-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.
When I set my mind on a task, I am fully invested and cannot stop until I finish.
For example, last Sunday I sat down with my polymer clay and planned to make some pumpkin earrings. They are probably one of the easiest earrings to make, and look beautiful. As I’m making them, I begin to wonder if I picked up some brighter orange could I pull off candy corn earrings.
The short answer is yes, I can. As I’m chugging away at candy corn earrings, I am separating the yellow into tiny balls, and realize that would make an amazing Pac Man. I get my candy corn earrings done, and dig through my polymer until I find what I need: color for the ghosts.
Twenty-two earrings later, I also wrap up the “gear”rings I started before my daughter’s day camp, and it’s now Friday. The whole week became an earring extravaganza.
I think it was yesterday I realized a hard truth.
My personal goal for this summer is to make three videos for Fig Tree Christian. Instead, I’ve gone down multiple rabbit holes, all of them completely stealing my time. Sure, the earrings will be sold at a craft fair. That time has a purpose. Yet, somehow, my time has found important places to be that are not making videos for Fig Tree. It was Saturday I finally realized what was going on.
I want to make a video on the Ravi Zacharias abuse. Well, “want” is no longer the word I’d use.
See, I thought this would be like everything else. I’d get one of his books, and gleefully tear it apart. Then I’d make a video sharing his history, and why we should all put that man away and never look at him again. I’ve had no problem dissecting other books in seminary. This time it was different.
What this man means to my call to ministry.
While well meaning idiots spent the last 9 years telling me I wasn’t called to ministry, Zacharias spent the last years of his life being the North American C.S. Lewis. He was the poster child for modern apologetics. (Apologetics is the branch of theology where the point is to justify the existence of Christian faith. Think, “A Case for Christ.”) I made a point to read some C.S. Lewis after seminary because Candler didn’t do apologetics. I remember one professor telling me it wasn’t real theology. Therefore, “Mere Christianity,” and “The Problem of Pain,” sits on my evangelism/friend shelf of my library, and there it stays. Those were fairly easy reads, and I’d put other C.S. Lewis books next to them, but they sit on my Kindle.
I can remember people suggesting Zacharias books to me. Never did I read any of them, because they were always suggested by people who I didn’t trust theologically.
I did read Lori Anne Thompson. As Fig Tree became a safe space for the abused and displaced, somehow we found one another and followed each other on Twitter. I knew she was working through something big, and I had no idea what. That was okay. I am so grateful I’m one of the few that knew the victim/survivor before the abuser.
When Zacharias passed away I saw so many mourn his passing, but that was as far as the impact went. At the time I didn’t own a single book he’d written, and I hadn’t created a single word art to share. I’d heard him on Glenn Beck a couple of times, and still don’t remember a single thing he said there. Non-impact is the best word to describe him.
Then everything came to light.
To learn this man was not only a sexual abuser, but also openly lied about it once it was known angers me to no end. There’s a reason spiritual leaders should be held to a higher standard than everyone else, and this is it. It’s not so we can put them on an ivory pedestal and worship them as quasi-saint. It’s so their fall is epic and hurts. What they can do with power can be incredibly uplifting and helpful, or insanely dangerous and destructive. Jesus’ burden is light, but power in any form is heavy. Period.
Choosing to dig into a book.
I decided, months and months ago that I was going to find a Ravi Zacharias book at Goodwill, read it, and do a video review of it.
I have a hard line on reviews. I cannot review anything I haven’t seen or read. I think it’s disingenuous to talk about things I have not personally experienced. This has led to me having a very diverse education, and I’m very grateful for it. I actually enjoy listening and reading people I disagree with. Even if I don’t walk away agreeing with what the person says, at least I can understand where they are coming from.
I thought this experience would be the same. I’d get a book. I’d disagree with it, but leave understanding where this thought process came from.
Instead, I was almost always sickened and angry. There were days I could only get two pages in, before I was venting to someone or some group and walking away for a couple of days. It turned what should have been an easy read, into a slog! Even now, as I’m researching Zacharias personally, I’m still angry. I’ll read even one paragraph and realize the implications and go do something else.
Basically, I was going to Tarshish instead of Ninivah.
The Story of Jonah.
I love my prophets. If you’ve read or seen enough of my work, you know my fav is actually Jeremiah, but Jonah holds a place in my heart.
It’s a short read, so if you want to say you read a book from the prophets, it’s an easy one to get through and get some cred.
Jonah is the only Prophet called to preach to the enemy, and also the only Prophet where the ones hearing the message change their ways. It should be understandable that Jonah wants nothing to do with God’s call, because in some way it’s not fair to ask someone to help their enemy.
Jonah flees, goes in the opposite direction, gets kicked off a boat, and swallowed by a big fish. Only after all that he begrudgingly goes to Ninivah and (from my reading) only gives it the minimum effort.
It ends with him angry it all worked, and then frustrated a worm ate his shade.
I’ve been running to Tarshish
It’s not that I haven’t been doing productive things. I’ve been super productive. It’s that I’ve been super productive in areas that have intentionally kept me from doing this review. Even as I’ve written this out for y’all, I went and did three different things. All of those things were good in their own way, but they’ve kept me from this.
I need to ask myself why I’ve been running in the opposite directions, and here is what I believe:
There you go. The more I dig, the worse I feel, but the more I realize it needs to be shared. Pray for me. These next few weeks are not going to be easy.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
Nearly a decade ago I sat in a new church retreat. The language had just changed. Instead of calling them “New Church Starts” we were now going to call them “New Church Plants.”
My heart sank. I do not have a green thumb. Throughout the years, I’ve been part of multiple plants being destroyed.
When I was a kid, we tried to grow watermelons on the chewed up stumps in our front yard. The person we paid to mow our lawn ran over our plants not only once, but twice. Eventually, the third time, when Dad informed my sister and me that the cucumber sized watermelon wasn’t going to get much bigger because fall was coming, we pulled it all up, cut the baby up and tried it. (Baby watermelon does taste like cucumber btw. In case you were curious.)
One year for Mother’s Day, the church I was part of decided to give everyone a planted flower. The moment I had one in my possession, it was almost like the flower knew it’s fate. It weakly drooped. Two weeks later, it was dead.
I remember one year the closing gift for High School camp was a cup of dirt with a sunflower seed in it. I was so excited! Sunflowers are probably my absolute favorite flower. I took it home, and was excited to see a plant break through the dirt. For once I wasn’t killing something! Only, there was no sunflower seed in my cup. They had missed mine, and the dirt they gathered was from directly outside. I was growing a weed.
Then there was two years ago, when I found myself subbing a class for an extended period of time. On the teacher's desk was a very small plant, and in her window was a big ivy. One of the students was tasked with watering the ivy. I took on the small plant. As the weeks progressed, I was pleased to see the small plant showed absolutely no signs of dying. It was on my last day I realized why. The plant was fake. I was watering a fake plant.
I hate the language of plants.
I hate comparing church starts to plants. The top reason is my absolutely black thumb. If the stories above don’t convince you, those are just the easiest ones to tell. I’ve also failed helping my daughter grow plants. Those stories either end in the plant shriveling up and dying, or a chipmunk eating it up. It has left me, someone with a new church plant, feeling completely demoralized. Every time another one bites the dust, I say the same prayer to God: “Well God, there you go. I killed another one. Why am I called to be a church planter again? You sure about this?”
The other reason I hate the language of plants is because of what it has come to mean.
I’ve written multiple times about “grafting.” Grafting is when you take a sturdy trunk and cut off it’s limbs. You then attach the limbs of a good fruit tree, so you control what the plant produces. It’s been used to produce apples for centuries, but this technique is not limited to apples.
The reason I hate the language of plants is most American church plants are grafted. God plants the seed in someone’s heart. The seed takes root. The plant begins to grow. When the Church feels the plant has grown enough they (oh so lovingly) hack off it’s limbs and replaces it with their limbs. Basically, they use the new Church’s tap into the Spirit, to grow their dying fruit. In the 90’s it was great! We all wanted copy/paste church. In the Aughts it was okay. After all, we found the fruit of modern music, so it was different enough to get by. By the teens it stopped working.
Why did it stop working? Two reasons:
First: the church was/is dying. They had to be more selective about which plants they were going to steal Spirit from. Therefore, not only did they selectively choose which new plants to fertilize, they stopped fertilizing a large group of new plants. When these unfertilized plants begin to shrivel and die it was seen as a sign that they shouldn’t have existed to begin with, instead of the realization that they were never given the chance to thrive. (Fig Tree came with it’s own fertilizer, which is why it has become the little plant that could.)
Second: The churches that are dying started to grow selfish. “Why are we supporting new plants when there are plenty of older churches that need support?” I think I’ve heard enough Christians say that exact line that I can no longer tell you how many times I’ve heard it. Worse than this, I don’t think they know their own selfishness. The ship is sinking. Of course they want to live, and they are (in their obvious fears) willing to sacrifice the future in order to live now. It completely lacks the trust in God, and what God does with death. (It’s also bad theology that spent generations skipping over the subject of death all together.)
Last School Year I Was Given Plants.
I still can’t wrap my mind around this previous school year. I can’t really talk about it, because unless you were there, you just don’t understand. Let me just say, I am incredibly fortunate to be in a school where I can be completely helpful, and I’m appreciated for that help.
During teacher appreciation week (where us subs in the lowest tier are usually completely dismissed), I was given gifts for everything I did. Part of those gifts were two plants. One a cactus, and the other the beginnings of a rose bush.
I loved those plants, but I immediately feared for their safety. This was me, afterall. I’m the destroyer of plants. The abuser of chlorophyll. They would never have a chance, even a cactus.
I took them home, gave them water, and said a prayer.
They both began to die. Of course.
I lamented my problem with some friends, and one gave me this advice. “Stop doing so much to them. Put the roses outside where they belong, and don’t over water the cactus.”
The next day I took the roses outside to the front garden, dug in a whole, broke up the soil, and buried it.
As the days progressed my husband told me he didn’t think the roses were going to make it. He said the flowers were dying. Only I was seeing something different. Sure, the roses themselves were dying. It was no longer spring. The leaves were different. They were growing richer and greener by the day. I watered it each afternoon, and left it alone. I had given it to God. In return, it was taking root and accepting its new home.
The cactus was the same. As I stepped back, it grew stronger. It appeared, for these two plants, what they needed the most from me was trust.
Which brought me back to Fig Tree. Fig Tree is the little plant that just won’t die. I’ve cried over her, and I’ve seen potential growth whither up, but I have not seen death. Even when it seems so emanant, she persists. I don’t think God gave me the seed I was expecting, you know, like a gorgeous sunflower. Others didn’t think I got the seed they expected either. Sometimes we’ve been looked at like a weed. I went places where the sun doesn’t always shine; and wouldn’t always get the attention and focus.
Really, what has kept Fig Tree alive is trust. God gave me a seed, AND believed I wouldn’t kill it. God trusted me, and now I must trust God. That sounds really simple, but when you don’t trust yourself, it’s actually super hard. When it all comes down to it, the biggest way you can learn to trust what God gives you, is to find trust in yourself first. God has plans, and God’s plans are bigger than our plans.
Could I still fail. Yes.
Could others cause failure. Absolutely.
It's just saying, God is there, and trusts us enough to hand us new life.
It should fill us with hope. From hope springs new life.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
I want to start by saying that in one month this site will be 9 years old. Writing this one month away feels right. One year from 10. One month from 9. Over 500 posts just written by me, and the amazing guests who have stepped in and wrote their own words. Enough words to fill two short novels or one epic story.
If I were paid only minimum wage for all the different ways I’ve worked for Fig Tree (recording, planning, writing, and creating), we are looking at 150,000 thousand dollars of my time- donated. IF my work was only worth minimum wage.
This donation of time continues. While I’m the one who initiated it, and maintained it. It frustrates those around me who want me to not only be paid a living wage, but a living wage doing ministry.
I’ve been saying for months that Covid didn’t create anything new. It made hard truths easier to see, and created chasms where there were already cracks. Specifically, I want to talk about how we treat servant leaders in the United States.
The theology of using.
In my college days, I was working as a student assistant in the music dept at Kennesaw State. (With three others, I recorded sound and video for students and teachers.) My boss taught me a very important lesson. When on the clock, give your best work. When off the clock, stay off the clock.
I was also working my second church job I’d ever worked. I knew I was being paid for 10 hours of work each week. I gave the best 10 hours of work I could give. I created lesson plans, and planned events. I already knew if someone else tried to do what I was doing, it would take more than 10 hours. That’s because an hour of work was worth about $10, and $10 at that time was almost twice minimum wage.
Eventually, I wanted a raise in hours. I wrote out everything I did with my time. I brought examples of my work.
One of the Elders and one of the ministers flat out told me, “We assumed you’d volunteer your time over and beyond what we were paying you. You should be working more than 10 hours per week.” Basically, they were paying minimum wage, but didn’t want to feel bad about paying an employee minimum wage so they gave the real sacrifice to me to feel better.
The Crack that Unfairly focuses on Females.
In November of 2019, Nathen Eva wrote on the emotional toll of leaders. While the article was the emotional toll of all leaders, he spent some time specifically on female leaders. He found there was a disparity between men and women in roles of leadership. Men were almost always rewarded for exhibiting nurturing habits as a leader. Meanwhile, women were expected to be nurturing, and punished when they are not.
I also don’t think this is healthy nurturing. When I nurture my children sometimes it’s during the hard lessons. I sat with my daughter yesterday morning as she fought while tying her shoes. (Something she learned several years ago, but likes my ties better.) The easy choice would have been to take over and do it for her. That would have appeared to be nurturing, but it wouldn’t have really. My daughter has to learn self-reliance. Nurturing was sitting with her while I was mentally pulling out my hair, as she verbally fought me on the silliness of tying shoe laces. It was uncomfortable, but it was right. I’ve seen women get shorn down for healthy nurturing, because it doesn’t feel good. I’ve also seen men get raised up for feeding sugary emptiness under the guise of love. Real nurturing from women, and fake nurturing from men.
I can begin to see how the disparity works against me. It’s harder to see my sacrifice because society has incorrectly learned that I should naturally suffer it. My value is only equalized by my self-inflicted suffering. Yet, I feel the tide has begun to turn.
This tide has felt relieving for myself. I give, and my giving is not looked at as something I should naturally do, but as (what it is) a gift. And, as I watch areas begin to show equal treatment between males and females, I have seen some men struggle with a more equal footing. The overabundant of ease has been taken away. They feel it is unfair, and push back, only to find women showing their form of nurturing, and not liking that either.
The Crack that Broke Ministers.
There were so many ministers who needed a break during the Pandemic. What was already more than a full time job, became a monster all it’s own.
First off- you can’t just become an online minister. The camera doesn’t work the same way as the human eye and ear. Even I, who has had education on recording through school and work, found the “look” of ministry to be different than anything I had previously experienced. I struggled figuring it out, as the look of the video is the sanctuary of the worshipper. There were ministers who had never recorded a single thing in their life, now attempting to understand Facebook Live and Zoom on top of a demographic that had neither program.
Secondly- There were so many people who “needed” servant leaders, they abused servant leaders. This goes beyond ministry. Education is also filled with servants who give up more than what they are paid for, and are told it’s part of their job to break personal boundaries. Now, any servant leader that somehow was able to maintain healthy boundaries were forced to break them with in-house studios. They had to take their work home, because home was where they were working. Also, everyone needed support. We were all dealing with a life altering event, and no one considered how servant-leaders were impacted by all this. Your leaders felt like tools or things instead of people, and that was because that’s how you treated them.
You are not losing all servant leaders right now; only the ones with healthy boundaries that felt they were pushed too far. Those are the ones we need to hold on to. Those are the ones who know how to say, “no,” in a way that shows love.
The American Church was built while we were explorers. People came to America to seek freedom from oppression. Only, those oppressions no longer exist, and the American Church still wants to be oppressed by something. They also have allowed snakes and wolves into their leadership roles. They see the brokenness, while refusing to accept their role in it.
The Crack that Broke Education.
Education was built during the Industrial age, and was created to be a machine. It was made to educate as many people as possible as cost efficiently as possible. Only, as the Industrial Age closed, and people started seeing the humanity in the kids, they never changed the systems, only “differentiated” the system. Today, it’s bloated with no way for any teacher to do all the things asked of him and her. Basically, education is a giant machine, tasked to do it’s main duty, while also tasked to do a million side projects.
These are men and women who also found their boundaries crossed with at home studios in 2020. Education and ministry has many overlaps, including a collection of individuals who are praised when they spend their own money and time to make a broken system work. Since education is primarily filled by women, they are also dealing with the collective system that simply assumes they need to give freely of themselves. To do so, means they only break even.
Where are we going?
I personally cannot even fathom how these systems will continue to exist as they are. They were already on the edge of failure before the Pandemic. Now the cracks are chasms, and the solution is duct tape. (Where duct tape is to continue to use our servant leaders like tools instead of people.)
As we pretend to want to go back the way we were, we are going to find that things are too broken. Perhaps next year we'll make it work, but that's simply a fool's errand. Our systems, as we've understood them, are now gone. If we are not proactive in what takes their place, we are asking for something worse to take their place, and we won't have anyone to lead that.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
I am an active reader. I put emphasis in my words. My 5th grade teacher, Ms. Miller, taught me how to read actively. My entire literary world opened up the day she stopped me, and told me to try again with feeling. That’s why I love reading in class. With a book in my hand, I can get a group of middle schoolers on the edge of their seat in suspense, or laughing out loud with an author’s joke. It’s like for a brief 40 minutes I can show jaded kids one of the ways adults play pretend.
Two weeks ago I was reading a book out loud. It was no different than any other book, except this one used “damn,” and “hell,” pretty loosely. The middle schoolers thought it was hilarious, not because I was reading them outloud, but because it was me reading them outloud. They wanted to know why my ministerial sensibilities were not crushed by these PG-13 words. (PG if we were to be honest.)
Language is a construct
Language is a human construct. We made it up. We continue to make it up. We’ll make it up for years beyond this moment.
Because we make it up, we give words power. An excellent example:
Back in 1420, King Henry V led England to victory over King Charles’ French army, successfully conquering France. This meant English became the language of the higher class, while French became the language of the lower class. The remnants of this sort of class language can be seen in the grocery store. The animal is often given the English name, but the butchered food is given the French. Cow:Beef, Chicken:Poultry, Pig:Pork. It was the higher class buying food from the lower class- so while English speakers retained their words for the actual animal, they took on the other language when purchasing foods from the market.
I went down this rabbit hole over 20 years ago, when I realized the German word for meat was “fleisch,” literally translated, it becomes flesh. We don't call our prime rib "flesh," but how is "meat" any different? This grisly knowledge opened my vocabulary, and helped me understand how words can change over the years.
I was really illuminated when my final German project was translating Genesis 1 from Luther’s Bible. When our “Heavens” was “Himmel” in German, the literal word being, “sky,” I realized our language was just that, our language. A few years later I would look at the Hebrew in Genesis 1, and Heavens would be הַשָּׁמַיִם, or “sky” in Hebrew. Not God’s words, but a translation of what God wanted the people to know. Otherwise, God simply being in the sky doesn’t work. We have a far more complex view of our universe than we did thousands of years ago.
Language is an entrance fee to a culture.
Point blank: It is super difficult to write Christian. If I want to be taken seriously as a Christian writer, I have to write academically. Academic writing requires writing over everyone’s head. I don’t need to sway academics. I’m pretty confident most of them feel I’m not even relevant. If I want Christians to flock to my words, I better use Christianese. I better write about being blessed and being touched by the Spirit. Only, Christianeze is really great to talk to people who already agree or mostly agree with what you are trying to say. To me, that’s an epic waste of time. If you are wondering why Christianeze couldn’t work on different kinds of Christians, well, that’s because we know our languages. We can pick up right away whether someone is writing from a reformed, evangelical, Catholic, [insert your version here] brand of Christianese, and we already basically know what each brand is going to say, so we ignore what doesn’t belong to our brand.
I’m constantly walking the line of writing over people’s heads, or too much to the wrong audience, knowing not writing academically, or to a specific brand of Christian basically turns off almost everyone who would willingly read a Christian writer.
Fuck, I’m off topic.
“Shit” isn’t what makes me pastoral or not.
When I read to that middle school class, some of them wanted to know why I could read “damn” and “hell” aloud and still call myself a minister.
Let me out myself right this very moment. When my husband and I are alone in the car we swear like sailors. I don’t believe that makes me any more or less a pastor. Let me list some things that would make me less of a pastor:
If I’m at school- I’ll read the book. I’ll keep my language PG. I’ll wear clothes that are within the school dress code.
If I’m chilling with pirates, I’ll use their language and their dress to communicate. I’ve already lost them if I use mine. (Although, I think they’d appreciate neon nails and bright red hair.)
If you think that’s being two-sided, check yourself. Social constructs are merely keys to kingdoms. I keep what’s real the same: I actively love my neighbor. I openly seek the truth. I want to make the community I’m interacting with comfortable in their house. I’m after what’s real. What’s real is deeper than the language we use, it’s deeper than the clothes we wear, and so much deeper than anything else that excludes others. That's what I'm after, and if your not… well, good luck with that.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
I sat at my computer reading the title, “I Got Ordained So I Can Talk About Jesus. Not the Female Pastor Debate.”
Wow, I think. That’s the dream, isn’t it?
Rev. Tish Harrison Warren was writing on the three women who were recently ordained at Saddleback Church. It made headlines, and I remember looking at the picture of the three women with (unfortunately) jaded eyes. I immediately thought, “Are they going to be relegated to women’s or children’s ministry?” “Are people asking them if their husbands approved of this move?” “What sexist thing is being posted to these women under the guise of “love” but really it is the dirty smear of sexism?”
Then there’s the unfair double standard put on women in ministry. Men, like Mark Driscoll, can plagiarize, and inappropriately use church funds and end up with a new ministry out of it all. Ravi Zacharias can turn sexual abuse around to attack the abused, slandering the abusers name, and the truth isn’t allowed to surface until after his death. Meanwhile women in ministry must be without any sin, for with the first sign that they are not the perfected servant from God, they can be ousted from the community before the slandering paint has time to dry.
More than that, no one thinks Zacharias or Driscoll stand for all male ministers, but every woman minister somehow speaks for all women in ministry. If one woman fails it becomes the reason all women fail. Partly, it's because there are those who immediately want us to fail. This creates those who never want us to fail, because the consequences are too high. Female ministry has become like diamonds. There are so many hidden away in mines. The ones in charge have chosen to only release a few to those coveted spots, pulling just a handful out in the open, forcing us to become limited resources when we are actually abundant.
My call to ministry:
I got ordained so I can talk about Jesus, not the female Pastor debate.
No, really. I completely agree with Warren on this.
Perhaps if I were to use my own statement it would more pointedly read, “I felt called from God, and I followed that call.” While that specific statement is so open from your end, it’s open in another way from mine. I was actively against being like all the other women ministers I knew. I deeply wanted to dig into scripture without bringing gender into the subject. I didn’t want to preface my sermons with telling everyone I have a Masters of Divinity from Candler School of Theology at Emory University, or that I was ordained by two congregations within the Christian Church, (Disciples of Christ). Yet, here I am, forced to carry around my bio like a shield, and brace for impact.
When I was in the pulpit, questioning my call as it related to my gender was mostly never asked. Unless I was seeking a job. Then the question was never asked, but always inferred. People you loved suddenly turned into snakes and bit out. Imagine what it’s like to hear someone you respect and love say to your face, “I personally believe women should be ministers, but I voted against it because I don’t think our church was ready for one.” Imagine being on the phone for a church interview and the Senior Pastor pointedly asks, “Why do you call yourself ‘Pastor?’ We like you, just not with that title.” The biggest whammy being the one that comes from colleagues, “If I were looking for an associate…” It’s the dreaded, “You’re too qualified for this job.” It’s the easy, and safe out. Not offensive, but still exclusionary.
When I’m online and out in the world it’s a whole other battlefield. While no one in the church would tell me to my face they don’t think women are ministers, outside the church has no problem at all. Middle schoolers like to joyfully announce they don’t believe in me, like I’m somehow a fairy that would cease to exist if it’s not immediately followed with clapping to keep me from suffocating under the weight of those words. It’s the way my projects are quietly taken away and given to a man; rebranded to never to be associated with me. (In Falcon and the Winter Soldier, I felt Sam’s raw pain in seeing Cap’s shield being given to a white man. I’ve experienced the same pain as a woman.) It’s also the gawking stares once they hear I’m clergy, like I’ve magically become a dangerous monster with three eyes and two heads.
Online, it’s become less my title, and more about the subversion of that title. Nowhere was this more clear to me than when I tried a male username for 6 months. On Reddit, my username is /u/RevMelissa. I’ve had an account since April 2013. I used to think it was normal how often I’d have to explain myself or dig up sources. I thought the negative attention was what every minister received, and I pushed into it. It wasn’t until I began to notice a guy could come behind me, say the exact same thing, and their comment would be upvoted while mine was being criticized and brought to lower tiers of the thread.
My original plan was to bring in a minister of the opposite gender, and the two of us would create new usernames. Mine would be a masculine pastor, and his would be a feminine pastor. Then we would spend six months on Reddit, responding to comments and occasionally posting. At the end of six months we would compare karma, and write about our experiences. Everyone I asked was either too busy, or too uncomfortable with Reddit. Even among friends, I couldn’t find a single person to help me understand what was happening.
So I did it myself, creating /u/PastorJerome. Sometimes I’d even post almost identical comments in the same thread. I’d watch as people so willingly accepted Jerome and the title. There was power in the male username in a way I had no idea. (If you want to go down that rabbit hole- there’s the original post on my userpage, and my About page has two articles on the subject.) I had wanted someone to pick it up and do a real study. I wanted it to show something deeper, but all that work ended in nothing.
So what about that dream?
I am a woman who has been working in the church for over 20 years. I was ordained 11 years ago. I’ve physically worked at one conference center, and 5 churches; one of them a senior pastorite. I was a supply for two churches. I’ve been the minister of Fig Tree Christian for almost 9 years. Yet, I’m currently earning money through subbing middle school. I don’t get paid through Fig Tree; it has never brought in even close to enough to put me on salary. All that said, I am a minister.
I want what Warren wants. Believe me, we all do. We want what the men so naturally have: to not have their words constantly compared to their gender; to be treated the way Jesus treated women. We want to be like the woman at the well, who became an evangelist. Jesus never ended that conversation with, “And look at you doing all that as a woman!” He didn’t chastise her for pulling in guys with her work. He treated her as a person who did something for God. Is it too much to want that?
That’s the dream, but the reality is I have a 9 year old daughter. I’m quickly choosing to stop fighting for myself, and start fighting for her. I absolutely don’t, with no conditions, want her to become an adult in the world right now. My struggles go beyond ministry. I want her super creative spirit to not be completely crushed when she becomes an adult; when that creativity appears dangerous to the greater world. So here is where I stand:
More than anything, for everyone, realize this is a battle that is still being fought, and it needs support. It wears us out. Women- you are not losers if the weight of the world causes you to collapse. Even top tier fighters have their breaking point. It doesn’t change your call. It doesn’t change your mission. It just means you need to rest for a bit. You women in ministry- you rock. I support you, and I hope you support me.
Everyone else- maybe come at that with a bit of grace.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now;
23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
Roman 8:22-23 NRSV
It wasn’t until I was pregnant with my second child, that I finally really read Romans 8. Guys out there, do any of you know what labor pains are like, or being pregnant in general? (I know the answer’s no, which is why it’s shocking to see Paul use the analogy so loosely.)
Pregnancy can rip your body apart. Skin pulls in ways it is not used to pulling, and very quickly. Your body swells. You can’t fit into your shoes and your fingers feel like sausages. You want to eat strange things, like a jar of pickles in one sitting. I knew a mom that could only manage to eat fried liver, and she hated every bite. The closer you get to labor, the more uncomfortable it is to sleep, but (at the same time) you are so tired. Those last few weeks, you begin to wonder if God’s actually transforming you into a boat, instead of a mother.
At the event itself, even if you are given an epidural for the labor, there is pain that continues afterwards. There are places that tear with natural pregnancy, and the C-Section wound if you go the other route. The person who did the epidural the second time, did it wrong, and it only worked on the right side of my body. The other half felt everything.
And boys, you need to realize this, that period that didn’t happen for 9 months? Well, after birth it’s back, all 9 months of it, and it can last for weeks. The hospital gives these horrid pads too. If they were a little bit wider, they might as well be called a diaper.
Then there’s the post pregnancy weight. The doctors tell you they want you personally to gain weight during pregnancy. What they don’t tell you is that weight could stay with you for years. Also, when fat cells are created, they never truly go away. That means, for the rest of your life it will be easier to gain back that weight, because those fat cells are just waiting to be filled up again.
What was Paul getting at?
Let me first say, compared to Ancient Rome, I can confidently say my pregnancies were way more comfortable than the women of that time.
I also think this sort of language needs to be used more often in the Church- the language of pregnancy and birth.
Finally, I think it’s super uncomfortable to watch a ministerial man fumble through this text to blurt out at the end, “But I honestly have no idea what that’s like.”
So, let me get to the nuts and bolts of this as a ministerial woman; with a confidence that only comes from being a mom that birthed babies- let me lay it out.
Birthing anything will change you.
The absolute truth of labor is this: When it starts you want it to stop, but you have to literally push through the pain to get to that point. It is the point of no return.
When afterwards, when your very body is a forign object, you are left with someone new who has no way to care for him or herself. You need to process and heal, but they need you now. It is the beginning of a relationship: mother to child. Wanting a baby is one of the most selfish things you can want in this world. Being a parent is one of the most selfless. You begin to understand the world differently, as you see it beyond yourself.
We are the product, not the producer in this scripture. We are the result of the Spirit’s labor pains. This is a very feminine image of God that mostly goes ignored. It’s an image that holds negativity of pain and transforms into something beautiful. A God that rips herself apart, and dies to her old self, to be something new for us: A Mom. God isn’t asking us to birth creation, or re-birth humanity. God is asking us to process the brokenness and heal from the deep woundedness of the Church. The issue has already been engaged, so it can’t be stopped. We have to literally push through the pain. It’s the point of no return. If we don’t, we die from it. If we do, we are reborn through that death, made something new as God holds us close.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
My daughter is in third grade. She is a social butterfly. She desires connection in all ways. She wants to connect with friends. She wants to connect with text as she devours literature. She connects with history, math and science with a childlike zeal.
She would also break the middle school dress code if she was more than a third grade child.
I’m probably hyper aware of all this because I sub middle school, while my husband teaches elementary. I see the world through bifocals. If I look up, I’m a caring mommy that just wants to do what is best for her baby. If I angle down, I see the inner workings of the education machine. Neither one is absolutely true, but neither side wants to engage the other in real talk. And no side wants to see beyond the education system.
Education is the system used for last stands
I truly believe, Covid is what really clarified all this for me. This year I watched as kids were being used like pawns in a game of Chess. No, scratch that! Kids were being used as a defensive measure for personal belief systems. “Think of the kids,” became the rallying cry. In my county, it became the reason why we should let our kids go back to school full time without any face coverings or social distancing. I mean there were family members of these kids that died, but the kids made it through A O Kay.
Did that come off as a little snarky? Yeah, it was a little snarky.
History has shown that we throw our kids up like shields when major change is on the horizon.
Even when some of those changes lead to healthy moves forward, like Brown vs. the Board of Education. The children were used as the final standard to end segregation. Putting the children up front means they become the ones taking the real damage.
Yet sometimes, this last stand is less a shield, and more a statement against media and pop-culture.
Which brings me back around to the dress code.
Rev. Evan M. Dolive (who recently became Rev. DR. Dolive, congrats btw), has girls of his own. Back in the long-long-ago of March 2013, he composed an open letter to Victoria Secret regarding how sexualized their ad campaigns were towards children. This letter went viral, and led to a deeper look at body image, marketing, and God. It led him to publish the book- Seeking Imperfection. In the book, his focus was mostly on media and marketing as it related faith. I submit, it is media and marketing that has a much more lasting social impact on children than school.
To put it another way, what companies sell to kids, and what social media puts in front of their faces do more socially than what happens 9am-4pm inside a school. The media and market can only be felt in the education system. It cannot be altered or changed.
Which, for the third time, brings me back to the dress code.
It doesn’t take much digging to see parents and students have felt school dress codes are overly focused on the female half of the student population. The pushback is plain stupid. While parents and their daughters are upset, the school system passes the throwaway comment that these same rules are also true for the boys. If a boy came to school in a spaghetti strap top and booty shorts, he would be dress coded. For years, we’ve seen how those items have been stereotypically seen as female clothing, and therefore, girls have been unfairly signaled out for dressing inappropriately. Meanwhile, this has become the last stand for “decency.” We can’t talk about sexism in the market or the media anymore. That battle appears lost. Even when one clothing manufacturer comes up with modest clothes, the fashion icons and photographers push the boobs and butts to the forefront. Kids see it, and want to do what is socially popular. So, we take it to the schools.
Then there’s my elementary school daughter. Right now she’s fine. No one is sending her to the office in May because her shorts are too short. No one is worried because her shoulders are too exposed in her sleeveless top. Meanwhile, it’s becoming harder and harder to find dress code approved pants and shorts. Social media, marketing and those getting the money from these clothes are sexualizing these girls. Boys have clothes that are mostly made to be comfortable. Girls have clothes that are mostly made to be looked at. Think about that for a minute. You, an adult reader, are trained to form your first opinion on a girl of 12 based on how her butt and boobs fill out her outfit.
This means we are teaching these girls a terrible lesson that does carry into adulthood. Women must always consider their gender when doing pretty much anything. They will always walk that line between whether something looks professional or slutty. A line boys don't even need to consider. We've sexualized girls while boys don’t have to ask the same questions. School dress code doesn’t make this better. It’s actually the first step in drawing more attention to a girl’s sexuality than her personhood.
The problem isn’t the dress code, the problem is systemic and far reaching. It’s time to stop putting the focus on the dress code, and start focusing on the real problem: societies desire to sexualize girls. Dolive brought this problem to our attention in 2013. Now, in 2021, I’d say the problem is worse. It’s time to take arms ourselves, instead of forcing our daughters as a front line last defense.