-Pastor Melissa Fain-
Over the past three weeks I have talked about early trauma of family brokenness, later trauma of Church brokenness, and the event that began Fig Tree.
I talk trauma because of my ordination. I had asked ministers who had formed my theological grounding to participate. Rev. Phil Foster, was among them. On my ordination day, he stood before those watching and stated that I was a wounded healer.
Since then, I have seen that woundedness must come with journeying towards wholeness. To be a solid leader, I needed to walk the path myself. Some people can learn through example, and some people can read a book and get the lesson. I must live it, feel it and do it.
I can talk about personal brokenness because I've lived it and work towards wholeness. It is through my personal experience I can relate and help others too.
I can talk about church brokenness because I've lived it and work towards wholeness. It is through those experiences that I can relate and help others too.
In other words- What I was, is vital to who I am, and what Fig Tree is.
Reddit solidified Fig Tree's Mission
In the beginning, Fig Tree was exclusively a blog. I didn't use the word "blog," and I still don't, because there are expectations for blogs. Blogs are almost like personal side notes. It felt like this needed to be more editorial in it's existence. There was never a time I thought the goal was just to have me writing every week. In my mind, that is a failure. The meditations section of Fig Tree will have reached success when there are a multitude of writers sharing theological opinions on a weekly basis.
One of the greatest frustrations for me going to seminary was the immense divide between Church and Seminary. My churches were grounded in deep faith and spirituality. We talked about experiencing God. My seminary was grounded in deep knowledge. We talked about the semantics and socio/historical context within the Bible. Spirituality and knowledge are very important. It's problematic that each side has cut out the other. For years I've watched ministers make a choice between spirituality and knowledge. I refused. Being a Christian was both spirituality and knowledge, with the Truth firmly between the two.
Fig Tree's first mission was finding that Truth. At first, it was just weekly meditations. Sometimes this was literally just old sermons as I tried to gage what people needed to hear. I pushed both sides a little. So early on I knew God's story was and is a communal one.
One of those very first voices was Rev. Paul Appleby. We met in seminary, and stayed in touch. He doesn't realize this, but I had grown very frustrated with sermons. It had begun to feel like a well produced play. Once the minister had the SCRIPTure, they may change up the dialogue a little, but the message remained the same. It wasn't that the messages I heard since I was eight was bad. No, they were usually good. It was hearing them since I was eight! I wanted someone to speak on the multitude of subjects within the text! I needed something new on Sunday morning.
I had said we first met in seminary, but that's not exactly true. I had gone to visit a colleague at his church. I thought I'd hear my colleague preach, but instead, it was Paul. Y'all! Rev. Paul Appleby gave me what I had been desiring for years. He gave me context I hadn't considered before. It wasn't the same tired old message. A few years later, I was completely comfortable asking if he would write a guest meditation.
(Let me say this to everyone I have asked to write. I trust you. Like I said last week, I've always been looking at the big picture. I know if I'm looking at the big picture, I have to see Fig Tree like the breadth of it's existence would be seen in it's entirety. If I've asked you to speak for this ministry, I've handed you the power to speak truth to God's love. If you haven't taken advantage of that offer, just know it remains open.)
When Paul wrote for Fig Tree something happened that hadn't happened. The numbers of views spiked. I told him about it, and he said it was Reddit. He'd share his work on the social aggregate. Specifically, he shared to /r/Christianity.
Some truths about Reddit and /r/Christianity
When Paul introduced me to Reddit, I almost immediately saw the pain. The subreddit, /r/Christianity, is where Christians ask questions they don't feel comfortable asking their minister or priest, it's where atheist trolls go to have fun destroying new faith, and it's where the those broken by the church attempt to reconnect.
Reddit honed my ability to communicate online. I read and I responded. While I posted Fig Tree's work once a week, I made it my goal to respond to someone else at least once a day. I made my username RevMelissa. I would have a minister ask why I wear my ministerial title so openly. Here's my answer: If I'm ordained as a minister, I'm a minister at all times. I'm a minister when I'm standing in a church, delivering a sermon and presiding over the elements, and I'm a minister talking to pre-teens on Reddit about God.
Here's the truth about written online communication on communication board formats: When there's an online argument it almost always escalates. This is because, we have this false equivalency that the last words written win. I learned that's not the case at all. In reality, the best words written win. I learned early on, that in writing it's best not to rewrite what has already been written. It's not that the other writer didn't get what you wrote. More than likely he or she did. It's that they want the last words. They want to believe they won the argument because they shut you up. I learned it is better to engage with love, and comment for those who read it, not those who wrote it. Let the person believe they won, but realize winning is knowing someone can read kindness among the hate.
I know I'm doing it right if people see the hate. If I played the escalation game, I'd return hate for hate- which only deepens the hate. It's like painting blue on blue. You can't see the first blue for the second blue that's covering over it. You must paint with complementary colors. Show love for hate. Show patience for frustration. In total transparency, I didn't always win this game. It's really difficult to keep your cool when everyone you try to talk to can't keep theirs. I got better at it with time.
Knowing When to be Apologetic
I will never apologize for openly being a female minister. This became my focus on Reddit. I did not get the sweet karma like my friend Paul did. There were those who needed to bury me. My name was uncomfortable. "RevMelissa? If you really are a minister!"
Now, that's actually a great statement to question when online. Random people online can be anyone they want. Some 19 year old edge lord can say they are a minister when they are really a troll trying to dissuade people from Christianity. That is not why people were making that statement to me. I wore my ordination out in the open. I left links to reference my history in the Church and what I've done in the name of God. They were making the statements to find my weakness. They wanted me to blow up so they could say, "Look! She's not pastoral at all! She's an imposter!" It was like kicking a dog until it bit. I learned to name what they were doing, rather than bite after being kicked over and over again. If you give the aggressor a way out, and bite the problem instead of the person, no one holds it against you.
I will apologize, almost always, for being wrong. When you let others know they hold the higher ground, you are letting them also know when you believe they don't. Openly admitting failure lets everyone see when you don't believe you are failing. It's the separation of righteousness from injustice.
Where the wounded go.
Churches are so insular with their evangelism. They basically set up the equivalent of a pretty welcome mat. They don't want to go you. They want you to come to them.
Very early on, Reddit showed me two groups that were not going to go to the church.
Those broken by the church: When I say broken, I mean crushed. You can break someone's leg, and it can heal. You break someone's soul, and they can't even process what has happened, much less piece it back together. These people were understandably angry at a system that tore them up and ignored them when they talked about being in pieces. Those in the church that knew they existed, willfully pointed their fingers in another direction. "Not I, Lord." Not considering that we are the Body, and if the right hand fails, the whole body has failed. Our ignorance is a continuation of their brokenness. Then there are those who are so insular in their church experience they cannot possibly see anyone outside of it. I have been personally dumbfounded as I've laid out the case for this growing demographic, only to be given the cold shoulder in return. I did not agree with the words of the broken's lament "Burn it all down," but I heard it as pain, and pain that needed to be helped. The truth is in the pain, not the words.
Those who were now unable to attend: The church likes to call these people "shut-in" or "homebound." They also like to pretend they are all retired, and mostly over the age of 70. I learned that's not the case. Church has become like a performance. The entrance fee is dressing up/down enough, being still or swaying and standing for an hour. Those fees could be too high for those living with a life-altering issue. The church also believed ministering to those forced to remain home was nothing more than talking to them for a bit and bringing them communion. It's the insular problem again. Real people are forced out of the building because of unforeseen issues, and the church no longer has a way to include them in the life of the church in a meaningful way.
Fig Tree's focus necessarily moved completely online because of these two groups. How that manifested itself is a story for next week.