The Lord looks down from heaven on humans
to see if anyone is wise,
to see if anyone seeks God,
but all of them have turned bad.
Everyone is corrupt.
No one does good--
not even one person!
Are they dumb, all these evildoers,
devouring my people
like they are eating bread
but never calling on the Lord?
Count on it; they will be in utter panic
because God is with the righteous generation.
You evildoers may humiliate
the plans of those who suffer,
but the Lord is their refuge.
Psalm 14:2-6 CEB
I’ve been having a hard time lately.
I know there will be suffering in this world. I know some of that suffering will be inflicted by people.
What I can’t wrap my head around is how blatantly people are dehumanizing one another, and even rejoicing in the suffering of those who aren’t like them. I expect people who revel in evil to do evil, but these are people who claim to delight in good.
Sometimes it feels like we’re hopeless. We’ll never get past the fear that motivates us to hate other people. This will always be a world where people jump to judge those in need as unworthy instead of jumping to help. I wonder if we can set aside our pride long enough to witness Christ in one another.
Will we ever weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn? Or will we always stay safe in our comfortable, unearned, bubbles?
Over the past couple of years, I’ve had so many moments of despair.
So many times I’ve heard “good Christians” talk about other human beings like they were garbage. Literal, inhuman garbage.
So many moments I’ve seen people quote the Bible to justify evil, and I ask, “Is anyone seeking God?”
Sometimes it does seem like everyone is corrupt. That nobody is wise. Nobody is seeking God. Nobody is doing good. Not even one person!
But it’s not true.
There are people out there doing good. There are people out there risking what they have to help people in need. People who don’t prioritize their comfort above the needs of others. People who value every person’s life, not just their own.
It’s hard to notice them sometimes. They don’t tend to get flashy with it all and draw attention to themselves, so they’re easy to miss.
When I want to know where God is in all of this, these people are my answer. God is with them, working through them.
I know that’s not enough because there aren’t enough of us willing to allow God to work through us like that. We need more people who are seeking God.
And that’s our challenge. Are we wise? Are we seeking God? Or are we seeking to protect what we believe we deserve because we’re afraid of losing it?
Are we people of faith or are we people of fear?
When someone is despairing, asking where God is, and they look at me, what do they see?
The Lord is the refuge of the suffering. If Christ is in is, we’re that refuge too.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
Jim Jones was a super star. Everyone was looking in his direction, because everyone thought he'd finally figured out a good version of Communism. That's what Jonestown was supposed to be. If the People's Temple could survive in a closed system, then it could be implemented in a larger way. Only it failed... terribly. Jonestown was not the utopia Jim Jones was playing it up to be. When people came to check it out, and someone attempted to leave, everything turned for the worst. Jones' told members to gun down the visitors, and then convinced hundreds to commit suicide by drinking Flavor-Aide laced with cyanide. The babies and kids had the juice forced down their throats. By the time it was through, over 900 humans died in the jungle of Guyana.
Oh did the view of Jones change after that. No longer was he the ministerial darling that would change the landscape of communal living. He was a monster. Stories began to come out of the woodwork. He used his power to convince people to sleep with him. He faked miracles to make it look like he was the "real deal." He possibly had someone killed who decided he didn't want to be part of the People's Temple any longer.
I like to use Jim Jones as an example because he was a well liked person, who had tons of followers, but was ultimately wrong. History doesn't want to admit, that like Hitler, Jones was a media darling at one point. It's situations like those that the Bandwagon Fallacy exists.
The Bandwagon Fallacy is when someone appeals to popularity or the idea that a large group of people do something to validate that something as right. This fallacy can take many forms where ignorance, non-action, and inaction get justified because most people are doing whatever is being justified.
We forget, that historically, a large majority of people can continue abuse and self-harm to a system. The Crusades, Slavery, the mass genocide happening in countries to this day are all examples where our inaction or ignorance rubber stamped terrible actions.
“If everyone else stumbles because of you, I’ll never stumble.”
It's easy to play that game. We can take these terrible events and history and raise our flag like we accomplished something by stating, "Not I, Lord! The rest may fall away, but I'd stand for injustice!" Only, the church has a band wagon's today. Sure, no one is getting ripped in two, or gassed. We don't have physical mountains of hair left over as a reminder of our atrocities. Most of the time, being on the wrong side isn't that easy. Only movies have smoking guns, and clearly laid out bread crumb trails. Instead, we have stories. Mountains of stories. We've all heard them, but the church isn't making it their war cry. Why?
We have chosen our new war cries. "It wasn't at my church." "I wasn't there when that specific thing happened." "I wasn't part of that specific event."
For the one who is now an outsider looking in, those words pierce so deeply. Just because no one else in the church is seeking justice, doesn't mean your specific Christian institution is innocent. Just because the event is over and everyone has left who was hurt, doesn't mean the issue is resolved. Just because you sit with thousands of others who are going through the patterns every week, doesn't mean you are on the correct side. That's the Band Wagon Fallacy. I'm circling it, and actually, I'm making it a target. We are not here to save an institution. We are here to save the people. Stop focusing on the place, and maybe you will see we are hemorrhaging.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
I just spent a couple of great days camping at Christmount Christian Assembly, in Black Mountain, North Carolina. While I was there, I took a few minutes to chat with Rev. Jamie Brame. That name might sound familiar to you. He is the Programs Director up at Christmount, and he has written for one of our devotionals. I knew Jamie through Christmount. I spent three summers working there. The first year, I asked to be a Camp Staffer. He had just hired the last one, and asked if I wanted to work in the kitchen. Wanting to do something, I happily said yes. The following two years I was camp staff. That's a side note to the reason for this post.
Jamie reminded me of something I've always kept close to my heart, but have never verbalized. A minister is more than the man or woman who is called. A minister is the collection of experiences and lessons from the countless individuals around him or her. When I share weekly meditations, I'm sharing more than myself. Part of my words and actions come from Jamie Brame. So, I wish to share some of the people who have tempered my message, and how they have formed me into the minister I am today.
Rev Jamie Brame: Jamie is the human representation of God's grace in action. Two nights ago, my daughter and I stopped by the Guest House on our way to the pool. Jamie and I talked for a few minutes, and as I was leaving, he began talking about me with someone else. "You know, she used to sing..." he began. "Just like my dad," I thought to myself. Recalling history with fond recollection. And that's what he does with everyone. You can sit with Jamie and hear story after story of those Jamie has encountered, and even the rough stories are edged with love. That's who he is. That's who I became. Everyone has the potential for greatness. Everyone has the ability to change and grow. Jamie sees that. He doesn't focus on the mistakes. He focuses on the potential. When I was ordained I swore I would live by that mantra. God help me, if Jamie loves me, I must go and do likewise.
Rev James Brewer-Calvert (And his whole family): I've known James' family for years now. My first year on Camp Staff the youngest Brewer-Calvert was going through Beginner's Camp at Christmount. I've counselled the oldest through CYF. I've worked side by side with both in multiple camp settings. With James, I could call him and he would answer. I could ask him, and he would help. He is the human representation of God's hope in action. He told me to sit and wait, not because the time to act was done, but because sometimes one has to pause to prepare for action. He always sees the best in what is coming, and knows we are the hands and feet to make that best come to fruition. If James see the best in me, I must become the best I can be.
Rev Lori Lynn Wachter: Lori Lynn was the very first female minister I heard preach. Her Craddock style of preaching was immediately engaging. As a middle schooler, I watched everything she did with awed fascination. The ease at which she directed camp. The planning for every youth event. I saw the method behind the plan, and was hooked. It's no wonder she was the very first person I told when I needed to express that I too, had a call to ministry. She affirmed that call. I was someone who never understood my own power, or fought for it. I gave it up more often than I'd like to admit. Lori Lynn taught me power is both earned and fought for. If Lori Lynn could stand up for the broken shell of myself, I can stand up for the redeemed child of God I've become.
Rev. Fred Craddock: Fred influenced me before I even understood that was what was happening. He transformed the world of modern preaching, the very world I grew up in. When I finally heard him preach at the General Assembly in Nashville, I watched the art of preaching, as he so deftly told complex theological ideas in an easy to digest way. He wasn't trying to show how smart he was. Instead, he was at the level of the listener, helping them gain knowledge. This all done in a storytelling form. So many pastors were knowingly or unknowningly taught their preaching style from the late Rev. Fred Craddock. Fred, in his greatness, was the most humble among us. If he could shine so bright in his humility, I can shine to light the way for others inside or outside the church.
Mrs. Miller: I try to give credit where credit is due. For example, when someone comments on my neat handwriting I always respond, "Thank my third grade teacher." She was appalled by our writing and made us all redo it. I write neatly today because of her. If you ever hear me read the bible, and hear my inflection, thank Mrs. Miller. Mrs. Miller was my fifth grade teacher. She was the sweetest most loving person, who reminds me of Ms. Honey from Matilda (without knowing her backstory, of course.) She fully believed, if you couldn't read a passage with inflection, you were missing pieces of the story. Without realizing this was what she was doing, she helped me in the first level of biblical interpretation. She also gave me a passion for reading, and helping others love the text too. If Mrs Miller could help fifth graders put aside their arrogance for a moment to see the deeper meaning in what's already in front of them, I can do the same with adults.
This is just a small collection of people I can easily pinpoint and say they have molded my life as a minister. In reality, I could spend the rest of my life naming the ones who have influenced my ministry. You may only hear my solo voice in Thursday Meditations, and Sunday Education, but I'm truly singing a harmony of all those who have taught me. These are the voices preaching beyond my words. Every minister who stands before a congregation is preaching in harmony. You are hearing their camp counselor, mother, sister, teacher... the list goes on.
Who is your harmony? When you work with others, who has formed you into the person you are today?
-Rev Melissa Fain-
Almost seven years ago I discovered what it felt like to be on the wrong side of a broken church. Not to say there is a right side. There is a side that breaks you to pieces emotionally and spiritually, and there is a side where everything is pretty much invisible. There is the side that has been personally hurt by the problem, and the side that knows there is a problem, but doesn't realize they are part of it. Up until seven years ago I was on the side of ignorance, blissfully unaware of how damaging the Christian System had already been to countless individuals. Or, if there was a problem, I didn't consider my role in it's infliction.
I can't speak to myself seven years ago. That person has grown up and learned some hard lessons. I can speak to those who were recently tossed into this wilderness, having been a victim of church brokenness. Here are some things people personally told me, and I wished people had told me back when this all began:
Let us pray: Oh Holy Parent: Your people are broken. We yearn for healing from a cruel world. A world where thousands are killed in a single night. A world where the wounded are often left on the side of the road without a Samaritan in sight. As we've become the fractured landscape, teach us to heal ourselves and those around us. Perhaps that is just with a simple prayer at first. Perhaps, we simply find a broken remnant of ourselves and begin there. We hope for a redeemed Kingdom. Your Kingdom.
All this we pray in your Son's most holy name, Amen.