Welcoming the stranger: Putting it to the test

A journey in faith is so rarely put out there in public for all to see. But as Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber writes in her new book, “Pastrix: The beautiful cranky faith of a sinner and saint,” the  truth is so much better than just trying to be good all the time.

Raised in the Church of Christ in America, Nadia always felt uncomfortable with the strict rules of her church and the dismissive ways women were treated. While her journey has led  her to becoming a Lutheran Pastor, there was a time in her life when she felt so hurt by Christianity that she wanted nothing to do with it at all.

Even while struggling with alcohol and substance abuse, she always looked for meaning. But it was in the Lutheran Church she found a spiritual home, after being introduced to the  denomination by her husband – then boyfriend. She’s recently written it all down her new book, bearing the brutal honesty of a life of booze, comedy clubs and uncertainty, to being  slapped in the face by God onto a path that would still be filled with uncertainty, but that would eventually lead her to starting up her own church, the House for All Sinners and Saints,  in Denver, Colorado, US.

Speaking to me from her hometown, Nadia explained that her experience of God is that God usually shows up at inconvenient times.

“In no way am I naturally somebody who wants to die to themselves or who will serve the neighbour or have an open heart to the stranger,” she said. “None of these things come  naturally to me at all. And yet they keep sort of being thrust upon me in these really beautiful ways.

“I don’t feel like God or spirituality is something I’m constantly pursuing or striving for. It’s something that is attacking me over and over again in ways that, frankly, I’d rather avoid.

“And yet it’s like the most true thing I’ve ever experienced. I definitely have that experience of being made new over and over again.”

Most recently she told me about  a minister of a Church of Christ congregation near an event she was speaking at who stood up during a Q and A session and apologised that she never  found a voice in that church.

“There’s this moment of grace and forgiveness and reconciliation,” she said. “And I wasn’t looking for it and as soon as that guy stood up and said he was a preacher from the Church   of Christ I started getting defensive thinking maybe he was going to attack me. This grace is just disruptive and inconvenient. And the most beautiful thing in the world.”

An element of Nadia that really shines in the book is her love of Mary Magdalene. To Nadia, Mary is a role model for women in an environment where it’s important to seek them out.

“You have to really search for your role  models as a woman in the church,” she said. “The scriptures were, from what we know, written so much about men by men. And it doesn’t  mean that the church was about men by men at the beginning, it just means that’s what we have written, and so we really have to look.

“Being raised in a tradition where women weren’t supposed to speak and didn’t have any authority, Jesus Christ himself gave a woman the authority to preach the resurrection! What  else do I need? She’s just wonderful.”

Since releasing her book, Nadia’s congregation has been thrust into the limelight, attracting thousands of ‘church tourists’. This is something she struggles with as she both tries to welcome the stranger and care for her congregation’s needs.

“If you say your church is about something, like we like to be about welcoming the stranger, you should really be careful about saying something like that because God might create a  circumstance in which that will be tested to its limits every single week,” she said. “It’s been a challenge, but a beautiful opportunity at the same time.”

In that opportunity to welcome the stranger, Nadia has been privileged to hear many stories from people who have felt left out by the church. But, she said, sometimes it is the church  that is the only thing that can heal these wounds.

“Being a part of a community that is accepting and human and yet totally centred around Jesus, you can be known for who you are and loved for that and welcomed and really needed in that space. That’s healing in a way in just leaving the church and having nothing to do with it never can be.”

Looking back on her younger self, who knows all too well about healing, Nadia said that even though she was a train-wreck, she still has affection for the power of that fierce-natured  girl.

“If there was something I could go back and say to my younger self, it might be that everything’s going to be so much more beautiful than you can imagine. And just hold on.”

Inspired?

Nadia Bolz-Weber will be the keynote speaker at the national UnitingWomen conference to be held in Sydney from 12 – 14 September. For more info visit http://unitingwomen.org.au. To follow her blog visit www.patheos.com/blogs/nadiabolzweber

Heather Dowling

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