Progressive Christians I’m Reading

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I’m a native California girl who was born and raised in Los Angeles, attended university in Santa Cruz, and made my home in the San Francisco Bay Area. What this means primarily is that my veins look like the highways and byways that connect California’s biggest cities with major arteries like the 5, 101, or 1 and small little farm highways known as “blood alleys” that haven’t exactly aged with grace. As a child, I was a wizard at car reading. Later I lost that superhero ability but to my surprise digital books don’t seem to bring on the nausea. I was delighted to read all of Erin Lane’s Lessons in Belonging From A Church Going Commitment Phobe.

The more progressive Christian books I read, the more I can parse out their culture and cadence. The first author to get me sucked in was Nadia Bolz-Weber who blogs as the “Sarcastic Lutheran.” Erin Lane is a “Holy Hellion.” Both are feisty spirits who have written a kind of Christianity that doesn’t make me run screaming from the room and actually gets me to sit down for a moment and think about things like Grace and God’s Love without leaving a mass-produced and hollow cheap candy saccharine cough syrup taste on your tongue.

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The Christian church is said to be having a masculinity crisis but I would say that’s been happening for a long time now. It has been said that church attendance could be increased if hipster chic manly men could appeal to their fellow bros-in-Christ and bring forward artistinal patriarchy. (I’m talking to you, Mark Driscoll.) But it’s unreal to suggest that Christianity is losing its patriarchal edge, it just has God forsaken hair and terrible patterned wall paper. It’s not Christ that makes Christianity a hard place to be a feminist. When I hit puberty and realized that my Catholic upbringing had a lot to answer for when it came to the way it regarded my anatomy and that anatomy’s role in our collective salvation and I washed my hands of the business. I fled out of a sense of self-protection. The women with the most power in the church always seemed to be the ones who affirmed patriarchy the best and lost touch with what it meant to be a girl coming up under it.

These two authors have such a profound love of Christ and a sincere desire to cultivate a community that embraces his teachings they don’t really let something like toxic masculinity get in their way. I have always been an outside critic who does not know God and has made it a point not to be invested in being part of God’s church on earth.  One of these women started her own church, the House of All Sinners and Saints. The other describes experiences of trying her best to belong to one and struggling with that. Both are very open with the frustrations and stumbling blocks of being women in a creed that really doesn’t think much of women, least of all smart and sarcastic women. Both demonstrate the difficulty of being called to serve from a social and cultural position in which subservience is expected. It’s so hard to discern when your gifts are being appreciated or exploited.

Nadia Bolz-Weber committed to watching 24 hours of terrible Christian television and sharing her observations. I spent most of the book laughing out loud but I couldn’t quite give the channel the more charitable read she gave, but then again as a former sex worker, my audience has always been a little different. I come from a firebrand and I have absolutely been the variety to shout, “2-4-6-8 F*** the Church and F*** the State” at various civil rights protests I’ve attended.

I can’t fully endorse all of the conclusions these two come to and there are absolutely moments when I read something and I’m so firmly reminded of what makes us so different. But they did something that no one in just short of 30 years could do: they got me to believe that what they had to say about God involved me, too. I don’t think it’s any small feat to hook a hot-headed atheist political radical. Every other attempt has always felt so patronizing and pitying of my bad attitude passing on the message that with spiritual maturity will come the understanding that the church isn’t exclusionary or oppressive to anyone but sinners who don’t belong there and my inevitable submission to the authority of men who are God’s representatives here on earth.

I don’t know how to forgive God for the Church just yet but I’m trying. It was nice to do so in the literary company of these two women. For one, Nadia Bolz-Weber comes to much more starkly conservative theological conclusions that I would dispute from a Liberation Catholic perspective. The big difference is that I could debate her from both the ‘no god’ and the ‘yes god’ vantages before eventually changing the conversation to talk about why Unitarian Universalism really just doesn’t work.

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