You have to love Nadia Bolz-Weber, Pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver. Unless, that is, you are on the religious right, in which case, you may love to hate her. Bolz-Weber has a vivid personality, as expressive as her many tattoos and as frank as her storytelling in Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People (Convergent). Her writing is, as always, engaging, and in this book rather self-deprecating, as she tells stories of people who became (accidental) saints in her life. Bolz-Weber offers a forthright word about grace and mercy, tempering the charming confidence exhibited in earlier writing with a winsome humility. I suspect many readers will wince and sometimes curse along with her as she not only finds God in the wrong people but sometimes is that wrong person herself.
As a pastor, I both loved the stories of relationships with parishioners and also found them uncomfortable. Bolz-Weber includes a note acknowledging that she writes about real people and does change their names. I’m fascinated that in an era when we can find information about others so much more easily that boundary would be lowered.
As a non-Lutheran, I appreciated reading her descriptions of Lutheran liturgy. House for All makes its own unique adaptations to traditional practices in ways that are creative and appealing, while keeping traditional liturgical language. It’s understandable that visitors overran their services. It must have been difficult and at the same time obvious to conclude that being a sort of field trip destination for others was not good for the congregation.
As a writer who is also a person of faith, I loved the turns her stories took. Some particular favorites (without spoilers): her trip to the Holy Land, a complication with her calendar, and the chapter about Judas. Many of the high points of the liturgical year appear in the book, from All Saints to Easter Vigil. The description of Maundy Thursday was a favorite for me.
I confess that I began reading wondering if this book would share a weakness with the second half of her previous book, Pastrix. After the strong first portion about her childhood and young adulthood, the chapters about her ministry seemed to have a pattern of 1) this happened and 2) here’s what I preached about it. I’ve read Nadia Bolz-Weber’s sermons; they are great on the page, and I can only imagine they are even better in person. In the context of the book, however, the sermon portions created a weak ending for some of the chapters by changing the rhythm of her writing. I’m glad to say that with one exception, I didn’t feel that change of rhythm in Accidental Saints.
Who should read Accidental Saints? Pastors, especially the ones who feel constrained to fit into a certain mold; believers in God who aren’t necessarily believers in church; faithful people who curse for emphasis. I’m in two out of three of those categories most days. You? This book promises that God can and does and will make saints of people exactly as they are. That is some really Good News; thanks, Nadia, for proclaiming it.
(I received a free copy from the publisher with no inducement to offer a positive review. Nadia’s blog, Sarcastic Lutheran, used to be part of the RevGals web ring.)
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