There is a strange intermingling of the radical and the traditional in Lutheran ‘pastrix’ (an initially derogatory term that she has appropriated for herself, much the same way gay people have appropriated the word ‘queer’) Nadia Bolz-Weber’s books, illustrated in the first instance by the fact she has the liturgical calendar tattooed on her arm.
I am in two minds about this former addict and comedian’s use of the f-word in her books. It is true that too often Christians focus on the superficial end of morality, mistaking politeness and conservatism for the Gospel, which is in the New Testament at least always spoken of as offensive and radical, rather than polite. And it is true that swearing is just part of the language of the people she ministers to, but I am not sure putting the swearing in her books really accomplishes much except for a sort of superficial radicalness that is just the flipside of superficial morality, like wearing a studded leather jacket over your CK jeans or listening to the Sex Pistols loudly in your Lexus.
Better that the general content of her books, including her latest, Accidental Saints, reinforces the world-overturning nature of the Gospel, epitomised by her friend’s comment that as soon as you draw a line between yourself and someone else, Jesus is on the other side of the line. The series of what are essentially sermons in her latest book are self-deprecatingly funny and deal with the surprising nature of grace, a well-worked Lutheran theme, to be sure, but one that perhaps needs constant reworking entirely because of its surprising nature. Here grace coruscates in unlikely places, including the lives of the misfits of which her parish comprises, and in her friendship with a previously antagonistic conservative. She is skilled at writing in a jokey, friendly way about how her normally divisive way of thinking is constantly tripped up by the Biblical injunction to love not just our friends but our enemies. And she writes about how grace, hugged tightly to the chests of conservative Lutherans, flourishes not just where people come to the church, but where church is done in a way unrecognisable to many of her fellow Lutherans.