-Pastor Melissa Fain-
15 Then the prophet Jeremiah said to the prophet Hananiah: “Listen, Hananiah! The Lord hasn’t sent you. All you are doing is persuading these people to believe a lie. 16 Therefore, the Lord proclaims: I’m going to send you somewhere—right off the face of the earth! Before the year ends, you will die since you have incited rebellion against the Lord.” 17 The prophet Hananiah died in the seventh month of that year.
Jeremiah 28 CEB
This past weekend, I went to Cades Cove up in the Great Smokey Mountains in Tennessee. Most of my trip was to take my kids to meet up with my sister in a relatively central location. Some of the trip was to take pictures and videos to update this website. I've been talking an awful lot about being in the wilderness, but the wilderness is not always desert. Sometimes it's forests and mountains. It's still a difficult place to live, but a beautiful and Godly place too.
While I was there, I came across some history I didn't previously know about the Cove.
A Tale of Three Churches
I've been to Cades Cove about half a dozen times in my lifetime. It's probably the national park I've visited the most. (That's saying something considering Kennesaw Mountain is a quick 45 minutes drive from my house.) There are three churches in the Cove, and I'd always treated them with passive ignorance. If you've seen one, you've seen them all. Only this time I heard their stories. This past weekend, this Cove, ourselves, and Jeremiah came together and I found God.
Methodist Church: I've never liked the churches that separate the men from the women and children. The Bible is a family story, that requires the unity of the family for it to thrive. For years, I assumed this church sat men on one side and women on the other. If you look inside, the seating is split into thirds. This has always been confusing with my assumption. Who sat in the middle? This past weekend, I learned this church never sat by gender, or used the doors for that purpose. There were fewer Methodists in the Cove. It meant they built this church on a budget. Actually, they built it in 115 days for $115 dollars. One of there cost cutting measures was to use the plans for another church, that happened to follow the practice of separating the men from the women and children. Context is important. Yet this church never stopped meeting. These next two churches did, and there's a reason why they are important to this story.
The Primitive Baptist Church, and the Missionary Baptist Church: This church (the Primitive Baptist Church) and it's sister church split below (the Missionary Baptist Church) did not meet during the Civil War.
The Primitive Baptist Church would write about the closure following the war: "We the Primitive Baptist Church in Blount County in Cades Cove, do show the public why we have not kept up our church meeting. It was on account of the Rebellion and we was Union people and the Rebels was too strong here in Cades Cove. Our preacher was obliged to leave sometimes, and thank God we once more can meet."
You should let that sink in for a minute. These churches believed the Union was correct while they lived in the South. They were willing to forgo Church during the Civil War because of the power of that belief. That's years, not months. That's without Zoom or Facebook Live. How their heart must have ached at the years of absence. How they must have celebrated when the war was finally over. How they must have known the danger their pastors were in and how they loved their clergy enough to let them leave for a time.
While these two churches stopped meeting, the Methodist church suffered a split, creating a new church with Pro-Union members. That specific church no longer stands today.
The Allure of False Prophets
If you're a Lectionary pastor you're probably wondering why I've posted the end of Jeremiah 28 rather than vv 5-9 listed as the Hebrew Bible scripture for this Sunday. It's because I've got this feeling there are going to be some bad sermons done out of context based on Jeremiah 28:5-9. Even Jeremiah wants to believe it! Why wouldn't you? All things stolen are going to be returned? That is a seductive scripture in this current climate. Forget the seduction of sitting next to your spouse in church- give us back our 11am worship with singing and hugging! Seduce us with that!
Only, we can't take vv 5-9 without including its sister verses around it. Hananiah is a false prophet. There are no costs to his promised returns. That's not how God works. Loss is either given meaning, or loss has a context for the greater good. Meaningless loss is tragic. God gives purpose to meaninglessness or God takes away for a purpose.
Let's remember who eventually gave the Priests back their temple. It wasn't God- but Herod. It would be Herod's temple that would ultimately be rebuked by Jesus. It was Herod's temple that took the widow's last coin, and refused to help the least of these. It's right for Hananiah to be rebuked! His prophecy, as alluring as it sounded, was dangerous and dark. Hananiah would die for it.
Real Prophets don't need to exist when everything is going well and good.
Real Prophets always want to avert the disaster they are sharing.
A Tale of Three Timelines
You cannot undo what has already been done.
Wait. I feel like I need to write that again, only make it big and bold for emphasis:
You cannot undo what has already been done.
Therefore, you cannot go back to do things the way they were previously done. Yes, some of you want to sit in your big amphitheaters, listen to your professional band sing from their expensive sound equipment with their slick lighting. But packing them in means you have to breath your neighbor's breath for longer than 10 minutes, putting you at higher risk of catching Covid-19. Yes, some of you want your intimate church experience where you can hug your neighbor, but personal contact is dangerous right now, especially when most small churches hold most older congregants.
90% of us will eventually get it, but we don't need to all get it at once. It will overwhelm the hospitals and more people will unnecessarily die if that happens. It is selfish to want your previous experience. Maybe I need to write that again, only make it bigger and bold for emphasis:
It is selfish to want your previous experience.
Many are getting upset because they have missed 3 months of physical church. Well, the Primitive Baptist Church, and the Missionary Baptist Church in Cades Cove missed 5 years of physical church. God didn't give the Cove church for 5 years. What makes you think you're entitled to your church in three months?
Many are getting upset because they're not getting everything back once they return to church. The Israelites were not getting everything back when they returned to Judah DECADES after being exiled. What makes you think it's healthy to go back to everything you lost after Covid-19? Maybe some things need to remain lost. Maybe we shouldn't be asking Herod to give our things back. We shouldn't force the good prophecy, because in doing so, we are forcing a lie and making things worse in the process.
God is still present in this digital landscape. I will write that again and make it bolder and bigger than the others, because it's the most important point.
God is still present in this digital landscape.
We are not called to restore what can no longer be, but to walk with God in the now. God is here. God is present. God never left. God is bigger than a building. God is more important than our stuff. Until we realize that those wanting to give it all back are false prophets, we won't be able to lament our stuff is actually gone. Until we finally lament, we can't move forward.
Keep this in your heart: What Jesus preached was heard the best outside the Temple. His words were lost inside the Sanctuary.
Are you listening to the tough truth of God spoken through Jeremiah or sweet seductive poison of Hananiah? God's path is tougher. God's path will hurt. Ultimately, God's path is right. Follow God.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
Last Wednesday I spent a few minutes talking about Cognitive Dissonance.
To sum up:
Cognitive Dissonance is when a person holds two or more contradictory ideas or values at the same time, creating stress. Often times the item creating the dissonance is something that holds great investment, so to break with it would cause major loss.
There are four kinds of cognitive dissonances:
I did say that breaking free becomes so much more difficult once one falls into that trap. I suggested grace in this case. Many feel the anxiety of the stress from cognitive dissonance, but can't name what is causing that stress or is too deep into ignorance.
Breaking someone free from the dissonance:
I have inundated myself with videos on cults recently. They are difficult to watch, but I want to figure out how the ones who broke free did it. What is the compelling factor that can help someone see the magnitude of dissonance in their life? I've seen two recurring themes:
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
I've finally finished! After three months all mentions of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) have been cleaned from the website, Facebook, Twitter, and subreddit.
Now, my Disciple colleagues and friends. I know you. I know how you've reacted to this.
Some of you have lamented. I've heard your words, "We should have done more." Believe me, those very words have been spoken to me too many times. I know you. I love you. I get that you personally mean those words. It's just that those words have been said enough to me personally that it they have begun to feel like the abusive spouse pretending to be better. I've heard them since I first started working in the church. "We should have done more," turns into "We'll be better this time, baby. Promise."
Some of you have been confused. You are wondering where this is coming from. That's because the internet has a short memory, and is selfish in nature. We don't consider our selfishness. We are so hopelessly detached we just don't consider it when we come online. Most of us use the internet to fill an immediate need. You need to know something. You need to get something. You need to get paid. The very idea to start our internet journey with "they" is foreign. I have wanted others to see the "they" too. I have literally wept with people who know how I've struggled with these truths not for days, but years. My tears were realizing the mission was always met with confusion in seeing the internet as a personal tool, not a land where people meet. Even in this isolation I've heard more ministers talking about how to save their church, not evangelize within a digital landscape.
Some of you have been passive aggressive, which equates to mean when it comes to church. Did you know I'm dangerous now? I'm un-tethered? No accountability? I've lost all ability to make mature leadership decisions with this step! Meanwhile the Region's passive aggression is keeping us listed as a congregation within the denomination while excluding us as an online resource. Let me return to the abusive spouse because those actions feel like the spouse saying, "You can't do this without me!" "Just say sorry and we'll welcome you back." Only, there is no coming back. I've already said that words lose power when you take them back. If this makes you angry, good! A church should lament. A church is allowed to explore confusion. Passive-aggression is cancer, and should be defeated. The truth always lives in the light. Don't stand for things being hidden. I'm not the one in the darkness. I'm not the one trying to hide this. You should ask yourself, what does that mean?
Those things are reactions, not reasons. You need reasons. Let me explain how we are a rational community of faith, acting in a God-like manner.
We are too diverse a community for one denomination.
The blunt truth: Fig Tree did the poorest the more she was pushed into the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Also, as much as I asked for help from ministers and congregations, I never really gained any support from within. We were "by name only" years before this departure ever happened. I begged for it to be different, but it was to no avail.
Real support from outside: Last year someone asked me, "How have you had so many diverse writers at Fig Tree?" It's true. I think over the years of who has offered up guest meditations, and the list has grown pretty long. Ministers. Writers. Chaplains. Congregants. Differing political opinion. Differing theological opinion. Differing people. Years ago I described Fig Tree to be like glue. It's not substantial like paper or stone, but it binds the substantial together. It acts in a way we need so desperately right now. In being glue we've grown diversely. That means while the denomination has been there in name only, those outside the denomination have been there in action.
Denominations are scary to the broken.
Very few join Fig Tree explicitly for the denomination. People become attached because we're saying what they need to hear. It has been a field clinic for the spiritually wounded and broken. In this way we're glue too, joining the broken person back together in a loving way. Then they leave.
It's amazing to see them find a house of worship- to try out their newfound wholeness. Always in a faith tradition that's something other than the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ.) I am not going to give that up to be a glorified IT person for a church. (Yes, that was suggested to me as a way to use my calling instead of supporting the real ministry that already existed.)
Those who come to Fig Tree need the antiseptic space of non-denominationalism. These people need to know they are safe here. I'm not going to make them join or accept anything specific. They are here to heal. They are here to become. Just like you don't make a baby digest meat, or a patient who needs open heart surgery run, you don't overwhelm those at Fig Tree with any denomination. (And don't throw out the anti-creedal nature of Disciples, because we both know they are quickly becoming more pointed in their beliefs over the past 20 years.)
I'd rather you celebrate.
The time for lamenting what could have been is over. What's done is done. I can no more change it than you can. I forgive y'all. It's not worth carrying the weight of frustration and bitterness with all the important things I have been called to carry.
The time for confusion is also over. If you don't get what's happening here after half a dozen posts stating it boldly, you are not going to get it. There are those engaging in the land of make believe, and God's Kingdom is real. Soooooo- good luck with that.
Passive-aggression is not done, and I'm going to attack it. If we are not living in the light, I plan to drag our butts out into it. If we are found wanting, good! We can deal with that in the sun, not growing stagnant in the shadows. Nothing good comes from hiding our iniquity. Nothing.
I want y'all to celebrate. Things are happening! We are getting funds! We are getting volunteers! As I write this I have people seeking out guest writers, diverse voices that can tell certain Biblical truths from a perspective I can't! That's exciting!
More than that, I want you to be part of this excitement! I want your church to be a ministry partner and donate time, money, and talent. I want you to be part of the party, not be a party pooper. Let us go, and support our departure. Or not. Just let us go. Let me just say this. There is a kindle; a spark that has ignited. It's not the flash in the pan like the previous times. I have felt the heat of those moments as much as I've felt their brevity. This is something that can last and grow. I'm asking two things: Let the flame burn in the wilderness where it started. Then, add to it. Be part of it.
The first is greater than the second, but I don't want to leave you out. We all need something celebrate: An ecumenical online ministry that is growing? That's worth some celebration.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
Seminary was a spiritual buffet for me. I was hungry for knowledge. I had listened to the sermons since before I was baptized, and they had begun to feel empty. Well, less empty, and more I already knew. I wanted new knowledge. The stuff they weren't preaching on Sunday morning. Seminary was a 10 course meal with seconds thirds and fourths.
True, my pregnancy brain struggled with the likes of Augustine and Maximus Confessor that first year. (I entered seminary only a month pregnant.) Sometimes I read the same passage three times before I digested their words, but there was zeal in getting new spiritual food. The best part being, I was taught how to enter that land and pull from those trees of knowledge, and eat of their fruit. (Not THE tree of knowledge. Don't get antsy on me.) I had been given keys to a spiritual orchard!
The People are Hungry
I have witnessed the excitement at a minister giving a congregation just a tiny morsel of Biblical knowledge A Greek word here. A contextual clue there. They treat these minuscule pieces like a full meal.
Their eyes betray them. You see their hunger. You know they want more. They don't realize this because they don't realize they're starving. They've always been starving.
I exited seminary knowing I couldn't withhold the truth in that manner. I had entered the orchard, and I wanted to be a minister who taught IN the orchard. I wanted congregants that pulled freely from the fruit and asked my opinion on it's taste. Only it's a long road from Biblical starvation to satiation. The people have to be led to the fruit or they'll think it's poisoned and turn away.
Ten years ago, I decided to stand between the two. Speak to both worlds. I learned that while seminary had spiritual food through knowledge, Churches had spiritual drink through the Spirit. Too far in one direction or the other would cause the people to die of thirst or starvation.
My promise as a minister
I believe there is more than what we understand.
Many churches profess something called the Apostles Creed. It's rooted in the first ever statement of organized religion, the 1st Council of Nicaea in 325.
The Apostle's Creed goes like this:
As someone born into the Campbell-Stone tradition of "No Creed but Christ," I have always bristled a little at the Apostle's Creed, and the numerous Christians that announce you can't be a Christian unless you profess it. (To be fair, my statements cause many of those people to bristle at me.) Part of the reason we even have our first council of Nicaea was because of a group of people making their own statements of faith. Statements as crazy as, there are really two Gods- Old Testament and New Testament. Statements and interesting as- Judas was working with Christ the whole time. Also statements we will never know because most of it was destroyed in counter protest.
Back in 325 the people generally believed in gods. They needed to explain what it meant to believe in the God of Abraham. This meant faith was not the starting point. Many had faith in something. The question was "What faith?" not "If faith?"
Today, the above Creed is difficult to digest. We don't consider the path to faith to be a journey, because many Christians grew up in it. That's just not the case for the average person anymore. Then, many who have were hurt by faith just walk away completely.
So we have a crisis of Spirit and Knowledge. It's not enough to just lead those of faith to knowledge. There are also those of knowledge who need the Spirit. Then there are countless others who have neither.
That's why my promise is simple: I believe there is something more. If that is making you knowledge camps and Spirit camps bristle, it's because you are at a destination, and I am at the trail head. It's okay that those at the beginning don't see a well or an orchard. You can't tell a people to eat or drink if they are nowhere near the food or beverage. That's why Sunday has become a journey to the Spirit, while Wednesday has become a journey of knowledge. Some people only need one. Some people need both. I know the fine line I'm walking in both camps, but luckily I'm unpaid so I can walk that path unleashed.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
Over the past couple of weeks, I've been referencing Biblical understanding of the Universe. I realized it might be good to do a quick lesson to know where the brains of the Ancient Near East people were as we read Scripture. I want to stress, this is not a modern Christian interpretation of the universe, but an Ancient Near East understanding.
The Abyss of Waters or AKA the Un-Created: Creation is not really creating as it is ordering. Specifically, it is the ordering of the chaos. Specifically, the seas are the unordered chaos. There are chaotic monsters, like Leviathan. The real fear of an ancient people are not demons/devils (which are part of the Divine council btw) it's the encroaching chaos. We are made from that chaos, and are drawn to it.
Sheol or AKA grave/pit: Every time I see one of these depictions, and they are easy to find, I always see grave written in Hebrew. There's a decent blog on this topic I'll link if you want to learn more.
Earth or AKA the Created Order: We are part of the created order. That includes the ordered waters, earth, sky and lights. The heavens are also part of that created order.
Heavens or AKA where God lives: This is why many will look up to reference God because God was literally above their heads above the vault above the sky. In the Ancient Near East mind the sun, moon and stars were much smaller than they actually are. God had to fit beyond all of that.
The waters below and the waters above AKA what shouldn't exist anymore: A literal reading of the Bible would mean that the Creation of rain was when Noah built an ark. That was when the waters beneath and the waters beyond the vault opened and flooded the entire earth. Now that it's been emptied, it remains emptied and that's why we have rain.
The Pillars of the Sky and Earth AKA What's holding everything up: To the ancient near east people those mountains are what is literally holding up the sky! That's why Moses went up a mountain to talk to God. It was a path to literally reach Heaven. Babel was a way to build a new pillar to God, a way which failed. With this depiction there are pillars below like table legs, holding up the created Earth.