Last weekend I went to a conference in Minneapolis. It was a Christian conference called WhyChristian 2015 (or WX2015) and it featured a number of progressive Christian speakers. Just reading what I just wrote makes me think “BORING!” but the conference was anything but boring. Actually, it was more exciting than seeing my favorite band, mostly because one of my favorite preachers was leading the conference: Nadia Bolz-Weber.
I quoted Nadia in one of my previous blog posts because her preaching really moves me; the things she says resonate with me quite a bit and she reaches me in a way that many other preachers do not. When I read what I just wrote (something I do frequently so that I don’t end up sounding stupid) it sounds very academic and logical. But the truth is that I am an unabashed geeky-ass fangirl when it comes to Nadia. Like, jump up and down, squeal like a teenager, fangirl.
There. I said it. I am a fangirl to a preacher. Cue the geek music and the horrified reactions of my readers.
It’s embarrassing to admit that one of my biggest heroes is a tattooed preacher woman who curses like a sailor, sometimes while she preaches. Admittedly, I also have a mouth like a sailor, sometimes to my detriment, but I do my best to avoid using any foul language while at the church, even more so when preaching. I guess that means that I admire Nadia for having the guts to curse in the middle of a sermon when I am simply unwilling to be that bold. I totally sound like a middle schooler admitting this (‘Wow…she said a bad word. In Church. She’s so….COOL!’) But there is more to it than that.
It is really hard to be a leader in the Church. People expect you to be holy…holier than they are. People expect you to be patient and kind no matter what mood you’re in. People expect you to be some sort of spiritual powerhouse who thinks deep thoughts and says meaningful things and constantly contemplates Jesus and God and all that spiritual stuff. And I do those things…sporadically and mostly poorly. I do my best to be patient and kind but am just as often crunchy, bitchy, and difficult. I complain about the crappy moments in life—loudly—to the point that even I get sick of listening to me. I pray and read the Word, but no more than any other human being and sometimes less than is really healthy for anyone who claims to be a practicing Christian. I occasionally think deep thoughts, but just as often I am thinking about miniscule crap that is not even remotely spiritual and is actually mundane and kind of stupid. It’s really hard to be spiritual while spot treating the laundry, you know? I would love to be really deep and spiritual. It would be great! I imagine myself, standing there at the sink doing the dishes looking all contemplative and holy, the angels singing in the background. And then I imagine my husband rolling his eyes, sighing deeply, and shaking his head at me. Seriously, I’d expect my husband to divorce me if I behaved like that. I’d divorce me if I behaved like that.
The bottom line is that it is really hard to be yourself everywhere you go, all the time, while being a leader in the church. It’s a constant choice between being authentic and acting like your less-than-holy self, or being “appropriate” to the setting and acting like your “supposed” to. Most of the time when I’m at the Church, I monitor and edit myself in an attempt not to offend anyone or make them question if I’m fit to be called a spiritual leader. I try to be as authentic as possible while attempting to behave like a ‘good girl’, although I have sworn to be my fullest and truest self with any person who extends their relationship with me beyond the front doors of the Church. This means that some of my parishioners know that I have a potty-mouth. Actually, the associate pastor at my Church knows all about my bad language because he was at my last birthday party. I invited him and his wife to the party because I was pretty sure that they would be chill with me being myself in front of them and I was right, although he was the one who labeled me a “potty-mouth.” I figured I’d own it since, after all, that is what I am and it’s a fun label. Also, here in Arizona there aren’t too many Navy guys around, so saying that I curse like a sailor just doesn’t have the same impact as it did when I lived only 15 minutes from Great Lakes Naval Base.
Back to the point: since I have spent so many years monitoring my behavior and editing my speech in an attempt to behave like a proper minister, I have a great deal of respect for anyone willing to risk being truthful about who they are while simultaneously claiming their role as a leader in the Church.
The reason that I idolize Nadia Bolz-Weber is because she risks being honest even when that makes her look a little less holy, a little less put-together, a little less capable and self-assured. She risks being honest when that honesty might give others cause to judge her and reject her for being less than what they want and/or need her to be…if what they need her to be is perfect, holy, and a spiritual powerhouse.
I don’t need someone who is a perfect, holy, spiritual powerhouse. I already have that in Jesus Christ. What I actually need is someone who I can follow…who is mired in being an imperfect, less-than-holy human and who is doing their best to be a spiritual nightlight. (I couldn’t think of something smaller than a powerhouse…maybe a backyard generator? Oh hell, I’ll settle for a nightlight.) I need someone whose example I can follow, realistically. Sure, there are people like Mother Theresa, Father Thomas Merton, or Father Henri Nouwen who are more recent examples of something close to a spiritual powerhouse, but when I look at their lives I just get overwhelmed and feel badly about myself. I wish that I could be that spiritual but most of the time I can’t. When I look at Nadia I see someone that I can imitate. When she drops the f-bomb, when she admits to being less than charitable in her thoughts, when she writes about how she doesn’t read the Bible on a regular basis, or how she struggles with anxiety, I think that THIS is someone I can emulate. This is a woman that I could try to grow up and be like. This is a pastor whose example I can follow and still be who I am on the inside, because who she is on the inside is not all that different from me. When I listen to her sermons and read her books I feel like I have found a path I can follow, and the idea of following Nadia’s example makes me look at her like she’s my hero. And so I jumped up and down in excitement after buying my tickets to the conference in Minneapolis because I was going to get to see Nadia in person. I found myself staring like a moron when I was only a few feet away from her as she signed my copy of her latest book. And I sat enthralled as I listened to her preach during morning worship and again at closing worship, when she spoke words that reached down deep into my soul, words that gave testimony that maybe in all my error-prone ways that I am good enough for God to use me in ministry; good enough to actually lead others who feel like I might be the nightlight they are looking for to lead them on the path towards Jesus.
Here’s to the idea that one day I might grow a bigger bulb.
“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” 1 Corinthians 11:1