Book Review: Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint By Nadia Bolz-Weber

I don’t know when or exactly why I stopped reading the Huffington Post. But at some point, I did. I can almost guarantee it wasn’t out of malice. HuffPost, for the most part, has long been right up my alley when it comes to journalism. I read them a ton when I was younger. There was even a time when Recent College Dropout Me fantasized about writing for them. But then she got busy raising babies and started reading TMZ between diaper changes. Her brain slipped a bit and those hopes slipped away. Younger me made some poor decisions (TMZ obviously, not the babies). Somehow, other than the passing hashtag on Instagram, I had almost completely forgotten about the publication. That was until one of their headlines ended up on my Facebook timeline.

And oh boy, was it a good one.

This Pastor is Melting Purity Rings Into a Golden Vagina Sculpture

I mean, how could you see that and NOT click on it?

The article talks about how Nadia Bolz-Waber, the lead pastor at Denver’s House for All Sinners and Saints and all-around kickass progressive Christian author and theologian, is working with artist Nancy Anderson to reclaim the idea of the purity ring. Their project asks people to send in the purity rings they were given as young people so they can all be melted down together to form a golden vagina sculpture. People who sent in their rings by the dead received a silicone ring of impurity and a certificate to boot.

In case you missed it, purity rings were part of some Evangelical circles back in the 1990s to the early 2000s. I even covered this topic in the early days of this blog with The Problem With Purity Rings. Basically, they were a yet again another gross way to try to force further control over young women’s bodies and sexualities. Bolz-Waber and Anderson wanted to use art to try to not only change but also recover from that. And that is pretty fucking awesome.

The article left me not only with an overwhelming sense of “Fuck yeah Girl Power!” for the day, but it also left me with some questions about this Nadia Bolz-Waber lady.

Lutheran pastors can have tattoos? There’s a queer-inclusive church in Denver called House For All Sinners and Saints? There are church people who are down with women having the right to have control over their own bodies and make their own decisions? And who are cool with art that has vaginas in it?

Obviously, I must learn more. Regardless of the differences in our beliefs, Nadia Bolz-Waber sounds like a freaking interesting person with a whole lot of interesting stuff going on.

So I did what anyone would do in our era, I googled her.

Then I bought two of her books.

The first one I read is the one I’m going to finally get around telling you about after this exceptionally lengthy introduction.

Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint was released in 2013 and is a wonderful blend of autobiography and living mission statement. The book chronicles not only Nadia Bolz-Weber’s struggles with her church and faith but also talks about how she got there.

The book opens with the definition of what a pastrix actually is. And for someone who didn’t actually grow up in the church but did grow up in the thick of the Bible Belt, it was as hilarious as it was helpful. (Have I ever told you about my great grandma’s sister who was am untrained female Southern Baptist preacher? I saw her anoint someone with vegtable oil once. That’s not really related to being a Pastrix but I felt the need to share.)

Following the opening definition, we are introduced to The Rowing Team and told about Bolz-Weber’s early days of sobriety and stand up comedy. The chapter sets the tone for the entire book because it shows exactly how open and transparent Bolz-Weber is with the audience. I was taken aback at just how real her writings were. For whatever reason, it felt alien to me to see a person in the business of holiness not having a completely polished and perfect image. I grew up in the land of Jim Bakkers and Tammy Fayes, Ted Haggards and Jimmy Swaggerts. We have megachurches here. We also have tiny churches with pastors who act like they have a megachurch. I am not used to people in religious authority being so open about their own dirt and more importantly, their own humanity. I’m used to overdressed and made-up plastic doll “people” not actual human beings full of faults, flaws, and four letter words. Bolz-Weber is an actual human being. Four letter words included.

The rest of the book continues with the same candid, honest communication as the first chapter. Bolz-Weber just does not sugar coat a damn thing. And it’s so fucking refreshing. Even coming from a Pagan standpoint, there are times where spiritual books get a little too saccharine for me. That does not happen here. Bolz-Weber is candid and honest with her struggles and never tries to paint them in a positive light. She does often find the cord that ties them to certain spiritual meanings. And I feel that is important. She finds God in the cracks, not just in the sunshine. That’s how I’ve often found connection with my path too. It’s never been the Goddess coming down and making flowers bloom on the path in front of me while moonlight perfectly reflects off some charging crystals lying on the ground. It’s been finding a connection to The Craft in the middle of the mud and gunk of life.

Speaking of, one of the chapters of the book even features a brief visit into the time Bolz-Weber spent with God’s Aunt, the Goddess. It’s about the few years she spent hanging around the Wiccan religion while she took some time off from Jesus. There is no talk of the evils of witchcraft, no talk of damnation, no talk of Hell. I’m not sure if that’s just the Lutheran way or not, but holy balls, it’s awesome to see.  It’s just her pleasantly remembering how much love was present and how awesome the female companionship was of the group was. There was nothing but acceptance and love towards group she was attached to and the people she knew. While I’m not a Wiccan, it did make my Pagan heart happy to see so much love for us Pagan folks.

Some of the stories in the book are so honest, you kind of feel like you’re reading a diary. What’s great about a lot of them is that Bolz-Weber isn’t always the one that ends up being the hero at the end. You can see her as just a real person, someone who, even though she is the pastor of a church and leader in the community, is looking for the answers too.

Nadia Bolz-Weber does not shy to share where she is cracked, or when she has dirt under her nails (there’s a talk in there about Jesus that will make you understand the reference in that sentence). She is open with readers about her struggles and questions and even the doubts she once had about the whole thing. She is equally as open about her belief and devotion. She doesn’t just pay lip service to being a person of the cloth. She lives her faith. The good parts, the easy parts, the rewarding parts, but that’s not all. She also proud lives the hard parts, the unsure parts, the sad parts, the bitter parts, the tiring and painful parts. And she’s not afraid to share it all.

I really enjoyed this book and look forward to not only seeing the melted down purity ring vagina sculpture but reading the author’s other books in the future. Just because we don’t follow the same path, doesn’t mean we don’t take some of the same steps. I really feel that Nadia Bolz-Weber is an amazing woman who has a lot of world-changing ability. Also, we curse about the same amount, so that makes her writings really relatable and enjoyable to read.

I can’t recommend this book enough. If the mood strikes you, definitely pick up a copy. And since, like always, I am late to the party, totally check out the other books she’s written. I plan to.

And just as a funny add-on, there are a lot of mentions of places in the Denver, CO area in the book. Mr. ConjureandCoffee is a born and bred Denver native, having moved away from Colorado when he was around 10. So pretty much everytime a location came up, my South Carolina self would ask him “Hey babe, do you know where so-and-so is?” He quickly tired of my spur of the moment geography quizzes. I’m not sure why he puts up with me but I’m sure glad he does. 🙂

Pagan Hide and Seek: Christmas Edition

For the record, when it comes to Christmas, I’m kind of a Grinch. Christmas music annoys me. The endless rush of shopping spikes my anxiety like a kid left unattended at a trip at a dessert bar. And while I love gift giving and sharing a huge feast with people I care about, the strain of getting together and rushing about, traffic and schedules, wish lists and shipping dates, often leave me stretched thin.

We could blame it on the martyrs in my Christmas Past who made the holiday less a family-focused event and more an over the top drama fueled pageant. You know the kind of dog and Pony show that becomes a “my way or the highway” fueled by Martha Stewart worship and spiked with guilt. We could also blame it on growing up poor and being the oldest who understood “that the youngins need it more”. Even if the youngins in question weren’t siblings but cousins, second cousins, friends kids, and kids at school the had been to the house a time or two. Or finally, we could chalk it up to not being a Christian and year after year having everyone tell you that the reason for this season, the only thing we are really celebrating for, is a God you don’t believe in.

I know all of that makes me sound like a big old sour-ass. It paints me about as bitter as the crab apples at grew in my grandpa’s front yard. It adds just a little bit of validity to the jokes my husband and I throw back and forth about my saltiness level (which is somewhere between the level of rent and Willie Nelson). Maybe I am a salty old crone who fun sucks the life out of the party. Or maybe I’ve just had it with the typical holiday rigamarole.

Observations about my personal flaws aside, let’s get back to that whole reason for the season issue I mentioned earlier. Being told year after year that Jesus is the real reason for the season, by loved and unloved ones alike, takes it toll on a poor Pagan girl. That’s why out of all the holiday shenanigans, my two favorite things about Christmas are watching my loved ones be happy and pointing out all the wonderfully Pagan things being celebrated by nonPagan people.

Let’s start with an easy one. 

The Christmas Tree

There’s a lot of Pagan lore about the Christmas tree but it’s roots are commonly said to be in the story of an English Benedictine monk named Boniface who was doing some missionary work in Germany during the eighth century.

One day Ole Boniface was doing whatever missionaries do when he observed some locals performing sacrifices in front of an oak tree for their god Thor. This angered Ole Boni because by God, Thor was a false God! How dare these native folks to worship their own gods in their own land while he was there!! So he grabbed his axed and felled the mighty oak tree in an effect to stop the heathery where it stood. When he wasn’t struck dead by the local’s gods for, you know, shitting all over their holy site, Boniface decided he could use this as a teaching moment. He hauled the tree inside and thus began the Christmas Tree tradition. Like many holy people after him, he would take something belonging to the Pagan locals and claim it in his God’s name thus using it as an outreach and a subjugating tool.

From that story alone, it’s clear to see that even before dumb old Boniface was roaming the German countryside, the German people were using trees in their devotion to the Norse gods. It was Boni’s appropriation of the tree worship that helped bring it into mainstream usage.

So remember,  every time you see straight-laced Christians oohing and awwing over a big pretty Christmas tree, they got the idea from a practice much older than their religion. They got it from us.

Of course, this is just one of many different stories that feature a connection between trees and pagan practices. Trees are a key element of Nature and Nature is a foundation of Paganism. I don’t mean to be disrespectful, because I really try to be an accepting and nice person, but it boils down to this: Pagans did it first and when Christians saw it, they stole it and rebranded it without giving us credit. And then they tried to erase our fingerprints from its history.

Maybe I’ll use a little of this long-held salt to make some salt dough ornaments with my kiddos.

The Man Who Put All Those Presents Under The Tree

 Well, if you didn’t know that Santa’s origins were Pagan in nature, I’m not sure where you’ve been.

While we most commonly know Santa Claus as the Coca-Cola red suit, white-bearded big belly version, we also all pretty much have a passing knowledge of him as Ole St. Nick and Father Christmas. Some of us are probably even familiar with the story of the bishop St. Nicholas and the legend about how he provided gifts, including doweries, to the poor. The juicy part of Santa’s history that a lot of people don’t have knowledge about is that Santa has a lot more in common Odin.   

Before Christianity took over Germany, the people there (probably the same ones Boniface ran into) celebrated Yule like many of us do. And during Yule, as many of us know, The Wild Hunt happens. It is part of that happening that many believe influenced the idea of Santa for those who don’t subscribe to the Norse beliefs.

In her 1972 book Discovering Christmas Customs and Folklore: A Guide to Seasonal Rites Throughout the World folklorist Margaret Baker postulates that “”the appearance of Santa Claus or Father Christmas, whose day is the 25th of December, owes much to Odin, the old blue-hooded, cloaked, white-bearded Giftbringer of the north, who rode the midwinter sky on his eight-footed steed Sleipnir, visiting his people with gifts. […] Odin, transformed into Father Christmas, then Santa Claus, prospered with St Nicholas and the Christchild, became a leading player on the Christmas stage.”

You are free to believe what you will. I personally can totally see how the lore of the Odin could be taken and morphed into the idea of Santa Claus. There would have to be a lot of creative editing, but as we have seen, for the Church, that has never been a problem. Once again, I’m not trying to be disrespectful, but I’ll be damned (pun intended) if after a while it doesn’t feel like most of their canon is just hastily written rewrites.

Before we leave the topic of Santa, I’d just like to throw this in for consideration. While originally, Santa’s sleigh was only pulled by one reindeer in Old Santeclaus with Much Delight ,an anonymous poem published in 1821, by the time Clement C. Moore’s “A Visit From St. Nicolas” came out two years later, Santa had upped his caravan to eight reindeer. The interesting part?  

Odin’s horse Sleipnir has eight legs. I mean,  I’m just saying.

Deck The Halls

Even the decorations Pinterest is all about this time of year aren’t something that just organically popped up in the mind of the Christian faith.

In order to protect the celebration of the birth of the brand new baby Jesus, early Christians would often make a wreath of holly and hang it on their door. In Roman mythology, holly was the sacred plant of the god Saturn so this was a clever way for them to make it seem like they were celebrating Saturnalia when in fact, they weren’t. Since then, holly has been overtaken and used heavily as a prominent decoration.

Photo by Annie Spratt   https://unsplash.com/@anniespratt

And if you want to get petty, which you know I do, you could even say that the tried and true holiday colors of green and red are in fact lifted from the red of the holly berries and the green of their leaves.

Another plant that has become part of common Christmas decorations is the mistletoe. Originally used for more than stealing the random kiss, mistletoe has been held as a sacred plant by the Celts, the Norse, and the Native Americans. Used by as a symbol of peace and joy, during the Roman era, enemies would meet under the mistletoe to reconcile their differences. Thus, during midwinter, it would be placed in houses and temples to appease the gods.

Photo by Annie Spratt   https://unsplash.com/@anniespratt

In Norse mythology, mistletoe is a big fucking deal to the goddess Frigga. The weak little mistletoe was the one plant that Frigga did not make promise her to leave her son Baldur unharmed. So of course, it was the one that Loki went and found when he was ready to stir some shit up. It, in the end, made up the spear that killed Bladur. The importance of the story of Baldur’s death and later resurrection is a pivotal part of the Norse belief. And the mistletoe plays an important role in it. There are different endings and interpretations to the tale but I’m pretty sure none of them include seeing Loki seeing Mommy kissing Santa Claus under the mistletoe.

I don’t want you to think I have waged my own personal war on Christmas. I haven’t. I wish people “Merry Christmas!” when it’s expected and when I truly mean it. And I truly mean it often!  Although I usually say “Happy Christmas!” instead because I’m a socially awkward weirdo. I still want those people around me to have the very best holiday they possibly can. I do wish them well.  I want them to celebrate however they feel is appropriate and makes them happy. I want everyone to be jolly and full of love, even if its just a few hours. If anything, the world needs more of that.

But I also want the world to stop mandating that we celebrate the season one specific way by using trying to pass off time-honored bits of other religions’ traditions as belonging to one specific religion. Not everything falls under the Christian umbrella. Not everything is about the Chrisitan God. There are many gods, many traditions, and many religions under that holiday umbrella.

So really, there are many, many, reasons for the season. And if you look hard, you can see them all.


Why I’m Thankful For Prayers (even though I don’t believe in their God)

Growing up in the South, most conversations that involve tales of hardship end with a hug and one party saying to the other, “Well, we’ll be praying for you.”. As someone who doesn’t follow any of the branches of the Abrahamic faith that influences every bit of life below the Mason Dixon Line, even something as innocuous as prayers can get overwhelming. If I had a nickel for every time someone informed me that they were going to pray for me, well, I’d have a lot of nickels. It seems like everyone wants to include you in their conversations with the Lord. And really, I’m okay with that.

 

To a lot of believers down here, not being a Christian makes me an uncaring godless heathen. Which is funny because as a polytheist, I have more gods than fingers to count them on. And as a person, I’m an Empath. So I care. I care a whole hell of a lot. While I don’t think of prayer in the same way most Christians do, I believe there is something powerful in communicating with the beyond. When that communication is done for the betterment of someone else, no matter who is listening, it’s incredibly meaningful. Whether you’re talking to God like a Southern Baptist, taking part in your daily Salah, whispering to The Goddess, or chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo there is something profoundly magical in the connectivity of that act of compassion.

To me, magic is all about energy. It’s about being connected to not only yourself and others around you, but to the Universe. So taking your energy and manifesting it into something positive for someone else is huge. It’s a big piece of everyday magic we all agree is powerful but we don’t talk about. It’s like telling someone to have a good day, wishing someone a happy birthday, or saying bless you after someone sneezes. It’s taking a bit of yourself and turning it into hope for someone else. That’s what prayer is for me.

I know it’s easy to think that the people praying for you are doing it only for themselves. And you know what, maybe they are. I’ve never inquired as to the rhyme and reason of someone’s prayers for me. I’m not naive enough to think that some of them weren’t straight up “Please Lord, help this girl find Jesus” ones. But, I’d be willing to bet you all my nickels mentioned earlier, a lot of them were for good outcomes. I’ve lit candles and cast circles for people who would have burned me at the stake for doing so hundreds of years ago. And I did those things out of love with the hope that they helped. And in the world we are living in right now, we all need all the help we can get to achieve a good, safe, and peaceful life.

So please, if you feel moved to do so, pray for me. Meditate for me. Chant for me. If my name and my situation are put upon you, do what feels right in your heart of hearts. Because I promise you, every time I feel that need, I will do so for you. I’ll just do it in my own way.

BBBBBB

Shoes, love, and footwashing.

At the end of last school year, a flyer was sent home with JoBean for a local Back to School Bash. The Bash was being sponsored by several local churches and small businesses. All those who registered and attended would be given a free pair of shoes, free school supplies, and treated to a hot dog dinner. I spent a day or two trying to decide whether to sign up. While sometimes we have financial struggles, we still do okay. I was worried that us signing up might take a spot away from someone who needed it more. I brought the issue up to my sister-in-law, and we discussed how missing out on opportunities because someone might need it more is detrimental. So I went online and sign JoBean up.

It’s been a while since I posted about the kids. As a refresher ,my lovely cast of characters includes:

  • JoBean– 9 year old boywonder. He’s hilarious but often short sighted. He loves video games, especially Minecraft.
  • D-Man- 4 year old gentle giant. He’s quiet and caring, but hates crowds and sharing. He loves everything JoBean loves
  • MarMar- soon to be 3 year old Queen Bee. She is sassy and playful and loves talking to people. She also loves shoes and animals.

School ended and summer began. We did summer things and soon the day of the Bash was upon us. On the drive over to the event, JoBean and I revisited a conversation we had many times before. We discussed how different people believe in different things. We talked about how most people in this area, and America for the most part, are Christians. He, like pretty much the whole of our family, doesn’t identify as such. He talked to me about what he believes in. I talked to him about what I believed in. He talked about how the other kids at school treated him and how sometimes, it wasn’t very nice. We both agreed that being a part of a religion doesn’t make you a good person or make you an asshole. It’s who you are at your core. I also really worked on him to understand how important it is to allow people to believe the way they want . We don’t have to agree on what we believe, but we should allow other people to believe it.

We arrived about 15 minutes before the start of the event. I snagged us a good parking spot and we took our place in line. A light rain began to fall while we waited. It was a nice reprieve from the temperatures we had endured during the summer. When the doors opened, they started allowing groups of fifteen to enter at a time. We were in the third group taken.

We went in and signed the entrance forms and were quickly directed to the shoe room. It was there that things took a turn. This was not just a find your size and style shoe event. It was a huge conference room filled with shoe boxes, sock boxes, and a row of people kneeling in front of wooden chairs washing children’s feet. Apparently something I had skipped in the initial sign up was that a major sponsor of this event was Samaritan’s Feet. Samaritan’s Feet is a Charlotte, NC based charitable organization that, in their words “serves & inspires hope in children by providing shoes as the foundation to a spiritual & healthy life…”. Part of their mission includes washing children’s feet, praying with them, and providing them with well fitting, brand new shoes.

And that’s what they were doing. It was a like a well oiled machine in that room. Some people were running back and forth finding correct sizes. Some people were wrist deep in soapy water, chatting up giggling kids. Others were power walking discarding and refilling bowl after bowl of water as children and their parents shuffled through the line. We collectively were a little taken aback. When it was JoBean’s turn, we, with both Littles in tow, were shown to a chair and met a very excited lady. She politely asked JoBean if he’d like his feet washed to which he politely declined. So instead of that, they spent a minute chatting about what he was looking forward to in the upcoming school year. While he was being fitted for shoes, another lady came over and offered to let the two little ones get shoes as well. I explained that they weren’t registered and wouldn’t be attending school for a while. She patted Miss MarMar on the head and said it didn’t matter and helped me show them to their chairs. While I buzzed around the three of them, I noticed the the lady with JoBean asked if she could pray for him and he said okay. Together they held hands and closed their eyes. I have to admit, even as a Pagan, this made my heart swell. She didn’t pray that he find God or any of the other backhanded prayers you could imagine. She prayed that he have a good year and had help when he needed it. Those prayers were not much different than the ones I had whispered to my own gods for him. After an honest hug which left me a little misty eyed, we collected the Littles and our brand new shoes and moved on to the next station.

There JoBean received a new backpack and a slew of supplies to fill it up. We ended our walk around the school supply rodeo with more hugs and giggles and some major excitement over brand new shoes. According to JoBean, his new shoes were both “boss” and “baller”. The light rain of the morning had turned into a full on summer rain storm, so we skipped the hot dog line and ran to our car. In stark contrast to the clouds in the sky, the spirits of everyone in the car were light and shining. Even after all the overstimulation, everyone was in an upbeat mood. I drove us home were we rushed in out of the rain for lunch.

This event was so important. All the kids had a chance to be exposed to a belief structure that was much different from their own. And it was in a positive way. They were able to see that just because we are different, doesn’t mean we have to be separated. Love is a connective fiber that runs through all of us. When we tap into it, and extend our share to others, the feelings we create are magical. No matter the name, love is magic. And love for our fellow man is the best magic of all.