-Rev Melissa Fain-
I took many great classes while I was in Seminary. Most of those classes were intentional in their education. As in, the educator had a specific takeaway for each class, and most I took away that lesson. However, there was one class that imploded in a series of intentional and unintentional takeaways.
I took a class titled: "Images of God." I knew that was the one elective class I wanted to take. Before entering seminary, I had seen the fruits of a class titled, "Images of Christ." What I heard attacked me, which is why I want to push into it. (That's how I work theology. If I like it, I attack and pull it apart. If I disagree, I push into it and understand it better. It has given me a well-rounded theology.)
The purpose of the class was to look at cultural and social ways God has been defined, and express how those images are both sacred and wrong (sometimes both at the same time.) She showed us iconography from China, India, America Europe and Africa. She stopped on an image of a Chinese Abraham. She wanted us to see how God was in that image. The image of God was a reflection, and finding our identity in the Divine was important and good.
Then the class took a detour. We worked through the theology of "God is Black." Believe me, after discussing God in the foreigner, God being Black is merely a stepping stone. Only, it wasn't. The class was divided racially, and completely on accident. One of the room was Black, and the other half was White, with two Koreans sitting in the middle. When the conversation turned to "Mammy" and the appropriation of the slave woman into white theology, things turned tense.
Now, remember when I said I pushed into things I agreed with and pull apart things I disagreed with? Well, this was not the class to be pulling apart things, but I did it anyway. I named the division. One of the classmates had mentioned how we should just get along and work together, and I named the room. Look how divided we were. Then I went further and named it during lunch. We don't try to get along when we have a moment to get along and meet someone different from us. We all do it. I had recently noticed how our lunch room was separated by mostly race.
I'm not going to say my actions was the reason the class fell into chaos, but I'm not going to omit my involvement in it either. I needed personally needed to push into this class. My view of God had been white and male. This had been comfortable and safe. This class allowed me the space to see God first as female- a huge acceptance that I am too created in the image of God. It also allowed me the space to see God as Black- a huge acceptance that God is bigger than I previously imagined. That was a purposeful takeaway.
I also learned race relations is not an easy path, but a rocky road, filled with pitfalls and false paths.
When the class eventually turned to race relations, one of the Black students decided to use me as an example of racism. Without directly using my name, she told a story in the elevator. When she walked in, I pulled my purse closer to me. Now it was my turn. For those who are new, I dealt with childhood trauma, that left me wounded. In high school I dealt with it by pulling my legs up to my chest. I balled up. I was very uncomfortable around groups of people whether I knew them or not. By college and seminary my reaction, in elevators or elsewhere was to pull my purse over my stomach. I did it with everyone, and even my friends would see it. I told her this, and while I was telling her this, I was naming my woundedness for the very first time. Now I knew my actions were unknowingly hurting someone else, while I was unknowingly remaining broken.
The next time I took the elevator I stood open, leaving my purse on my shoulder. It was so difficult with every new person who walked in. Yet, this was the first real step to a new me, a confident me. The thing is, I wasn't doing it for me. I was doing it for her. Yet, she left the class. It was too much for her.
The role of the online church
I am nothing. I am a failure. Every day I encounter countless people who can do what I do, and do it better. I'm just the person vocal enough to speak what others refuse to speak, and do what others refuse to do. I'm not special; I'm just loud.
When I found myself on Reddit, I had the above class under my belt, and newly earned church trauma to boot. I saw the broken people, and I lamented with them. Ministers and bloggers didn't seem to see or react to those people. (With a few exceptions, of course.) Most of them were sharing their work and leaving. They were pasting their version of God, and thinking that was enough. Instead, it showed how clueless they were.
I took an evangelism class that gave me my working definition of what I'm called to do: "Find how God is already present in the community, and show the community God." That's all I did, and that is all we are called to do.
Well, I say "that's all" like it's as simple as dropping sermons or blogs out in the open. Dropping stories makes it about us. It's our story to tell them. It's not about us. It's all about them. We are so cloistered in our churches, fighting over contemporary or traditional worship. That's not evangelism; that's aesthetics. Evangelism is having a conversation. Evangelism might never point to a congregation or church, because it's not about the congregation or church- it's God's story already happening in the lives of those outside our walls.
This is really the point. If you are a church, and you are not actually talking to people online, you are not doing online ministry. You are using online tools and that is it. If you can't see how God's image is different from your own, than you can't evangelize. If you can't accept your failure and nothingness, you can't accept the grace in Jesus Christ to reach out to others.
Fig Tree has done more listening to the stories of others, than telling my own story. Go and do likewise.