Nadia Bolz-Weber | 2018 MAKERS Conference
Nadia Bolz-Weber, Pastor, House for All Sinners and Saints, on faith and feminism
- Ladies and gentlemen, Nadia Bolz-Weber.
NADIA BOLZ-WEBER: Hi. All these presentations about like corporations and C-- I didn't know what a C-suite was till yesterday, and--
And STEM jobs. And these women are so cool. I'm like, should I do a career change? Like, every single one though, like they talk about what they do. And I'm like, maybe I should do that. And then I remember that I have a Masters of Divinity. I have-- and having a-- a degree from Seminary is like having a degree from Hogwarts. Basically--
--outside the wizarding world, nobody cares that you know all about the magic.
My-- my last book I wrote was called the "Accidental Saints: Finding God in all the Wrong People." And I called it "Accidental Science" because my publisher wouldn't let me call it purpose-driven sinners. And I--
--don't know why. But-- and do you guys know what a prayer labyrinth is? It's like sometimes, they're outside a church, or sometimes they're in a cathedral. And it's a labyrinth. And there's literally one way in and one way out. And you do it a lot of times as a group, as like a meditation.
OK, so as somebody who stumbles through life and faith in general and who has never managed to feel spiritual for any extended period of time-- which isn't actually a joke. I put up a Tweet not long ago that admitted I-- I get what only can be described as road rage when stuck behind someone walking slowly in a prayer labyrinth.
But I'm like, look, no one is impressed by how into this you are. Speed up. You know, like there are people trying to pray behind you.
So as someone like that, I only really feel connected to other people who are maybe also like that a little bit. And yet, so much of religion and spirituality feels like it's all a program to make ourselves into something less janky and like more pure-- like it's all designed to sand down our edges, to make us more smooth. And really be it evangelical purity culture-- was anybody raised in evangelic-- does anybody have a purity ring? Anybody made to-- raise them high.
You know what this is? It's where conservative churches have girls pledge to not have sex till they're married. And then, they put a little ring on, a purity ring. And I-- yesterday, I finished the revisions on my latest book, which is basically a book long take-down piece of the church's teachings around sex. And I basically want to instigate an art project in which girls-- women actually-- mail me their purity rings to be melted into a sculpture of a vagina.
I thought I-- I could give it to you, Gloria.
I-- I feel like-- as a thank you gift from us all. I might melt down purity rings into the sculpture of a vagina and give it to you as a thank you. OK. OK, so so much of religion and spirituality is about, like, smoothing down our rough edges, like making ourselves into something less janky and more pure. As if with enough yoga, or meditation, or Bible studies, or whatever it is, we can be less jagged and more smooth.
But as someone who has gone through a whole life trying to seem strong as hell, and who's realized my real power is in being vulnerable, I kind of have to call BS on all of that because I feel like it actually is the jagged edges of our humanity that connect us to God and to one another-- like our failings, and misconceptions, and all of that stuff, it creates enough texture on us that other people have something to hold on to.
OK, so there's one thing that I-- that I think is really good about having a Masters of Divinity, and that's this. For today, for my talk, I'm going to reclaim a few theological terms-- repentance, Satan, and apocalypse. Ready?
OK. The word "repentance," metanoia in Greek, actually kind of means to snap out of it. It means to think new thoughts. And so I was preaching a sermon recently where I asked my congregation what thought do you have about yourself to yourself the most often? Think about that for yourself. What do you say to yourself about yourself the most often? And I had them write them on Post-It notes. And they'd post them on the wall. And-- and the answers kind of destroyed me.
So they were things like, I'm fat and worthless. No one will ever love me for who I am. I'm a failure. I'll never be enough. These are the things that people carry with them. These are the jagged things that people leave unsaid. And in a way, it made me realize that so many of us are tormented by the distance between our ideal self and our actual self, between our ideal income and our actual income, our ideal personality and our actual personality-- like our ideal weight, like our driver's license weight and--
--and our actual weight.
I know that I have like this other version of Nadia in my head for some reason. She-- she doesn't get angry as often. She's totally fine in traffic. She-- she can get into yoga positions I can't get into. She's more patient. For some reason, she can recite whole poems.
And I think, like, if I commit myself to the right spiritual practices, I can become more her and less me. And it's almost like it's an emotional and spiritual Pinterest board that's always mocking me.
So repentance is the ability to think different thoughts. It's the ability to stop that voice in our head, which brings me to number 2, Satan. OK, so in the Book of Job, "hassatan" means the accuser, the one that repeats harmful things said to me as a child, that voice that makes us eat less than we should or more than we should, that voice that makes us spend more hours at work than we should. It makes us go to ridiculous lengths to prove it right or to prove it wrong-- the accuser, the accusing voice.
And sometimes, we try to shut up that voice with alcohol, or sex, or shopping, or carbohydrates, or success. But it doesn't always work. Those things don't always make it shut up. And our-- our culture colludes in this fantasy of self-perfection, this idea that you can shut up that voice, and you can somehow become the ideal version of yourself. But here's the thing, like, no one's ever become their ideal self. It's a-- it's a moving target.
It's like Sisyphus's rock. It's this mirage of water in a desert, and you just spend all your energy trying to get to it. And that just creates more thirst. And as a theologian, I just-- I believe we have to have people in our life that shut up the accuser. And I believe that the self that God has a relationship to-- now, don't let the language trip you up, I don't have a dog in this fight-- so it could be Buddha, it could be the universe, Beyonce, I don't care.
Whatever that is, whatever the origin is for you, that deep core, your actual center of gravity-- the self that God is in relationship with and that God loves is your actual self. God is not waiting for you to become more spiritual to love you, or more successful to love you, or to get better at yoga to love you. The universe, God, the spirit loves your actual self.
Now, we can strive in our professions. And this is the striving group of women. And there's nothing wrong with that. But what I wish for each of you is you have the space in your life where you are loved not for what you do, but for who you are-- like Barbara Smith said, home. OK, third-- I-- I'm running out of time. Third word, apocalypse-- the apocalypse, this is what that word means in Greek. It just means a revealing. It just means seeing what's underneath. So right now, we live in an apocalyptic time.
There's not an uptick in sexual harassment. It's just being revealed. So there is a spiritual warfare element to the patriarchy because the accuser lies to us. It tells you you have to apologize for who you are. That's a lie of the accuser. It tells you women are your competition. That is a lie of the patriarchy. It tells you that your value is in your fuckability. That is a lie of the accuser.
So here's what I wish for you. Shut up the accuser. Get to work, knowing that your value lies in your connection to the divine, and nothing else gets to tell you who you are-- ever. Just a note, when we took those Post-Its down at church, we took them outside, we made a bonfire. And then, someone said the most House for All Sinners and Saints thing I've ever heard someone say. They just said-- they looked at it burning all of our dark thoughts, and they said, oh, my God we really, really should have brought marshmallows.
2018 MAKERS Conference
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