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Pastrix: Nadia Bolz-Weber's Cranky and Beautiful Memoir (Review)

Pastrix3Nadia Bolz-Weber makes me want to be a better pastor. She also reminds me that I'm bound to fuck it up.

In her new book Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint, Nadia chronicles her upbringing in a fundamentalist church, her path to self-destruction as a young adult, her improbable call to ministry, and her journey with her people at House for All Sinners and Saints.

It is beautifully written, funny, and heartbreaking. It will make you laugh out loud and, if you're like me, choke up and wipe away the tears pooling up in the corner of your eyes. Often all on the same page.

Surely, Pastrix is one of the first great spiritual memoirs of post-American-Christendom.

Pastrix speaks profoundly to those who are alienated from the church. I want to buy a copy for all my friends, and I've got plenty, who have given up on church long ago.

For my part, I can't help but read Pastrix from my own perspective as a ministry practitioner and Lutheran pastor.

What I have learned from Nadia, in our conversations and again in Pastrix, is that being a better pastor is not about accumulating skill sets and eventually, finally, getting it right. Its about being open enough to God (who she refers to as "Jesus the Boyfriend," who gets all up in our shit) and God's people to have your heart broken.

In Chapter 17, The Wrong Kind of Different, she writes,

"I know that people who don't believe in God might scoff at the idea that the creator of the universe has the time or inclination to try incessantly (and with not much long-term success) to change my heart. I get it. I just have no other explanation. …when God comes to me in the form of a friend who will be just enough of an asshole to tell me the truth, then it really is as if my heart had been ripped out of my chest and replaced with something warm and beautiful. And the whole procedure is simply too sudden and feels so literal and is too against my nature to be of my own creating."

Nadia names in Pastrix what (if we are honest) we ministry leaders feel and know to be true about ourselves, but don't let show, except perhaps in more honest and cynical moments talking to colleagues. Even then, those conversations are more about the faults of our parishioners than our own brokenness. We are broken, but feel we have nowhere to go with it. When, in fact, we are constantly surrounded by people as broken as we are—in our congregations, our neighborhoods, and our homes. We are all just pretending we're not.

Nadia's brutal honesty about her own brokenness, I think, opens the possibility for us to be honest with one another, and, therefore, to experience the grace of God she beautifully describes in Pastrix.

This book should urge Lutherans to take far more seriously than we do the Theology of the Cross and to not just use it as a theological tag-line, or an historical event, but a lived, daily, moment-by-moment reality in our individual lives and our faith communities.

A Post-Modern Preaching Life

Pastrix's narrative is often organized around Nadia's amazing sermons, which first appeared on her blog. These stories pull back the curtain on her sermon writing process, and her wrestling with the Revised Common Lectionary, which can feel inspired or sadistic depending on the Sunday you are preaching. Thus, Pastix, for me, contains echoes of Barbara Brown Taylor's classic work, The Preaching Life, but for a post-modern, post-9/11, millennial world. But here the references are gritty, urban, with an entirely new set of cultural reference points: 9/11, Columbine, Aurora, Occupy, and more.

What Nadia Means to Us

I want to take a moment to way what Nadia Bolz-Weber means to ordained-types like me out here. Like many, I became aware of Nadia's work through Facebook and Twitter, and her sermons, which she posted her homespun blog, quickly became required weekly reading. I, like many, recognized in Nadia a new, refreshing, honest voice in the church.

She has shown us that the Gospel, the liturgy, and inhabiting this liminal space we call being Lutheran, resonate today, both with hipster young adults, also the rest of us who wear suits and appreciate the work of a good dry cleaner. The core of our faith, our practice, and the Gospel still matter, they are still charged with the power to break our hearts and set us free. But they have been obscured by what I've heard Nadia describe as the "wrapping", that is, the cultural trappings of so-called golden era of the the 1950's and 60's, and, more recently, Boomer culture, which is lost on Gen-Xers like me, and completely foreign to the next great cohort, the Millenials. Honestly, I think the Boomers are tired of it too.

Lutheran theology and practice, especially in their most unadorned form, of the Eucharist, unaccompanied singing, contemplative prayer, and baudy or defiant hymn-singing in the bar, still speaks. Sometimes we need to strip it down, get out of the way, and let it Word work and the Meal heal.

Nadia is both a working pastor and a gifted theologian, and she demonstrates through the stories in Pastrix that we have to take Lutheran theology more seriously, not less. The ambiguities, the language of death and resurrection, the Cross—this is where people today live. It's where Jesus is. Where Jesus has always been.

My thanks to Nadia for this beautiful book. Along with you, I'll be praying this prayer about my calling, my church, my life: "Oh God, its so beautiful. Help me not fuck it up." Amen.

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