Between Two Worlds Day 25 (of 40)
“Nobody really believes she’s an ordained pastor in the ELCA. Maybe it’s the sleeve tattoos or the fact that she swears like a truck driver. Either way… she’s fine with it.”
That is a quote about the Reverend Nadia Bolz-Weber, a Lutheran pastor in Denver. Two weeks ago I was teaching a class on “The Revolution of Grace” and I read a whole chapter of Nadia’s book Pastrix to the class. It’s a great story of redemption, grace in action, and a modern extension of Jesus’ preference for the outcast and discarded of our society. Nadia spent her early adult life on a path of self-destruction, a fact that she was aware of and wore proudly–that is, until she discovered that her drinking wasn’t any more adorable than the other alcoholics in an AA meeting that she had been invited to.
But there was a problem with the story. While I believe that she tamed her language down a little for the book, there was still enough in there to make me nervous about shocking my Presbyterian faithful. Hers was an authentic story of gospel redemption, but would the language be a barrier to hearing it, I wondered. I was thankful when after reading some sections where she said fuck and bitch that my class didn’t march me straight out into the parking lot and pull a Trump on me by taking my coat and leaving me shivering in the cold. Actually the group handled it pretty well. But a few people wondered whether her newfound faith had really taken. If she was serious about her faith wouldn’t she also have cleaned up her language? was the question.
This interchange was on my mind all day today as I thought about my post from yesterday when I talked about some “crazy shit” in the Bible. I have been around enough teenagers and young hip adults to know that for them that off color combination is just a fun way of saying, “That’s some pretty outlandish claims there!” But I also have been around enough good Presbyterians who are often a generation older than me to know that a swearing pastor is an oxymoron. The two just don’t belong in the same body.
The truth is I don’t lace most of my conversations with four letter words as if a sentence isn’t really complete without them. But I do lace a blog here and there with a little well-placed profanity when it naturally pops into my mind, I think it will have a little stronger impact and will connect with those for whom profanity is as common to them as it is for the swearing, tattooed good reverend, Nadia Bolz-Weber.
I write this today because I spent the day worrying that the casual use of profanity may have pushed a few of my readers too far. For those who get the whole “crazy shit” reference I felt really good about my blog. I let them know that I too didn’t have rose-colored glasses on when it came to scripture and that the Bible must sound pretty wild and far fetched to the casual reader. Yet I think I made my case that its very outlandishness is what convinces me that there is a God-experience hidden in there. Its crazy claims aren’t a reason to dismiss it, but rather to take it even more seriously than ever. I love this crazy…well you know what I mean.
I am reminded again in this “Between Two Worlds” Lenten conversation that bridging that divide is very tricky. Nadia Bolz-Weber tells an amazing story of redemption yet her own street language is a sign to some that she hasn’t really gotten the whole Christian thing yet. It is as if she “got saved” yet never said goodbye to unredeemed life. Yet to her own people her rather unpolished language is probably a gift rather than a barrier. Her new found master’s level, seminary sophistication could be as offensive to her clan as her street mouth might be to my Presbyterian clan.
I live somewhere between these two worlds. Every blog post is an attempt to build a web of understanding and connection between the people of the institutional church and the people “on the loose” who are experimenting, exploring and adopting emerging forms of spirituality. I want to build bridges. But I worry sometimes that in my attempts to speak to people on both sides of the river bank that all I am really doing is getting all wet.