Candace Chellow-Hodge reviews Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Life of a Sinner & Saint by the Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber a Lutheran pastor with an unusual story.
In the straitlaced, mostly white male, buttoned-down and collared world of Lutheran clergy, Nadia Bolz-Weber stands out. From her tall, lanky, heavily-tattooed frame to eyes that bulge from her lifelong battle with Graves’ disease, the ELCA pastor cuts an impressive presence.
No one seems more surprised by the turn of events that led this former hard-drinking stand-up comic into the ranks of the clergy than Bolz-Weber herself. In her new spiritual memoir, Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint, Bolz-Weber writes about going from “trying to attain a rock-and-roll early death,” to becoming founding pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints, and ELCA mission church in Denver, Colorado.
She interviews Pastor Bolz-Weber:
Tell us how you became a Lutheran pastor.
I have a checkered past so it really felt like it was something that was thrust upon me, it wasn’t something I was seeking. That’s when you really know it’s grace, when it’s really disruptive.
If 15 or 20 years ago someone had said to me, “You’ll eventually be a Lutheran pastor.” I would have said, “Oh, my God, I’m sorry, I think you have the wrong girl. Clearly, I’m not.”
It’s strange to say that God had a purpose or God was using me in some way because it can feel like a form of spiritual self-flattery—but I do feel very much used.
Who is this book for?
I really did write it for people who have a Christian background but left the church for completely valid reasons but maybe are open to the gospel again—the gospel doesn’t always have to be wrapped in the church wrapping paper they are accustomed to. I know, in my case, the gospel of Jesus Christ is simply the most true thing I’ve ever heard in my life and I think that, unfortunately, that message has been packaged in ways that are alienating to a lot of people. I wrote this as an attempt to say, “Here’s another way to talk about what this whole thing can mean and can be.”
I also definitely had my fellow alcoholics and addicts in mind. People who are in a position of having really experienced death and resurrection and having to pray and rely on God. You can be that person and still access that particular story of Jesus.
Surveys are showing that young people—those millennials—are leaving the church in droves.
Well we’re thinking of starting a second site because we have so many young adults.
Do you think you’ve found a way to re-engage those young people?
There are generational realities and cultural realities. Most of the time if someone from a mainline church says, “We have young people who come,” they’re probably “old” young people who are not necessarily postmodern even though they are chronologically young. Post-modernity has created a very particular worldview and mindset and a particular set of critiques and cynicism, as well as a particular hunger. People who have all of those are drawn to the congregation that I serve…
…What do you see as the future of the church?
What defines church to me is where the gospel is preached and sacraments are presided over and handed out. In that way, I don’t think the church is going anywhere. I think people will still gather in the name of the triune God and tell the story of Jesus and talk about the night before he died and share bread and wine. They’ll still baptize in the name of that same God. What that looks like changing and I think it will continue to change.
I think, any minute now, my church will be outdated. There will be people in their teens and twenties saying, “You guys are out of it and you don’t know which questions you should be asking.”