“Shameless: A Sexual Reformation” by Nadia Bolz-Weber

Growing up in a fundamentalist cult in Australia, shame was a part of every day life. If we didn’t get enough people to convert to the cult, we were shamed publicly and asked if we wanted our friends and family to go to hell. Even back then I was embarrassed to “share my faith” as if I knew something was wrong but couldn’t understand what. Women and girls were told that if we were sexually assaulted, it was our fault. We must have been wearing something immodest, or been flirtatious, or even wearing an ankle bracelet on the wrong ankle. If you were a grown, married woman, and your husband cheated on you, it was because you “let yourself go” or because he wasn’t being satisfied sexually because you were a rebellious whore. And if you were not heterosexual, well, that was a sin worthy of burning in a pit of fire for eternity.

I was sexually abused multiple times as a little girl. In fact, I have some repressed memories from before I was old enough to remember, related to some sort of sexual abuse or sexual knowledge that little girls should never have. This played out in my life over and over again which is how I know. I was also a lesbian in a fundamentalist cult. Needless to say, I have a shit ton of shame surrounding sex and sexuality, as well as a whole host of other things.

Shame has been one of those constants in my life. In fact, I’ve been out of the cult for years now and I still have trouble believing that God loves me. I’m constantly trying to be good enough for God to love. I have always loved God in the best way I knew how, except maybe for that brief foray into Paganism last year where I discovered what it was I truly wanted and turned back to God. Even in the cult, I did what I did out of my love and devotion to God, even though I had no idea what God was like. It’s why the twelves steps talk about “God as we understood him.” Our understanding of God changes over time.

Nadia Bolz-Weber’s new book “Shameless” which releases today, is an extremely important book. While her focus is shame related to sexuality, I found it to speak life into me over all sorts of shame, and got me thinking about shame and it’s role in my life and how I can ditch shame altogether. This is a life-giving book. For those who have grown up with shame, it’s vitally important. This book breathed life into my soul. I’m still digesting the sheer amount of things that spoke to me.

“Shameless” is a book that I will need to read over and over again, until I am able to live a life free of shame. As far as my relationship with God goes, it’s been one of the most important books I have ever read. It’s one that will remain in my collection for years to come. It’s worth a read for anyone struggling with any kind of shame, not just related to sexuality.

And as a lesbian growing up in a fundamentalist cult, all I can say is the entire book is worth it just for chapter four alone, where we are introduced to a lesbian woman who grew up with shame surrounding her sexuality.

#ShamelessBook releases today. Go get your copy. It is worth every cent!

 

Thoughts on LGBT and Community

Lately I have had to re-think my views about the “LGBT community.” It started when I was graciously invited to an Episcopal Church here on the coast that is for LGBT people. It sounded like a good idea at first, and then I came to realize that my sexuality was just a part of who I was and that I did not want to go to worship God based on a part of me when I needed to worship God with my whole heart. It’s not that I couldn’t do that there, and it’s not that I think change is bad, it’s not even that I don’t think that at some point, prayer book revision would not be a bad idea.

It’s also hard to see myself, as a “out and proud” lesbian woman, as part of the LGBT community. I posted an article a few weeks ago about a prominent lesbian in Maryland who was basically pushed out of leadership positions within the LGBT community because she didn’t believe in transgender. I thought that was wrong. Her voice as a lesbian woman still matters. The voices of transgender people matter. And here’s where this is going to be upsetting to some.

Community is a great thing. We worship God and grow in our faith both in community and individually. It takes both. However, part of the problem is that transgender and gay are two completely different issues and lumping them together with a bunch of other letters is not helpful. I think it actually erases identities rather than helps.

I know some transgender people whom I respect and affirm as children of God. I have come to the point where I do not “believe in” transgender, however. For me, part of living out my baptismal covenant is respecting people even when I disagree with them, and so I do show my respect for transgender people by using the pronouns they ask to be used by (at least, the generally accepted ones he/she/they) and the name they have chosen to be called by. For me that’s basic respect and part of the baptismal covenant that, while I did not have a baptismal covenant was baptized, I have made the promises contained therein both at confirmation and several times a year in church.

This is a shift from what I used to believe. I was always uncomfortable with the idea of people being transgender, it never sat right with me as something that I could fully affirm. I recognize that I have attacked people over their difference of opinion in this area probably even to the point of bullying, when they refused to acknowledge the idea of transgender people being the gender that they identify with.

As a lesbian woman, I understand the pure hatred that can be thrown in the direction of LGBT people. I can only imagine that it is worse for transgender people. However, it is possible to respect and affirm and even love someone while disagreeing with them, which is a valuable lesson that some awesome friends of mine have quietly taught me these past few months. When I figured out we were becoming friends more than on a surface level, I told my friend about my sexuality knowing she was much more conservative than I was, in case she wanted to quietly back away. She did not. Her words at the time, which I still remember exactly were: “it doesn’t matter what I think, you’re a child of God and I am good with taking communion next to you.” To me, that is what mattered. She didn’t have to agree, she didn’t even necessarily have to affirm me, although I believe that what she said was an affirmation of my humanity.

In fact, many of my closest and dearest friends are not thrilled about my sexuality, several even think it goes against the clear teachings of the Church. Not one of them is rude, condescending, unloving, or disrespectful in any way. They love me for who I am, not who they wished I could be. We might disagree on whether I was born this way or whether things that happened to me made me this way, I don’t think it really matters. What matters is I am loved and respected despite what they think about that one part of my life. I am a lesbian, but my sexuality is not my whole identity, and so I don’t necessarily have all of my energy tied up in that one aspect of who I am. It is part of who I am, and as such it is important, but I’m also a Christian, I’m also a woman, I’m also a mom, I’m also a writer, and many other things. All of these are part of who I am.

This is why, for me, I am not sure I could attend the LGBT church, because I am so much more than my sexuality. My entire identity is not tied up in being LGBT. I think that it would be helpful for the LGBT community to fragment some, as in being lesbian, gay or bisexual are completely different to being transgender. I actually believe it is more affirming to everyone to separate the LGB from the T. It recognizes and respects the differences.

On Christmas Eve, one of my friends was messing with me saying that I wasn’t as liberal as I made out I was, and there is some truth to that. However, I have softened on some of my ultra-liberal thoughts in the last year or so. I have been in a fundamentalist cult where my beliefs were ultra conservative, and then I swung left in a huge way and was ultra-liberal. I don’t think being fundamentalist liberal or fundamentalist conservative is healthy. Being liberal or being conservative, but willing to have dialogue rather than just be right is a good and healthy thing, but nothing is healthy about any kind of fundamentalism. Over the past year I have become more centered, although I am certainly on the liberal side of center, and I don’t see me going over to the conservative side, I think I’m in a little bit healthier place now.

In October, I had started a PhD program in Psychology, specializing in Gender Diversity. Ever since I knew I was going to get my bachelors degree my dream was to go all the way to PhD. However, I soon realized that it wasn’t something I could commit to. It would be way too much of a commitment with taking care of my family, and that was just the beginning. I didn’t feel like I could properly and objectively study Gender Diversity if I couldn’t be on board with people being transgender. I know that to some people, maybe even some special people that I care about, some who happen to be transgender, this will make me an “unsafe” person for them. It will make me a bigot. It may even mean that these special people will no longer wish to communicate with me.

As to the question of what I would do if one of my children said they were transgender, I would love them. It’s a simple as that.

I do think that we need to change how we treat people that we disagree with in general. Things have gotten really ugly the last few years. I have contributed to that ugliness and for that, I am sorry. It’s time for us to all come to the table together, to love and respect those we disagree with, to recognize them as the beloved children of God they are, just as we are. We need to pray together, to kneel at the same altar together to share the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ and celebrate the fact that God loves us, and to go and obey God’s call to love one another.