Tuesday, November 05, 2013

this lady pastor is making waves

It seems like everywhere I turn in the last month I've been hearing about Nadia Bolz-Weber, Lutheran pastor of the House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, and her new memoir, Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint.

Bolz-Weber is not your average mainline clergywoman. She wears a collar, but often sans sleeves, to show off the tattoos covering both arms. She tends to cuss, and she's very open about her history of what you might call 'dissolute living'. In a nutshell, she's transparent--and more colorful on the inside than a lot of other transparent clergy-folk.

And blog after blog has been covering her lately, as well as a nice piece yesterday in The Washington Post.

Colorful clergy are nothing new. Plenty of Non-Denoms and other evangelical Christians have seen their share of ministers with tattoos or earrings, or the abrasive, in-your-face style. Sometimes this seems like sick pretense, sometimes it seems like refreshing honesty. The reason I felt like sharing about this particular lady is simply that I was struck by two lines from the WP article.

One is also found on the HFASS webpage: this church, they say, is "anti-excellence/pro-participation." At HFASS they try to take the focus off of the minister, off of any worthy or 'excellent' individuals, and  emphasize instead the whole Body. Bolz-Weber will preach and lead the prayer during the Communion liturgy, but otherwise the congregation leads every part of the service, even the music (it's a cappella)! Whether or not you like that way of doing things, I love seeing a place where you don't have to be anybody special to be deeply involved in worship--you don't need to be excellent, just to come and be a part of the Body.

The second bit that reverberated with me was a personal remark of hers. Nadia Bolz-Weber is afraid that a lot of mainline congregations have turned church into just another non-profit organization or community club, 'the Elks with Holy Communion'. She hopes HFASS can paint a different picture of the Church. Religion, she says, should be “something that’s so devastatingly beautiful it can break your heart. Instead it’s been: ‘Recycle.’ And ‘Don’t sleep with your girlfriend.’ ”

And I'll just leave you with that one.

Have you ever felt like you weren't good enough--or others thought you weren't good enough--to participate in some part of the life of the church?
When have you seen something truly beautiful in the Church or an individual's faith? What do you think could make your congregation and ministries more beautiful?


Em said...

Hey babe,

I think your point in the last paragraph in plain text, before the final bold one, might be making an unnuanced and false comparison at an important point..

When you pit the "devastatingly beautiful" portrait of what the church/religion should be (and I agree with this!) against two common maxims (recycling and no pre-marital sex), I think you're overlooking something. Or rather, you're over-looking the same thing "the church"/Christianity At Large is over-looking...

When you take concepts like that (creation care and sexuality) and turn them into maxims, you deny them of their inherent "devastatingly beautiful" qualities. When fully and rightly considered within the appropriate context and sufficient roots, those two dynamics could be and should be (and must be) part of the heart-breaking portrait Christians should be painting onto the Church body.

It's not the directives (recycle/don't sleep around) per se that are the problem.. it's the simplicity with which they are presented, the groundlessness and the tunnel vision.

All of the individual "directives", when woven together and truly lived, are what make the Church beautiful.. isn't that the point? To be the kingdom of God by living in all of these particular and note-worthy ways? There is no "devastatingly beautiful" Church without the everyday, concrete, Christ-filled actions making it up.

..That's all. I feel like you missed the trees for the forest. We need all those trees that 'the church' gets so overly focused on. But just because they do so, doesn't mean we can't have a beautiful forest without all the trees. We just have to be sure those trees have the roots of purpose, understanding, Scripture and the Holy Spirit beneath them.

I was just concerned that you dismissed them so flippantly, denying that they are two very important ways to accomplish what you emphasized 5 words earlier.


Nance said...

Just to clarify: those were her words, not mine. I just found them particularly powerful.

I think you are right on when you say "There is no 'devastatingly beautiful' Church without the everyday, concrete, Christ-filled actions making it up." Right on. I'm not trying to dismiss recycling (!), celibacy in singleness, or necessarily anything else.
I think what she's gesturing towards is not 'boring Christian directives', but de-contextualized, untheological moralism. What is beautiful is not the act of recycling so much as the commitment to a Kingdom where mushrooms, ants, and trees are wondered at and valued--not just human beings. What's beautiful is not teenagers begrudgingly eschewing sex because their youth minister's told them it's a sin, but a vision of sexuality that's compellingly located within the wider gospel narrative. A lot of public schools will teach kids about recycling or abstinence--and that's what she's worried the church is becoming: just another 'beneficial' public/community institution. It's the vision of the Kingdom Jesus proclaimed that makes what we do beautiful, to me, and that is precisely what many mainline churches in the US seem to have lost somewhere along the way.

She probably is also thinking about a difference between certain 'Christian behavior' and a transformed, sanctified life--but in that case I think both of your points need to be heard and held in tension together.