(Photo by Craig F. Walker/The Denver Post via Getty)
She went from drug addict to punk rebel to Lutheran minister, and now she's using her profane, confessional style to make mainline Protestantism cool.
Nadia Bolz-Weber is everywhere. A former drug addict and alcoholic turned Lutheran minister, she's gotten attention for her eye-catching appearance--colorful tattoos, cropped hair, hipster glasses--and her reputation for dropping the F-bomb on Sunday mornings. Her edgy-preacher image landed her a number of mainstream media profiles, and her memoir, Pastrix: The Cranky Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint snuck onto the New York Times Bestseller List.
She's not the first Christian minister to break into the mainstream media consciousness and become a bestselling author. In fact, evangelical preachers have a knack for igniting media buzz: Rob Bell's Love Wins made headlines--including in the New York Times--for denying the existence of hell. The frat-boy Calvinist megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll has drawn attention for his brash stage manner and his graphic sex advice. Being a massively successful evangelical star requires as much entrepreneurship as theological depth.
But Bolz-Weber isn't really an evangelical, or if she is, she's a new breed. More important than her gritty look and foul mouth, she's a female minister who's unapologetically liberal. Her church, House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, belongs to a mainline Protestant denomination--the sort that are better known for their highly intellectual liberal theology and aging memberships than their profane bestselling authors. Bolz-Weber is, in many ways, more a part of progressive Christianity than evangelicalism; she's even written about her frustrations working with evangelicals. But her personality-driven, confessional style might be called the "evangelicalization" of liberal Christianity.
Pastrix tells the story of how Bolz-Weber went from being the rambunctious daughter of conservative Christian parents to all-out rebel punk to Lutheran pastor. She grew up in the Church of Christ, a conservative denomination that forbade women from ministry roles. Women could teach Sunday school, but only to children under 12. That is because 12, in the Church of Christ, is "the age of accountability" when, Bolz-Weber writes, children "spiritually go off [their] parents' insurance." At that age, young boys attain a superior standing in the church to adult women, hence women can no longer teach them.
This didn't go over so well with the young Bolz-Weber, and set her on her journey away from her parents' church. Her return to faith involved a series of unusual events including living in a commune, a short stint as a stand-up comic, alcoholism and recovery, the death of a fellow comedian, the opportunity to give the eulogy at the memorial service of her friend, and the feeling that God was calling her to minister to these, her people. She attended seminary and founded a church, House for All Sinners and Saints where all manner of outsiders are welcomed with open arms.
Bolz-Weber's journey, as described in Pastrix, is one that's increasingly common among former evangelicals: conservatism to rebellion to a more progressive kind of faith. You know the whole story from the very beginning, but each chapter fills in the blanks a bit. The book spirals upward, adding detail at each pass while never letting us forget the basic story of childhood faith, rebellion, and faith once more. Occasionally, the chapters include mini-sermons, but rather than feeling burdensome, these moments are delightful. Bolz-Weber's sermons include retellings of Bible stories that feature lines such as, "Jesus was like, Dude, you're killing me with this. Knock it off." Bolz-Weber's past life as a comedian comes through in the book; her dry sense of humor is apparent on every page.
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SOURCE: The Daily Beast
Jonathan D. Fitzgerald