-Pastor Melissa Fain-
I have been inundated with reading material as of late. My eldest gave me The Handmaid’s Tale for Christmas, and I found its sequel, The Testaments, on clearance. I devoured both. I followed this up with Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, a 25 page exploration of damnation. Our review is on my next read: Kingdom of Women, but I also read Out of the Dust, and I’m currently returning to The Screwtape Letters. (That’s if you’re interested in reading anything I’ve been reading.)
Perhaps it is a desire to devour the written word after spending a month studying for a very big math test. Perhaps it’s me choosing to read anything but the book I eventually put down to teach art: Crime and Punishment. (Gotta finish that one next.) No matter what it is, I knew I needed to write this review.
Synopsis (Without Spoilers)
There are a few story lines converging together in this. There are two worth noting in this post:
1) Averil Parnell becomes the world’s first priest in the Roman Catholic Church after her fellow seminarians are gunned down and she survives. I have some things to write about this below (with spoilers).
2) Women are done not being heard when it comes to abuse, rape, and inequality. They take matters into their own hands, and a group secedes from the Union to start their own country. At the same time, there are a group of vigilante women who are enacting justice towards fellow women who were raped and/or killed by men.
How to read it (With Spoilers)
I’m sure my male readers are seeing the synopsis and just “noping” yourself out of it. Please hear me out before you do that.
In my opinion, the author, Rosalie Morales Kearns, creates a modern feminist lament. I put this text right next to Psalm 137. They are both dense and difficult reads.
A year ago, almost to the day, I wrote a Tuesday Review of Professor Glenn Pemberton’s book: Hurting With God. I said he lost the tension when it came to Psalm 137. That comment is important to this book, so let me quote it below:
“If I could summarize [Hurting with God] in one sentence it would be this: Trust God enough to speak the truth in your prayers. [Glenn Pemberton] couldn’t find the truth in Psalm 137, because he only heard the words being spoken, not the meaning beyond them. I do invite you to read what I wrote on his take on Psalm 137, but I have one more greater point... Talking to God has to start somewhere. It might even start with a lie. If we are so afraid that the only words spoken need to be truthful words, we could scare people out of praying all together. I would summarize prayer in this way: Prayer is bringing yourself, in all that you are, before God in sacrifice.”
Tuesday's Review: Hurting with God
Psalm 137 doesn’t mean God condones bashing babies heads against rocks. It does mean, God hears our yowling pain, and we have the freedom to speak with our souls as our words can say some terribly hurtful things. God is big enough to take it.
Kingdom of Women ends with the complete destruction of men. It’s not realistic if taken literally, but it is real. It’s true in the exact same way Psalm 137 is true. If taken as a true lament, it speaks with women, and speaks to men.
That makes this a very good book.
Aside: Speaking as a woman in ministry and Scouts BSA
Before I get into this- I did not see this book as literal. I saw it as one sees a fable or morality tale. It’s not meant to be taken literally. What I’m about to write isn’t critiques, as much as how I feel a literal experience would go differently.
If the Roman Catholic Church chose to ordain women, they wouldn’t “defrock” her like they did to Averil. They would bury her. They would put her somewhere where no one would be able to hear her sermons, or know what she was up to. To take away her standing would suggest they were wrong, and they would attempt to avoid appearing anything but the God Ordained Church™.
Speaking as a woman who is ordained, I feel more ignored than I do expelled. Expulsion gives you something to work with. It’s a physical action that can have an opposite and equal reaction. Ignoring, on the other hand, has no momentum.
For example: Back at the end of 2019, Fig Tree Christian and myself left the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The Christian Church ignored it. Like, I still get “giving packets” from the Church they ignored it so fully. Now, not only am I disconnected from the denomination in a self-acting move, but there was no reaction to it. They kept me for their numbers, and took away everything I could have gained from it. So much so that in 2020, when people were searching where to find Fig Tree Christian, it listed another church we discontinued meeting at. They reaped our evangelism. That’s what would have happened to Averil. She would have been made obsolete by the system that claimed to love her.
Also an example: A few years back, the BSA decided to include girls in their scouting program. I’ve written so much about this, including the Scout Bathrooms. Including women and girls into male programs does not automatically create equality. The very foundations need to be moved for equal treatment. In the case of the Council camps, the bathrooms were made for the boys. It’s much more difficult for the gals to camp with public restrooms still being for the boys.
And yet another example: I experienced this as a seminarian, as the building for the seminary was built for men. Try being a pregnant woman when there isn’t a restroom on your floor for women. Candler fixed this with a new building, but my first year still felt incredibly exclusionary.
You just don’t understand how much the problem can and is ignored.
I say this, because being ignored often takes away your power, and allows the offenders the freedom to move on. In reality most failure is accomplished through ignorance, not action. The world is destroyed by those who fail and hear the yowling laments of the oppressed.
That is all.
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
It’s like Taco Tuesday, but on a Thursday!
This is a continuing Lenten exploration of non-religious artists' take on religion.
This is how I’ve suggested one engages these meditations.
HOWEVER- This one is a book review. I'll try to keep it spoiler free. I do suggest reading this review AFTER you've read her book.
Apologies: A Somewhat Interactive Poetry Experiment
About the Author:
Kristy Burmeister (1981- ) is me. Well, not “me” me. I feel our life experiences have led us in different directions, but we’d both be likely to follow a similar path if we’d been switched at birth. She is a former Mennonite, and former Catholic. Her journey is one of Church abuse and abuse from men. She has personal experience with #MeToo and #ChurchToo. Her previous published work is Act Normal: Memoir of a Stumbling Block.
About the Art:
Act Normal is to 1984 as Apologies is to Animal Farm. This is a book that’s meant to be read and experienced from front to back. It evolves as you read it, and if you think you’re just reading a bunch of generally similar poems, you might as well read Animal Farm like it’s Charlotte’s Web.
Apologies is made to attack you. Specifically, it’s made to attack those who have experience within the world of organized religion. There are elements that are very similar to children’s bulletins. Children’s bulletins are a single sheet of paper, folded to look like a Church program. It contains Biblical Scripture, and little games to explain the Scripture. That piece of paper serves two purposes: It keeps kids occupied in Church while educating them on something related to Christianity. The difference between Apologies and Children’s Bulletins is while Children’s Bulletins are rather empty in their purpose, Apologies has a very strong point.
The interactions in this book should hit you deep. You either get it, or you don’t.
I have a metric ton of feelings on this piece.
Just getting this off my chest- I am so grateful this was published during Lent! We are in the middle of Women’s History Month, and I hear the silence. It's so deafening! Meanwhile, I’m attempting to explore non-religious and artistic views on religion, and it’s all so masculine! Kristy gives me something to explore created by a woman!
To the book!
About 4 years ago I had this amazing idea. I would ask one of my guy minister friends to do an experiment with me. He would make a feminine minister Reddit username, and I would make a masculine one. Starting at zero karma, we’d set parameters for interaction. Which username would get the most karma by the end of 6 months. Was it the guy minister pretending to be a girl, or the girl minister pretending to be a guy?
By this point, I’d been online for about 4 years, and I had a slough of users flat out telling me I couldn’t be called to be a minister because of my gender. I wanted to see. I wanted to see if “calling” was tied to gender. I wanted to test ability with a genderswap.
No guy wanted to participate. Why would they?! In the media, guys doing anything that even remotely looks feminine is seen at best as comic relief. My daughter can play a boy in a play without anyone questioning her gender identity, but my son can’t play a girl and get the same result. The double standard is real. All the ministers I asked were super supportive of what I was doing, as long as they didn’t have to actually participate.
So I did it all by myself. I made the username, and ran the experiment next to my original username for 6 months. It wasn’t a scientific experiment. I wanted the right people to see what I was doing, and follow it up with a scientific study.
What I discovered in that ½ year was that it was easier being a male minister. People simply assumed I was who I said I was. To be clear, I never said I was a guy. My username was masculine and had “pastor” in the title. That was it. No one wondered where I got my education. I was thanked far more often for giving religious opinions. It was like moving from white water rapids, to a smooth flowing creek. There was no way for guys to know how easy they had it, because we don’t consider what doesn’t naturally test us. Out of sight, out of mind.
Yet, when I shared what I found, I was called a liar. The guys didn’t step up and support me after the fact either. One even went so far to turn the focus from gender to his topic of discussion. Six months of my life, flushed down the toilet.
All that is what I think of as I look at the cover. A “somewhat” “experiment.” No, it’s not a scientific experiment, but still an experiment. When you realize what she did, can you be humble enough to see it was all an act of love? Or- will you turn the story back on you? Or- you will get your feelings hurt and act out in anger? I’m interested in seeing if you even get it!
How does Apologies preach the Word of God to the people of God?
-Rev Melissa Fain-
I sat at my computer, staring at my screen. How does one talk about something that is so painful, while also vitally important? Eventually I typed out, "I don't know what to write here," saved the post, and went to work. Previous "Tuesday Reviews" were academic. I wrote them in an academic way. I could view it like a student looking at a dissected frog. I could examine and pull apart without fear of stopping something that hadn't already been stopped. This book, on the other hand, alive. Raw. It cried out to me.
This book hit me on so many levels.
On the most basic of levels, it hit me as a wounded human being. I could fully understand Kristy's brokenness as a child of brokenness. I know what it's like to not be able to name spiritual, and personal wounds, while the world doesn't know how to react to your woundedness. I know what it's like to have those discard you because they don't know how to deal with you, and (as a child) not understanding how that is fundamentally wrong.
It also connected to me as an adult person wounded by the church. I could personally understand how her particular situation wounded her so badly. I knew first hand how church woundedness could hurt so much more deeply than secular woundedness. It's being stabbed in the back by your closest loved ones while they lovingly tell you everything is going to be alright. It's knowing you are bleeding out, but they are prayerfully choosing to peacefully watch you die.
Finally, it reminded me I wound others because as a minister I am part of the church. I'll admit, Kristy personally gave me a super easy out. In the last few pages, I'm mentioned, and listed on the side of good. I'm not taking the easy out. As an ordained minister I need to be held accountable. I'm still part of the Body of Christ. Like, when someone murders someone else. We don't just punish the parts of the person that did the murdering. We punish the whole human. We have to see that within the Christian Context.. If a piece of us are acting outside our purpose as Christians, we are all acting out of that purpose. We are guilty, and instead of hacking parts off the Body, we need to holistically start spiritual rehab. Less "they" and "them" words, more "we" and "us" words.
What is this book about:
In one sentence: The true story of a pastor's daughter, and the church's poor reaction to both her and her stalker.
In a more extended way: Kristy tells the story of #metoo and #churchtoo with dark humor that leaves you sitting on the edge of your seat, throwing your book across the room, laughing or a combination of all three.
What should you do with this book:
Over the years I've received numerous certifications in First Aid and CPR. I'm currently certified in CPR. One of the key features to this kind of training is doing the same action over and over. This is so we become hard-wired when crisis hits. We naturally have a flight or fight response to immediate crisis. It's a holdover from our caveman brothers and sisters who had to immediately respond to that animal with sharp teeth eyeing them in the distance. Today it's far less helpful. If we know how to react in crisis, we are better prepared to deal with it.
I believe Act Normal would be a great book to pair with a Crisis Care series in the church. I could see working through Safe Sanctuaries, or Mental Health First Aid, and using Act Normal as a case study. I think there is something important with pairing this book up. Churches (and seminarians) need to see what happens when Spiritual First Aid is not in place, and what are the results. In the same breath, we need to see that there are things we could do, and those things are easy to implement.
It's also good because it hasn't been washed pure for the church. This book is honest and real. It doesn't try to fit anywhere specific, it just tells it how it is. The church needs more honest. It's needs a woman who is willing to speak honestly about premarital sex and honestly speak to the failure of the church during that time. It's so honest, I'd call it beautifully honest.
I was not paid to do this review. I personally purchased the book with my own time and money. If you would like to purchase your own copy of Act Normal, it is available to purchase on Amazon. This is a good book. It's written well, and worth your time whether you are a minister, congregant, or just someone who likes to read.
Over the past month, I've slowly read Seeking Imperfection. It is a book written by an ordained Disciples of Christ minister, Rev. Evan Dolive. This all came into being when he saw a Victoria Secrets campaign focused on a girls self-esteem. This did not sit right to Rev. Dolive. He couldn't see how a pair of underwear was going to enhance a girl's self-esteem. It lead him to write an open letter to the company. Then the letter went viral. Fortunately, people wanted more, and he was able to expand his simple message into a full book.
How does it read?
This is a very pastoral book. It is a shepherd talking to a flock. It's not about "us" verses "them," and I wouldn't support it if it were.. Part of the mission of Fig Tree Christian is stitching the Body of Christ back together. The book starts with a basic premise: We are all created in the image of God, and therefore, we shouldn't be seeking what advertising calls "perfect." I fully endorse that message, and I'd hope you would too.
Who is it for?
This book is a minister talking to a congregation, and also a father talking to his future teenage daughter. He writes to both parents and teenagers/tweens. However, I'd focus this book on teenagers specifically. When I was a teenager, I was given I Kissed Dating Goodbye. It did not help my body image. As a girl who was already just fine with waiting for a sexual relationship, Harris' book gave the message that my body was a stumbling block. Why am I bringing this book in comparison to Seeking Imperfection? My generation is lost. The females in particular were raised to be ashamed of their bodies. This book fixes what the 90's did. Doesn't talk about sex, and it doesn't have to. It simply says the reader is beautiful just the way they are. It's a breath of fresh air, and just what today's teenagers need to read.
How to use it?
I strongly consider making this a youth group series. This book is solidly connected to the bible, so there would be weekly connections to scripture. This book solidly understands the current culture outside the church doors, so the youth would be able to connect to it. It's a great book for parents to be reading along with the youth. There are points where Rev. Dolive is directly talking to the parents. Finally, whether it's read by itself or as a group, each chapter ends with reflection questions and a prayer.