-Pastor Melissa Fain-
My plant is dying. My literal plant.
A year and a half ago I was gifted a Christmas cactus. I have already told you I have a terrible green thumb. Everything I seem to touch just wilts to death.
Somehow, probably because it's a Christmas Cactus, it has remained alive for over a year.
Only now it is dying.
The week from hades.
Personally, this week has been just fine.
Ministry related, this might go down as one of the worst since the advent of this site.
I had a personal moment. I'm not going to be the widow with her last bit of oil and flour, waiting for God to send someone to make that last little bit hold out. (1 Kings 17:8-16). I'm also done with the phrase, "If you build it, they will come." Actually, no they won't. Not in an altruistic sense, or to put it another way, not in a sense that is selfless or cares for the needs of others. Not on the internet. Finally, I realized I am the brand whether I want to be or not. It was time to start selling me.
These were all good things, and good realizations.
So you know what I went and did?
Well, on the first Sunday of Advent, I got the worship ready extra early. I changed up the colors. I put out the nativity and our dinky homemade advent wreath, and everything was ready to go... until is wasn't. The very first Sunday of Advent! One of the big Sundays in the Christian Calendar Fig Tree failed and I had to quit and admit defeat!
Meanwhile, I have a book I'm trying to sell. Not just any book, but the book that started with an almost decade long writing process. I have five books. Three are written and are partially edited. One is still a draft. The fifth is the completely written, through the beta-testing, and is being queried to agents. (Query is a fancy word for "I'm trying to sell this book and myself, please take me as a client.) I decided I needed to put myself completely out there. I took my secondary site, and revamped it. I put samples of all my creative endeavors in one place. Papercraft, drawing, audio, digital, and knotted art. Everything on the website I did! Then it links back here at the end to see the decade of writing. (Actually, it's meant to loop. The "About the Pastor" tab here jumps to the website over there, and that exists for anyone interested in more than my writing.)
Well, wouldn't you know it? The website failed on that exact Sunday! For days now I've been trying to get someone to help fix the problem.
This lead me here.
This week is all about hope.
Making Time for Hope
Perhaps I'm the most prepared to talk about Hope from an American Advent context. Everything appears to be crashing in December. Fall decorations come down, while Christmas decorations go up. Kids have twenty-two events going on, and older kids have tests to round out the semester. Family comes to visit, or you visit family. Just that alone can completely distract from the entire point. Christmas isn't about any of those things. Well, it is about healthy family structures, but not the other things.
That's why this week, the week my focus cleared and then crashed to a halt, is still a week I have to make time for God. ESPECIALLY THIS WEEK!
Perhaps my hope is coming as a mini-lament, but most hope is born from lament. It's when nothing is working that something new can be born. It's a time to hard stop and ask God what God wants. Perhaps God wants us to wait. Pause. Stop. Perhaps God wants us to act. Go. Affect. The point is, until intentionally make time for God, we can't know.
It's time for hope.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
I enjoy taking non-quantifiable information and making it visually accessible.
I hate the above sentence.
Let me try again…
I enjoy helping people understand ideas that are hard to understand. I’ve been doing that for the past decade through the written word. I don’t want to show how smart I am by throwing out those impossible to understand words, like the first sentence above. Actually, I feel there is information to learn, and I want to show it anyway I can.
Like through visual art.
Like through music.
Like through the media.
I’ve always been over writing to the gatekeepers of such knowledge. The keys to the kingdom excludes everyone outside of it. The only reason we even approach the kingdom is because they are means to get that information to the masses. Does that sound right to you? The people with the ability to share the information, are the only ones who know what is being said? If the information is important, stop talking like a pompous butt and say it in an understandable way!
There are gatekeepers in the other areas too! While I don’t care about their opinion, I do care that they hold the keys.
It’s also these gatekeepers that gave me the illusion I couldn’t be a minister. It took multiple voices telling me I didn’t need their kingdom to follow my call. (Not my writing. I had to enter that gate, and it was not an easy key to locate and use. I basically became a decent writer after highschool, because I couldn’t get my Masters with poorly written essays.)
Like many before me, I’ve learned I don’t need their kingdom, but I do need their delivery system. There are a tiny drop of people in the sea of people trying to deliver information that have figured out how to deliver their information without entering the kingdom. When their method is discovered, everyone congregates to that location to try it too, destroying the method in the process. (Like a life raft being attacked by hundreds of drowning victims. It will bring the raft down before it can save anyone.)
I have four fully written novels with one polished. I have multiple artistic works. I have been writing here for over a decade. I am the master of creating outside the kingdom. BUT- Going back to original thought:
I enjoy helping people understand ideas that are hard to understand.
I understand it. I’m not doing that for me. I don’t want into the kingdom, but I do want their delivery system.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
I have countering beliefs and theologies. It’s a dangerous place to be, because it means I say one thing, and act another. I used to not realize what I was doing.
Let me explain.
The theology: God is not a candy machine.
I actually laughed at myself as I wrote that subheading down. Of course I know God is not a candy machine. If maybe not a candy machine, perhaps a wish granter for the ultra-pious? It’s the same thing, but worded differently.
People can get caught up in the “stuff” of the world, and what the stuff means. It’s a trap and we fall into it. We want our faith to equal health and prosperity. I get it. There’s not a payscale to working with God. It’s not like you become a Christian and get tier one blessings, but once you’ve been a Christian for at least, I don’t know, ten years, the blessings increase.
Once again, it sounds ridiculous wording it that way, but I’m confident someone reading this will realize that’s exactly how they hope their faith life works, and now they have it in text.
You don’t grow up in the situations I was in and have a candy machine theology. Not if you are like me, and enjoy digging deep into the text. I mentally knew this was not how life worked, and in turn, it influenced my theological view.
Let me put this out first.
I believe God has answered so many of my prayers. It’s just that many prayers are answered in the negative. Many more were answered in the affirmative. I believe that's because I never prayed for an end result, but for the tools to help me get to that result. I also think there are ways I’ve been placed to grow, learn, and help others do the same.
Now that I’ve put that out there, let me get to it.
For a species that has achieved free-will, we will follow a crowd faster than a pack of raging hyenas to a newly dead zebra.
This leads us to an idea that comes from me. I’m talking about Communal Sin. (Tons of links to me talking about this at the bottom of the page.) This differs from Corporate Sin. Corporate sin is sin that is enacted by an entire group. Think, the Golden Calf in Deuteronomy. These are clear cut events that show sin being acted out by an entire group. When I’m using the term “communal sin,” I’m talking more implicitly. These are actions that not only are still sins, but are so ingrained in society they are social norms.
When thinking of corporate sin, a person can step away from it. Example: I’m not giving you my gold to help you make a false god. We can see the community sinning, and we can choose not to participate in it.
Communal sin, however, cannot be seen or easily walked away from. Well, I'll take part of that back. Each person has their own blind and deaf spots. We cannot see everything, so our brain turns off what happens every day. The more comfortable we are, the more likely we are blind and deaf to whatever draws us comfort.
(BTW- this is where some fuddy-duddy theologians would get all bristly and say that my distinction is still part of Corporate Sin. Fine. Lump it all together, and see how well that goes. If that’s you, just know I disagree, and let’s move on.)
The reason I’m bringing up communal sin is because it hurts people we don’t see.
My whole life is a series of actions where people forget or misplace my worth. I’m easy to forget because I can get things working, and when things are working, it’s something that brings us comfort, so it becomes a place we are blind and deaf to.
That’s what’s so earth rockingly difficult about all this. To see the value in those who suffer from communal sin, means to destroy the thing that brings us comfort. The other way is to finally see the person behind the comfort, and in seeing them, it becomes impossible to be comfortable in that situation.
It’s an easy way to tell if the person actually sees the problem, or just saying they see the problem. It’s impossible to be comfortable once the blindness has been removed.
I have a dual problem.
On one side, people see what I see, but it makes them uncomfortable so they leave for something that gives them comfort, often where they can be blind and deaf once more.
On the other side, people don’t see what I see, and I’m simply forgotten.
None of that is God’s fault.
None of that is happening because I didn’t pray the right way.
I still destroy myself because I try to pray myself out of it.
Deep down somewhere, I still want God to take my gift and give me a treat.
Then I hate myself for thinking that.
Then the cycle starts all over again.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
As a young adult, there was a stretch of road where angel light was known to break through the clouds.
Angel light is when there are small breaks in the clouds, and the sun spills through and cuts a visible light through the sky.
Seeing angel light always filled me with awe, and was perfect when it happened right before church.
As a youth, there was a sunset that looked like the sky was actually on fire.
The way the clouds flicked up and how the sun hit them in just the right way, created this breathtaking moment on the way back from a church retreat. I swear, there was actual gold in that sunset.
I used to look at sunsets and pretend they were sunrises.
I don’t know. When I was a much younger gal, I always thought sunsets were more stunning, but found them melancholy. I didn’t want to say goodbye to the day. Looking at a sunset like it was actually a sunrise, filled me with hope.
Then my focus changed.
When I was in love with the sky, I also knew the carpets and floors extremely well. In other words, I was incapable of looking people in the eyes. I didn’t have self-esteem.
That might shock my current friends, who see a completely different person today. I cannot express enough to y’all how completely broken I was, and how much work I had to do just to look straight ahead.
In doing that work, it took away my wonder. I had to get real. I had to be in now instead of what could be.
I guess, I found beauty in those around me, and took my head out of the clouds.
I realized that in finding my health, the awe I felt looking at the sky was gone. Sure, the sky was still pretty, but it didn’t fill me with awe in the same way it used to.
Then I stepped in to do art.
I have currently long-term subbed art for 25 weeks, not consecutively. Consider that for a moment.
That time has given me some amazing tools both physically and technically. I already knew how to manipulate images through Photoshop. I’ve created my own fonts, and used my photography to create images. I also, through my earring making, figured out the 3D form. It was my real life 2D work that needed some classes. Now I have it. I was/am paid to learn these things so I can teach them.
It had me looking around again.
There are times that my centering moment is just to look. Maybe it’s the way a shadow cuts across the ground. Perhaps it’s the way something curves. I’m hyper-aware right now of space, form, and range. It’s awesome. Sometimes I find myself sketching, but oftentimes I’m just observing and appreciating.
That has caused me to re-appreciate the sky. There is so much going on in the sky. The clouds, no matter what time of day it is, are filled with depth. When it’s a sunrise or sunset, the way the light is captured just amazes me. Even when I’m stressed and overworked (which I am currently overworked for my paygrade) I can look at the sky and see we all live under that! Our canopy is so stunning, and we all get it.
Just a final note for today: I’m growing ever aware that I’m becoming scary. I understand math. I make sure I understand current and past events. I can read music, and have written pieces. I have acting experience in college, which includes video filming and editing. I can create art with colored pencils being my medium of choice. I’ve written on a regular basis, and have an unpublished but finished book. Oh, yeah, and I’m a Pastor with a Masters in Divinity from Emory University. All these denominations are scared because they want to recreate what’s failing, and I’m sitting here realizing when the people are ready, I am too.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
There are days I connect with Princess Fiona from Shrek. If you ever have seen the musical version (which is available on Netflix), she sings this song titled, "I know it's today." See, Fiona is ready from day 23 to find her "ever after." Shrek however, even when he finds Fiona at 8,423 days is still not ready.
I've been ready for a decade now. I've always been able to hard quit. (That's actually why it's pretty impressive I've kept Fig Tree going with a dream and prayer for over a decade. It's not in my DNA.) It means I'm rather impatient. I remember, right before seminary (over 15 years ago) I told all this to Rev. Dr. James Brewer Calvert. He told me something I've had to remind myself of- When the waves pull back from ocean, that's when they are preparing for the next crash, and that time is more important than the crash.
I bring this up because of another event that happened last January.
There is a teacher on the 8th grade hall at Austin Middle School that encourages everyone to have a word. It's a single word that calls to them for the year.
My word at the beginning of 2020 was TRUTH.
My word at the beginning of 2021 was LOVE.
She asked me what my word for this year is...
I told her FAREWELL. She thought it was negative.
I always take these words seriously.
I knew I was going to be bold in the truth in 2020, and WOW did that come true. I want to be an advocate for the teachers, and shared in ways that was a bit more transparent than others were.
In 2021 I knew I needed to find love in an increasingly jaded world. It was intentional, and I needed to show what relationship looked like while the world cracked and broke around us.
In January I had this strong feeling I needed to say a very slow farewell. I still do. Let me explain what that means.
I feel I have found a safe harbor for the past eight years at Austin Middle School. More than that, it has felt like a mini-call. I have been able to relieve just a little bit of the pressure for the educators. It is a job that can't be easily replaced. Right now I'm long term subbing in a capacity that will leave a vacuum if I step away. It's just true. I'm good at crisis management; trauma care.
I know it's something that will only be more necessary as the years continue, but my trauma management will not be enough.
And, I feel it. God is calling me away, and I've felt the need to say a long farewell.
The Long Farewell.
When I felt that word come to be in January it was not met with joy like I thought it would. For years I was ready like Fiona to get going. When I stepped into a role as a substitute teacher many years ago, I didn't think I'd fall in love with my waystation. Now, this "hard quit" gal doesn't want to leave.
What does it mean to say a long farewell?
First, it means I was given time. A long farewell, is not a hasty retreat. I can clean up and leave things better than I entered it. Part of that, is being intentional with those who are taking my place. I tell the good subs that they are doing a good job. I'm a bit more honest with the teachers where I felt I needed assistance- not for me, but for those who follow me.
Second, it is a 'bye." We say goodbye to many things in life, but many of us refuse to see the health in goodbyes, so there are many unhealthy situations that we cling to. Me being able 'hard quit,' has made it easier to say goodbye to unhealthy habits, but that doesn't mean I enjoy doing it. Also, it doesn't mean that everything I say goodbye to is unhealthy for me. Sometimes, it's simply time to move on. Sometimes, saying hello to a new stage in life means means saying goodbye to a current healthy stage in life. That's life.
Finally, the word I chose was 'farewell,' not 'goodbye.' To say, "goodbye," is to want the leaving to be good. To say, "farewell," is want the system you are leaving to do well after you are gone. One cuts it off at departure, while the other keeps a relationship once departed. The word 'farewell,' is very intentional. It's saying, may my departure leave you in a good place.
But most importantly, leaving is a stage of life.
We are afraid of letting go. The question of what comes after now lingers on our thoughts like a looming shadow. Our inability to allow the future to move forward has left us in a stagnant undeath. We are neither living nor dying. Instead, we are rotting in an in-between nothingness.
If we can't begin to live into healthy farewells, we will be forced into hasty goodbyes.
Endings are part of life. Our ability to accept that help choose whether those departures are healthy or broken.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
Yesterday, I watched season 5, episode 6 of the Handmaid’s Tale titled: “Together.” There will be spoilers, so there's your warning.
I was late on the “Handmaid’s Tale” bandwagon. Some of that was our watching habits. Our family doesn’t get all the streaming services. We rotate, and we didn’t start doing that until a couple of years ago. We were Netflix all the way. This meant I missed some great programming. Now I see most of it; it just might be late. Right now, though, we have Hulu, so I’m watching “Handmaid’s Tale” as it drops.
Before yesterday’s episode, it felt like the story was about everything happening to our main character: June. Something changed yesterday. Sure, the world is still out to get her, but now her role has changed.
Moving from wounded to healer:
Every victim has a moment. They can either choose to heal or stay broken.
Those who choose to stay broken often become our future’s abusers. This is why it becomes all the more important to deal with abuse when it happens, because (as I often write and say) brokenness breaks: always.
Those that choose to heal are the ones that can help others through the process. Let me just say, it is not required for those who deal with their trauma in a healthy way to become healers for others. No one is asking that of you. I am going to say, those who have walked through it, can explain what’s going on in a way that those who haven’t, can’t.
It’s this caution I have about religious leaders. So many are so bright and shiny. There’s this disconnect when real trauma hits. Maybe they know the right codewords, but people dealing with trauma can tell right away if they understand the words they are speaking. (Then there’s the ones who don’t know the right words, and cause more damage, but that’s a post for another day.)
June became a wounded healer in episode six. Before it was just the world against her. Now, the world is coming to her for help. She had a choice. She could tell Luke to rage against the world. She could break Serena like Serena broke her. Those were choices she would have made in the past. Instead, she tells Luke to always find hope in the darkness. Instead, she tells Serena, “May our children make better choices than we did.” In her brokenness she could have further broken two individuals. Instead, in her moment she had the opportunity to either break further, or move beyond it. In the darkest places, she chose to move beyond it.
That’s what most ministers don’t realize when they talk about hope. No one can see hope when the sun is shining, and the world is all lollipops and rainbows. It’s too bright. Hope is seen when the world is falling apart, and it seems like the future is a futile wasteland. It’s the widow taking a light to find the lost coin in the darkness. It’s the wounded choosing to want more for the future than what they themselves had. It’s June, choosing to pray for peace.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
“Why do we assume the devil’s gender?” a theology student asked. “Maybe ‘she’ is not male.”
I went to seminary during a time when we were beginning to be more inclusive with our God language. Ministers were beginning to try out a more feminine language for the divine like buying that outfit you’d been eying at the store. If you’ve ever done that, it rarely fits right. Looks great in concept though. Then you notice people eyeing you strange, and even though you paid for it, you hang it up in the closet, never to do that one again!
But since you went and bought it, you can tell everyone you are all for gender inclusive language, because you did it that one time in worship.
If you ever watch me during worship, you’ll notice I EXCLUDE gender with the exception of reading text. Occasionally it’s obvious. When I have to say something that replaces he/she with God. Otherwise, I’m very careful with how I form my sentences. Excluding one thing, includes another. God is in all things, and all people. I, or you, can see God in anyone.
BUT let’s get back to that devil talk, why don’t we
It’s been a hot minute since I heard that seminarian make her statement on the devil. It’s stuck around that long, which means I come back to it often.
If I think excluding pronouns allows people to understand how we are all images of God, what do I think about the same concept when it comes to the Devil?
To be clear, I’m not in the fallen angel camp. That’s extra-Biblical text to make it work. (So are the seven levels of hell, but that’s another discussion for another day.) Whatever name you call the personification of evil, I would believe that personification is still fully in the Divine Council if that personification even exists. I’ve written and said many times, “The devil made me do it,” is putting responsibility on something else other than oneself. It throws away an opportunity to choose to make a change.
I don’t think we have the same problem with gender and the devil. In the long-long-ago of seminary, the main subject on that day was on something other than Lucifer. Because we needed to stay on topic, it meant the statement had to sit without a discussion. Still, my mind immediately went to Bedazzled, a Brenden Frasier and Elizabeth Hurley film from 2000. Hurley played the devil, and she was a sexy bombshell of a Satan. Sexy is wrong in women, because it’s women taking sexual control over the relationship. This is part of the problem.
I think the show Lucifer really nailed down this problem. There’s a sexualized devil, who turns out to be the hero. You gender swap the villain and suddenly sexualization is not as much of an issue for Hollywood.
This means it’s less what gender you give to the devil, and more what attributes you are putting on that devil in that gender, or race for that matter.
This is why I don't typically use gender when talking about the personification of evil. Just like I want everyone to know they are created in the image of God, and to see God within them, I want everyone to know they are not their sin. They can't undo what they've done, but they can choose to act differently in the future. It's their choices- not the devils.
You know me. I’m all about shining those lights in the dark places. I want to demystify what we’ve called too absent of light to explore.
If you want to see other posts on the subjects of Satan/Lucifer/Devil, check them out below:
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
This can also be titled: "What I learned, being outside the Church: Part III"
What I'm about to say is the reason I didn't post anything last week.
Mentally, I was not in the right head space.
Did you know I've been writing fiction in my free time? I have four books.
One is written, edited, beta tested, and now I'm beginning to query it.
One is almost done being written. Then I'll begin editing and cleaning that one up.
Two have been written for about seven years now, and after I'm done with the second, those will go through a revision and reediting process.
I wrote them because I know the only people who read theology books are pastors, and mostly only people of faith read books on faith. The Christian world have very selective blinders, and the world outside is blind to Christianity. It means I can yell, scream, dance around... no one will see me because of blinders or blindness.
I read so much. I picked up old and new fiction. I did what most don't: I read between the lines. If you pick apart what you read like ministers do with theology books, you begin to see a writer's theology. It's the part of the writing few spend more than a glance considering unless the book is a breakout hit, but it is one of the most important parts.
Writers are telling you what to believe. It might be something classic like good triumphs over evil. It might be something relevant, like bad people can win big. It could beat you over the head, or subtly take you on a journey.
I wanted to write modern wisdom literature. Nothing explicitly religious. Nothing that beats you over the head with a theology if you read between the lines. Just stories that leave you with questions. Who was bad? What is good? Is there freedom? In true wisdom literature fashion, any answer opens new questions. Someone might think, "I loved that, but why did the character hate it?" It just cracks the door to a more open discussion in a world where the doors are cemented shut.
Being a woman, in the deep south, and being called by God to become a minister, I have my own open-ended questions about faith and life. I've been outside the Church for a decade, attempting to understand myself, God and the world around me. The longer I've been on the outside, the easier it has been to see the dangers within Church structures, and the completely obliviousness the Church has of the culture around her.
I'd be fine with this if the result wasn't to turn the sinner into the enemy instead of the need. In other words, to maintain our "otherness" we must become the temple workers Jesus specifically ostracized. In that world, we are wrong.
What kept me from posting last week?
Last week I sat in my inability. I'm a nobody from a nobody family. I'm a gal. I was an average student with a soft voice, and meek disposition. I had just learned that people don't want to make my job easier, they just want the free labor. They want me to make their job easier without considering that I want the same thing in return.
I already saw how incredibly broken and disconnected everyone already is from one another.
I stood on a mountain last week, looked over the ancient hills, and asked God, "Why?"
Why have I spent the greater part of my life trying to change something I can't possibly change?
I still don't think those around me gets it.
I don't want to be a mega-pastor. Seeing the billboards with the minister front and center makes me ill. Any minister worth their salt knows it's about God, not them. Yet I keep seeing them.
I don't want to make you happy. I'm not here to help you feel good about your life choices. There are so many that have come through here thinking Fig Tree will be the next self-help church. I'm just gonna drop some warm fuzzies all up in here, and we'll sing Kum-by-yah. Then they leave when they realize that's not what this is about, and I've yet to find the people who can sit with the necessary Cold Prickilies I need to drop. It ultimately leads to the phrase, "You're doing the right thing!" and the silent addition, "but I can't be part of it."
I do what to talk about those who were and are wounded and lost. I realize, with almost a horrible dread, that speaking to those things will require a secular voice. That's really why I write. I'm a woman in the deep south, who sees the problem and wants to speak to it. I can't do that in the church. Not authentically. That is also why I was in a dark place last week. I have spent decades trying to talk about these issues, and I've been met with ambivalence.
Why am I writing fiction? Because it speaks the truth.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
Culture is the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group. (Merriam Webster)
When many hear the word “culture,” they think of some society in another country. Often, we don’t think of ourselves, or if we do, we don’t think small enough.
Generally speaking, there is a national culture. There are also community cultures, like in a town or a city. There are also tiny cultures that form from a group of people being together like an office or school. Then there are cultures that form beyond boundaries. Baseball families have a culture. Football fans have a culture. D&D players have a culture.
One of the truths about culture is it often runs in the background. It’s the culture that holds the unwritten rules of the community and the punishment for breaking those rules. Because it runs in the background, the people within it don’t realize how it changes them and their actions.
Church culture is creepy.
To be fair, any hyper-focused culture looks creepy to the average outsider. This is because the hyper-focus causes the culture to look and act differently than the culture they naturally inhabit. Sports and D&D fans are great examples of how those cultures beyond borders can seem odd or manic to the outsider, but just runs in the background for these cultural insiders.
But Church culture is creepy.
I was completely invested in Church culture growing up. I was so invested, I had friends that made fun of me, because I was the creepy one! Seriously! I lived at the Christian bookstore, buying the Karaoke version of Christian songs so that I could sing them in Church. My music selection was almost entirely from a local Christian radio station. That was just music. Everywhere else I was completely invested too. I lived and breathed the Church.
Boy, did atheists enjoy talking to me. They knew my zealous nature, and searched me out. More often than not, to try to get me riled up like many others before me probably were. Only I wasn’t there to protect my religion like those they talked to before. I was there to test it. Many weeks ago, I explained I was systematic in my theology. This was part of that. If my faith couldn’t exist outside the Church, then it wasn’t the right faith. God created everything. God is in the darkest corners of the universe. What God wants in my life should be able to stand up to, you know, life.
None of that changed my achilles heel. I could not see the Church because I was far too invested in it. I was fully immersed in Church culture, and therefore, couldn’t truly see Church culture.
Then I wasn’t. I was forcefully taken out of Church, and the veil was lifted. It had to be lifted because…
Church is also very dangerous.
I discovered what those atheists above really wanted to do was bring out the inner monster lurking in many single minded Christians. They were specifically after the ones that never questioned their faith outside the Sunday morning walls. They wanted to see the good Christian person start to bite out when their faith was questioned. I have never met an atheist that can’t see beyond the simplicity of faith, and I was always taught to dig deeper into the text. That’s why there wasn’t an atheist that has ever caused me to bite. And, if they hit on something in my faith that didn’t make sense, they were doing me a favor because it gave me an opportunity to strengthen it and dig deeper.
First, attacking atheists is a newer strawman for Christians created by modern apologists to suggest the world is the problem, not them. This is wrong. We are called to save the enemy, and since we’ve made the atheist our enemy, we are called to save them.
Second, these atheist populations are merely poking what naturally comes out when weak faith is tested. It’s the same thing that comes out when our safety zone (the church culture) is tested. When something happens in the Church that breaks the community, it is easier to attack the person who was hurt rather than deepen faith through self reflection and change. So most take the easy way out. This means people who are attacked by the monster at the end of the Church, will often stay silent to keep from being attacked again. When you, yourself, have been attacked, you become a safe person to share woundedness with.
Did I mention Church culture is creepy?
The more disassociated from the general culture a Church culture is, the more on edge I am, and more creepy the culture appears.
I’m on edge, because we are called to go out into the world and make Disciples. When I wrote last week I wrote about the doormat phenomenon, where Churches cloister themselves in their building thinking they can evangelize from their doormat. The more disconnected they are from the general culture of the world around them, the more likely I see they are also secretly monsters that can bite out if their faith is tested.
Let me leave on this note:
The scripture that is most used to shield this phenomenon of cloistering Churches is this: We are called to be in the world, not of it. (John 15:19)
That specific scripture is about following Jesus, not the world. Well, if we were to follow Jesus we would be outside the Church just as he was outside the Temple. If we were to follow Jesus, we would be eating with sinners, and helping the wounded. In doing that, we wouldn't be hated by atheists, but by those who refuse to leave the building and do what Christ had called us to do. That's the problem. That's what makes the Church the scary kind of creepy.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
From the moment I felt called to be a Christian, I was seeking God everywhere, and more often in the places where I was explicitly told God was not.
Having spent a decade as a minister outside her Church doors, here's the main points I've learned:
The Church is failing because... isolation.
This is one I've known for longer than a decade. The Church has an evangelism problem. Maybe it's the stigma attached to the negative evangelism that was all the rave 20-30 years ago. Maybe, just maybe. It doesn't really matter anymore why that word has frightened a people called to the very idea of evangelism. The point is when they try they get it all wrong.
Almost every action I see is one of two ideas. Either, it's staying in the Church, with an invite in for some program like Vacation Bible School, or Movie Night. Usually it's something fun. Never is it to discover the culture around them, and showing people how God is already present. It's all about keeping those shiny buildings. They have the objects, and they don't want to leave the building, because that would void the collection of stuff they use to worship. It would also require more work than shooting out an email or putting out a yard sign.
Either that, or we go into the Culture for a temporary mission. While there are those who soundly disagree with me, and have so for years on this topic, I completely believe there is a difference between mission and evangelism. This is probably more my definition, so understand, while you might see evangelism tucked tightly into mission, I'm seeing how the Church has used those words over the years, and how they are clearly two different actions.
My definition of evangelism is learning the culture of the people and showing them how God is already present. The Church's definition of evangelism is going out and making Disciples of all people. Yes, the Church's definition sounds more Biblical. The problem with the Church's definition is my step is before the Church's step. You are showing people God in order to make Disciples. Not your relationship to God. Not how you became a Disciple. This is their story. Their relationship. God is already working in their life. You must help them see what is already there. Therefore, you can't make Disciples until you start with understanding the culture.
Church often treats mission as helping a culture within their culture. That part they get right. What they get wrong is control. So many Church congregations are foaming at the mouth for new congregants, that once they try the evangelizing part of mission, it's not to make new Disciples, but to make new congregants.
Evangelism is not, "Come to our Church!" Mission is not, "We're here for a week to do something nice and then we're leaving!" Mission shouldn't be about sending our kids to a less fortunate place to teach them how lucky they have it.
It's easier to see from the outside.
Next week: Living in the Church has created a false culture. Living outside the Church has deepened my understanding of God.