Book Review: Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber

Pastrix3First of all, let’s be honest. I am a sucker for spiritual memoirs. In the past few years, I have had my world rocked by books like A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller and Love Does by Bob Goff. Actually, it almost feels like since graduating seminary in 2011 these are the only books that I have been able to convince myself to pick up and actually read.

I love stories. I love the ways that our stories are woven into the stories of others. I love that God is the author, and that even with the same author our stories are so different, and yet so much the same.

Anyways, I picked up Pastrix at the recommendation of several friends. And if I’m being completely honest, even though I love spiritual memoirs, Nadia’s book probably would not have been at the top of my list if it had not come so highly recommended by friends for whom I have a deep love and respect.

Let me explain. Generally speaking, I’m pretty “squeaky clean.” I don’t swear much. (Though I’ve gone through my share of potty-mouth phases.) I’ve always kind of been the “good kid.” And the very first line in Pastrix is: “Shit,” I thought to myself, “I’m going to be late to New Testament class.” Actually, the book has it’s fair share of colorful, but contextual and intentionally used language. (So, take that as your warning if you are offended by that kind of stuff.)

But, the deeper I got into Nadia’s story, the less and less the f-bombs and other four letter words mattered, as five letter words like GRACE and TRUTH and FAITH emerged. And those words pervade Nadia’s story… not in theory, but in reality. The authenticity with which she writes and tells her story is bold, messy, and beautiful. And even though our stories are different, they are somehow the same.

As a Lutheran youth minister, I have a deep appreciation for the way Nadia weaves sound Lutheran theology throughout her exegesis both of scripture and experience–a theology that is firmly planted in the grace of God that comes by faith alone. Early in the book (p. 49), she sums up the Lutheran theology that she encountered in a church basement when she sat through an adult confirmation class:

  • God’s grace is a gift that is freely given to us. We don’t earn a thing when it comes to God’s love, and we only try to live in response to that gift.
  • No one is climbing the spiritual ladder. We don’t continually improve until we are so spiritual we no longer need God. We die and are made new, but that’s different from spiritual self-improvement.
  • We are simultaneously sinner and saint, 100 percent of both, all the time.
  • The Bible is not God. The Bible is simply the cradle that holds Christ. Anything in the Bible that does not hold up to the Gospel of Jesus Christ simply does not have the same authority.
  • The movement in our relationship to God is always from God to us. Always. We can’t, through our piety or goodness, move closer to God. God is always coming near to us. Most especially in the Eucharist and in the stranger.

These five foundational theological principles, and the beautiful messy story of Mary Magdalene are woven intricately throughout the book, as the reader encounters the crucified and risen Christ in alcoholics and homosexuals, in epically failed Rally Days, in the midst of the tragedy of the 2012 earthquake that devastated Haiti and in the singing of hymns in a bar following a movie theater shooting devastated the city of Denver and the entire nation.

For me, Nadia’s story… or perhaps, God’s story as told through Nadia’s life and experience, is a beautiful reminder both of why I am Christian and why I choose to practice Christianity through a Lutheran lens. It is a reminder that God works as incredibly through women in ministry today as he did through Mary Magdalene.

So, go pick up a copy of Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber. You won’t be disappointed. And, if you’d like to get a feel for Nadia before picking up the book, check out this video from the 2012 ELCA National Youth Gathering in New Orleans, Louisiana:

 

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