Shame is, for so many of us, not so much an emotion as an operating system. Built on top of Fear.0, it’s the program that runs all the other ones. Shame, and/or desperately trying to avoid it, drives so many other choices. Responding to my own shame, and trying to live outside and beside it (because I’m not sure you can ever get rid of it), is a real ongoing project of mine, and I am so glad that the brilliant, compassionate Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber takes it on, in the context of sexual ethics, in her new book Shameless: A Sexual Reformation.
I first became acquainted with Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber through an episode of On Being; shortly thereafter, I read her book Pastrix. Although I spent much of my growing-up time in an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) congregation that had a woman co-pastor, I still related to her wrestling with sexism in ministry and her sense of being an outsider on multiple levels. So when I heard about Shameless, I was so excited to read that I pre-ordered it and also reserved tickets for her talk at St. George’s Church, which I was lucky enough to attend last night.
You can read plenty of reviews of Shameless anywhere you like (I like this piece in the New Yorker), critical as well as positive. I don’t want to write a review of the book as much as collect some of what I noticed and wondered during the talk.
One thing that really delighted me were how many questions came from young women preparing for ministry themselves. Nadia remarked on this as well, in response to a question from the crowd, noting that there might be a connection between patriarchal hierarchy and sexual abuse in religious institutions. It’s meant a lot to me personally to see women in religious leadership, and I do hope that as more women take on formal ordained leadership roles, there will be more space for people to bring their whole selves into religious spaces and have those selves respected and cared for.
She also gave a shout-out to Our Whole Lives, a sexuality education program co-developed by the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ (the latter of which is one of Judson’s denominational affiliations). I was familiar with Our Whole Lives from the preteen program at Judson, but didn’t realize that it has an adult component, which I’m interested in continuing to explore.
But I appreciated most of all her invitation for folks to fill out cards asking them what they wanted to be “shameless” about. Contrary to what’s implied by some of the critical reviews I read, no one expressed a desire to be shameless about sexual sin. Rather, folks hoped to be shameless about their bodies, their identities, and their histories of abuse. People of faith who want to be embrace a more wholehearted sexual ethic are not embracing a laissez-faire attitude when it comes to sex; they want to find their way to a sexual ethic that honors their God-given bodies and all the identities they carry.
P.S. Nadia and I have some spiritually-informed tattoos in common. Mine, pictured here, alludes to the Sermon on the Mount with its sparrow and lily (see Matthew 6:26-29).