-Pastor Melissa Fain-
There are days I connect with Princess Fiona from Shrek. If you ever have seen the musical version (which is available on Netflix), she sings this song titled, "I know it's today." See, Fiona is ready from day 23 to find her "ever after." Shrek however, even when he finds Fiona at 8,423 days is still not ready.
I've been ready for a decade now. I've always been able to hard quit. (That's actually why it's pretty impressive I've kept Fig Tree going with a dream and prayer for over a decade. It's not in my DNA.) It means I'm rather impatient. I remember, right before seminary (over 15 years ago) I told all this to Rev. Dr. James Brewer Calvert. He told me something I've had to remind myself of- When the waves pull back from ocean, that's when they are preparing for the next crash, and that time is more important than the crash.
I bring this up because of another event that happened last January.
There is a teacher on the 8th grade hall at Austin Middle School that encourages everyone to have a word. It's a single word that calls to them for the year.
My word at the beginning of 2020 was TRUTH.
My word at the beginning of 2021 was LOVE.
She asked me what my word for this year is...
I told her FAREWELL. She thought it was negative.
I always take these words seriously.
I knew I was going to be bold in the truth in 2020, and WOW did that come true. I want to be an advocate for the teachers, and shared in ways that was a bit more transparent than others were.
In 2021 I knew I needed to find love in an increasingly jaded world. It was intentional, and I needed to show what relationship looked like while the world cracked and broke around us.
In January I had this strong feeling I needed to say a very slow farewell. I still do. Let me explain what that means.
I feel I have found a safe harbor for the past eight years at Austin Middle School. More than that, it has felt like a mini-call. I have been able to relieve just a little bit of the pressure for the educators. It is a job that can't be easily replaced. Right now I'm long term subbing in a capacity that will leave a vacuum if I step away. It's just true. I'm good at crisis management; trauma care.
I know it's something that will only be more necessary as the years continue, but my trauma management will not be enough.
And, I feel it. God is calling me away, and I've felt the need to say a long farewell.
The Long Farewell.
When I felt that word come to be in January it was not met with joy like I thought it would. For years I was ready like Fiona to get going. When I stepped into a role as a substitute teacher many years ago, I didn't think I'd fall in love with my waystation. Now, this "hard quit" gal doesn't want to leave.
What does it mean to say a long farewell?
First, it means I was given time. A long farewell, is not a hasty retreat. I can clean up and leave things better than I entered it. Part of that, is being intentional with those who are taking my place. I tell the good subs that they are doing a good job. I'm a bit more honest with the teachers where I felt I needed assistance- not for me, but for those who follow me.
Second, it is a 'bye." We say goodbye to many things in life, but many of us refuse to see the health in goodbyes, so there are many unhealthy situations that we cling to. Me being able 'hard quit,' has made it easier to say goodbye to unhealthy habits, but that doesn't mean I enjoy doing it. Also, it doesn't mean that everything I say goodbye to is unhealthy for me. Sometimes, it's simply time to move on. Sometimes, saying hello to a new stage in life means means saying goodbye to a current healthy stage in life. That's life.
Finally, the word I chose was 'farewell,' not 'goodbye.' To say, "goodbye," is to want the leaving to be good. To say, "farewell," is want the system you are leaving to do well after you are gone. One cuts it off at departure, while the other keeps a relationship once departed. The word 'farewell,' is very intentional. It's saying, may my departure leave you in a good place.
But most importantly, leaving is a stage of life.
We are afraid of letting go. The question of what comes after now lingers on our thoughts like a looming shadow. Our inability to allow the future to move forward has left us in a stagnant undeath. We are neither living nor dying. Instead, we are rotting in an in-between nothingness.
If we can't begin to live into healthy farewells, we will be forced into hasty goodbyes.
Endings are part of life. Our ability to accept that help choose whether those departures are healthy or broken.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
Yesterday, I watched season 5, episode 6 of the Handmaid’s Tale titled: “Together.” There will be spoilers, so there's your warning.
I was late on the “Handmaid’s Tale” bandwagon. Some of that was our watching habits. Our family doesn’t get all the streaming services. We rotate, and we didn’t start doing that until a couple of years ago. We were Netflix all the way. This meant I missed some great programming. Now I see most of it; it just might be late. Right now, though, we have Hulu, so I’m watching “Handmaid’s Tale” as it drops.
Before yesterday’s episode, it felt like the story was about everything happening to our main character: June. Something changed yesterday. Sure, the world is still out to get her, but now her role has changed.
Moving from wounded to healer:
Every victim has a moment. They can either choose to heal or stay broken.
Those who choose to stay broken often become our future’s abusers. This is why it becomes all the more important to deal with abuse when it happens, because (as I often write and say) brokenness breaks: always.
Those that choose to heal are the ones that can help others through the process. Let me just say, it is not required for those who deal with their trauma in a healthy way to become healers for others. No one is asking that of you. I am going to say, those who have walked through it, can explain what’s going on in a way that those who haven’t, can’t.
It’s this caution I have about religious leaders. So many are so bright and shiny. There’s this disconnect when real trauma hits. Maybe they know the right codewords, but people dealing with trauma can tell right away if they understand the words they are speaking. (Then there’s the ones who don’t know the right words, and cause more damage, but that’s a post for another day.)
June became a wounded healer in episode six. Before it was just the world against her. Now, the world is coming to her for help. She had a choice. She could tell Luke to rage against the world. She could break Serena like Serena broke her. Those were choices she would have made in the past. Instead, she tells Luke to always find hope in the darkness. Instead, she tells Serena, “May our children make better choices than we did.” In her brokenness she could have further broken two individuals. Instead, in her moment she had the opportunity to either break further, or move beyond it. In the darkest places, she chose to move beyond it.
That’s what most ministers don’t realize when they talk about hope. No one can see hope when the sun is shining, and the world is all lollipops and rainbows. It’s too bright. Hope is seen when the world is falling apart, and it seems like the future is a futile wasteland. It’s the widow taking a light to find the lost coin in the darkness. It’s the wounded choosing to want more for the future than what they themselves had. It’s June, choosing to pray for peace.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
“Why do we assume the devil’s gender?” a theology student asked. “Maybe ‘she’ is not male.”
I went to seminary during a time when we were beginning to be more inclusive with our God language. Ministers were beginning to try out a more feminine language for the divine like buying that outfit you’d been eying at the store. If you’ve ever done that, it rarely fits right. Looks great in concept though. Then you notice people eyeing you strange, and even though you paid for it, you hang it up in the closet, never to do that one again!
But since you went and bought it, you can tell everyone you are all for gender inclusive language, because you did it that one time in worship.
If you ever watch me during worship, you’ll notice I EXCLUDE gender with the exception of reading text. Occasionally it’s obvious. When I have to say something that replaces he/she with God. Otherwise, I’m very careful with how I form my sentences. Excluding one thing, includes another. God is in all things, and all people. I, or you, can see God in anyone.
BUT let’s get back to that devil talk, why don’t we
It’s been a hot minute since I heard that seminarian make her statement on the devil. It’s stuck around that long, which means I come back to it often.
If I think excluding pronouns allows people to understand how we are all images of God, what do I think about the same concept when it comes to the Devil?
To be clear, I’m not in the fallen angel camp. That’s extra-Biblical text to make it work. (So are the seven levels of hell, but that’s another discussion for another day.) Whatever name you call the personification of evil, I would believe that personification is still fully in the Divine Council if that personification even exists. I’ve written and said many times, “The devil made me do it,” is putting responsibility on something else other than oneself. It throws away an opportunity to choose to make a change.
I don’t think we have the same problem with gender and the devil. In the long-long-ago of seminary, the main subject on that day was on something other than Lucifer. Because we needed to stay on topic, it meant the statement had to sit without a discussion. Still, my mind immediately went to Bedazzled, a Brenden Frasier and Elizabeth Hurley film from 2000. Hurley played the devil, and she was a sexy bombshell of a Satan. Sexy is wrong in women, because it’s women taking sexual control over the relationship. This is part of the problem.
I think the show Lucifer really nailed down this problem. There’s a sexualized devil, who turns out to be the hero. You gender swap the villain and suddenly sexualization is not as much of an issue for Hollywood.
This means it’s less what gender you give to the devil, and more what attributes you are putting on that devil in that gender, or race for that matter.
This is why I don't typically use gender when talking about the personification of evil. Just like I want everyone to know they are created in the image of God, and to see God within them, I want everyone to know they are not their sin. They can't undo what they've done, but they can choose to act differently in the future. It's their choices- not the devils.
You know me. I’m all about shining those lights in the dark places. I want to demystify what we’ve called too absent of light to explore.
If you want to see other posts on the subjects of Satan/Lucifer/Devil, check them out below: