#PreApproved Writer of the Week: Laura Brown
#Preapproved Sisterhood Series
Welcome to a new series, hosted here on the blog. Every Tuesday night, one of our preapproved sisters will share her story on letting go of a love idol.
Together, we’re giving up our love idols, and we’re not taking them back.
We are already approved; we have nothing to prove. In Christ, we are #preapproved.
The Day I Saw Jesus
by Laura Brown
On my first official day of work as a religion reporter, I saw Jesus.
He was heading west on Seventh Street in downtown Little Rock, wearing his long brown cloak and sandals, dragging his cross, blessing those who would accept it. He was across the street from the Catholic cathedral. In another block he would pass First Methodist Church and the Cokesbury bookstore.
I had covered religion for a daily paper temporarily for three months, and was on my way to lunch with a friend to celebrate the job becoming permanent. And here was news.
What to do? Go on to lunch? Call the office, alert the media? Pull over and ask Jesus for an interview?
I drove on while speed-dialing my editor, got her voicemail and left a message: “I’m on my way to lunch, but I saw Jesus rolling his cross down Seventh Street. Do you want me to interview him?”
By the time I’d covered the five blocks to Vino’s Pizza, Nancy had called back laughing:
No, no, enjoy your lunch. There will be other opportunities to meet Jesus.
* * *
I’m thinking of that day ten years ago because of Chapter 2 in Love Idol, where newspaper reporter Jennifer surprises herself by asking Al Gore what his favorite Bible verse is, and Chapter 3, where she’s headed to cover the execution of Timothy McVeigh.
It’s a pivotal moment in the book because it was a pivotal morning in her life. She had a decision to make, and I read those pages as if I were watching a suspenseful movie, identifying with the character, understanding why she might go one way, but fervently hoping she’d go the other. (What happened? You’ll have to read pages 42-43 to find out.)
I know how it feels to be a journalist at a crossroads. That crossroads came for me three years into writing about religion full time. Religion is different from other beats. The reporters who cover politics or education or agriculture rarely have sources offering to pray for them at the end of an interview. They’re not likely to be asked where they go to church or whether they’re saved. They will not hear, “Thank you for your ministry.”
While their opinions on a given topic may be informed and shaped by their reporting, they’re not likely to have their beliefs rattled and tested by what they cover. But this is an occupational hazard for a religion writer.
There were several pivotal points for me, signs that it was time to leave that work. One came in a story on whether the prophetic gifts are still manifested today, and I was unsettled by having done something that’s perfectly common in reporting. I was looking for voices from two denominations prominent in Arkansas, and my usual sources were unavailable. So I picked some churches at random and started calling. It was a Friday afternoon, a nearly impossible time to find church employees at the office. But I found one of each who, bless their hearts, were willing to talk to a stranger on the phone, on the record. And they would be in the paper, speaking on a controversial subject, simply because they happened to be at their desks on a Friday afternoon.
I had spent three years being amazed by what strangers were willing to tell me — someone armed with a notebook and tape recorder, someone who would take their words and present them publicly. I don’t mean the ones who are used to talking to the media, or had something to sell or prove, or who tend to overshare. It was the private folks who amazed me. The mothers saying goodbye to sons who were leaving for a ten-year missionary venture. The man who played Jesus in a Halloween haunted house. The Nigerian priest who’d been paralyzed in a car accident. The Pentecostal preacher who said is was his work as an EMT that taught him compassion. The man who was baptized along with one of his children in a wave pool at a water park. It was holy ground to be entrusted with those people’s words.
There were other reasons I ultimately left that work, and if you and I had the opportunity to sit down together, I might eventually tell you, and ask to hear some of your stories.
And I’ve spent more words than editor-Jennifer has allotted me, and I haven’t even gotten to the I word: idol.
I do have love idols. I know what some of them are. I hate that I keep returning to some of them, knowing they are hollow tin. I think some of our idols are identities, and I have made progress in giving up some of them, and I’m still working on others. That work is mostly private, between me and God, and good friends who have become part of the body of Christ to me, some of them at the congregation where I worship now — a building the downtown Jesus would have come to if he’d kept heading west on Seventh.
And I know now what choice I hope I’d make if I saw him again, that man who risks ridicule to dress like our Sunday school notion of Jesus. I’d stop, and ask him if he’d like to go to lunch. No notebook. No recorder. Just two strangers listening to each other, offering our stories.
THE LOVE IDOL MOVEMENT
Click here to find out more about the Love Idol movement.
Click here to purchase the book that inspired the movement.
Click here to join us on Facebook as we lay down our Love Idols and declare our #preapproved status in Christ.
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- The day I saw Jesus - […] honored, as always, to be a guest this week at Jennifer Dukes Lee‘s blog. To continue, please hop over…
Oh, man, I wish you had stopped to talk to that Jesus! But of course, you did, you do, you will. Not the one on the sidewalk, but the real deal. He’s chosen you and here you are sharing him with us. Love hearing your stories.
Love your reflecting my stories back to me.
Being an Arkansas girl, I am surprised that Jesus didn’t show up at Vino’s for lunch too. Love their calzone. I like the idea of “offering” our stories. I love how you found people so willing to offer them up. Thank you for offering your own. (I jumped over and looked at your book on Amazon. Wonder if I would be able to finish it for my Mom by Mother’s Day?)
Calzone is the very first thing I ate at Vino’s!
I bet you can, Deanne, especially if you have a sibling you could invite to help. Or you can finish what you can, give it to her and then take it back and finish the rest. Are you in LR?
I have a twin sister. I ordered it and we’ll see if we can do it justice by Mother’s Day. She remembers everything!! (I am up in Searcy.)
Yay for sisters with absorbent memories! Know what? I’m going to be in Searcy tomorrow. Can I hand-deliver a copy?
I want to hear more of this conversation, Laura – your stories of life as a religion reporter, the reasons you left that particular line of work. Someday, I hope – maybe over a cup of tea in the Laity Lodge dining room.
There is a lot more to that overarching story, Michelle, and I’d love to talk with you about that. Maybe the Lodge dining room, or the rocking chairs overlooking the river, or the canyon where you give geological tours, or, if it comes to this, next year in your backyard at the Carol What’s-Her-Name Retreat Center.
Love your stories Laura, you tell each one with just enough words to pique our curiosity for more. Jesus seems to travel quite often in the Midwest pulling that cross behind him, at least that is what I remember from my childhood. *wink*
Thank you, Shelly. He’s quite a peripatetic guy, isn’t he? I saw him once on an access road paralleling the freeway. That time, his cross had a small wheel attached at the bottom, for ease of rolling.
I’m glad you mentioned piqued curiosity, because writing this (and trying to stay within the suggested word count) has piqued my own curiosity for more! There IS more to this story, and I WILL be writing it.