Monday, November 13, 2017

Times Have Changed...

Sexual misconduct and abuse is not an occasional event that happens randomly and to people who "deserve" it. This traumatic and sinful act occurs daily, hourly even. Since my first book, I have received emails and letters, mainly from women, who shared their stories of sexual abuse and misconduct within the community of the church. Almost all of them noted that their abusers continue to be active in the church as an ordained or lay leader.

Now - finally and hopefully - we are reaching a time in our culture where these experiences are not excused as boys being boys or misunderstandings between two people. I have hope, and I also realize old patterns are hard to break.

But old patterns can be changed.

I do have hope that more and more women and men and people will share their stories. I hope that more people, especially men, will call out abusive behaviors in others and recognize these behaviors in themselves. I hope those in power, especially those in power of the church, will look deeply at their complicity in a system of gender bias that leads to abuse.

I also realize that in the midst of this change, I will retire the name Dirty Sexy Ministry. When I started Dirty Sexy Ministry almost a decade ago, the name of the blog was a bit shocking and edgy. The name got attention. People engaged, read, and shared posts. We were able to use this forum to speak some truths of a life of faith with humor, authenticity, and vulnerability.

But times have changed, and what was at one time edgy diminishes the very real issue of sexual abuse and harassment that pervades our society and our church.

The name changes, but the blog remains. It will be under my name, LaurieMBrock. This change will take place in the next couple of weeks.

Thank you to all who have been a part of this journey. More is most certainly on the way. I look forward to the release of my new book Horses Speak of God in the spring and details about release events and speaking engagements will be on this blog.

Meanwhile, I'll continue to tell the true stories, particularly those stories of people who are mistreated and abused in ways that diminishes their sexuality.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

It's Hard Being Wedded to the Dead

I stood in our Memory Garden at Church last week, surveying the space. We clear the renegade spouts that have taken root through the summer and trim the bushes as we ready the Garden for fall and winter. I pinched a few dead flowers from their stems.

Thursday is All Souls’ Day, and our Requiem Eucharist ends with prayers in the Memory Garden. We name aloud those who have died and are buried here as we light candles, a visual reminder that the darkness of death and sorrow shall not overcome the light of Resurrection. We do this in the midst of our sorrow, at times. 

Even at the grave we make our song, "Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia."
A neighborhood cat who enjoys our church grounds joined me in the Garden, rolling joyfully in the newly-spread mulch. On the very edge of the memorial marker, I saw a chipmunk peep over the granite edge, deciding which creature, the human or the cat, would be the bigger threat to its survival.

It apparently decided neither of us looked particularly threatening, so it busily buried an acorn. I presume for a later meal.

Even in the midst of death, life exists.

One of the names we will read at the end of the service would have enjoyed this moment. She loved nature, all its wildness and movement. I still miss her.

I miss many of the names listed on this marker. I’ve buried all of them, and each year, we add one or two or four or several more names. The numbers don't increase the grief as much as give it a different weight in my soul.

All these names will be spoken aloud on Thursday evening, as we light candles for each of them in the dark Kentucky night.

All Souls’ Day is one of those holy days of the church that gets slightly ignored. It is the third and final day of the Fall Triduum, the three holy days of All Hallows’ Eve, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day, three days that remind us of the waning light of our human life and that the apostrophe lessons in grammar classes really do matter.

Its official name in the Episcopal Church is the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed. I like All Souls’ Day and will remain unpersuaded that a longer, more complicated title for the day is useful. The roots of the day are found in the practice of having Masses for the souls of the dead on the anniversary of their death. Over centuries this became conflated with the practice of praying souls out of purgatory and other abuses associated with Masses for the dead.

The abuses are mostly gone. Yet the day remains.

On a very basic level, I think it’s an important day to commemorate because grief needs a place to be welcome. We don’t suddenly stop grieving because our loved ones have been dead a year or a decade or whatever random time stamp we humans desperately develop to control the wildness and unpredictability of grief. Our ancestors who had a church service on the anniversary of the death of a loved one were making space for grief, welcoming her again to the table, and reminding themselves that it’s okay still to miss them.

That we remember still loving and missing our family and friends who have died is welcome in the emotions of God. Our culture treats grief as an emotion slightly ignored and almost irrelevant after a certain amount of time.

Yet it isn’t.

Grief becomes part of our bones. A certain smell can bring us back to childhood days in our grandmother’s kitchen when we gathered for Sunday dinners of fried chicken and mashed potatoes, and we remember the people no longer alive. Seeing the reds and oranges of autumn leaves as we drive through a mountain pass on our way to another church meeting brings forth in us the words, “You know, he always loved the mountains in fall as we remember a dead colleague.” A courageous chipmunk and lazy cat stir the image of a woman who would love them both. I can almost…almost... hear her laugh on this unusually warm autumn day.  

Grief becomes part of us when someone we love dies. We are wedded to it, mostly unwillingly, like a bride forced to marry a man she’s never met and does not love. But the transaction has happened, and here we stand, remembering those whom we love but see no longer. And on this day, we have the holy space and time to grieve.

I hope you find a place to remember them today, to say their names aloud – those you love still who have died whose voice you miss or whose laugh seems to fade over the years. Maybe a church service. Maybe a visit to a place they loved. Maybe their grave.

Take today and visit with grief and God. Maybe you will cry. Maybe you will laugh. Maybe you will do both.

I hope the day shakes loose some grief and in that moment, you feel the connection of love across the ages that joins the living to the dead in Eternal Life. Maybe you feel anger and hate, too. Grief is complicated in its expression because humans are complicated.

I hope this day reminds us grief, while often unwelcomed, is part of the intricate experience of being human. We, whether we like it or not, are wedded to the living and the dead in our love, anger, joy, and sorrow.

This is part of the communion of saints. And on this one, lovely, challenging holy day, we come before God, standing with our grief, and She blesses us in our marriage to the deep intricacies of our human experience.

It Is Hard Being Wedded to the Dead
– Jan Richardson

It is hard
being wedded
to the dead;
they make different claims,
offer comforts
that do not feel comfortable
at the first.

They do not let you
remain numb.
Neither do they allow you
to languish forever
in your grief.

They will safeguard
your sorrow
but will not permit
that it should become
your new country,
your home.

They knew you first
in joy,
in delight,
and though they will be patient
when you travel
by other roads,
it is here
that they will wait
for you,
here they can best
be found

where the river runs deep
with gladness,
the water over each stone
singing your
unforgotten name.

Monday, September 25, 2017

The Challenge before Us

We humans are spectacularly adept at switching a problem that confronts us with our own significant shortcomings in love and grace for one that allows us to feel superior and in control. Doing so, I suspect, allows us to continue in habits and patterns that keep us comfortable, but that often fall far short of the love Jesus implores us to show for our neighbors and our enemies.

In the language of people who work with communities and families confronting issues, we call this focusing on technical fixes instead of facing adaptive challenges.

In my observation, it's the moment we realize Uncle John is an alcoholic at Thanksgiving after he drinks far too much - again - and ruins Thanksgiving - again - but instead of facing the issues of addiction, the way a family behaves around alcoholism, and working to heal those wounds, we redo the dining room because new furniture and a paint color will fix everything.

Churches love technical fixes. We grasp for new and exciting programs that will help us grow in numbers, increase our financial stewardship, or build whatever programs we think will return us to the halcyon days of glory instead of asking the hard questions of why our numbers have decreased or other deeply probing questions.

When I work with churches on these issues, I remind them adaptive challenges, the big questions, are almost never ones we can verbalize immediately. We have to be led into them by the Holy Spirit because asking them and discovering the truths about ourselves they hold is almost always scary and painful because we will have to change.

We discover, perhaps, we aren't growing as a church because the demographics around our church have changed, and to welcome our new neighbors means we must confront our own prejudices about "those" people and how they worship. We discover being in a family system of addiction means everyone has played a role in enabling.

These discoveries are never easy, and healing them is never pain-free. They are the truth Jesus speaks about when he invites us to know ourselves.

Watching the uproar over the current President and the NFL has again reminded me how easy we slip into technical fixes instead of confronting huge issues that are challenging.

Some information first. Colin Kaepernick began kneeling at the playing of the National Anthem to call awareness to the issue of police violence against people of color. He did so during President Obama's tenure. He has and continues to work at the community level to help issues of police and community relations, doing so with his own money. And he is currently unemployed, likely because of his protest.

When people, almost exclusively white, began criticizing Kaepernick for his actions, we (since I'm white) ignored the essence of his protest - that throughout history, disproportionately larger numbers of men of color have encounters with the police, despite federal crime statistics that do not support the false belief that people of color commit more crimes. Police departments themselves are responding to this issue, working on inherent bias training with officers, among other things.

Kaepernick was called a son of a bitch for exercising his Constitutional right to kneel, and players and owners in the NFL responded. Again, the responses on Sunday almost overshadowed the original issue of protest. Kaepernick himself never knelt in protest to the current administration.

The technical responses (and any pertinent factual information often ignored to justify technical responses) to this action have included, but are certainly not limited to, the following:
  1. The owners have a right to fire NFL players for not doing their jobs. (Yes, but NFL players are not required to stand for the National Anthem, for which teams were not on the field for until the mid-21st century. Nor is presence for pre-game activities part of "doing their jobs." A cursory reading of the players' agreements from their union will clarify this.)
  2. Kneeling is disrespectful to soliders, even though many soldiers have noted otherwise AND the National Anthem is not solely for the military. It is our National Anthem, for every citizen of this country. Respect for soldiers is a serious issue - with thousands living with severe medical issues without the resources they need for health and healing, many enlisted living at or close to poverty level, and soldiers involved in endless foreign conflicts. That we often glorify their role without supporting them as humans is another deep issue we Americans need to face, but that's another post.
  3. "Millionaire players" should be grateful for a job. (This is the 21st century version of "don't be an uppity Black man" in my opinion, and in many others. This article is very much worth a read for more on this.)
  4. People should protest on their own time and choose a less-offensive/less-violent/less-troubling way. Again, we humans are almost never comfortable with any sort of protest because we are being faced with truths we'd rather ignore. 
  5. Athletes should play the game and stay out of politics. 
And I'm sure you've read others as you've scanned social media.

But notice what's missing - any response to the original reason Kaepernick took a knee - that we have a significant problem with racism and racial oppression in this country. Kaepernick focused this systemic issue of racism on police brutality, but he is speaking to an ever-present challenge in our country.

Racism and its first cousin, economic oppression and its evil fruits that we are still ingesting.

That my friends, is the sinister presence of a technical fix in action. They sound semi-reasonable and are lively places of discussion, but this focus will neither help us move forward or even respond to the original wound. Even if any of the reasons for criticism were valid (which most of them aren't), responding to them and fixing them would still leave us with the deeply infected wound in the body of this country - that we have lived, for hundreds of years, with the random construct of race as THE dividing factor. 

Racism impacts our economic policies. It pervades our schools, neighborhoods, prisons, and churches. Our political structure supports racism (and other prejudices) because it was formed in a time where only white male property holders made the decisions. We, like the children and grand-children of alcoholics, carry the wounds of their behaviors and choices of racism in our very bones.

But we also are capable of healing from this wound. We have found our way forward with voting rights and awarenesses that were inconceivable 50 years ago. Our military, once deeply segregated, has changed. Marriage is no longer legally defined through race. We as a country are capable of facing the challenge of equality and justice we ourselves have put into the words of our sacred documents.

And more importantly, WE AS CHRISTIANS are called to this very work. We promise to God to love equally. Even if our country demanded prejudice as a public policy, Christians are called first to God, and God demands love, mercy, and justice. Period. So if you are kneeling to Almighty God, God reminds you of your allegiance to love for all, of God's expectation you will serve all and work for justice to roll down like waters, and expects nothing less of us.

While the National Anthem does indeed represent those who have served in our military, it also represents all the citizens of this country. It sings of freedom to those who marched in Selma. It remembers the sacrifice of four little girls in Birmingham. Its music is not reserved for those who marched to war overseas to fight for freedom; it also plays for those who march for justice and equality on this soil, who did so without guns but with conviction that we can be the America we hope to be, a shining city on a hill.

The challenge before us, especially as people of faith, is not to allow the easy arguments to become the focus, but continually to direct our attention and energy to finding reconciliation in the sins of racism. When we are deeply troubled by an action, instead of grabbing for the fruit of the tree of excuses and blame that the deceiver holds before us, what if we instead explored our responses in the presence of God? 

Do our responses dodge responsibility of love, or do they challenge us to love more? Are we speaking of those we label as enemy in the way we would want to be treated if we held a position that came from deep within us (that whole love our neighbors and our enemies as ourselves does not have an exception clause). What if we were willing to explore the deep source of our own discomfort when prejudice and hate are brought to our attention?

What if we knelt before God in humility as we allow God to show us how we have fallen short in love and grace in our relationships with people of color in this country and courageously worked to create a kingdom of heaven of equality here and now? 

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Telling the True Stories

The Bible tells stories.

Inspiring, authentic, and uplifting stories.

Unexpected, surprising, and startling stories.

Messy, ugly, and tragic stories.

Holy Scriptures are accounts and memories of our ancestors of faith. They are narratives, history, songs, prophecy, letters, and gospels, telling the rich, varied, and messy stories of humanity’s relationship with God.

A cursory read through the accounts of the patriarchs reveals men who made courageous choices…and profoundly stupid, even malevolent ones. David essentially rapes Bathsheba, who we never hear consent to sex with a king before he eventually kills her husband to save his own royal skin. Jacob is an entire warning of poor life choices and misdeeds. Jesus’ disciples don’t fair much better. They are often pictured as bumbling and clueless, as well as faithful and devoted.

The unvarnished truth of courage and cowardice, love and hate, faith and doubt, and good and evil embodied in the ancestors of our faith, are honest and authentic. This authenticity reminds us we are far from perfect, capable of great evil, and still loved by God in this dichotomy of extremes. We are the same ones who are part of God’s good creation and the ones who turn away from this holy goodness as stiff-necked people.

In the last few months and years, my city has been in the midst of a growing national conversation about monuments in civic squares memorializing Confederate soldiers. A common refrain I’ve heard from citizens opposed to their relocation or removal is one of rewriting history.

I love the history of my native South. I love its folklore and music. I love the fried food and the rituals of summers on the porch and winters where 45 degrees is way too cold. I love its almost irrational love of college football and the way people who've never met strike up full conversations at the post office. I love the lazy, sing-song accents. I love its story.

But I don’t love our attempts to nuance our story, rewrite it, or completely ignore huge narratives because they don’t show us in our best light. If I don’t love the fallen parts of the South, I don’t really love it. Love is not only about the shiny, pretty parts. Love is also about recognizing the tragic, even immoral aspects and being present to those stories. Love demands I know the full story, not just the parts that make me feel comfortable and proud.

I don’t love the desire to make us as white southerners seem better than we were and that our past of profiting from slavery doesn’t have a direct profit in white privilege today. Faith doesn't ignore the messy, tragic, and evil parts of our story with God. Faith demands we don't ignore the messy, tragic, and evil parts of our story as a people, region, and country, either. 

Civil War statues in military parks and cemeteries tell a story of the deep cost of war in human lives. The fable of the romantic nobility of the Civil War is quickly erased as tens of thousands of candles, each representing a human casualty at Antietam, flicker at night. War is a narrative of tragedy and loss, but it, too is a story we must tell.

We can’t truly argue relocating or removing these statues from pubic grounds is rewriting history if, in the over 150 years since the Civil War, we have made little attempt to tell and to listen to the whole story of our country, including the story of slavery. Can we imagine the story our souls would hear if we lit a candle on the hallowed grounds of slave markets and cotton fields where millions worked and died and by roadside trees where people of of color were lynched? 

I wonder if what we’re really saying when we worry about rewriting history has more to do with finally hearing the fullness of our story. Perhaps removing these statues invites us, even forces us, to read the pages of our history we hoped to forget. These are the pages we’d ripped from the book and hidden under a rug because people don’t like to recognize the evil we have done and the evil done on our behalf, that is still being done. If we read these pages, will we see ourselves in the fullness of who we are and be devastated at the evil we have wrought through our history of racism, white supremacy, prejudice, and hate?

I hope we will. I hope we who are the children of power and privilege follow God into the jarring, painful process as we read and listen to the story of the agonizing, painful words of racism. 

Even in theses words, the love of God is still written. 

Godly love demands I know the full story, as much as I can. And right now, we need to recognize more of our story and listen to even more of it. The narrative of American exceptionalism tempts us to edit out the parts of our history that are painful, messy, and repugnant. Rewriting history rarely removes narratives. Instead, it adds to our human story, often re-discovering parts we would rather not read.

We need the narrative of this country’s full story of slavery instead of relegating it to one room of a plantation tour. The whole tour should talk about slavery, because the plantation would not have existed without it. Slavery and white supremacy should be included in every chapter of school books on American history instead of a few scattered footnotes. We need to read, learn, and inwardly digest this narrative right into present day and its continuing impact on our country. 

We need to write the story of how the church has long been complicit in white supremacy.  I’ve visited hundreds of churches across this nation, and those with historic markers of politicians, veterans, and other notable church members are numerous. I could count on one hand those churches that recognize how slavery and money from slavery built houses of worship or funded their still-existing endowments. The number is increasing, and thanks be to God for church leaders who are writing this history to remember words we have tried repeatedly to erase.

We need to write our story to heal. We cannot heal from the wounds we do not acknowledge. The history we’ve told ourselves for far too long minimizing slavery has allowed the deep wound of racism to fester. Acknowledging this is painful and exacting, and yet, ignoring it has proved neither healing or helpful. 

Relocating or removing statues honoring men who fought to keep people of color enslaved is not erasing their legacy. If only we could, indeed, do that so easily. Instead, these actions recognize something the ancestors of our faith knew deeply - telling the full story, the noble and the horrible aspects, reminds us who we were and who we are. We celebrate the inspiring chapters, and we examine, learn, and begin healing from the ones we’d rather omit as we carefully listen to these stories.

May we have the courage to tell and listen to stories.

Inspiring, authentic, and uplifting stories.

Unexpected, surprising, and startling stories.

Messy, ugly, and tragic stories.

May we have the courage to let these stories challenge us, change us, and heal us.