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Interview: Nadia Bolz-Weber, US Lutheran minister

13 October 2009

I’m the founding pastor of a Lutheran emerging church in Denver, Colorado, called the House for All Sinners and Saints. I am also a writer, kind of. I’m the author of Salvation on the Small Screen? 24 Hours of Christian Television (Sea­bury, 2008), and of the Sarcastic Lutheran blog (sarcasticlutheran.com).

The experience left me delirious. It was like an anthropological experi­ment, as if I were looking at a pygmy village: their experience of Chris­tianity was so different from mine, so bizarre.

But it ended up as a mirror rather than a window. I mean, I really gave it to these guys, but it made me see the holes in my own tradition: things that we don’t do well that this form of Christianity is somehow doing.

If Christian television were not ser­ving a need, it wouldn’t exist, would it? So there’s something that the Church isn’t doing. We say we’re a community, but when two or three are gathered together and one of them is a TV, it doesn’t count.

I don’t have all the answers, but although we’re good at being church to the people who come to us, we might not be extending ourselves to the people who are isolated.

I’m a Lutheran. We believe in salva­tion through theological precision.

Liturgically, we are very closely re­lated to the Church of England, and of course both traditions date back to the 16th century. But Lutherans are more physically attractive, on the whole.

My denomination broke a lot of rules for me to get to do what I’m doing. That was really key. They saw that there was a need for a young, post-modern, urban, Lutheran com­munity in Denver, and they saw that I was native to that very context and therefore perfectly suited to under­take such a crazy thing.

Also, I believe my bishop may have realised that trying to put me in a nice traditional parish in a small town or suburb somewhere would have been ugly for everyone in­volved. So they just let me start a new church.

We are all simultaneously 100-per-cent sinner and 100-per-cent saint. No one is climbing higher to God: God always comes to us. Also, I love the idea that being Christian is about doing this thing of following Christ in a community with other equally messed up, obnoxious, forgiven people as myself. It’s not about the individual nearly as much as Ameri­can Evangelicalism has made it out to be.

I loved Greenbelt. I loved it enough to bring seven others from my church so we could lead a bluegrass eucharist this year. That was a real highlight for all of us. I love that —despite differences — Christians come together at Greenbelt based on what they have in common: Christ and a concern for justice.

I have a tattoo sleeve covering my left arm which is the liturgical year: images for Creation, then Advent, Christmas, Lent, Good Friday, Easter, and Pentecost. Yeah, it kinda hurt to have it done, but it’s a hell of an evangelistic tool, because strangers come up to me and ask about them.

I have an amazing husband, and two kids who are funny, smart, and have their own ideas about just about everything.

I don’t remember having any child­hood ambitions. The most impor­tant decision I ever made was to marry my husband. His stability and love for me has allowed me to be­come who I am today.

My biggest regret? I got this rose tattoo on my hip when I was 17. But I got so fat when I was pregnant that now it’s a big blobby stretch mark.

I’d like to be remembered for loving God and loving people. And win­ning the Democratic Party’s 2016 nomination for President of the United States — and then turning them down because I’d rather keep being a pastor of this funky little urban church.

Someone who has influenced me strongly? If I don’t say Jesus Christ that will make me a bad Christian, right?

My bishop just preached at my church, and said: “When we enter into the eucharist we enter into the very imagination of God.” I love that.

My Fairtrade product of choice? Divine Mint Dark Chocolate.

I love John 20, when Mary Mag­dalene mistakes Jesus for the gar­dener. I’m sure her friends never let her live that down. She doesn’t recognise him until he speaks her name. I get that.

My least favourite part of the Bible: the book of James. There is very little gospel in that book; very little about Jesus. But in something like 115 verses there are 64 exhortations. It may contain some wisdom, but there isn’t much good news there.

I just returned from Berlin and fell in love with that city. I want to go back. I love the urban art every­where.

If I hadn’t gone into mini­s­­try, I guess I’d have been a crack-whore. Or a lawyer.

I get angry about the con­servative Lutherans who are threatening to leave our denomination — just because we changed a ministry policy so that now churches who want to can de­cide to call as their pas­tor someone who is in a life-long, monogamous, same-gender rela­tion­ship. Con­serva­tive congrega­tions will never choose to call a gay pastor, which is their choice, but to leave because other churches now get to make a choice they don’t agree with is ridiculous.

I’m happiest when I am not think­ing about my­self.

I do pray. A lot. Usually I am begging God for guid­ance.

I’d most like to get locked in a church with my husband. Can we call it a date?

The Revd Nadia Bolz-Weber was talk­ing to Terence Handley MacMath.





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