-Rev Melissa Fain-
God created humanity in God’s own image,
in the divine image God created them,
male and female God created them.
Genesis 1:27 CEB
Can someone explain to me why this statement is somehow more scandalous than "God is Black"? It's okay. I already know.
It's our implicit understanding of femininity. Implicit, meaning not clearly expressed, in this case also means it plays out because of old understandings in our social system. Also known as: systemic.
On one hand, God isn't male. God is beyond gender. On the other hand, we'll just keep calling God by masculine qualifiers, while loudly saying God is also not female.
On one hand, we understand God does not have a gender. On the other hand, we'll voice God in this booming male voice.
On one hand, we understand God does not have a gender. On the other hand, we'll gladly speak up God on Father's day, while safely avoiding it on Mother's day.
We may know these things, but our collective understanding of God can firmly place the Divine in the masculine, without fear or guilt. Our high horse is hobbled, or perhaps, it has just been a hobby horse this whole time. We're simply playing with the idea of God.
"God is female" is scary in the same way "God is... [insert anything negative here]" is scary. Deep down, our collective understanding of femininity believes this is something less than. It's this mindset that God is good, but women are not good enough. Don't believe me? Then look at our media.
When we get a movie where the female pretends to be male to get something, it's a learning experience. She becomes a better person for having stepped in the male role. Meanwhile, if a male does the same thing if often used as a joke. The male leaves the gender, learning it's better to be a man. The exception being motherhood. In movies, males becoming moms make men better men. But, women are more than mothers, and you don't see movies where women gender swap to gaze into fatherhood. You do get movies where femininity is a tool to the goal of the masculine character.
I know, big words. Let me take a step back and simplify it for you: "God created humanity in God’s own image in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them."
Females are not the Zerox copy of males. Females are images of the Divine, just as much as males are. More than that, there are female images of the Divine placed throughout the bible. God's wisdom is personified as female. Let's start there. God is female.
Let us pray:
Holy Mother, who birthed Creation, protect us like a mother bear, while bringing us in as a hen bring in her chicks. Amen.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
37 The Israelites traveled from Rameses to Succoth. They numbered about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides children. 38 A diverse crowd also went up with them along with a huge number of livestock, both flocks and herds. 39 They baked unleavened cakes from the dough they had brought out of Egypt. The dough didn’t rise because they were driven out of Egypt and they couldn’t wait. In fact, they didn’t have time to prepare any food for themselves.
Exodus 12:37-39 CEB
I used to excitedly scribble in my journals. It's true. I'd frantically read my bible, see something amazing, and get it down on paper as soon as it would come to me.
When Fig Tree first became a platform I wanted to joyfully share those insights. As I had not read them anywhere else, I wanted the world to know what I saw.
But then I saw counter arguments to my points, without any citation to my original work. The Tower of Babel was the worst offender. I wrote about Pentecost being an anti-Babel. It was a bringing back of the people once they were ready to be a people again. Then, multiple writers started counter arguments, but as I read each one, they each refused to cite me as the reason they were making the counter-argument. "Some say," they wrote. I became I stepping stone for their own platform, without pulling me up in the process. I was plagiarized in a way where I couldn't fight the plagiarism. It hurt the most when someone made money off their counter argument by publishing a book. Here I was, struggling to have enough money to buy groceries, and he had published a book.
It broke me.
I guarded my thoughts. I didn't want to be used. I wanted to be a partner. Rising waters raise all ships, unless your ship has been bolted in place. Then you sink as everyone else rises. Soon, new ideas didn't come to me anymore. God was calling me to share, even if what I shared was misused. If I wasn't sharing, I wasn't going to be given the knowledge.
So, that being said, I'm pulling out my journal and sharing something from that time of excited scribblings. I understand it can lead to my work being misused and abused again. It's not fine, but it's better to get it out there. It's meant to be out there. If this gets too heady, I'm going to put a divider below. You might want to skip to the actual point.
We are called to the "other." For Cone, the other will, and always will be, the oppressed. That's why he says Jesus is Black. In American and global history it's the Black person that has been continually oppressed. The oppressor can only seek God through contrition.
There is a counter argument to this theory.
Counter arguments are good on two levels. First, it means the first statement is valid enough to deserve a counter argument. Part of the reason process theology hasn't been sufficiently reworked is because theologians either think it's junk theology or they fully believe it. Until someone takes it as a serious theology, we won't be able to rework it into something stronger, or dismantle it for what it might be. Secondly, it strengthens the initial theology. We are partners in this journey towards Divine understanding. Each of us are capable of drawing us closer to understanding God, and push us away.
In counter, only saying the oppressed has a voice means oppression becomes something special. It becomes bad to overcome oppression because then one is no longer special in the eyes of God. It keeps a people down. Worse still, this is a unwritten counter argument. Voiced and told countless times, but never written. At least as far as I'm aware. There has to be a third way. The oppressed, the oppressor, and the redeemed. A third group that has triumphed over oppression by either no longer being oppressed, or accepting their role as oppressor and moving beyond. As Rev. Jamie Brame once told me, "You have to give them a way out, or you will completely lose them." (He was talking about scary stories, but it works here too.)
God is for the "other." This is not an easy statement, and if you see it easily, brace yourself, it's about to get uncomfortable.
We choose who the other is. During the Civil Rights movement, the other was the African American, and those who stood with them. During the Holocaust the other was the Jewish people, and everyone else sent to the gas chamber to die. Those are easy "other's" to throw our weight behind. I can stand behind those who are disenfranchised with ease.
The other is anyone a group of people knowingly choose to exclude from the greater whole. The French did it to the elite, and rich. They started a revolution that led to death and destruction. Yes, the ones in power can be "othered." Doesn't feel so comfortable anymore, does it?
Jesus never excluded anyone. The door was always open in some way for anyone who wanted to enter. Any time someone elite came to him asking about the Kingdom, he was always careful to let them exclude themselves. You are not "othered" if you willingly choose to leave the group.
This isn't some trick to keep a group of people outside of God. Jesus wanted them included too! God's story is continually about giving second and third chances at redemption. Abraham wants to go back into Sodom and try again, and God lets him. Jonah is called to tell the oppressor, the Ninivites, that they could be saved too. When the Israelites leave Egypt, there are Egyptians that come with them.
As the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) have made their statement, "All means all," we can't help but feel the tension there. When we get down to brass tacks, if you can't see how uncomfortable that statement truly is, you're doing it wrong. There will always be a group or a person or a people that makes God's universal inclusion (even if they ultimately choose to exclude themselves) uncomfortable. Where the other is, no matter who we have made the other, there God is. God is with the other.
Let us pray:
Dear Lord, Keep me from exclusion, and draw me to healing. Amen.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
38 “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. 39 But I say to you that you must not oppose those who want to hurt you. If people slap you on your right cheek, you must turn the left cheek to them as well. 40 When they wish to haul you to court and take your shirt, let them have your coat too. 41 When they force you to go one mile, go with them two. 42 Give to those who ask, and don’t refuse those who wish to borrow from you.
Matthew 5:38-42 CEB
In 2011 the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) had an important discussion point. Not the question itself, which was do we minister to the victims of sexual abuse. That was overwhelmingly approved. The question was about a little piece of language tied to the resolution. Do we say victims or survivors. So many came forward and talked about being a survivor, that they were no longer a victim. So many others expressed the importance of the word victim, and how everyone wounded by sexual assault was a victim at some point, but not everyone became a survivor. There was a counter point, that support should not magically go away when someone moved from victim to survivor. Ultimately, the resolution was amended to say we will minister to the victims and survivors of sexual abuse.
Now, eight years later, why am I returning to it in a discussion about enemies? Mostly, abusers of all types are the result of a cyclical problem. Abusers don't appear out of nowhere. Almost all abusers arrive at their abusive behavior because something happened. They too were victims at one point. When we move from victim-hood to being a survivor we are doing more than healing. We are ending a cycle that perhaps goes back generations. This is because a victim eventually only has two directions in which to go. They can either heal or continue the cycle. What's worse, once they make the wrong decision, and continue the cycle of brokenness, the sympathy towards them becomes almost nil.
Churches get in trouble here. We need to help the abuser move towards becoming a survivor, but not at the cost of the new victims created in the wake of their brokenness. Churches tend to focus on the abuser over the new victims. Then the issue isn't fixing the broken abuser, it's hiding their brokenness. The above scripture is not used like a healing balm, but a weaponized bomb. New victims are told to shut up, while nothing real happens. Meanwhile, the scripture is much more about restorative justice. It's about changing lives for the Body of Christ, not hacking limbs off, or leaving problems that will destroy limbs anyway.
It's our job to move victims to survivors, and abusive victims to survivors. It's our job to end those cycles for Kingdom's sake. The absolute worst thing to do is hide or push away. God is your own worst enemy.
Let us pray:
Dear God, Make me ready for this kind of restoration. Prepare me. Amen.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
41 Each year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival.42 When he was 12 years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to their custom. 43 After the festival was over, they were returning home, but the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents didn’t know it.44 Supposing that he was among their band of travelers, they journeyed on for a full day while looking for him among their family and friends.45 When they didn’t find Jesus, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple. He was sitting among the teachers, listening to them and putting questions to them. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed by his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him, they were shocked.
His mother said, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Listen! Your father and I have been worried. We’ve been looking for you!”
49 Jesus replied, “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that it was necessary for me to be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they didn’t understand what he said to them.
51 Jesus went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. His mother cherished every word in her heart. 52 Jesus matured in wisdom and years, and in favor with God and with people.
Luke 2:41-52 CEB
Let's just focus on verse 52 for a second: "Jesus matured in wisdom and years, and in favor with God and with the people." The word I want us to highlight and underline is mature. Here, let me do it for you.
Jesus matured in wisdom and years, and in favor with God and with the people.
To say Jesus matured is to say immaturity was in there somewhere. Words have meaning and implications. You can't have both a matured Jesus, without an immature Jesus being somewhere in the story.
Immature, especially that hectic transition between immature and mature, is about potential. We cannot judge a rose by it's newly formed bud. We cannot judge a tween on their questionable actions. We can be frustrated. Oh, we can be frustrated! Also, before you get on your high horse and call me out on Jesus' action being somehow wrong...
He didn't tell his parents where he was going. He was caught doing something he wasn't supposed to do. Adult Jesus wouldn't have found himself in that situation. He would eventually go mano-a-mano with the well versed Jewish lawyers. You can't convince me he was completely in the right here. An adult Jesus would convince his parents they should be in the temple with him! Forget just letting him go!
Second statement you are making: He could have asked and then went. If that were the case, those parents would be casing that temple. I'm a parent. Children are fairly transparent. They would be checking out the temple, going to the aunt's house, back to the temple, what about the food vendors, and back to the temple. Taking two days to finally get to the temple doesn't speak to the idea that Jesus ever communicated anything about wanted to be in the temple. Adult Jesus communicated!
God lives in these immature, potential messes! They are not perfect. Mistakes are made. Lessons are learned, and everyone moves on. God is a child.
Wait! Yeah, I'm not ending on the title today. Today is a mess, an un-mature mess! Do you think when Jesus called the children to him he knew the importance of being present with the immature child. (The future mature?) Yeah, God was there.
Let us pray:
Dear Father, take my immaturity and help me grow up! Amen.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
8 “Or what woman, if she owns ten silver coins and loses one of them, won’t light a lamp and sweep the house, searching her home carefully until she finds it? 9 When she finds it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Celebrate with me because I’ve found my lost coin.’10 In the same way, I tell you, joy breaks out in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who changes both heart and life.”
Luke 15:8-10 CEB
I saw that look and it arrested me. Two girls, staring up at me from a gas station. What appeared to be their father was ordering them into a vehicle. I knew that look because I had given it before when I was about their age.
I also know what looked back at them because I had seen it before. Complete and total helplessness. I had my baby son in the car. I didn't know them. I had no agency to step in and help, but I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, they needed help.
Their desperate gazes have haunted me now for a decade. I had mentally condemned those adults from my past. I condemned the ones who just stared helplessly back, and I condemned the ones who openly expressed they wanted to help but couldn't. All I needed was one of them to step up.
But step up and do what exactly?
We are a sea of people, surrounded by others, lost.Truth is, God is too; by us.
How much does the story of the lost coin change when it's not God searching for us, but us searching for the last part of God? The story is no longer passive, but active. In an active story, we are given the agency to create the positive change in the world.
That's what haunts me about those girls. Try as I might, I can't shake the feeling there was a moment of action, and I turned the situation into a passive experience. It's a moment I will never be able to relive. I let the coin remain lost, and lost a piece of God in the process.
God is calling us to action because God is lost.
Let us pray:
Oh Motherly God, who gathers us like a hen gathers her chicks. Guide us to gather your children in the same way, and bring wholeness to your kingdom. Amen.
Jesus replied: Philip, I have been with you for a long time. Don't you know who I am? If you have seen me, you have seen the Father. How can you ask me to show you the Father? – John 14:9
Perhaps nothing is so frustrating as straining to be understood and the person you want to connect with just doesn’t get it. Several months ago, a dear friend and I got into an hours-long disagreement about how we perceive the world. Eventually we uncovered that we didn’t even mean the same things when we used even basic words. This week we are spending time together again, and he brought up that conversation. “I’ve thought of that conversation many times,” he remarked, “and I still don’t get how you could possibly see the world that way.”
The distance such basic missed connections creates can be enormous and painful. Today, I visited a black history museum in a small Southern city. Its exhibits included receipts for poll taxes, photos of civic leaders who battled segregation, and clippings from black-owned newspapers. I was reminded again that this community of hope and strength which endured – and endures – pervasive systemic and personal oppression is one that I may learn about and appreciate, but that I still do not know, do not understand from the inside-out. I don’t “get it.”
God, in Jesus Christ, identifies with all of us from the inside-out. Jesus is the exalted one who took the form of a slave and was willing to suffer a humiliating, painful death. The Spirit of God not only sees all of us but participates with all of us, grieving in our suffering, mourning for our sin, rejoicing at our feeble but brave efforts to resist evil and follow Christ. The folks least like me, God sees and knows them, from the inside-out. Unlike me, Jesus “gets it.” Maybe that is why it is so hard sometimes for me to get Jesus. We can spend years at his feet, but until we join Jesus as he feasts with the ones we don’t get, we will never get him either.
Let us pray:
Unknown God, guide us into a more perfect knowledge of you as you guide us into a more perfect love for our neighbor. Give us grace that we may know you and one another inside-out. Amen.
Tim Holm is a former high school teacher and pursuing an MDiv from Duke Divinity School. He has only had to bribe his way through a Russian airport twice.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
2 I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
Exodus 20:2 CEB
The problem with self-help gurus is their lack of negative results.
Yeah, I get it. No one wants to hear the a person talk about about their failures. People pay the big bucks to hear about success. The want a step by step process in how one succeeded.
But, if you are paying the big bucks to hear someone's success story there are a list of failures to tag with that achievement that's at least twice as long as the successes.
Part of life is failure. That's how we learn. Before we learned to walk, we fell over and over again. Before we learned to write, we scribbled, sometimes on our parent's wall. Failure is always an option because with failure we honed our skills just a little bit more. Failure makes us stronger; better.
God can be found in the struggle. Without the struggle, nothing can change. No one's saying it, and it's what we need to hear. God is struggling.
Pray with me:
Dear Lord: I weep, I ache. I feel out of breath. Help me continue. Amen.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
2 Oh, that my grief were actually weighed,
all of it were lifted up in scales;
3 for now it’s heavier than the sands of the sea;
therefore, my words are rash.[a]
4 The Almighty’s arrows are in me;
my spirit drinks their poison,
and God’s terrors are arrayed against me.
5 Does a donkey bray over grass
or an ox bellow over its fodder?
6 Is tasteless food eaten without salt,
or does egg white have taste?
7 I refuse to touch them;
they resemble food for the sick.
Job 6:1-7 CEB
No! No. No. No.. Nono. I don't want to go here! Tell me I don't have to go!
I'll tell you what. You go ahead and I'll meet you at the next devotion.
Can't do that? Fine!
Every minister has that topic. You know, the one they clearly avoid at all costs. The one that when you ask it, their eyes grow wide for a millisecond and their face freezes. Apparently I'm really good at bringing up other minister's topics, because I've seen it. That petrified stare, as the cogs in their mind is whirling as their mouth is rusted shut.
This is mine.
I can discuss the previous uncomfortable topics because we have answers. Sure, many of those answer are far from easy, but we still have them and they are in our control. I can be angry over these issues, and ultimately understanding in the human failure of it all.
I understand why a person froze to death in the streets of Atlanta, or why a person died of starvation in the streets of Calcutta. It's our failure. Humans did that. I can have those discussions knowing we could do better.
Serious illness is where my ability to have these discussion fill me dread.
Job knows. We read how he wants to say what I dread most. He wants to say what we condemn when others say it.
God is guilty. God is the failure.
We are not supposed to be comfortable with that statement. It's supposed to gnaw us, and remind us that difficult questions without easy answers will always exist. More than that, God doesn't punish Job for wanting to ask those questions. Yet, neither does he give him the answers he seeks.
Jesus' talk about care of God's "least of these" has a solemn duty to those who are sick: "When I was sick or in prison, you visited me." It's important to stress, it doesn't say, "You cured me." Unless we are a doctor of that specific ailment, we are called to be present, a gift worth more than empty words, or impossible promises.
Job's friends were ultimately in the wrong. They couldn't be present with Job in his mourning, and it made the situation worse. They had to seek forgiveness at the end of the book, while Job (wanting to hold God accountable and all) gained a full life in return.
It sucks, because sometimes I just want to be like Job's friends. Sometimes I want to talk cures and solutions into being, when that kind of action is the very last thing we are called to do. Nothing is comfortable with illness- as it should be. We are called to be present and available. God is sick.
Let us pray:
Dear Lord, teach us to stop saying things to make ourselves comfortable, and teach us to simply stop and be present. Amen.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
48 He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant.
Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored
49 because the mighty one has done great things for me.
Holy is his name.
50 He shows mercy to everyone,
from one generation to the next,
who honors him as God.
51 He has shown strength with his arm.
He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations.
52 He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones
and lifted up the lowly.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty-handed.
Luke 1:48-53 CEB
James Cone turned the theological world on its head with his book, "God of the Oppressed."
Before him, theology was almost exclusively the field of white European males. That's only one type of life experience. It doesn't speak to the immense cultural diversity of our planet. It's the reason Uncle Tom's Cabin is so offensive. A white man thought he understood the American Slave experience.It was an appropriation of someone else's culture. Keven Purger did a great job telling the history of the book, and it's direct connection to Six Flags over Georgia and Disney World.
In our modern context we explore cultures, not by telling a white guy to write them for us, but by bringing in voices of those cultures. Disney's Coco worked so well because they brought in Hispanic voices to explain the cultural significance of the Day of the Dead.
It could be summed up in one sentence: Understanding one's culture requires giving the participants of that culture a voice.
James Cone, a minister and professor, was a voice in the African American church. He was able to make Black Culture a valid discussion point in theological circles, and turn the focus away from High Church, hoity toity language, to the desperate need of the poor- many of whom were black.
God of the Oppressed throws it on the table: Jesus is Black. It wasn't said because we know Jesus was literally born black. It was said, because Jesus shared something that was sadly understood by the African-American: oppression. It wasn't an appropriated message. It was real and raw. God is for and is oppressed. God is Black.
Let us Pray:
Oh God! The least of these cry out. Let us not only hear them, but also meet their need. Amen.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
13 The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah. Your prayers have been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will give birth to your son and you must name him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many people will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the Lord’s eyes. He must not drink wine and liquor. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before his birth.
Luke 1:13-15 CEB
"Do not be afraid" is not in the Bible 365 times. Let me just say that for what has now been the, I believe, fourth time. It's there around 115 times. That's a decent amount of time people are being told, "Don't fear."
No matter how many times it is said, fear is all over the Bible. While we fear a mortgage payment, or missing a meal, the Biblical fears were plague, starvation and war. If there were a people who had a right to be afraid, it was them.
In reality, people take advantage of fear. It's a very effective tool to get what you want. Middle schoolers like to tell other students, "Snitches get stitches." That is a phrase meant to scare bullied kids, and kids who see bullying, into not outing their bullies.
That's scary, and the fear does not end until the situation is no longer dangerous.
Let me change the story. When I was eight years old I knew I wanted to be baptized. Church was my haven in a very disruptive world. I asked my Dad if I had permission, and he responded it was my choice. (Dad was not the type to pull me into decisions. He made himself present, and allowed me to act of my own free will.)
I knew, if I wanted to be baptized, I had to walk up to the front of the church during the Hymn of Invitation. I was terrified. Those who know me know would not realize just how seized I often was by public attention. It was arresting. Now I had to do something that required me to break up the routine of singing the song, and getting out of church in time for the Chiefs game.
I asked God for the first step. Give me the first step, and I'll take the rest.
That was one of the absolute hardest step of my life.
In that terrible fear, there was God.
In every fear lives a potential action that brings justice to a broken world. God speaks to fear in order for us to step out of it and do what's really right. No child deserves to be afraid at school. No people deserves to be persecuted. Every trauma deserves a voice. God is afraid.
Let us Pray:
Dear Lord, help me bring voice to a voiceless world. Amen.