Book Review: Pastrix
Posted December 25, 2013on:
Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber, Jericho Books, 2013, 206 pp.
I have been reading Nadia Bolz-Weber’s blog at Sarcastic Lutheran for several years, and I have appreciated the depth, honesty, and fresh insight of her sermons. I first heard about the forthcoming book there many months ago, and I have been amazed to see her celebrity develop since the book’s release. She was already a popular figure in some Christian circles, but her voice is reaching much more broadly now. Just yesterday on Christmas Eve, NPR’s Morning Edition did a feature story on her.
Before I talk about the book itself, I want to disclose my reaction to the hype about the book. In watching her blog change and transform before the book release, and then watching her move from a struggling new church start pastor into a celebrity preacher, I have watched her persona become her brand, her story become her marketing pitch, and her scrawny struggling church become the hippest place to be. This move into a polished, packaged Nadia–not fake, just an image carefully cultivated–made me skeptical about the book. The media seem captivated by her swearing and her tattoos, which I don’t find particularly scandalous or even interesting. (Not-so-secret pastor insight: most pastors I know swear like sailors, just not around the church. It’s a pretty harmless vice.) What made her voice so powerful was its earnest wrestling with grace. Would the book contain the raw struggle I so appreciated, or would it have been packaged and marketed and honed so carefully that the rawness was gone?
Pastrix did not disappoint. While it did feel more edited and worked-over that her older writings, any book with a decent editor should be that way. While I guess the swearing and stories about her pre-recovery life make the book edgy to some, the theology she espouses is traditional and orthodox, without being stuffy and pretentious. She speaks like many Christian converts I have met over the years–like someone whose life has been saved by a relationship with Jesus Christ. She wants others who are desperate and hurting to know the grace that now rules her life. Her experience, her intellect, her humor and her faith combine for a powerful take on the old-fashioned good news of the Gospel.
Pastrix didn’t offer me any particularly new information or revelation, although the grace and inclusiveness she preaches may be new to some. Instead, it was like listening to any exceptional preacher. Nadia Bolz-Weber’s words remind me of what I already know about God, church, grace and faith—but she says it so well, so powerfully that becomes new and moving all over again. I enjoyed this book for the same reason I have enjoyed her blog: she preaches to me in ways that move and inspire and make the Gospel real.
One example is her conversation on the human community of the church. She writes about what she tells newcomers wishing to join her church, House for All Sinners and Saints,
The community will disappoint them. It’s a matter of when, not if. We will let them down or I’ll say something stupid and hurt their feelings. I then invite them on this side of their inevitable disappointment to decide if they’ll stick around after it happens. If they choose to leave when we don’t meet their expectations, they won’t get to see how the grace of God can come in and fill the holes left by our community’s failure, and that’s just too beautiful and too real to miss. (54-55)
That sounds just like something I often say to new members at my church–only she says it much more beautifully than I do, and that keeps me coming back to hear her voice again.
I recommend Pastrix not because it’s edgy or cool, or because she’s a pastor who swears and wears tattoos, but because it’s just good preaching, good words, and it will lift your spirits.