-Rev Melissa Fain-
For almost seven years there has been material posted weekly, sometimes daily, for Fig Tree Christian. I actually considered waiting until July to post this just so I can say it had been exactly seven years. Seven being Godly and all. At the end of the day, there is a method to my madness. I'm always playing a big picture game, and waiting until the meditations are seven years old is neat, but plays outside the bigger picture.
Sometimes keeping this page active is a slog, and frustrating. It's my personal opinion that most active ministers believe having a personal blog is important, but almost all fail to keep it active. They are good for 2-8 months, but then their schedule becomes too active, and something has to give. Before they know it, the church is linked to a blog that hasn't had a single post in over a year.
How do I view blogs and how do I view this site apart from blogs?
Blogs and Vlogs: Want my opinion?
The word "Blog" originated from two words, "Web Log." Early on, it was a public journal or diary. Ministers used one to have a place to share an opinion. Consider them pastoral op- eds.
Somewhere between when Fig Tree started and now, the term "blog" lost its meaning. Today, blogs can be about anything from a public journal to a deep lesson on how to cook the proper pasta. Usually not the former, but a whole lot of randomness on the later. I'd actually say, most seriously bloggers have felt the url format for Vlogs (video blogs- usually on YouTube), or post on sites that give more visibility.
Vlogs are another can of worms all together. There is a whole genre of professional vloggers who try to make their video look amateur- but there is really some great camera and video editing skills behind the scenes. We, the public, have bought into these professonal vloggers.
We yearn for the homemade. That's why we buy things that have imperfections built into them. They give the illusion the item was handcrafted. It's true for our videos too. We tell ourselves we want to see reality, but we really don't want to see reality. What we really want is something cheep, and well put together. (Maybe with clothing, that's only six months, but we'll buy it if the price is low enough.) With videos, we'll put up with a little commercial and buy into the authentic illusion.
Why am I mentioning this? Vlogs are like magic. It looks like the magician just threw something together, and voila! Something that looks magical and easy appears before you. In reality, there are tons of strings and levers making that magic happen. Ministers see it, and think, "Wow, I could do that too!" Then they pull out their Apple phone, and begin recording. Watching the video back, they don't know why it didn't hold the same "magic."
Camera angles, lighting, what you are wearing, where you are recording, background noises, sound quality in general,.. just to name a few things are the reason many ministers cannot do vlogs. More than that, the ones who tend to get the before-mentioned items, tend to lose the very thing most people are looking for: authenticity. For a minister, authenticity is vital!
Fig Tree Christian: Burnout is real!
Two parts with what Fig Tree does with blogs:
Fig Tree Christian: A diamond in the rough.
It is frustrating to have an idea of what I'm supposed to be doing, and not being able to do it! Our video side of things is abysmal! I can single-handedly record, edit and publish a video, but the time I'd need is too much. I have the authenticity, now we need the production value. We are a unpolished diamond. To the untrained eye, we look like a rock, not worth anyone's time. To many who can see our potential, we are still no better than a rock, because many of those will not or cannot help us to refine our videos. So I'll admit it, we do "vlogs" poorly. I can't wait until we have the resources to do them well. I'm ready to work with people.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
The online image is the new stained glass window.
Last week I suggested a Twitter hashtag and retweet was the online version of a team t-shirt. Add the post two weeks about Facebook, and you begin to see the pieces of church begin to come together. Neither of these pieces are church, and today alone will not make a church. Using any of these pieces in the correct way, will bring you closer to entering the online world as a church.
The Online Image: The Land of Online Authority
This is where I go an a tangent to get to a broader point. I promise if you follow along, you will not be left wanting.
This morning, as I was writing, my mind was transported to the fellowship hall of my childhood church. Multiple events burst through that memory. First it's an after church gathering. Little carefully crafted cheese tarts sits next to a haphazard container of Fig Newtons, simply opened and placed on the table. Then it's a celebration of the winner of a talent show. Shiny costumes and little bags of wrapped chocolate coins. Then it's a craft fair. A tissue box made of yarn and plastic embroidery sheets. Then finally, empty. Well kinda. There's always a three wheeler hidden behind the divider to split the room into two.
What brought this thought into my head when I haven't been in that specific room or church in over a decade? It was a smell, specifically the smell of rose water and coffee. The smell hit me, and I began immediately deconstructing it's pieces to bring them back together at any time. It was like finding an old friend, and inviting them back into my life. I found the magic that allows me transport back in time. Now images, smells, and feelings are enveloping me.
Notice I didn't say words.
Yet- ministers, we seem to think that words are enough. If we just write that amazing post, or share the manuscript to that unbelievable sermon, we will... what will we do? We are not reaching out to an online audience with just words. I've watched it time and time again on Reddit. Ministers drop their sermon in /r/Christianity like that's going to be enough. Time and time again I see the brutal response TLDR (too long, didn't read.)
God is more than words.
God is in the position of the candles on a Sunday morning. God is in who you have lighting those candles. God is in the people sitting in the pews. God is the light cutting through that window at 10:30, catching those tiny pieces of dust slowly floating in the air. God is that first person who steps into the sanctuary and chooses to see that light or not. God is in the recesses and edges. God is tone and inflection. Only words is just the crust of the experience. You can taste the filling, but that's all.
Fig Tree: A Drop in Bucket
When the images you create are hyper condensed sermons it's tremendously important to get them right. I dare say, the images are often more important than the words.
Fig Tree has a Pinterest page, and I personally share on Imgur. On Pinterest, most of the images I created for Fig Tree is tagged to a meditation. I don't expect most people to go beyond the image. Like a congregant from the Middle Ages would find their God in the light cutting through the colorful glass images, people today find meaning in the sifting of daily pictures.
These images hold power. Innocent and terrible lies are easily shared with colorful backgrounds. Golden tongued soundbites can be destroyed with poor creative forces giving vision to word.
There were images I believed myself until I took two seconds to research them. It's dangerous. Our responsibility rests in being an institution that responsibility to share truth in all things, including the images.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
Last year, I wrote this piece called The Age of Deborah. The point of the post was to show how diverse female ministers are today. A friend said it was tweetable. Therefore, I tweeted the meditation with the hashtag, #AgeofDeborah. I asked questions and asked people to tweet them back using the hashtag.
Wow did that tank!
There are a couple of reasons. First of all, I have fallen more into female ministry being like Jeremiah: Exiled from our temple. The other reason plagues many ministers: I didn't get Twitter even one year ago, and if I had, I might have done things differently.
Twitter: The Land of Empty Actions
Churches who have a twitter handle, often have a carbon copy of their Facebook Page. That's really why I started with Facebook last week. Because the collective church doesn't understand the dynamics of these social media platforms, every area of their online presence looks the same. If that's your church, you're doing it wrong.
Twitter is a place to sell a brand. Hashtags and retweets are the newest generation's version of wearing brand t-shirts. Just like wearing a Nirvana t-shirt didn't really make one part of the band (In some cases, didn't even mean the person actually listened to any of the music), retweets and hashtags doesn't mean anyone is going to take any sort of real action towards what they are retweeting.
For example: #BringBackOurGirls did not bring back the girls. What it did do was build Michelle Obama's brand as someone who cares about global issues. This is where Twitter fails. Many think if they just retweet or use the correct hashtag then that is enough. (Perhaps they know it's not enough, but it's not much different than reality. Retweeting is the only action they end up taking to enact positive change.) Retweeting might give you a 1:250000 chance of winning that epic trip to Maui, but it won't exact the change you want to see in the world.
But here's where what I just condemned is also good. It's a free place to create an amazing brand. I know churches seem to get very squirmy when it comes to the brand subject. Like it or not, every institution is constantly creating and recreating their brand. If your church is not doing it actively, than it's implicitly doing it.. Implicit brand creation is scary territory. Churches that don't care about their brand can look cold and unfeeling. It can accidentally sell something dangerous, to an already skeptical public.
Being honest with a church's brand means you can be the positive change, and you can grow your brand through hashtags and retweets to do it.
Fig Tree and Twitter
If I were to sum up Fig Tree in a single tweet, what would I say? If you find yourself here time and time again, try to answer this for yourself before you choose to continue reading.
Fig Tree is about fixing relationship in a broken world.
Hopefully, if you came up with your own, your statement could fall within or near what I just wrote. Keeping this in mind, check out Fig Tree's twitter feed. Yes, the meditations are shared, but so is relationship. Jumping on trending hashtags is about understanding the brand. We don't have a brand that easily trends, so using other brands to highlight our own is the best way to go.
Yes, I deeply support and believe the #metoo and #churchtoo movement, but I also know sharing those hashtags are not really about exacting change. Only actual change changes things. I do know it adds to Fig Tree's brand, and therefore I share it for that purpose. It let's the unknown person know we are about restoration in the church.
I'm also relational through the Twitter handle. This was a difficult place for me to reach. I couldn't imagine actually conversing with people through Twitter. I'm Reverend Melissa. Fig Tree is something else. Right? Wrong! When I distanced myself from the tweets it held others away as well. The minister, IMHO (in my humble opinion). is the doorway to the church. The minister chooses whether tweets are a snapshot from a distance, or a voyage into the depths of Christ's Church. Twitter started working when I stopped being distant, and started being present.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
It was five or six years ago. I don't remember exactly how long ago, just that I was a newbie to the world wide web. (Before this I was proficient at maybe Facebook with their limited pre-expansion features, and that was it.) I was engaging someone online, when they ripped into me, telling me I was wrong. They left the conversation stating they were a minister. Not to leave that statement hanging, I looked the user up, and sure enough, he was ordained clergy.
How could someone who was chosen to be God's shepherd be so callous and so... un-pastorly? My first thought, and probably yours too. I didn't hide my calling from him. He knew he was talking to a fellow minister. Then I mentally put him in a room with my colleagues, and played the words out IRL (in real life).
Nope! I couldn't in a million years imagine what he said leaving the lips of ordained clergy.
This was a life changing event for me. I understood something in that moment. People were going more and more online, and we (ministers and leaders of the church in general) were moving farther and farther away from connecting to these people.
Having explored this wilderness of the World Wide Web, and having only fringed the edges, I want to share what I've learned so far: Over the coming weeks I'll share what I've learned in the various online oasis' that exist.
Facebook: The Land of Me
If you are a church with absolutely no online presence, you are typically going to turn to Facebook to dip that toe in the water. Many of your friends and congregants already have profiles, and it's a great place to drop information quickly. Five years ago the ministerial questions were mostly about Facebook and went something like this: How real do we need to be online? Do we un-friend people when we leave a congregation? If those are still the questions you are asking, you're doing it wrong.
The new question should not be unfriending, but whether we should be leaving the various private groups your church should have for community building. Yes, the public group is a bulletin board. Private groups are the fellowship halls. They are the places where joys and sorrows can be easily shared with others. They are the places where congregants can share local stories and others can discuss. They are safe places, moderated by the leaders of the church.
Facebook is also the "Me Show."
Let's be honest. No one is 100% authentic on Facebook. We are vying for attention from everyone on our friends list. The "Me Show" is the result of that. There are people on my friends list who have pulled me aside to apologize for their brand of "Me Show" knowing I'm a minister. My answer is always the same. Be your brand of authentic. I know who you really are. If you can stand my "me show," I can appreciate yours too.
I used to believe the "Me Show" was only a bad thing. In a world that is hyper-conscious of the individual, how are we going to see the community? Let me make this crystal clear- I still don't think it's great. We should be less quick to unfriend, and more available to hear views that counter our own. That's where Facebook fails.
Where it succeeds is in the transparency. I know who gave that angry react to my content and why they gave it. Because I know the person, and why they did what they did, I know they were not angry at me personally. Facebook forces us to give more IRL reactions to others. I know others choose not to react at all, because they don't want to sadden me. If my face wasn't attached to the content, they would angry react. We all care about how people view us, and so we don't give some reactions that can be viewed as mean or spiteful.
See, as much as Facebook is the "Me Show," we come there to be real.
Levels of Real
Here is how I do Facebook... poorly.
Yeah, I said it. There are people who are friends with me simply because I'm the minister of Fig Tree. They are there to see the content that is produced each week. So I share Fig Tree content on my main profile. This clashes with people who are there because they know me as a person. Therefore, Fig Tree content is always public. Anyone can see it, even people who are not my friends. Content just meant for friends are often things only friends would care about anyway.
Also, I will almost never share names or pictures of people I don't personally know, or have permission to share. Our family was at a band concert the other day when this woman tried to take a selfie where our family would have been in the background of her photo. I proceeded to photo bomb her picture because I didn't want our family in her photo. Eventually she gave up and gave us a look, and I gave her one back. (I would later find out my husband was doing the same thing, which made the situation hilarious.) Thanks to the Boy Scouts of America I'm very aware of images and the internet. Even an innocent group photo will include people who don't want their picture taken. Your are breaching their personal boundaries posting those pictures online without their permission.
The internet is forever. In around 30-40 years some great mind is going to pass away. Maybe we know who they are already, or maybe they are living their life oblivious of their future fame and influence. Either way, someone is going to suggest something huge. Because of how Facebook saves all information, recognizes faces, and the like- data from that person's life can be brought together and viewed. Imagine knowing the mundane of Martin Luther King's life? Would you want that information? Could it have shed light on other choices he eventually made? I'm sure many would want a peak into that world, and would support that kind of information being released.
Now imagine you are that person. Not so magical anymore, is it? One thing I can say, is I try to do Facebook like what I'm writing might be read in 30-40 years by someone I've never met. It keeps me honest, and transparent. If that feels too outlandish for you, imagine your dream job is 10 years away. Your future boss is going to read what you are writing to that pleb you're currently owning with you sophisticated but low brow response. Is it worth it?
I'm going to answer for you. In the moment you might think it is, but it isn't. We have no idea what we might be throwing away with our online actions. Facebook holds us accountable, and that's a good thing.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
There are moments where I will be doing something, and someone brings up how I'm not doing that thing "normally." Last Tuesday multiple people noticed my writing style. No, not my grammar, although that's a mess too. No, my physical writing.
I don't follow the rules of how to write out letters. I start my "s" and "f" from the bottom of the page. I often cross from right to left. While I never notice anyone else writing any differently, people immediately see when I'm writing on a board. It's not that the outcome produces anything different, it's just the process shocks people.
I'm not normal.
Sometimes I wonder why I have to express that in words. Anyone who has known me for longer than a few hours knows I'm a little bizarre. If you're wondering why I'm okay with that, its all in the delivery. Those who love me know it's good. We can joke around about it. Often times, those people will include themselves. "We both know, we're not normal!"
Of course I'm not okay with those who say it like I'm a sideshow freak, or the butt of a joke. It used to get to me, but now I just quietly remove myself from their presence.
In my younger years, when I was far more broken than mended, these abnormalities were problematic. As I've said before, I was socially feral. I've had to learn American social cues like one learns a language. I couldn't understanding why someone would be offended by my honest questions. I didn't realize, especially in the South, honesty is blunt and we ignore blunt truths when they rub us the wrong way.
I saw what happened when adults would uncomfortably stare at my young self. That discomfort was them knowing I needed help, but them also knowing they believed they had no way to give it. I've seen far more danger in whispers about someone than the loud cog everyone just wants to shut up. We can address the cog. The whispers infect.
Still, I know what I was, and what I was was the reason I didn't think God was calling me to be a minister.
I struggled in school. Never to the point of failure, but enough. My backwards 'S's are a sign that I had to figure out what I was doing on my own because no one was going to help me with me homework. The damage had been done by the time I was in a stable environment, I was behind on language arts, and math.
I embrace that past, not because it is a trophy to hold up. It is not something to celebrate. I was strange because I didn't fit my broken self back together in a "normal" way. I have realized this helps me in two ways:
First, people see I've been there too. There are others who are broken, and I get broken. I also get how difficult the path is to restoration. It's not a one day experience, but a lifelong journey. It's this knowledge that laying ones brokenness out in the open will lead to jeers,. This could be from some who are primal in their reactions. A broken person couldn't survive the metaphorical hunt. Many hide there brokenness for that reason. This could also be from people who mistake broken for weird or an oddity. It's difficult to heal when people are laughing at you for not being "normal." Knowing I can walk beside those people, and not just clinically help, is part of the reason God called me. Took years to realize this.
Second, it's my fly trap. When people are ready to laugh off my broken past as abnormal or when I'm put in the sideshow freak column; I typically take note and file it away in my mind. Especially when those people are fellow ministers. They are dangerous. Some of them are better people now. Some have context they sorely missed in their younger days. I'm not talking about them. I'm talking about the ones who still don't get it, but call themselves a Shepherd to God's people. I dare those who want to hold my elementary school self, or middle school self against a 38 year old woman. I wait like a venus fly trap for them to openly mock that person. Those people would not be attacking me. I'm a 38 year old who spent decades processing and healing. Attacking my younger self would be attacking those who are still healing.
No one has flown into that trap as of yet, but those on the other side know something else. There's an anxiety when those triggers appear. All previously broken people have traps ready to snap. Often times they bite down on themselves. There will always be something that will remind me of the trauma. Knowing this, I have redirected the trap into something helpful.
In the end, I embrace who I am because God called me in brokenness to find wholeness, and in turn, help others find that wholeness too. Wholeness to holiness. It's the beauty of a sprout in the trunk of a dying log. It's the joy of new life when everything looked dead. That's why.
What right do I have to write anything? I was not a fan, and magically pretending I was would be disingenuous, and a lie. There are people I would not invite to speak of me at my death. In that same way, I doubt I'd be invited to speak of her now. There's still something that I must say. It's a realization we must address.
One of my favorite childhood summer activities was collecting cicada shells off the trees. The idea of a bug crawling out of their own skin and leaving it behind captivated me. I could do anything to that shell and the bug would be just fine. Sometimes I laid them out and crushed them to dust. Sometimes I collected them on my dresser. I always began the same, carefully removing them from the tree to save those tiny legs clinging to the bark.
Yet I never knew what the cicada really looked like. My potential imagination sometimes made it look like a giant butterfly, almost a moonlight fairy. Sometimes it was a rainbow beetle. It's shell shimmering all the colors of the rainbow, as it crawled among the trees.
Then, one day, my great grandmother pointed one out to me, and I was horrified. That didn't look magical at all! It looked horrifying! My illusions were shattered. Now I knew the truth. It was thing of nightmares!
After that moment, I would always tell the truth of cicadas to my friends as we would collect the shells. "These shells are really neat, but the bug that comes out of them are monstrous.
Many years later I would smugly share my immense wisdom on cicadas when the person I was imparting this wisdom kindly disagreed. "Cicadas are beautiful. It's the shell that's ugly. Have you ever seen a cicada that's just shed it's shell? Their magical. The shell is covered in all the dirt, darkness, wind and rain. Look." He pulled me to his computer, because this was long ago enough that we all had dumb phones. Pulling up an image of a cicada right after shedding it's skin, I saw what he saw.
A year ago and a day from the day Rachel Held Evens passed away I apologized to Beth Moore. I have no idea if Moore ever saw that apology, and I'm sure she had no idea that I needed to apologize. I don't pretend my digital footprint is worth anything beyond the words typed out in these meditations.
A year ago I asked forgiveness for thinking less of Beth Moore because she was an un-ordained female Christian leader. I didn't realize she tried to earn a degree in religious studies and was shunned by her males colleagues. A year ago I placed Moore against Rachel Held Evans writing that people like Rachel Held Evans exist to keep really smart and worthy women within a seminary world down. As I wrote privately, she was safe. While others were suggesting it was her honesty that made her scandalous, I was saying her lack of education made her palatable. She wasn't ordained, so if she ever went too far it could be dismissed. I deeply believe this is why our biggest female Christian speakers are just that, speakers. We want a female voice, as long as that voice doesn't have too much power.
When I wrote the Beth Moore post I felt a call to include Rachel in that apology, and what she represented was so personally hurtful to me as an ordained minister, I couldn't. This was made the most clear when I openly shared how I took a male username for 1/2 a year. People called me a liar for having a username, where I didn't say one way or another about my gender. Being called a deceiver made me angrier at Evans, who seemed to flit into fame because she was outside authority. For the sake of equality, I needed to focus on women within authority. Evans was taking away that focus!
Now she's gone, and it hits me in my guts like a ton of bricks. What I hated, what has personally hurt me was not Rachel Held Evans. It was the shell surrounding her. Now she is gone. The beautiful moonlight fairy, rainbow beetle, has left, but the dirty systemic issues remain. It wasn't her fault that the system worked the way it did. It's not her that hurt me. It's that damn shell that's pained me all these years, and continues to hurt.
Now what remains, that shell, is vile. We all have them, forced carapaces. Society paints, tattoos, cuts it into our identity. Society's idea of who we should be for the world is a dirty covering, and that is all. Much like our accumulated wealth, we can't take it with us in death.
Now we are left with it, and we can do anything to that shell. We can glorify it. We can put it on a shelf and move on. The one I personally like is we can crush it to dust.
I'm done making enemies of my sisters in faith. I'm done being angry because someone has decided my carapace speaks to my soul. We won't take those shells with us in the end. Why do we let systemic belief cover over the Truth? Every day I learn how I'm wrong. I pray as I make steps in the right direction we can forgive one another, and not beat one another with the leftovers.
-Rev Melissa Fain
-Rev Melissa Fain-
I've sat on this post since November. Advent, Christmas and Bible 101 were distractions to coming back to this. Lent's "God is," series was a needed reminder.
Six months on the internet is a really long time! Memes are born and die in that time. Campaigns rise and fall. A collective can feel the pride of success and the bile of defeat. When I took on this six month endeavor is was to do more than follow through on having a male pastoral handle for six months on Reddit. It was also to keep track of my feminine experience IRL (in real life). We don't often pay attention to what's happening around us, because it is our "normal." I didn't want to do something digitally without questioning what was physically happening at the same time.
Where I was: I'm at a place today where this is genuinely a difficult question to answer. I remember there was a time when elbow grease and gumption could get you anywhere. When an ordained minister, and woman flat out told me, "I hope you have skills somewhere else, because you'll need them," I did't listen. Well, I listened, but I had my naive hope. If my chips start lower than the boys, than I just have to be better than the boys. If people are throwing out biblical passages without context, I just have to be prepared to explain them in a well thought out way. Ministerial respect was always earned; not blindly given.
I had to believe this was all there was. There's no other way around it. Why would a seminary accept my money and let me focus my education on biblical and spiritual studies if it wasn't true? Why would a denomination allow me to even enter the ordination process unless my call was going to amount to something?
Where I am: PastorJerome came about because I finally saw something, and I knew there was a way to show it. I wanted to take the male username for two reasons.
First, if males were truly the ones called by God, than it wouldn't matter whether people thought my username was male or female, God would not allow me to look pastoral. I know that sounds ridiculous, but hear me out. I'd listen into conversations where someone would explain how they just felt he was the right minister for them. The way these congregants believed the Spirit moved them, seemed like an easy test. The same people who callously wrote out that they knew I wasn't a minister, would have the same feelings when the username was masculine.
Second, I wanted people who were not normally on the internet to see what I saw. We are all cloistered in our protective little bubbles, with people who think just like us. People are not in church anymore. That's why I'm outside church. It has given me a different experience than those female ministers who are loved by their congregations. I wanted to show the battle is far from over.
What I discovered was not even close to what I was expecting. Unhealthy levels of trust was thrown my way with a male username. When I expressed this fact after everything was done, the detractors came out of the woodwork. I was called a deceiver. Basically, how could I make someone feel I was Spiritually called by God? They couldn't see the other side of the coin, in that, giving a male minister trust for the sake of trust is dangerous. In their eyes, I stole their trust. The language immediately changed when my true identity was known. Being known only made the blatant double standard easier to see. Although, I'd doubt the people pronouncing it would realize what they did.
Where am I going? Six months was supposed to be my finish line. I'd carry this project to a point, express what it meant, and move on. Let me make this crystal clear: By moving on I meant it could reignite or extinguish whatever was left of my willpower. It was either going to be the beginning of a new chapter, or an explanation for why this minister was spiritually crucified. Some of the congregants of Fig Tree heard the dire tones in my words. Even if they had no idea what the context was at that point, they pulled me aside to express why this ministry means something to them.
What ended up happening was different. The IAMA didn't give me a bouncing off point, nor did it douse the flame. There were people who wanted me to continue. I remember saying to a friend, "Continue what?! The six months are over!" At the same time, there were those trying to convince themselves and myself that I did absolutely nothing meaningful for the past six months. That IAMA was seen 118 thousand times just a few weeks following it's publication. Since then, the story has been on Pathoes and the Disciple's News Service. That audience is bigger than any of the mega churches within my denomination.
Here is the cold hard truth: I need help. Part of the reason Fig Tree has been at 2pm is for convenience. You can go to your traditional worship experience, and make it to Fig Tree's livecast while still having time for a sit down lunch. Back when we first started livecasting I thought that was the answer. It's not. We need a "board of innovators." (Thanks James Brewer-Calvert for giving me that term.) We need ministerial help that thinks outside the physical building of church to find God's call to church beyond walls. We need people, male and female, who are willing to sacrifice their Israel to come join me in Babylon.
I'm not done yet. You have yet to start.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
1 Very early in the morning on the first day of the week, the women went to the tomb, bringing the fragrant spices they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in, they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 They didn’t know what to make of this. Suddenly, two men were standing beside them in gleaming bright clothing. 5 The women were frightened and bowed their faces toward the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He isn’t here, but has been raised. Remember what he told you while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Human One[a]must be handed over to sinners, be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8 Then they remembered his words. 9 When they returned from the tomb, they reported all these things to the eleven and all the others.10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles. 11 Their words struck the apostles as nonsense, and they didn’t believe the women. 12 But Peter ran to the tomb. When he bent over to look inside, he saw only the linen cloth. Then he returned home, wondering what had happened.
Luke 24:1-12 CEB
Today is not Lent. Lent ended at midnight. Today is Easter, but Lent can never end with Lent. How dare we conclude with "God is dead"! How dare we stop in a cosmic tragedy. That's not the Christian story at all!
Christ is alive! The chapter ended with death, but the book concludes in life. We have good news! We have something to share. Christ is alive! Christ is alive indeed! The light has won, and today we celebrate the dawn!
-Rev Melissa Fain-
John 11:35 NIV
I was in middle/high school. This was before I realized I would go to seminary, and it wasn't even on my radar. I did not have a public speaking voice, and speaking in public terrified me. I knew what good preaching was, and I wasn't it. Still, I had this desire to learn and know. I would pull my minister, Rev. Dr. Jerry Gladson, aside and just ask questions. I used to pick books in the bible and just email pages of questions. Romans broke me. This is why you don't read the Bible from front to back. Both of the Corinthians are better first letters.
Anyway, When I approached Jerry this particular time I wasn't currently reading scripture. I was mourning. My grandmother on my Dad's side passed, and it left me with questions. Why do we, as Christians, mourn? Do we believe in Heaven or not? If we believed in Heaven why did we weep?
I'm an adult now. I've been a minister myself for nine years. I get the look he gave me when I asked the questions. I can put myself in his shoes. Usually my questions were emailed, carefully numbered for easy separation. I engaged him after Sunday worship with no time to research. I don't recall anymore what he told me, only that I had clearly unbalanced him as I would have been unbalanced myself. I remember he didn't give me much, which was understandable. Not many of us spend time contemplating death.
I, however, could not let it go. While theological questions have come and gone, this question has remained with me. Many years later, I have an answer.
Some things stay dead. Heaven is not a place for our human selves. Heaven is not a place for our racism, misogyny, addictions, lusts, or [insert things that keep us from God here]. At the same time, those are things are things that shaped who were are or were. When someone passes it marks the end or conclusion to something. We will never know that person, as we knew them, ever again. Their memory eternal, but their physical being gone. That is the space where Christians mourn. Even though many of us believe there is something more, we also know somewhere, we've lost something forever.
The Disciples had an example of how to behave the day after the Crucifixion, and that example came from Jesus himself. In the passing of Lazarus, in that moment of true death, Jesus wept. No words. Just tears.
Why do we, as Christians, mourn? Because Jesus gave us space to mourn. Something has died. It will never exist in that way ever again. God is dead.
Let us pray
(Sit in a space and let the silence speak to you.)
-Rev Melissa Fain-
32 As they were going out, they found Simon, a man from Cyrene. They forced him to carry his cross. 33 When they came to a place called Golgotha, which means Skull Place, 34 they gave Jesus wine mixed with vinegar to drink. But after tasting it, he didn’t want to drink it. 35 After they crucified him, they divided up his clothes among them by drawing lots. 36 They sat there, guarding him. 37 They placed above his head the charge against him. It read, “This is Jesus, the king of the Jews.” 38 They crucified with him two outlaws, one on his right side and one on his left.
39 Those who were walking by insulted Jesus, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “So you were going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, were you? Save yourself! If you are God’s Son, come down from the cross.”
41 In the same way, the chief priests, along with the legal experts and the elders, were making fun of him, saying, 42 “He saved others, but he can’t save himself. He’s the king of Israel, so let him come down from the cross now. Then we’ll believe in him. 43 He trusts in God, so let God deliver him now if he wants to. He said, ‘I’m God’s Son.’” 44 The outlaws who were crucified with him insulted him in the same way.
Matthew 27:32-44 CEB
At nineteen years old I walked into the Holocaust museum in Washington, DC. I wasn't mentally in the place I needed to be half a lifetime ago. Perhaps my mind was incapable to process that level of horror. Perhaps, and I think this is more likely, I hadn't my own family as context. I couldn't put a face to the abuse and death.
Then I got married and had kids.
This series happened because of the forward in Elie Wiesel's book, "Night." I read it during Advent, or what most call the Christmas season. Thirty-eight years old, I'm ready now, especially for the boy.
Wiesel, a man who had survived the Holocaust when the rest of his family had not, meekly told the prolific writer, François Mauriac, about this boy. The concentration camps would do hangings of the "guilty." Most of these hangings had been a numb experience. So much death and no time to process. Then there was this boy, too light for the drop to break his neck. He fell, and he was slowly being suffocated. Someone behind Weisel remarked, "Where's God?"
The answer brought me to tears. God is the hanging boy. God is being executed.
Mauriac, left speechless by this story, realized far later that this boy was also the Christian story. We can talk about God being just that. We don't need to sit down and watch a movie to reenact the the Passion of Christ, not when our own history does it all on it's own.
We kill God all the time and force others to watch. This is the only day out of the Christian year where the Good News is terrible. Good Friday is our condemnation laid flat. We have been found guilty, and someone else is paying the price. Do not smile, and don't look away. The person we've condemned is not guilty at all. Something has terribly and completely broken. Where is God? God is a hanging boy.
Let us pray:
Forgive us, for we know not what we do. Amen.