Series 23: For the Love of Finishing Strong | Episode 04
A Thrill of Hope: Nadia Bolz-Weber Uncovers the Unlikely Miracles of Christmas
Christmas holds so many truths all at once, as it has for thousands of years. And today, Jen’s friend, pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber, leads us to look with several new lenses at the story we’ve heard since we were toddling around in snowman footie pajamas. There’s the beauty of a young family shepherding a new life into the world, amid brutal oppression from a power-hungry empire. There’s the unwed teenage girl who’s told she will carry the savior of the world while a disdainful religious culture watches her belly swell. Through it all, we get a glimpse at Mary’s fierce desire to honor her Creator, and the tremendous power held in the way she accepts this divine assignment. As Nadia takes us through the Christmas story, she points out how God moves through the world by turning the notions of “power” and “blessing” upside down while lifting up the voiceless and the oppressed, reminding us that “being ‘blessed’ means seeing God in the world and trusting that God is at work even in things we can’t see, understand, or imagine.”
Narrator: Hi everybody, my name is Remy. Welcome to the For the Love Podcast, with your host Jen Hatmaker, my mom. She writes books and speaks to crowds. But she mostly loves talking to amazing people every week on this podcast. Thanks for listening! We hope you enjoy the show.
Jen: Hey everybody. It is Jen Hatmaker. Welcome to the For the Love Podcast.
I am exceptionally glad that you are here today, and I’ll tell you why. It is Christmas—I don’t know if you’ve noticed—and on one hand, there are amazing things everywhere and delight and wonder and joy. And very much on the other hand, for so many people, there is pain or loss or hard memories or relationships that failed us in some way, or are failing now. So the result is that this time of year can be really complicated. It has this very strange dichotomy of what we see on the surface and then what it actually is. It just brings up all kinds of stuff.
Normally, here on the show, we do a series. But in this case, I wanted to do one Christmas episode, just one. This is a one-off. I don’t know how else to say this, but I wanted to just pastor you in some way. I wanted to shepherd my listeners and to speak life and truth into your experience right now, and into your heart and mind and soul and create space, maybe just one hour worth of space, to be nourished and nurtured and heard and understood. I asked my friend, pastor and author Nadia Bolz-Weber, to lead us today, to come on the show and to shepherd us.
Now, a lot of you know Nadia. She is the founder and former pastor—about a year and a half ago, she stepped away to do her ministry in a different way—at House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver.
I’ve never known anyone like Nadia. No one is exactly like her. She is a former standup comic, which you’ll see. You’ll pick up on that really quickly. She’s a recovering alcoholic, and her online moniker, Sarcastic Lutheran, is hilariously accurate. She’s nailed it.
She’s a really brilliant writer and thinker and believer. Today, she’s going to lead us through the Christmas story and the Christmas season in a way that I hope is incredibly meaningful to you. I want you to know this first—before you just click off, like, “Oh nope,”—if you haven’t darkened a church doorway in years, or ever, or even if you’ve already heard the Christmas story a zillion times in the last six weeks, or you just think that this might not be for you, that you don’t know what you believe or if you believe, that the version of Christianity you see right now could not possibly hold any meaning for you in real life, I actually want you to stay.
I think that you are going to find some real beauty in today’s episode, especially in the way Nadia talks about Jesus and scripture and the Christmas story. I hope that this will be a profound experience for you. It definitely was for me. You will see that as we signed off at the end, it was me bawling and blowing my nose right into the microphone and I’m really sorry about that. But Nadia’s benediction and her words were so beautiful and so lovely and meaningful and true and good, and so no matter how you come to this table, I hope you’ll stay. And I hope this episode serves you well. I’m incredibly grateful to my friend, the wonderful Nadia Bolz-Weber, for being our pastor today.
Jen: I am a lucky girl today to welcome my friend to the For the Love Podcast. Nadia, hi.
Nadia: Hey, Jen.
Jen: I told you this before we started recording, but my podcast team and I were steering the ship into December waters and I wanted to just [say that] this is a one-off podcast. The normal way we do the podcast is in series, and we’ll have five or six in a row on the same theme, but this is all by itself. This is a standalone, because I wanted to offer my listeners, like I told you, some pastoring. And, I told my team that I wanted you to be the pastor.
I find you very special in this space, and incredibly gifted, more so than probably anyone I’ve ever seen. I do a little jaw drop at the way that you are gifted for this work and the depths of your mind and your heart, and even your creativity and the way that you talk about God and faith and life.
So, I appreciate you coming in here to do some pastoring, as you just have described, that you are finding interesting ways to pastor in this world and to this world right now.
All right, so one question that gets bandied about this time, people are always asking, “Are you ready for Christmas?” You wrote a really cool piece about that one time. Are you ready for Christmas?
I wonder about that question, and what it really means, what people are really asking. Do they want our real answers? Is that kind of like a surfacy question, like, “Do you have your tree up?” Or is it more like, “Is this a hard month?”
So, I want to ask you first, and then we’re going to steer the conversation a little bit toward everybody else listening. What do you specifically love or appreciate or look forward to in this part of the year?
Nadia: Well, as we record, this Advent starts this coming Sunday. I love that there is a whole season of the year that’s about, in some ways, not doing anything.
Jen: Right, great point.
Nadia: Like, it’s about waiting and anticipating, and, I mean, there is that term prepare, but not prepare in the sense of duty, you know, “What’s your duty to fulfill at this point?” But [rather] to prepare in terms of being aware, of like, we never know what’s going to happen in our lives.
So what’s the stuff that’s foundational in our lives that we can grip onto? Because nobody knows what’s going to happen. I mean, a lot of the texts during Advent are about nobody knowing the hour, nobody knowing when this is going to happen, but then it’s like, “Be ready.” I’m like, Be ready for what you don’t know?
But, of course, when people say, “Are you ready for Christmas?” They mean, “Have you done all the shopping? Are the gifts wrapped? Have you maxed out your credit card and bought pants that have elastic waistbands for the season?” That’s what they mean. But in a way, think about this time of year and how loaded it is.
It’s the holidays. Like capital T, capital H. And like I say in this letter, maybe you still feel obliged to spend holidays with your family because you’re supposed to belong with them, but belonging is never what you feel, because your family can’t love you the way your friends can, and it’s painful to realize that every year. Or maybe you lost your parents too soon, and you quietly fume this time of year when your friends complain about not belonging with their family because their mom is chain-smoking neat freak, and their dad watches too much football, because, well, you’d do anything to have one more Thanksgiving with your parents, despite their shortcomings. Or maybe you’re the parent of a young adult who’s decided they don’t belong to you and with you in the way you wish they still did. I mean, [the holidays are] just so loaded around issues of identity and belonging for people, and when the whole culture around us is sort of glibly singing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” it can be rough.
Jen: Absolutely. And that’s why I wanted to lean a little bit into this story, that old story that we keep coming back to and that has the potential to center us in a different way, to move the conversation away from what we’ve created it to be in our time and era and what it started as.
I wonder, and I’ll just put this to you and let you do it however you want, but I wonder if you would take us back to Bethlehem and talk through, really, any part of it, any piece of it that means something special to you. Maybe always, maybe just this year, maybe something that you’ve noticed or that you think is worth hearing.
Nadia: Yeah, I’d love to. I’m going to read part of it from Luke, just because sometimes the familiarity we have with stories gets in the way of us really hearing them.
Jen: Yeah, that’s right.
Nadia: Yeah, so in Luke, it says:
In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man named Joseph of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one, the Lord is with you.”
But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God and now you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. And he will be great and he will be called the son of the most high, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever and his kingdom will have no end.”
And Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I’m a virgin?”
And the angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the most high will overshadow you. Therefore, the child to be born will be holy and he will be called Son of God. And now your relative, Elizabeth, in her old age has also conceived a son and this is the sixth month for her, who is said to be barren, for nothing will be impossible with God.”
And then Mary said, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your word.”
And then the angel departed from her.
I have this memory, from when I was twelve years old, of going to a friend’s house for a sleepover and feeling quietly scandalized by something I discovered about her and her family when I was there. They weren’t heroin addicts, or part of an armed militia, they were Catholic.
Jen: Oh, dear. Oh no.
Nadia: Yeah, and they weren’t even trying to hide it. Yeah. So, seeing images of Mary all over their house, I wouldn’t have been more scandalized than if those pictures in their living room were pictures of Playboy pinups. Honestly. I knew Catholics existed with their Saints and their candles and their rosaries and all their other exotic ways of being wrong, but now I’d met some, and the truth is, I couldn’t stop staring at Mary. I was absolutely captivated. She was so luminescent and good and trustworthy and her beauty was so strong, and I was secretly just jealous as all get out. I have always, ever since that sleepover, just been so drawn to Mary. I like to say Protestants don’t really know what to do with Mary, it’s like Roman Catholics already have dibs on her.
Jen: We’ve lost our grip on her.
Nadia: Yeah. So we just stand by. We just dust her off once a year to be the pretty young girl in the nativity set.
Jen: That’s right.
Nadia: And then we put her away before she embarrasses anybody.
Jen: That’s right.
Nadia: So, I didn’t pick up my love of her again until my twenties, but I am going to read something that I wrote about her.
“There’s so many reasons to love Mary. She’s been loved for centuries for being the docile picture of purity and virginity. As a matter of fact, church doctrines have been written to say that Mary was perpetually a virgin and born without sin. That always sounds to me like a way of saying that God could never choose to make God’s home in the womb of an actual woman, since we know that actual women are sinful, fleshy temptresses.
So Mary had to have been a special one-off kind of woman that was really, really different and it was actually her really, really different-ness from actual women that (A) earned her God’s favor, and (B) should be emulated by actual women, even though we can never hope to attain it. Because as stated previously, Mary was totally different than any other woman before or since, but like, knock yourselves out, girls.” That’s what I feel like the message was.
But then also, Mary’s been loved by leftest as a sort of first century teenage female Che Guevara, singing the Magnificat about the overthrow of the social order, where the hungry are fed and the rich are sent away empty handed, and I love that image, even though I think it might be slightly misguided. But then, other people disturbed by the rationality of the whole thing and see Mary, and especially the virgin birth, as like a fairytale for the gullible, something ignorant people believe in because they haven’t learned to use human reason or listen to NPR enough.
I just don’t feel satisfied with any of those ways of seeing Mary, because I want to view Mary, and even the Christmas story itself, without sentimentality or cynicism, which are the two things I think we default to. Actually, getting through Christmas without sentimentality or cynicism is perhaps my goal.
So okay, here’s my thing. Here we have a girl likely between thirteen and fifteen years of age. She’s a peasant, and she’s engaged to a pretty religious guy, and an angelic figure visits her, saying that she’s found favor with God and is going to conceive a son by the Holy Spirit. And I know people get hung up on believing the virgin birth thing, but for me, the harder thing to believe was that she said yes. I mean, if—and this is a big if, mind you—I ever would have said yes to something so bizarre, I would only have done so if I knew what was in it for me.
Jen: That’s good.
Nadia: Like, namely, How am I going to be blessed by this God who wants to use me? But Mary, based on very little solid evidence or information, said, “I am God’s, and let it be with me according to God’s word.” She said yes.
And I’ve always wondered if there were a VH1 Behind the Music special about Mary, if we’d finally learn the whole story. Like how many girls said no that night before the angel found one that would say yes. You know, the back story.
And if there were a string of girls saying no that night, you really can’t blame them, because a few verses later, Elizabeth calls Mary blessed and Mary sings that, for generations to come, people will call her blessed, but think about how the story played out for her. Is that what being blessed looks like? We usually use that word differently.
Jen: You’re right.
Nadia: Like, “You’re so blessed to have that new boat.” But I wonder, how does Mary use that word? Did she feel blessed as her unwed belly grew under the gaze of disapproving others? Did she feel blessed when laboring amongst sheep and straw? Did she feel blessed when her heart dropped, realizing she left her twelve-year-old in Jerusalem? At His arrest, did she feel blessed seeing rope dig into the wrists of her son? Did she feel blessed when they lifted him up?
“Blessed are you among women.” I mean, if that’s what blessing is, I feel like I might have to pass. It was hard enough sending my oldest kid to middle school. Golgotha is a whole other matter. But I think the prophet Mary of Nazareth had a particular wisdom to her. I’m not convinced she was perpetually full of nothing but virtue, virginity, and pure receptivity, but I’m sure she wasn’t just another Joe Schmoe, who doesn’t deserve any more honor than another character in the Bible, because that yes she gave was fierce.
And I think Mary deserves our devotion, because in [Mary] we see what casting our lot with and being blessed by the God of Israel really looks like. Namely, being blessed means seeing God in the world and trusting that God is at work even in things we can’t see, understand, or imagine. Mary saying, “God, I’m yours, let’s do this,” subverts both sentimentality and cynicism.
She didn’t trust that God was going to shower her with cash and prizes. She got something that I really struggle to understand, that getting a blessing is not the same as getting a present. She said yes not based on the expectation of things being awesome for her, but based on the expectation that God can create something out of nothing. And we never know, simply based on how our life feels, if it’s filled with God’s blessing or not.
So, I like to say that being a people marked by the faith of Mary is to be a people who say, “Okay, I don’t understand what’s going on. And I know that my life isn’t going to end up looking like one I would choose out of a catalog, but I trust God is at work in all of it. Blessedness is being used for God’s purpose more than it’s getting what I want or things being easy.”
Christmas isn’t about getting what you want, or making sure you’re giving others what they want. To experience Christmas is to trust that God can do this thing again. That God can again, in the most outrageous, most unlikely way, be born in me and in you and in this broken mess of a gorgeous world.
Jen: That was beautiful. Thank you for reading that. Thank you for writing that and sharing it here.
Jen: I’m interested in something else that you wrote one time, because I think it’s important that we don’t forget what Christmas is. Because like you once said, “It’s actually a story of alienation and political tyranny, homelessness, working class people, pagans, and angels.” This is pulling it cleanly out of the sentimentality space. This is grittier than we tend to assign the season. [We] definitely prefer the shinier version of the story.
And so I find that weirdly hopeful right now, because sometimes we forget that Jesus was born under rule of an empire, under a king who wanted him murdered, who took a hit out on him when he was two. It was a world filled with oppression and corruption and greed, just literally like the one we are living in this very minute.
And so, I find the Christmas story a balm when I can consider it truthfully. When I can look at the story as it really was, how it was really framed—which is similar to what you just said, the difference between a blessing and a present—I like the present version of Christmas, but the blessing version has something to teach us right now. And so, I wonder if you could talk about how the truthfulness, the grit of the real story, actually offers us more than the Hallmark version of the story.
Jen: That’s a great title. Yes. Totally.
Nadia: I like to tell the story that we get confused about which characters were in the Christmas story, weren’t in the Christmas story, at what [point] were they in it. And I like to tell the story about how in my ex-husband’s first parish, they did a living nativity every year, where people could drive by a little scene that was set up, that had farm animals and somebody would be holding a baby, playing Mary, all of that.
Jen: Of course.
Nadia: I was inside helping people get dressed for the different shifts, because it was very cold out, so people could only last about fifteen minutes before having to switch out and get some hot chocolate.
So this kid, a little boy, came in from his shift, and I said, “Hey, Peter, how did you like being a shepherd in the nativity?” And he looked at me, he goes, “Oh, it was pretty good, but next year I think I want to be a pirate.” I was like, Oh yeah, you know, the pirate at the birth of our Lord.
Jen: Sure, it’s a lesser known character, but yeah.
Nadia: Exactly, but is that any weirder than presuming there was a drummer boy?
Jen: It’s no weirder.
Nadia: You know what I mean?
Nadia: I was like, look, I’ve given birth to two children, and in a much more comfortable setting than a barn, and I can say with certainty the last thing I wanted in my labor and delivery room was a boy playing a drum.
Nadia: Literally, even if he was playing his best for me.
Nadia: And then, my favorite is when there’s a little manger scene with Santa kneeling.
Nadia: Yep, we think there’s Santa, pirates, and drummer boys, but what we forget to put in the little manger scene was Herod.
Jen: That’s right.
Nadia: And the time that really came up for me was—I think it was 2012, wasn’t it? When Sandy Hook happened?
Jen: Oh right, yeah.
Nadia: And it was like twelve days before Christmas.
Jen: That’s right. It sure was.
Nadia: Do you remember that? It was during Advent.
Jen: It just felt like such an unfair bit of added brutality.
Nadia: Oh my God, and everyone was like, “I can’t celebrate Christmas after something like that happens.”
I’m like, “Well, maybe if we understood the Christmas story better.” You know? The fact that, yeah, that kind of infantacide and violence and corruption and insecure troglodytes have always existed. To me, Christmas is this idea that God chose to enter a world as violent and faithless as our own. God didn’t wait around until we had some idealized version of ourselves available, some snow covered silent night affected version of the world, and then God chose to be born as Jesus.
Jen: Or even a majority culture. We weren’t in charge of the world at the time.
Nadia: Exactly right. That’s a good point. That’s right. And then, to me, this is why I think biblical illiteracy is actually very dangerous, because there’s so many things—like you said—dominant cultures, dominant groups have always been the ones to tell us what the Bible says and what it means. And it’s really powerful when a message is given to us in God’s name, but people have done evil things under the cover of, “This isn’t us, it’s God’s will,” from the beginning. So the more we know about the text itself, the more equipped we are to reclaim it for the liberation for which it was intended, instead of using it as camouflage for our own biases and hunger for power.
I mean, that’s why I still have skin in the game. I went to church voluntarily last night, at the Cathedral here. I won’t step away, because I just think scripture and liturgy and theology is just way too potent to be left in the hands of people who only use to justify their dominance over another group of people.
Jen: Wow. I couldn’t agree more. It took me a long time to understand that, actually.
I received every bit of gospel and scripture through the dominant lens my whole life, which is how I came to understand it, which is how I sort of assimilated it into my world view and to my understanding of God. And then I wondered, when I hit adulthood, why so much of it rang empty and caused so much harm and damage.
And so, undoing that work it is not for the faint of heart. It is a labor, and I just want to acknowledge, really quickly, whoever is listening, who is in the middle of that labor of understanding that, indeed, privilege is a very reliable enemy of discernment. And once you know that, you can’t unknow it, and then you begin to see everything you ever understood through the lens of privilege, it’s lonely. That work is lonely, and it feels disorienting and, as they say, slippery. But it’s good work.
And I think that’s what you’re saying. It’s why you still have skin in the game—and me too. Otherwise, we would have walked away a long time ago.
Nadia: Totally, yeah.
Jen: A long time ago, because that version of it is so empty and so abusive, and so I think it’s worth a call out, to say there’s a different way to think about this story right now. There’s a different way to think about Jesus and about God and about how He came and why.
Nadia: There’s some amazing guides out there.
Jen: Yes, there are.
Nadia: I mean, there’s womanist biblical scholars and theologians, there’s feminist theology you can look at, there’s liberation, there are all these incredible guides out there who see the liberation of the text, that see it in a completely different way.
I read a book this year that was from a Choctaw Episcopal priest, and I think it was called The Four Vision Quests of Jesus, and at the end, I was like, Am I? All of it was so beautiful, that I was like, Oh, am I a native Christian and I didn’t know it? I’m like, Nope, I’m still a white girl. But it overturned everything, and it was so faithful to the text. There’s so many good guides out there.
Jen: That’s a great point, and we will for sure link to that book.
That’s good counsel. When we look to the narrative from someone who has not centered themselves in it, from a place of power, and a place of privilege, I mean, it’s almost like a completely different story, the amount of freedom that is then understood to come through it. That’s kind of changed my adult life.
Nadia: But also, I collect. When I’m traveling, people constantly tell me their religious backgrounds. I mean, every time I meet people, they will say, “I was raised Catholic.” They lead with it with me, so I hear a lot about why people leave the church. Like, “My dad was horrible, physically abused my mom, and when she finally had the courage to leave him, the church said she couldn’t take communion anymore.” Or, “I had to choose between my sexuality and my religious belief, and I chose me.” Or whatever. You hear all these narratives, and I get it. But never once, not one time, have I heard someone go, “Well, I was raised Christian, but I left, because I just felt like that Jesus guy didn’t have much to offer.”
Jen: Great point.
Nadia: I mean, people are not leaving the church because they don’t believe in the gospel. People are leaving the church because they believe in the gospel so much, they can’t stomach being part of an institution that says it’s about it and clearly is not.
Jen: I’ve never heard that one time either. In fact, I’ve only heard the opposite from people that I’ve met, who have walked away, and just said, “I can’t ever go back. I’ll never darken the doors again. Everything got rattled down to the core for me.” And then there’s always a pause, and sometimes their eyes will start swimming a little bit and they’ll just say, “But man, gosh, I really miss Jesus.”
Nadia: Yeah, totally.
Jen: It’s the opposite. He remains. He remains, when everything else falls away as the chaff that it is.
Jen: He remains, and that’s what holds me fast.
Nadia: Oh my gosh.
Jen: Literally, I think that’s almost it.
Nadia: Well, this is why, quote, liberal Christianity can be a bit disappointing to me, because so often the more social-justice-oriented churches don’t engage scripture that much. They don’t talk about Jesus that much. And I’m like, “Are you kidding? Scripture and Jesus are literally the only two things we have going for us. Why would you just allow more conservative forms of Christianity to have ownership over it? Those are the only two things we have.”
Jen: Yeah, that’s right. That’s the good news. There really is, it holds. I’ve said this before, but one thing I was delighted to discover as a grown up whose structures fell away—and I had to really consider what’s left and do I believe it—is that it turns out, if you do it with a great deal of humility and integrity and you consider the text from the viewpoint of which it was written, primarily by oppressed people and for them, you can press really, really hard on scripture and it will hold. What a wonderful thing to discover. You don’t want to press ever so firmly and have the thing disintegrate in your hands, and it doesn’t. It really doesn’t.
Nadia: It doesn’t, because it actually is an endless reservoir of meaning.
Jen: That’s good.
Nadia: Every group that has approached it and wrestled with it and demanded from it a blessing, has walked away. Maybe there’s a limp, but they walk away, and that if you do the work, it will hand over the goods.
Jen: That’s so good.
Jen: I want to go back to something you said earlier. You just walked through what Christmas feels like to so many people, the disappointment of it, the fear and anxiety around it, the lack of belonging when it’s supposed to deliver the belonging, and all the things that you said. This is hard for many people for a million reasons.
And so, I would love to hear anything you could offer us, as we think about some of the hardest moments in this season, supposedly of joy. How do we hang on, and how do we move forward, and how do we keep our faith and our hope intact?
Nadia: I just think being honest about how things feel, I think being open to what things will be, rather than predetermining what they have to look like in order for them to be good.
Instead of determining, “Hey, I have all these resentments towards my family,” [because] then all you do is look for supporting information for why that’s still true. You know what I mean? There’s a million ways that we think we’re victims, when really we’re volunteers.
Jen: Ah, well, yeah. Gosh.
Nadia: Yeah, that’s gross. So I think that there can be a power in realizing how much our thoughts are about things that are making us suffer more than the events themselves. And to go, Oh wow. I actually have some choices in this. That can be hard, because we can get really attached to certain narratives about ourselves, and certain narratives about our families. But I feel like I’ve had a healing in my relationship with my mom this year.
Nadia: Yeah, we’ve had a hard relationship throughout my life, and I think there was just something about choosing to see her not through the eyes of my wounds, my girl wounds. Do you know what I mean?
Jen: Yes, I do.
Nadia: Or the things I felt like I didn’t get, that I thought I wanted or needed from her. That’s a lens that can be useful to see, to name, to understand. But is also optional. I don’t think that seeing her through that lens is serving me at all. It’s not serving her.
And there are other ways to view people, other than the one we are just so stuck in. We get the deeply worn neural grooves in our minds and our brains, but I think there are sometimes ways to name it and go, Oh, that’s maybe optional instead of compulsory.
Jen: Yes. Absolutely. While challenging, that is a discipline, honestly, to engage that work and to figure out what you hang onto and what you set down, but it’s monumental. I love hearing that you feel like you’ve had a breakthrough with your mom this year, which is great to hear, because a lot of [people] walk around with pain and suffering and wounds that are forty-five years old. You know? They’re fifty years old. It’s never too late. It’s not a life sentence to be stuck in those places of sorrow…
Nadia: You’re right.
Jen: …out of regret, and I love hearing that. You’re a pastor and you still did this work, this calendar year. To me, that is really encouraging.
Nadia: I’m just an example of what it looks like to need grace. I’m that example. My parishioners would always say, “We’re really glad we have a preacher who is clearly preaching to herself and just letting us overhear it.” That’s mainly what I’ve got here.
I just want to go back to that thing about resentments, and it’s one of the reasons I’m so, so grateful to have been a member of a twelve step community for almost twenty-eight years. Because the big book of AA says how dangerous and how toxic resentments are, specifically for alcoholics, because it calls resentment, “the dubious luxury of ordinary men.” Meaning, if you have this particular twist where you’re an alcoholic, that’s not a luxury you can afford. And so, so much, I think a lot of people might not even realize this about the twelve steps, so much of it is trying to deal with your resentments and to see how much our resentments have a secret fuel source, and the secret fuel source of our resentments is the little, tiny five percent of the situation that we’re responsible for.
Nadia: It says, about resentment in that book, if you look back far enough, these people harmed you. What they did was wrong. Not dismissing that, not saying it’s anything other than harm. Not saying it’s okay, but sometimes, if you look back far enough, you’ll find that at some point in the past, you made a decision based on self that put you in a position to be harmed.
Nadia: But people we don’t want to look at that.
Jen: Of course not.
Nadia: Because it feels perilously close to saying that the harm isn’t harmful. We’re saying it’s okay that person did that. No, no, no. That’s not what we’re saying. We’re saying if you want freedom, if you really want to be free, it takes looking at that stuff, because we can detail until the cows come home on everyone’s wrongs, and we could be accurate in all that, but I always say, “It feels good for a minute, but only in the way that peeing your pants feels warm for a minute.”
Jen: That’s good.
Nadia: You know, it will be cold and smelly after a while. So all of that is fine, it feels good to do that, and it might very well be absolutely true, but it is not the path to your freedom.
Jen: Wow. Gosh. That’s hard to hear and hard to face. And I wish it wasn’t true, but it is true.
Nadia: I do, too. Yeah, it’s the worst. This is what I believe so much of the gospel is about. That whole love your enemies, that’s not about being a doormat.
Jen: No, it’s not.
Nadia: That’s about freedom, in a sense, and so that’s why I like to say, “The gospel’s like the worst good news I’ve ever heard in my life.”
Jen: Totally. Absolutely. It’s too hard. It’s just calls us too high.
Jen: I want to wrap things up here with you, and I wonder if I could ask you to share what is one of my favorite benedictions of yours. And this is one of your special gifts. This is the language of liturgy and of blessing and of benediction—it’s just a very special tool that God has put in your hands.
You wrote a benediction called, “Blessed Are the Unemployed, Unimpressive, and Under Represented.” And while ominously dark titling, it is full of meaning and hope and goodness and Jesus.
So I wonder if you could share that with us, and send out everyone listening today in a place of worship.
Nadia: Yeah, well I wrote that because a lot of times the Beatitudes, “blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, are setup as another to-do list for us. Like, be mourn-ier…”
And I think that it’s about Jesus’ lavish blessing of the actual people around Him on that hillside that day. That He was blessing people in His world, on that hill, whose world, like ours, didn’t seem to have much time for people in pain and people who worked for peace instead of profit and people who exercised mercy instead of vengeance.
So I imagine Jesus standing, offering new blessings for our particularities like this.
Blessed are the agnostics.
Blessed are they who doubt, who aren’t sure, who can still be surprised.
Blessed are those who are spiritually impoverished and therefore not so certain about everything that they no longer take in new information.
Blessed are those who have nothing to offer.
Blessed are the pre-schoolers who cut in line at communion.
Blessed are the poor in spirit. You are of heaven, and Jesus blesses you.
Blessed are they for whom death is not an abstraction.
Blessed are they who’ve buried their loved ones, for whom tears could fill an ocean.
Blessed are they who’ve loved enough to know what loss feels like.
Blessed are the mothers of the miscarried.
Blessed are they who don’t have the luxury of taking things for granted any more.
Blessed are they who can’t fall apart because they have to keep it together for everyone else.
Blessed are those who still aren’t over it yet.
Blessed are those who mourn. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.
Blessed are those who no one else notices: the kids who sit alone at middle school lunch tables, the laundry guys at the hospital, the sex workers, and the nightshift street sweepers.
Blessed are the forgotten.
Blessed are the closeted.
Blessed are the unemployed, the unimpressive, the under represented.
Blessed are the teens who have to figure out how to hide the new cuts on their arms.
Blessed are the meek. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.
Blessed are the wrongly accused, the ones who never catch a break, the ones for whom life is hard, for Jesus chose to surround himself with people like you.
Blessed are those without documentation.
Blessed are the ones without lobbyists.
Blessed are foster kids and special ed kids and every other kid who just wants to feel safe and loved.
Blessed are those that make terrible business decisions for the sake of people.
Blessed are the burned out social workers and the overworked teachers and the pro bono case takers.
Blessed are kind-hearted football players and fundraising trophy wives.
Blessed are kids who step between the bullies and the weak.
Blessed are those who hear they’re forgiven.
Blessed are the merciful, for they totally get it.
Jen: Well, that is all there is to say on that. Thank you.
Nadia: You’re welcome.
Jen: Ah, gosh. I’m sorry to blow my nose right now.
Nadia: That’s okay.
Jen: Sorry, listeners. Thank you for that Nadia. Thank you for those words. That’s so special and beautiful and true and so, there’s nothing else to add to that. You are a gift, not just to this whole world, but to me.
Nadia: Oh, thank you.
Jen: Thank you for being a good pastor and a good friend and a good leader. I’ve learned so much from you and I continue to. I send you all of the love and blessings of Christmas and of Bethlehem to you and to your beautiful people and to your future. I can’t wait to see this next version of your work in the world and what it will look like and I bless it and I honor it in advance, because I know it will lead me and teach me and the rest of us as well. So, much love to you dear friend. Merry Christmas to you and thank you for being on today.
Nadia: You too. Merry Christmas.
Jen: Well, I hope that just meant as much to you as it did to me and served you well, because it certainly did me. I want to just close today by reading a bit of the story just as it was written in Luke 2:
In those days, Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. This was the first census that took place while Quirinus was Governor of Syria. And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth and Galilee to Judea to Bethlehem, the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.
While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born and she gave birth to her first born, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news from great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David, a savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you. You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly, a great company of the heavenly hosts appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
Merry Christmas, everybody.
Narrator: That’s it for today’s show. Hope you enjoyed this chat. Be sure to subscribe to my mom’s podcast and give it a “thumbs up” rating if you like it. From the whole Hatmaker family, hope you have a great week and see you next time!