-Rev Melissa Fain-
1 When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.
2 The more I called them, the further they went from me; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and they burned incense to idols. 3 Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up in my arms, but they did not know that I healed them. 4 I led them with bands of human kindness, with cords of love. I treated them like those who lift infants to their cheeks; I bent down to them and fed them. 5 They will return to the land of Egypt, and Assyria will be their king, because they have refused to return to me. 6 The sword will strike wildly in their cities; it will consume the bars of their gates and will take everything because of their schemes. 7 My people are bent on turning away from me; and though they cry out to the Most High, he will not raise them up. 8 How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart winces within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. 9 I won’t act on the heat of my anger; I won’t return to destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not a human being, the holy one in your midst; I won’t come in harsh judgment. 10 They will walk after the Lord, who roars like a lion. When he roars, his children will come trembling from the west. 11 They will come trembling like a bird, and like a dove from the land of Assyria; and I will return them to their homes, says the Lord
Hosea 11:1-11 CEB
When I was around my son's age, I used to think the Israelites got in trouble pretty much every single year from the moment they called Israel home. From the major to the minor prophets- it all takes up about ¼ of the Hebrew Bible. Then I learned there are stories that overlap, prophets that were called at the same time, but to another group of Israelites. I wanted to know- why?
Every prophet is unique in their own way. Jeremiah was the Prophet in exile. Elisha was the hot-tempered Prophet, while Elijah was the Prophet called to pass on the torch. Samuel was the Prophet called to start a dynasty, while Jonah was unwillingly called to the enemy. Hosea, our Prophet for today, was the only Prophet who was native to the Northern Kingdom of Israel.
Basically, while Israel started as one big country in the beginning…
(You know- Joshua fit the battle of Jericho. The walls came tumbling down. Saul says he’s king of the new country. Nope. It’s the youngest Shepherd boy, David, son of Jesse. David kills Goliath, and is later anointed king. He marries multiple women then falls in love with the one he couldn’t have. After getting that woman’s husband killed in battle, he marries her and sires Solomon. David would have many sons sired from multiple mothers. Those boys did not get along. It’s a mess that includes rape, murder, and war. It led to one of the sons staging a coup that actually kicked David out of the north for a bit. David passed away, Solomon was named king, and Jereboam, one of the sons, was not having it. Jereboam left with 10 of the Northern tribes, calling it Israel. The Southern part, that included Jerusalem, was led by Solomon. It was called Judah. The unity of Israel once they had a king did not even last one generation.)
I shared this cliff notes version of Israelite history because with every Prophet in the Hebrew Bible being Judean except Hosea, we should wonder how God is going to talk to a self-exiled people.
For starters, God names their failure. They are like uncontrolled doves or pigeons. They have no purpose. They are flying without a destination. They gave themselves away. Instead of finding vassals, or countries that could give their allegiance to them and therefore God, they became vassals to other countries. These countries worshipped Baal, and now so had the Northern Kingdom. Therefore, God’s action will always include naming our failure. See it like our spiritual lives being on an epic map. We always need to come to terms with where we ended up. Here’s where we are, and here’s how we ended up here. Own it. Nothing is going to take it back. Pretending it doesn’t exist won’t change anything.
Then, God names what is going to happen. For the Northern Kingdom, they are going to fall. They can’t keep a king, and Assyria is going to use that to their advantage. We often translate this as God’s wrath. In reality, we should see this more as the consequence of our poor choices.
This scripture is very parental in that way. God even talks of the Northern Kingdom like a mother swaddling a baby. I believe good parenting let’s their kids know how they failed and tells them the consequences of their failure.
But, while there are ministers who stop at the brimstone, this scripture does not. God finally talks about love. I love how the bird analogy comes back again.
God becomes like a roaring lion. We should see that like a scary action. That loud noise is mentioned for a purpose. Have you ever heard a loud noise and seen birds take off? See, God’s okay being the bad guy if it gets the people back on track. The Northern Kingdom were like disorganized pigeons, but God’s willing to scare them away from the danger.
We know this is more than wrath because there is a phrase used that reads “return to me.” In Hebrew it’s a phrase used in ancient love poetry.
God’s love is like a golden chord. It’s always dropped down to us like a lifeline, a reminder of eternal love. Even when we ignore the call to grab it, it’s still there. Even when, in our personal rage, we cut it, it remains, waiting for us to tie it back.
God’s love did not stop because the Northern Kingdom took their ball and made a new home. God’s love did not end when they chose to worship Baal. Yes, there can come a point when our choices were so poor, the path back to God will hurt, but only to burn out the iniquity so we can once again grab that loving connection once again. God’s love is bigger than our sin. God loves to bring us out of sin. God does not want our destruction. God wants to destroy what keeps us from God, because God loves.
Resources: (Books I used to write this)
Harper Collin's Study Bible
The Prophetic Literature (Dr. Jordan Petersen)
The Harper Collin's Bible Dictionary
-Rev Melissa Fain-
In this post I will try to define propaganda, explain how it has been used in Christian circles, and using Matt Stone and Trey Parker, explain why we need to stop. I will conclude with traditional Japanese Kabuki, and express how Matt Stone and Trey Parker are lovingly playing the role we as Christians need in order to fully see our reflection.
Propaganda: It's purpose
Propoganda (within a modern definition) is not about the truth, it lacks objectivity, and rallies a group against another group. We consider it in the throws of war. It helps us hate the bad guy, whoever that might be.
It's interesting, because the term is rooted in 17th century Catholicism. It comes from an evangelical purpose, where it was about propagating the word of Christ to the world. It wasn't negative or positive, it simply was.
Then, three centuries later, war changed everything. Imagery and words can influence a people against another people. It doesn't have to be correct, just effective. Many assume propaganda is offensive and racist imagery. That makes it all the more powerful as a tool to turn the masses. Social media propagandizes almost everything from groups of people to the type of burger you should buy on Friday. It's made even more effective because we are too lazy to do the research.
When the church took the word back, it was tainted. Christianity is built on the truth. There are scriptures throughout the Bible just on this one subject. Here's the one we should focus on today:
19 “This is the basis for judgment: The light came into the world, and people loved darkness more than the light, for their actions are evil.20 All who do wicked things hate the light and don’t come to the light for fear that their actions will be exposed to the light. 21 Whoever does the truth comes to the light so that it can be seen that their actions were done in God.” -John 3:19-21 CEB
I have been witness to action being purposefully kept in darkness. Darkness festers; lightness grows. Bringing issues out in the open will burn away the disease. People are afraid of bringing issues out in the open because there might not be any truth left to save.
What does this have to do with propaganda?
As a church dies one of the symptoms is a turn to propaganda to rally the troops on the losing war. Christ calls us to relationship; to dine with the sinner, to reach the unreachable. Yes, love the atheist. When a church turns to propaganda they ignore the relationship, and focus on the hate. Those outside the church become enemies, not neighbors. It's impossible to love our enemies. You must see them as neighbors first. It's a step into darkness choosing propaganda over love. Those we are called to reach, are not our enemies.
Love letter to religion.
Thanks to my ministerial colleague back when I was a wee sapling in college, I already had a respect for Matt Stone and Trey Parker. A few weeks back I mentioned a South Park episode where Jesus and Satan were going one on one in the boxing ring. Everyone openly rooted for Jesus while secretly placing bets on Satan winning. It was a very honest reflection. But, did anyone actual bet on Jesus? Yes, one. Satan. In a perfect twist. Satan throws the fight, which is exactly what Satan would do. Jesus wins, because Jesus would always win. The people ask for forgiveness for not listening to Jesus, and Jesus offers forgiveness. Like I've already written: It was a very honest reflection.
Many years later, in an interview with The Vulture, Matt Stone considered the question, "What would an atheist love letter to religion look like?" He was talking about The Book of Mormon, a musical that took Broadway by storm.
Both Parker and Stone respected Mormons as a people, a good people. They wanted to tell a story that was funny while respecting the congregants surrounding it. They poked fun at the system and not the people. You still loved the characters when the curtain dropped.
That's their gift. Any organized religion could gain something from watching anything they put out as long as they do so with even an ounce of self-reflection.
Japanese Kabuki: Understanding from without
Japanese Kabuki is a traditional operatic style, where every character, male and female are played by males. This tradition goes back generations to the Edo Period, when it became illegal for females to be in the theater. It's highly stylized, where every movement has a purpose. These movements are so important that the words are often secondary. (Which could be a good thing. They still perform using an archaic form of Japanese that even native speakers struggle understanding.)
Kubuki becomes this reflection of the subtle movements of 1600's Japan. It is not meant to be offensive to the characters being portrayed by another "type." The males playing females take those roles to express the highest respect for femininity. It is believed, since they can truly see the feminine form from without, they are the only ones truly capable of capturing it.
Let's set aside the double standard that the male form isn't treated likewise, and return to Parker and Stone. It's really difficult to see your own dysfunction within yourself. It's in our nature to get used to our specific standard of living. Things we interact with every day begin to become invisible to ourselves. If we had to process every single thing we saw every day, our brains would explode. Yes, that includes things that could be dangerous to ourselves or others. Stone and Parker are our religious Kabuki reflections. It is because they are not part of the system, that they can reflect the system so well.
The general Christian response has been to demonize them. They become propaganda to rally a dying system to keep fighting. Our duty to share the Gospel is being subverted, not by Parker and Stone, but by ourselves. They are not our enemies. They are a mirror. Perhaps we need to look into it, rather than cover it over.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
David Tennant is absolutely one of my favorite actors. From Doctor Who, to Broadchurch, to Jessica Jones. Oh, and Duck Tales! I haven't met a project I don't fall in love with when he's one of the stars. This is also true of Good Omens. I believe his typecast is to take characters we wouldn't generally like and make them, at least, relatable if not make us completely fall in love with them. His effortless performance of Crowley gave me sympathy and understanding towards demons. I blame great writing, and great acting. Let's look deeper into Good Omens, and understand why a minister is praising it today.
Synopsis- without spoilers
Good Omens was originally a fun writing project between Terry Prachett and Neil Gaiman. As they put it, "It was a summer job. We had a great time doing it, we split the money in half, and we swore never to do it again. We didn't think it was important." (ix, Good Omens 2006)
The best summary I can give this book as a general reader is as follows:
It is a fun take on the end of the world as seen through the eyes of a demon, an angel and a few humans.
My summary as an ordained minister in good standing looks like this:
It is a fun take on the end of the world as seen through the eyes of a demon, an angel and a few humans.
It's the exact same, because this is, by and large, an innocent book. My younger self would have been deeply offended to read it when it was first published. Of course I was completely and totally super Churchy back then and drinking their Kool-Aid, which was always purchased on clearance and heavily watered down. That last bit would have been a footnote in homage to the book, where the footnotes are probably the best parts to read.
What I'm trying to say is that it's not a serious book. It's not out to dismantle the church. In fact, the Prime series momentarily stops on the crucifixion of Christ, and it's not funny. There's a brief moment of respect, and the story continues. It didn't go into the Divinity, but it didn't have to. I got it, and hopefully other Christians will get it too.
The point the story makes- with spoilers.
While I can write a nice and accurate summary in one sentence, I can also do the same with the point:
Humans have the capacity to inflict great punishments on themselves, or achieve ultimate love and peace. Choose wisely.
That was two sentences, but I realize there's more. If we obliterate what we hate, we won't have anything good, because the context will be gone.
The second point was reached by a group of four children, one of the four being the Antichrist. Take that for what you will. The idea of good must be understood within the lens of evil is an old idea that was born in antiquity. Many have written against it, while it's still raised as a serious idea today.
This book is not an attack on organized religion, it's an attack on literalist theology.
Notice what makes them angry and find the reflection.
Honestly, our reflection is not in this series, but how those within our numbers reacted to the Amazon Prime Series. (Yes, I said those "within our numbers," I'm not going to play that game where I exclude Christians because I don't agree with their point of view.)
I sat on this post an added week, because I think this subject deserves some reflection of my own before I publish.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
Over the course of a year, I lost four dress sizes. People, who hadn't seen me in awhile noticed the difference, and almost always asked the same question:
"Melissa, how did you do it?"
My answer was almost always the same:
"I ate less and exercised more."
The question is asked to seek the golden fix. What is something they can easily do to shed the pounds without actually working? I don't hold it against anyone when they look visibly bummed with my simple, yet difficult answer.
If I were discussing the subject with someone I saw beyond a pass by at Kroger I'd say this:
"I forced myself to look at my body in the mirror every day from the day I started."
Mirrors are not forgiving inventions. They don't lie for a direct and honest purpose. They tell us what our friend, family or random Jo on the street won't. How do we really look? We're not actually looking at ourselves. Our reflection isn't really us, but it's as close to us as we are going to get without being someone else looking at us.
I saw me. At first it was nothing special. Yeah, I'm a little pudgy. I'm hug-able. Then, as I lost, I began to see what I was becoming. I didn't want to return. As I enter the maintenance part of my weight loss, I probably look in the mirror more. I know what I could easily become. The mirror told me, and most mirrors don't lie.
The Church Deinvested in the Mirror Business.
Back in the 2000's I was sold on South Park. It was suggested by a minister to watch the Jesus versus Satan episode. "Everyone is verbally rooting for Jesus to beat Satan in a ring match, while placing bets that Satan would be the one to win. It's the church! Trey Smith and Matt Stone correctly named the church! It was brilliant!" (That's not a direct quote, but it's fairly close to how it went.)
Up until that very moment I was taught to shun the sources that mocked the church. In that single moment my perception changed. South Park wasn't mocking, they were reflecting. For the very first time I was able to see our reflection, and it was ugly.
Since then I've seen all kinds of mirrors.
I saw Biblical literalism in Supernatural, Dogma and Good Omens. These are all great example of the world if the Bible were played out literally. Except for apples, because, the Bible never mentions apples being the forbidden fruit. Yet these literal romps want to make the fruit a Red Delicious, These movies and television shows try to play out the Bible like it's a map. I find them interesting when I see a scripture completely misrepresented, because it helps me see how Biblical literalism is not the right path, even if it does make a compelling CW show.
More seriously, I saw the congregants reflection in the likes of South Park, Saved, and yes, even Bubble Boy. I needed to know how the secular world viewed the church. I realized I hadn't really looked at a good reflection of my faith in... ever.
My spiritual reflection showed I didn't have a hug-able faith, but a dangerous, razor sharp faith. While fellow Christians were telling me to boycott Comedy Central; to tell me I was less of a Christian for watching Saved, I was beginning to see what the secular world saw. We were monsters.
The church de-invested in the mirror business when the cultural view began to reflect something other than the perfect picture they were used to seeing. Many churches, instead of critiquing their choices and becoming something worth reflecting, they simply pasted their old image over the reflection and moved on. As the reflections darkened and became more sinister, the average congregant remained clueless.
We Are All Guilty
I fully believe most Christians at least heard of the brokenness within the church. The stories of Clergy and congregant abuse is flourishing like weeds in a garden. Their reaction is typical. Almost all will cry out in anger. The brokenness must stop. They must stop. That sentence is key. It's like we're aware of other church's mirrors, but clueless of our own. We all cry out for restoration, as long as we're restoring someone else. Only, we can't restore someone else. Change must come from within.
We must name the truth. We must admit we are failures. The biggest truth I can name is this:
Jesus never stopped death.