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. 🙂

An Illusion of (Birth)Control

 

Wikipedia says that an illusion of control is “the tendency for people to overestimate their ability to control events; for example, it occurs when someone feels a sense of control over outcomes that they demonstrably do not influence”. Typically used to describe how the superstitions and rituals that surround gambling, sports, and other such things work. For me, it’s how I’ve felt for years about birth control.

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I was laying on the stretcher, Stephen King book in hand when my doctor came through the curtain.

Numerous nurses had been in and out, checking my temperature and blood pressure, bringing me warm blankets and chamomile aromatherapy in a little sniffable vial. One even gave me an EKG for some reason. The nicest ones came in as a group of three, armed with IV needles and a syringe full of the equivalent of “a big nice glass of wine”.

When he entered the small cubby of a room, I knew it was Go Time.

I don’t know if it was because of how the light emphasized his hairline or if it was the fact that his last name ended in a vowel. Or if more realistically, it had something to do with the fact I’d had been marathoning the first season of The Sopranos at home, but suddenly, instead of just an OB/GYN, he was a man that could make me a very good deal.

“Are you sure about this?” He asked after the usual “hey, how are you”s. He was calm and pretty cool for it being so early in the morning. I could picture him meeting up with Tony at the Bada Bing after his shift was done at the hospital.

Feeling just a little less anxious and a little more sure of myself, I responded with a half laugh, “It’s a little too late to change my mind now.”

He responded by telling me it was never too late. If I needed an out, this was it.

Even though anxiety was tugging at the edge of my tie in the back-show your butt to the world gown, I shook my head.

I was here. Might as well do the damn thing.

A few minutes later I was wheeled into an operating room and switched over to a very cold metal table. Then after one of the nice nurses from earlier placed an oxygen mask on my face, everything went black.

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The first time I had seriously thought about birth control, I was 17.

For years prior, always in the company of others mind you, my mother would go on and on about how when I was ready, all I had to do was ask, and she would get me birth control. No problem right? She was the cool mom, remember? She would do anything if it was the best for her girl. She was the best mom. The number one mom. No other mom could mom like she did.

The actuality was when I had my first real boyfriend and decided to ask her for help in obtaining birth control, her response was different. Almost 16 years later even when I can’t remember the title of that song I just heard on the radio, I remember her answer.

“So what are you, a slut now?”

Quicker than a hiccup, the bravery I had pulled together to ask the question eroded. For the next few weeks, she acted as if I was contagious. Oddly enough, she did become a lot more handsy with my then boyfriend around that time. She’d chat with him endlessly while icing me out. A few times, she tickled attached him.

It was a really confusing time.

I did end up sleeping with that dude. We were safe. As safe as public high school Sex Ed classes could teach us to be. We broke up my first semester of college. He wrote goodbye letters to my mother and sister and never returned my calls.

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This event really peppered my lifelong birth control experience. Between that first boyfriend and when I got married to my wonderful husband, the only other experience I had was a trip to the campus Health Clinic for the morning after pill.

After having my first child at 21, I started THE PILL. For the next 9 years, we would have an off and on again relationship that was as rocky as the one I had with my mother.

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All the usual side effects happened to me that happened to thousands of other women. To use a clinical term, I became a basket case. My libido fell into the Mariana Trench. I got acquainted again with the migraines I had as a pre-teen. It literally was a little pill of Hell that I swallowed every day.

During the time of popping birth control pills like they were party drugs, I had four more pregnancies which gave me three of the coolest kids on the planet. It was also during this time that my first born, my beautiful long-haired son, passed away. That tragedy was followed by a miscarriage.

It was not an easy time.

I bounced around between types of hormonal pills before getting the Nexplanon implant. Three years of constant coverage seemed like a good way to tame my rabbit like fertility.

And for two and a half years, it was awesome.
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The decision to remove Nexplanon from my arm and being fertile from my life was made in my living room on what we call “The Little Couch”. I had my head wrapped in a blanket to block out as much light and sound as possible. My stomach rolled with nausea from a migraine roaring through my head and an almost Keith Richard’s amount of Excedrin.

I spent most of the days that week writhing in a pain I couldn’t touch with my hands. I felt that if I could just get my hands in behind my eye, I could dig it out, like the worms I dug up as a kid. The pulsing behind my left eye made me want to high five Odin for plucking his own eye out. It seemed like a logical and reasonable choice.

I didn’t pluck my own out obviously. My courage is way less than my imagination.

It was then that my husband and I decided that now was the time. We had a houseful of children. I wasn’t getting younger. And the side effects of hormonal birth control were getting worse. We like to pride ourselves on being logical people. Not Vulcan logical, but the basic human kind of logic.

The only clear answer was sterilization.

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I called my could-be-a-Soprano’s character doctor and made an appointment. There was no hesitation. There was no period of mourning. There were no tears shed about interrupting my biological imperative.

I haven’t gotten baby rabies for years. The sight of a newborn does nothing but remind me about how fucking hard babies are. I get giddy over puppy videos now. I go all gooey when I see a doggo doing doggo things. While I still take pride and enjoy (most days at least) being a mother, I am over becoming a mother.

The appointment came faster than I thought it was going to. I sat with my doctor and we talked about options before he dug the Nexplanon out of my arm. I told him I was done, I wanted out. He looked at my chart, then looked at me, asked me if I was sure and then said ok.

After talking all the obtains, we decided that a tubal ligation was the way to go. It was covered by our insurance and it supplied the lifelong low failure rate that I needed.
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That’s how I ended up naked and asleep in an operating room on a Tuesday morning. The surgery was uneventful and went pretty much as planned. I was taken to recovery and then, when I was able, I was reunited with three of the coolest kids in the world and my husband.

Since the surgery things have gone well. It’s been about a week and most of the pain had dissipated. The first few days were the worst, but that’s normal. I’m able to do most things and feel in the next week, I’ll be back to my normal self.

But it won’t be my old normal self. I don’t know if getting put under anesthesia is the human equivalent of turning something off and then back on again, but I feel a lot better mentally and emotionally. Maybe it’s the absence of extra crazy hormones in my body.

I’m not a doctor, I can’t really say for sure.

All I do know is that I feel like I’m actually in control now.

And that’s pretty nice.

 

Sources
Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash
Photo by Atik sulianami on Unsplash

Sister (A Declaration)

“Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman”

In 1969, Tammy Wynette took that declaration to the top of the Country charts. For very different reasons than her lyrics explain, the statement rings true for women in 2018.

If ever there was a time for us to come together in sisterhood and stand up for ourselves and each other with the fire we’ve been persecuted with, that time is right now.

This piece I’d like to share with you speaks to these times. It speaks of my feelings towards the heroic women of all ages, colors, and identifiers that are fighting against a system that makes millions off our degradation, assimilation, subordination, and even death.

I hope it also speaks of how important it is for us to love and support each other, whether we are an arms reach or an ocean away.


 

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Sister (A Declaration) 

Sister, I don’t know you,
but I love you.
I love you the way a child loves a superhero.
Eyes wide and mouth agape
Waiting for the next little drop of heroics to fall into their eyes
I love you not just as an inspiration
but as a causation
Like the lore that leads them to discover the powers they own,
hidden behind their school uniforms.

I love you the way a match loves friction,
The ripping of wound that starts a flame.
You remind me to take what I’m holding
And use it to destroy.
Destroy their words, turn their hate to ash,
Blister skin that dares touch me wrong.
To grow and become a force
That can wipe out all life
And leave it fertile for the next generation.

Sister, I love you the way the tree branches love a hard freeze
Bending to new angles, bearing more weight than they planned
The moment before the snap,
before the break bearing the meat of the tree
That’s the moment I love you for showing the strength in me

I love you
But I don’t know you
Your name is not one I can recall out of habit
Like the phone number I had as a child
But the feeling of your hands on my heart,
your fingers in my hair,
The gold of your kintsugi
Are all home to me.

I can not name your favorite color
Or what song you listen to in the car while you
Build courage out of toothpicks.
But I see the fire in your eyes
And it’s holier than the fire they burned us with
When we were both witches at the stake.

Sister, I need you.
I need a strong woman to hold me
When I can play that role no more.
Like a bridge bound with rope
We will sway in the wind together
Holding up and reaching out into the unknown
With delicate dedication.
The future can only be female
if we as a team
Decided to bloody the brows of those that stand against us.
Four fists are better than two.

I do not know you as a lover,
Or as a mother,
Or as a friend.
I know you as a sister.
I know you as I know myself
Which is in a cloudy way.
I know your DNA as if it were my own
Strained through a colander made of expectation and grief.
Forced to rebuild itself in a more uniform way.

Your fight is my fight
And my will is your will
And like the moon,
the wind, and the face of Mars
I don’t know you
But I fucking love you.


 

I love you, sisters.

Photo by Julia Caesar on Unsplash