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I don’t remember where I first came across Nadia Bolz-Weber‘s work. It may have been on Twitter, where I follow a wide range of people of various faiths and backgrounds, it may have been on Facebook where I think Libby Anne of Love, Joy, Feminism talked about it. It may have been my husband who forwarded me one of the many articles by or about her.
After a week or two wait for the library system to track down her works, I read through Shameless: A Sexual Revolution, Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People, and Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint in a very short period. They’ve all sort of blended together, and they’re all very good.
I found many of the concepts Nadia talked about to be quite foreign to me, the concept of a Holy Week, and the stations of the cross, are things that do not enter into the Christian Science experience. Nadia meets with parishioners, writes sermons, meets with fellow pastors to discuss theology, and there is a sense that she cares about the people in her congregation. Christian Science does not have ordained clergy, the closest it have might be a CS Teacher, but day-to-day church matters are run by committees of volunteers with little oversight from the Mother Church — as long as the church pays it’s dues, holds the correct number of lectures, and meets a few other qualifications, each church is pretty much free to do as much (or as little) as it wants.
I digress, Nadia is the pastor of a Lutheran congregation in Colorado. As many of the articles written about her have mentioned, she is an unconventional choice for a Lutheran pastor: she has tattoos, and she has a colorful past. She also has an approach to Christianity and religion that I find refreshing.
When I was younger, my mother used to drag my sister and I to Christian Women’s Luncheons where we would sit in a hotel ballroom, eat mediocre food, and listen to a woman talk about finding Jesus. They’re almost always attractive, petite, well dressed with not-too-high heels, unnaturally blond, slightly middle aged, and a cheerleader for Jesus in some denomination-unspecified (not-Catholic) faith. It always followed the same repeatable story line: grew up in church, fell away from church, came back to church and there was magical salvation and everything is better now they have Jesus — so much better in fact they’re on the Christian Women’s Luncheon speaking circuit, I digress.
Nadia’s story doesn’t end with it all being better with Jesus. For her, it seems finding religion, again as a Lutheran, is a starting point, not an ending one. She talks about her faith and she explains some of the concepts of Luther’s better than I’ve heard them explained before, and I don’t feel like she’s trying to convince me that her brand of religion is best or right or for everyone. She’s sharing, but not with the intent to convert, and she acknowledges that her path, her faith, and her choice of religion are not the path for everyone.
One of the things that stood out to me was sometimes the most Christian thing to do is to show up. Nadia talks about this idea in Pastrix, when she was hospital Chaplin, she got people water, she sat with them, she was there. She didn’t try to pray for them, or fix them, she showed up and was there. She wasn’t like so many Christian Science Practitioners, a disembodied voice denying the reality of the situation, she was there acknowledging and experiencing along with the people.
For Nadia, Church is a Community and they care for each other and the community outside the church as well. If a parishioner is struggling, they can share their problems with their pastor, they can get help from the community. They don’t need to feel ashamed and hide away, isolating themselves. There is something very inviting about such a community. A community that accepts people with their flaws, quirks, and foibles. This struggle isn’t limited to parishioners, Nadia also openly talks about her struggles as well. The church festival which she feels is a failure, how to handle difficult sermons, how to handle those who disagree with her theology, how to handle double-booking a wedding with a speaking engagement halfway across the world. She needs as much grace and forgiveness as the rest of us, and she recognizes that.
Nadia reminds the readers that Jesus sat with sinners, and while we all mess up sometimes, there is the opportunity for grace and forgiveness. The way Nadia talks about religion, is grounded in humanity and our human experience, it is focused on caring for the people in the here and now. I think we would all benefit from caring for others, and people do better with a supportive community. I’m not going to convert to Lutheranism, but I do think we could all learn a few things from Nadia’s work.
For those of you who have left Christian Science and have taken a more Christ-based path, I highly recommend the Fellowship of Former Christian Scientists.