Shock value. Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber doesn’t shy away from it. Not one bit.
She’s a female pastor — and one whose body is covered in tattoos. She swears like a sailor. She used to be an alcoholic. Now she’s a Lutheran pastor of a LGBTQ-affirming Denver church known as House for All Sinners and Saints.
Nadia’s autobiography is titled Pastrix, a term used by people who refuse acknowledge women as true pastors. It’s a title that reclaims the derogatory term, a sort of cheeky #youbeyou to everyone who says she’s not a true pastor.
This is not your sweet, platitude-filled, happy, buzzword-y devotional Christian bookstore fare. And I love it for that. Growing up, I’d absolutely have been encouraged NOT to read Nadia’s book, on account of that she’s like, you know, a “bad influence” and (a favorite label of evangelical conservatives) “twisting the Gospel for her own social agenda.”
If Evangelicals don’t support same-sex marriage because they’re worried it’s a “slippery slope,” Nadia Bolz-Weber has already grabbed a sled and taken off full-speed down the mountain.
Oh, but here’s the thing. She’s not tossing her Bible off a cliff, like critics might assume. She’s holding it in her hands, reading a passage to a recovering drug addict. Nadia has sped down her slippery slope, and now she’s holding communion down in the middle of the ravine.
She is sharing in the sacred body and blood of Christ with an alcoholic, a lesbian, a former stripper, and a transgender woman. These are people who never in a million years would have darkened the door of a church. And they’re here — confessing sins, reciting liturgy, an partaking in the Eucharist and learning about God’s life-altering sacrificial grace.
Nadia Bolz-Weber might not be your cup of tea. You might not always agree with her. But reading her book and hearing about her ministry, it certainly seems that Nadia takes her faith, and the Gospel, incredibly seriously.
Jesus ate with the outcasts, the servants, the prostitutes, and the corrupt politicians. He showed them a life-changing love, grace, and forgiveness, and asked them to turn stop hurting themselves and others, and center their lives around following him.
She is living out the Gospel in an unmistakably Christ-like way. But she’s also using shock value to get your attention. And because of that — in general — people who have been hurt by or angry with Christianity are going to love her. She’s the breath of fresh air they’ve been waiting for. And — in general — many traditional, Sunday school-attending, foul language-averse Christians are probably going to plug their ears and refuse to listen.
And I wish they would pay attention. Because even though I can’t identify with a lot of Nadia’s experiences — I found myself resonating deeply with so many parts of her story. Look, I am about the farthest thing from “rough around the edges,” and I’ve spend plenty of my life trying to fit in to a nice little Christian bubble.
But Nadia speaks so much truth in her book. And I hate that so many people are going to be so shocked by her language, or the fact that her congregation is (insert loud gasp! from many evangelicals) LGBTQ-affirming, that they’ll immediately dismiss everything she says.
Because throughout her “Le Femme Nikita”-style journey of being saved from destruction … on the one condition of now being called to live her life for God … Nadia has experienced truths of God in powerful, tangible, beautiful ways. And story after story sticks with you. In impactful ways.
I’ve felt the power of God’s presence, rescuing me from the mess I’ve made of my life, comforting me amidst grief and hopelessness … but every time I try to write about it, the depth of the sheer epicness that is God’s love always falls more than a bit flat.
Anything I write about God’s power in my life sounds boring and cliche. There are too many over-used, dull, Christian words and phrases. Reading it sort of makes my eyes glaze over. And I hate that. I’m talking about an experience that was raw, soul-wrenching, hope-giving, and life-changing. But I can’t for the life of me seem to articulate it. It all comes off sounding sort of dull.
Sure, my faith means a lot to me. But in this world of pop culture, internet clickbait, horrifying global tragedies and attention-grabbing Kardashians, anything I could say about faith isn’t even remotely interesting enough to get noticed. If I popped up on your Newsfeed, there’s no way you’d bother to click.
That’s not how it is with Nadia’s stories of Christ at work in her life. When she talks about God’s power — the lessons God teaches her — and the way that following God has completely turned her life upside down, it’s riveting. Concepts I’ve experienced, but never been able to describe well, she drives home with an impossible-to-miss, punch-in-the-gut clarity.
Nadia’s God is the God I love. A God who picks you up out of a pit, changes your entire life around, and makes every day the most challenging, frustrating, amazing, grace-filled, empowering, ego-crushing, terrifying, joyful experience of your life.
But I don’t have any cool Mary Magdalene tattoos. I’m not that badass. I’m more of a recovering perfectionist and a longtime workaholic. I’ve gone to church all my life, and my my struggles are with things like self-worth and body image. My life story — and God’s story of redemption — just isn’t that sexy. Or groundbreaking. Or riveting.
Nadia’s is. The way that God is challenging her — pushing her out of her comfort zone — using her in high-visibility ways — her experiences have power. They illustrate truths of God in ways may other Christians can’t.
For the record, I don’t agree with Nadia 100% theologically. She’s Lutheran (but definitely not my grandparents’ sort of Lutheran). I’m a Protestant mutt with a huge amount of skepticism towards Evangelical pop culture. I’ve spent time with Evangelical Covenant, Lutheran, Wesleyan, and Presbyterian theology … but not enough to get a clear picture of where I identify. (I know, millennials today. *eyeroll* I get it. Give me a couple more years. I’ll do more research, undertake some serious, long-term prayer, and choose a denomination.)
If denominations are like sports teams, I don’t know enough to commit to one just yet. I know the team I was raised with. I know the one my grandparents rooted for. I know my college team, and the team I’m playing for right now. But I’m still working on developing my baseball skills. I’m trying to graduate from Little League, and that will require long-term, daily practice. I haven’t been doing that long enough to call myself a pro. I don’t know which team I’ll be playing for the rest of my life.
I just have to keep showing up to baseball practice. Praying, reading my Bible, studying theology, and engaging in real, vulnerable, imperfect human relationships … with people like me, and especially with people not like me. And God will give me more clarity — in God’s time, not mine.
I deeply respect and admire how willing Nadia is to own up to her own weaknesses. Her own sins. Times when her self-centerness has gotten in the way of God’s power. (She is far, far, far from perfect. And she makes no attempt to hide that.
To me, her story is more Biblical than anything devotional or book you’d find at a Christian book store. Think about the Bible for a second. Think about Moses. About King David. About the Apostle Paul. Or pretty much an Biblical superhero.
The entire theme of our Bible is about how God uses imperfect people — like people who have really, seriously effed up — to do really epic things in God’s name. Nadia is just that. She is a sinner and a saint.
That is what we all are: both sinners and saints. But most of us play it too safe. We’re too scared, too afraid of being misinterpreted or misunderstood, too fearful of repercussions to lay out everything in one big, bold, brash, beautiful mess.
Nadia Bolz-Weber doesn’t give a sh*t about all of that. The message of Jesus is powerful and life-changing. And she does a pretty fantastic job of helping us understand it.