-Rev Melissa Fain-
8 Many people spread out their clothes on the road while others spread branches cut from the fields. 9 Those in front of him and those following were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! 10 Blessings on the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest!” 11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. After he looked around at everything, because it was already late in the evening, he returned to Bethany with the Twelve.
Mark 11:8-11 CEB
Don't play with fire, you will get yourself burned. Don't see those who are freezing and attempt to carry the flame to them. You don't have the means to get it to them before air destroys the heat. If you walk away with a piece of that fire, we won't help you. You could choose to burn the world down with that flame. You could burn others with it's coals. Just keep the fire in this safe location. We just want to help you.
I am struggling. I'm not going to pretend I'm not. I'd wager to guess many of y'all are too. This Sunday is Palm Sunday. I realize, it's the best Palm Sunday I've ever lived through, and that adds to the struggle.
See, we've spent decades treating Palm Sunday like a mini-Easter. We wave palm fronds. We let the choir sing a song from their upcoming Cantata. We talk about our Easter luncheon plans. Only this year the duality of it all has hit home. We are singing Hosanna, while crying save us!
The duality of Palm Sunday
It's time for me to confess.
Every Easter is a day of mourning for me.
As Christians, we go to where we think we'll find Jesus on Easter. Where is Christ real? That answer has never been Fig Tree. Easter has always been the one Sunday where I get to see the reality of my work, and every year it's a reminder that my work remains unfinished. That's because, while most congregations are seeing their highest attendance on Easter- Fig Tree always sees her lowest.
Over the years, it has allowed me to see the realities of that day in a way I haven't previously seen. The Disciples were not joyous when that sun rose on Sunday morning. Mary wasn't preparing to see a risen Savior. The tomb was not going to be empty in her mind. What a difference a week makes.
Palm Sunday was the crescendo to decades of pain and loss. It was the rising action to God's symphony. It was a confused moment. Hosanna both means "Praise him," and "save us." They were screaming it. Throwing down their coats and leaves. Wanting Jesus to come like a warrior God to smite the enemies. Not prepared for what Jesus was going to do. Still, they screamed for a type of salvation they didn't need, and God wasn't going to give.
The beginning of the darkest week in the Christian calendar is started with an explosion of light. Like how a light bulb goes out. All the light explodes, and then extinguishes. Palm Sunday is our last cry before God gives us what we need, instead of what we want.
That's why this Easter feels more like Palm Sunday to me. We are all seeking what we want, when God is about to give us what we need. We don't need the bright lights and gaudy signs. We don't need the choirs and bands. We'll do it because those fortissimo actions are crying out "Save us," when we think we're singing, "Praise you."
I promised confession, so let me continue: I want something for my kids. That's part of what makes Easter so difficult. I want them to connect with people their age in a good Christian environment. So the mourning I feel on Easter is doubled by the guilt I feel for my kids. That's what I'll be taking to the tomb starting Palm Sunday. Total, honest truth. An Easter Egg Hunt. A pot luck. An outside worship. That's my way of singing, "Hosanna."
I feel compelled to stop and look at the clock. It's 3:16. I smile. It's like my body is trained to stop at 3:16 and take a break, realize I'm loved, and move on.
It happens every time I see it.
The answer is 316. I smile, give thanks to God, and move on.
I'm in room 316. God is good.
In my mind, 316 is tied to John 3:16. "For God so loved the world, that he gave is only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him, shall not perish but have eternal life." KJV
That number can ignite different passions in me.
When I'm feeling destroyed, it's a reminder that God still loves, and that love includes me.
When I feel I've taken a wrong spiritual turn, it's a reminder that God's forgiveness is always available.
When I forget what I already have, it's a reminder that I have been blessed beyond measure. I live a comfortable life, and I should be giving thanks for it, not wishing for more.
When I see hate, and ignorance, and hurt, it's a reminder that God's love needs to shine, and not to give up. (Believe me. it's hard. Relays are not supposed to be a one person event.)
Recently, it just feels like God's way of saying, "Don't give up. It will be worth it."
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
Over the years I've explained what it means to be a woman minister. As I've aged into the role, I've come to understand it with a growing clarity. I want to share how those realizations have shaped me into what I am today.
"You are not called to be a minister. "
This usually involves some proof texting meant to shut the conversation down. Never does anyone express negativity about my call with the hope of saving me from myself.
The very first time I vocalized that I was called to be a leader in the Church, it was on a bus going to a high school football game. I expressed that I felt called to simply work in the church. There was one person on the bus that flat out said, "You are not called to be a minister." Then over the course of the next few weeks we spent our bus ride lobbing Bible verses at one another like they were grenades. They were all duds. Both our our proof texts were worthless because we didn't have the understanding of the scripters we were lobbing.
I would spend the next 8 years lobbing these meaningless grenades at Christians and Atheists alike. I was the very model of a very apologetic theologian. (Apologetics is the branch of Christianity meant to remove obstacles to the faith. Think, "A Case For Christ," or most things written by C.S. Lewis. I got really good at playing in this field. In some cases, especially when I was talking to the atheists, because they were having fun with the argument, I enjoyed it. There is something satisfying with discussing scripture and coming away with something new. Especially atheists forced me to see my faith critically. Little did I know, my volley into Apologetics was actually my introduction to systemic theology- where I tend to now spend my theological time. (Systemic theology is the where you focus on how beliefs connect. How do understandings of one scripture carry over into another scripture. How does the Bible relate to itself and (usually) the world?)
This new focus did not stop the detractors. If anything, it led to people doubling down. I used to have someone who followed me around online with the phrase, "Reverend Melissa, if you really are a minister." That's all this person would write, every time I posted a comment. It didn't matter what I was asking or answering. This person made my gender the subject in every post they found. It helped me know where to fight. Nothing was going to come from engaging this person. More would come in how I engaged those discussions.
If You Poke a Bear Long Enough...
I try my very hardest to take the high road.
It is way easier to take the high road when you are hardly pushed, prodded or egged on to blow up. Then, when you do veer off the high road, it's super easy to get back on with a mountain of grace.
This is not the road of being a female minister. As I entered the ministerial field, I was the test subject to justify all female ministers. I've been stared at like I have three heads. I've been ignored. I've been told I'm too qualified. I've become a living proof text. One wrong move and every good move is suddenly negated, and when every day I'm being tested it turns simple tasks into difficult ones.
It's knowing you want to pair up with your female colleagues, but doing so would label the venture a "Woman's Ministry" unless you throw a male in there somewhere. Then knowing if a collection of men were to do the same thing it wouldn't be called a "Men's Ministry."
It's knowing your very existence questions some people's faith, and how they've done church since they were a child. It's also knowing that sort of ground shaking image creates a cognitive dissonance that can only attack you, and the backfire will follow it up by strengthening their previously held beliefs.
It's knowing that this discussion is impossible to have. Honestly verbalizing issues are seen as being weak or whiny. It's another proof why women should just get out. "You can't take it, just leave!" As if a call is something one can just turn off and leave. It's like Job's wife telling Job to curse God and die, but instead of the wife, it's so many people. Either they feel the cognitive dissonance and wanting the female minister to do the work to settle it, or they want to protect me from the world and don't want to see me hurt. I've heard my versions of "Curse God and die." From ones I love and love me, and from one that don't love me.
Like a bear, all the female ministers out there can only take the poking so long before we growl. One growl is enough to keep us caged and away from the world. "See, she's dangerous." It's exhausting.
It is not female ministers making the church all about peace.
I read a very offensive article recently that I'm not going to share here. The writer believed the church had become too weak and "effeminate" because of the rise in female ministers.
While I believe the core of what she was saying was crudely true, this desire to just get along and not fight is the backfire from female ministers, not female ministers themselves.
Female ministers must be fighters. We, by the very nature of the world around us, must be fierce.
It's when we stand up and say what needs to be said that the reaction suddenly turns into a false nurturing. "Can't we all just get along?" "We need to just love." "Just take back what you said, and we'll pretend to forget any of this happened." It's the Church's inability to acceptably process why women are entering the ministry in record numbers that has turned the congregation all peace, love, unicorns and rainbows.
It's like going into a room full of targets...
I'm going to conclude on this note.
Specifically online, being a woman minister is like every day going into a room with a bunch of targets. Each of those targets would successfully share how female ministers are called by God. That's if all the targets are completely hit. Only, no one woman can hit all those targets in a brief interaction online.
A woman can focus on one target, but in doing so someone will mention the targets that haven't been hit.
A woman can generally hit all the targets, but in doing so someone will mention how none of the reasons are completely explained.
If that's not frustrating enough, the next time you find yourself in this room, the targets are reset. You can tag previous conversations, but in another whammy, that's when you get the dreaded TL:DR (Too long: Didn't Read.)
There is no winning, and it is by design. I've tried. I've created articles to tag in posts. I've taken men who have made the same arguments, and tagged them. It's only the sliding scale of differing levels of losing.
The next time you see a female minister (maybe even this female minister) take a moment and ask yourself "why".
Why is she doing this?
It's not for power. If it were for power there are corporate jobs that give power without questions. Female minister is one of the most humbling jobs out there.
It's not for prestige. Once again there are hills easier to climb. There are fields easier to enter and gain glory.
It's not for the money. Speaking to my own story, I haven't had a living wage from being a minister in 9 years. I've been paid through pulpit supply, but never through Fig Tree.
Maybe, just maybe, she's in it for the sake of others.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
While in Argentina, Blake Mycoskie ran across a couple of women who were there to deliver shoes to the people. Deciding to help, he learned how many diseases are transmitted through feet. That was the moment TOMS shoes were born.
Buy one pair, and one pair will be donated to a community in need.
Sounds pretty awesome, doesn't it? I know I saw my share of friends and colleagues sporting TOMS. At their zenith I was at my lowest, and couldn't afford their hefty price tag, otherwise I would have been among them. (The best I could do at that time was purchase ethical eggs, which isn't the same as free range, but that's a story for another time.)
There were multiple problems with TOMS.
No one asked the people if they wanted or needed shoes. We, the American people, will almost always follow the path of least resistance. There are so many brands that promise a one to one giving model, and we buy it at twice the mark-up.
It hurt local economies where the shoes were given. Not only were taxes not being taken for these freebies to help local governments, but shoe repair and sellers were not able to compete. A problem that Mycoskie would eventually hear a decade later.
It is too easy. It's far too easy to sit in our ivory castles, making choices for people who we are not listening to. TOMS were not for the people getting the second pair we purchased, it was so we could feel good about the pair we wore.
The Buy-One/Give-One Model of Digital Church
I did not think, going into the pandemic a year ago, I would be writing the words I'm about to write. I had more hope for my Christian brothers and sisters. I seriously thought, if everyone was where I had spent the past eight years, people would finally see the problem. Instead, the situation became worse.
Churches- you are considering online ministry now. You are considering throwing a few hundred dollars a week at a person who will copy your brand of corporate worship, and paste it online for your homebound and congregants who are away. At the same time, many of you are marketing this as also a way to meet those who have been disenfranchised or unable to come to church. It's your buy one/give one model. It's an easy solution to a national crisis of faith.
If you are reading this, and you are a congregant or minister from an established church, realize you are setting up the TOMS of online worship.
I'm happy you want something for those in your church, established in your church, who cannot get in the church for whatever reason. Great! Name that, and don't try to pretend you are doing something for those outside your building.
For years, I have been waving the banner of meeting the needs of those who have found themselves online, like a mission field. God is already present. God is already working, and what real online ministry will look like won't look like corporate worship. For years, churches have met me with a horrible sentence, "What we have works, so they should come see what we already have."
That one sentence completely and totally negates so many people who don't agree. It's also not just because they don't care for a church's particular brand of church.
Of course, there are those broken by the church. When a person has been broken by a system that was supposed to care for them, things that used to be comforting become stigmatizing. Everything becomes dangerous. Words of comfort become stabbing moments of crisis. And guess what? The internet was supposed to be their way to escape that, and Churches all over the nation just oversaturated everything with it! What you are bringing is literally making broken Christian's world worse. Like forcing a painter with a broken finger to continue painting. There's healing first, and we're negating the process.
There are also those who haven't been able to enter churches because of physical and mental disabilities. It is difficult for them to get in a car and drive to the church. I'm sure many are thinking their brand of copy/paste church was for them. I'm sure many are thinking this group is all over 70 years old, and just want to watch. You'd be wrong. Especially with long Covid, we now have so many people in their 20s-60s who now are physically disabled. These are people who long to not only see worship but participate in it. Some of this means rethinking how worship is done, and asking them how they want to be part of the Body of Christ.
There are also those who just don't want to go. These are the ones churches have been drooling to get in worship for over a generation, and have failed spectacularly.
It is stunning how in every case the church just decides to throw out the BOGO method of evangelism. As if that's not off putting to those on the outside glancing in.
"We're already doing what you're doing, only better."
This is the biggest slap in the face.
Going back to TOMS for a moment. Imagine if Mycoskie decided to personally deliver a crate of TOMS to Ecuador. Then imagine if a shoemaker came to Mycoskie as he was passing shoes out and the shoemakers asked Mycoskie to stop or help with his business, because TOMS was hurting the shoemaker financially. Then, imagine Mycoskie responding to the shoemaker with these words, "We're not going to stop, because we've figured out how to do what you are doing, only better."
In that situation it sounds scandalous. Well of course a 1st world country knows how to make shoes better than 3rd world shoemaker! They have more at their disposal to make a high quality product. That doesn't mean that a 1st world product is what a 3rd world needs. Mycoskie would eventually hear what was being said, and would change the model. Instead of giving shoes, they give opportunity to entrepreneurs to create what they need.
Churches need to hear too.
The people on the outside don't want your production from the inside. Sure, it's well produced, but it's not part of their community. They have no ownership or say in it. All these fancy productions are destroying the ministries that have been around longer than the pandemic. (Yes, that includes us.)
We are choosing who our net-vangelists are. The longer churches live in the delusion that they are somehow the next big thing, the easier it will be for wolves to step into shepherds leadership roles. We are on a timer now. Fig Tree wants to be exclusively online, but without real support that's a fools dream. I have to watch churches drop their TOMS brand of ministry all around me, and there is nothing I can do... alone.
I've been told I'm obsolete. That's only true if your vision is nearsighted. We're not obsolete, but we do need help. BOGO is not the way to go. Support is. Support us.