchToo. While the #MeToo movement is sexual abuse, #ChurchToo has taken on all abuse within the sanctuary doors. It is a movement you learn about after you join it. I can remember my induction. I couldn't wrap my head around what had happened, when a minister offered to take me out to eat. Slowly and lovingly she told a story that shared similarities with my own. Since then I've heard the similar stories countless times. People who don't understand why they've been cancelled or ghosted by the church. When the entire church was kicked out, I had hoped we would feel that pain and want to fix the system for those who haven't been back for years. Instead, we continued to be blind.
I believe that God has been unsettling us for years. Preparing us to be a church in exile, and church without doors. Most have taken that discomfort and used justification to settle that Cognitive Dissonance. Some have just lived with the dissonance stating, "Something doesn't feel right." I've heard that very phrase at least half a dozen times just months before everything was shut down.
Now we're outside, and we lack the creative force to do anything but want back in. But we just gotta get back to church, amirite? Is it wrong that we just wanna hug our neighbor, and sing our songs?
Yes. Right now, yes. It's very wrong. It's wrong because we didn't learn anything. It's wrong because it's dangerous. Want me to say it another way? If a congregant dies because it was your decision to reopen the church, and they caught Covid-19 in worship, it's their blood on your hands. You'll be covered in the blood. Covered all over. In fact, many of us are already covered, and don't even know it. They yell there wounds from the wilderness, but no one with power hears.
The Church and King George
On July 26th I saw a Priest do a parody of "You'll be back."
I just want you to keep everything I wrote about the above King George and the church in mind as you watch the Priest parodying him below.
Sometimes parody can divorce itself from the source material, only related in the way the material is presented, not in the message the source material presents. This is often the case for pop songs. This is because we're not listening to the words beyond the chorus. Weird Al is the master of this, and almost all of us can name one of his parodies off the top of our head. When we're talking about songs that tell specific stories, like musical theater does, it opens up a whole new can of worms. Parody, in those cases, cannot be divorced from the source material. In fact, the source informs the viewer of the parody.
In this case, while there are a growing number laughing, and longing for the Priest's promise to be true, I'm unsettled.
Before I get hate for not getting it, I get it. We want what we can't have. We want to sing. We want to hug. We want to worship in our mildew smelling sanctuaries. Believe me, I've heard enough laments. I've lament myself. There is nothing for my children. I want to fix that, but not in a church right now.
When paired with this specific song, though, it turns the church into the abusive ex. In a system that prides itself in patriarchy and years of church abuse, that message didn't sit well with me. Guess what? I appreciate it. I love it, because it unsettles me. I want more things that unsettle me, because it forces me to contemplate and consider. The joy others are taking in the song is like buying into Hananiah's promise in Jeremiah 28. That unsettles me more than the song itself does. The reason the broken have been cancelled and ghosted is because it's so easy to devour the lie and leave the truth to rot. The lie is sweet. It's like candy. The truth is rough, and never digests well.
Oh really? We'll be back? What if we're not? What if this is the beginning of a church revolution? This is a moment to rethink worship! This is a moment for those broken by the institution of church to speak up! That's what I'd love the comment section for this meditation to do. Speak up! I've heard you! Now you tell them. Why have you not been back in the church? Tell your story. Don't let "King George" steal the story. Take it back. It belongs to you. Just don't be surprised if their voice stays silent. They've been hurt and it's unfair to ask the abused to fix the abuser. What I ask, more than anything, is let the Priest's video unsettle you some. They may not say anything today, but make room for their voice. This is their moment.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
When I was about 10 years old, my dad took my sister and I to a Renfest. It wasn't a big one. It wasn't the production value of the Atlanta Renfest.
We did want to dress up. Dad took XXL shirts, and died them a dirty brown. He also bought rope from the local hardware store. The shirt fit like a dress and with the rope, it made us look like peasants. I can't tell you how much I loved that outfit. I'd look at those girls in the fancy dresses and I'd be proud. My dad made my costume!
Anyway, at one of these Renfests there was a competition for the kids. Who stole the king's cake? There were a set of clues to find the culprit. My sister and I scoured the land, asking the blacksmith, the nobles, and even random people. Meanwhile, the Jester taunted us. He'd come by and tell us we couldn't find the person who stole the cake. He did that to all the kids.
Wouldn't you know it, the culprit was the Jester the whole time? As I watched another kid taking the Jester in, I wanted in. All the kids wanted in. We all followed the real winner trying to get something for not getting it. At the end of the day, the kid got the cake, and we all got a piece.
I was jealous. I wanted to win. I didn't win. Even though I got a piece of the winnings, I wanted the whole thing. I'm sure many of you can relate. My grace today is because of my lack of it as a child.
Maybe today it's not a cake. Maybe it's a job. Maybe it's a skill set. Perhaps it's simply someone being praised for something you are doing too. It's easy to get bitter. You're not really mad at the person, but at the situation in general. Sound familiar? It's because I've been there. Today I can check myself when I feel those frustrations rising. There are tools I use to help me.
Tools to destroy bitterness
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
I watched the first episode of "The Chosen." Before I begin you should know this is full of spoilers for the first episode. It's based on the Bible, so perhaps spoiling anything seems silly. I have only seen the first episode, so everything I say will be based on that episode.
Quick review: On face value this series appears rather innocent. There are enough theologically aware moments that made me happy, while other moments that made me pause. Some of those moments are related to issues outside the episode.
Should we hold ourselves accountable?
My knee jerk response was to let it alone. There are bigger fish to fry. I mean, have you seen Noah the Musical?! Woof! If I wanted to pick something apart, I should pick that to pieces. Only, picking apart something gives it credibility. In this world no news is actually bad news. We live in a very loud world. If no one is talking about you, good or bad, then you are irrelevant. Wanna destroy someone? Ignore them. Ignorance is like water on rock. It seems so innocuous until you realize it has the power to destroy mountains.
What this all boils down to was accountability. I saw enough issues with the series to give me pause. I know Christianity has a dwindling stage to present their case. Most figure this means we need to ignore the flaws and let whatever gets the attention get the limelight. That has not helped us. If anything it has furthered divide within our faith tradition, as we've started ignoring one another.
This is an act of love. Speaking to issues within an institution is to do so believing that institution can be better and do better. Love is kind, but kindness and nice are not the same thing. As Red Riding Hood would sing in "Into the Woods": "Nice doesn't always mean good." We've been to the land of nice. It's time to be good.
First: What am I praising?
I need to start by saying there are things worth watching. I appreciate Nicodemus calling God "Adonai." This respects the Hebrew tradition of replacing the written place holder YHWH with Adonai, which means "Lord."
I also believe the narrative style, despite what I'm going to write, was a good move. The Bible is like a puzzle with big pieces missing. We don't know certain things. We don't know Jesus' inflection as he talked to people. We don't know time and sometimes place to the stories. There are times Biblical narrative conflicts with other Biblical narrative. (That exists more than you might want to realize.) I like to see how others presume the missing pieces. Generally speaking, their presumptions were innocent. The character of Matthew had a really good introduction with his good shoes. A good storytelling arc would lead him to Jesus washing his feet.
Like many others, I also appreciated the Middle Eastern cast.
That's all for good, but realize those are two pretty big pieces. I don't want to keep you from watching it. Just take everything below to heart as you watch.
This is a sermon- the problem with relatability.
There is a move among modern ministers to fill in the Biblical gaps with current culture. There are so many who love this. They call it "relatable." "It was like he was talking to me."
Many times this modern accessibility is innocent. They play like Jesus is Horatio dropping that one liner while also dropping down his sunglasses. It's so outlandish the audience would easily see it doesn't fit, but it's fun.
Other times it hits against other verses that show it to be false, or it plays in ways that are racist or sexist. For example, I watched a minister play the Pharisee's like a bunch of jelly sorority girls at a "party". There are plenty of sermons where I'm in line until they start painting between the established pieces I don't agree with their assumed lines.
You might want to call me a hypocrite here. Sure. We all do it. The moment you read the scripture you are assuming almost everything. I try to paint with context. If I relate something to modern times I try to explain it from distance.
The Chosen's gap filling, like I said above, is mostly innocent. Something I didn't like, but wasn't terribly upset with, was the nicknames. It was totally what a modern preacher would do. Nicodemus' wife calls him "Nico." Lilith get's the same treatment with the bartender calling her "Lil." Yeah, it's relatable. It rubbed me the wrong way, but it's innocent.
What wasn't innocent was something many film companies are doing today- revisionist history. In this case, it was revisionist history in the form of male care for the female. There was a reason it was so incredibly scandalous Jesus was giving females voice. When you have the random bar keep caring for the demon possessed woman, and the wife being given agency to her Priestly husband, you take away the scandal. Half the world was born property through their gender. That tension is completely lost. Do I want to see Lilith being treated like a dog? No, but seeing it would give Jesus more realistic power when he treats her like a human. (Also, this doesn't deserve it's own paragraph, but calling Mary "Lilith" was a bit on the nose.)
The Chosen shows the major problem with modern sermons. Yes it's relatable, but is that good?
I'm curious what they'll do with Stephen.
Honestly, I'm interested in their theological journey for many Biblical characters. I want to know how they treat Judas. Our theological interpretations of sin and sinners are rooted in how we build the missing pieces of Judas.
I can't speak to Judas in this meditation because he doesn't show in the first episode. Who I can speak to are Simon and Stephen. Two fishermen, fishing on Sabbath and catching nothing. Simon is our future Peter, or Rocky- because he's the rock on which the church will be built. (With all these nicknames, I really want Jesus to call Peter, Rocky, which would be a fitting English translation, but I doubt that will happen.) In this first episode, Stephen is the centered of the two, who doesn't want his brother to take unnecessary risks.
Now, this is the same Stephen who would eventually be bold enough to call out a city of people and get himself stoned in the process as a future Paul watches.
They are going to have to take Stephen on that journey. He's the character to watch.
American or British
This will be impossible to ignore once you hear it. Every actor has their own dialect, and it's impossible for a few of them not to stick out like a sore thumb. Especially, the American accents are very obvious next to the high British accents.
The Miracle Problem
There is a growing group who don't believe in Jesus' miracles. All of them could be explained away by science or just didn't happen.
There are a group of people who believe everything happened in the Bible exactly as it was written, miracles and all.
I'm somewhere in the middle. When we are introduced to Mary she is going by the name Lilith, and is literally possessed by demons. In my mind, this takes away from the potential discussion about mental health and wellness. This was a woman who was mentally unwell, and the people during the time didn't know how to talk about mental illness. What is more powerful: Jesus removing demons, or Jesus healing mental illness. I feel the later would give us space to talk about how far science has come with understanding brain chemicals- and God moments in the hearts and minds of scientists and we understand brain chemistry better. Also, we can then talk about God's love for the depressed, and manic. God wants them to find wholeness in their fragmented world. I just think an opportunity was lost with making Mary have literal demons.
The real problem: Behind the scenes.
Everything else is small potatoes up to this point. I'm going to have to bullet point the rest.
About three months ago, when I first watched the first episode, there was a promo that has since been taken down. (For good reason.) There were things in this promo that deserves our undivided attention, because they haven't magically gone away because the promo is gone.
Final Thoughts: It's relatively harmless
It's not amazing. I think Godspell took bigger risks with Jesus than this is doing. Speaking of which, I think white directors and producers turn to a Middle Eastern look because they are afraid of seeing God in other areas. God is in all of us, so we can have a black God, or a female God. This series is not written to be on point Biblically, so I think putting it in 30 CE was to play it safe.
And that's what this is, safe. Not going to destroy your faith. Not going to bring anyone to faith. Just safe for those who already have faith. Enjoy watching. Don't feel guilty about it. Do question why they are not being completely transparent. Always question transparency.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
Let's be clear, we are not living in the end times. The end times are code for "I don't want to have responsibility for what is happening in this world, so I'm going to say it's all going to end soon anyway."
Let's also be clear- we all have our own personal end times. We are all headed for our own personal end to this world. I know, that statement will be enough to cause many of you to click the X and do something else. If that's the case, I hope you do so to process and come back. I do not share darkness without highlighting the hope within it. It's not my M.O..
We are not in this world to glorify a past we cannot return to.
We are not in this world to hasten it's end.
We are in this world to live. We are in this world to bring God's Kingdom to earth.
There I go again. Whoever I didn't scare away with my previous comment, will see I'm talking about God and bringing Kingdoms and wot-not, and I've scared them away too.
That's the rub that I hate. I hate to talk to Christians we can't say anything that hasn't already been said for 2000 years. I hate that the vocab of Christianity has so much vitriol around it I can't say those things either. I hate that evangelism has turned into which group of people who already call themselves Christian are you trying to reach?
It's time for a hot take.
Jesus told his Disciples this:
9 “As the Father loved me, I too have loved you. Remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy will be in you and your joy will be complete. 12 This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you.
We want to equate easy for right, and I think this Bible verse is a huge reason.
I remember this minister (who will remain nameless, but I'm sure he's not alone) wrote a book regarding his journey to beginning his church. His journey was rather uneventful. Some friends stepped up and helped. There were some superficial miss-steps. The comments on Amazon said what I was thinking: How is this helpful? This isn't the journey for average person? His path was easy, but was it right?
Those on the inside of this church talk about how they love it. Those on the outside talk about it like a black hole. It sucks all the resources, and potential out of the local area and away from other needed ministries.
It's difficult to talk about this church in honest tones. They are too masculine. They are too focused on power. There message is too easy. It's a difficult discussion, but is it wrong?
We are at a crossroads...
In the next 10-12 months the televangelist will be replaced by the intervangelist. (Internet Evangelist) The ones who don't want to talk faith, and are turned off by the mere mention of anything even remotely faith related, are handing the responsibility over to the wrong people. The church has taken the easy path and preaches to itself. It reaches in instead of out. It's message is to people who already believe it, and with no one telling them otherwise, there's no push back on what they are being told. They think the ease at which they've existed means they are right. When that is not at all what Christ's yoke is about.
Christ's yoke is about the action within love. Hard work is easy when we love what we do. When we act within Godly love, we become the faith that can take down mountains. Taking down mountains is hard work, but it's easy because we are acting in love.
For example, everything I've done for Fig Tree has felt easy. It's been a long eight years, with tiny baby steps. If I talked through everything I've had to do so far, it would look like heavy work with little payout. That would be true, if not for Christ's love pushing me forward making the heavy lifting appear easy.
We are at a crossroads. There is an incredible potential to do something radically different. Who we give the internet mic to will set the tone for our permanent death or ultimate rebirth.
We are only a few reboots away from losing all creativity. Do you really want to reboot the Church online? That's the internet version of colonialism. People who look for faith online are doing it to get away from the brick and mortar church. Copy/Paste church will simply add to the noise that is already deafening, and make it harder to hear the Word. You won't be evangelizing, you'll simply be meeting the need of those already "inside" the building.
It is hard, back breaking work ahead of us. If it's genuine, and if it sees how God is already present in this digital landscape- then it will also be right.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
I stood on the beach watching wave after wave roll in. They looked dangerous from a distance, the white foam a sign of the moon's gravitational force on the water.
I stood on this same beach years before standing at the edge, reminded of Job. A scripture where God reminds Job it is God that commands the seas. It is God who tells the ocean they may come only so far and no further. The ocean was considered the primordial chaos, the place where the un-created live. I needed to make that comparison years ago. My life was chaos. I was displaced, unorganized, and broken. To see there are limits to that insanity was not only helpful, but needed.
Two years ago the chaos was set loose on that same beach. it tore apart homes and obliterated businesses. Places that had stood the test of time were left vacant and bulldozed. Sometimes chaos breaks the line. Sometimes what is stable and normal is turned upside down and destroyed. That happens too. There are limits to insanity until there is not.
So two nights ago I stood on that beach not watching the shore. Not looking behind at what was rebuilt, but looking ahead at the waves. Those scary waves. I considered how they would feel crashing on me. Pushing me around. I knew, out in that water, in that chaos, they held power. Yet, I watched those scary waves from the distance come in. Time and time again they couldn't hold their strength. They would roll my way, but fizzle out before reaching the shore. Their powerful wave turned into soft laps at my feet. I needed that image. There are people puffing themselves up in the distance. From the chaos they have power. In the un-created they hold dominion.
I realized on that shore, there are places God just let's go. Lets chaos be chaos. They look scary from the distance, but they don't have the power to break beyond it.
It was important for me to see. Our big bad angry monsters are sometimes all bark and no bite. They know they don't have the power to reach you, but if they look big and bad enough, maybe you'll back down before they arrive. Everything has a space, and no one can inhabit all spaces. There is a safe space.