-Pastor Melissa Fain-
I’ve been spending a few weeks delving into Brian Wright’s Right from the Heart ministry. I’ve done this, because I want to separate the men from their theology. We are focused too much on the monsters this theology creates, and not the theology itself being the problem. Some great guys have peddled horrible theologies.
I’ve talked about hollow hope, and stagnant peace. Today I want to talk about fear that destroys love.
The shadows we cast
The best day to take photographs are overcast days. Why? Because there are no shadows. You don’t have people squinting to keep their eyes open. You don’t have harsh contrasts aging everyone and everything a decade. You just have equalized lighting diffused by the clouds in front of the sun.
The point is, oftentimes when we see those crisp shadows it’s because the sun is fully out, shining on the world. It is not darkness that creates shadows; it’s light.
There was a time I was forcefully put in the darkness. There is no hiding in it, because everything is darkness. Your eyes adjust, and you see it all. Sure- you can’t see everything well, but you can see everything. Then light shines. The people and things that were comfortable being out in the open scatter. Once there is light, they scurry to those shadows.
Fig Tree’s box lights
A good studio will only make you consider the lighting when the lighting is basically a character.
Like during Fig Tree’s livecast, you are supposed to see that the candles are lit. You are not, however, supposed to consider how the space itself is lit. I have two box lights hitting me from opposite 45° angles. I actually do this, to destroy any shadow that might show up on camera. This should leave you with no feeling at all regarding the lighting.
That’s not how life works. I’m removing how the lighting is done from your thoughts, while really lighting the space. In reality, you only think about lighting when those deep shadows show up.
Casting a shadow
At face value, nothing is wrong with this video. It’s the focus, not the message of the focus. Sure- if we have control over our shadows, we should always consider what we have chosen to shadow. Are we giving shade to a parched and overworked prophet? That’s a good shadow to give. Are we attempting to hide or dismiss someone’s point of view that could be helpful? Are we avoiding something that doesn’t need to be avoided anymore? Are we seeing that Ravi Zacharias was a bad guy and instead of looking at the theology that put him there, we are burying the issue and looking away? That would be a misuse of a shadow.
In reality, God’s light will create shadows, and if we stand before it, our shadow will be big and long. This video accidentally causes those who stand in the light to feel anxious about their shadows, to accidentally hide things in them because one wouldn’t want to be someone shadowing the good things. When you are too afraid to not keep a light on the good things, you become overzealous shadowing the bad things.
The bad things want the shadows.
Instead of being fearful where your personal shadows fall, maybe instead be active about fighting the things that hide in them. Shadow casters can be bad people, but, since every single one of us cast shadows, weaponizing shadows seems superfluous.
Yes, at face value nothing is wrong with this video, until you realize this theology is one of the key reasons why abuse remains in a church. Have you actually stopped and considered why the Southern Baptist Convention is attempting to hide and dismiss abuse when it’s so blatantly obvious? It’s because they don’t want to be actively caught having sheltered these predators in a shadow! The entire system has weaponized the shadows of congregants so successfully, they must react in the same way they’ve taught their sheep to react. They spend countless resources and money adding light to the good. They refuse to talk about the darkness. In doing so, it becomes easier for the evil things to hide in it.
This is all a focus and perspective game. This is all about widening the lens and pointing the finger where it needs to be pointed.
In the same way I used to be uncomfortable listening to Sunday Sermons in Paulding County, Georgia, there is a reason why there are a growing number who are finding my statements uncomfortable. I’m actively naming the brokenness of a large swath of theologians and believers. I also know there are millions of Christians who don’t want what I’m serving. I am the masked magician of theological writers because sleight of hand doesn’t belong in the Church.
This is the image of real love. Instead of demonizing those who had cast the shadow, destroying the things hiding in it.
This is the image of real love. This is what it means to walk to the cross. You must trust God enough to walk towards death, and accept that death, so new life can rise without this damaging theology.
This is what real love looks like. Accepting the wilderness, because the “city” is too damaged to survive. This is the image of real love.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
This month is a 10 year anniversary. Some anniversaries are good and worth celebrating. This one is not. These are the anniversaries ministers attempt to bury whether they were in the right or wrong. This is when a church lets a minister go.
Here are the ground rules:
What I expected, vs what I got.
When the church and myself were in the middle of search and call, I had three requirements. Below are my three questions, how they answered them, and what they gave me.
I walked into deep brokenness, from recent and past trauma. No new minister should have that job. Period. If they had been completely honest, I wouldn’t have taken the job. Instead, they lied, and after I was already there, it got worse.
How this church deals with her trauma.
Back in the 1970’s this church became broken when a minister split the church over traditional versus praise worship. The minister took the praise group and started a new church. Before this event, ministers would serve at the church for many years. After this event, almost all only lasted a couple of years. Always, when the minister would introduce change, they would suddenly resign only a few months later.
This information was buried. I had to dig for it when I was trying to understand what happened and why it happened.
It turns out, there were two churches meeting in the same building. There were the congregants, who were often good and supportive of many of these clergy. Then there were the Elders, the power that maintained the church to keep change from taking root. I can still remember congregants talking fondly about former ministers, and then being puzzled because they suddenly left. The elders would quietly vote to dismiss the minister and ask for their resignation. The minister would comply, because in the church it’s harder to be hired if you are fired. (You’d probably be surprised to hear there are far more ministers who just chose to say they were resigning to avoid being fired. Forcing resignation is a very effective method to force a minister out.)
What happened to me
They wanted my resignation pretty early on. I know this, because the key players all reacted in certain ways. There was one in particular that couldn’t hide her feelings even if she tried.
In late February/early March I announced I was pregnant with my, now, daughter. The look on her face was not joy, but devastation. When we tried out a television during VBS week, so the congregation could see how non-threatening it all was, she stood up in church and yelled, “This is the worst thing to ever happen!” When I said I was dropping the television idea, the Elders actually looked disappointed. (Not because they wanted it, but because that was what they were going to use to bury me.)
When my dad totaled his bike, and I didn’t know if he was okay or not, certain elders once again looked put out, instead of worried on my behalf.
It wasn’t difficult to read.
Finally, I had taken two weeks after my daughter was born, and announced I was ready to come back. Was I really ready to come back? No, but I felt extremely uncomfortable taking any more time. One of the elders asked if I needed more time, if I were sure. I said I was, and that night he invited me to his house to tell me they wanted my resignation.
They knew what they were doing, and they made sure they did it right. They already had a meeting telling me certain members didn’t get along with me; that they had problems. I asked them not to be the intermediaries for these people, but to ask them to talk to me directly. I didn’t realize this meeting wasn’t to help me, but to have "that meeting" before they asked for my resignation. They needed to check it off the list, so they could say they did it.
I had chosen to have my daughter at the rural, lower income hospital, because it was closer to the church. (By the way, it was really eye opening to have my first child in a hospital that gave a damn, because they had money, and my second child in a rural hospital that just didn’t have the same level of resources. As a minister I appreciate what I learned from that experience.) When my daughter was born, the Elders dropped the phone tree chain, so only my secretary came to visit.
When one of the Elders went into the hospital because his appendix ruptured, they tried to keep me out of the loop. I found out and visited. They tried to use it against me, but (once again) the secretary came to my side, and asked this elder point blank if I had visited him in the hospital. He sheepishly said, “yes.”
I chose to fight the resignation, not because I thought I could keep my job, but because I wanted everything exposed. If I were wrong, I wanted to be brought forward in my failure. If they were wrong, I wanted the region to see it and act accordingly. Unlike many ministers, I’m willing to utterly destroy myself for what is right, and I did.
I have not had a full time church job since that job. I refuse. I’m not going to play into a broken system. And point blank. It sucks. I have enormous student loan debt from a graduate level theology program that I can’t pay off. I've been a waitress, a retail worker, a sub... because we need money.
What I have been doing, and haven’t stopped doing, is following my call. I have been a minister since my ordination day, and I haven’t stopped. I have to live with the truth that people want to be cheerleaders for that call, but not join it. I need physical help. The most disheartening truth is that I have to realize I’m one of the few who are willing to do what I do for no pay.
So every October my daughter’s birthday rolls around, and so does that anniversary.
Every year I’m reminded of what one of the Elders said to me at his house, asking for my resignation two weeks after having a baby, “After all you’ve been through, you’ll bounce back.” For 9 years those words haunted me. I thought: Either I will bounce back, and they will be justified in everything that happened. Or, I won’t bounce back and he won’t care because he said it to make himself feel better.
I failed to realize what those words were actually saying: “I know you were broken in your past, and we are about to break you again. Now I’m going to make a suggestion that you’ll be okay because you’ve been broken before, and it will help me sleep at night.”
They knew they were in the wrong, and I’ll leave you with two stories as proof.
At the elder’s house he told a story. I wanted to keep preaching, until I left, and he said no. Years ago, they had asked for a minister’s resignation. (I discovered he wanted to go through redevelopment with the congregation. An immediate death for any minister at this church) The elder told this story of the minister going up to him during his sermon and publicly forgiving him for what he had done. No, they didn’t want me doing that. That wasn’t good at all. That suggested the elder was wrong.
Later, after I decided to bring this all out in the open, this elder’s wife called. I answered and she lit into me. “How dare you fight this! You’re just supposed to resign and move on! This has upset my husband, and you should be ashamed!" I hung up on her. My husband, who was within 6ft of me at the time, couldn’t believe what he had just overheard. That rant was clearly not part of the plan, because she called back and left a voicemail. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that. I was out of line. My husband told me not to tell you that.”
Simply put- we shouldn't have been together. If the church was just honest in the interview process I wouldn't have taken the job. All that pain and suffering could have been avoided. But, what's done is done.
I will continue to fight to fix the Church. I have nothing to lose, because I lost it a decade ago. Since that experience, I’ve heard so many other stories about Church brokenness. I am not an anomaly, and that’s a problem. I need physical help. That’s now what makes October so difficult for me. All those cheerleaders, and no real players around.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
(Before I begin. With the help this week of Bruggemann’s Prophetic Imagination, this is my theology. If you discuss it somewhere else, just remember to cite this post with links.)
This is a series where I take apart an unhealthy theology to show it for what it is. I’m working through Bryant Wright’s “Right From the Heart” ministry. I’m doing this because it’s not these bad people picking up God’s mantle. It's bad theology.
Last week I talked about hollow hope.
This week I want to jump into peace.
Dismissing Ravi Zacharias before I delve into Right From The Heart.
It really made my brain hurt reading Zacharias. First, because he gave commentary for scriptures he wouldn’t even cite in the text. (His commentary was absolutely trash, by the way.) Secondly, he built this idea of one Truth on one scripture: John 14:6
“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Light. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
John 14:6 CEB
There’s a lot to unpack here, so bear with me as I get it all out and piece it together.
Zacharias is probably one of the main reasons we have so many evangelicals not trusting science. He walked this very fine line in his books. He went right to the edge of suggesting science was false truth because it came from atheists, but wouldn’t say it directly.
As science was pushing against Genesis and hitting against the Biblical literalists, the Biblical literalists desired a way to ignore the scientists and keep their faith.
This is where Zacharias made all his money. They didn’t have to think about the authenticity of his words, only that it allowed them space to keep their own beliefs. He cemented faith that was always called to movement. Nothing good can come from that.
What if… peace only in Jesus?
First, the video.
This is clearly something pulled together to capitalize on the “What if…” Marvel show on Disney+. I actually appreciate drawing from modern and secular forms of media for sermon analogies, but I’m not sure this was the right way. This was something I went into over a year ago with a church parody of Hamilton’s I’ll Be Back. I don’t want to delve too much on whether this video gets the source material. I do want to talk about real and fake peace.
For over a year now, I have ended almost every single worship with, “Go in Peace.” Oftentimes I explain that peace. Always, I say that peace is work. I’ve called it “active peace.”
We think peace is some kind of break, or stop. When we see Godly peace in this way, it can weaponize peace. See, seeking peace can be very uncomfortable and chaotic. It will not feel very peaceful. A few years back, I compared it to building a road. The finished product should lead to a peaceful drive, but the work to that finished road is a chaotic mess. Sometimes, churches are confronted with brokenness and trauma. The only way back to peace is to deal with the chaos. Peace is weaponized when it is used to not deal with chaos. It shuts down healthy change by forcing those who are broken to shut up.
In this brief little video I see a few things that bother me:
Play the commercial game with me
I’m a master at ignoring commercials. They come on, and I tune out. This means sometimes people ask me if I’ve seen a commercial, and more than likely the answer is, “yes,” but I say, “no” because I don’t remember any of them.
Then there’s the commercial game that draws me back in.
I purposefully watch the commercials to answer two questions:
These two questions are almost always different.
Like alcohol commercials are almost always trying to sell the promise of relationship, while really selling alcohol.
Like household cleaners are often trying to sell the promise of family love, while really just selling something that cleans.
What you discover is that many commercials are promising an illusion, while selling a product.
Are you feeling uncomfortable knowing where I’m going next? Good.
For centuries faith traditions have been sharpened by other faith traditions. We have books from the early Church, because the early Church believed Christianity was important enough to get right.
Today, I physically feel others' anxiety just typing all this out. I can mentally imagine the words, “Hey! I’m comfortable in my faith. Leave it alone!” “My faith is the only place where I can find peace and joy!”
That brings me to the real problem with this 30 second spot:
These churches are “maintaining temporary utopias beyond their tenuous shelf life.” The promise is ease and existence. Meanwhile, Churches must cut themselves off from the world to maintain these false utopias. Warning: Perfection is not compatible within a community. If your church is perfect, something is wrong.
This spot screams “fake utopian bubble.” While not saying it directly, it alludes to Christ being in the church, not of the world. In reality, Christ did all the important stuff in the mess of the outside world. Sat right outside the temple as the widow gave her last bit of money to the temple! Know God, know peace? My God has left the building.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
Last week someone tweeted how upset they were with the Southern Baptist Convention, and they were done. Not with their Church, but with the SBC.
I pretended to write, “But how can you be done and still stay in the church?”
I got to the point where I was just about to click, “Reply” before I backed out and away.
Last week there were multiple people out for Mark Driscoll. He has abused systems and women. He needs to go.
As I write about all these leaders right now. It’s the theology, not the people leading it. You get rid of the person and the same voice takes his place with a different face.
Therefore, I’m choosing a new target: the theology. Sometimes it’s difficult to disassociate the people from their words. I have no such problem. I’ve chosen a rather easy target for the next few weeks.
Right From the Heart is a ministry started by Pastor Bryant Wright. He is the founding pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, located outside of Atlanta, Georgia. I’m sure Wright is a great guy who I would personally enjoy spending an hour talking over coffee. His theology, on the other hand, is very dangerous. I hope, over the next few weeks, you hear me out as I take some of their meditations and show you what I mean
The Incredible Hope
Take a moment and watch this video.
It is important to realize, all of this sounds really good at face value. Even the thought of attacking this video can immediately paint me as the “bad guy.” That’s by design. This theology only works on a personal level, and to the person’s immediate community. Anything beyond that frays and falls apart.
Finding Our Base
[Everything I’m saying is coming from me. Just know- I’ve been very guarded sharing this information because I’ve gone viral and saw it amount to nothing. I’ve had ideas stolen and sold for money. Please cite me with a link if you are going to write any of what is written below.]
Here’s the dealio. Everything you believe builds itself up. You have a base belief. Let’s call it, “Your greatest want.” This “want” is not going to be anything fleshed out. It’s going to be primal. Simple.
For most of the United States I believe our greatest want is to exist. Therefore, if you want to exist, you need to eat, have a safe place to reside, and be healthy. There will be things that will keep us from reaching those needs. It doesn’t take long to see it’s impossible to be sure about any of those things. (Especially after Covid.)
WARNING! I’m about to go into DEEP waters. I want you to read, but here’s your life raft if you are not used to deep faith: “I believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and I proclaim him Lord and Savior of my life.” I believe this. I also believe everything I’m about to write. You can have faith in something bigger than what our senses pick up and believe what I believe.
When we cannot fulfill our needs to meet our greatest want, we either change our greatest want, or change our needs. It will always be easier to change our needs. As adults, our greatest want, our base, is cemented down. When life is a horrible reality, it’s easier to throw our greatest want ahead to beyond life. A greatest want becomes, “I hope for an existence beyond this world.” When the needs fill in, the person is doing things to secure life.
That’s not to say everyone’s greatest want is to exist. There are many out there that just want to be comfortable. Anything that questions that comfort is dangerous. There are still others who just want it to be easy. For others the word is “power.”
No matter what your greatest want is, if you are unaware of its name, you can be taken advantage of. This is even more true if someone else can figure out your greatest want before you know it yourself. I knew someone who’s greatest want was comfort. She was manipulated into doing something she later regretted, because others knew what she really wanted. I can’t be angry at her even though that action directly hurt me. I can be angry at the people who knew what they were doing, and chose to do it anyway.
Once you know what you're looking for, it’s pretty darn easy to find other’s greatest wants.
The Chicken and an Egg story of Faith and Works.
Faith is when we trust a system/person/religion enough to act without personal knowledge.
True faith will replace our greatest want, whatever it is, with God.
Fake faith will suggest belief will get you your greatest want.
This is the real problem with Bryant Wright’s hope.
Replacing your greatest want with God is one of the biggest leaps of faith you can take. It has far reaching ramifications to how you act and interact with the world. Hope is always an indicator of where you are headed. Hope that is only headed towards existence or comfort is empty. Where can you possibly go? It is a sign of stagnation. Stagnation is something that happens in a bog. The water can’t move, or it’s moving way too slowly, and everything gets mucky.
Consider this: “God will give me comfort,” is saying what you really want is comfort, and your belief in God is based on that want.
Going back to a previous topic, this is really where Ravi Zacharias is truly seen as the emperor without any clothes. His whole systematic theology (meaning how his religion connects together) is built on an idea that everyone’s base is a desire for comfort and existence. Which I believe whole-heartedly that was his base; his greatest want. He then packaged it up as Truth™ and sold it to us at the discounted price of $9.99.
I believe a group of individuals used his words to hijack a faith tradition and have been at it for about 40 years. Wright’s view on hope is that theology continued.
What does it mean to make God your greatest want?
There have been moments when I’ve had a choice. Sometimes that choice is easy, and sometimes it’s not so easy, but it always pits a base want against the truth. Zacharias’ truth was that everything that brings us comfort is of God. The real truth is that the path of God is often filled with uncomfortable, and unforgiving moments. Oftentimes, we are pushed out of our comfort zone by God, because comfort can lead to stagnation, and then we have that bog again.
Wright’s hope is underpants gnomes. I’m going to share the link, but it’s very crude and from South Park, so feel free to ignore it, and read my basic description. The boys follow gnomes under the city of South Park, and discover they are stealing everyone’s underpants. The boys ask what they are doing, and they say they are stealing underpants to make a profit. Only, they have no idea what they are going to do to turn underpants into profit. Step 1: Steal underpants. Step 2: ? Step 3: Profit.
Wright’s hope is Step 1: Accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Step 2: Works. What works? ??? Step 3: Salvation! In Wright’s hope do you really even need a step 2? No, no you don’t. That’s what makes his hope so hollow. It’s underpants gnomes.
God’s hope has action now. When you choose God as your base want, your greatest want, you are stating that you are willing to put in the work towards that Hope even at the cost of your own comfort or existence. It’s a Hope building towards God’s Kingdom and Kindom on earth. That’s where works are the fruit of faith. It’s a sacrifice, and it’s real. And it isn’t hollow.
Which came first: Faith or works. I believe it is faith, and with faith where God is our greatest want, we find we what we need is for communal connection. Healing. Active peace. That's real Hope.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
I think my biggest frustration today is our inability to see no one is looking. We have mastered the art of talking to ourselves, and believing we are somehow reaching out. We can get people who already think the same way as we do to smash that like button. We can gather thousands of like minded individuals into one space, and confuse that with success.
In reality, we are at the point where the illusion of change is just about the only thing actually happening anymore.
Just imagine this with me.
You and so many others are packed into a giant amphitheater. There are twenty stages circling the base, and all of them are speaking at the same time. There are also some around you vying for spots on those stages, so they are all speaking too. It’s loud! Too loud! You can hear everything, which means you can actually hear nothing. (This is the internet.)
Then a friend hands you noise cancelling headphones. “Hey, I’m listening to that stage right over there. If you put them on, you’ll hear what they are saying.”
So you put on the headphones, and the first thought you have is that you appreciate the relief from all the noise. You don’t even care what the person on stage is saying, because it’s just nice to have enough peace to be able to think again!
You also notice that with these headphones there are nearby voices that are allowed to break though. You think that’s great. The people on stage have too much power, and allowing some of the small voices equal attention is more than fair.
Then, you discover your headphones can pick the voices you want to hear! You start messing with your frequencies. You scroll through all the stages, and find 2-3 you really like. You also start adding people in the auditorium and begin listening to them. There’s a gal, on the other side of the amphitheater you accidentally found, but she is amazing, and you agree with everything she says!
All of this sounds wonderful, until you realize it didn’t help people hear. It cuts people off. Because the world was too loud to listen to all of it, it forced you to only listen to what you already agreed with. And if you kept diverse people around you, it didn't matter. You were going to unfriend/unfollow/ignore those who didn’t agree with you, or they were going to do it to you.
The Church is in control of nothing.
First and foremost, the Church’s powerlessness should always be true. We are not God, nor should we wield power in such a Godly way. The church should be on a mission to empower others, not oneself.That being said, we all know that hasn’t been the case. The Church has done some horrible things in the name of God. Much of it was done to maintain power.
It’s the echo chamber. We've put ourselves into it making it easy to delude oneself into believing everyone who is right and just thinks the exact same way as oneself. So while those broken by the Church are yelling out to the world to do something, no one hears them.
The Church doesn’t hear them because they unfollowed the broken.
Those outside the Church don't hear them, because they haven’t subscribed to the “right” channels.
Only the broken can truly hear the broken, and the growing number within this group has become alarming.
Here’s the blunt truth for all you broken people out there: The Church (the entire Church) believes they are not the problem. It’s the Church down the street that’s the problem. And the Church down the street? The exact same. So, even when they hear your stories they are self-congratulating themselves for not being the church that broke you. Their solution is for you to join their church. Their solution is to enter their echo chamber, which is no solution at all. They are not listening to you, they are concerned about themselves. What about the stories that belong to these churches? The backfire effect causes them to somehow believe it was a misunderstanding, a fluke… [insert something that keeps accountability at bay here.]
Here’s an even blunter truth: No one is listening to you, at least not in a real and substantive way. On one side, your truth dismantles their truth. Your truth destroys their faith. They’d rather let you fade into obscurity than evaluate their faith. On the other side they tuned you out before you even talked. They not only are without a church, they are actively avoiding the building, the people, and the words. They have no sympathy for you because they don’t see the point in fighting for an institution like that.
Why am I being this blunt?
This problem must be dealt with first, before we can fix the systemic issues within the Church. I am not trying to be mean. I am not just poo-pooing good and healthy change. I’m telling the world where to start. We must fix the tool used to fix the problem, before we have any hope of fixing the problem.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
Seven months ago, Behind the Magic (a YouTube channel devoted to Disney, Broadway, and the intersection of the two) did a two-part video on Wicked and why it was a global phenomenon.
Now, if you’ve been reading me enough, you know I’m a huge Wizard of Oz fan. I know Wicked the Musical is nothing like Wicked the book, which is nothing like the MGM’s Wizard of Oz which is nothing like the book, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” I’ve written a Bible study that serves as an introduction to the Bible using the Wizard of Oz, and I penned an explanation of being a female minister using Dorothy as my example. I’ve watched and studied the material enough that I’d say only my study of the Bible trumps it.
The Behind the Magic videos eventually delved into what closed Wicked for over a year: The Pandemic. By this point we’d already learned the story of Broadway’s current Glinda: Ginna Claire Mason, who sat in the audience back when the original Broadway cast was still in their roles. She looked to her parents that day and told them, “I’m going to be Glinda someday.” In the video, she was asked what she was most looking forward to when Broadway opened up again. She said, saying her first line, “It’s good to see me, isn’t it?”
I was excited for her! I wanted her to get that line! So, on September 14, 2021, Broadway reopened. The very next day a video surfaced:
Wicked Reopens on Broadway: Watch Glinda’s Iconic First Line.
I clicked the link, and Kristin Chenowith came out behind the curtain. Well, I’m not going to ruin it for you, so I’ll let you watch for yourself.
I love Chenoweth. I’ll watch her in anything. I saw her song during the Tony’sin “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” back before Wicked was even an idea. I’ve watched her in The Music Man, Hairspray: The Musical and just recently Schmigadoon! But, I would have hated her if she stole that moment. And, it just felt like that was the original plan. Step out, say the line, get the love. Deflate Ginna Claire Mason’s moment.
It didn’t happen. “There’s no place like home,” came from Chenoweth’s mouth, and a new Glinda got a new moment, while not being upstaged by the very person who helped her find that call.
You might be wondering what this story has to do with the Bible or theology.
I think there are some Divas in the pulpit. Leaders who were for a different age, with too much power; sucking the life out of those who could be for this age, apprehending their power. These Divas are stealing their lines.
What I didn’t tell you about Ginna Claire Mason, was that line was also her very first line as Broadway’s Glinda. Her first show was supposed to be in April 2020.
This past decade has been incredibly tough on new ministers. I can’t speak to all of them, but I can speak to those who have taken similar paths to myself.
I came from a denomination that requires a Master of Divinity as part of the requirements for ordination. This is a very intense three-year program, as many Masters programs are. Most mainline United States Denominations require upper-level learning before ordination. (Sidenote: That’s something to consider if your church is non-denominational. Education gives you tools and the ability to use them.)
The year I graduated from Candler School of Theology was the first year there were more women than men graduating. Candler took our money and pushed us out with a dream and a prayer. Only there were already two things against us once we graduated and were ordained:
1) The Church had just begun to feel the hemorrhaging loss of congregants that began in the late-80s. This was because in 2010 that’s when the “Great Generation” began to pass away. The “Great Generation” tithed. Tithing is the Biblical notion of giving 10% of all you earn or create to God. The “Great Generation,” believed that was specifically to the Church. “Boomers” didn’t tithe, and when later generations did tithe, they gave to multiple organizations, not just the Church. If you want someone or something to feel loss, hit them in the wallet. This caused the Church to react instead of act. Up until this point, the self-serving nature of the Church unintentional. When Churches began to get scared, they began to pull back and pull in intentionally. We were coming out of these seminaries with a call: We need to go out. It was the exact right message that none of these hemorrhaging churches wanted to hear. For this reason, we remained unemployed.
2) 2008 destroyed retirement for the ministers that had it. There would have been jobs for these new graduates if the financial collapse of 2008 hadn’t happened. There were ministers who were planning on retiring and enjoying the remainder of their life in whatever way they felt was appropriate. Instead, everything lost value. With exceptions, it wasn’t that they didn’t want to retire, it was that they couldn’t retire. This meant all these brand-new graduates had nowhere to go, because the jobs just were not there. It was even worse for us gals. Sure, most mainline denominations hire women ministers, but most individual churches don’t hire women senior pastors or women at all. This means not only was it harder for seminary graduates to find jobs in the Church, but it was even more difficult for women ministers in denominations that promised to include them, but didn't.
It deflated us. Many of us got jobs in fields unrelated to our education. I, for one, have worked as a restaurant server, a substitute teacher, a professional crafter, and a Census worker. About a decade ago I saw a report on a minister who was a mall cop. Meanwhile, the ministers in the Church would lovingly tell us to go be Paul. Make tents and preach! Well, that’s easy to say when you are in the pulpit. It’s not that fun, to know you must “get your tent built” for a paycheck and it’s eating into your opportunities to share God’s Word. It’s frustrating when you have something important to say, but someone else has taken the mic. I know I’m not alone.
Now there are people who it doesn’t matter if they are able or not able to retire. There are people who shouldn’t be preaching anymore. They have a message that has an expired sell-by date. When they choose to speak over the ones that never had the opportunity to preach, they are turned from someone I used to love, into someone I now hate. They are now thieves.
There are also those who never should have been given the mic to begin with, yet somehow, they are still going. This is all bad theology being given a voice, and this too I hate. If one of them is taken out (like Ravi Zacharias) another pops in their place (like Mark Driscoll and his new plant). Meanwhile the world is full of silence. Ministers who are just forced to wait. They have a call that has never been taken. Stolen by those who should just choose not to steal the line.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
Returning to Former Themes
Someday I might look back at my sacrifices and see that it wasn’t all for nothing. The pieces came together to create a beautiful mosaic. Those who broke my life into those tiny pieces wouldn’t really matter in the long run, because what I will be will be better than what I was.
It might not. I am allowed to believe there is a higher power that wants to love us and seek the best of us, while still understanding humanity’s frailty could undo and destroy everything God wants. If in 30 years I’m not better than I was, then that’s not a statement of God’s power or love. That’s a statement on humanity. There are good people who suffer and fall into obscurity, and there are bad people who rise to fame and power.
The Power of Words on the Internet
Over a decade ago I had a dream. As a minister, I was visiting a family. I noticed their lighting, and told them I liked it. Then, as an aside, I just mentioned that the crystal accents would look really good black instead of crystal. The next time I came to visit, all the crystal accents had been poorly painted black. I was horrified with myself, realizing the power of my words held so much sway. When I woke, I first considered how silly it all was. How could this family not understand the difference between a personal aesthetic and Biblical interpretation? Second, I was horrified by the poor translation of my statement. My words were taken literally with little concern to why I said them.
It was just this realization that I could be the most eloquent writer or speaker, and it didn’t matter. My words were only half of the puzzle. How people interpreted my words was the other half. I agonized over my writing. If I were to die, would they still mean what I wrote them to mean? If the answer was no, I revisited those topics to flesh them out more. I knew nothing was going to stop someone from taking a sound bite out of context, but if I could leave enough to allow others room to correct the bite.
I know, it’s a strange thing to spend my time considering. It’s just the long game I’ve been playing. When I say “game,” I don’t mean “fun,” or “playing around.” I mean “game” like I mean chess. I’ve known since the beginning that the words I posted a decade ago could hold the same amount of power as the words I posted last week. I knew this would be the case even if the words posted a decade ago remained adolescent while I continued to mature.
The Power of the Pulpit
I had another dream around the same time as the first. I was going to be speaking at a simple white chapel when someone came in and took my spot. No idea what he was saying. Just this realization that he was taking my voice. I stared at him silently, as he uncomfortably stared back while he spoke. When he went to leave, I tried to follow so I could talk to him, but he actively avoided me.
That dream has left me with the realization that the pulpit, the place where the Pastor speaks, is far too powerful. If you cannot leave space for conversation, you are not being refined in your craft. You are allowed to dull, and become less effective. It also helped me realize that those who step into that space are not capable of understanding who would have stepped in had they remained away. It goes back to God’s plan vs human frailty. I do not think less of God because bullies have the pulpit. Sometimes strength is in being a Pharisee willing to bury Christ, which is good. Sometimes strength is in brute power like Sampson, which is bad.
I suppose I needed to write all this because I’m hitting decade markers. My world began to completely change 10 years ago starting last July. By November I’d be completely broken, a new mother, and trying to heal and grow at the same time. Most of what I’ve done has been strangely informed by those dreams. Bullies run the Church. All words hold power. What God wants for me is not necessarily what people did to me.
Life has constantly guarded me against this bright and shiny message. It’s why I talk about needing deep faith, especially now that so many shallow end believers have been pushed into the deep end. I’m stronger than the poor choices others make, but I’m also human. I mourn. I cry. I gnashed my teeth at an unjust world. That doesn’t make me any less a Christian. It makes me real.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
This was over a decade ago. I had just begun seeing that something had to change, or the church was going to see a drop in attendance over the coming years. In my naïve youth, I boldly expressed what I knew to be true. The 11am worship had to change to better meet the needs of those outside the Church.
That’s when an older congregant looked me in the eyes and said, “The world is changing so fast now, we want one thing that doesn’t change. Church cannot change, or we will have nothing.”
I have never understood people who see a problem and then don’t change something to fix it. I will often do what needs to be done; at the drop of a hat. That’s a leadership problem for me. I can’t understand why people keep broken situations, and therefore, I can’t explain how to do what I so naturally do. Then again, I’m never called to healthy spaces. I’m called to disasters. I dare anyone to name one system that was in good working order when I entered it. There is only one I can think of, and I believe that was not my calling, just a “in the meantime” job until the real call opened back up.
What I’ve learned about these systems, is none of them want the truth. They want to pretend they want the truth, but what they really want is the past. They want to recall a time when their pews were filled with smiling congregants, and everyone was singing “Standing on the Promises,” because that was the song where the Holy Ghost entered the room. Therefore, they will drop the big bucks for someone willing to sell them a lie. They might even know it’s a lie, but the illusion of what they want is less work than the actuality of truth.
Here’s the problem. What is easy is not always right. What is comfortable will trap you.
Speaking uncomfortable truths to a world trapped by easy comfort is a powerful form of love.
You want someone who is seeking love to speak those truths. The ones who speak those words outside of love will only burn it all down. It makes it all that more important for the right person to yell out those truths so all can hear.
Right now, easy Church is the wrong way. Right now, we are being called to difficult places with difficult choices. I speak truth to those systems because I want to see them redeemed. It’s not fun. It’s not easy. I don’t see churches clamoring to support me financially, but someone who loves needs to do it, and I don’t see anyone else standing. So, I stand and sing Amazing Grace, with blogs and sermons, hoping the true meaning can be seen above the noise.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
Whether you realize it or not, your faith is working in the background of your everyday life.
Many people want their faith to be easy because their normal day to day is not. They want someone to step up to the pulpit, and tell them all the things they want to hear. Some people don’t want to hear at all, and those people either want social standing or to have a good program for the kids.
I can’t be angry at those people. Deception is extremely alluring. It can trick almost everyone to turn on their neighbor.
I’ve said this before, and it stands repeating time and time again- When anger is replaced with sadness, that’s the beginning of the Christian journey.
Right now the Covid cases per 100k in Paulding is 575. The threshold where Covid is spreading wild in a community is 200. We are 375 per 100k residents above that number. It gets worse.
When I counted up two weeks worth of reported numbers for Paulding County Schools, and factored in the teachers, that number is around 2608 per 100k. If you need a moment to process that number, I understand. I did too.
Let me explain my math. Skip this paragraph if it hurts your head. Just know student pop with general teacher population is 31,097. Reported cases over the past two weeks in Paulding County Schools are 811. To figure out what the case rate would be per 100k (which helps with transmission rate) multiply case number by 100k, divide by population. If you want to test this out, go to the Ga DPH Covid side and use their numbers and case rates to try it out on a few counties.
The people who are getting desperately ill are by and large, not the vaccinated. They are people who called this whole event a hoax last year. They are the ones who equated it to the flu or a bad cold. They are the people who screamed about personal rights regarding masks.
I can’t feel comeuppance for these people. I can’t. Some of these people are going to die. It won’t be their faith that saves them; it will be their faith that kills them. Knowing that breaks my heart. God is bigger and deeper than their penny arcade faith. A relationship in Christ is worth more than a simple statement of faith. A statement of faith does not take away personal accountability; or allow you to act like an ass to your neighbor. While that’s a crude way to put it, it’s feel-good, easy-choice religion that created this mess. It’s a religion that was so hyper-focused on the self at the cost of the other. All of these screams Dollar Store Shepherds leading the flock in bad faith practices.
From me: I’m so sorry for your loss. Whether you’ve already experienced that loss, or you are going to soon. You deserve better.
Trigger warning for suicide and thoughts leading to suicide.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
Over the past two weeks I have compared Zacharias’ $40 words to putting lipstick on a pig, have pointed to writings that show him glorifying the abuse of women, and said he was a victim that was turned into an abuser by not working on mending his brokenness. (Brokenness breaks, always.)
This week, I’m going to delve into a very problematic area. I want to express from qualifiers before I start, so we are clear from the beginning:
Ravi Zacharias’ suicide attempt
Like I’ve already written, anytime anyone says they are going to kill themselves, we need to take that statement seriously. Zacharias lived in an age where mental health was ignored. More than that, he solidified himself in a culture that downright shunned men who admitted to needing mental help. That makes Zacharias’ stories around suicide incredibly troubling. Hopefully, I’ll help the reader know how to handle situations when brokenness is used to abuse others.
Zacharias’ story should always be paired with when he shared the story. In April of 2013 he shared with Christianity Today his story of attempted suicide.He was 67 years old when he told the story, and 17 when he said the event happened.
As an adult, he would use suicide as a form of keeping power. As Lori Anne Thompson stated, he threatened to commit suicide if she came out with how he sexually abused her.
I’m going to go in two directions here. Both are extremely difficult for me to write. To give you an idea, this one paragraph took three days from start to finish. I want to look at the consequences of Ravi Zacharias’ testimony as both factual, and made up, all while treating the story like truth in both cases. It is my hope, by doing this, you will pick up some first aid tips for mental health. (Because when hearing about sexual assault, you are a first responder.)
It was false:
His parents, if they were still alive, would have been between 85-95, depending on how old they were when he was born. Zacharias himself did not get married until he was 26, and then had kids even later. It is very possible he waited until their death so any leftover loose ends wouldn’t ruin his testimony.
Except, what about younger adults who knew his parents? Wouldn’t they be able to verify or speak to the falseness of his narrative? Surely the parents of the man who was the next C.S. Lewis would be questioned about their son at private gatherings and whatnot. This is where a cleverly placed line in the Christianity Today article raised red flags, “The details are hazy, and I never knew if the servant hid the evidence of my attempt; my parents and I never discussed why I was lying there in the hospital.”
This line very conveniently covers up any remaining loose ends while leaving a big gaping hole! It allows the friends of his parents to believe, or assume, they had no idea about the suicide, so that’s why his parents never acted in a way that suggested they did. Only, why is this line here aside from covering over what was never true? Is it not questionable that your parents decide to act like you never took your life, and you just use that as an aside to your testimony?! I would have been heartbroken had I been hospitalized due to personal choices, and they just continued like it was nothing. Also, he was taken to a hospital, and the hospital didn’t tell his parents why?! Even if the hospital didn’t believe it was a suicide attempt, they would need to know from someone that he ingested poison so they could treat him properly. The parents would know somehow.
I would NEVER follow this line of thinking if someone came to me with this story. I hate myself that his blatant lying has even made me consider it. No! Believe it’s not true! It’s the one area where almost all would be criticized for even giving the suggestion of criticism. Yet, we must look critically at this because if he were lying, that means he knew the power of that lie, and was willing to take someone else’s brokenness to hold sexual control of her. In this respect, he didn’t just turn into a villain from his brokenness; he became a monster!
It was true:
If the story were true, something appeared to have changed in that event that added to Zacharias’ brokenness. Perhaps, and I’m reaching here, painting between chasms of lines, his father suddenly backed off of Zacharias. It would have taught him suicide was a method to regain power and control.
This also means, by 2017, when he told Thompson he was going to kill himself if she spoke, he was still deeply broken. This, all by itself, is a great reason why he was not supposed to be leading. He was clearly not a fully operational person, and that brokenness would affect everything around him, including his writings.
Now, here’s where I need to slow down and read every word I write: Suicide was weaponized to keep control; it is not Thompson’s responsibility to fix the problem. The fact that her story wasn’t treated with authenticity meant brokenness was allowed to continue to break. That’s not on her. That’s on all of us. Yes, even you and me, who are not part of RZIM. We are the Body of Christ, and if part of the Body fails, we all fail.
By just believing Zacharias’ made up story without any follow through, a great disservice was done to everyone. The moment both sexual assault and suicide was mentioned, both of those issues should have seen immediate action. There is an unhealthy worship of male leadership that is spiritually sending shockwaves through the Church. God does not fail, but any person who accepts the mantle can completely and utterly fail. That is not a statement of God’s power, but humanity’s frailty. Nor should those leaders remain in power.
What to do as a first responder
Real quick: the biggest action we can take for Ravi Zacharias is to help Thompson lift the gag order so she can tell the whole story.
How to act as a mental health first aid responder when someone expresses suicidal thoughts:
How to help:
Consider being a Mental Health First Aid Responder. There are trainings all over the United States. Knowing how to act in these situations are vital to a healthy community as a whole.