I’ve been enamored with the famous Luteran pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber, ever since a colleague showed me an article about her back in 2014. That was while I was still working at Butler University as the director for the Catholic campus ministry. So, when my friend and colleague, Sarah texted me about Nadia (who I lovingly pretend to be on a first name basis with) coming to Dallas to give a talk about her new book, Shameless, I jumped on board before I even looked at what the book was about or where the talk would take place. Even as a fan and a reader of both previous books, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Nadia would be talking about the impact of the Church on healthy ideas of sexuality and gender. Even more exciting, she would be speaking at the Church I have had a serious crush on for years but never actually attended, the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas—the largest LGBTQ congregation in the United States (and, as the pastor says, possibly the world).
The talk was on a Monday and it was one that was already crammed full for me. First, a chiropractic appointment, then lunch with friends, then time with my best friend at the camera shop he works at in Fort Worth (an hour’s drive from Denton), then the 40ish minute drive from Fort Worth Camera over to the cathedral. So, by the time I got there, I was a little overwhelmed with a day of running around and even more overwhelmed by the crowd assembling to see Nadia. My service dog was not overwhelmed, though, unless it was a positive overwhelm at the amount of green space outside the cathedral. After claiming about half of the space in the name of our doggy family, we joined the throng of people heading towards the front door of the church.
Seeing Nadia from far away, it occurred to me yet again the strangeness of celebrity, even in so small a community as liberal ecclesial Christianity. This woman has no idea who I am, but I know most of her life’s story, at least based on that which she had shared through her books. As I excitedly took in her fantastically styled gray hair and stunning liturgical tattoos (#lifegoals), she calmly scanned the crowd that had gathered to see her, clearly used to this kind of audience. Or maybe it’s just because she’s an experienced minister. I never did get used to speaking in front of hundreds—and maybe that’s one of the many reasons that my ministry was cut short.
Anyways, that is how the once-conservative, now very liberal, good little Catholic girl ended up in a huge protestant church to hear a parishless Lutheran minister talk about sex.
My life, man.
The experience itself—part prayer, part sermon, and part guest lecture—was short compared to the amount of anticipation that Sarah and I had put into the event. It lasted about two hours, about twenty minutes of which Sarah missed because grades at her public high school were due that day. (Oh, the joys of teaching!) It began with the church pastor introducing and welcoming Nadia, then with Nadia giving a brief overview of what was to come. She must have known she had a number of liturgists in the room—people who love knowing what is happening next.
Nadia began talking about her failed marriage (she divorced her husband—“the best guy in the world”—a couple years ago), her current relationship, and what caused her to write the book in the first place. Then, acknowledging that her book, written about her own experiences and those of her former parishioners at the House of Sinners and Saints in Colorado, was limited in the narratives that were given voice through it, she invited her friend, minister and coach Rozella White, to speak. Rozella made some excellent points and then the two sat down in the presiders chairs and had a conversation.
There’s not a lot of point in me writing about the content of the talk—I think it’s best to simply implore you to read Nadia’s book. But as a basic introduction, Nadia wrote about the impact that the Church’s (meaning all of Christianity) teaching on sexuality, largely focusing on abstinence in the case of singleness and procreative sex in the case of marriage, has had on the people of the Church. Just as articles have been discussing and studies have shown for the last decade, Nadia expressed her concern and showed evidence that many young people are finding it impossible to practice intimacy without feeling dirty, even in the confines of marriage. Then, of course, she acknowledged all those whose experiences, identities, and desires that are apart from the Church’s teaching and the ways in which those experiences could still coincide with the life of a follower of Christ. Essentially, she is calling for a reformation of the way that the Church deals with sex, leading to a new ethic. The talk introduced me to the term sexual stewardship and made me think as we discussed the differences between purity (separation from) and holiness (connection to).
One comment that Nadia made that really hit home to me was about the role of childless adult women, whether by choice or not. She said that there is powerful work in the world that can only really be done by childless adult women whose lives are not put on hold raising their own kids for two decades. She called for this role to be made into an honored place rather than a space of shame within the Church. (Of course, the Catholic in me could only think about my nuns and their childless spiritual mothering!)
All in all, it was a spiritual exfoliation (another of her terms) and a beautiful opportunity to reflect on the role of shame in my own life. I plan to read the book soon—I always read Nadia’s books via audiobook because she is such an excellent narrator—and will write a reflection then with more information about the book’s contents. For now, thanks for reading. Comment and share how the Church’s teachings on sexuality and gender have impacted you.