Author Archives: Laurie Brock

Whom Do You Hate?

“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.”

-Luke 6:22-23

Saturday nights are school nights for me. I don’t do much exciting. I catch up on the television shows I’ve missed during the week. I eat dinner. I take my pup Evie for her evening walk. I read through my sermon one more time and almost always make a few more edits.

Then I pray before I go to bed. Yes, that habit many of us formed as small children still resonates with me as part of my bedtime routine. Lights out. Rest in the silence for a bit. Then pray.

O God, the source of eternal light: Shed forth thine unending day upon us who watch for thee, that our lips may praise thee, our lives may bless thee, and our worship on the morrow may give thee glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This is the prayer for Saturday in the Book of Common Prayer for Evening Prayer. While I have great affinity for many prayers in the Prayer Book, certain prayers have such a rhythm to the profundity of their words they become ingrained in my memory. The prayer is part of my routine as I prepare to celebrate the Holy Eucharist on Sunday morning.

Many of us reading this will be preparing for worship on the morrow (isn’t that a great phrase?). We will gather with fellow Christians, hear the Word of God, pray, and receive the Body and Blood. As we prepare to stand or kneel to receive Christ, who will we stand or kneel alongside?

Whom do we hate?

And none of us get to say, “Oh, I don’t hate anyone. I just really dislike a few people. Walk with me to the parking lot and I’ll tell you ALL about them.”

Hating someone (which Jesus clearly knows we do) means regarding them with extreme ill-will, having extreme aversion to, and (a very telling older definition), holding great grief about.

Are there people in our congregations, perhaps in our lives, we hate? Are there those whom we have excluded or whom we’ve talked about in unkind and even unfair ways? Do we go out of our way on Sundays to avoid them? Do we skillfully miss them while exchanging the Peace? Have we moved to another pew or even another church because of our hate?

While this section of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Plain doesn’t directly address our strained and broken relationships with each other through our behaviors, his words do indirectly address that we, as humans, act and say things that are profoundly hurtful to each other because we want to hurt the other.

And yet, so often we justify our hurtful actions.

“Well, she started it.”

“I wouldn’t have been so rude if he hadn’t said those things about me.”

“We used to go to St. Swithin’s Church, but it’s just filled with so many unchristian people we left and never looked back.”

And Jesus says, “Love your enemies.”

Yes, even those enemies.

Sometimes I wonder if Jesus doesn’t think we are all essentially four year olds who missed our naps and are hungry. On a very basic level, the Holy Eucharist renews us and feeds us so we can grow up from our hurtful behavior.

We gather on Sundays and remember our voices can just as easily be used for praise and reconciliation as they can for defamation and division. God reminds us on Sundays that our lives can be witnesses of love and inclusion rather than hate and exclusion.

Where are the relationships in your life that may need mending? With whom might you need to kneel or stand before the altar of God and allow the love of God to replace discord and disunion as you both receive Christ?

On account of the Son of Man, we are all called to reconciliation, to love those who challenge us. We don’t get a pass from that love. Perhaps our prayers on Saturday night may include the names of those whom we hate, so that on Sunday morning, we can see them more clearly as beloved children of God.

 

The Rev. Laurie Brock is this week’s writer. She serves as the rector of St. Michael the Archangel Episcopal Church in Lexington, Kentucky where she can cheer for the Alabama Crimson Tide in football and the Kentucky Wildcats in basketball. She blogs at DirtySexyMinistry.com, tweets at @drtysxyministry, and is the author of an upcoming book on the spirituality of horses from Paraclete Press. She has co-authored and contributed to many books about women and faith. When she’s not doing priest things, she is letting her horse Nina (The Official Lent Madness Horse) teach her about patience and peace.

Listen to the Prophets

“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.”  -Luke 6:22-23

Prophets, by and large, did not have an easy go of it. Their calls to this ministry came with a deep sense of sacrifice. Jeremiah was quite unhappy about God calling him to prophetic ministry. Amos likely didn’t get invited to any of the cool kids’ parties after he called them cows of Bashan, and extra-canonical legend holds Isaiah was sawed in half in response to his prophecies.

We people of God don’t particularly care for prophets. Our ancestors dismissed them. They called them names and ignored them or engaged in character attacks.

“Sure, Hosea brings up some interesting stuff about how we love material wealth and power more than God, but have you heard about his wife?” we’d whisper in the parking lot.

“All that lion and lamb stuff Isaiah is saying sounds really challenging, like we might have to re-evaluate issues of power and authority and how we use the weak for our own needs and build relationships based on fear. Let’s make it into a cute Christmas ornament and no one will notice what he’s really saying,” a church leader might offer, worried Isaiah’s message might cost him his largest donors.

Prophecy didn’t end with the canon of the Bible being put in place. It continues today. We still hear those whose lips and lives are burning with the fire of the Holy Spirit, calling us out on our sins, holding up the standard of God’s love so we can see how far we sometimes fall from that standard, and reminding us following Christ will often call us to make challenging and sacrificial decisions.

The message of the prophets through the centuries hasn’t changed all that much. We still read the prophets for a reason. They speak to us of God who demands mercy and not only sacrifice, of God who wants justice to roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream, and of God who yearns for us to love God with all our heart and mind and soul.

We still need to hear the prophets, ancient and modern. They warn of us of the consequences of our actions, of our self-centeredness, of our discarding the poor and needy for a pair of sandals (or other benefit), and of our faithlessness. They implore us to hear the word of God speaking to us and to turn our hearts from hate and exclusion to God’s lavish love.

We are our ancestors who did not listen to them.

We can also be our ancestors who did heed their words and turned from selfish ways to God’s selflessness.

Can we choose to hear them? Do we allow their words to burn away the chaff of sin from our souls?

The prophets, we hear in the Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain, are in a good place. God has embraced them.

Those to whom they speak, those to whom they prophesy? Well, we might need to listen to their messages, their words imploring us to be dedicated to God in a new way.

We need to listen to the prophets.

The Rev. Laurie Brock is this week’s writer. She serves as the rector of St. Michael the Archangel Episcopal Church in Lexington, Kentucky where she can cheer for the Alabama Crimson Tide in football and the Kentucky Wildcats in basketball. She blogs at DirtySexyMinistry.com, tweets at @drtysxyministry, and is the author of an upcoming book on the spirituality of horses from Paraclete Press. She has co-authored and contributed to many books about women and faith. When she’s not doing priest things, she is letting her horse Nina (The Official Lent Madness Horse) teach her about patience and peace.

Could You?

“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.”     -Luke 6:22-23

Photo: Jackson (Mississippi) Daily News

Could you sit in their places?

Could you maintain the peace and dignity they maintained while those around you taunted you, defamed you, hated you, and poured ketchup, mustard, and salt on your head?

Could you pray for them as they did these things?

Of all the images of the Civil Rights Movement that serve as icons for a Christ-like faith, this is one that never ceases to humble me and challenge me in love. The image is from the Woolworth’s lunch counter in Jackson, Mississippi taken on May 28, 1963. College demonstrators participated in a sit-in to integrate the whites-only lunch counter in Mississippi’s capital city. John Salter, a Tougaloo College professor, sits with Joan Trumpauer and Anne Moody as white high-school students revile and hate them.

Anne Moody and another friend begin praying as they were subjected to actions of hate on account of inclusive love. A white man, hearing Anne praying for those who were persecuting her, slapped her face.

Could you continue to pray?

Jesus reminds us that when we are hated, excluded, reviled, and defamed on his account, we don’t get to stop loving. We don’t get to hand them back the same denigrating behavior they’ve poured on our heads. We don’t get to exclude them from God’s love.

We are to respond in love.

This doesn’t mean we are doormats. If someone is engaging in abusive behavior and if someone is violating our boundaries, we don’t simply endure the abuse. We can speak the truth in love and create distance, if needed, to keep ourselves safe. If we witness another harming someone by abuse, degradation, or exclusion, our Christian faith demands we are not complicit in the abuse by remaining silent.

We are to act in love.

But let’s be honest, that’s a tall order from Jesus. How much easier is it to respond to those who have wounded us by delivering our own punches to their guts? How much easier is it, when we are defamed by another, to spread our own rumors? How much easier is it, when we have been hurt by all that is the complexities of human relationships, to exclude them from our lives instead of seek reconciliation?

How much easier is it to pray for the victims of a crime and keep silent before God with the name of the criminal? How much easier is it, when we see children of God excluded and defamed, to shrug our shoulders and offer our thoughts and prayers rather than subject ourselves to the same treatment?

Jesus knows our base reaction is easier.

And he still calls us to love.

For three hours, these children of God sat at this counter, enduring and praying for righteousness’ sake. They prayed. They sat. They persisted. Woolworth’s finally closed the store.

For three hours, Jesus hung on the cross. He endured and prayed for righteousness’ sake. He died, and they finally closed the tomb.

We know the ends of both stories. Love did and does win. But the struggle for Civil Rights and love still persists. We are still called to endure, to pray, to demand justice and work for righteousness.

When the time comes when we are hated, excluded, reviled, and defamed because we are following the teachings of Christ, and believe me, it will come, remember this particular trinity of courageous love sitting at a lunch counter in Mississippi.

Can we do what they did?

Maybe the most honest answer is, “We don’t know.”

Maybe our responses to the wrongs and offenses that are more minor that something like this give us some insight into how we would respond. Next time we are troubled by someone’s actions or response to us, we can consciously choose to act in love instead of embrace revenge.

And then we pray that when the time comes when we encounter resistance because of the Son of Man, we remember his response, their response, and go and do likewise.

 

The Rev. Laurie Brock is this week’s writer. She serves as the rector of St. Michael the Archangel Episcopal Church in Lexington, Kentucky where she can cheer for the Alabama Crimson Tide in football and the Kentucky Wildcats in basketball. She blogs at DirtySexyMinistry.com, tweets at @drtysxyministry, and is the author of an upcoming book on the spirituality of horses from Paraclete Press. She has co-authored and contributed to many books about women and faith. When she’s not doing priest things, she is letting her horse Nina (The Official Lent Madness Horse) teach her about patience and peace.

Being Popular

“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.”   -Luke 6:22-23

The Beatitudes give us insight to the life goals Jesus thinks are important. Jesus acknowledges some very real carrots or goals our culture puts before us and counters them.

Our culture would have us make all the money we can and strive to be among the wealthy. Even our religious institutions, for all we preach about God favoring the poor, love to give glory, laud, and honor to wealthy parishes. Jesus counters by teaching God favors the poor, those who don’t make wealth of money a life priority because they are deeply aware of their role as treasures of God.

We live in a culture of over-indulgence. Eat all you can eat, regardless of the impact our consumption has on others in the world. Fill yourself with no regard for what you may not leave for others. Jesus offers us a way to recognize satiation of soul is not found by over-indulgence.

Our culture, and sadly even many Christian preachers, teach a message that if we follow Jesus, we will be eternally happy, unicorns will dance daily, and rainbows will brighten our path. Jesus rolls his eyes and shakes his head, well-aware of the damage that ridiculous standard causes so many. We will weep, we will feel disappointed, sad, and despairing in our lives as Christians, not because we aren’t living right, but because we are living faithfully and feeling the range of emotions our encounters with each other will bring.

And then there’s the final blessed: blessed are you when people don’t like you on account of Jesus.

We hear the message over and over and over to aspire to a good reputation. Be likable, be nice, get good reviews. Smile. Like my post. Be my Facebook friend. Affirm me.

Jesus reminds us striving for a good reputation among all is a deceptive goal. Popularity becomes what we love, not integrity. Too often as a priest, I’ve watched clergy privately support a particular issue, whether it be full inclusion of LGBTQ people to welcoming refugees, while publicly trying to be liked by all the various factions. They bend to popularity and leave love and justice orphaned in a corner.

I understand the desire not to disappoint. I understand the pain of having to make hard decisions that will disappoint and even hurt others. But again, Jesus reminds me happy is not the goal of a Christian life. Faithfulness to love and God is.

Jesus’ life and the lives of the saints are filled with examples of their faithfulness to love and to God. They spoke truth to power. They recognized the treasure of the marginalized and outcast and loved them. They dedicated their lives to embracing God and eschewed the pursuit of cultural power, prestige, and popularity.

Their stories are also filled with examples of the struggle this faithfulness caused. Jesus was demeaned and crucified. Saints were excommunicated, flogged, degraded, humiliated, and martyred. People were scandalized by their faithfulness to God. They got gossiped about in the church parking lot.

They, without a doubt, failed the human popularity tests of their day.

Nevertheless, they persisted in love.

Where do we put our time and energy? Are we worried what the neighbors will think if we put a sign in our yard proclaiming our welcome of the refugee? Do we lose sleep over how our parishioners will react if we spend more of the church’s budget on those in need than renewing country club memberships for clergy and staff? Do we weigh the cost to our reputation if we proclaim the challenging parts of the Gospel versus if we proclaim only parts of the Gospel that don’t invite sacrifice and controversy?

Do we love our good reputations more that Jesus?
The Rev. Laurie Brock is this week’s writer. She serves as the rector of St. Michael the Archangel Episcopal Church in Lexington, Kentucky where she can cheer for the Alabama Crimson Tide in football and the Kentucky Wildcats in basketball. She blogs at DirtySexyMinistry.com, tweets at @drtysxyministry, and is the author of an upcoming book on the spirituality of horses from Paraclete Press. She has co-authored and contributed to many books about women and faith. When she’s not doing priest things, she is letting her horse Nina (The Official Lent Madness Horse) teach her about patience and peace.

When You Meet A Jerk

“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.”  -Luke 6:22-23

I’m a huge fan of the writer Elmore Leonard and the tv show based upon his stories, Justified. It wrapped up its run a few years ago, but is available through online streaming services. I think the storylines, moral ambiguity of the characters, and Kentucky setting make it compelling and entertaining television.

The show kept much of Elmore Leonard’s writing style. Astute, witty dialogue we secretly hope we might remember to use in the appropriate real-life situation fills the show. One of my favorite life observations comes when the main character Raylan Givens says the following to another character complaining about how he’s constantly being persecuted (edited for content, because the content is a bit colorful):

Ever heard the saying, “If you run into an (jerk) in the morning, you ran into an (jerk). If you run into (jerks) all day, you’re the (jerk)?”

We don’t actually care to admit we all can be jerks. We can behave in ways causing other people sorrow and pain. We say words that disregard and demean others as individuals and as groups. We hold fast to beliefs that continue oppression and allow suffering. We take up too much power and privilege, reducing other children of God to the leftovers. We don’t like when we run into a jerk, and realize the jerk is us.

If we are living in community with others who speak the truth in love, we will be called out on those behaviors, actions, words, and beliefs. And we may not even be aware our words and actions are causing pain.

So here’s where the Elmore Leonard insight meets the Gospel: when our actions, words, behavior, and beliefs that cause exclusion, pain, and degredation to others are brought to our attention, we do not get to wave this teaching of Jesus around, claiming persecution. We do not get to denounce the person speaking her/his truth as a jerk while wrapping ourselves in the words of Jesus as if they were a permissive shield to be a jerk.

We, in essence, do not get to use Jesus to justify being jerks.

Jesus salves the souls of those who are hated, excluded, reviled, and defamed on account of Jesus, not on account of their own prejudices and issues. Our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry is fond of saying, “If it’s not about love, it’s not about God.” So if our behavior is not about love, is not about opening wide the doors of life and the church and the faith to all, we might be running into jerks all day long and ignoring the fact that we, indeed, have become the jerk.

So when we run into the jerk sides of ourselves, the aspects of ourselves who reduce people to their worst decisions, who exclude people because they haven’t lived up to our expectations, or who disown children of God because their beliefs aren’t exactly like ours, God implores us to look into that space and allow God to refocus our narrow vision with inclusive love. When we face the parts of ourselves and our institutions that resist giving up power and privilege for the benefit of others, we need to avoid calling the other person who is holding up the mirror a jerk or attacking them in other personal ways and see we (and our institutions) are far from perfect and are always in need of growth and transformation.

We all fall short of the glory of God. We all have aspects of our selves and souls God yearns to expose to love and grace, expanding our capacity to love our neighbors and scattering hate.  While owning these aspects of ourselves may be (and is) a painful process, God loves us in this process. God love us, jerks and all.

Rejoice when we realize our actions cause pain and harm to others, for this is an opportunity for God’s love to lead us to awareness, inviting us to turn from hate to the joy of God’s transformative love.

 

The Rev. Laurie Brock is this week’s writer. She serves as the rector of St. Michael the Archangel Episcopal Church in Lexington, Kentucky where she can cheer for the Alabama Crimson Tide in football and the Kentucky Wildcats in basketball. She blogs at DirtySexyMinistry.com, tweets at @drtysxyministry, and is the author of an upcoming book on the spirituality of horses from Paraclete Press. She has co-authored and contributed to many books about women and faith. When she’s not doing priest things, she is letting her horse Nina (The Official Lent Madness Horse) teach her about patience and peace.

You Will Not Be Overcome

“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.”  -Luke 6:22-23

 

Today is the feast day of Julian of Norwich. Julian was an anchoress and mystic who lived in Norwich, England from 1342 to c. 1416. Anchorites were women and men who retired from the world to focus on prayer and worship. They lived alone, often in small cells attached to the church with a window facing the altar and a window on the world outside.

Julian at Norwich Cathedral by Maria (her own work, CC BY-SA 3.0), Wikicommons images.

Julian (and we aren’t even sure that’s her name) provided spiritual counsel and insight to people who visited her. She is known to us through her book The Revelations of Divine Love, recalling a series of visions she received. While living in a world of political unrest, rampant poverty, and the plague, Julian experienced a God of compassion, grace, and love for us and shared this mystical experience in two writings, a short form and a longer form of Revelations (also called Showings of Divine Love).

Her quote, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well,” is likely her most familiar quote, her plea for us to remember God will always end the story with love floats a bit too freely in the mists of feel-good theology without being grounded by the reality of her other writings.

She understood life was unfair and hard. We can imagine people who came to her window to seek her counsel shared stories of fear, illness and death, and suffering. A reading of the totality of her writings leads me to believe she didn’t offer them a feel-good response and send them on their way.

Instead, she reminded them (and us) of what God does say in Holy Scripture and in the lives of saints, that we are not alone in all the changes and chances of our lives. One of my favorite Julian quotes is as follows:

You will not be overcome. God did not say you will not be troubled, you will not be belaboured, you will not be disquieted; But God said, You will not be overcome. 

Julian reminds us suffering and hardships are not punishments from God, nor or they indications we are living an aberration of the Christian life. They are, as Julian recognized, a part of life. Sometimes they come because we make poor life choices or others make poor life choices that impact us. Sometimes suffering enters our lives because life is unpredictable and changeable.

Sometimes suffering and hardship come into our lives because we are following Christ, because we are acting in love for the marginalized and down-trodden, unsettling the comfortable lives of others. Our reward for acting in love is not popularity or prestige. Quite the contrary, loving our neighbors as ourselves will cause conflict in our lives. It has for centuries, even millennia.

Jesus implores us, “Keep loving, in spite of it all.”

Love lavishly and fully and inclusively. Yes, you will be troubled. You feel overwhelmed, and you will be uncomfortable.

But love will not be overcome.

 

The Rev. Laurie Brock is this week’s writer. She serves as the rector of St. Michael the Archangel Episcopal Church in Lexington, Kentucky where she can cheer for the Alabama Crimson Tide in football and the Kentucky Wildcats in basketball. She blogs at DirtySexyMinistry.com, tweets at @drtysxyministry, and is the author of an upcoming book on the spirituality of horses from Paraclete Press. She has co-authored and contributed to many books about women and faith. When she’s not doing priest things, she is letting her horse Nina (The Official Lent Madness Horse) teach her about patience and peace.