-Rev Melissa Fain-
"Good things comes to those who wait."
We always know how much patience we truly have when that patience is tested to our breaking point. My kids, for example, know how to hot wire my system to jump past patience and right to wrath! It's really quiet backwards. Those who have had their patience tried time and time again often don't believe they have any. Meanwhile, the ones who have never needed patience in life often think they're patient people.
Patience is a virtue, and wrath is it's deadly sin. How we understand these two can help us know when we are truly acting in God's patience, and when we are simply being a door mat.
Wrath is one of those "deadly sins" we often have a hard time seeing as good, but maybe it's time we understand the virtue of anger. Angry people are typically optimistic. That one got me, but I understand. When we see the best in society and/or for ourselves, we respond negatively when it doesn't turn out that way. Also, anger is a motivator, and in healthy relationships can strengthen bonds. Righteous indignation is healthy wrath. It jumps in when deadly patience rears it's ugly head, but more on that later.
Patience when tied to deadly wrath.
Word of advice: Be skeptical of the minister who is impatient. Healthy patience comes from active hope. Our active hope means healthy patience is active too. We are not merely waiting for the world to change for us. We are preparing as we wait for the rising tide. We are building, working; anticipating. As I wrote a few years back, hope is like a map. You are naming where X hits the spot. Hope is believing in the destination and seeking that destination. A minister rooted in hope will exude that active patience, seeking out that hope. Ministers who lack patience are more likely to be spiritually without a destination. Don't pick leaders who don't know where they're going.
Deadly wrath is a sign that hope has been lost. People react in the moment, because they can't see how their X on their map even exists anymore. This is where things get a bit more complex, and not as easy to pick good vs bad.
There are actually two ways patience can be weaponized.
The first way, is to replace active hope with empty promises. When you tell someone to just wait without anything to wait for, you are keeping that person from an active hope. Sometimes we do it to ourselves. Buying lotto tickets in hopes of winning is an empty hope. Wishing the worst things on our enemies comes from an empty hope. (If it's not empty, we need to take that hope down, and burn it!)
The second way patience is weaponized is when anger is misunderstood as wrath. There are times we attempt to shut people down because we don't want to deal with the possibility that their anger is justified. I know I'm angry over being told to "hang in there" when there was nothing I was hanging on for. That's not wrath, that's loss. We are fearful of angry loss, specifically if that loss means the person realizes their specific hope was lost with it. The hope that their baby would grow up but a stray bullet killed her. The hope that of walking the straight and narrow will lead to a good education, but kids of famous children took their spot because, well, their parents were loaded. The hope that someone would carry out his promise, but now he's a congress man/senator/[name your elected office here] he's doing his own thing. These events can lead us to righteous anger, which is the loss of our potential hope, not deadly wrath.
The loss of potential hope is more likely to happen with groups or people who don't hold the power. The word, "Patience," becomes deadly, as it shuts down the action of loss. We need to engage that pain while it can be engaged in a healthy way, because brokenness breaks, always. When we shut down the pain, the situation can become worse, causing the unheard voice to lash out and take someone else's potential hope. It's a deadly cycle that can be stopped, but not with empty patience.
Patience as an action of hope.
Patience as an action of hope is active. It has always been active. It will always be active. Active patience means we are not trying to get to the destination before it's time, but taking the steps necessary to get their in the right time. The next time someone tells you to wait, or be patient, ask yourself if they are feeding you an empty hope, or if that waiting is part of something real. If it's real, and active, then you are living into a virtue.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
On being "green with envy."
It's not easy being green, but sometimes it's necessary. In a study published in 2011, Niels Van de Ven explored which motivates us more: admiration or envy. It was interesting because it separated envy as either malicious or benign. Jeremy Dean, a Psychologist and founder of PsyBlog explored the study.
He explained there are two ways we can be envious. One is driven by the heart, and one is driven by the head. Envy driven by the head is benign. It's a good kind of envy because it gets us to climb, to reach, to soar. We are driven by the accomplishments of others to be better ourselves. Envy driven by the heart is malicious. It's a bad kind of envy because it drives us to pull others down in jealousy.
Benign envy can be a personal teaching tool. When healthy, it maps out a path. You see someone, and can see how they got where you personally did not. You can take notes and do it differently the next time around. We sharpen one another.
Malicious envy is when envy becomes deadly. It is, in my opinion, one of the more dangerous deadly sins, because it's often born from oppression. I can speak from my experience. It's really difficult for me being a female minister, to have benign envy towards my male colleagues. When I map out their path, I know part of what got them there was there gender. As a female that's an automatic closed door I cannot pass. I can open that door, but it's added work in other areas, where I must leave the path and go on a side quest. It forces me to let go of my malicious envy for my colleagues (whom I truly love by the way) and move my focus on the benign envy for the women coming up after me who don't have to do the same work.
I'll just say it. That's not fair. That level of fairness is another post for another day.
As women ahead of me have opened doors I don't have to open, I'm doing the same for those who come after me. If I throw my envy back instead of forward, I'm given room to envy with my head instead of my heart.
Kindness when tied to deadly envy.
I wondered if anyone was picking up on how I was connecting the good virtues. Last week I connected long-suffering to faith. The week before I connected humility to hope. This week, I'm going to connect kindness to love.
That's right, 1 Corinthians 13 is my test of virtue. "Faith, hope love abide these three, but the greatest of these is love."
Kindness is an action. To be kind is not to be passive. It's written into our DNA to shut-up and take it when someone get's nasty. In those cases, it's always good to pull out my favorite MLK jr quote:
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
We look at this quote and only see half of the equation. Don't hide the light. Don't hate. We forget the second half where action must be taken in order to bring positive change. In reality, darkness attempting to drive out darkness is much more passive than the light driving out the darkness. Hate attempting to drive out hate might not feel passive in the moment, but it is the path of least resistance. Love is very active, and transforms. Hate is easy, while love takes work.
To enact kindness as a true virtue, we need to see beyond being nice. Nice is passive. I live in the South where we've got "nice" down to an art form. Nice doesn't change anything. We can all play nice, and get through life. Kindness reaches beyond ourselves to seek help for someone else or a community at large. Kindness is love in action.
Kindness when weaponized.
I really believe we actually realize the difference between kindness and being nice. Kindness is really difficult to weaponize. It's much easier to remove kindness and replace it with being nice.
There are people who simply don't want positive change. They make a living bringing darkness into the darkness, and piling hate on top of hate. It doesn't take much light to bring those mentalities down. It's just incredibly hard to shine lights in those areas because the kindness givers are put on mute, and their lights have been extinguished.
Those who bring kindness are often the ones to shine on the pain. Kindness reveals those terrible truths so those who are wounded can be helped. This is where "nice," comes in. Revealing pain doesn't feel "nice." Kindness is quietly replaced with nice so the broken system can continue. If this has happened in your communities, this phrase might ring true: "Why are you being so mean? Just play nice."
Kindness as an action of love.
Seeking kindness doesn't always feel good. In a broken system it can be like attempting get upstream in flooded river.
Let me go in another direction that many of you might get. Those who bring kindness are like healers in a multi-player online role playing game (MMORPG). They are the first targets for those who don't want actual change to their community. If you can take down their healer, than everyone else goes down with them. A good raid set-up has at least someone tasked to protect the healer.
Those who bring true kindness are often not treated very kindly. These people need support systems surrounding them the most, because they're in it for the whole; not themselves. The virtues tied to love are the most difficult to follow, because they bring the most positive change when acted. That's not to say that all negative reactions are signs what you're doing is positive, but it's something to know to keep you from being disheartened. There are reasons good people do bad things. Sometimes they don't even realize they're protecting broken systems. Knowing this helps kind people continue to be kind. If you're a "healer," find peace in that. If you are not, protect your "healer" at all costs.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
"Much of my work comes from being lazy."
John Backus was a computer scientist back in a time when they were creating their own job from the nothingness. He wrote the very first computer language, FOURTRAN. Not a lazy person, the above quote belongs to him.
"Much of my work has come from being lazy. I didn't like writing programs, and so, when I was working on the IBM 701 (an early computer), writing programs for computing missile trajectories, I started work on a programming system to make it easier to write programs." ~ John Backus
The virtue for today goes by many names: Long suffering, diligence, or persistence. We typically know the deadly sin attached to it by one name: Sloth. A modern ear might tie the word "lazy" to it and call it a day.
Only, like pride last week, sometimes being lazy can be a virtue in and of itself. There's a time for work, and a time for rest. Purposeful laziness is a statement of our limits. For Backus, he knew he had work that needed to be done, so his laziness helped him to it easier. When used in that context, it doesn't seem very deadly.
Sloth or laziness becomes deadly when it doesn't believe in anything. In other words, our faith in what we're doing sets the tone for why we're doing it. Laziness must have a purpose or we lose ourselves in it.
Diligence (or long suffering) when tied to deadly sloth
We are drawn to act towards the things that we have the most faith in. This is not just about being Christian. We all have something we put our belief in. (Even Atheists.) We act towards this belief, often without realizing we are doing it.
You've heard the phrase, "Absolute power corrupts absolutely." It was written by John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton. The entire phrase is "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men." Why is this? This isn't because power actually corrupts. It's because power frees us to act as our true selves. Adam Grant writes: "Power frees us from the chains of conformity. As a team of psychologists led by Adam Galinsky finds, “power psychologically protects people from influence.” Because powerful people have plenty of resources, they don’t need to worry as much about the negative consequences of expressing their values."
Powerful people can force others into places of servitude so those in power can be lazy about their own theology or actions. When most of us are not required to care about our neighbor, most of us will not care about our neighbor.
Believe me when I say those are terribly difficult words to write. My faith has always been grounded in the hope for a better world. Diligence, when tied to deadly sloth will always sacrifice outside of personal gain. True diligence can only ever been seen when standing firmly in power.
Diligence (or long suffering) when weaponized
The work will never be done, but someone has to do it.
Diligence, or long suffering, is a weapon when it's used to keep someone down or shut someone up. The United States actions of African and native peoples is diligence being used as a weapon. Native Americans were told to conform. They were forced to give up their native languages, and to take on European ways of life. The indigenous people tried and their attempts led to the Trail of Tears. Also laziness at it's absolute worst led to slavery of an entire people playing out over many generations, leaving shock waves even today. Weaponized diligence is caused by deadly sloth. Almost always.
When it comes to theology we are in very dangerous waters. We can see a tyrant. We can label their abuse of power, and act accordingly. It's not as easy to see those who abuse theology to make it easier for themselves. Often times, they are incapable of seeing it themselves. Faith should never come easy. It's sacrificial in nature as it seeks God's love in ourselves and the world around us. When testing our theology is to keep our belief system instead of refining and understanding it, that's deadly diligence.
Diligence (or long suffering) as a an action of faith
Most of us have heard the term "due diligence." It's a term used in corporate law. It's the investigations that take place before an acquisition whether it be land or another company. As a people of faith, we often use lazy practices of accepting or dismissing the faith of others. Typically, our personal test is simply if their faith lines up with our faith. We don't consider how our faith could enrich theirs or how our faith could be wrong.
Being a person of faith is an action. It requires us to seek. It engages us to go.
All people have faith, even Atheists. We all believe in something and our actions reflect our belief. Our faith can be as deep and complex as God, humanity, science, or as simple as the quality of a company we choose to buy products from. We all have faith. We all act from the place our faith takes root. If our actions are tied to a diligent faith, we are living into a virtue.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
This is part of a new series on the seven virtues. Consider starting from the beginning!
"Pride Comes Before the Fall"
"Pride comes before the fall." If I never hear that phrase again the world will be a better place! Pride is one of those words that clearly carry it's own vice and virtue all its own. There are few who would question what's wrong with personal pride in a job well done. It's only when we slide that pride into the deadly sin category we begin to shudder a little at the implications.
Bad pride is a cement. It's our inability to change once we know we're wrong. Bad pride would rather live in a past lie, than a potential future. Bad pride is a hope killer. Yep, you read that right. Pride is the killer of God's hope. That kind of pride is deadly dangerous.
Humility When Tied to Deadly Pride
The virtue of humility is the ability to see the bigger picture. If pride is cement, humility is the jack hammer. It breaks up our stubborn nature to see the hope on the horizon. It sets us free. We don't admit our failure to cower or fall in. We admit failure because it's failure. It keeps us from God's path. Accepting what has been with clear vision, allows us to move on.
Humility When Weaponized
I really need to stress that I used to be an introvert. I know I said this just a few weeks ago, but no one who knows me today would be able to pick me out from a line up twenty plus years ago. And sincerely, when I say introvert what I really mean to say is broken extrovert. There was a time that simply standing up for myself was a huge accomplishment. Getting in front of a group of people and just stating something simply and sufficiently was a challenge.
I wanted to celebrate when I was able to pull it off.
Only there were those around me who thought everything should be done in supplication, head lowered, never taking credit. I mean, these were people who didn't need to take credit, because they were out in the lime light. They never needed to say what they did because everyone could clearly see they were the ones who did it.
I, on the other hand, used to be someone no one noticed. Literally, there were days the teacher would take role and to my face say, "Where's Melissa? She's late!" There'd be days I'd be in a room of people where the leader counted who was in the room and they wouldn't count me. How would I know it wasn't me. When they'd recount, they'd use their finger and pass over me as they counted! You mean to tell me, God wanted that person, my younger broken self, to be seen less?!
I remember living in that complete unworthiness. I wasn't worth it. I failed because I wouldn't amount to anything. I was ignored, because there were people worth more attention.
It was in college, sitting across from my minister, telling her I was going into ministry, that something clicked.
Humility as an Action of Hope
When I decided to talk about my call to ministry, I seriously thought people would laugh in my face. I was a C student in middle school, and by no means any greater than average in high school. My denomination required a Masters level study to be an ordained minister. I wasn't good enough.
Then my minister raised up my call, and celebrated it.
It changed my view on humility. Humility is accepting what God has called you to do, even if you don't feel you are in a place to do it. Many of us get the negating side of humility. Tesla dug ditches so he could fund his work. Many will sacrifice glory for the sake of the call. We often forget that sometimes humility is also accepting something bigger and greater in our nothingness.
Now this doesn't change what I think of myself. When someone tells me my words moved them I try to take myself out of the equation. (After all, God once used a donkey to talk to a prophet.) When I glorify myself I give myself too much credit in a world where God deserves so much more. I just remember there are times when the call is to speak, so I speak. Humility has become sometimes opening myself up instead of closing myself off.
Humility is accepting failure, because in accepting failure I'm accepting what can no longer be, and using the pieces to build something new.
I'm living into hope.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
There are seven virtues tied to the seven deadly sins. We love to talk about the sins. There was a whole movie where the villain forced people to die by them. (Seven was probably one of the first rated R movies I was openly allowed to watch.) It led you to morally question the motivations of punishing sin with sin. I won't give away anything if you want to go spend a few bucks and rent it.
But what about those virtues? In the musical Camelot one of the knights of the round table sang about how terrible they are:
Now, perhaps his motivations were a bit off. The knights were bored after Camelot became a place without wrong. What fun is vanquishing sin, if there be no sin to vanquish?
No matter if you are or are not a vanquisher of sin, the virtues are meant to be symbols to a better life. They are meant to temper the soul, to sharpen one’s spiritual being. Which is why we need to spend a few weeks talking through them. The virtues, if properly used, will do just what is said. It will temper and sharpen. If used incorrectly, they can also be used on others as weapons of submission and power. Think of it like a hammer. The hammer was created to be a tool. It was meant to assist us in every day projects. Someone could take that tool and kill someone with it. It doesn’t change the purpose of the tool, it simply means we need to understand tools can be dangerous too.
Over the coming weeks I'm going to look at virtues being used as weapons.
The most important part of these virtues being misused and manipulated, is when they become unhinged from their counter sin, or when the inability to live up to the virtue is seen as the sin instead of the obvious inability. Then there are those that maintain power with virtue as a chain of oppression.
I'm looking forward to these weeks. I hope you are too. Think of it as an early Halloween present.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
1 All the tax collectors and sinners were gathering around Jesus to listen to him. 2 The Pharisees and legal experts were grumbling, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose someone among you had one hundred sheep and lost one of them. Wouldn’t he leave the other ninety-nine in the pasture and search for the lost one until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he is thrilled and places it on his shoulders. 6 When he arrives home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Celebrate with me because I’ve found my lost sheep.’ 7 In the same way, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who changes both heart and life than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to change their hearts and lives.
8 “Or what woman, if she owns ten silver coins and loses one of them, won’t light a lamp and sweep the house, searching her home carefully until she finds it? 9 When she finds it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Celebrate with me because I’ve found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, joy breaks out in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who changes both heart and life.”
Luke 15:1-10 CEB
Breathing life into the text
When I first began really writing things down, I was fearful to share. Half of me didn't understand how writing worked. I'm not talking about conjunctions, adverbs and the like (even though if there was one place I'm the least helpful to my kids, it would be language arts. I'm talking about the life of words. A writer is the creator. They slave over the text, ordering the image they want to convey. The reader breathes life into that image.
I didn't want people misconstruing what I was saying. I didn't want my words to be used in a way that was never intended to be used. The words felt so important, I kept them locked in a journal, promising to never share them until I could also stand up for them. I wanted to carry the entirety of the text, when it was only my responsibility to send the words out into the world.
I was also worried about stealing.
That might sound crazy considering I give my words away every week. How can one steal what has been freely given? Well, words deserve authors. It used to eat at my soul to know I was spending my very expensive education to yell out in the wilderness. Then, knowing others would grab my words and get paid for them on Sunday morning at 11am, nearly broke me. I didn't like that the life being breathed into my words took the name of plagiarism. I actually spent a whole year barely writing anything of real value, because of this.
Responsibility doesn't always reside with power
We are drawn to see those in power as those who are right. After all, there is a reason they have the power, right?
The Pharisees had the power, the money, the building. They had everything. What did they do with it? They cut people out. They made themselves the gate keepers to salvation. The people in need were no longer in the temple. They were on the streets.
Jesus didn't have the power or the money. He didn't have the system to help him do what he needed to do. He did what he needed to do in spite of the system, not with help of it.
We want to believe the future is in the physical church. I get it. Really I do. I love my churches. The people within them changed my life for the better. It's just that we're not called to those who get it. We're called to the tax collectors and sinners. You have to seek those out. Wander the wilderness. Go to Nineveh. You have to realize others are not going to see the purpose or reasoning behind those actions. Some might tell you to curse God and die (or in other words give it up.) Some might tell you to "do what's right" and come back to the institution. All these things sound good on paper, but it's sacrificing call for comfort.
You can't change the system within the system. If the Pharisee's could see they were outside of the mission, they would have gone to God. They acted the way they did because they thought they were right.
Uncle Ben was wrong. Power doesn't always lead to responsibility. Sometimes, people have to be responsible with the power working against them. Sometimes the power is the problem, and doing the right thing becomes so much more difficult.
Sometimes we're the Pharisees.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus. Turning to them, he said,26 “Whoever comes to me and doesn’t hate father and mother, spouse and children, and brothers and sisters—yes, even one’s own life—cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever doesn’t carry their own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
28 “If one of you wanted to build a tower, wouldn’t you first sit down and calculate the cost, to determine whether you have enough money to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when you have laid the foundation but couldn’t finish the tower, all who see it will begin to belittle you. 30 They will say, ‘Here’s the person who began construction and couldn’t complete it!’ 31 Or what king would go to war against another king without first sitting down to consider whether his ten thousand soldiers could go up against the twenty thousand coming against him? 32 And if he didn’t think he could win, he would send a representative to discuss terms of peace while his enemy was still a long way off. 33 In the same way, none of you who are unwilling to give up all of your possessions can be my disciple.
Luke 14:25-33 CEB
Those who know me, like really know me, understands that I like to create and build. The essence of my nature, is to perceive potential and bring that potential into being.
Sometimes all those pieces come together and it's amazing. When it's me myself and I, I can confidently play out the plan, and I know it will work. I don't need someone else at my craft area. I can create amazing Halloween costumes for my kids, or draw up signs for scouts without anyone else's help.
Other times, always when the perceived potential involves others, I must lament the loss of what was never allowed to be. I worded it this way on purpose.
Like you probably did, my first read through of our scripture seemed to warn against action. Remember 2008? At least in the metro-Atlanta area, there were a ginormous amount of unfinished building projects left to rot! How many contractors lost everything to the Great Recession, while their paid concrete did nothing except became an eye sore to the general public? It appears this scripture screams to our 2008 selves to stop!
Back in 2014 I wrote on "abundance" versus "just enough." Biblically, God is going to give the people just enough to get the physical project done, while offering an abundance of Spiritual needs. When God's physical plan doesn't have enough, that's the result of the gluttony of someone else. While I feel the message is universal, I wrote it for myself. I could feel a transition happening in our family. We were reaching the end of survival mode where "just enough" was literal penny counting! I wrote it to warn myself: as I was entering a place where my family's security was going to be a bit more stable, I needed to remember I could become the glutton. I could keep someone else from having just enough.
This is where we get back to our scripture for today. I come from a long line of dreamers, but unlike Joseph and his amazing technicolor dream coat, any dream won't do. I'm far more interested in dreams that have meat, or have purpose. There are things in this world that need help. We should be able to easily fund mission. Meeting the needs of our greatest needs should be the easiest task. Yet it's not.
We get antsy to give up our abundance to build anything. (Especially for those who've felt the sting of poverty and have come through the other side.) This scripture says something extremely difficult to hear. Let me give you the "too long, didn't read version."
TL:DR- You can't build anything unless you are willing to sacrifice and give up something to do it.
This is why we have so much trouble building dreams with meat. We live in a world where sacrifice means less and less, and scarcity means more and more. On one side we're being offered quick and easy solutions to difficult problems, on the other side the Rainforest is burning and what's been burned will never be returned.
Yet Jesus still asks us to give it up, plan, and build. It's scandalous. It's potential. It's a choice. Together it's possible. Alone, it's a fool's errand. Ultimately, here's the big truth: We have more value and worth than we realize. The real reason potential never happens isn't because the items were not there to build, but because we made ourselves believe we had less than we actually did. We just need to bring ourselves to act. Tomorrow might be too late.
We have places you can connect, discuss, and learn!
-Rev Melissa Fain-
1 One Sabbath, when Jesus went to share a meal in the home of one of the leaders of the Pharisees, they were watching him closely.
7 When Jesus noticed how the guests sought out the best seats at the table, he told them a parable. 8 “When someone invites you to a wedding celebration, don’t take your seat in the place of honor. Someone more highly regarded than you could have been invited by your host. 9 The host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give your seat to this other person.’ Embarrassed, you will take your seat in the least important place. 10 Instead, when you receive an invitation, go and sit in the least important place. When your host approaches you, he will say, ‘Friend, move up here to a better seat.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. 11 All who lift themselves up will be brought low, and those who make themselves low will be lifted up.”
12 Then Jesus said to the person who had invited him, “When you host a lunch or dinner, don’t invite your friends, your brothers and sisters, your relatives, or rich neighbors. If you do, they will invite you in return and that will be your reward. 13 Instead, when you give a banquet, invite the poor, crippled, lame, and blind. 14 And you will be blessed because they can’t repay you. Instead, you will be repaid when the just are resurrected.”
Luke 14:1,7-14 CEB
If you want a scripture that shows Jesus acting like a Boss, this is one of them. This whole event was a Jesus trap. I'm not talking about the fun Mouse Trap kind either. This was an obvious, from ten miles away, bear trap!
Our hint is in verse 1.
Ancient Near East writers were not concerned with what a person in the text physical did. It's so difficult for us to wrap our Western Brains around that idea that many of us unintentionally fill in the gaps. I used to be a terrible gap filler. I wanted to know how Jesus moved when talking about water with the Woman at the Well. I wanted to see how his words felt when he said, "Let the person without sin cast the first stone." I could feel my body pantomiming the action. I think there's a place for looking beyond the text to the missing action, but not first addressing the words written, is a rookie mistake. (I'm much more of a contextual pantomimer today.)
See, the Bible is kinda like condensed soup. The most important parts of the story were written down because transmission was widely a verbal craft, and writing supplies were at a premium. When these stories were first written, there was a strong verbal tradition. The reader/speaker knew how to enrich the text. They were trained to pass down the inflection and action to future generations.
By Jesus' time, that verbal tradition was beginning to be lost, while the text was still to the point. Any action needs our attention, because it's not there for the sake of being there.
"They were watching him closely."
I just want to go on a small tangent and talk about how I personally react to traps. I'm an extrovert who was thrown into an introvert's world due to childhood trauma. Confrontation was seen as dangerous, because anything could happen during it. Today, I know there is healthy confrontation, and unhealthy confrontation. I remove myself from the unhealthy, and attempt to engage the healthy variety. I have been in situations where unhealthy confrontation was a trap to catch me in something. When people act within those systems in that way, I freeze up and become the broken introverted teenager. I hate being that person, so I leave. It ultimately becomes the right move for me and the people involved.
Jesus fought back.
Not with yelling, or punches. With their weapons- the law. There's something thrilling when you watch a fight and one side begins to use their enemy's weapons. A recent fictional example would be Thanos using the power stone to punch Captain Marvel. (I won't explain why, if you live under a rock and haven't see the movies. If you have, you know what I'm talking about.)
The above text is from the Revised Common Lectionary. Churches across the world use it to pick their readings for sermons and contemplation. What's missing from this text is verses 2-6. Without those verses you might think Jesus is just lightly punching with his words. It's just table etiquette and giving to those who can't give back. Oh, no! It's way more than that. Jesus dropped a healing in a Pharisee's house, on the Sabbath!
One Sabbath, when Jesus went to share a meal in the home of one of the leaders of the Pharisees, they were watching him closely. A man suffering from an abnormal swelling of the body was there. Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, “Does the Law allow healing on the Sabbath or not?” But they said nothing. Jesus took hold of the sick man, cured him, and then let him go. He said to them, “Suppose your child or ox fell into a ditch on the Sabbath day. Wouldn’t you immediately pull it out?” But they had no response.
When Jesus heals in the Bible he does the action and moves on. When Jesus disarms a Pharisee trap, he turns the trap into a question and gives it back. Here, he is doing both.
If Jesus just healed the man they would have had him for "working on the Sabbath." That's why he asked the question. When they didn't answer, that was a known acceptance of the question. Saying nothing in this day and time was like saying "go ahead." For whatever reason, they didn't want Jesus to not heal this man. My guess being that he was part of the Pharisee inner circle. They wanted him healed, but they didn't want to verbally give Jesus permission to do it. By asking, he disarmed that trap.
Only, that's not all, he doubles down and mentioned a caveat to the rule, and not just any caveat, but one they openly disagreed with .They believed the ox could have been kept in the ditch, and allowed to die. Jesus adds a child, and they are speechless. Are they going to suggest a child should die in a ditch?! Well, yeah, but they can't verbally say that! So they are speechless and end up accepting what Jesus said through their silence.
With these six verses we can now see how dangerous the party actually was! By questioning their seating he calls them arrogant and by inviting only themselves, he calls them exclusionary! And he did it in a way he was untouchable! Even speaking against what he was saying would have made it worse. "Oh yeah, we want to murder children, and exclude those in need all while we praise ourselves." Jesus was in the lion's den and left unscathed, the lion's mouths glued shut. Like. A. Boss.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
4 The Lord’s word came to me:
5 “Before I created you in the womb I knew you;
before you were born I set you apart;
I made you a prophet to the nations.”
6 “Ah, Lord God,” I said, “I don’t know how to speak
because I’m only a child.”
7 The Lord responded,
“Don’t say, ‘I’m only a child.’
Where I send you, you must go;
what I tell you, you must say.
8 Don’t be afraid of them,
because I’m with you to rescue you,”
declares the Lord.
9 Then the Lord stretched out his hand,
touched my mouth, and said to me,
“I’m putting my words in your mouth.
10 This very day I appoint you over nations and empires,
to dig up and pull down,
to destroy and demolish,
to build and plant.”
Jeremiah 1: 4-10 CEB
The scripture is beautiful, isn't it? I mean, how great would it feel to know you were set apart before you were even born?! Just sit back, pull those legs up and relax! You're set!
Those words were shared before it happened. What was "it"? The Babylonian exile. The Southern Kingdom was gathered up, taken to Babylon, and forced to remain- apart from their temple.
If you don't see how devastating that is, you don't understand the mindset of the people it happened to. The Ancient Near East believed gods lived on their land. Literally. They believed, if you wanted to visit the God of Abraham you had to travel to Jerusalem. For example, when Naaman, a General of Aram, was cured from leporsy by rinsing seven times in the Jordan, he dedicated himself to the God of Abraham. He didn't want to move, so he filled carts with dirt, so he could properly worship God on their land.
Those exiled didn't have carts of dirt. They had nothing, and it came through in Psalm 137.
Alongside Babylon’s streams,
there we sat down,
crying because we remembered Zion.
We hung our lyres up
in the trees there
because that’s where our captors asked us to sing;
our tormentors requested songs of joy:
“Sing us a song about Zion!” they said.
But how could we possibly sing
the Lord’s song on foreign soil?
Jeremiah's story is the exile's story. He was on the path to greatness. He was going to be a Priest, and a Prophet. What did that get him? At first, punishment. He was beaten and confined by fellow Priests for his call as a Prophet. Later, exile.
Mental devastation. We really can't comprehend it today.
Modern culture is a wandering people. We don't settle. We move across state lines, sometimes at a moments notice. In a lot of ways it doesn't feel like a big deal. Only it was. These were a people who had generations in one place. It was a connection to the land and community we just can't comprehend. Then, to believe being exiled also meant being disconnected from God? You might as well attempt to transplant an adult oak for the damage it did to the Judeans. Roots were irreparably severed.
Moving the Judeans to a foreign soil was a Babylonian play. When they conquered land, they often took the elite from that land and put them in Babylon. It kept the powerful close, while making sure no one was left who could do anything back home. Jeremiah was part of that exile.
Ministry can just be horrible! (Says the minister, but follow me here.)
Many of us, as clergy, don't have healthy boundaries, so we get worn out too quickly. When a minister does have healthy boundaries it's viewed as suspect. Then, a minister will spend his or her energy clarifying or defining a weekly schedule instead of doing the work at hand. As more and more congregations struggle with their numbers, more and more churches take on toxic attributes. The person at greatest risk of that toxicity are ministers.
It's underpaid, overworked, and statistically dangerous to clergy's psyche.
If anyone understood the reality of being called to a broken system, it was Jeremiah.
The call didn't become null and void because the story took a dark turn. Maybe we want to believe that calls are all sunshine and lolly pops. It's not. No one should want to be called. It's not fun. It's not glamorous. It can just be horrible!
That makes the words of the Lord even more important. "You are set apart. You will be sent. You will be rescued. You will speak my Word."
Think of that!
Jeremiah's beaten but God's words are still true.
Jeremiah's cannot be a Priest without the Temple, but God's words are still true.
Jeremiah is with a people who lost everything, but God's words are still true.
It makes what Jeremiah said to the Judeans in exile all the more important. "The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah." (Jeremiah: 31:27-34 CEB) When everything appears lost, when everything is clearly broken, there is Jeremiah- set apart, speaking love, doing what God always intended him to do.
As more and more ministers find themselves exiled in the wilderness, we need to know- the call hasn't changed its purpose, just location. Consider Jeremiah. We're beaten, but not destroyed. We're exiled, but not lost. We're away from the Temple we love, but not God and God's people. Most importantly, we are here for a reason. The work continues in a foreign land.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
When I knew Fig Tree was going to be a thing, I was pregnant with God's call. In the beginning there was no differentiation between the two. We were one in the same because I was birthing something into being. (Not language I made up. Paul connected new ministry with giving birth. I'm just a female that actually understands the pain involved in pregnancy and labor.) There came a point where that call was born and people had the opportunity to see it apart from me. Yet, like a mother caring for her infant, everything came through me. I was charged with getting that call through it's infancy.
New Church development has changed their language to plants, but something is lost in horticulture. We are growing the Body of Christ. That's an animal. Seeing new church starts as birthing and raising helps these new ministers understand why the early stages are so laborious. Just as you wouldn't put a baby on a high ropes course, you wouldn't put a new church start in big mission projects. They can't even digest things fully unless it's broken down first. That was me. Feeding and caring for something that I have always hoped and hope will be bigger than me.
Well, in July we turned 7. From conception to now, Fig Tree has existed in some form. She's old enough to give control over in some form, like sending your child to school. The person is strong enough to hear multiple voices and take it in. I'm far less worried about the dangers of the world. There is less of a chance she will be devoured by the stronger presences out there. I do need to tell you what she is. Fig Tree is glue.
Most Churches and organizations are not glue
The phrase "All are welcome," is not true. Now, before you brick and mortar churches get up in arms and call me heretic, hear me out.
No church is called to reach everyone. God includes everyone, but individual institutions meet needs differently. There is a prison ministry in Kentucky. You can't tell me the victims of the prisoners would be comfortable in that ministry. That's okay. To say you are something solidifies what you are for the people you are for. Prisoners need God just as much as anyone else. Most churches are called to be solid: to be something specific to a specific group of people. The more solid a church is with who they are, the better they meet the need of the people they are called to reach.
Churches don't like to hear this. They want to be everything to everyone because God calls all. Only, a single church is not God. A church is a piece of the whole. Just like individual body parts are called to specific tasks, so it is true of individual churches.
Why is that true?
Most glue today is synthetic. It's made in a lab. Natural glue is a beast all it's own- literally. Before we figured out how to fake glue, we did it through a process of breaking down collagen in an animal and condensing it. This required boiling connective tissue multiple times, and drying it out in sheets. Then, breaking the sheets into clumps and adding water back, but only just enough to make it usable. To make an animal into glue, everything animal like must be destroyed first.
Almost every church wants to be glue, especially when their numbers start to dwindle. They are asking themselves, "How can we bring in diversity?" when all they are really asking is, "How do we keep from dying?"
You can make a solid mission into a glue, but at the cost of everything. It all has to be ground down and boiled down until all there is, is glue. You can't have a solid mission and be glue. The purpose of glue is to bring missions and purposes together.
Glue doesn't get focus or adoration. You don't look at the finished product and go, "Wow, that glue holding it all together is the real winner. No, it disappears into the finished product. Most churches and organizations are too solid, to be defined as glue. That's right and good for them. They should clarify what makes them solid, not soften what is already working.
Fig Tree exists as glue
I was brainstorming great organizations that are glue-like, and I was failing. That's because, the internet is very uncomfortable with the make-up of glue. People want things that are solid. They want people to pick a side so they know whether they're supposed to hate or love them. The phrase, "If you're church isn't talking about [A], than you shouldn't be going to that church." is a very tweetable statement.
Fig Tree's mission is to the brokenness in the world. I, Melissa Fain, was personally chewed up, broken down, and made into something new. Seven years ago I personally had a choice. I could pour myself into a mold, and solidify myself into a "camp," or I could remain liquid to solidify others. For me, it was an easy choice. Because I was pregnant with the call of Fig Tree, my spiritual DNA as it was at that time, became Fig Tree's DNA.
My biggest fear, as we move into the childhood phase of this mission, are people who want us to solidify, or yell at us for what they think we might be. Right now, solid voices can come on and this is a place where they can be heard. I don't agree with all of them, and I couldn't. It's diverse. We've had writers from multiple denominational, political, and personal experience. I can only hope over the next seven years, we get more diverse, not less. We can do that, because we're glue. When it's all said and done, no one is going to see Fig Tree. They will see the organizations and people surrounding it. If that be the case, praise be to God.