I am having a love affair with Nadia Bolz-Weber. Not literally, but spiritually.
Like many of us, i have spent much of my life searching for what i believe in. Or rather, refining what i believe in. I often find myself walking that fine line between “I need to work harder to be a better person” and “God/Goddess/ Universe loves me just as i am”. They are not mutually exclusive, but there isn’t a whole lot of crossover. I mean, if i am good enough, then why would i make myself nuts trying to be perfect? But conversely, if the goal is to be someone so far removed from myself that, short of shock-treatment-style exorcism, i don’t stand a chance in hell (literally) of attaining it; i would be a fool not to give up before i started.
I posed this problem to my priest once, decades ago. His response, before hugging me and kissing me on the top of my head, was, “Why do you do this to me?”
So it seems that even for the clergy, this isn’t an easy issue.
Nor is it solely the issue of any one religion. The contradiction of G/G/U’s love and the striving to live up to the examples of the Holy Books is one that transcends the rivalries between churches. Trying to make a life of doing what is right and knowing you will fail a lot of the time is problematic even for the science-minded, the aesthete, and the apatheist. We all want to be better than we are. And we all know we won’t get to where we want to be. It’s like a supreme, cosmic, existential joke.
If you think about it too much, you will go insane.
But the appearance of people like Bolz-Weber, an improbably coarse but unusually honest Lutheran pastor, make it a little less painful, if only because they assure us that we aren’t alone in our confusion.
There is something comforting in a pastor, particularly a Christian one, admitting that they are in the same quandary that we are. It somehow makes it a bit less lonely and frustrating. After all, if the professionals can’t always make sense of it, then we certainly can’t be expected to!
I am fascinated by the spiritual paths that people take. Christian, Jew, Hindu, Sikh, Pagan, Jedi… Matters little to me… It is the way you set your compass and how you deal with times when the path gets overgrown or flooded that intrigue me. Because regardless of what code you follow, there will be times when it isn’t enough. Or when you aren’t enough. And at that moment, we are all the same. Small fragile creatures looking for forgiveness and/or punishment and reassurance.
Life can be grand and funny and transcendental technicolor. But it can also be hard and frustrating and painful. No one gets through it alive, and no one gets through it alone. And whatever kind of pole you need to help you balance while you walk that tightrope of personal and spiritual expectation, more power to you. As His Musical Holiness, Frank Sinatra once said, “Whatever gets you through the night.”
As for me, i’ll keep writing and questioning. Taking it all in and picking out the common thread that binds us all. That thread is what keeps me motivated. That thread is where i find my personal truth, the balance between my self and my goal. And yes, i will waver and fall on occasion. So will you. But as long as we get back on the rope and keep walking, we’ll be ok. As long as we keep reaching out to help others when we see them wobble, it is going to be alright. As long as we are never so sure of the path that we stop watching where we’re going, we will continue to improve.
And whether you pastor is Billy Graham, the Dalai Lama, or Jim Ignatowski, i like to think that they all would agree.