Two Priests Walk into a Blog
I’m taking a break from promoting Blood Vine today to welcome a guest to my blog. One day while I was putting my robes on before church, a colleague of mine mentioned the blog Dirty, Sexy Ministry. I was hooked by the title. A few days later, I met writer and priest Laurie Brock on Twitter, and from her hilarious tweets, found we have similar interests and a similar sense of humor. I asked Laurie to be a guest on my blog.
Laurie, I’m so glad you said yes! Let me buy you a virtual drink and ask you some prying questions. First off, I really appreciate the playfulness and soulful humor with which you approach your work in the church. It makes me feel less ridiculous. What do you think is dirty and sexy about being a priest, or at least the way you do it?
What’s dirty? So much…where to start. We get so focused on what’s tidy and pretty about ourselves. When we’re asked, “So, what’s your weakness?” how many of us spin our weakness into a strength? Like, well, I work too hard on a task, and I’m a perfectionist, instead of saying, “Well, I’ve weaponized my pain from childhood, and if you try to get too close to me, I will quickly point out your flaws and blame you when I get hurt.”
Yet our dirty, earthy selves are the most fertile places in our lives. I am constantly amazed by our souls’ resilience and God’s ability to take the wounds and pain of our lives and create strength in that vulnerability. What’s dirty is that we have to – HAVE TO – admit those wounds are there. To say this is hard work is an understatement. Which is why so many of us give in to the temptation to stay with sexy – the pretty, nice, acceptable, “look how awesome I am” parts of ourselves. The sexy stuff is the resume material.
A sure way to tell that we are not comfortable with the dirty parts of our selves and souls is how we take criticism. The wisest, most secure people I know are perfectly able to hear constructive and destructive criticism without becoming angry or argumentative. They’ve seen their shadow and their shit, so someone else pointing it out isn’t as a, “Hey, your panties are showing,” moment. And by the way, this is life-long work.
That’s really interesting. Of course, as writers we both have to be able to accept criticism. And to build on what you’ve said, I think when we accept the messy parts of ourselves, we start finding messy people sexy instead of perfect people. What do you like most about your work?
I wear fancy clothes. I mean, I get to wear ornate silk and tapestry dresses every Sunday.
What I love about being a priest is the honor of being with people on their journey and allowing them to guide me as I offer presence to them and to the community. Make no mistake, I don’t fix or save anyone. I am called by my vocation to offer holy space for people to be in their joy and grief, in their celebrations and in their weeping. I’ve learned that simply being present is no easy thing; our temptation is to want to fix them (as if we could do that). I hold hands, offer tissues, tell people what they are experiencing sucks, and laugh through the tears with them. And I get to witness resurrection in people’s lives so often. I can’t even begin to use words to write about that experience, just that it is awesome and humbling all at the same time.
I also love that I get to wear fancy clothes.
People have a lot of expectations about what it means to be a Christian clergy person. What would surprise them about you?
It shouldn’t surprise anyone, but I love Jesus and I swear. I swear when I pray, even. And I like really classic, my-wife-left-and-my-dog-died-and-I’m-drunk country music. It’s some of the best spiritual music out there.
And that I’m a real person. Being a priest is part of who I am, not my entire being. I get angry. I wonder and doubt. I don’t always feel completely holy and spiritual when I’m leading worship. I whine. I have clay feet. I am a woman first and being a priest is part of who I am, not all of who I am. To keep that distinction is a challenge. Mary and I both have a saying: Don’t believe the hype. Being a priest means a constant challenge of not believing the hype about how holy you are or should be. We are never as awesome as we think we are, and we are never as wretched as we think we are.
And I love men in jeans and cowboy boots who ride horses. *sigh*
Just one more thing we have in common. I remember when you kindly sent me that Christmas present—a picture of Timothy Olyphant, who we both love, via Twitter. Don’t let anyone fool you, people–this is what Twitter is for! Okay, Laurie, if you were going to do any other kind of work besides being a priest, what would you like to do?
I’d be a writer, which I am, so that works out well (another thing I love about being a priest is that I get to do all sorts of things – write, preach, play games with kids, create art, sing – it’s the vaudeville of jobs). I’d also be pretty happy working in a horse barn. Which I do, as well (I work in the barn – I do not get paid for it, which is fine with me).
I could also be a really good famous person who is famous for no particular reason.
Do you have a favorite book with a clergy person as a character?
Julia Spenser-Fleming’s Clare Fergusson. That she’s a priest is one aspect of her character, not the whole of who she is. She’s funny, flawed, and a damn good detective. She gets herself into trouble because she cares and she can’t quit asking questions. She makes messes and helps when she can. That sums up most of us.
What is your favorite romance novel and why?
I really like Charlaine Harris’s books – all of them. She’s written more than just the Sookie Stackhouse books. Her characters are beautiful messes who keep walking through life and believing in love.
DO NOT hand me a book where the heroine is an innocent (and usually an idiot) and she finds a flawed man and her love saves him. Bleh.
“Beautiful Messes” is a great phrase! It captures the poignancy of what makes a good character, and a good human, being for that matter. I love the title of your book, Where God Hides Holiness. Can you please tell us the answer?
My co-author Mary and I have bracelets that say, “God hides holiness in my beautiful mess.” So, yes, I think that’s where God hides holiness. Not so much that God hides it, as we refuse to look for the beautiful parts of our souls and selves in our messiness and in our brokenness. We want to offer God our most perfect parts, which are rarely our deepest, authentic selves. The major players in our stories of faith – matriarchs, patriarchs, saints – are all very, very human. They disobey, piss off their family, engage in all sorts of scandalous actions, and act so outrageously that our culture kills them (most saints die very unpleasant deaths). And yet, they are the heart and soul of our faith. Read, learn, and inwardly digest.
Laurie and I have in common a love of paranormal books and T.V. Why do you think people like vampires? Do you have a theory about their appeal? Or their spiritual significance? How about Zombies?
I think we are fascinated with the darkness and the shadow because we are so fearful of our own. There’s also something deeply sexy about powerful creatures who are other than human, yet must live a very parasitic life to exist. That almost every culture has myths about creatures of the night – vampires, werewolves, etc. says something about our common desire to meet those parts of ourselves.
Everything in life has spiritual significance. One of the underlying themes of Bram Stoker’s Dracula was a commentary against the power of the Church that sucked the life out of people. Werewolves speak to a wildness that exists in all humans that is so often killed by rules and expectations and can only run wild on very limited occasions. And zombies? Haven’t we all been nothing but a shell of who were were because of the actions of someone else?
I’m really disturbed by our need to make monsters nice and pretty. Vampires don’t sparkle. They suck blood out of living things to survive. Werewolves hunt and kill. Zombies eat the living. When we clean up the myth to make it pretty, we are saying volumes about our own discomfort with the messy, scary, and wild parts of our selves and our culture. I worry about the bigger implications. Yay for The Walking Dead, because it shows the monster zombies and the monster humans. But I’m waiting for the zombie movie where the zombie has a heart of gold and her love saves him.
I think it’s slightly hilarious that both Mary and I use vampires and zombies in our book to elaborate on our spiritual existence for a time.
Okay. Here are some fun questions to let folks know exactly what is underneath your voluminous vestments.
Red wine or white? Red, unless it’s really hot in the summer. But mostly red. I even got a great bottle of zombie-themed red wine for Christmas. Oh, does my congregation know me.
Coffee or tea? Coffee in the morning. Tea in the evening. (Gee, how Episcopalian)
Vampires or werewolves? Werewolves
Sexy angels or sexy demons? Demons. I like the bad boys. They’re so much more honest than the people who pretend to be so good and holy and nice, then show their true mean selves. Oh, wait, this question is about fictional things….
Romance novel or mystery novel? I tend to like mysteries better, and I usually read the end. Yes, yes I do. And I don’t apologize.
Cassock or Alb? My cassock makes me look thinner. It’s custom made,a giftfrom my sponsoring parish (the church that sent me to seminary). I always appreciate a gift that gets used regularly, and I have very fond memories of that parish.
Father, Son or Holy Spirit? Hmm. What about Mother? God, I’d just say God. There’s something overwhelming and amazing about a presence that is so vast and yet to intimate.
Laurie, thank you so much for being on my blog. I truly cannot wait to read your book.