Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Book Review: Pastrix by The Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber

Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint
The Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber
Jericho Books
Hardcover: 224 pgs.

There are lots of reasons why I'm not super-swift to post reviews of new books, especially when they're spiritual memoirs. I generally wait to see if the read has staying power, meaning: Do I keep thinking about it? Am I talking about it? Does the author’s story engage my brain as well as my heart? Have I been invited into a deeper inquiry about God and faith?

Happy to report that the Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber’s book, Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint has staying power.

I read Pastor Nadia's entire book within hours after it arrived two weeks ago and the "aha moments" keep emerging. This, trust me, is saying a lot given the fact that since finishing Pastrix, I've read three novels, been glued to #pandacam, binge-watched all three seasons of "The United States of Tara" on Netflix, and have been obsessed about the upcoming series finale of "Breaking Bad." 

Don't know about you, but whenever I read memoir, I zoom in on what resonates most deeply for me; no shortage of that in Pastrix.

I've long been interested in how medical events shape identity and lead – or don't – to faith in a higher power. Pastrix includes the story of Pastor Nadia’s rough ride through childhood thanks, in part, to dealing with the physical realities and social stigma of having Graves' Disease. Her rough ride through childhood was also due to being raised in an uber-fundamentalist home, something I didn’t have to endure thankyouverymuch.

As someone committed to keeping my own "memory green," I'm always fascinated by other women's stories about addiction and recovery. Pastor Nadia’s story includes nearly trashing her adult life with addiction. Been there; survived that. Pastrix offers a refreshingly blunt description of the recovery process without devolving into self-indulgent twaddle.

Because I work ecumenically, I'm always grateful to discover a book that reveals the felt experience of looking through a denominational God-lens. Pastor Nadia offers a gloriously clear articulation of Lutheran theology. Pastrix is a memoir that illuminates one of the central, distinguishing characteristics of Lutheranism: a deep trust in God's abiding grace. And it's a reason I especially urge Roman Catholics who either don't know or are in the dark about Protestant Christianity to read this book. 

To this list, I’ll add that Pastor Nadia strips away any possible romanticization of what it means to be a working pastor. Pastrix provides a gritty ethnography about the call to vocation, the obstacle course to ordination, the challenge of sustaining faith for self and others, and dealing with the crazy-ass stuff that happens within congregations. She also lands a few well-deserved jabs at preachers. My favorite:
“But the job of the preacher is to find some kind of good news for people. And that good news really should be about who God is and how God works and what God has done and what God will do. (What passes for preaching in many cases is more here’s the problem, and here’s what you can do about it, which I myself have never once heard as being ‘good news.’)”
Also, having participated in communities with and without rules, I laugh-snorted when I came upon Pastor Nadia’s revelation that, “a community based on the idea that everyone hates rules is, in the end, just as disappointing and oppressive as a community based on the ability to follow rules.”

Pastrix is a memoir with staying power because Pastor Nadia is powerfully articulate about our deep need for God’s grace. She’s also a rockin’ terrific writer, another source of delight for this reader. I highly recommend this to anyone interested in reading a memoir of spiritual substance with lots of authentic style.

Check Out My Faves: 
Interview: "Nadia Bolz-Weber on Becoming God's Bitch," by Candace Chellew-Hodge in Religion Dispatches.
Review: "'Pastrix' by Nadia Bolz-Weber," by The Rev. David L. Hansen.
Review: "La Femme Nadia: Pastrix," by The Rev. Clint Schnekloth
Video: Under the Tent with Nadia Bolz-Weber, interview by Krista Tippett, host of NPR's show, On Being.

P.S. Much has been made about her “language” but if you ask me – and even if you don’t – I say it’s totally contextual and makes sense. It’s a vivid expression of passionately rugged engagement with the world of Church because, let's face it, sometimes "bullshit" is perfect description and "fuck that" is the best response.



  1. Meredith, thanks for this book review. I read an interview that Nadia gave and her honesty and integrity really speak to me.

  2. Lynda: If you have time, watch the video. She's a powerful preacher and her message about God's grace is compelling.

  3. Great review, Meredith. And well-written (not always the same thing, as you know). Thank you.
    Blessings, Laurel

  4. Meredith, thank you for suggesting that I watch the video. It is certainly long but Nadia is so authentic that the interview was riveting. Her authenticity reminds me of the people with whom I have the privilege of meeting at retreats for those who have been touched by the justice system. They know who they are and they have experienced the grace of God.

    BTW, I gave your latest book to one of our associate pastors and he is really loving it.

  5. Lynda, thanks for giving a copy of my book to one of your associate pastors. Even better: he's loving it.

    Love your observation about Nadia's authenticity, especially your comment about when, why, and how people experience the grace of God...and know it. Although, if the person doesn't know it, is it still God's grace? Tree falling in a forest making a sound? I guess so. Clearly, I need coffee.

  6. Saw her speak recently, and she has stolen my heart. Her honesty and authenticity excites me. I bought her book Accidental Saints at the event (and had her sign it, of course) but am anxiously awaiting Pastrix to arrive. Thanks for the review!


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