Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Pastrix and Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber

I happened to catch an episode of Fresh Air on NPR as I was out driving one day which featured an interview with Nadia Bolz-Weber. It was so interesting that I tracked down a copy of a couple of her books, Pastrix and Accidental Saints, at the library.
Bolz-Weber is a Lutheran minister, though not a stereotypical one. She says in the interview that she's never once had a stranger guess that she was a minister, probably because she's 6'1" and heavily tattooed. She started her own church because she felt that she would have to "culturally commute" to attend existing churches, and wanted there to be a place that others feeling the same would feel welcome.

That church is called the House for All Sinners and Saints. Its founding theme (beyond the gospel itself) is "welcoming the stranger." Drug addicts, homeless, LGBT folks, recovering alcoholics - the kind of people that don't feel comfortable in a traditional church setting. When more "normal" church-goers began attending, Bolz-Weber says that it was a difficult to accept them in the congregation at first...until she realized they also were strangers in a way. The combination of all types of members strengthened the whole.

Pastrix is something of a memoir, but not like others that I've read. The book jumps around in Bolz-Weber's life, rather than telling the story straight through. I didn't feel like she was writing so much the story of her life as describing her own shortcomings, and how her friends and faith and God help her to overcome them. I can absolutely relate to that, and I'm sure I'm not alone.

Another part of Bolz-Weber's story that I closely relate to is her life journey from growing up in a Christian family, to rejecting that establishment, to eventually finding her own beliefs. Judging from the stories in the books, she went a lot further away from the church and faith of her childhood than I did, but I still relate to the general direction. When she says that being a good Christian in her early life felt like little more than following a list of "don'ts" - don't drink, don't swear, don't have sex, etc - I knew exactly what she was talking about. And I especially empathize with how she describes coming to realize how many of those rules didn't make sense in light of her own relationship with God, and had to make up her own mind instead of blindly following church teachings.

Accidental Saints is written as a series of stories, mostly from later in Bolz-Weber's life than the first book. Much of it involves the people in her church, but there are also various encounters from outside the House. A major theme is people making mistakes, but finding ways to move forward anyway, through the love of God and their friends and family. There are many descriptions of people loving God and one another, often in ways that fall outside Christian tradition.

One of Bolz-Weber's themes in these books that really resonates with me is that it's not necessary for Christians and their church to police the world's behavior. God's grace covers everything, and as Christians we should be just as accepting. Any time we go out of our way to avoid or restrict a "sinner" or "heretic" or "unbeliever," we're missing a chance to show the grace of God through our actions. Showing our beliefs in our own lives is fine - pushing them on others isn't, and neither is refusing to associate with, recognize the rights of, love, or serve those we don't agree with.

I really enjoyed the stories in these books and from the interview. Bolz-Weber is a fine writer, easy to read as well as being insightful and thought-provoking. Both books are great reads that I can wholeheartedly recommend.

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