Cranky, Beautiful Faith by Nadia Bolz-Weber is the story of a contemporary female Lutheran priest based in Denver. It is a fairly standard Christian autobiography on one hand being a set of stories and anecdotes which give the reader a controlled level of insight into the life and experience of somebody who is a major Christian speaker. There are the transformative experiences, ministering to those who are seen as marginal by the rest of society and the frustrations of ministry which seem to be part and parcel of these types of books. Yet this isn't your standard Christian paperback because Bolz-Weber is a heavily tattooed pioneer minister and nothing is quite standard in her life it seems.
The endorsement from Gordon Gano, lead singer of the Violent Femmes, which comes before the main text says "For anyone who is Chrisitian, interested in Christianity, anti-Christian (or anti-Religion) I recommend this book" . This sums up who the book is for, at least in theory...everybody.
The likely readership for a book published by a Christian publisher however provides a paradox but it is a paradox which Bolz-Weber deals with herself in the book. She is pastor at the House of Saints and Sinners a pioneer community/ church and it is a church which was set up to minister to the sorts of people who couldn't deal with traditional (inherited) church or more to the point those types of churches couldn't deal with. There came a point when the group started to get publicity and those who responded to the publicity were the people who turned up in their Dockers and got their news from papers not online sources. Bolz-Weber recounts how she had her heart turned about the need to include these people too. This book is like that. Clearly written for people who don't do church or feel the church can't cope with them yet likely to be read by nice middle class Christians.
Before it gets to the point of talking about this paradox at the end of the book Bolz-Weber begins by talking about her own experience of rejecting the fundamentalist church she had grown up in and becoming an alcoholic stand up comic. She moves on to getting clean and falling in love with a seminary student and finding herself at a point where she ends up training to become a minister. It's an engaging description which feels a bit like it has come out of a Douglas Coupland novel. In fact the whole thing reads a bit like it could have been written by Coupland.
As she talks about her ministry at The House of Saints and Sinners the types of people she is talking about will perhaps be challenging or alien to some of her readers. I didn't find it challenging in that way though. I don't know if it is because there are aspects which I could identify with, which are part of the world I live in particularly relating to LGBandT stuff and the people who part of her congregation. She talks for example about a trans naming ceremony in one chapter. The liturgy which Bolz-Weber put on the net was what Karl adapted and used when he was putting together the naming ceremony he had at the very mainstream church he goes to, a couple of years ago. Or perhaps it was because I am an avid Coupland reader but this book felt comfortable rather than shocking. However, as I say this book with its use of the F word every so often and descriptions of chaotic lives would have more of a shock value for the type of Christians who would find it an insight into the type of world they know nothing of or really are challenged by.
The book does highlight how Bolz-Weber has a real heart for and ability to minister to those who society would regard as being on the margins and how creative her ministry is. Whilst being rooted in liturgy there is a creative edge to it, as with many pioneer communities and that is what comes through. She also talks in a real way about the ways in which she has been challenged by a range of people and the place the support of good friends, family and colleagues has had.
The stories of journeying with and ministering to those on described as being on the edges and to those who are part of the institution (she tells the story of talking to a bunch of ministers and being honest about an event she'd put on which didn't work out) have deep theology and meaning within them put forward in a deceptively easy read. The story just referred to together with a story about when she found herself getting ripped off by somebody pretending to be a Hurricane Katrina survivor have something deep in them which I think make this book useful for Christians involved in ministry at various levels. Those people who get held up as successful suffer all the same sorts of issues as others.
What I liked about this book is that it is an easy read which makes you think. It's not a classic but it is well worth a look.
Cranky, Beautiful Faith by Nadia Bolz-Weber is published by Canterbury Press. ISBN 978-1-84825-531-9