I recently heard Nadia Bolz-Weber talking about her memoir, Pastrix: The Cranky Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint, on the American Public Media program “On Being.” If you aren’t familiar with it, the show is a very interesting look at ethics, ideas, beliefs, the “big questions,” of human existence, which are important in everyday life because they influence the way people interact with each other. As someone who works with the public, it seems very important to my “humanity education” to learn as much as I can about what makes us tick.
Bolz-Weber works with the public too, as a “pastrix” (female pastor). On the surface our jobs may seem vastly different, but they share something important.: public libraries and churches (as well as hospitals) are open to all. You never know on any given day who will come through the door, what experiences have brought them there, or how best to serve them, and that’s a topic of great interest to me.
In her memoir, Bolz-Weber, a recovering addict, stand-up comedian, and refugee from a conservative Christian upbringing, writes about finding that the God her fellow addicts referred to in twelve-step meetings isn’t the one she learned to fear growing up. This God is “a higher power she can do business with,” one whose grace is available to all. When she met her future husband Matthew at “the sacred breeding grounds of tall people” — a volleyball court — she was intrigued to learn he was a seminarian studying to become a Lutheran pastor.
Fast forward a few years and Bolz-Weber herself graduated from seminary and founded The House for All Sinners and Saints, a church “with a progressive but deeply rooted theological imagination” where “it’s pretty easy to look around on any given Sunday and think, ‘I’m unclear what all these people have in common.'” Her congregation soon includes everyone from transgender teens to a well-known former con artist and strangest of all to Bolz-Weber, khaki clad suburbanites. Kind of like any given day at a public library.
As she describes her work, Bolz-Weber manages to make difficult theological concepts at once relatable, clear, contemporary and profound, and she’s also a great storyteller. Her irreverent but completely open-hearted observations about contemporary American life and faith are smart and provocative. Part memoir, part spiritual autobiography, entirely in-your-face and often funny, Pastrix will open your eyes to the saint and sinner in everyone. The concept of treating everyone with radical hospitality — within boundaries, but assuming an attitude of equal acceptance of all who enter — is a valuable idea for anyone in public service.
Pastrix is my November staff pick at Gibson’s Bookstore.