-Pastor Melissa Fain-
I have been inundated with reading material as of late. My eldest gave me The Handmaid’s Tale for Christmas, and I found its sequel, The Testaments, on clearance. I devoured both. I followed this up with Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, a 25 page exploration of damnation. Our review is on my next read: Kingdom of Women, but I also read Out of the Dust, and I’m currently returning to The Screwtape Letters. (That’s if you’re interested in reading anything I’ve been reading.)
Perhaps it is a desire to devour the written word after spending a month studying for a very big math test. Perhaps it’s me choosing to read anything but the book I eventually put down to teach art: Crime and Punishment. (Gotta finish that one next.) No matter what it is, I knew I needed to write this review.
Synopsis (Without Spoilers)
There are a few story lines converging together in this. There are two worth noting in this post:
1) Averil Parnell becomes the world’s first priest in the Roman Catholic Church after her fellow seminarians are gunned down and she survives. I have some things to write about this below (with spoilers).
2) Women are done not being heard when it comes to abuse, rape, and inequality. They take matters into their own hands, and a group secedes from the Union to start their own country. At the same time, there are a group of vigilante women who are enacting justice towards fellow women who were raped and/or killed by men.
How to read it (With Spoilers)
I’m sure my male readers are seeing the synopsis and just “noping” yourself out of it. Please hear me out before you do that.
In my opinion, the author, Rosalie Morales Kearns, creates a modern feminist lament. I put this text right next to Psalm 137. They are both dense and difficult reads.
A year ago, almost to the day, I wrote a Tuesday Review of Professor Glenn Pemberton’s book: Hurting With God. I said he lost the tension when it came to Psalm 137. That comment is important to this book, so let me quote it below:
“If I could summarize [Hurting with God] in one sentence it would be this: Trust God enough to speak the truth in your prayers. [Glenn Pemberton] couldn’t find the truth in Psalm 137, because he only heard the words being spoken, not the meaning beyond them. I do invite you to read what I wrote on his take on Psalm 137, but I have one more greater point... Talking to God has to start somewhere. It might even start with a lie. If we are so afraid that the only words spoken need to be truthful words, we could scare people out of praying all together. I would summarize prayer in this way: Prayer is bringing yourself, in all that you are, before God in sacrifice.”
Tuesday's Review: Hurting with God
Psalm 137 doesn’t mean God condones bashing babies heads against rocks. It does mean, God hears our yowling pain, and we have the freedom to speak with our souls as our words can say some terribly hurtful things. God is big enough to take it.
Kingdom of Women ends with the complete destruction of men. It’s not realistic if taken literally, but it is real. It’s true in the exact same way Psalm 137 is true. If taken as a true lament, it speaks with women, and speaks to men.
That makes this a very good book.
Aside: Speaking as a woman in ministry and Scouts BSA
Before I get into this- I did not see this book as literal. I saw it as one sees a fable or morality tale. It’s not meant to be taken literally. What I’m about to write isn’t critiques, as much as how I feel a literal experience would go differently.
If the Roman Catholic Church chose to ordain women, they wouldn’t “defrock” her like they did to Averil. They would bury her. They would put her somewhere where no one would be able to hear her sermons, or know what she was up to. To take away her standing would suggest they were wrong, and they would attempt to avoid appearing anything but the God Ordained Church™.
Speaking as a woman who is ordained, I feel more ignored than I do expelled. Expulsion gives you something to work with. It’s a physical action that can have an opposite and equal reaction. Ignoring, on the other hand, has no momentum.
For example: Back at the end of 2019, Fig Tree Christian and myself left the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The Christian Church ignored it. Like, I still get “giving packets” from the Church they ignored it so fully. Now, not only am I disconnected from the denomination in a self-acting move, but there was no reaction to it. They kept me for their numbers, and took away everything I could have gained from it. So much so that in 2020, when people were searching where to find Fig Tree Christian, it listed another church we discontinued meeting at. They reaped our evangelism. That’s what would have happened to Averil. She would have been made obsolete by the system that claimed to love her.
Also an example: A few years back, the BSA decided to include girls in their scouting program. I’ve written so much about this, including the Scout Bathrooms. Including women and girls into male programs does not automatically create equality. The very foundations need to be moved for equal treatment. In the case of the Council camps, the bathrooms were made for the boys. It’s much more difficult for the gals to camp with public restrooms still being for the boys.
And yet another example: I experienced this as a seminarian, as the building for the seminary was built for men. Try being a pregnant woman when there isn’t a restroom on your floor for women. Candler fixed this with a new building, but my first year still felt incredibly exclusionary.
You just don’t understand how much the problem can and is ignored.
I say this, because being ignored often takes away your power, and allows the offenders the freedom to move on. In reality most failure is accomplished through ignorance, not action. The world is destroyed by those who fail and hear the yowling laments of the oppressed.
That is all.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
What is ministry?
That question has taken center stage in my mind as I meditate.
For a decade I have written here on a regular basis. The meditations side has existed like clockwork, as I have been better about keeping up with it than most paid, brick and mortar, ministers. As of late? My posts are starting to slow, as I might write one week, and illustrate the next. The longer I write, the less likely I think you are to read. That means it’s no longer an effective form of ministry. Something about this site has to change.
I have also kept a weekly worship. Even before Covid, there was online worship. It felt necessary at one point. It feels deserted now.
The internet is a very selfish place. I’ve always known that. It’s the piece of the puzzle Mark Zuckerberg fails to see as he thinks Meta will be the next new place for community. A true community gives and takes. It’s reciprocal. The internet just takes. Even those who want to be taken. They, I guess I should say we, want to be taken. We turn ourselves into a commodity in the hopes that it will result in us being “given.” What, you may ask? Perhaps fame or fortune? The more we want to be taken, the more the internet loves us. If we never ask for anything in return, there is no shame in taking, and ideas are stolen and reused without permission. Even though it will destroy the person, the internet is okay with the pillaging. They don’t have to see the remaining husk of the person, and a new person wanting to be taken will willingly take the previous one’s place.
I was intentional with my language. Yes, there are people who go online to give something. That relationship is almost always the internet taking from them and giving nothing back in return until the person must quit before they are destroyed.
It brings me back to my question: What is ministry? Specifically, online ministry.
I know I’m painting a broad stroke here, but I’m going to say it.
Most churches are very selfish on the internet. I’m not saying that, like they are some digital Scrooge that takes from the less fortunate with miserly glee. Their selfishness comes from an antiquated view of the world wide web. Most churches began using the internet back when it was simply an online bulletin board. The whole purpose was to post what was important, and leave. There were no interactions. It was also free advertising, back when many churches were paying $100s to put events in the local paper. The internet was giving churches something! Greedily they gobbled it up, without considering how this introduction to the internet would inform how they would use this resource moving forward.
You would think, after Covid, they would be forced to see their internet habits and learn healthier actions and attitudes online. Instead, they continued to be insular. Once again, I don’t think this is some plot to hoard their resources and take up a miserly duty to be visited by three Spirits every Christmas Eve. It is more like wearing blinders they don’t know they have.
They saw how difficult it was to worship online. Instead of asking, “How do we make this experience more interactive for those unable to come to church?” they thought, “How do we get back to in-person worship?”
Instead of seeing the person who logged on to watch a church’s livecast, they see a possible future donation. The trauma of the person ignored for the number in attendance.
Hardly no one is going on Reddit, and looking at /r/Christianity, a place many broken by the Church find their first home. No one is wondering why they are still losing members, and what that means to God’s call on the world.
About a decade ago, I heard a very important minister yell, “I didn’t stay here to watch the church die!” He meant that specific church, and the words have stuck with me, as I feel many ministers are at least thinking about it as they continue their insular practices.
When I was looking for churches to sponsor us, there was one church that began looking possible. It turned out, they wanted to gobble up the resources and destroy the seed. It would prolong their death, while destroying us immediately. All taking. No giving.
But online ministry!
Look at me! I’ve once again written pages of text for no one to read! What is my problem?
I needed all of that, to explain why part of online ministry needs to be about giving.
I mean, the church needs to give. I don’t mean we need to give to the church. The physical churches are hemorrhaging. Even the ones who think they are doing well, are only taking in the leftovers from the smaller churches who are already dead or at death’s door. There is no growth in the church today, only the illusion of growth.
We also need to be creative, and creativity is severely lacking globally. We need groups of people just shooting ideas, and trying them until something sticks. It’s not rocket science, but it is incredibly difficult when we’ve replaced education with standardized tests.
Right now, that’s what I’m trying to figure out. Not the answers, but how to get the people so we can find the answers together. How to share our resources, and innovate.
I have great ideas. I want those ideas to be real. Right now, I am stuck with the dying word, a few pretty pictures, and worship.