Thursday, October 1, 2015

Nadia Bolz: Weber, Sinner and Saint: Thursday's Reflection

Recently, the Lutheran pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber spoke to a standing room only crowd at our church, Gloria Dei, in St Paul. I knew many would come to hear her, but I had no idea I would end up sitting in the last row of the balcony, instead of my usual left side in the middle pew. She is used to these kinds of crowds, for she speaks honestly and clearly, often with words many would consider not appropriate in the church. Instead of "pious" as most would define it, she acknowledges her flaws and how they formed the faithful, although unconventional, woman she is. The name of her congregation in Denver is appropriate: House for All Sinners and Saints. I love that the word "sinners" comes before the name "saints" in the name of the congregation. 

Her appearance  tall, heavily tattooed, not an ounce of fat in those tight ripped jeans, is at first startling to one who still dresses up for church, but then she starts speaking about why she is a Lutheran and about grace and how God is a source of wholeness and "my brokenness is not the final word." 

Here's a sampler of what she said that night:

"Me, too," are connecting words.

"It is in our jagged edges where God gets hold of us and yet we keep trying to smooth ourselves out." 

"What we say in church may be true, but not honest."

"Church is a place where we should be able to dive into our difficulties."

The words that particularly grabbed me were about experience. She encouraged us to trust our personal experience. Early in her book Pastrix. The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint, she writes,
          I once heard someone say that my belief in Jesus 
          makes them suspect that I intellectually suck my
          thumb at night. But I can not pretend, as much as 
          sometimes I would like to, that I have not throughout
          my life experienced the redeeming, destabilizing
          love of a surprising God. Even when my mind protests,
          I still can't deny my experiences. This thing is real to me.
          Sometimes I experience God when someone speaks 
          the truth to me, sometimes in the moments when I 
          admit I am wrong, sometimes in the loving of 
          someone unlovable, sometimes in reconciliation that
          feels like it comes from somewhere outside of myself,
          but always when I experience God it comes in the 
          form of some kind of death and resurrection. pp. xvi-xvii

She confesses what she has experienced to be true. 

I wonder how often I disregard my own experiences in favor of what someone else tells me is "true" or how often I diss my own responses, in favor of what I have been told I should feel or believe or know. Yes, that includes church, too. 

What I am coming to understand is that this stage of my life is awakening to my own experience, my own wisdom, my own truths. I am not interested in converting you to what I understand to be true, but if as I come to know the essence of who I am, you also come to greater awareness, I will be most gratified. 

I felt the audience of young and old, church and unchurched, believers and nonbelievers, breathe in unison with Nadia. I glanced at the two young people seated next to me, each holding a phone, but no texting or checking messages was happening. They were rapt in attention. I could feel their yearning energy. After the talk I greeted them--just what they needed was an old lady trying to have a conversation with them--and asked them how they happened to be there. They had seen Nadia on YouTube and heard she would be here. I thanked them for coming, expressed hope that this had been a life-enhancing experience for them and invited them to visit anytime. They would be most welcome.  

An Invitation
What have you experienced to be true? I would love to know. 

Nadia Bolz-Weber
Fresh Air Broadcast

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