Maybe you saw the interview we posted in our last weekender, where she spoke at “Wild Goose Fest”…but Nadia Bolz-Weber is the real deal. I say this knowing I don’t give a whole lot of credence to “real deal”-speak. I guess I just mean that she is pretty unhinged. A Lutheran minister in Denver, she has just released her book Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint, from which she has received glowing reviews from several high-ups in the Emerging Church, that confusing non-denomination that generally leans more free-range than bound will. This is confusing though, because Bolz-Weber doesn’t really sound like that kind of church leader. I mean, yes, the book begins with the word “shit,” and she certainly doesn’t steer her sailor’s mouth elsewhere after, but the first chapter also begins with a frank telling of her failed comedy career, and “The Rowing Team,” the code word for her AA group, through which she came back to Christianity, after understanding that these were her people, those who cannot seem to help themselves. Her “call” to ministry was a literal phone call from a comedy friend before he committed suicide, asking whether or not he was “beyond the pale of God’s love.” She was asked to give his eulogy.
The memorial service took place on a crisp fall day at the Comedy Works club in downtown Denver, with a full house. The alcoholic rowing team and the Denver comics, the comedy club staff and the academics: These were my people. Giving PJ’s eulogy, I realized that perhaps I was supposed to be their pastor.
It’s not that I felt pious and nurturing. It’s that there, in that underground room filled with the smell of stale beer and bad jokes, I looked around and saw more pain and questions and loss than anyone, including myself, knew what to do with. And I saw God. God, right there with the comics standing along the wall with crossed arms, as if their snarky remarks to each other would keep those embarrassing emotions away. God, right there with the woman climbing down the stage stairs after sharing a little too much about PJ being a “hot date.” God, among the cynics and alcoholics and queers.
I am not the only one who sees the underside and God at the same time. There are lots of us, and we are home in the biblical stories of antiheroes and people who don’t get it; beloved prostitutes and rough fishermen. How different from that cast of characters could a manic-depressive alcoholic comic be? It was here in the midst of my own community of underside dwellers that I couldn’t help but begin to see the Gospel, the life-changing reality that God is not far off, but here among the brokenness of our lives. And having seen it, I couldn’t help but point it out. For reason I’ll never quite understand, I realized that I had been called to proclaim the Gospel from where I am, and proclaim where I am from the Gospel.
What had started in early sobriety as a reluctant willingness to start praying again had led to my returning to Christianity, and now had led to something even more preposterous: I was called to be a pastor to my people.