Beautiful Faith: For irregular (and regular)
Canterbury Press £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70
'"SHIT," I thought to
myself, "I'm going to be late to New Testament class."' And with
that in-your-face opening line, we are off on a breathtaking - and
occasionally eye-popping - ride with Nadia Bolz-Weber, the former
stand-up comic, one-time alcoholic, Lutheran minister at the House
of All Saints and Sinners, the church she founded in Denver,
Colorado (Features, 1 November).
Fleeing a fundamentalist
upbringing, she describes a journey through various kinds of
substance abuse, Wicca, Unitarianism, Quakerism, therapy, and
finally back to Christian faith, via marriage and mother-hood.
Through the suicide of a
close friend and fellow stand-up, she discovers her vocation: "To
be a pastor to my people" - those on the edge and sometimes far
beyond the boundaries of conventional life. Such "edge" ministry
is, appropriately, told in "edgy" language. Any readers of a
delicate constitution will find the contents page helpful in
determining whether or not they will cope.
The book employs a loosely
chronological approach, while emphasising themes linked to Mary
Magdalene, with whom the author identifies strongly enough to have
her image tattooed on her forearm. Through an array of colourful
characters and anecdotes, what emerges repeatedly are reminders of
God's forgiveness, healing, liberation, transformation, and, above
all, grace amid the ambiguities and messiness of life.
What makes it a particularly
satisfying read is the flow of surprises, beginning with the moving
story of her ultra-conservative parents' praying over her and
blessing her as she shares with them her calling to ministry. This
is an author who is open to revisiting her assumptions, and
challenging her own thinking, even scrutinising a tendency to
become self-congratulatory in her liberalism.
Deficient on attitudes to women, but strong on hospitality and
community. Spiritual warfare? There is no denying the negative
forces in the world, whether identified as actual demons or simply
human darkness. Comfortable middle-class people? They must be as
welcome in her congregation as the most outrageous drag-queen.
The book is also satisfying
for its many memorable quotes and one-liners, among my favourites
being: "Sometimes the best thing we can do for each other is talk
honestly about being wrong"; "The truth does crush us, but the
instant it crushes us, it somehow puts us back together into
something honest"; "I had never stopped believing in God. Not
really. But I did have to go hang out with his aunt for a while.
She's called the goddess."
Despite the colourful
vocabulary, the tattoos, and the occasional crankiness alluded to
in the title, what sticks in the mind is the author's honesty. She
does not set out to shock (well, perhaps just a little), but to
share what Christianity means to her, which is everything: "I have
only my confession - confession of my own real brokenness and
confession of my own real faith . . . and it is the story of how I
have experienced this Jesus thing to be true."
Naomi Starkey is a commissioning editor for BRF, and edits
and writes for New Daylight Bible-reading notes. She has
also written Good Enough Mother (BRF, 2009), and The
Recovery of Love (BRF, 2013).