-Pastor Melissa Fain-
I think my biggest frustration today is our inability to see no one is looking. We have mastered the art of talking to ourselves, and believing we are somehow reaching out. We can get people who already think the same way as we do to smash that like button. We can gather thousands of like minded individuals into one space, and confuse that with success.
In reality, we are at the point where the illusion of change is just about the only thing actually happening anymore.
Just imagine this with me.
You and so many others are packed into a giant amphitheater. There are twenty stages circling the base, and all of them are speaking at the same time. There are also some around you vying for spots on those stages, so they are all speaking too. It’s loud! Too loud! You can hear everything, which means you can actually hear nothing. (This is the internet.)
Then a friend hands you noise cancelling headphones. “Hey, I’m listening to that stage right over there. If you put them on, you’ll hear what they are saying.”
So you put on the headphones, and the first thought you have is that you appreciate the relief from all the noise. You don’t even care what the person on stage is saying, because it’s just nice to have enough peace to be able to think again!
You also notice that with these headphones there are nearby voices that are allowed to break though. You think that’s great. The people on stage have too much power, and allowing some of the small voices equal attention is more than fair.
Then, you discover your headphones can pick the voices you want to hear! You start messing with your frequencies. You scroll through all the stages, and find 2-3 you really like. You also start adding people in the auditorium and begin listening to them. There’s a gal, on the other side of the amphitheater you accidentally found, but she is amazing, and you agree with everything she says!
All of this sounds wonderful, until you realize it didn’t help people hear. It cuts people off. Because the world was too loud to listen to all of it, it forced you to only listen to what you already agreed with. And if you kept diverse people around you, it didn't matter. You were going to unfriend/unfollow/ignore those who didn’t agree with you, or they were going to do it to you.
The Church is in control of nothing.
First and foremost, the Church’s powerlessness should always be true. We are not God, nor should we wield power in such a Godly way. The church should be on a mission to empower others, not oneself.That being said, we all know that hasn’t been the case. The Church has done some horrible things in the name of God. Much of it was done to maintain power.
It’s the echo chamber. We've put ourselves into it making it easy to delude oneself into believing everyone who is right and just thinks the exact same way as oneself. So while those broken by the Church are yelling out to the world to do something, no one hears them.
The Church doesn’t hear them because they unfollowed the broken.
Those outside the Church don't hear them, because they haven’t subscribed to the “right” channels.
Only the broken can truly hear the broken, and the growing number within this group has become alarming.
Here’s the blunt truth for all you broken people out there: The Church (the entire Church) believes they are not the problem. It’s the Church down the street that’s the problem. And the Church down the street? The exact same. So, even when they hear your stories they are self-congratulating themselves for not being the church that broke you. Their solution is for you to join their church. Their solution is to enter their echo chamber, which is no solution at all. They are not listening to you, they are concerned about themselves. What about the stories that belong to these churches? The backfire effect causes them to somehow believe it was a misunderstanding, a fluke… [insert something that keeps accountability at bay here.]
Here’s an even blunter truth: No one is listening to you, at least not in a real and substantive way. On one side, your truth dismantles their truth. Your truth destroys their faith. They’d rather let you fade into obscurity than evaluate their faith. On the other side they tuned you out before you even talked. They not only are without a church, they are actively avoiding the building, the people, and the words. They have no sympathy for you because they don’t see the point in fighting for an institution like that.
Why am I being this blunt?
This problem must be dealt with first, before we can fix the systemic issues within the Church. I am not trying to be mean. I am not just poo-pooing good and healthy change. I’m telling the world where to start. We must fix the tool used to fix the problem, before we have any hope of fixing the problem.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
Seven months ago, Behind the Magic (a YouTube channel devoted to Disney, Broadway, and the intersection of the two) did a two-part video on Wicked and why it was a global phenomenon.
Now, if you’ve been reading me enough, you know I’m a huge Wizard of Oz fan. I know Wicked the Musical is nothing like Wicked the book, which is nothing like the MGM’s Wizard of Oz which is nothing like the book, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” I’ve written a Bible study that serves as an introduction to the Bible using the Wizard of Oz, and I penned an explanation of being a female minister using Dorothy as my example. I’ve watched and studied the material enough that I’d say only my study of the Bible trumps it.
The Behind the Magic videos eventually delved into what closed Wicked for over a year: The Pandemic. By this point we’d already learned the story of Broadway’s current Glinda: Ginna Claire Mason, who sat in the audience back when the original Broadway cast was still in their roles. She looked to her parents that day and told them, “I’m going to be Glinda someday.” In the video, she was asked what she was most looking forward to when Broadway opened up again. She said, saying her first line, “It’s good to see me, isn’t it?”
I was excited for her! I wanted her to get that line! So, on September 14, 2021, Broadway reopened. The very next day a video surfaced:
Wicked Reopens on Broadway: Watch Glinda’s Iconic First Line.
I clicked the link, and Kristin Chenowith came out behind the curtain. Well, I’m not going to ruin it for you, so I’ll let you watch for yourself.
I love Chenoweth. I’ll watch her in anything. I saw her song during the Tony’sin “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” back before Wicked was even an idea. I’ve watched her in The Music Man, Hairspray: The Musical and just recently Schmigadoon! But, I would have hated her if she stole that moment. And, it just felt like that was the original plan. Step out, say the line, get the love. Deflate Ginna Claire Mason’s moment.
It didn’t happen. “There’s no place like home,” came from Chenoweth’s mouth, and a new Glinda got a new moment, while not being upstaged by the very person who helped her find that call.
You might be wondering what this story has to do with the Bible or theology.
I think there are some Divas in the pulpit. Leaders who were for a different age, with too much power; sucking the life out of those who could be for this age, apprehending their power. These Divas are stealing their lines.
What I didn’t tell you about Ginna Claire Mason, was that line was also her very first line as Broadway’s Glinda. Her first show was supposed to be in April 2020.
This past decade has been incredibly tough on new ministers. I can’t speak to all of them, but I can speak to those who have taken similar paths to myself.
I came from a denomination that requires a Master of Divinity as part of the requirements for ordination. This is a very intense three-year program, as many Masters programs are. Most mainline United States Denominations require upper-level learning before ordination. (Sidenote: That’s something to consider if your church is non-denominational. Education gives you tools and the ability to use them.)
The year I graduated from Candler School of Theology was the first year there were more women than men graduating. Candler took our money and pushed us out with a dream and a prayer. Only there were already two things against us once we graduated and were ordained:
1) The Church had just begun to feel the hemorrhaging loss of congregants that began in the late-80s. This was because in 2010 that’s when the “Great Generation” began to pass away. The “Great Generation” tithed. Tithing is the Biblical notion of giving 10% of all you earn or create to God. The “Great Generation,” believed that was specifically to the Church. “Boomers” didn’t tithe, and when later generations did tithe, they gave to multiple organizations, not just the Church. If you want someone or something to feel loss, hit them in the wallet. This caused the Church to react instead of act. Up until this point, the self-serving nature of the Church unintentional. When Churches began to get scared, they began to pull back and pull in intentionally. We were coming out of these seminaries with a call: We need to go out. It was the exact right message that none of these hemorrhaging churches wanted to hear. For this reason, we remained unemployed.
2) 2008 destroyed retirement for the ministers that had it. There would have been jobs for these new graduates if the financial collapse of 2008 hadn’t happened. There were ministers who were planning on retiring and enjoying the remainder of their life in whatever way they felt was appropriate. Instead, everything lost value. With exceptions, it wasn’t that they didn’t want to retire, it was that they couldn’t retire. This meant all these brand-new graduates had nowhere to go, because the jobs just were not there. It was even worse for us gals. Sure, most mainline denominations hire women ministers, but most individual churches don’t hire women senior pastors or women at all. This means not only was it harder for seminary graduates to find jobs in the Church, but it was even more difficult for women ministers in denominations that promised to include them, but didn't.
It deflated us. Many of us got jobs in fields unrelated to our education. I, for one, have worked as a restaurant server, a substitute teacher, a professional crafter, and a Census worker. About a decade ago I saw a report on a minister who was a mall cop. Meanwhile, the ministers in the Church would lovingly tell us to go be Paul. Make tents and preach! Well, that’s easy to say when you are in the pulpit. It’s not that fun, to know you must “get your tent built” for a paycheck and it’s eating into your opportunities to share God’s Word. It’s frustrating when you have something important to say, but someone else has taken the mic. I know I’m not alone.
Now there are people who it doesn’t matter if they are able or not able to retire. There are people who shouldn’t be preaching anymore. They have a message that has an expired sell-by date. When they choose to speak over the ones that never had the opportunity to preach, they are turned from someone I used to love, into someone I now hate. They are now thieves.
There are also those who never should have been given the mic to begin with, yet somehow, they are still going. This is all bad theology being given a voice, and this too I hate. If one of them is taken out (like Ravi Zacharias) another pops in their place (like Mark Driscoll and his new plant). Meanwhile the world is full of silence. Ministers who are just forced to wait. They have a call that has never been taken. Stolen by those who should just choose not to steal the line.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
Returning to Former Themes
Someday I might look back at my sacrifices and see that it wasn’t all for nothing. The pieces came together to create a beautiful mosaic. Those who broke my life into those tiny pieces wouldn’t really matter in the long run, because what I will be will be better than what I was.
It might not. I am allowed to believe there is a higher power that wants to love us and seek the best of us, while still understanding humanity’s frailty could undo and destroy everything God wants. If in 30 years I’m not better than I was, then that’s not a statement of God’s power or love. That’s a statement on humanity. There are good people who suffer and fall into obscurity, and there are bad people who rise to fame and power.
The Power of Words on the Internet
Over a decade ago I had a dream. As a minister, I was visiting a family. I noticed their lighting, and told them I liked it. Then, as an aside, I just mentioned that the crystal accents would look really good black instead of crystal. The next time I came to visit, all the crystal accents had been poorly painted black. I was horrified with myself, realizing the power of my words held so much sway. When I woke, I first considered how silly it all was. How could this family not understand the difference between a personal aesthetic and Biblical interpretation? Second, I was horrified by the poor translation of my statement. My words were taken literally with little concern to why I said them.
It was just this realization that I could be the most eloquent writer or speaker, and it didn’t matter. My words were only half of the puzzle. How people interpreted my words was the other half. I agonized over my writing. If I were to die, would they still mean what I wrote them to mean? If the answer was no, I revisited those topics to flesh them out more. I knew nothing was going to stop someone from taking a sound bite out of context, but if I could leave enough to allow others room to correct the bite.
I know, it’s a strange thing to spend my time considering. It’s just the long game I’ve been playing. When I say “game,” I don’t mean “fun,” or “playing around.” I mean “game” like I mean chess. I’ve known since the beginning that the words I posted a decade ago could hold the same amount of power as the words I posted last week. I knew this would be the case even if the words posted a decade ago remained adolescent while I continued to mature.
The Power of the Pulpit
I had another dream around the same time as the first. I was going to be speaking at a simple white chapel when someone came in and took my spot. No idea what he was saying. Just this realization that he was taking my voice. I stared at him silently, as he uncomfortably stared back while he spoke. When he went to leave, I tried to follow so I could talk to him, but he actively avoided me.
That dream has left me with the realization that the pulpit, the place where the Pastor speaks, is far too powerful. If you cannot leave space for conversation, you are not being refined in your craft. You are allowed to dull, and become less effective. It also helped me realize that those who step into that space are not capable of understanding who would have stepped in had they remained away. It goes back to God’s plan vs human frailty. I do not think less of God because bullies have the pulpit. Sometimes strength is in being a Pharisee willing to bury Christ, which is good. Sometimes strength is in brute power like Sampson, which is bad.
I suppose I needed to write all this because I’m hitting decade markers. My world began to completely change 10 years ago starting last July. By November I’d be completely broken, a new mother, and trying to heal and grow at the same time. Most of what I’ve done has been strangely informed by those dreams. Bullies run the Church. All words hold power. What God wants for me is not necessarily what people did to me.
Life has constantly guarded me against this bright and shiny message. It’s why I talk about needing deep faith, especially now that so many shallow end believers have been pushed into the deep end. I’m stronger than the poor choices others make, but I’m also human. I mourn. I cry. I gnashed my teeth at an unjust world. That doesn’t make me any less a Christian. It makes me real.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
This was over a decade ago. I had just begun seeing that something had to change, or the church was going to see a drop in attendance over the coming years. In my naïve youth, I boldly expressed what I knew to be true. The 11am worship had to change to better meet the needs of those outside the Church.
That’s when an older congregant looked me in the eyes and said, “The world is changing so fast now, we want one thing that doesn’t change. Church cannot change, or we will have nothing.”
I have never understood people who see a problem and then don’t change something to fix it. I will often do what needs to be done; at the drop of a hat. That’s a leadership problem for me. I can’t understand why people keep broken situations, and therefore, I can’t explain how to do what I so naturally do. Then again, I’m never called to healthy spaces. I’m called to disasters. I dare anyone to name one system that was in good working order when I entered it. There is only one I can think of, and I believe that was not my calling, just a “in the meantime” job until the real call opened back up.
What I’ve learned about these systems, is none of them want the truth. They want to pretend they want the truth, but what they really want is the past. They want to recall a time when their pews were filled with smiling congregants, and everyone was singing “Standing on the Promises,” because that was the song where the Holy Ghost entered the room. Therefore, they will drop the big bucks for someone willing to sell them a lie. They might even know it’s a lie, but the illusion of what they want is less work than the actuality of truth.
Here’s the problem. What is easy is not always right. What is comfortable will trap you.
Speaking uncomfortable truths to a world trapped by easy comfort is a powerful form of love.
You want someone who is seeking love to speak those truths. The ones who speak those words outside of love will only burn it all down. It makes it all that more important for the right person to yell out those truths so all can hear.
Right now, easy Church is the wrong way. Right now, we are being called to difficult places with difficult choices. I speak truth to those systems because I want to see them redeemed. It’s not fun. It’s not easy. I don’t see churches clamoring to support me financially, but someone who loves needs to do it, and I don’t see anyone else standing. So, I stand and sing Amazing Grace, with blogs and sermons, hoping the true meaning can be seen above the noise.