This week I read through “Pastrix” by Nadia Bolz-Weber. This book offers the meandering journey of faith taken by Nadia, an ELCA pastor and emerging voice in progressive christian landscape. Nadia grew up in a fundamentalist church which taught her to love community but to fear God. She left Christianity but gradually learned to fall in love with the Grace of God in Jesus Christ first through her 12 step group, then in her study of the historical Jesus (a gateway drug to Jesus) and eventually fell in love with the of grace of God in the Lutheran Church. It’s a wild ride each page bleeds with heartfelt confessions of failure, wisdom, wit, hope, grace and vulgarity. I don’t want to give too much away, because it really is a beautiful book that I think would be worth anyone’s time to read. It raises a lot of important questions but here are the 10 things that I personally took away from the book. If you’ve read it, I’d love to hear your take away too!
1. The Lectionary will challenge and free you
Much of the book is focused on that face Nadia as she if forced to address the challenges of her community and the world, while being somewhat bound to preach from the lectionary. Nadia says that she sticks with it because left on her own she would go to a dark place. I can’t tell you how much this rings true to me. When we wield the Bible to try to evidence our own correctness it can easily become a weapon of destruction. The lectionary is a tool that allows the scriptures to wield us. We are faced to address the scripture in all it’s messiness and in many ways encounter new aspect of scripture we can fall in love with, but simply were not aware of.
2. Community is a messy place, but once it’s on you will never get it off.
A few years ago I remember meeting with one of my friends who had been part of a church community with me years ago. They said that they don’t know if they will ever go to church again because the community we had been a part of had been such an intense thing that no other church seemed to add up. I told them that it was that very reason that I had dedicated my life to church. I had gotten a taste of community and knew that it could change the world. Nadia echoes this sentiment. She speaks of her upbringing as one that was rooted in a church community that loved her and one another in a powerful way, and even when she rejected her church she still had an unquenchable longing for community. Being part of a community is a kind of addiction you never fully recover from and that can be a beautiful thing.
3. Nothing is God’s favorite stuff to work with!
In the book Nadia states:
And here’s the great thing about the Gospel of Matthew’s account of the feeding of the multitude: The disciples said, “Nothing.”
“What do we have?” they asked. “We have nothing. Nothing but a few loaves and a couple of fish.” And they said this as though it were a bad thing.
The disciples’ mistake was also my mistake: They forgot that they have a God who created the universe out of “nothing,” that can put flesh on dry bones “nothing,” that can put life in a dusty womb “nothing.” I mean, let’s face it, “nothing” is God’s favorite material to work with. Perhaps God looks upon that which we dismiss as nothing, insignificant, and worthless, and says “Ha! Now that I can do something with.”
This is great!
4. Our Identification is rooted in our baptism
One of the jewels of Lutheran theology is that our baptism is the foundation of a person of identity. Nadia highlights this. We are all broken people with deep wounds and deep flaws, but baptism is stronger than sin, EVERY sin. There is nothing you can do that would make your identity as a sinner trump Jesus’ identity as a healer.
5. The terror and sadness in this world is a disfiguration of the Image of God that a “Precious Moments” greeting card simply can’t fix.
Like me, Nadia did a unit as a hospital chaplain in seminary. It was great to hear about her experience with this. In many ways it mirrored my own. There is real terror and saddens in the world today, and these elements scar and disfigure us. As a chaplain I learned quickly that trite proverbs are full of crap when real suffering is going on. God does not give us axioms to help us cognize our terror and misery. He enters in and embraces our human life and all of the mess that that entails. In Christ we are not given a greeting card to cover our pain, but a cross that enters it.
6. God’s grace is present in our weakness
Nadia loves community, but she knows that it will always fail. She wants to be a faithful loving minister, but she knows that she has a long way to go. This book is a collection of stories about struggle and failure and the remarkable way that God’s grace seems to shine through the most when we have nothing left to give, when we have failed, and when we are so desperate for grace we are willing to receive if from our enemies.
7. Confession and absolution is a paschal mystery of being crushed and reconstructed
This book challenges me to go to confession more. There are few things more difficult for me then to admit that I am wrong, that I sin, and that part of me needs to die. Nadia reminds me that this process of death to self is a demolition that makes way for reconstruction. She shares about her own struggles with confessing, and reminds me that as difficult as confessing my sins can be there is so much power in hearing the words that I am forgiven!
8. The liturgy can heal the world
As a doctoral student in the liturgy, I spend a lot of time reading about the history of the liturgy and the rubrics of the liturgy. This book was a great reminder to me of the power of the liturgy. Liturgy can change lives and communities, it gives us a lens to see the world that transforms it and heals it. This theme plays out over and over in the book, and I was encouraged every time it showed up.
9. Grace Grace Grace!
I think the biggest theme of this book is Grace, and Nadia presents in beautifully. Grace is not just God overlooking sin, grace actually is God coming to us, dwelling with us, entering our lives in their pain, and sticking with us day by day. Grace is God’s presence with us as we walk toward wholeness and the reality that he will stick with us every step of the way.
10. The kingdom of God isn’t about you. It’s about a “trampy landowner.”
One of the texts Nadia struggles through in the book is the parable of the workers in the field. In this story a landowner goes out and brings in workers from the market throughout the day. At the end of the day he pays each man a full days wage regardless of how long they worked. Nadia writes:
“I said that the text for the day is not the parable of the workers. It’s the parable of the landowner. What makes this the kingdom of God is not the worthiness or piety or social justicey-ness or the hard work of the laborers… none of that matters. It’s the fact that the trampy landowner couldn’t manage to keep out of the marketplace. He goes back and back and back, interrupting lives… coming to get his people. Grace tapping us on the shoulder.”