I had “Shameless: A Sexual Reformation” by Nadia Bolz-Weber on my wish list before it was released. But I’ve had to sacrifice my book budget for the time being and haven’t been able to afford new books the past few months. This book was published in late January 2019. And I was completely surprised when I saw the book show up in the new arrivals at my library. (Even though I’m a librarian, I don’t just order all the sex books I want to read, as amazing as that would be.) Regardless, I was so excited to have the chance to read the book. And I absolutely loved it. I plan to buy a copy for myself in the future to include in the sexuality book talks I give.
I’ve been grappling with my own spirituality a lot lately so it was kind of like the Heavens parted and a really important piece of the puzzle dropped into my lap. There were a lot of points the author made in this book that served to soothe some pains I’ve been feeling in my spirituality.
I’m not completely clueless about Christianity but I did learn a lot I didn’t know about the Bible and some Christian history in this book, which I found valuable. But this isn’t a dense, jargon-filled theology book. This is a wonderful blend of sermon, self-help, memoir, and philosophy. And there are cuss words.
I suppose I can best describe the narration as personal essay in nature. The author shares her experiences and journey in spirituality and life—as a lover, parent, friend, and pastor. She also comments on teachings in Christianity and societal norms, using stories from her congregation members (shared with permission) to illustrate her points of reframing Christian moral thought. I really appreciated how the author shared her vulnerability, her rough edges, and her own difficult or dark times. They read as a hand reaching out across a table, not self-indulgent wallowing as such writing can sometimes come off as.
The author references lots of books throughout the text, some of which I’ve read (and recommend!) and the rest which I promptly added to my wish list. I thought this was great, as readers will be able to delve further into concepts that catch their attention and could help them untangle more aspects of themselves, their relationships, or their spirituality.
I usually pick a chapter that was my favorite, but there were several that resonated with me. “The Fireplace” which discusses teen sexuality and misguided attempts to control it, “I Smell Sex and Candy” which explores the complexities of pleasure, “Terminal Agitation” that is all about the body and how vital it is to process our experiences, and finally “There is Also Magic” that delves into Song of Songs and the various dualities of sexual experience/expression. These chapters were all my favorites!
I will be honest that when I first started reading the book I was confused, a little put off, and didn’t know if I was going to like the book at all. What did changing bathroom signs and center-pivot irrigation for fields have anything to do with anything? Luckily, I read on, found out, and ended up giving this book 5 stars on Goodreads.
Of course not every single point the author made resonated with me and I don’t agree 100% with all her views. I thought this was a given with any book, but I find myself having to clarify this when I give 5 star reviews. The way I see it, with any book we read about figuring ourselves and the world out, we must take the pieces that fit for us. There were a lot of pieces I picked up out of this book, but I left a few for others.
One thing that really hit me was on page 19. “Holiness is when more than one become one, when what is fractured is made whole. Singing in harmony. Breastfeeding a baby. Collective bargaining. Dancing. Admitting our pain to someone, and hearing them say, ‘Me, too.’”
Because I sometimes wonder if I should be writing so much about my life and experiences, body and sexuality. But I want that completeness. I don’t want others to feel isolated. People try to shame me about being so open about sex—but I consider that openness—yes, about sex—to be a part of my sacred life. I need sexuality and spirituality to be whole. I need to connect both those aspects of my life to other people to be fulfilled.
In this book I found some more strength to keep being open, to keep writing, and to keep sharing. I hope you might, too.
Thanks for reading.