Nadia Bolz-Weber bounds into the sanctuary like a superhero from Planet Alternative Christian. Her 6-foot-1 frame is plastered with tattoos, her arms are sculpted by competitive weightlifting and, to show it all off, this pastor is wearing a tight tank top and jeans. Looking out at the hundreds of people crowded into the pews to hear her present the gospel of Jesus Christ, she sees: Dockers and blazers. Sensible shoes. Grandmothers and soccer moms. Nary a facial piercing.
You can read all about it here...
At the core of Bolz-Weber’s five-year-old Denver church, the House for All Sinners and Saints, are people who felt hurt by religion — as she did.
Early on, she says, she was aware of hypocrisy, homophobia and sexism in her fundamentalist upbringing. As a teenager, she had a thyroid disorder that caused her eyes to bug far out of her head, and she always had the feeling that she didn’t belong. She marinated her anger in drugs and alcohol for about a decade. Yet she never stopped believing in God. She dabbled for years with Wicca and experimented with every liberal faith group, from Unitarians to Quakers. She performed stand-up as a type of no-cost therapy. It was going through anti-addiction recovery that finally soothed her anger. Her encounter with a tall, cute, Lutheran seminary student named Matthew Weber brought her back to church.
You can listen to her here...
Let me begin by applauding the way she speaks without apology of JEEsus and of grace. I would not classify her as theologically orthodox or thoroughly Lutheran but her message is not the pablum of repackaged culture that is empty of sin and grace as are so many sermons today. That said, what troubles me is both the idea that the church is the reason why so many are not Christian or have dropped out of their faith AND the vulgarity that characterizes her witness (some might call it "earthy" language but it is more than earthy).
What troubles me is that much of her appeal is the appeal of a rebel, someone who has fought the system and won, and who flaunts her disconnectedness. This when she is anything but a rebel -- she is the darling of the ELCA and featured speaker to their national youth gatherings and other national venues of the ELCA. This when she has hardly fought the system -- she is supported (enthusiastically) by the people of the system (financially as well). This when she is hardly disconnected but one of the drawing cards of the ELCA, the success stories of their program of diversity, social justice, and liberalism with a message and a heart.
She likes to imagine herself as "not your grandfather's minister" but strangely her appeal is to suburban types, to little old ladies with gray (or blue hair). What is the appeal? I can only conclude that she represents a sort of romantic idea of the underdog, the rebel with a cause, the bad girl is a good girl under her tats and behind her disgusting mouth. I find it hard to see how the ladies who sew the LWR quilts can be attracted to her style of church or Lutheranism. Perhaps it is borne of the despair of a liberal truth that no longer stands for anything, has the power to do anything, or means anything. Is she orthodox because she has the liturgical year tattooed on her arm? Is she Lutheran because she speaks of grace? Is she the hope for the future because a church has lost its connection to its past? Is she the promise for a people who are sure that their church has no tomorrow and therefore they are willing to take her (even as shocking as her mouth and appearance might be), follow her, and support her?
Perhaps I can sum it up in one of her comments: I do not know how preachers cannot be comics first.... Hmmm. Maybe it is a show... and the best the church can offer is a shocking distraction in which, hidden a bit, is a little something of grace? If that is true, then she represents a sad tomorrow for those who think she is the shape of the future.
The points I make can be found in expanded form as Chris Rosebrough and Todd Wilken have a friendly interview about her (without just trashing her). Listen to it all here...