Thursday, October 3, 2013

Good News for the Cranky

It's easy to feel inadequate when reading Nadia Bolz-Weber's new book, Pastrix: the Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint. Don't get me wrong--it's a wonderful book!

But it's the kind of book that makes me feel kind of ordinary and boring.  I don't have interesting tattoos.  I have no tattoos.  If I'd had a more interesting background, would I be more successful as a pastor?

Oh, wait, I'm not a pastor.  But I am in a leadership position in my church, and lately we're in more discussion about the repairs that the building needs than we are about the future of the church, both our own church and the larger Church.  We don't talk much about the Good News and how to become people who fully live out the resurrection.  No, we talk about how to fix the roof.  Sigh.

It's good to remember that most pastor's lives are like that.  Otherwise, I'd read Pastrix and wonder if I shouldn't be planning for seminary instead of staying in my comfortable position.

And to be honest, I still wonder that. I had a colleague who asked me if I'm place-bound, and I said yes, but not in the way that people usually mean. If my job vanished, we wouldn't have jobs that held us here. But my spouse flourishes here, and there aren't seminaries nearby.

And then there's the issue of debt, which I'm not eager to take on. So, I'll continue pondering and waiting for my church to catch up with me. Why must ordination mean such expense? Why are seminarians and their families expected to uproot themselves so thoroughly? I know of two programs that make some concessions, and one of those is only for the first year. Sigh.

Pastrix tells the story of how Bolz-Weber came to Jesus, but it's not a conventional conversion narrative.  It's woven with the stories of people who aren't as successful at leaving their addictions behind.  Bolz-Weber is very clear and honest about how even though she's not engaging in previous bad behaviors, she's still far from perfect.

It's the kind of book that makes me want to buy a hundred copies. I want to press it into the hands of people who say that Christians are hypocritical; I'd say, "Yes we are, but that's OK. Read this." I want to give the book to people who say that Lutherans have forsaken art for intellect; I would say, "That might have happened along the way, but not everyone is like historic Lutherans. Read this book." I want to give this book to all my atheist friends, even though I know that they might not make their way through it. I want to give this book to all my friends who are searching yet not sure that there's a place for them in a church.

And it's full of bits that made me reach for a pen so that I could underline the good passages.  I particularly liked what she had to say about evil spirits.  She's the typical post-modern, unwilling to believe in demon possession and the like.  Yet she can't deny that the forces of evil seem to be on the move in our world.

She says, "And nowhere are we more prone to encroaching darkness than when we are stepping into light:  sudden discouragement in the midst of healthy decisions, a toxic thought or a particular temptation" (p. 140).

She advocates that we follow Martin Luther's example and talk back to the darkness.  Luther would say, "I am baptized."  Yes, out loud, even as a shout.  It seems as good a coping strategy as any.

Bolz-Weber is also open about her church's struggles.  It's not all victory.  In fact, although she doesn't say it, I expect that it's rarely feeling like victory.  She doesn't have to talk about the roof leaking, because her church doesn't own the building.  That transience comes with its own struggles.

She talks about a Rally Day event that she planned, only to have a small group show up.  She goes through a period of despair.  She reflects on the miracle of loaves and fishes, the disciples saying they have nothing to serve the hungry crowds.  And then she has several insights, including this one:  "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.'"

We read the Bible, and we know Bolz-Weber speaks the truth. We look at our lives, and we likely know that truth too.  We read Pastrix to be reminded of this good news.  What good news it is.

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