So I’ve been hearing about Nadia Bolz-Weber for a while now. Tattooed, liberal Lutheran pastor. Cusses a lot. Runs a church that welcomes anybody and everybody. I follow her on Twitter, and I added her to my Twitter list called “Rebel.”
As it turns out, a rebel may be what it takes to get me to take a step toward faith again.
I was given Bolz-Weber’s book, Pastrix, for Christmas, and I read it in just a couple of days. I guess you could call it a memoir, but it also sort of felt like a book of short stories. I loved this book because of its relatable, down-to-earth feel. Bolz-Weber doesn’t delve into much theology or dogma. Instead, she tells stories about becoming a pastor to “her people,” as she calls them. Raised in the Church of Christ, she grew up and spent several years being what Christians would call “wild” – that is, she became an alcoholic, did drugs, and had sex. Eventually she found herself in a Lutheran church and was moved by the liturgy. Fast forward a few years, and she found herself in seminary. When one of her old friends took his life, somebody called her and asked her to do the funeral. She was the only religious person they knew. That was when she knew she was supposed to be a pastor to the “kind of people” she used to run around with: alcoholics, drug addicts, homeless, LGBTQ, etc.
The entire book is pretty much about how she found God in the people she knows and serves. She tells stories about her friends from AA, about the con artist at her church, about being tricked by a family she thought were Katrina victims, about the trans-gender kid in her parish, and about another Christian leader who pretty much disagreed with Bolz-Weber on everything when it came to Christian belief. Yet in every single relationship, she found grace. She found love. She found second chances and redemption and hope.
She tells these stories with humility and some self-deprecation. Don’t think this is any sort of how-to or holier-than-thou book. Her authenticity shines through, and that is one of the things I love most about her writing.
What was really interesting was that throughout the book, she wove the story of Mary Magdalene speaking to Jesus after his resurrection. Since Mary Magdalene is my daughter’s saint, I feel a bit of a connection to her. Bolz-Weber has sort of claimed Mary Magdalene as her own patron saint, and even has a tattoo of what looks like an Orthodox icon of Mary Magdalene on her arm!
In one chapter, she talked about how Jesus probably didn’t look very impressive when he appeared to Mary Magdalene: “I suggested that perhaps Mary Magdalene thought the resurrected Christ was the gardener because Jesus still had the dirt from his own tomb under his nails.” She goes on to talk about how we treat Easter as this day to dress up and look perfect, but really it’s about a God who’s got dirt under his nails.
“There are times when I hear my name, turn, and recognize Jesus. There are times when faith feels like a friendship with God. But there are many other times when it feels more adversarial or even vacant. Yet none of that matters in the end. How we feel about Jesus or how close we feel to God is meaningless to how God acts upon us. How God indeed enters our messy lives and loves us through them, whether we want God’s help or not. And how, even after we’ve experienced some sort of resurrection, it’s never perfect or impressive like an Easter bonnet, because, like Jesus, resurrected bodies are always in rough shape.”
I really like the idea of resurrection coming with scars and dirt. I think sometimes the church pushes for a clean, perfect idea of resurrection. I’ve also been frustrated with the dichotomy of “the church” and “the world” for a long time now. I guess I’ve been longing for someone to say that there doesn’t have to be some great divide between the two. That God can be found almost anywhere, even in folks who may not believe in him exactly the way I do. Nadia Bolz-Weber said it in this book. Neither she nor the friends she writes about are perfect, but they are seeking God and his love.
At one point in the book, she said that Mary Magdalene was simply the saint of showing up. She showed up for Jesus. She was a faithful follower. And sometimes, showing up is all that we need to do. Maybe it’s not always about figuring out what should be part of “the church” and what should be part of “the world.” Instead of arguing over what’s right and wrong and getting on our theological soapboxes, sometimes we just need to show up, and we will find that God is waiting for us.
Lastly, I want to say that as a writer (of an unpublished spiritual memoir, for one), I really learned a lot from this book. If I ever go back to Transfigured Faith (right now it’s still tucked away in that drawer), I know now for sure that I need to do at least one more round of revisions! (Sigh.) I need to tell more stories. I need to cut out some of the theological exposition and explanations and use stories to get my points across.
Needless to say, I highly recommend Pastrix. Just beware of cuss words. 🙂
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Pastrix was the second book I read in 2015! My goal is to read 50 books this year. Check out my bookshelf at Good Reads. If you’re not on Good Reads, it’s a great way to find book recommendations!
Loved this review – I felt much the same way about Pastrix. In spite of having a totally different background (never having done much rebelling myself) I was completely captivated by her authenticity and her way of looking at the world and faith. One of my favorites. Thanks for this review, i’ll refer others to it when recommending this book in the future.
I’m just finishing Barbara Brown Taylor’s Leaving Church and some of it reminds me of Pastrix – not the storyline obviously, but more coming to understand all the unorthodox places we find God in the world. I’m planning to read her book An Altar in the World soon too because I think it’s even more focused on that idea.
I also think you’re right about part of the effectiveness being her way of storytelling – very constructive way to think about my own writing!
I loved both of those books by Barbara Brown Taylor! Great reads.
Sounds like a very interesting book. Obviously, would be a change of pace from what I normally read. 🙂 I’ll have to check it out. Love reading your blog and hearing about your journey. Thanks for sharing your story.
Mark, I think you would appreciate the perspective. Obviously she’s more liberal than the Nazarene (or Orthodox) church, but she does such a great job of showing you God’s grace.
I’ve not read this book, but it is on my list after reading your review, and I am looking forward to it! Of late, my sentiment toward church is wanting to go to church with the liars, the cheaters, the jealous, the doubters, the addicts, the murderers, etc – with the sinners – instead of with a room full of people that look just like me. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this book!
I hear you. I hope you will enjoy the book.
Just want to say, I Live It! Nothing more and nothing less. I appreciate your transparency in relation to a book that is obviously very transparent.