-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.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
To put it bluntly, I think he was a charlatan, propped up by Christians who wanted to hear they are doing the right thing, instead of the truth. He became one of the biggest false prophets in a world where prophecy had died. Before all you non-readers rake me over the coals, just remember the Israelites were constantly turning to Baal and other Gods to get the answers they wanted. The voice of God brought judgement upon Zacharais and you ignored it because the voice was female. Now I’m getting ahead of myself.
This is a story of a master of lies, and an abuser of women. To say anything else would cover over something that has no right to be covered over.
Ravi Zacharias was born in March of 1945, in India. Being new to his readings, I was under the impression he was born Hindu. This is where the deception starts. There was a hesitancy to talk too much about his Anglican upbringing. He allowed the reader/listener to draw their own conclusions unless he was pushed into admitting the truth. I read through Can Man Live Without God, and came away believing he was born Hindu. Did he say he was born Hindu? No. It was a very clever deception, but one that took away some of his power when realized, which was probably why he did it. Once he was fully established as a leader among Christians, it became more appealing to mention his family was Anglican.
(Speaking from personal experience, I don’t share my story as readily online as I could, but pieces of it exist in places. There are people who have heard it, and could vouch for it. There are hints to it in my writing. I’ve also openly expressed why I don’t share it. I know how woundedness wounds others, and it’s out of care for others in my story I refrain.)
Zacharias’, proven a liar, shared his childhood. Because he willfully lied about degrees, and later adult sexual assault, what I’m going to share should be viewed with both a sceptics eyes, and God’s grace.
In 2002, Jesus Among Other Gods was published. In chapter one he recounts a story where he willfully skipped school. He admits to doing this on more than one occasion. This time, he was caught. His father was apparently furious, and rightfully so. Government education in India is available, but private education was/is better. As a parent, I couldn’t imagine how furious I’d be for my child to throw away something so precious as a good education when such a thing was such a precious resource. I’m sure this compounded with the cultural idea that all children should seek a professional degree.
He then suggests that if his mother didn’t step in, his father would have seriously hurt him with the “thrashing” he received. I believe this. I believe this, because it explains so much. This kid was raised by a parent who wanted the best for his child, and didn’t know how to react when his time and money was wasted. This is Zacharias’ trauma, and he doesn’t hide it. He just never wanted to face it.
Speaking from experience, living through childhood trauma my first step to moving on was believing it all happened for a reason, and clinging to the trauma like it was something good. The next step was realizing the opposite. People who move from victimhood to survivor are those who then see how that trauma has kept them from being a whole healthy person, then they seek wholeness. For me, this movement from victim to survivor happened in Seminary. I can name the class, and the feeling of knowing I was mentally headed towards a landscape where I could eventually help others too. Now, I’m on the survivor’s path, and will hopefully be for the rest of my life.
Zacharias never moved past the glorification of his woundedness, and therefore, his woundedness remained his whole life. Not working through woundedness has devastating consequences. Instead of moving from victim to survivor, he moved from victim to abuser. Brokenness breaks- always! His father was trying to get him to do the right thing in the wrong way. It’s ironic that he spent his whole career telling others there was one truth, when his un-worked through brokenness kept his truth buried.
Once you realize this about Zacharias, his writings begin to lose their luster. He was a broken child not wanting to deal with the consequence of being wrong; not seeing the goodness in correction, because his correction was not done correctly.
This is what true Grace looks like. You seek justice, not because you want to burn it all down, but because you want to take out what is broken and restore what can be redeemed. You mourn the death of the abuser. First because there’s a hidden victim in the horror and destruction, and that victim never found healing. Second, because not correctly fixing the problem will destroy lives in the long run. If you do not listen to the lamenting voice of God, the wrath of God will eventually follow. It’s not because God wants to destroy, but God’s creation will always trump our brokenness and ability to subvert that very same creation.
That’s where I’m going to end today. As you can see, I’m trying to make sense of all the information I’ve been digging up, and I also want to process it all. I’ve now written a review on a book, and looked at his early life. I want to delve into his suicide attempt next week and his use of suicide as a source of control as an adult. Thank you for your patience. As I vomit it out here (and that's what this feels like to me), I'm beginning to see how a full length video manifests itself after the fact. I'm beginning to storyboard, so it's actually coming together.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
Slow and steady wins the race. That’s been my new mantra. Maybe everything is moving like refrigerated syrup, but it’s moving.
And compared to a few years ago, we’re in the races!
I took a two week hiatus from the writing side of everything to work on the video side. My goal was to have three videos recorded and published before the end of Summer break. Today marks the first week of school in my district. How’d I do?
Not a single video.
Some of it is the tremendous amount of data.
I honestly didn’t think I’d find anything reading Ravi Zacharias’ book, Does Man Need God to Live. I just thought it would be a straightforward apologetics book. Instead, it’s filled with examples that should have been warning signals. It also explains this completely off base movement to set up the atheist as the villian, years in the making.
Let me lay it down for you this week:
God is Good… as in, it feels good. Makes us happy.
Him: In the book, he sets up this argument that there is one truth, and the truth is Jesus, and Jesus is good. This goodness is more of the illusion of acting good. This is goodness as in a feeling, or a “satisfaction.”
Me: This is, first and foremost, bad theology. There are multiple locations within the Bible where Jesus tells the Disciples that the future wasn’t going to be “good,” but it was going to be right. I think Ginny Owens summed it up perfectly, “But you never said it would be easy, you only said we’d never go alone.” Easy feels good, at least at first. Your muscles feel good because the workout was easy. That doesn’t mean the workout was good for your body, only that it felt good. (And feeling good while also being good can begin to feel like the same time after you get through the workout feeling bad for a few months.)
Him: He also lays out that Jesus took on all the pain and suffering for the world, so we wouldn’t have to. If that were the case, someone should have informed the Apostles who all died horrific deaths following Jesus. Someone should have informed the Germans and maybe millions of Jews would have been spared. Someone should have told the warlords in Africa, or Genghis Kahn in China. Perhaps the genocides could have been avoided all together if they only knew. And, as snarky as I’m being, the answer to this little rant would have been “Yes, that would have stopped those events in their tracks!” According to Zacharias, a lack of faith turns people into tyrants. He does admit that Christians have their own pile of atrocities, but the atheist pile is worse.
Me: Before I really rip into this idea, he doesn’t back this published book with any data or statistics. He simply states it as fact and moves on. Even when I use quotes, or links in my (tiny, not worth a lick) blog, I still separate my thoughts with “I believe.” Those are important words. I might have spent the entire blog linking various articles to hold up my belief, but it will still be something that belongs to me and my thought process. Zacharias has no problem throwing out beliefs in a categorical way.
Also Me: It is bad theology to villainize those who are not Christian. Matthew 28:19-20 reads:
“19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”
Disciples are not those who automatically know Jesus Christ. Disciples are learners. Going back to easy/good. It is easy to see anyone who doesn’t believe as the villain, and see oneself as the hero. That doesn’t make it good.
Glorifying Sacrifice in Women
Many many years ago a colleague or professor tore apart The Giving Tree. At first, this set me on edge because I grew up reading that book, and loved all things Shel Silverstein. As this person continued, I realized they were right. The boy calls on the female tree to sacrifice to nothingness, while the boy is never satisfied. It’s a horrific tale of abuse.
There are some who have read Christ as the tree, and in that light we should read ourselves as the boy. In that light, it’s a horrific view of how we take advantage of God. We should leave the book wanting to be better than the boy.
Him: I bring this story up, because at face value, it appears Zacharias has nothing but respect for women. He practically worships them. It’s in that worship he is scary. He tells this Hindu story of a son who loves a woman, and the woman keeps asking for more and more until he asks for the mother’s heart. The son does it, and murders his mom. As he takes the heart to the woman, he trips, and the heart goes flying across the ground. The heart cries out, “Son, are you alright.”
This is a version of The Giving Tree. We are to look at this story as a mother’s sacrificial love, and ultimately Christ’s love.
Never does he condemn the son, who took everything from his own mother.
Me: Putting all sacrificial love on females is a way to justify abuse. For generations women are just supposed to take it, because their motherly instinct meant they were going to sacrifice more for their children. We condemned them naming their abuse, because that meant they were not accepting the Godly sacrifice.
Hottake: When someone doesn’t choose to sacrifice, that’s called abuse. When someone is forced to sacrifice, that too is called abuse. When the system is set up to do nothing but force you to sacrifice, guess what friends, that’s abuse. Zacharias glorified abuse.
Him: Zacharias included women in his book. It is vital to realize, when he referenced a female writer it was because she was quoting a male writer, or telling a male centered story. When he thanked a woman at the beginning of the book, it’s because of all the hard work she did for him.
Also Him: He did use masculine pronouns, and I didn’t think much of it (the book was written in the 90’s) until on one page he talked about his daughter, and switched for one pronoun to “he or she.”
Me: I see, time and time again, men in leadership choosing women who will help the man or look up to him. This is confused by men and women as the man treating women as equals. This is not equality, it’s a monarchy. When a true feminine equal is placed next to that man, time and time again I’ve seen the man sics his women helpers on the equal, especially when calling out sexism. Zacharias liked women who liked him. They were followers, not equals. It was easy to hide, because in the mid-90’s there were no substantial women theologians. When you’ve been raised up like Yertle the Turtle, you are going to push people down, and it becomes very easy to have no equals. It might sound backwards, but it’s easier to hide your views on equality, when you put everyone below you, and everyone allows you to do it.
Also me: Every time I go to work on this, I get stuck. It’s not because I have too little to work with. It’s because the evidence to abuse is so damning I feel overwhelmed. It goes back decades, to way before Lori Anne Thompson. It’s our fault this existed.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
25 Hurrying back to the ruler, she made her request: “I want you to give me John the Baptist’s head on a plate, right this minute.” 26 Although the king was upset, because of his solemn pledge and his guests, he didn’t want to refuse her. 27 So he ordered a guard to bring John’s head. The guard went to the prison, cut off John’s head, 28 brought his head on a plate, and gave it to the young woman, and she gave it to her mother. 29 When John’s disciples heard what had happened, they came and took his dead body and laid it in a tomb.
Mark 6:14-29 CEB
Last Sunday I spent a decent amount of time using John’s beheading to say believing in Jesus doesn’t mean everything is going to be sunshine and roses for the rest of life on earth.
It’s not a fun or nice message, but it’s a needed one.
I also got so sidetracked by the difficult message, I forgot the one I was going to give: Having power and wealth does not equal that you have God’s grace and love.
When looking at the family of Herod, it’s clear how that statement may be true. There isn’t a flattering Biblical story about the family of Herod. It’s simply written- them bad and us good.
This is where it can become problematic for us.
US VS THEM
When the Bible is an “Us vs Them” reading, it is all wrong. I say this because we should be called to “something” when we are done reading. Lament. Action. Contemplation. Those are all things we can do. We have agency once the reading is done. We have no agency over “them.” When we leave smug, because there is nothing for us to do, because we put all the real work on the “other,” we’ve done nothing.
If we are just leaving angry because some evil rich family beheaded John the Baptist, then we are learning nothing. Some of the best Bible lessons are when we put ourselves in the villain’s place.
Here are some great questions to ask after reading this scripture:
These are both places where John was killed because of the actions of the family of Herod. Maybe not to the point of murder, but these are both places where good upstanding Christian people fail. I’ve seen some very Christian people falter under the impression that doing what was right was not the socially acceptable move, and choose the “socially acceptable” over what was right. I’ve also seen pettiness destroy good systems. For the old timers here, I’m recalling that time a group of church members literally cut playground equipment in half and took it with them- a real life Soloman’s baby.
HAVES VS HAVE NOTS
It’s really difficult for me to engage in this subject. And, before I really get into this, I’m well aware that every century comes with its own terrible story of the Church. It pains me to say this, but no group of Christians are without their drama. Here’s part of ours: Since the 90’s the church has played the part of an oppressed waif. As society separated from the Church, the American Church doubled down on their culture. Atheists became the terrible villain. If not atheists, then Saten. Anything to point the finger anywhere but at oneself.
This had a two-part effect. First, it kept American Christians from being introspective. It wasn’t their fault, but those soulless atheists, or Satan made them do it. Nothing is learned. Nothing is gained. Secondly, wow we became the villains! When you go around telling everyone else they are wrong, you begin to be wrong yourself.
All this had to be said first.
Just because you have the building, the offering, the people- doesn’t make you right.
Just because you have nothing- or you are losing everything- doesn’t make you right.
This is where my frustrations rise to a boiling point. In the 90’s when it appeared everything was going great. We were all blessed by God! God had taken our spoils and multiplied it. Now, as so many are now seeing we are actually bleeding out, we are blessed by God because God is with the oppressed. (Excuse me while I go find a bathroom and vomit.)
This all comes back to self-reflection. Modern American Christians just refuse to do it. Sure, they'll brainstorm solutions, and do faith retreats to try to understand God’s will, but will only go as far as it keeps them in the hero role. Once they have to consider how they are Pharisees or Herods they shut it down and move on.
If one of our own is actually the villain we bury, move and ignore. That’s the modern American Christian way! Only, it’s not the Christian way. There’s a reason we have these stories in the Bible. It’s not so we point the finger to someone else. The Bible exists so we can grow ourselves.
So, for God’s sake, let us be the villains. Maybe if we accept what we are, we can finally fix what’s wrong. That’s more important.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
As I came back upstairs after worship on June 20th, I realized something. “I didn’t even mention Father’s Day!” My husband has a brief moment of shock, not from what I failed to include, but that he didn’t even consider it missing.
It is true that Mother’s Day and Father’s Day hang on by a thread in our household. As some of you know, Valentine’s Day is non-existent. As the 4th of July has come and gone, you might have noticed I didn’t even give it a sentence in worship.
These are all events, though, that are secular in nature and find our way into Sacred Worship. Each, in their own way, make me uncomfortable and here’s how:
I find Mother’s Day a perfect day to use feminine pronouns to describe God. At the same time, the use of the feminine to describe God fills me with terror, not because of God, but because of the backlash in the congregants upon hearing she/her language attributed to the Divine.
It’s not that there’s a lack of examples of God being described in the feminine, it’s that there is a lack of focus in the Church to those examples. Sophia, Mother bear, hen… We are given language to see God as more than masculine but something bristles up in us when we use She/Her language. How dare we explore God as both power in femininity and the least of these!
It’s verbiage I feel we deserve to explore, but it is also not natural because I grew up hearing His/He all the time.
None of that goes into actual mothers, and that’s me as a mother of two.
Probably the reason I want to push some into the feminine nature of God during Mother’s Day is the plethora of sermons about the masculine nature of God on Father’s Day. I can’t count how many pastors I have seen preach on the caring for mother because she works so hard on Mother’s Day, and then a few weeks later preaching on the masculine nature of God on Father’s Day. I’m going to extend enough grace to believe these guys don’t do it on purpose, but inadvertently they celebrate the servitude of the mom, and the divinity of the dad.
God is power! God is king! Happy Father’s Day!
I’m not going to say those statements are wrong, but I’m also going to say how and when we talk about God’s sovereignty and power is just as important as the topics themselves.
If I had it to do over I would have talked about God’s sovereignty and power during Mother’s Day and God’s servitude during Father’s Day. Even then, I would have been uncomfortable, because how we talk about service among females is drastically different than how we talk about service among males.
This is probably where I personally look like the biggest Ebenezer Scrooge to ever exist in the modern era. I don’t do Valentine’s Day.
If I were to do Valentine’s Day it wouldn’t be candy, flowers, and expensive dates. It would be to spam bee photos on February 14th, and July 6th. (He’s the Patron St. of courtly love, epilepsy and beekeepers.) It would be almost fitting, seeing as my name literally means honeybee in Greek.
Other than that, I just see Valentine’s Day as a day where we buy crap that will either add weight, trash, or both. Love is not in teddy bears the size of a Buick. Love is not in cheap or expensive chocolates. Don’t buy me tokens to show love. Act. Do. Live into love. Anything else is between you and yours. I want nothing to do with it. Flowers wilt, but action has lasting consequences.
4th of July
I am a Scout, and more than that, I am a Scout Chaplain for my Son’s Troop. Some of the leadership in my daughter’s Pack calls me Pastor Melissa. I am completely comfortable with taking the divine into a patriotic space. I am completely uncomfortable taking the patriotic into the Divine space.
I think most of American worship can’t see the difference between the two, and that’s a consequence of not setting clear boundaries of what is or isn’t worship, secular space, and Divine space.
I have very clear boundaries. On Sunday morning, I’m setting aside time and space to seek God. That language is incredibly intentional. Just as this language is intentional too: God can visit us in our time and space at any time or space. That means we can have a God moment while watching a firework’s show, planting a seed, or (sorry/ not sorry) sitting on the toilet. As I’ve written before, that is God engaging us. In response, we need to be intentional about engaging God back. The worship Space is made sacred because we’ve chosen to set it aside to meet God.
This is why you won’t see state/national flags in Fig Tree’s worship area. It’s also why I occasionally remind those on the other side of the camera to prepare their side to meet God.
You want to enjoy a fireworks show with your community while understanding the veterans around you? Great! That is a secular event, and should take place in a non-worship space. You want to sing the Star Bangled Banner at a sports event, go for it! Just don’t ask me to bring it into Sacred Space. While we’re on the subject, the same goes for sports. Aside from being an illustration to help understand the text better, it should stay outside worship.
The bottom line.
The more intentional you are about setting aside space to meet God, the more clear the lines become of what is allowed in that worship space.
The more intentional you are about what is Sacred and what is Secular, the more willing you will be to put away some culturally secular activities.
The more willing you are to read the Bible and see something new, the deeper and richer your faith is allowed to be.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
Have you ever walked a hiking trail and let your mind wander? I mean, REALLY wander. Allow your brain to take you far far away, to a place where dragons and knights lived? Or in a distant future where beyond your walk there are flying cars, and machines that can make whatever your heart desires?
I can’t turn my brain off. I don’t know how some of y’all do it. I’m constantly planning, working, getting ready for something. The closest I get is when I can create. Create earrings, tiny polymer statues, cross stitch, knotted bracelets, stories, books, layered paper, chaos emeralds and power rings, cat castles, and costumes… I just need a spark. Take me to the land of make believe, and let me find something to make real.
Even talking about the beginnings of that process fills me with joy! That’s what I am, a sorceress, taking something that doesn’t exist, and making it real with the workings of my words and hands.
Up till now I’ve been given little pieces. It’s trust. In the beginning I didn’t even trust myself, and for good reason. I knew my limits and I pushed them only a little. Then, as I began to trust myself, others began to trust me too. I get to play make believe, and bring back souvenirs from the trip!
Oh how my mind wanders with Fig Tree! I imagine a worship area with education rooms and stations around the worship area to connect with those online. I see quarterly Bible studies that come with boxes for added content. I see a staff room where each week or two times a week we expand our understanding of pretty much everything.Maybe we all learn Spanish or sign language, or perhaps we delve into web design or Photoshop! I imagine doing regional retreats to discuss theology, and connect with other Fig Tree Christians.
I can’t wait to have a team of people to explore the imaginary and bring it back to reality!
Someone asked me, where is my joy? It’s there! It’s in what’s yet to be! It’s in a future we can’t yet see, but still waits for it to be found!
It’s where my mind wanders as I walk through the woods.