18/05/2016

Cranky, Beautiful Faith (by Nadia Bolz-Weber)

I don’t remember when I first heard of Nadia Bolz-Weber. It was probably on a blog or forum related to unconventional or progressive Christianity. I was, at first, a little dubious about reading a book by a heavily tattooed American pastor who minces no words… but was sufficiently intrigued to add it to my wishlist, and was very pleased to be given it by a relative for a recent birthday.

‘Cranky, Beautiful Faith’ is, as the front cover states, ‘for irregular (and regular) people’. I count myself somewhere in the middle of the two, although having now read the book, I realise that I’m much nearer the ‘regular’ end of the spectrum than I thought, if only because of being a white European home-owner, happily married with two adult sons. Many of the people in the book are homeless, with strings of broken relationships behind them; a significant number are from the LGBT community.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The book is rather different from the majority of Christian books I have read. It’s not about theology; it’s certainly not full of devotional insights. It doesn’t look at Christian lifestyle, nor does it look at popular psychology as it relates to spirituality. These are all, I realise, luxuries of the ‘regular’ folk, those who have the time and education to read and ponder deep questions rather than struggling to make it through the day.

If I must pick a genre, it’s closest to an autobiography. Nadia talks openly about her strictly religious (though loving) childhood, her descent into alcoholism and promiscuity in her teens, and her eventual redemption, in every sense of the word, surrounded by others who were even more wounded and confused than she was. In an unexpected turn-around, she found that she was called to be a pastor to ‘irregular’ folk, to speak God’s love to gay and transgender people, to accept everyone for who they are, and find ways to minister to them.

Even more surprisingly, she became a Lutheran pastor, and her ‘irregular’ services include traditional liturgy and weekly Eucharist/communion. Yet they attract a wide variety of people from all kinds of backgrounds, most of them looking for a place to be cared for, and where they themselves can offer service to others.

The writing is good, the stories unexpected, often moving. The author is honest about her failings and doubts, and manages to present Jesus in a way that feels very realistic, more so than many of our modern Western clean-cut images. I’m not surprised that so many people find her style and teaching so oddly attractive.

Each chapter tells a different story. It’s not a chronological biography, but a book of incidents and anecdotes that were significant in the author’s life, of ways in which she discovered God despite doubts, of how she learned to love even those whom her instincts told her to keep away from.

It’s peppered with down-to-earth language and some obscenities, which I could have done without; yet I understand her need to be transparent, and to write the kinds of words she uses. Perhaps, for the ‘irregular’ parts of her congregation, strong language is a bridge to communication.

I can’t begin to do this book justice. I would recommend it for Christians who are open to unusual styles of writing, for those who want something a bit different in their churches, for those on the fringe who long for acceptance and have not yet found it, and perhaps most of all for people who are inclined to write the church off as feeble and irrelevant.

Well worth reading. Just be warned that there is seriously strong language used throughout.

Note that in the US, the book is known as 'Pastrix', which is apparently a derogatory term used there for female pastors.

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's Book Reviews

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