Raw and Real: Nadia Bolz-Weber
I first learned of Nadia Bolz-Weber (the subject of this issue’s “Listening in With …”) when I was at a yoga retreat in Costa Rica with spotty internet. My friend Jill messaged to ask if I’d heard of the Evangelical Lutheran pastor, who’d just released a series of videos showcasing some seriously fresh attitude. They instantly went viral.
“She flippin’ rocks!” Jill texted, sending the links. Intrigued, I maneuvered around the passion flowers and guava trees in the dark until I found a better signal. The effort was well worth it (although the iguana I disturbed seemed less than enthusiastic).
Bolz-Weber was a college dropout and stand-up comedian in recovery from alcohol and drug abuse when she met a young seminarian who introduced her to the Evangelical Lutheran church. (They married and are now divorced.) What bowled over Bolz-Weber so powerfully that she became a pastor herself was “this idea that we’re all simultaneously sinner and saint, 100 percent of both, all the time.”
Be Prepared for @#$%^&*!
She shares her gutsy interpretation of that ideology in ways few others attempt. At six-foot-one and covered in tattoos (mostly biblical scenes), Bolz-Weber is raw and real. She curses freely and makes liberal use of both sarcasm and humor to cut straight through social conditioning to the Truth, even when (she would probably say especially when) it’s uncomfortable.
Often self-deprecating, Bolz-Weber says she preaches from her scars, not her wounds—scars that allow people to identify with and trust her. She doesn’t preach at them but instead offers a voice for the often-dismissed.
While she’s socially progressive (holding naming rites for transitioning transgender congregants and designating a drag queen as her church’s “minister of fabulousness”), she’s also an orthodox theologian who believes in the literal interpretation of the Bible. Her services follow the ancient liturgy—scripture readings, hymns, and communion included—with a little modern flavor (at Easter, the baptismal font becomes a chocolate fountain).
The Essence of Christianity
While Bolz-Weber clearly breaks the minister mold, she’s passionate about what she sees as the underlying essence of Christian teachings, the truth before it acquired the trappings. She argues against conservative Christianity’s obsession with controlling sexuality (which, she notes, “has in fact created more unhealthy sexual behavior than it has ever prevented”).
She gives hope to the oppressed (apocalyptic literature’s message, she says, is that “dominant powers are not ultimate powers”). And she is quick to point out that the people Jesus chose to hang out with were largely society’s outcasts. “I have no idea,” she adds, “how Christianity went from that to what it is now.”
At one point in our candid conversation, she lamented: “We’ve lost the plot in so many ways in the Church.” If so, there’s every indication Bolz-Weber will soon be returning said plot to a laser-sharp page-turner.