‘Pastrix’ | Nadia Bolz-Weber [book review]

Pastrix coverNadia Bolz-Weber recently finished up the book tour for her best-selling spiritual memoir, Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint. I had the pleasure of traveling to the Austin tour stop for Nadia with special guest Sara Miles, both of whom presented their new books and spoke about the passion they share in caring for people.

“At some point, God broke in to her life again. What she deems as a “rude interruption” to her trying to obtain a rock-n-roll early death eventually led her on a path that now has her wearing a clerical collar, falling deeply in love with the work of Martin Luther, and celebrating the Eucharist every Sunday…”

Read the rest of my review of Nadia Bolz-Weber’s Pastrix at FaithVillage.

Why I don’t want my daughter to be modest

I have a daughter, who at the mere age of 4 years old, has already endured barrages of Disney Princess culture, Barbie fashion, and the latest trend of “sexy” makeovers of 80s toys like My Little Pony and Care Bears. Trying to keep these forces at bay are her two parents who are on the progressive ideological spectrum surrounded by the odd suburban subculture of the United State’s fourth largest city. Given our context, we often feel like the little Dutch boy plugging holes of the dike to keep the surmounting flood waters from wreaking devastation.

Since she became aware enough to understand, we encouraged our daughter to take care of her body and know all her body parts with their correct names. Oh the fun you endure as a parent when your 3 year old announces in the grocery store check out line, “I have a wedgie and it made my vagina hurt.” And against the never-ebbing tide of commoditized body image, we started talking to our daughter about modesty.

Though I could not pinpoint it at the time, something felt amiss about encouraging her to be modest. Should I hope she treat herself with modesty? Eventually, I answered with a short, “no.”

Rather, I hope for dignity in her essence and her being. I hope her to experience joy of herself and her body as it belongs to her.

Modesty calls down a subjugation from external forces, the machinations of power and puritanical repression. Dignity is something birthed from within our very being and nature – an internal power that includes a healthy body image, but even more deeply also embraces a body-positive stance, a healthy enjoyment of what any body looks like and a transcendence of how one’s own is perceived by others.

In the Eve & Adam creation myth, shame was the reason for their modesty. They removed their natural complete and whole selves, bodies and all, and hid, replacing their wholeness with a disembodied shame. Literally, they were no longer comfortable living in their own skin. They rejected the naked dignity of their own image of God in exchange for fig leaves and bitterness and enmity toward their natural selves which were no longer at one with the world and God.

This culture of body shame continued in the form of modesty codes and social norms. This 1868 Harper’s Bazaar drawing demonstrates the proper skirt length for girls’ at various ages. Break the code, and you are an 1868 Skirt Lengthimproprietous pariah. Only since the cultural revolutions of the 1960s have people in the west felt free enough to push the envelope of this patriarchy or attempt to topple it all together.

Because of patriarchal systems throughout nearly every culture, these notions to cover up shameful bodies have been drastically relaxed, if not abandoned, for men, but they have only been reinforced for women and girls in many circles. A man may be as sexual as he pleases and he is only being “macho,” whereas a woman who embraces her body and her sexuality gets called a slut.

We’ve taken a cue from these puritanical notions of modesty for women and cultured them as a society.

As Chimamamda Ngozi Adiche said in her TEDxEuston talk entitiled “We Should all be Feminists“:

 “We teach girls shame; close your legs, cover yourself, we make them feel as though by being born female they’re already guilty of something. And so girls grow up to be women who cannot say they have desire. They grow up to be women who silence themselves. They grow up to be women who cannot say what they truly think. And they grow up, and this is the worst thing we do to girls, they grow up to be women who have turned pretense into an art form.”

-Chimamamda Ngozi Adiche at TEDxEuston

My daughter may have been born into this culture of shame and pretense, but I refuse to allow the amount of clothes a person chooses to wear or not wear have any bearing on the amount of respect and honor I show toward her or him. As one recent commenter on Samantha Field’s blog Defeating the Dragons said, “Another inch of fabric does not make a difference if a man cannot see a woman as a human being.”

This is step one in dismantling the disembodiment culture, the rape culture, the culture which says women are not good enough, the culture that enforces stereotypical gender role expectations.

There is a lot more we can do to re-embody ourselves, but we still have a far distance to travel. For instance, instead of shaming girls for their actions on social media (a la Kimberly Hall’s viral blog post “FYI (if you’re a teenage girl)” in which she has now redacted the awkward hypocritical beach photos of her sons), we must teach our boys to think with more than just their hormones, and that consent is always a necessary thing with anyone. Shaming another person’s body should never be an option. As a man and father, I must model an embodied self, being comfortable in my own skin around others (admittedly, society makes this is a vastly easier task for a man, but I still do not always feel comfortable with myself). I have friends in the Pacific NW who participate in the SlutWalk Seattle, rallying against male privilege and assault towards women and in the process reclaim the word so many use to shame women. Those of us identifying as Christians should read writers thinking about embodiment and justice issues like Julie Clawson at onehandclapping (who also shares my possibly unhealthy addiction to Doctor Who).

If my daughter eventually chooses to wear revealing clothing, I have no reason to love her less nor to judge her. If she does it for herself out of her own dignity, I will honor her being herself and exploring her notions of personal style and self-expression. As long as she is not harming herself nor any one else, I hope to be an understanding and supportive father in all that she is and all that she does. In the end, if we can find ourselves in a new and loving embodiment of the self, we just might be taking a step forward.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?!

CC • p.w. belk

CC • p.w. belk

The title of this blog, “Slowly becoming,” lately should be called “Slowly blogging.” Regretfully, I’ve not written here since April 11th. And so much has happened since that time. Within a span of four months, I’ve completed 24 credits toward my second master’s degree, begun a new job at a local parish, joined the Episcopal Church, and remembered what exhaustion feels like as I continue to parent a nearly 4-year-old alongside my spouse.

Likely you’ve been in a similar space. Exhausted physically, mentally, emotionally. Maybe it was just for a day or two or possibly a number of years.

And what of spiritual exhaustion? The dark night of the soul into which you feel you have fallen, irreparably separated from what you thought to be truth. Whenever I feel any sort of certainty toward faith or God or the scriptures, inevitably, I end up in this space of spiritual exhaustion.

Regarding that certainty, I am highly suspect of people who are not troubled by something in their belief system – those who take everything in their tradition at face value. Repeatedly for me, it is the violence of the scriptures and the way in which the Church has often used it to justify further violence and injustices.

Specifically, the crucifixion troubles me. The idea that a God of Love would actually choose this method to save the world terrifies me. One of the church communities of which I am a part sings in its repertoire the classic hymn “How Great Thou Art.” No doubt, this hymn beautifully describes God and faith in so many ways, yet, one particular verse grieves me more than others:

And when I think that God, his Son not sparing;
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing
He bled and died to take away my sin.

Like a conscientious objector choosing to not go to war, I choose not to sing this verse (which bears noting, the original author did not pen). Truly, I “scarce can take it in” the implications of these lines about God. How unlike the story of the passion of Christ this verse is. Every time I hear “my burden gladly bearing,” I think not of this song, but of the words from the Gospel According to Mark:

At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?!” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?!”

This is a Christ to whom I can relate.

This is a human being in pain, suffering at the human hands of a grave injustice.

This is a broken man who feels abandoned and cast aside in his hour of greatest trauma.

It is this body to which I can relate.

This is the doubt in which I can find familiarity.

Eloi, Eloi, leme sabachthani?!

I live with a chronic autoimmune disease called ulcerative colitis, and have done since the spring of 2004. It is not a sexy disorder. It doesn’t even have a cool sounding name like its cousin Crohn’s disease. Mostly I just have a dull pain in my lower abdomen some days and get tired more easily than others, but it has been much worse, and others suffer much more severely than I do. I won’t go into the gory details of a flare up, but seared into my memory are the severe acute pains that have doubled me over, the steroids and 12 other pills I have had to take daily, the utter exhaustion as my digestive system literally has attacked itself. And while I’ve had great support of family and friends, I still have felt abandoned and betrayed by life and by my own body. In the delirious pain of my flare ups, it was as if I asked:

Eloi, Eloi, leme sabachthani?!

When I graduated from seminary, I was given a hand-crafted pecan wood (the official tree of my home state) communion patent and chalice. The person who created it knew much of my story, the good and the ugly. He and a group of 5 or 6 others shared the stories of our past in a therapeutic training setting. More often than not, we held and honored stories from one another of a church body that did more harm than good, abandoning and forsaking its vulnerable or dissenting ones. These, our voices that asked:

Eloi, Eloi, leme sabachthani?!

I don’t know exactly what happened on the cross a couple thousand years ago. I hold serious doubts about the son of God being “sent to die” and about how “glad” Jesus was to hang there. But ancient words say that a man once beloved by the downtrodden and outcast was betrayed, tortured, abandoned, and left to die a painful death. He was wounded and losing vital fluid from a spear jab just under his ribs.

© 2007 Chuck Anderson

© 2007 Chuck Anderson

CC • p.w. belk

CC • p.w. belk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first time I used that communion chalice, the wine began leaking from pinhole flaws in the wood. My friend filled all he found, but it still retained a solitary leaking puncture that I purposely have never fixed. That bleeding communion cup continually reminds me of our hemorrhaging Christ, with a wounded and punctured body to be gloriously resurrected a few days later. It reminds me of my own body that is at times broken and bleeding in the hopes for a permanent cure and full restoration one day. It reminds me of the wounded members of the body of believers in Christ that are neglected by their own and are kicked when they are injured, that they will find safety to heal and flourish again in whichever space that looks like. The bleeding cup is a perpetual reminder of the humanity of Jesus who felt not only physical pain, but anguish of the soul and spirit.

This is a mystery of our collective faith – that in our darkest spaces we can cry out in deepest doubt, “Eloi, Eloi, leme sabachthani?!” and still hold on to hope for restoration.

A prayer of confession

CC • Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P. on flickr

Through your creation, You ask us to bring forth beauty.

But we have a faith marred by apathy.

Through your prophets, You ask us to beat our swords into plowshares.

But we respond with sabers rattling against our shields.

Through the life of your Child, You ask us to transcend barriers of difference.

But we build only walls and fences from which we cast stones of insult and fear.

Through the execution and resurrection of Jesus Christ, You ask us to live.

But we cling to death though the sign of the cross is over our hearts and the empty tomb is before our eyes.

Through the breaking of bread and the sharing of a common cup of wine, You ask us to remember and to be healed.

But we are scarred by scarcity and refuse to accept the balm of grace poured out and overflowing with an abundance of enough.

God, full of grace and mercy, draw us deeper into your divine imagination and holy mysteries. Entice us into the dance of life and hope. Call us into shared sorrow and grief, to joy and celebration. Bring us together into communion as a people set apart for fierce vulnerability, unyielding neighborliness, and immeasurable generosity.

In the name of the Creator, the Reconciler, and the Empowering One we pray.

(If you find this prayer helpful in any way, please feel free to use it in any form you see fit)

Burying my beliefs

I was to “grow into” this particular suit jacket as I was into all my ones previous. As a kid, my clothes often came from the “husky” section of the department store. Yet upon puberty, my bones stretched, excruciatingly taking my body rocketing upward and along with it the majority of my heft. Yet the muscle memory of my clothing shopping still anticipated a return to my chunkier days. It was December of my nineteenth year, less than two weeks before Christmas. I drew my coat around myself for warmth in that oddest of places, my grandmother’s graveside funeral service, clutching tightly in my hand the Methodist cross and flame necklace I was given by her years previous, the sharp corners indenting grief and loss into the aching flesh of my palms.

My dear grandmother, Lorene Belk, passed away at the age of 90, just a few days shy of her Christmas Eve birthday. She was my last living grandparent. This is the woman who taught me from a very young age what it meant to live a life of love following Jesus and John Wesley. Just as the corners of the cross in my hand that day pressed into my flesh, her faith pressed into my heart, leaving an indelible mark. She also made some amazing chicken and dumplings, of which I received ample servings alongside a cup of buttermilk every time we would visit (hence, the “husky” section shopping).

Image © Carolyn Green

Image © Carolyn Green

As the family placed solitary roses on the casket, beside mine I laid the cross and flame. My mother asked if I wanted to remove it before the casket was lowered. I said no. I wanted it buried.

If you’d asked me when I was a teenager if I could imagine where my spiritual journey would take me, I would never have guessed the place I currently inhabit and the rabbit trails that have led me here. Each glimmer of hopefulness has been met with stumbles, and so many dark nights of the soul, some lasting longer than others.

But perhaps these dark nights are where God desires me to live for now.

When I left the cross necklace to go underground, I was not casting aside all I believed, I was making space for who I was to become. No doubt John Wesley is forever in my spiritual DNA, but if I clasp too tightly to that which I hold dear, inevitably, I will be broken by it when it is taken from me or turns out to be something different that I thought. Thus it is with God. When I have allowed myself to be changed and transformed by God, to understand God more deeply, it has always been preceded by a space of darkness, a crisis of belief.

The cognitive psychology theorist Jean Piaget says that learning is a process in which our schema (or how we think/feel about something) that is in equilibrium (or balanced, ordered, and stable) is disrupted by something (new information/experience), throwing us into a state of disequilibrium (out of balance and unstable). The place of disequilibrium is terrifyingly uncomfortable for many. This was the place Peter was in when Jesus bent down to wash his feet during their last Passover supper together, and later when he denied Christ over and over. This is the place we live in when we are met with severe illness, job loss, or death of a loved one. These are places where often we feel betrayed by God, where we shake our fists at heaven. It takes time, but eventually we make space in ourselves with a new scheme to accommodate this new thing.

We run into trouble when we can’t let go of our old schemes. Fr. Richard Rohr puts it this way:

“Every level of the universe is order in a dance with disorder. A collapse back into the disorder and out of that comes a new order again. And then you see most Christians with this obsession with order. Your faith isn’t going to go very deep, because as soon as your little mental order has been a little bit disturbed, you fight, you fight. We’re not going to get very far, brothers and sisters, with that very immature notion of faith. And the scientists call it chaos theory…and we would call it the darkness of faith. You move into a new level of darkness. If you can accept that, surrender to that, you after a while find a new pattern. Wow it’s very exciting! But it is scary.”

The place of faith I entered when my grandmother died was not that of my childhood. I had to place that necklace into her grave to symbolically make space for a new way forward without her. It was a dark place, but light comes with the Eastertide resurrection.

CC • mtsofan

CC • mtsofan

Today, this Good Friday, we bury Christ in the darkness of the tomb. May we bury with Christ in the darkness our false notions of ourselves and others, our false notions of our beliefs and of God, our false notions of our need for order. For out of the tomb will emerge a truer and deeper understanding of a resurrected life.

Don’t rush today to get to Sunday. Reside in the darkness of this evening and the silence of tomorrow.

What in your faith journey have you needed to bury? What has emerged with the Resurrection?

Where I learn how to ask for it

Brash, assertive, amazing, whimsical, brilliant.

These are merely five adjectives that describe a woman for whom there is little comparison. If you are not already a fan of Amanda F. Palmer, I hope you soon shall be. If not of her music, then of the story she tells. At the prompting of a tweet by Peter Rollins, I recently took in Amanda Palmer’s TED Talk entitled “The Art of Asking.” (Please take the next 13 minutes and 48 seconds of your life to watch).

If you are unfamiliar with Palmer, first know that she and her art may not be on the palate of everyone’s tastes. She self-describes her style as “punk-burlesque” or “dark-cabaret”. Think the DIY attitude of early Ramones and Clash in a musical car wreck with the sensibilities of an absinthe-fueled decadent stage act at the Moulin Rouge. Add to the mix the mouth of a sailor, demented mime makeup, and a marriage to the eccentric Neil Gaiman (a favorite author you’ve read about from me previously: Some thoughts from the bedroom), and you have a rough idea of this remarkable human being.

CC • Steve Jurvetson

CC • Steve Jurvetson

Surrounded by a crumbling corporate music empire, Amanda Palmer encourages open piracy of her own art. Simultaneously, she raised nearly $1.2 million via Kickstarter for her Theatre Is Evil album, originally asking only $100k. Not bad for an artist beginning her days as a living statue street performer. In each city she visits, she is welcomed with open homes and hospitality from her fans.

How?

She asks for it.

With gratitude and deep vulnerability, she asks for what she desires:

“Through the very act of asking people, I connected with them. And when you connect with them, people want to help you. It’s kind of counter-intuitive for a lot of artists — they don’t want to ask for things. It’s not easy to ask. … Asking makes you vulnerable.” -Amanda Palmer

As I brim with the inspiration emanating from Amanda F. Palmer, here is me with deep gratitude and hopeful humility asking you for something. In the recent months, I have become more intentional about the words I share. What began as a somewhat self-serving therapeutic exercise has emerged as something with even more meaning outside of myself and a surprisingly positive response greater than I could have imagined. If you have in any way been thought-provoked, comforted, angered, interested, or just feel like doing something nice, please share my blog via Facebook and Twitter, leave a comment on the site, use the power of word of mouth to connect.

This is me, learning how to ask for it. Learning how to be vulnerable.

CC • P.W. Belk

CC • P.W. Belk

I’ve been humbled and undone by your encouragement so far, and I thank you with deep gratitude.

When Jesus gets in the way and causes car accidents

CC • gillicious on Flickr

CC • gillicious on Flickr

I’ve been involved in approximately three car accidents in my life. The first was as a backseat passenger when I was in second grade on the way to school with my mom on a drizzly day, and someone pulled out into the road. I remember being most curious about the purple bruise the seatbelt left on my stomach. Then many years later when I was 30 and behind the wheel feeling despondent and distracted from another “failed” night at youth group, I turned my car into a quite large gold Cadillac sedan carrying an elderly couple. Wearing their church VBS t-shirts, the mood toward me was vitriolic until they learned I was a youth minister (apparently only Christians were to receive their mercy).

The most recent collision was the least violent of the three, but it held the most impact. Just over a year ago as I drove the two short miles home from the weekly trip to the grocery store, a single red light stood between me and the turn into my neighborhood. The little one in the backseat was remarkably at peace with the world around her, content to enjoy the quiet warmth of the afternoon. The light having just turned red, I had time to open a needed prescription that I had also picked up on our errand. Holding the three tablets in my hand, and reaching for the water in the cup holder, a force from behind sent a jarring wave through my body. The pills scattered across my dashboard and under my seat to be found over a month later. The baby’s peaceful cooing wonderment turned immediately into terror and my ease about the day into an adrenaline-filled rage.

On the outside, I remained as calm as possible as a middle aged woman emerged from her SUV apologizing profusely. Refusing to even acknowledge the woman’s presence before I found out if my daughter was injured, I tried with vain attempts to calm her panic-stricken screams.

Thankfully we were all fine. My automobile had barely a dented bumper and not a scratch on the car behind. When I finally broadened my focus from my daughter, the woman’s apologies finally met my ears. “I’m SO sorry! Oh what a PRECIOUS baby! Are you both ok?! I can’t believe it! I had just turned on my Christian music and was singing praise songs to Jesus…”

Her last sentence dumbfounded me. I held my thoughts to myself, but the words shrieking inside my head to her were, “You’ve got to be kidding me! You weren’t paying attention because of JESUS?! My daughter was potentially injured because of JESUS?!” The driver was a million miles away because she was being “spiritual.”

Sometimes, the most spiritual thing you can do is to be aware of yourself in your day-to-day comings and goings. We can’t let Jesus get in the way of seeing those who are right in front of us, figuratively and literally. That’s not what the Incarnation is about.

Yesterday morning while still bleary-eyed, I read a Facebook update from my pastor about him and two of his children being struck by an SUV in a crosswalk while they were out for a walk. As my heart dropped, I found out that by the grace of God they are all ok but quite beaten up. The irony is profound as we have been thinking though a season in our church community on the importance of the physical body. How much more now does my pastor and his family understand the importance of realizing the fragility of the human body. His young son’s broken collarbone will continually make him even more aware of the vulnerability of flesh and blood and bone and their sacredness.

Later today I will take the ashes onto my forehead and be reminded that from dust I come and to dust I will return. I will fast. My stomach will ache with hunger and churning acid. I will be reminded that so many go without satiating this feeling. I will remember that I am human. I will remember that Christ was flesh and blood, broken and poured out.

May this Lenten season be one of deep consciousness. May our “spiritual” life not distract us from the earthly life that is here and now before us. May our hopes for heaven after death not retard our awareness of God’s kingdom in the present and the suffering of God’s creation.

CC • Mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk

CC • Mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk

In the words of St. Ephrem the Syrian, “grant to me, Your servant, the spirit of wholeness of being.”

O Lord and Master of my life, keep from me the spirit of indifference and discouragement, lust of power and idle chatter.

Instead, grant to me, Your servant, the spirit of wholeness of being, humble-mindedness, patience, and love.

O Lord and King, grant me the grace to be aware of my sins and not to judge my brother nor my sister; for You are blessed now and ever and forever. Amen.

A good resource for your Lenten journey is Christine Sine’s reflections at her website Godspace.

I also recommend reading Landon Whitsitt’s thoughts on fasting, prayer, and almsgiving: Giving up chocolate and beer for Lent is not what Jesus had in mind.

What is keeping you from wholeness of being, from seeing the earthly things as spiritual? Where has Jesus gotten in your way?