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Book Review: Shameless

Written by Nadia Bolz-Weber | Reviewed by Eric Wendorff

If your curiosity was piqued by “Let’s Talk About Sex” sermon references this past Winter, you may want to check out Nadia Bolz-Weber’s Shameless: A Case For Not Feeling Bad About Feeling Good (About Sex) from Covenant’s library.

Bolz-Weber, who pastored Denver’s House for All Saints and Sinners church, presents her case primarily through stories – her congregants’ stories, her own story, and biblical stories.

She’s a very good storyteller -- writing vividly, using metaphor and humor -- although some may be offended by her casual use of four-letter words and other course language.

She tells the stories of those who have been traumatized about their sexuality: LGBTQ people who have felt despised and rejected by the church, women indoctrinated as adolescents by the evangelical “purity” movement to feel shame over their sexuality, and others. She weaves in her own story: her mother’s risky pregnancy to bring her into the world, her own abortion when she was 24, unmarried, and making $800 a month; her divorce after 24 years of marriage to “a good man and a great father,” and her response to her high school daughter’s request for a sleep-over at her boyfriend’s house (No spoiler here: you’ll have to read the book to learn how she dealt with the situation. )

She retells biblical narratives in a contemporary idiom with humor and relevance to current concerns and issues. Here’s how she narrates the story of Pharaoh’s daughter finding Moses in the bulrushes: “Not much later, Pharaoh’s daughter came down to bathe at the river and saw the basket among the reeds. Curious she looked in the basket and saw the child: his tiny arms, his perfect mouth, his little chest rising and falling with the breath of life, and she decided, this is not an issue. It’s a baby. She, too, was filled with God’s spirit. Pharaoh’s own daughter defied him by seeing the baby as a baby and not as an immigrant issue or a Hebrew issue – or a queer issue, or a woman issue, or a special-needs-population issue or a black issue.”

And this is how she draws a lesson about attitudes toward the body and sexuality from John’s resurrection narrative: “After the resurrection, Jesus presented his wounds to his grieving friends. John 20:20 says, “Jesus stood among his disciples and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he showed them his hands and his side.” He did not try to hide the mark from the spear, and he did not wear gloves to conceal his injured hands. He was shameless, like a middle-aged woman with stretch marks swimming in a two-piece.”

Nadia Bolz-Weber’s Shameless is as much about grace as sex: “My Christian faith tells me that good news is only good if it is for everyone, otherwise it’s just ideology. Sexual flourishing is for every type of body, every type of gender, every type of sex drive, every type of human. . . . Whatever sexual flourishing looks like for you, that’s what I would love to see happen in your life. Let us seek to be stewards of our bodies, to live in the joy of our created-ness, honest about our shortcomings, soaking up the grace of God’s rain. Let us find beauty and pleasure in our individual human bodies, trusting each other to use our gifts of sexuality according to our dynamics, our strength and capacity. Let us treat ourselves and others, no matter what our talents, as if we are all holy. Because we are.”

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