Not a book review: “Shameless”

I recently read [listened to the audiobook version of] Nadia Bolz-Weber’s book, Shameless: A Sexual Reformation. And it made me wonder if I’m still a Christian, though not for the reason that you might think. The deal breaker wasn’t her ideas about sex—Bolz-Weber offers up the most inclusive, affirming vision of godly sexuality I’ve ever seen—it was more about the tone of the book.

Maybe it’s worth mentioning here that Bolz-Weber is a Lutheran pastor known for her give-no-fucks attitude and persona. It’s not just the motorcycle (?) and the leather jacket (?) and the tattoos, it’s her biting sarcasm and scathing invectives against conservative Christianity.

As much as I love both sarcasm and invective, I got the sense at the very beginning that I am not her target audience.

In the introduction, she tells those who have followed the narrow edicts of gender and sexuality in evangelical Christianity (those who have achieved a gold medal in good Christian sex) to help themselves to the plethora of resources available at any Christian bookstore—because this book is not for them.

It was sarcastic. It was scathing. It was also pretty damn smug. And this wasn’t directed at the people who made up the rules, but the people who had succeeded at following them.

God knows I don’t fit into this group of people—but still, telling them to GTFO felt…off-putting.

Maybe it’s this underlying self-satisfaction that didn’t sit well with me (what a strange analogy) during the subsequent sermons in the book (yeah, I would describe them as sermons with a beginning, middle and end).

It’s hard to describe, but when she would launch into this particular cadence of speech, fervency of feeling, breathlessness of voice—I was turned off.

I felt the same way when I went to church for the first time in forever a few weeks ago. There were all the markers of a socially progressive church: the one pastor who wasn’t white, the Hallmark story (his words) of man reconciling with his conservative Christian family after coming out as gay, the mini discussion groups during the teaching. But when the pastor got on stage, that same earnestness, sincerity, and purity of heart was still there from church days gone by.

I don’t know why it bothered me so much. I’m sure I’ve used that tone before, even in my writing. I don’t know why it doesn’t ring true for me anymore, why it grates on my very last religious nerve. Maybe the rhythm of speech itself comes off as manipulative or coercive, trying to hijack the brainwaves of the person listening, to inculcate them into the language and rhythm of belief in God or in sex.

I admit that I want to be drawn in first. I want there to be trust, connection. I want to see the struggle and the process, how we got from “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” to “Shameless,” but I feel like this messiness and doubt is exactly what a writer/preacher is least likely to give me.

It’s like sex without the foreplay. I want more questions and less certainty, more exploration and less declaration.

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