Pastrix: Finding God in the Strangest Places (Book Review)

Throughout this year, I will be sharing one book review each month. I am not a professional book reviewer, but I would like to share my thoughts about some of the books I have read recently that have impacted my life in meaningful ways. This month’s book is Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber. Do yourself a favor and read this book soon! You can purchase it here:

http://www.amazon.com/Pastrix-Cranky-Beautiful-Faith-Sinner/dp/1455527084

Have you ever read a book that made you feel defensive? Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber did that to me. First, let me provide this disclaimer: if you do not like reading books with bad words then do not read this book. I hope you will, but if curse words make you cringe, this book will bother you.

Now about my defensiveness: Bolz-Weber is a Lutheran pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA). The name of her congregation is House For All Sinners and Saints (HFASS). And she grew up in the Churches of Christ.

Sharing denominational history is one of the things that allows me to connect with Bolz-Weber. However, as she describes the shortcomings she perceived, I find myself wanting to defend the church of my youth.

The problem, however, is: she’s right.

I love the church I grew up in. I learned a lot that shaped me into who I am today. But there are some things that are problematic: the obscure, subjective concept of “Age of Accountability,” the discrediting of women, and the focus on exclusion. As Bolz-Weber addresses these items, I want to stand up and say, “But we do some stuff, right, too!”

I realized quickly the reason I was so defensive is that I agree with what the Pastrix has to say. I see the shortcomings, I see the faults, and I don’t always know what to do about them. So to read a book by someone who left and found a spiritual home elsewhere leaves me questioning why I am still where I am. (I had my own journey in churches outside the denomination of my youth and it was a blessed time. And the church I attend now has done much to address/correct some of the shortcomings Bolz-Weber addresses in this book.)

However, Bolz-Weber is very gracious toward the church of her youth, as well. While she is honest about the struggles and why she ultimately left never to return to the CofC, she also acknowledges what she gained. Mostly, what she gained was community. She was loved and accepted and learned about Jesus. I am always drawn to people who are able to recognize and acknowledge the good in midst of the bad.

Which is really the main point of the book. Bolz-Weber shares her journey from Christianity as a child, to rebellion as a teen and young adult, to reconnection with God through AA, to accepting the call to pastor God’s people. When she realized she was being called by God, she had this to say:

“I looked around and saw more pain and questions and loss than anyone, including myself, knew what to do with. And I saw God.”

That sentiment describes what the Pastrix tells throughout her book. As she shares stories of her life, her family, and her church community, she always comes back to the presence of God in the lives of His people. Her story is sometimes messy, it is sometimes shrouded in doubt and uncertainty, but it always comes back to the presence of God.

Read this book and struggle with all of the uncomfortable feelings a tatted up, cursing, female pastor stirs within you. You will be better for it.

Because in the midst of the uncomfortable-ness, God will be present.

Finding Our Battles

Have you ever fought the wrong battle?

This past summer, just before I graduated with two Master’s degrees, I was having trouble with my lawnmower. It sputtered out on me and would not work. So I peeked in the gas tank, saw some shimmery substance, and tried to start the mower again. It did not work.

Determined to fix the lawnmower without needing help (like I normally do with anything mechanical), I went to buy a new spark plug. Still nothing. So I bought a new air filter. (Technically, my dad bought them for me since he and my mom were here visiting for my graduation.) Still did not work.

I gave in. I asked my friend, Terry, for help. He came over. He looked in the gas tank. Bone dry.

I was fighting the wrong battle.

_________________________

Have you ever fought the wrong battle? Unfortunately, I can safely assume that if you are a Christian in America today, you have. We (apparently) love to fight and to argue. We are arguing about what people who sell duck calls say and where they speak. We are arguing about chicken sandwiches and craft supplies. We are arguing about non-discriminatory hiring practices. We are arguing about a movie’s interpretation of a story. We are arguing that entitled rich white men on one side of the aisle have a better view of what’s right for the country than the entitled rich white men on the other side of the aisle.

We are fighting and fighting and fighting.

But none of it is the right battle to be engaged in.

There are people in my immediate social circles who are hurting right now. Their pain is very real. They are confused. They are sad. They feel helpless or hopeless. They feel like they just want to crawl under a rock and weep. They wonder when the pain is going to stop. They wonder when things will finally start going their way.

They wonder when people who claim the name of “Christian” will actually pay any attention to them.

If we are going to fight, let’s fight for those the people of God have been called to fight for since the beginning:

Widows

Orphans

Foreigners

Poor

Let’s fight for the people Jesus fought for: women and children, socially outcast, poor, sick, and religious outsiders.

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Do you want to know the cure for fighting too much?

Stop fighting.

Quit arguing. Quit being defensive. Quit trying to prove that you are right.

Stop fighting and start listening.

Listen to what other people have to say. Listen without responding. Learn where they are coming from and why. Pay close attention and maybe you will find that you have more in common than you realize.

Stop fighting and start looking at the people in your neighborhood, at your church, at your work, or in your family.

Who are the ones who need something you have to offer? Give it to them. Provide blessings for those who go without. Provide a voice for those who think they have none.

Stop fighting and start loving.

Stop fighting and start serving.

At the very least, stop fighting the wrong battles.

What Is Your Buy-in?

What is your buy-in?

The idea that people willingly submit themselves to some ideal or authority figure or expert amazes me.

Sports are a great example of this. The people with the talent listen to the people with ideas in order to make both successful. At any point, if the talent decides they no longer wish to follow the ideas, the team is headed for disaster.

It is the same in the workplace. The people who bear the burden of the heavy lifting, so to speak, listen to the people sitting in board rooms making decisions. At any point, the workers can decide they no longer wish to follow the guidelines established around a conference table. When that happens, the employer begins looking for new people to do the heavy lifting.

It is the same in the classroom. The students do the work laid out for them by the teacher in order to attain more knowledge of a given subject. If the student decides the teacher is not worthy of respect (or the student has the incapacity to give respect) education ceases and tension increases.

At FaithWorks of Abilene, I present a well laid-out career counseling curriculum to a group of adults who are seeking skills and confidence necessary for employment. The curriculum is good. The other material we present (7 Habits, Conflict Resolution, Gospel of Matthew, group counseling, individual counseling) is also good. However, regardless of how good the program is, it will not be effective if the students do not buy-in to the fact that the material will benefit them.

I am asking students to trust me when I offer my help to them. And no matter how prepared, educated, informed, and ready I may be if they do not buy-in I cannot be effective.

The buy-in is needed.

So what is your buy-in?

Where are you committed to bring about change? Or to maintain the status quo? Why?

I am committed to God’s idea of justice expressed throughout the Bible that His people should care for the widow, orphan, and foreigner (in other words, the groups of people that are not privileged). As I continue working more and more with people in poverty it is becoming more apparent how our system is flawed. I am becoming more aware that as Christians we should be doing more than we are.

Don’t get me wrong, the system helps a lot of people and a lot of Christian churches and organizations are doing a lot of good. But we need to do more.

We need to acknowledge that people are not pawns for political fodder. We need to admit that at times we have barricaded ourselves behind the doors of our churches to pray about people and raise money to send elsewhere.  All the while, we walk past the people right in front of us who need help hoping they do not make eye contact with us.

I have bought in to the fact that we need to ask ourselves some uncomfortable questions: How are we maintaining institutional racism? How are we maintaining gender-based biases? How is our silence perpetuating the evils in the system? How would my life change if I were truly committed to being Christ-like?

These questions do no assume that we are doing anything wrong. They do assume that we could be doing even more that is right.

But only if we buy-in to the fact that we need to. Only if we buy-in to the fact that there are problems we must attempt to fix.

Without the buy-in, our attempts will be ineffective.

So what is your buy-in for 2014?

Let’s Start Making Excuses!

In Exodus 3:1-4:8, Moses approaches a bush that is burning but not consumed by fire.  He hears the voice of God speak to him, telling Moses that he is standing on holy ground.  God tells Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.  And like so many of the people God called, Moses does not want to do it.

Moses gives God four excuses.  They are pretty good ones, too:  who am I, who are you, the people will not believe, I cannot speak.

And God answers all of them:  I will be with you, I AM WHO I AM, here are signs to perform, take Aaron with you.

So Moses is placated and becomes anxious to answer God’s call, right?  Well, not exactly.  After God addresses Moses’ excuses, Moses responds by saying, “Send someone else.”  Then, God becomes angry with Moses.  Which makes sense, doesn’t it?  God should be angry with him.  After all the excuses and all the answers, Moses just reveals that he doesn’t want to do it anyway.  What is wrong with Moses?

Perhaps that is not the question we should be asking, however.  Since we are so far separated from Moses we can remove ourselves from the story and look down on him.  We can use our hindsight to sit in superiority over Moses.  We know how the story ends.  So certainly we would have jumped at the chance, right?

Maybe instead of separating ourselves from Moses we should try to relate to him.  Think about where Moses was in his life.  At this time he is around 80 years old.  He lived to about 120, so he has lived 2/3 of his life already.  For the sake of comparison, 2/3 of the average lifespan in our culture today would be somewhere in the early 50’s.  How many people at 50 are ready to just completely change their occupation, their home, their lifestyle and do something completely radical?  Think about what Moses has been called to do:  go to Pharaoh, tell him to let all his slave labor walk out of his country, and make sure the Egyptians load you down with gold on your way out of town.  Is this a message you would comfortable speaking (even if you didn’t have a speech impediment)?

Also, Moses spent the first 40 years of his life in Pharaoh’s household.  He has gone from having everything to having essentially nothing.  He has gone from being a prince to being a shepherd.  And now he is being called to go back to the palace he left; not for a joyous reunion, but to proclaim an unwanted message.

So maybe, just maybe, Moses’ excuses are valid.

And maybe, just maybe, my excuses and your excuses are valid, too.

Maybe we aren’t good enough, strong enough, rich enough, smart enough, whatever enough to do what God wants us to do with our lives.  Maybe there is too much pain in the world for us to make a difference.  Maybe there is too much poverty in the world for us to actually change anything.  Maybe there is too much anger and bitterness for us to actually inspire any type of change.  Maybe we have failed too much in the past or feel no confidence in our present to believe that we can do anything.

And I think we should tell God all of that.  Let’s make our excuses.

But then we need to listen to God’s answers.  He loves you and has called you for a purpose.  It may not be easy, but if He has called you than you have the ability to do it.  So after you make your excuses and hear His answers, you have a choice:  to be like Moses and say, “Please send somebody else,” or be like Isaiah and say, “Here am I, send me.”

What do you choose?