Nadia Bolz-Weber, Pastor
Nadia Bolz-Weber saw a spiritual longing in friends who didn’t fit into the typical church. So the Evangelical Lutheran pastor created a new one, The House for All SInners and Saints, which allows parishioners from all walks of life to embrace failures and surround themselves with acceptance, love, and grace.
Nadia Bolz-Weber saw a spiritual longing in friends who didn’t fit into the typical church. So the Evangelical Lutheran pastor created a new one, The House for All Sinners and Saints, which allows parishioners from all walks of life to embrace failures and surround themselves with acceptance, love, and grace.
Nadia Bolz-Weber, Pastor
Why She’s a MAKER: Nadia Bolz-Weber created a spiritual home for people who feel like they don’t fit into organized religion. A place where people can admit to their mistakes and bad choices and still find acceptance, love and grace. “My transparency about my failings and all of the things that make me seem not ‘like a pastor’ are what allow me to be certain people's pastor.”
Role Models (or Lack Thereof): The Evangelical Lutheran pastor was in her 20s when she first saw a woman in a religious leadership role. “To see a woman up front in religious leadership completely changed how I saw myself and what I thought might be possible for me.”
Moment of Truth: When a group of friends asked her to lead a memorial service for a friend, she agreed. “I looked out and I saw these comics and academics, recovering alcoholics and queers, and I just thought, these people don’t have a pastor. And then I went, ‘oh shit, I think it’s supposed to be me.’”
What’s in a Name: When Bolz-Weber started blogging, she faced haters who wrote negative comments about her and firmly believed that women shouldn’t be pastors. Trolls gave her the nickname “Pastrix” as an insult, so naturally she turned it into inspiration: It became the title of her first New York Times bestseller. And it’s her rebel attitude that continues to be Bolz-Weber’s saving grace. “To me, it felt really defiant to say, no I think we can be part of organized religion and do it on our terms,” she says. As a result “I have seen grace change me and change people in my congregation in a way that just telling them how to be good never would.”
NADIA BOLZ-WEBER: My transparency about my failings and all of the things that make me seem not "like a pastor," are what allow me to be certain people's pastor.
Mostly I grew up in Colorado Springs. We were in a very conservative religious tradition, Church of Christ. The God that I was taught to fear was like an angry, capricious bastard with a killer surveillance system who was basically constantly disappointed in me for being a human being.
When I was 12, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder, Graves' disease. I couldn't close my eyelids so my eyes literally bulged out of my skull and I developed this anger about how people treated me. And it ends up if you add a lot of drugs and alcohol to the anger, then it no longer protects you, it starts to kill you.
I had embraced the idea that I was going to be dead by the time I was 30 and I was OK with it. And so the weird thing about getting sober is it felt like a fairly rude interruption of my life. God picked me up and I'm kicking and screaming, being like, screw you. And God's like, that's adorable. I'm going to put you on this path now.
That's why it felt like grace. It gave me a completely different view of God. I fell in love with Lutheran theology, this idea that we're all simultaneously sinner and saint, 100% of both all the time. The idea that nobody is worthy and everybody's welcome. The fact that I can make a mistake and it's not this thing that's going to determine my value forever-- that's grace.
I was just literally the only religious person in my friend circle, and so I agreed to it. And I looked out and I saw these comics and academics, recovering alcoholics and queers, and I just thought, these people don't have a pastor. And then I went, oh, shit, I think it's supposed to be me. I think I'm supposed to be a pastor to my people as myself, with my struggles and failings, not some platonic ideal.
I had coffee with everybody in Denver twice and I couldn't get more than like 30, 40 people to come to church, and I felt like a failure. Then I was asked to preach at Red Rocks, there's 10,000 people. And then "The Denver Post," they did this front page article about me. My church doubled in size overnight because of this.
My parish is kind of a hot mess. It's a bunch of people who don't really belong in a church. The drag queens and the weirdos and the gays, but then we have these baby-boomers from the suburbs. One of my parishioners said, look, as the young transgender kid who was welcomed into this community, I want to go on record as saying, I'm so glad there are people who look like my mom and dad at church now 'cause they love me in a way my mom and dad can't.
I have seen this thing about grace change me and change people in my congregation in a way that just telling them how to be good never would. I had to start a church I'd be willing to show up to. I don't like church-- it's exhausting to be like, oh, I better watch what I say. Can't make that joke, don't talk about that part of my past-- who's going to do that? To me, it felt really defiant to say, no, I think we can be a part of organized religion and do it on our terms.
- I felt like the god that I was taught to fear was an angry, capricious bastard with a killer surveillance system who's basically constantly disappointed in me for being a human being. So there was just this point where I just went, that doesn't feel right to me. That's not the god that I think actually exists. And actually, in getting sober and having this experience of grace of my life where it felt like there was this divine intervention in my life that wasn't just me pulling myself up by my spiritual bootstraps-- it really did feel like I experienced grace. It gave me a completely different view of god.
- That theological non-specificity in the 12 steps is genius, because it's just a power greater than yourself. If the only faith that somebody has is that there's some kind of power that's greater than them, that's literally enough faith to me. That's being a person of faith. It doesn't have to be more noble than that. To me, it's a blessed relief to think that there's something more powerful than me. It takes the pressure off in some way.
- What's your capacity for self awareness? How much of your own BS can you call on yourself? What I mean by that is that you have to deal with your own shit. so right in front of you, get a shovel, figure out how to get rid of it, figure out what's yours, get rid of it. Because otherwise, everyone that needs what you have to offer has to step in your shit to get to your gifts. And they shouldn't have to do that. So your job as a spiritual leader is to deal with your stuff.
NADIA BOLZ-WEBER: What I've seen work in people's lives is to go, let it go. You're enough. You're enough. Let it go. There's plenty in the world, in God's world, in the universe, in other people's hearts to carry you. And I find that people flourish. They find out different things about themselves when they just stop trying so hard.
- Every curtain we've looked behind, we've just not found the Wizard of Oz. We find scared little men or women pretending to be big, pulling levers. And we just know the difference now. You can feel it. I think people's BS meters are fairly well-tuned right now. But that-- just because institutions like the church have disappointed us doesn't mean that we don't long for spiritual community or even spiritual leaders. We just want to be able to trust them.
- When I started blogging and people started paying attention to stuff that I was writing and doing, I very quickly had detractors. And so, people would write stuff about me on their blogs. And they wouldn't use my title, which is Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber, because they believed that girls shouldn't be pastors. And so they made up an insult instead that was Pastrix Nadia Bolz-Weber. And to be clear, there are a million reasons I should not be a pastor. But being a girl is literally not one of them. So I titled my first memoir Pastrix, which was on the New York Times bestseller list, so what that means is that if people are keeping score at home, I won that round.
NADIA BOLZ-WEBER: The way that Jesus touched human bodies as if they were holy and accepted people for who they were-- he ate with all the wrong people. He pissed off the people in authority. And he did this with such incredible grace and love, while eating really well.
He was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard, which I was like, awesome! I don't know how Christianity became about some austere living where you just shun all pleasure. I'm like, have you read the book?
I mean, oh, my gosh, he found the holiness in life, and the holiness in life is to be found in things like eating and drinking with your friends and hearing people's stories. That's so beautiful to me. That's such an essence, that and the idea of death and resurrection over and over. That's the essence of the faith to me.
- To me, being a Christian means you're OK with the fact that you're not a good person. When I'm around people who really live in freedom, it's like everything in me relaxes a little bit. They're just OK about stuff. They embrace the truth of who they are and who the world is in a way that allows you to see the ways it's beautiful, because you're no longer looking for why it's not perfect.
NADIA BOLZ-WEBER: The people in my church show me what-- as cheesy as it sounds, they show me what it looks like to love each other. The acceptance they have for one another is incredible.
And I do think it's as a result of grace. We become agents of what we've received. So I think the fact that grace is at the center of that community has created a situation under which they love each other well. And they teach me what that looks like a lot.
And they love me. They know me and they love me. I mean, I've disappointed them and they love me. It's incredible.
NADIA BOLZ-WEBER: Me and a friend of mine, Rachel Held Evans, put on a conference each year called Why Christian. And what we do is we hand-select four or five women each to be the speakers at our conference. And we just say, you each have 20 minutes. Tell us who you are, and why are you Christian?
Out of all the crimes and misdemeanors of Christianity, why do you still have skin in the game? Is there something that's beautiful enough about it that keeps you in it? Because we just don't hear those stories enough, and it's powerful. And they're told with such heart and vulnerability and humor.
My life's been changed by being in friendship with them and then watching them in their careers. Most of us were out there doing it alone. And to be a woman-- a younger woman-- in religious leadership who's dynamic and powerful and shines bright-- there are a lot of things in the world conspiring to tone you down, to put the dimmer switch on your brightness. And we collectively say no, turn it up.