Author Archives: Laurie Brock

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.

At What Risk?

“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

Both Gospels of Matthew and Luke contain Jesus’ teaching in what we call The Beatitudes. While their core teachings are similar, their approach is different. Matthew spiritualizes the aspects of human conditions of hunger, grief, and hatred. Luke, however, recognizes them as very real aspects of daily existence. We may hunger and thirst for righteousness, as Matthew states, but we also actually hunger and thirst.

And yet, for their differences, both Luke and Matthew are very similar in the blessing of being hated and ostracized because of Jesus. Matthew’s version is as follows:

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Our ancestors who followed the teachings of Jesus did so at a cost. They were not the majority religion in their communities. Their churches were not the worshipping communities of those in power, organizations that were included on resumes to impress others. Going to church was a very real risk.

Early Christian communities were a rag-tag group of mis-matched humans gathered in all their diversity to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. They often had to renounce their positions of power to be baptized. Some early Christians were ostracized from their families and friends. Many lost their sources of income as teachers, soldiers, and government officials in Imperial Rome to gain their Christian faith. Some would claim the faith of Jesus, and this claim would ultimately lead to their martyrdom.

Today many of us attend church at no significant personal cost. We will not be reviled by our communities for belonging to a Christian church. We can wear crosses without fear of being imprisoned. Politicians claim the Christian faith to get votes, not to lose power. Regardless of the narrative that may exist about Christians being reviled, excluded, and defamed, we are actually quite privileged in much of the Western world.

However, we would do well to remember the religious privilege many of us experience in the United States and many European countries is not a reality for all Christians. Many Christians gather to worship and follow the teachings of Christ at great peril. As recently as Palm Sunday, Egyptian Christians were the victims of real violence and death.

On this day, when many of us have no real barrier to join in worship, other sisters and brothers in Christ across the globe took very real risks to get to church. Prayer for them is an act of defiance to the power of fear. Singing hymns to God is a witness of joy in the face of danger. And receiving the Body and Blood of Christ is brave faith in a world that tries to cower the Gospel message of hope and love.

Jesus’ teaching in this particular Beatitude is hope to those who are suffering from the very real persecution that his followers did and continue to experience…and a warning to us who may get too comfortable in our faith, forgetting the real sacrifice following Jesus entails.

Our Good Shepherd was crucified as a traitor and troublemaker. He reminded us that people – all of them – are loved by God and deserve love from us. He met violence and hatred with mercy and welcome. He stared down death and hell and came back to tell us we are loved. That is risky, scandalous, and unpredictable stuff. That is the stuff that makes prejudice, hatred, and violence lash out in anger to scare us and keep us in our place, compliant and docile.

We can be silenced in our fear that we will be ostracized and pay a price for proclaiming Christ’s message. We can become comfortable in our stasis, minimizing the scandal of the Gospel and substituting a sedate Jesus that asks very little of us.

Or we can be courageous in our faith, and bravely stand with saints past, present, and those to come and follow Jesus, realizing this obedience to love will come at an earthly cost.

At what risk will we follow 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.

Rejoice Now!

Rejoice now, heavenly hosts and choirs of angels,
and let your trumpets shout Salvation
for the victory of our mighty King.
Rejoice and sing now, all the round earth,
bright with a glorious splendor,
for darkness has been vanquished by our eternal King.
Rejoice and be glad now, Mother Church,
and let your holy courts, in radiant light,
resound with the praises of your people.

Those words begin the song of Christ’s victory, the Exsultet, announcing the movement from death to resurrection.

I chanted it as a deacon. I remember my intense practice with my voice teacher Miss Dottie. I made notes on the score. I rehearsed. I wanted to sing it as perfectly as I could. After all, it’s a huge moment in the liturgy for a deacon.

It wasn’t perfect. I missed a few notes. I was so focused on each note I didn’t give as much focus to the whole message of the ancient hymn.

I’ve continued to chant it through the years. I don’t serve a congregation with a vocational deacon, so I chant the Exsultet at almost every Easter Vigil. My notes written 15 years ago still adorn the pages I use.

I still miss a few notes, now more so due to the task of chanting the entirety of Holy Week. The words and notes combine for me now in a way they didn’t 15 years ago. Certain phrases catch me, so I pause just a bit when I chant the words, for to redeem a slave, he gave a son. My heart begins to waken to the joy of Easter when we hear on this night, God restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to those who mourn.

I sing it with a confidence now. My voice has matured, yes. But I’ve also chanted the words over and over. They are no longer new. The notes aren’t unexpected. They wed themselves to my bones and heart. They root deeply within my soul. I can chant some parts from memory. This experience, chanting from memory, from repetition, and from my soul make the song come alive for me (and, I hope, for the congregation who is hearing).

Easter gives us an opportunity to practice the song Jesus gives us…again. We know the words. We’ve heard the parables and the teachings through the years. And yet, hearing them, reflecting on them, singing them again gives us a chance to become more familiar with our song of discipleship.

This year, 50 Days of Fabulous will offer reflections on one of the great teachings of Jesus, his Sermon on the Plain in the Gospel of Luke. Each week, one of our writers will offer daily reflections on a section of the sermon. We’ll journey for 50 days through the blessed and the woes. We’ll explore deeply the teachings of Jesus in this well-known but perhaps not as well-understood passage. We hope you will join us, asking your questions, adding your insights.

We hope you will join us as we celebrate 50 Days of Fabulous as we sing with our selves and souls, “Alleluia! Christ is Risen!”

Let Evening Come…

Let Evening Come
by Jane Kenyon

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.

Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.

Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.

To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.

Let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

Sarah had been working, doing, being busy. Calling friends, checking on her brother. Talking to the doctor. Checking on her brother. Cleaning the house that was already spotless. Checking on her brother.

He was dying. Dying after a very long illness. And here she was, back in the family home, filled with more memories than space, and filling her hours and minutes with the things we all fill our hours and minutes with to avoid facing that which we know is coming, but realizing what we know is actually so unknown we will do almost anything to avoid it.

She sat at the family table, long, scratched, worn in places from years of elbows and forks and conversations and meals. The phone rang, and her friend Jane asked on the other end, “How are you doing?”

Sarah answered the way many of us answer when we don’t want to say the truth. And her friend replied, in deep love, “Let evening come.”

Matthew, Peter, James, John…have been working, doing, being busy. They have been teaching, preaching, healing, questioning, following for months and years. They gathered with Jesus of Nazareth on this night that would be different from all other nights.

The remnants of the meal rested on the table before them all, the disciples. Maybe 12, maybe 20, maybe more. Women and men. Some children. Most faces were familiar, but a few new ones, perhaps friends of friends. Jesus never turned away someone who wanted to join in.

They gathered to listen – again – to Jesus. The post-meal hey, are you going to eat that last bit of cheese; did you see the crowd a few days ago and hear them cheering; this Jesus movement is really going somewhere conversation pass over each other. Judas and Peter share an inside joke, and Judas notices the light is beginning to fade.

Let evening come.

We gather. We have been working, doing, being busy. Life is busy. We have things to do, people to see, life to live. But on this night, we sit down at the dinner party with inside jokes and laughter and hellos to hear our friend, our Lord and Savior, fill this space with something profound, something that shifts us from our narrative. And while we know what is coming, what will happen after the moment and the meal. Maybe this time, we wonder, it won’t be so hard, so raw, so hurtful. Maybe this time ‘My God My God why have you forsaken me’ won’t be spoken from him. Maybe this time…

And yet, let evening come.

Like Peter, James, John, Sarah, and all of us when we stand at the edge of what is and where we are and peer into that which is hazy and unknown, we want to stop it all, stay where we are, refuse to go forward, refuse to move.

Jesus, however, being Jesus, does move. He moves from the table. He rises and kneels, washes our feet, a symbol of that love. No one is beneath you, no act of love is menial, he shows us. Do the work that needs to be done. Love those who need to be loved, including yourself. Be willing to seek love out of comfortable spaces and place. Be willing to move beyond. Be willing to trust. Peter makes a fuss. He always does. Judas looks uncomfortable. But then, so do all of us. Slaves touch dirty feet. Not Jesus. Not us.

He moves to take the bread and the wine and shares with us. Nourish yourselves on love, and feed others with the same love. Maybe, even, he sees us looking at the ones around the table we don’t like. That Judas has always been a bit…you know, we say to ourselves, moving away from love.

Jesus gives the wine to Judas, then offers the cup to us. “Drink,” his says, “In love.”

The laugher has died down a bit. Peter is going on and on…again…about how much he loves Jesus. Judas is checking his phone, like he has somewhere to be. Sarah is looking in on her brother again. Did you know he was dying? someone whispers. We are wondering if we sent that email or returned that phone call or finished whatever remains unfinished in our days and lives.

“What did Jesus mean ‘he is only with us a little longer’? Is he going somewhere? Maybe back to Bethlehem?” Thomas asks.

We shrug our shoulders. We all have our thoughts. The temple priests have been agitated lately, not so friendly to Jesus. No one likes to be called a hypocrite – especially when it’s the truth. We’ve heard talk that the Roman authorities don’t care for Jesus, either. Who would have thought that preaching love would make so many people angry.

James and John said they heard talk about an insurrection, and that the church leaders wanted Jesus silenced. Dead, even. After all, John said, all this welcome of the outcast gave people ideas, ideas they have worth and dignity, that their lives matter. Matthew and Philip nod. We nod. If only he were just a bit…nicer, not so…but our comment is interrupted as Sarah returns.

She sits down at the table again.

The disciples sat down at the table again.

We sat down at the table again.

“Is it really that bad? Could he really be killed?” someone asks. No one speaks, and the silence says what we all know is true.

It wasn’t supposed to end this way. He’s too young, too vibrant, too much life ahead of him. What if we don’t remember everything he’s told us. That whole bit about the bread and wine…what are we supposed to remember again?

“Love, he said something about love,” someone remarks.

“Love,” we repeat.

“Love isn’t supposed to feel this scary, is it?” Mary asks.

Jesus gets up and walks to the door. He opens it and walks outside. Evening is coming. We all see it. We all feel it.

Mary follows to the door. She pauses and reaches to touch his shoulder, maybe to hold him back, maybe to give him the faith to move forward.

Let evening come.

“What now?’ Matthew asks, to no one and to everyone.

Jesus looks to us, the shadows of the evening falling around him. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love.”

“Love,” he repeats once more.

Then he turns and walks out the door.

We follow, fearful, loving, lost, faithful in bits, and confused in parts. Our feet washed, our souls filled. We move into the unknown. We follow into what will come next.

Let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid. God does not leave us   
comfortless, so let evening come.