Pretend with me:
You are out and about. You realize you forgot something, and instead of going all the way home, you'll call home and ask someone to come to you.
You remember there was a payphone booth just around the corner, but upon reaching it, you only see the box remaining. The phone is no longer there.
All the same, you dig through your pockets for a quarter to find you no longer carry change. Frantic, you yell out, "Does anyone have a quarter?!" People look at you like you've gone mad. Still, a kind looking older lady comes up to you and gives you one "I hope it gives you what you need," she replies.
You thank her, and then look at the box. Having no other alternative, you chuck the quarter in its general direction, and wait. No phone materializes. You look around the box. What do you do now? Pulling out your iPhone, you call home. "Honey?" you ask. "How do I get an old payphone to start working again?"
When tradition has lost it's purpose.
Yes, the above example is completely and totally ridiculous. We can see it for what it is, because the pieces are/were physically there. Even though there are not very many empty phone booths today, and you’d be lucky to even pick out the cement slab they used to sit on, we can visualize what’s going on.
Aside from Covid-19, the pandemic didn’t bring anything new. It merely sped up what was already happening. The Church was bleeding out before, now it’s hemorrhaging. There are a few congregations that have the appearance of health, and as I’ve written in a previous post, that is a false sign. First the smallest of the churches closed, and those who were left joined slightly larger churches. As larger and larger churches have felt the reality of all this, the largest churches have created a false equivalency of large churches are the solution. In reality, they simply exist because there is nowhere else for refugees of dead congregations to go. And, these refugees want to buy the snake oil of fake growth, because to do otherwise would be to admit that the system, as it stands today, isn’t working.
This is all like watching my closest friends throwing coins at a gutted phone booth; putting their hope in God magically returning the phone. I don’t dare tell anyone that the answer is on us, because they are so nostalgic for what once was they will try to force the phone booth to work with smartphones. My answer is, why are you forcing my wireless connection to God into an obsolete system?
“At least we’re doing something,” is dangerous.
I feel like our desire to just do something in crisis, is not really about solving the crisis. Instead, it’s the immediate need to not be the one who’s at fault. Then, maybe the focus will turn to those who are doing nothing.
What congregants fail to realize is the reason there are people doing nothing, is because God didn’t give them the “coin.” When congregants throw their coin into a gutted box, they are doing even worse than burying it. They won’t even be able to dig it up and give it back. It’s wasted. Literally thrown away. Meanwhile, God’s call is all around them, with means to connect to that call.
It all comes down to this: God never promised to save your building. God never promised to save your location. God never stated that the times around 11am was the only sacred time to set aside and meet God. Just doing something is dangerous because what you are doing is too small, too outdated, and throwing away resources that could be better spent somewhere else.
God did promise salvation. God did promise redemption. That's of people; not places. The longer we throw away our money in those empty husks, the harder it will be to help God follow through on the real promises.
Note: Not all mainline protestant churches are in a bad place, or maintaining what is killing churches today. There are a few that meet the needs of specific people in a specific way while living into now. I don't like drawing attention to those few, because most churches want to believe they are part of the minority, when they are actually part of majority.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
Last week I was roundly reminded of my humanity.
I have written in this site almost every week, of every month, of every year since July 2012. Sometimes, I've written daily or twice a week. That's so many words. At least a books worth, if not two or three. No one can write that many words without something stupid being said.
A good leader is not the one who stands without fault. Yes, there are faults that should call for immediate and permeant dismissal. Abuse, in all it's forms are usually one of those things. I'm not talking about those kinds of faults. These are simple mistakes. In a world of cancel culture, how simple mistakes are handled in the pulpit set the standard for far more than one specific mistake. It can define a ministry.
What did I do?
On July 17, 2020 I published a review of The Chosen. Someone asked my opinion, so I it seemed appropriate to at least sit down, watch and write what I thought.
You can read it yourself, but if I were to boil it down now: It's an innocent show for people who are already Christian. While I had little issues with how they handled miracles and the multiple accents of the actors, my major issue was Biola hiding their relationships to one another and this movie. More than that, I was sickened when they pulled testimonials of the show from YouTubers and only gave the channel name for the YouTuber who works at Biola. If I'm not able to look up full resources, something is not right.
I failed when, for whatever stupid reason, I confused Andrew and Stephen. There is every reason why this shouldn't have happened.
For one, I spent almost a lifetime in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Their logo is a red Chalice with a white St. Andrew's cross. Amongst ourselves we've joked that we are the "No Drinking" denomination. The cross is always something youth members completely botch when they are trying to redraw. You can kinda look at the logo and see the shadow of Jesus' cross. It's a point of conversation among one another, so you are not in the denomination long before you find out it is St. Andrew's cross.
Secondly, I've written multiple times about Stephen and he did not die on a cross, he was stoned. Paul (at that point known as Saul) was there. I've also written how I believe seeing Stephen stoned was one of the reasons Paul was much more diplomatic in what he said in public. (Think his speech that started with him praising the altar to an "unknown god.")
To say Stephen is Peter's brother (which is what I did) is completely wrong. I’m not upset someone (albeit crudely) brought it to my attention. I’m more upset it remained up on the internet for over half a year. I don’t like being part of misinformation. I will always correct it the moment it is discovered.
How to handle mistakes online.
When this mistake was brought to my attention, I did not raise my defenses. Well, let me walk that back just a little. The way it was brought to my attention raised my defenses completely. I was bristled and ready to fire for a good hour and a half. It was during that time, I made sure I wasn’t sharing anything online.
During that hour and a half I asked myself some important questions:
In the future: Even if I don’t respond, let this be known that I read comments made to Reddit, Facebook, Twitter and Fig Tree’s site. I take them all seriously, and act accordingly. I hope this post helps you feel comfortable bringing future questions to my attention. It might simply be a misunderstanding in how I wrote something. I like to clarify. I want truth, and if it’s truth at my own expense, so be it.
Before I get into this post, this is not a case for live casting an existing brick and mortar worship service. If that is what you are doing to reach your homebound congregants, that's great for its purpose. If you are here thinking recording a worship is "internet ministry," just leave now.
The world cries out and we are...
No. I need to nail this point down.
I've been in enough churches to know the mindset. You started live casting your worship last May (because let's be honest, it took y'all a couple of months to realize your church was going to be closed for more than a month). At first it was fun. "Look at what I'm doing!" you gleefully shared. "I can wear my PJs to worship!" That maybe lasted 1-2 months, before the shiny newness of it all wore off. Then you began to notice certain people weren't coming to the Zoom worship, and offering was worse. But... Well there were some guests that had logged in and watched the Zoom worship on the Facebook page.
Guess what? Fig Tree had them too. They were Christians who wanted something while their church remained shuttered. This Easter many of those shuttered churches finally began opening their doors. You licked your lips as you saw guest numbers go up in ways it hadn't gone up in years.
It wasn't real.
Now you're sitting in front of your brand-spanking new technology equipment upgrades, wondering where it all went. You put it all on black, and black was believing your specific church would be the next internet phenom! Forget red! You've been forced to play red for years. All on black! You and every brick and mortar church that thought internet ministry was the way to save a brick and mortar church. Once again- if you are here to learn the secrets of copy-paste church, leave now. I'm wasting your time.
The world cries out.
We are really good and mocking the actions of pain and sorrow. We have mastered how to ignore and leave places that are deemed "not socially appropriate."
Once uploaded, every word, picture, and video exists, in some form, forever. It has increased the power and danger of Cancel-Culture, as those cancelling others can use words said almost 20 years in the past. (Our collective memory, before the internet, was a revisionist history. Our mental picture begins to yellow and fade. How an event happened, or what happened naturally changes as we age. The internet keeps all in 3-D technicolor.)
The term "internet ethics" is often used to talk about the legal ramifications of using content online, and not the moral ethics of how we interact with others. It's not enough to just slap IRL (in real life) ethics online and expect it to transfer.
I have mentioned the internet being the "Me Show." It's more than that. We are selling our "brand" to the world, but most of us are also doing it with a sense of mystery. We can wear a mask online. Everything from our words to our profile picture, can be almost anything we want it to be. You want to be a unicorn that farts rainbows? Shoot for the stars, because that's only a small upload away. The internet keeps one hidden, and gives this freedom that doesn't exist IRL. Some use this superficial power for good, sharing joy love, and positive change . Way more take out their hate and frustrations, easily forgetting that the internet is full of humans, who just want to connect as much as you do.
Everyone's online crying out in their pain and suffering, but no one hears it because everyone is so focused on their personal "Me Show."
So I mention a third time, how's your uploaded/live cast worship going to engage that? It's not.
The world cries.
The older you are the less you see the reality of the virtual world. The younger you get, the more your points of connection are directly tied to online interaction. A middle schoolers relationship is not only their interactions at school, but their Discord chats, game play on their Xbox or PlayStation, sharing their personal TicTocs... It's a culture, different from our IRL culture. WAY different than our "Christian" culture.
A modern definition of "Evangelism" is this: Discover how God is already present among the people, and show them that.
Now, obviously evangelism is more nuanced than that, but this definition is a great starting point. I'm not going to go over seas and teach others how to be American so I can then teach them American Christianity. I'm going to take the space of the foreigner, the outsider, and learn their culture first. Then, when I talk to them about faith it will be with their language, their images, and their symbols.
When the mission field is outside the doors of a church, one seems to forget that even the space right outside is a different culture than most churches where people travel 40 minutes to get to it. Imagine the internet. It's not only a different culture; it's a different world.
Then, it's a world of lament and pain; some of it from brick and mortar churches. Most denominations are looking at these people all wrong. They see these shiny new money givers, future leaders of all the volunteer programs that are now defunct, a savior of a church well past it's prime. It's not even salvation being sold at a funeral. I've seen that. Funerals are for the living. Funerals are a time to lament and remember. Selling salvation at a funeral is dirty. Yet, this is worse.
If we don't change our method and focus- the Christian institution will do more damage to an already damaged world.
This is about being at the forefront of internet ethics. Educating people on how to act and react in online situations. Completely throwing out the bathwater (physical church) to consider how to save the baby. It's using imagination and creativity in a world that a bankrupted both. Just imagine the potential that is destroyed every day because we are afraid to try. It kills me.
There came a time when I was too old for the Children's moment.
I know that sounds ridiculous. Of course that time would eventually come. The only children that don't grow out of those programs are tragic reminders of nature's cruelty.
I just didn't want to give it up when my time came. It was nearly the only way I could be part of the corporate worship. Just, no one told me I was done. The day the church decided I was to put childish things away, I was told to sit by a matriarch of the church. (My Dad was doing something else. Might have had Elder duties, might have been in the choir.) When the pastor called the children forward, I began to rise, but she held my arm and told me to stay.
I think I stayed. The problem is, I've dreamed that moment multiple times since then, and in those dreams I always pulled my arm free and ran to the front. I loved this matriarch. I remember that. I loved them all. Yet, in this dream she was always terrifying. She was keeping me from something I loved, even if the time had come to put it away.
There came a time when I was too old for the Children's moment.
I pushed myself in other areas. I joined everything I could join. I couldn't be a child, and I couldn't be an adult. I was something in the middle.
I needed to sing
I'm an adequate singer, but a singer that belted every note. I was like that kid from the movie "Prancer." I unapologetically sang the hymns with zeal.
I felt there was a song that only belonged to me, and I was supposed to sing it. I just didn't know what that song was, so I sang anything that told a story. When I found Bette Midler's "From a Distance," I thought I found my opus. In reality, I had found the theme. I was surrounded by darkness, hate; destruction. The harmony wasn't where I was, it was somewhere else. There's something pure, valid; good- from a distance.
I decided I was going to go after that purity and goodness.
That's all well and good when you are doing it between being a kid and adult. I was safe. I held no power. The more I began to learn more about this song of mine, the more dangerous I got.
This song doesn't have a physical tune. When people saw me sing, they were watching me taking back my agency.
Jesus on the chaotic sea
My very first sermon illustration I grasped and remembered:
Once there were three ministers sitting on a boat. Who those ministers are doesn't matter. Just know it's two denominations/types you like and one you relentlessly mock. They were fishing, when one you liked realized they were out of bait. Quickly, he got up and walked across the water, got the bait and came back.
While the first you liked was on shore, the second realized he should have asked him to grab a water while he was over there. So, when the first returns the second begrudgingly gets up, walks across the water to get a bottle of water, and comes back.
The third, the one everyone makes the foil, sees the two walking and asks, "How did you do that?" One of the two reply, "You just walk." She looks wide eyed and innocent at the water. She gets up and joyfully drops her foot on the water, and falls in completely. The first says to the second, "Perhaps we should have told her where the rocks were."
You have no idea how many times I sat at a dock and placed my feet on the water like at any time Christ would ask me to come over and just look from a new perspective. How many times in my early childhood I loved those ice patches with bubbly water underneath, because I could pretend. (Then gleefully giggling when the ice broke, because that was fun.)
Did you ever wonder why Jesus decided to just visit the water? After all, the point of Jesus walking on water is Jesus, not the water. Added to that, I used to wonder how the Disciples dropped everything and followed Jesus. More so now than when I was a kid. I have family. Obligations. More than the Disciples stopping everything and following Christ, why did Jesus take them away? I think we've glorified the minister who can easily leave his wife and kids for the ministry. It's a grotesque image, in my mind. An unfair depiction of our call as Disciples and Apostles of Christ.
I'm too good at letting go.
There are people who have addictive personalities, non-addictive personalities and those in-between. I have a non-addictive personality. I can quit, give up, and throw away almost anything. If a doctor told me to give up watermelon (my absolute favorite fruit) for the rest of my life or I'd die- I'd sigh and give it up. Sound marvelous, doesn't it? That's until you realize the opposite side of it. I can cut people out. I can leave a community and not think twice. I still mourn certain friendships in those communities, but I don't mourn the community itself. Between adulthood and giving up children's moment, I was forcibly taken away from so much to the point that I was numbed to giving up all together. It's both a gift and curse. (I'm far more aware of how it curses me.)
That said, I believe what Jesus asks us to leave behind is the stuff.
"But we need this stuff!" you say.
No, you really don't. You don't need the cathedrals; the pomp and circumstance. You don't need the ancient organ or killer refrain on the guitar. You don't need that addictive smell of the old hymnals, or the cantatas. Put away those childish things.
I get it. You see the collection of things and you know how hard it was to collect that debris. You patched it together like a lifeboat. Think of how helpful it could all be on the next leg of Christ's journey. Well, how much is all that stuff helping you right now? Many of your symbols are actually a detractor, and a trigger for real trauma suffered by those things.
I really do get it. It's easy for me to hear a call and just go without concern for whether that call is on solid ground or chaotic water... chaotic water...
Hmm. The ancient Israelites believed the Earth was where God's created order resided, and the oceans were where the uncreated chaos lived. To go to Christ in the ocean is an invitation to a new creation- to create from the chaos. To give it all up and follow Christ, is understanding God already gave up the solid ground because it's no longer solid for so many.
Is it scary? Yes!
Is it dangerous? Absolutely!
Things have no meaning without Christ. To be in the middle of nothing, or to go to Christ on the water, I'll choose the waves every single time.
Walk on water.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
There are times the spaces between make me happy. Like, as a child, being able to squeeze into those in between locations during a good game of Sardines.
There are times when the spaces between comfort me. Like, the space between my couch and a quilt on a February day.
There are also times when the spaces between bring me peace. Like those moments where I have nothing to do so I pray, meditate, walk around in circles reading a good book...
Space, if used appropriately, can be very good. It can define what is around it. It gives opportunity to be filled appropriately. But, it can also be taken advantage of.
We all think we could avoid true evil when it comes our way. Of course, any of us would be able to pick up on a bad guy, twirling his handle bar mustache and wearing a black trench coat. If that was how evil worked, we'd all be masters of avoiding it.
That's not how evil works.
Part of what makes evil, so evil are the tools evil uses to move ahead. Most specifically, truth. The truly evil plans are planted with a seed of truth in a bed of corruption. To plant that truth, evil uses empty space. I think, deep down, that's why we want to fill empty space to quickly. Deep down, we're afraid of the potential danger of the wrong people taking the space.
It's not some physical devil that subverts the truth either. It's often good people, with good motivations. Don't get me wrong, sometimes it is humanities worst. We think we'll see them because they'll stick out like a classic villain with a handlebar mustache and a black trench coat. That level of evil knows they cannot look like what they are. They put on sheep's clothing, and gain favor with the little lambs to slaughter. It's often times the good people who just want to do good that buy into the seed of truth among a crop of lies.
The Space between Maundy Thursday and the Cross
When truth is used to subvert or corrupt space, it is often the one championing the tiny seed of truth that gets hurt the most. This is when things turn upside down. What was good is turned evil. Goodness is looked upon with suspicion.
The Pharisee's subverted the truth when they used Judas to turn Jesus in. Judas was the one who held on to the seed of truth. Jesus was there to redeem what had been stolen. Only Judas thought that would be a warrior King, not a prince of peace. I truly believe Judas did what he did because he was trying to force Jesus' hand. Between the first Holy Communion and the cross, the world was turned upside down.
This is space we are not allowed to fill. We must sit in it. We must allow it to exist. We must realize how foolish the Disciples would have looked as Jesus was arrested and tried. How lost everything had become. Something is gone. Something's not the same. It never will be again.
-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.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
There are some ministers who have chosen to treat Covid-19 like a fun whitewater adventure. For some of those ministers, it has terribly backfired, and they've had to bury their own congregants, or the minister themselves are buried. For other ministers, the ride has continued, and they've taken it all as a sign from God that they are protected. It's shallow faith in a world that's leaving shallow behind.
Even those who understand this are still praying the wrong prayer. We are collectively lifting our voices and lamenting, "When will this end?"
While everything happening now has an ending, that's not going to give us what we should be doing. All of us should be praying, "God, what's next?"
A Child's Prayer
In between 6th and 7th grade, I made one last trip as a congregant of Red Bridge Christian Church, in metro-Kansas City, Missouri. My pre-teen years had not been easy, and many of them were bad. I made a deal with God. "I've been through tough things. Please give me good now. Can you make my second half of my life easier than my first?"
Now, all the adults in the room should know that a 12 year old is not middle aged. Honestly, I didn't think I'd make it past 19. I'm now twice that plus two. I was just seeking the wrong prayer. My asking if life was going to get good was me praying to God, "Is it over yet?"
The answer didn't matter.
When the tomb is empty because it was never filled.
Growing up, I wanted the sunshine and candy of Easter. I wanted to celebrate an empty tomb, and wear a pretty dress. All my kid brain knew was that Easter was happy, and fun.
Then I was placed in an eternal Lent.
You tend to see the world a bit differently when struggle lasts a little longer than 40 days. I stopped waiting for God to do the work, and started asking God what work could I do. That's really what the prayer "When will this end?" is all about. People who pray that prayer want God to do all the work.
To do the work, you have to accept there is a problem. You have to examine, and name it. There are those who have been in oblivious ignorance for so long, they can no longer even see the problem. For those who can't see, the naming the problem sounds like one is being negative.
In reality, I'm extremely hopeful. I believe there is something beyond the problem. I name the problem because I want to move past it. I want people to process suffering, not because I want people to suffer. Actually, I want people to stop suffering. I also know that is almost always the only way suffering ends. I also believe that's extremely Biblical.
Christ talks all the time of suffering, and not that we wouldn't suffer, but wouldn't suffer alone.
I know, I know. Not what you wanted to hear. If you go down the road just a bit from my house in any direction, you'll find those empty promises. They sell them every Sunday, because they are so easy to produce. Just know, when you hit those low points, when the world comes crashing in around you, it wasn't because you didn't pray hard enough. There are really good people who suffer. There are really bad people who don't.
Jesus gave us language to never walk through adversity alone.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me.
Matthew 16:24 CEB
The people believed if someone was suffering, it meant God had left them. It often made the situation worse for people already dealing with trauma. Jesus reframes the conversation by point blank telling those closest to him, you will suffer too.
If suffering is a natural part of human existence, we need to start talking about it in realistic ways. Lent, this period leading up to Easter, is the perfect time.
You are not alone.
You are loved.
You are part of something bigger than yourself.
I believe our wounds can heal and scar over.
God is with us.