It's only early February, and the Rev. Laurie Brock is already into the madness.
She has done her research, she's analyzing the bracket and she has her favorites.
Her dark horse is Macrina the Younger, whom she likes because "she was very big on getting very rich people to renounce their wealthy lifestyles. It would be sort of like going to Nick Saban and John Calipari and saying, 'You need to give up everything and come live in Christian community together. That's the power of what she did."
Clearly, we are not talking about the power to drive through a thicket of defenders to score a winning basket as time expires in an NCAA Tournament game.
The madness consuming Brock, rector of the Episcopal Church of St. Michael the Archangel, goes into March. But it's Lent Madness, a competition between saints of the Episcopal Church that was won last year by a traditional Christian powerhouse: Mary Magdalene.
Brock is in the thick of the competition this year as a celebrity blogger, thanks to the popularity of her blog, Dirty Sexy Ministry, and her book, Where God Hides Holiness: Thoughts on Grief, Joy and the Search for Fabulous Heels ($19, Morehouse Publishing), both co-authored with the Rev. Mary Koppel, priest for mission at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Austin, Texas.
The saintly competition was the brainchild of the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck, rector of the Episcopal Parish of St. John the Evangelist in Hingham, Mass., as a way to change the direction of Lent, a reflective period of 40 days from Wednesday to Easter Sunday on March 31.
"Tim and I were talking about how we're disappointed that the church, the institution of the church, has turned Lent into this morose and sad time where you should feel really badly about yourself as a miserable offender," says Brock, an Alabama native who sports a bold crimson and white houndstooth jacket over her clerical collar. Instead, she suggests people"reflect on our sins, shed what you don't need and learn something about your faith — find a practice or discipline that causes you to live more fully as a beloved child of God."
You could maybe reflect on the saints, which is what Lent Madness tries to get people to do.
Brock and her fellow bloggers have four saints each, who they will be promoting from the round of 32 to the Faithful Four to the Golden Halo, sharing information about the saints and doing a little trash talking.
"They have these fascinating and amazing lives," says Brock, who came to Lexington just over two years ago. "I think most of us grow up in the church thinking the saints were perfect and walked around with halos on their heads and prayed without ceasing. But you find out, no, they were really human. They were not perfect people by any stretch of the imagination. But still, they did amazing things and brought God into this world.
"That's what's great about Lent Madness: We learn about these people and learn that they were very flawed, and God still used those flaws."
Her squad this year includes:
■ John Donne, a 16th-and 17th-century poet and cleric: Brock says, "He was this guy who lived his life in bold letters, a party animal ... but he also really got spirituality. He was the first in modern time to stand up to the church and say, it really isn't about what you say."
■ Thomas Tallis, a 16th-century composer: "He was like the Cosa Nostra of the musical world in Tudor England," Brock says, referring to the notorious Sicilian mafia. "He and one of his composing partners had a patent on all of the musical line paper in England. So if you wanted to compose anything, you had to pay him to do it. I was like, 'That's brilliant. How do you do that?'"
■ Hilda of Whitby, "She was one of the original alpha females. She was in England when they were trying to decide whether to go with a more Celtic Christian tradition or more Roman, and she sort of rapped all the men on the knuckles and said, 'we will do it this way,' and they did."
■ Macrina, that fourth-century longshot, whom Brock says, "was known for picking up young women who were starving, which I take to mean were in prostitution. So were she around in Les Miz, Ann Hathaway would not have been starving. ... She would have ruined Les Miz."
Saints are voted on at the website (Lentmadness.org) and just like the NCAA basketball tournaments, there are powerhouses and surprising underdogs. Last year, Saint Emma of Hawaii, "went very deep, because I think the entire State of Hawaii got behind her," Brock says. "She was the George Mason," she says, citing the Northern Virginia commuter university that made an improbable Final Four run in 2006.
Unlike the NCAA tournament, champions are retired, so Mary cannot become a University of Kentucky basketball of Lent Madness. This year, Brock's money is on Martin Luther King Jr., who's recognized by the Episcopal Church as a saint though he was a Baptist minister, "because he's MLK!" Brock says. "How do you compete with that?"
Though she thinks he'll win, Brock did not choose King because, "I was not going to take anyone I couldn't be snarky about."
Snark is a writing trait she has refined on the Dirty Sexy Ministry blog, which she describes as, "the most disappointing porn site on the Internet."
She and Koppel met as priests in the Diocese of Louisiana and discovered they both liked to write. The blog was christened at a New Year's Eve party in New Orleans' French Quarter.
"Somebody suggested it because the show Dirty Sexy Money was out at the time, and we kind of thought it was great," Brock says. "It was just salacious enough to make people go, 'Hmmmm.'"
While the title is snarky and there is a humorous tone to the writing, Brock says the intention is to get people to pay attention to parts of ministry and faith that are not pretty or glamorous.
"To me, that's where God really resides," Brock says, explaining she wanted to highlight the little things people of faith do every day to minister. "It really resonated with a lot of people."
As for the title, she says, "It makes you read the blog a whole lot more than if we called it, 'Grief and hard work for the church.'"
And it attracted publishers, which is how Brock and Koppel ended up writing Where God Hides Holiness, which is out now in a Kindle edition and comes out March 1 in paperback.
Brock says it is the story of both of their faith journeys, "how the church broke our hearts," and how they overcame their human frailties to become ministers.
Lent Madness: Lentmadness.org
Rev. Laurie Brock's blog: Dirtysexyministry.blogspot.com
The Episcopal Church of St. Michael, the Archangel: www.saint-michaels.org