by Tony Casson
“And when the scribes and Pharisees saw Him eating with the tax collectors and sinners, they said to His disciples, ‘How is it that He eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners? ‘ ” (Mark 2:16 NKJV)
“A good honest and painful sermon.” Samuel Pepys
Honesty and truth can sometimes make us uncomfortable, and the words used to convey them are not always pretty words. In fact, although they are both nouns, neither ‘honesty’ OR ‘truth’ is a proper noun and, when wielded by Nadia Bolz-Weber in her book, “PASTRIX”, they will undoubtedly be viewed as IMPROPER nouns by some. Tertullian was a father of the early church who lived in the late second and early third centuries. He once said, “Veritas Non Crubescit”, which means “The truth does not blush”, and while the truth itself might not blush, the same cannot be said for many who might read this powerful book written by a woman who definitely does not mince her words.
Ms. Bolz-Weber’s picture adorns the front cover of the book and her image alone serves notice to potential readers that the journey they are contemplating is not going to be a mild one. The photo shows a striking woman with short hair and black plastic-framed glasses which lend her an air of intelligence even though her face is partially obscured by the fact she is looking down at her hands at the ends of heavily tattooed arms which are draped over her knees. She is wearing a sleeveless shirt which enables her colorful ‘ink’ to stand out in vivid contrast to the darkness in her clothing and the absence of back-lighting. One of the tattoos which stands out in particular is on her right forearm and depicts Mary Magdalene.
Mary Of Magdala is a good place to begin this ‘book review’ since she was the also the first person to see Jesus Christ after the resurrection. She did not recognize Him until He spoke her name, initially mistaking him for a gardener. In the book, Ms. Boz-Weber suggests that is the case for all of us; that none of us recognizes Him until He calls out to us. I suspect she may be right. Why Mary, though? Why select someone as flawed as she was to give the immense honor and considerable responsibility of telling others about the risen Son of God? Possibly because He was always a friend of sinners, those who were sick, those in need, and those who, like Mary magdalene, were beset by demons.
“PASTRIX” quite effectively takes us into the same places Christ went to do His work. The author plants us right in the midst of dinner at the tax collector’s house, only we are not at dinner, and we are not in Levi’s home. We are at the ‘House For All Sinners And Saints’ in Denver, Colorado, and Nadia Bolz-Weber is its ordained Lutheran pastor and founder. We are not in some pretty crystal cathedral or upper-class mega church. We are in the trenches, right where Jesus Christ went to go to work, and where many people begin their own search for Him. In the pages of “PASTRIX” we become witnesses to many living examples of how to find forgiveness in an unforgiving world; how to find acceptance and love while all around us the meanings of those words seems to have disappeared or have been forgotten; how to reconcile some of the things we read in the Bible with the way our human hearts, and minds, often differ from those things.
Some may think Ms. Bolz-Weber’s use of profanity and earthy colloquialisms are overdone or gratuitous, but if those who are easily offended can grit their teeth while opening their eyes, hearts, and minds to the MESSAGE of this rough-talking, soft-hearted warrior for Christ, the benefits derived from the experience will far outweigh any inconvenience, discomfort, or perceived damage which may be suffered by the reader. Those words which MIGHT offend, far from being gratuitous or unnecessary, actually act as a powerful hammer with which this passionate woman drives her message home.
“PASTRIX” introduces us to several members of the Home For All Sinners And Saints ‘family’, and when we get to know some of them better, I can hear books being closed, along with the minds and hearts of those closing them, but I implore you all to hang on till the powerful, emotional ending before rendering your final verdict. Some will remain unmoved and convinced the journey was a mistake, but there WILL be those who will be ‘on-your-knees’ thankful they read it in its entirety.
I once wrote another ‘book review’ in these Chronicles about a book called ‘not a fan’ by Kyle Idleman in which I warned my readers that the author makes us uncomfortable as we are led on a search of our hearts to see if we are truly committed followers of Jesus Christ, or, simply, cheering fans sitting on the sidelines. In similar fashion, “PASTRIX” makes those who read it uncomfortable as well, and the author’s choice of vocabulary has little to do with it. The REAL discomfort begins as we slowly discover the depth – or perhaps, shallowness is a better word – of our understanding of what Christ did NOT say.
Jesus Christ said, “Follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)
Jesus Christ did NOT say, “Follow me when you feel up to it or have time, or it is not too much trouble.”
Jesus Christ said, “Love thy neighbor.” ((Mark 12:31)
He did NOT say, “Surround yourself with people you are comfortable with, smell nice, and make enough money to suit you, and love only them.”
Christ said, “Do not judge others.” (Luke 6:37)
He did NOT say, “It is alright to look down on others to elevate yourself as long as you go to church with like-minded individuals each Sunday.”
He said, “What you do to others you do to me.” (Matthew 25:40)
He did NOT say, “If you don’t like the way someone looks or smells, treat them with disdain and ignore their pain and I will overlook it when you stand before me in judgment.”
He also said, “Do as I have done to you.” (John 13:15)
Again, Jesus Christ did NOT say, “I treat everyone with love, kindness, mercy and grace, but YOU are free to treat them however badly you wish.”
Jesus Christ was not afraid to rub elbows with the unwashed, the uneducated, or the unhealthy. He loved those He walked and talked with during His time as a man among mankind. Heaven is most assuredly a perfectly beautiful place to see and in which to live the eternal lives we are promised by God, but while the physical appearance of OUR world is breathtakingly beautiful – as it was intended to be when God created it – the sickness, poverty, pain, and the ugliness of sin that afflicts mankind has given us an unbelievable ability to make that beauty here on earth almost impossible to see. “PASTRIX” teaches us lessons that cannot be learned by avoiding, being embarrassed by, or offended by honesty and truth as brought to us by Nadia Bolz-Weber. She helps us to strip away some of that ugliness and see that there is beauty in there. She has been called upon by God to get down in the trenches, roll up her sleeves (well, if she HAD sleeves!) and help those she finds shed that ugliness and see the beauty God placed inside THEM. In the writing of “PASTRIX” she takes us along and lets us see some of the people who need help finding God inside themselves, and allows us to accompany THEM on their journeys to that discovery. The journeys are not always pleasant, but they are always REAL.
Sara Groves is a favorite Christian singer of mine and one of the songs she performs is called “The Boxer”. I was listening to that song the other day and, in my mind, I could almost see Nadia Bolz-Weber and Jesus Christ in a boxing ring with gloves on, side by side, slugging it out with pain, addiction, homelessness, unwelcomeness, unforgiveness, poverty, hunger, hypocrisy, sickness, and sin – and winning. I get this crazy mental image in my head of her leaning against Christ after the last bell, both of them bloodied and battered, her tattoos glistening with sweat, and I can hear her as she looks up at the face of Jesus and says, “Damn, that was a hell of a fight!”
I have a pretty good feeling Jesus would not disagree with the message or her delivery of that message.
Many of the individuals highlighted in “PASTRIX” are seriously flawed. When the last page is turned, we could very well be left wondering if the very first person Christ reveals Himself to upon His return just might be someone from the House For All Sinners And Saints.
Seriously. Read this book.
(And check out the paperback version of MY book “TODAY IS….A Gift From God” at http://www.createspace.com/4718409)