Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint

Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint

by Nadia Bolz-Weber


$14.40 $16.00 Save 10% Current price is $14.4, Original price is $16. You Save 10%.
View All Available Formats & Editions
Use Express Shipping for guaranteed delivery by December 24 
Qualifying orders placed by 11:59 a.m. ET on Dec. 21 can still be sent to Manhattan, NY addresses. Details

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781455527076
Publisher: FaithWords
Publication date: 09/02/2014
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 50,479
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Nadia Bolz-Weber is a New York Times bestselling author and the founding pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints, an ELCA mission church in Denver, Colorado. She's a leading voice in the emerging church movement and her writing can be found in The Christian Century and Jim Wallis' God's Politics blog. She is author of Salvation on the Small Screen?: 24 Hours of Christian Television (Seabury 2008) and the "Sarcastic Lutheran" blog on Patheos.

Read an Excerpt


The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint

By Nadia Bolz-Weber


Copyright © 2013 Nadia Bolz-Weber
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4555-2708-3


The Rowing Team

Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.

—Matthew 5:3

During my early years of sobriety, I spent most Monday nights in a smoke-filled parish hall with some friends who were also sober alcoholics, drinking bad coffee. Pictures of the Virgin Mary looked down on us, as prayer and despair and cigarette smoke and hope rose to the ceiling. We were a cranky bunch whose lives were in various states of repair. There was Candace, a suburban housewife who was high on heroin for her debutante ball; Stan the depressive poet, self- deprecating and soulful; and Bob the retired lawyer who had been sober since before Jesus was born, but for some reason still looked a little bit homeless.

We talked about God and anger, resentment and forgiveness—all punctuated with profanity. We weren't a ship of fools so much as a rowboat of idiots. A little rowing team, paddling furiously, sometimes for each other, sometimes for ourselves; and when one of us jumped ship, we'd all have to paddle harder.

In 1992, when I started hanging out with the "rowing team," as I began to call them, I was working at a downtown club as a standup comic. I was broken and trying to become fixed and only a few months sober. I couldn't afford therapy, so being paid to be caustic and cynical on stage seemed the next best thing. Plus, I'm funny when I'm miserable.

This isn't exactly uncommon. If you were to gather all the world's comics and then remove all the alcoholics, cocaine addicts, and manic depressives you'd have left ... well ... Carrot Top, basically. There's something about courting the darkness that makes some people see the truth in raw, twisted ways, as though they were shining a black light on life to illuminate the absurdity of it all. Comics tell a truth you can see only from the underside of the psyche. At its best, comedy is prophesy and societal dream interpretation. At its worst it's just dick jokes.

When I was working as a comic, normal noncomic people would often say, "Wow, I don't know how you can get up in front of all those people with just a microphone." To which I would reply, "Wow, I don't know how you can balance your checkbook and get up for work each day." We all find different things challenging in life. Speaking in front of hundreds of people was far less challenging for me than scheduling dental appointments.

It was almost effortless for me to do comedy, because the underside was where I felt at home—there, everything is marinated in irony and sarcasm until ready to be grilled and handed to a naked emperor. I got regular comedy work, but never went far in the comedy world for several reasons. First, it was because I tended to make the other comics laugh more often than actual audiences, whom I held in contempt (and maybe that's why). Then there was the fact that I wasn't driven to succeed: As soon as it became an effort, I backed off. But the most important reason comedy didn't work for me was that I became healthier and just wasn't that funny anymore. Less miserable = less funny. In the process of becoming sober and trying to rely on God and be honest about my shortcomings, I became willing to show vulnerabilities. This made me easy prey in a comedy club greenroom, which is basically a hotbed of emotional Darwinism, so it wasn't a place I really wanted to spend a whole lot of my free time. In other ways, hanging out with comics could be kind of great. Next to most of them I was the picture of mental health. I befriended—and by befriended I mean occasionally slept with—a wiry-haired, gregarious comic named PJ who had a keen, albeit incredibly perverted, mind. PJ was one of those guys who wasn't exactly GQ material, foregoing well-cut jeans for a regrettable combination of baggy shorts, button-down shirts, and sport sandals. He had a distinctly feral quality about him that made him seem a bit canine. Despite his almost total lack of style, PJ managed to have a really full social life. He loved women and life and booze and girlie magazines and poker and comedy, not necessarily in that order.

He was also completing his PhD in communications while doing standup, which was made just a tad difficult by his aforementioned vices. One day, I invited him to the rowing team, and he remained a faithful member for the next eight years, often hosting the postmeeting poker games at his house.

If you didn't know PJ well, he didn't seem all that smart, but underneath his foul-mouthed rants was a stunning intellect. His was one of the more filthy acts in Denver, without a lot of highbrow content. He played stupid on stage and he was brilliant at it. I called PJ up once to see how his dissertation was coming along. "Great," he said, "but no one realizes I'm living in my office at the school."

PJ was like one of those cloth dolls with long skirts that you turn upside down and pull the skirt up—and it's no longer granny, but the big bad wolf. The right-side-up doll is a foul-mouthed simpleton, flipped over, a PhD in communications. The right-side-up doll is the fun-loving and charismatic host of a weekly poker game, flipped over, a non-functioning depressive.

PJ was a natural addition to the rowing team, and he infused the meetings with hilarious dark rants. "I wanted to kill myself this morning," PJ would say, "but I thought how much I'd hate providing all you fuckers with a reason to become even more self-absorbed than you already are, so ..." He ended most of his sentences with "so ..." as if we all knew how to fill in the next blank; if he were to do it for us it wouldn't be as funny. He was someone I wanted to be around, as if his juju would rub off, making me witty and smart and likable like him.

Comedy clubs are closed on Monday nights, but PJ's house was open for Texas Hold'em after our rowing team meetings. I'm pretty sure that when he got sober and removed booze from the equation, he just added extra women and poker and comedy. Mondays at PJ's became a dark carnival of comics, recovering alcoholics, and comics who were recovering alcoholics. Rounds of poker went late into the night, but competitive wit was where the real points were scored. Whenever I could, I would shove aside the inevitable pile of PJ's dirty magazines on the piano bench and sit myself down for a few hours of belly laughing, which was well worth the twenty-five dollars I always lost to them in the process.

Still, underneath the academic success, the adoring comedy club audiences, the many women, and loads of friends, was something corrosive. Eating away at our friend PJ, over the course of a decade, was a force or illness or demon that had staked a corner of PJ's mind, and like the Red Army, marched determinedly, claiming more and more territory each day.

PJ was loved by a lot of people who had no idea how to help him. The rowing team watched over his final years, as his mental illness was tugged and pulled by modern pharmacology but never cured. He'd show up less and less often on Monday nights, and each time he would be skinnier. It was as though his body began to follow his mind and spirit, which were slowly leaving. He stopped returning our calls.

Several days before he hanged himself, PJ called me. He wanted me to pray for him. It had been ten years since I'd met PJ, and I had since returned to Christianity. I think I was the only religious person he knew. He wondered about God: Was he beyond the pale of God's love? Throwing all my coolness and sarcasm aside, I prayed for him over the phone. I asked that he feel the very real and always available love of God. I prayed that he would know, without reservation, that he was a beloved child of God. I'm sure I said a bunch of other stuff, too. I wanted to be able to cast out this demon that had hold of our PJ, possessing him, telling him lies, and keeping out the light of God's love.

A week and a half later, I was sitting in a huge lecture hall at CU Boulder (where, as a thirty-five-year-old, married mother of two, I was finishing up my undergraduate degree), when my cell phone rang. I rushed outside, the cold air making my eyes water.

Sean, fellow comic and rower said, "Nadia. It's, um ... PJ, honey."

"Shit," I said.

"I'm sorry," Sean said. We were all sorry. "Can you do his service?"

This is how I was called to ministry. My main qualification? I was the religious one.

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 at 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 reasons I'll never quite understand, I realized that I had been called to proclaim the Gospel from the place 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.


God's Aunt

Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.

—1 Timothy 2:11-12

Twenty-five years before I would preside at a comedy club funeral, I got baptized. It was a Sunday in the spring of 1981, and I was wearing white sandals. The preacher, in his denim-colored polyester suit, had wound down his sermon and had given an altar call. If you are ready to make your life right with the Lord or if you desire to be baptized, come forward now as we stand and sing.

The people stood and sang, and I walked down the aisle toward the pastor. Another man handed me a card and golf pencil as I sat on the padded pew. After I checked the box indicating that I desired to be baptized, another man approached the pulpit to make the announcement to the congregation. Then I told them which man I wanted to baptize me.

In the church of my childhood it was taught that the "age of accountability" was somewhere around twelve. To hit the age of accountability was to spiritually go off of your parents' insurance. At age twelve the clock starts ticking, spiritually speaking; you know right from wrong now and because of this you are accountable for every time you fuck up. If you sin knowing right from wrong and then die before you chose to be baptized, you burn in hell for eternity. This is when kids start choosing to be baptized. The lag time between entering the age of accountability and having your slate wiped clean through baptism can be terrifying. Many of us would pray not to die in a car crash before we were baptized, like other people pray to not get sick before their employee benefits kick in. Twelve-year-old Church of Christ kids experience a wave of devotion like a Great Awakening comprised only of sixth graders.

Because twelve was the age of accountability, it was also the age at which boys could no longer be taught in Sunday school by women. In accordance with Timothy 2:12, women were not permitted to teach men, therefore a twelve-year-old boy had more authority than a mature woman. Women were not allowed to serve as elders, preachers, or ushers. For some reason, we didn't have the authority to pass a man the collection plate, but we did have the authority to pass the same man a plate of fried chicken and potato salad an hour later at the church potluck.

Dale Douglass was the first man I ever had for a Sunday school teacher. He was soft spoken and funny and parted his full head of thick, sandy-blonde hair so far to the side that it looked like an unnecessary comb-over. Dale started where the woman who taught us the year before (when she still had authority to do so) had left off: testing us to see how many facts we knew about the Bible. I knew a lot of the answers, and it took just three weeks for him to have a special meeting with my parents, at which he informed them they would have to do something about me. I was answering the questions too quickly and it was keeping the boys in the class from having a chance to answer. To their credit, my parents quietly thought this was awesome. They did encourage me to allow space for others, but really they just loved that I knew my Bible and they weren't about to shame me for it.

Precociousness gave way to sarcasm as my ability to analyze the doctrine and social dynamics at church developed. The moment I was able to recognize the difference between what people said (all sex outside of heterosexual marriage is forbidden) and what they did (clandestine affairs with each other) and the difference between what they taught (women were inferior and subordinate to men) and the reality I experienced in the world (then why am I smarter than my Sunday school teacher?), I knew that I had to get out. I was a strong, smart and smart- mouthed girl, and the church I was raised in had no place for that kind of thing even though they loved me.

By the time I left the church, I questioned everything I had ever been told and knew, based on the criteria that I was for sure "not-Christian," but I still didn't manage to be an atheist, as one might expect. I had never stopped believing in God. Not really. But I did have to go hang out with his aunt for a while. She's called the goddess.

My first experience with Wicca was in the mountains west of Denver, on a brown grassy hill above a yurt—a round, nomadic-looking structure inside of which all the lamps were covered with red scarves, making the interior look like an outdoorsy bordello.

I was about twenty years old when my friend Renna (who is as straight as they come) asked if I wanted to go to a lesbian wedding. I replied, "More than anything in the world," so we drove the forty-five minutes listening to the Indigo Girls just to get in the right womany groove, and I held a huge bowl of strawberries on my lap; apparently lesbian weddings are often potluck.

"This is a Wiccan wedding," Renna informed me. I didn't entirely know what that meant, but it sounded "not-Christian," like me, and I suspected that my parents would not approve, and that there would likely be hummus involved, so I was fine with it.

I loved the service and had never seen so many strong women. Women with shoulders back and hair shorn tight and nothing to hide. We stood in a circle and sang some simple chants, and the brides were so happy, like any other brides, only these two wore Renaissance fair–style garb and were marrying each other. There was talk of perfect love and perfect trust, and we fed each other bread and wine saying, "May you never hunger and may you never thirst." It felt like communion.

There was something safe about being around women. They let me hang out with God's aunt, and I couldn't help but think she liked me. I spent a few years with these women, marking the seasons and sharing our lives, and always there were potlucks. We talked of relationships and pregnancies that didn't last and bosses and roommates that didn't appreciate us and how much garlic to add to vegan salad dressing. At one month's potluck every one of us brought dessert and no one thought that was a problem.


Excerpted from Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber. Copyright © 2013 Nadia Bolz-Weber. Excerpted by permission of FaithWords.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 27 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have no tattoos, I don't know any gay people, and I like a traditional church service. My daughter recommended this book. She has been talking about this radical Lutheran FEMALE pastor for years. I read this book start to finish in one evening. Nadia is funny, often outrageous, self-deprecating, and incredibly spiritual.... and I wish I could meet her. She challenges the every day "religious right" ideas that so many of us grew up with. This book is about being the odd ball, and finding love and acceptance, not just from God, but from people who love you, JUST as YOU are. Abundant Grace. What an idea! Read this and have an open mind. You might just want to become a Lutheran.
blisschick More than 1 year ago
Real, raw, funny. This is a book that makes you chuck the answers you've always heard from the churchy people. Nadia's open and crankypants wrestling matches with faith end with realizations that make you catch your breath. Prepare to remove assumptions and start believing that grace is waiting for you. 'Cuz we're all sinners and saints, truly.
lovelybookshelf More than 1 year ago
I've followed Nadia Bolz-Weber's blog (Sarcastic Lutheran) and listened to her sermons online for a few years now. Sarcastic Lutheran fans will feel right at home with this new memoir, but if you aren't already familiar with Nadia Bolz-Weber... A heads up: A lot of the ideas in Pastrix are not going to mesh well with socially conservative evangelical Christians (and definitely not with fundamentalists) unless they approach the book with an open mind and desire to really hear another perspective. Also, the language in the book is not for the faint of heart! There is a good bit of swearing. Bolz-Weber doesn't put on a sanitized, "holy" persona just because this is a spiritual memoir and she is a pastor. She is who she is, and she isn't afraid to tell it like she sees it. My mind was ignited while reading Pastrix. I highlighted so much, it could supplement my copy of Luther's Small Catechism. But my heart was touched, too. There were beautiful moments that brought me to tears (especially when she discussed having to write a sermon after the Aurora movie theater shooting). I love that Bolz-Weber voices tough questions and works through them even when there may be no answer, and that she can admit it when she simply doesn't know. She understands what it is about Christianity that so many people find hurtful. She understands the things that cause people to feel wary or mistrustful of the church, or piss them off completely. Bolz-Weber's insights are frank, often outrageously honest, and most certainly unique. What I found most refreshing was her boldness and transparency. Each chapter opens with a verse or two from Scripture. By the end of the chapter, the relevance and truth of those verses in Bolz-Weber's life have unfolded in surprising ways. Pastrix is about finding faith, beauty, and good in the most unlikely circumstances. I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive any other compensation for this review.
PhilosopherBob More than 1 year ago
I had read several reviews of this book and they all missed the mark. This is an account of one person's struggle with faith. It is inspirational as well as enlightening. Like the author I am a Lutheran and her concept of God's grace is well-stated. Her Christian faith is from "being in the trenches" and should be a wake-up call to all who candy-coat their religion. I highly recommend this.
PaulH More than 1 year ago
Pastrix is a gritty account of a flawed woman’s spiritual awakening. It is sometime vile, sometime crude, sometime profane, but always entertaining.
YoyoMitch More than 1 year ago
There are books written so well that it seems the author is setting across from you, sharing a warm beverage while having a wonderful conversation. There is transparency, rebuke, acceptance, with many aside discussions – all the things that make a “chat” into a conversation – are present and the Moment is grand.  That is the kind of flow Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber brings to this humorous, lively, theologically (sound but) challenging (to some) autobiography of how a girl, reared in a Fundamentalist Church of Christ, became an alcoholic, got sober and became “a heavily tattooed, swears like a truck driver” founding pastor of House of All Sinners & Saints, an Evangelical Lutheran Church where those who rejected by other churches and most of society are celebrated.  Her story may sound like a testimony presented by an Evangelist in a tent revival, but I can assure you it is not. Rev. Bolz-Weber is splendidly open about herself throughout this book.  She owns being “cranky,” “if (she) has to be nice to three people in a row, (she) needs a nap,” her default response to ANYONE is such that I cannot quote it here, “it doesn’t stay there as long as it used to, but that is still where I start.” What she shares in this book is the power of walking in who one is, how that is the best (only) way God can use anyone, everyone has worth and gifts needed by those around them.  Her openness about herself, her hopeful cynicism about humanity grouped with the commitment to follow her “calling” to lovingly pastor “her people,” make this one of the most formidable books I have read in a long time. I was shocked by the language she uses in this book, but she admits early that this is how she talks.  I was awed by her ability to share her heart and reach people where they are.  I was almost persuaded to become Lutheran and move to Denver after reading this book.  I realized, after reflecting and talking with my best friend, one of the messages of this book is for the readers to stand in the “place” God has placed them, in the strength they have and do what is before them.   I laughed frequently as I read this book.  Her words are so true, her assessment so accurate and wit so sharp that I could do nothing but giggle.  I also cried a lot; her honestly sharing her pain, her struggles in Pastoring a church of hurting people and her compassion felt so close that tears were the only recourse.  This is a book easily read in a weekend, a day if one has that much time.  It is also a book that will offend a lot of people: Church folk for her language and some of her Theology, non-church folk for challenging every reason ever uttered for not being a part of a Faith Group, Atheists for her being unable “to pull (atheism) off,” pretty much anyone who reads this book will be offended at some point.  Thankfully, they will be faced with much to celebrate within its pages: the needs of the sick are attended to, the hungry are fed, the outcast are welcomed, those imprisoned will be shown freedom.  Those who read will also glimpse the beauty that rests with all who are Sinners and Saints.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
You've got to love a pastor who opens her memoir with a 4-letter word! :) While at first glance - and even early in her life (which she recounts here) - Nadia Bolz-Weber is the last person you would think would be a pastor, let alone a Lutheran pastor (she reclaims the almost always derogatory "Pastrix" in a bold way!), as you delve into this at times touching and at times funny but always human memoir, you see that she's also a deeply spiritual person. One who embraces the questions and contradictions that a life of faith provides. One who acknowledges her humanity and that a church is a collection of individuals that WILL let you down, that will hurt your feelings. And yet for so many of us, that same community can be a place we call home. Highly recommend this book!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thought provoking, sad, inspirational, authentic and funny. I did not always agree with NBW. But, I loved reading her take.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Pastrix is a beautiful, and wittingly obscene memoir of a shepherd who has found her flock. Nadia shakes up the champagne bottle and blows the cork off of the erroneous belief that only saintly people find God. She exposes the sinner in herself as she inks her transgressions into every page and reveals how she could not drink herself nor run away from God's redeeming love. Nadia shares her metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly. Though, I am sure she would say she is a mere moth still evolving. Martin Luther says: "Faith is living, daring confidence in God's grace...". Nadia daringly exposes herself to show how God's grace continues to work through and in her. This book is a must read for anyone who feels they are not worthy of God's love, for every outcast and for everyone continuing to metamorphosis into a child of God. We all have a mirror to hold up to ourselves and Nadia holds hers up to share with the world. I cannot thank her enough for standing as Joan of Arc did and not being dissuaded by the naysayers who tried to give the term Pastrix a bad connotation. Nadia can be my Pastrix any day!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thank you so much Nadia. I cannot begin to say how touched I was by this book. I only picked it up because of all the buzz I keep hearing about it on Twitter and seeing reviews on-line. I left the church years ago because I was tired of all the facade and pretence and hypocrisy. Nadia gives me hope that things are changing and that it is ok to be real and speak truth.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is one of the most offensive and disagreeable yet amazing and convicting memoirs I have ever read. A great reminder that you find God present in the most unlikely places and that God continues to use people I disagree with.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book knowing full well that it would be remarkable and it did not disappoint. It was difficult to put down until the finish and I was left with a feeling that this story is just the beginning. Nadia Bolz-Weber has a gift that she skillfully and plainly offers to God in a fashion that calls to all of us, marginalized and mainstream alike. She makes the Gospel live in a way that is deeply felt and transmitted to all who hear. I cannot fathom who would not be blown away by her incredible gift of making God real.
220AvidReader More than 1 year ago
Loved this book. It made me laugh, it made me cry, but most of all it made me think of my own journey. Thank you.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a genuine, straight-forward, and inspiring story! It affirmed and challenged my own faith journey.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
EM46 More than 1 year ago
Thank-you, for writing this book Nadia!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Pastrix is a breathtaking look at faith and has allowed me to begin living into who I really am instead of who everyone tells me I should be. Nadia's story has opened up a world to me that I have been living in and didn't realize it but am feeling called to be in relationship with. Thank you, Nadia for your honesty and frankness in telling you story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What a thrilling read!  This book has it all.  Sex, booze, drugs, betrayal, love and the Grace of God.  It is the proverbial page turner.  Buy this book and support your local Pastrix.