Book Review: Accidental Saints

Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong PeopleAccidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People by Nadia Bolz-Weber

Nadia Bolz-Weber was interviewed by Krista Tippett for an episode of On Being that aired on 23 October, 2014 and it was this interview that introduced me to this Lutheran pastor of House for all Sinners and Saints (HFASS) in Denver. Accidental Saints is a series of stories about some of the folks at HFASS, their pastor, and most importantly the God by whose grace and mercy they are called saints. Other individuals not directly associated with HFASS but whose lives have had an impact on Bolz-Weber are also featured in some chapters.

One of the striking characteristics of Nadia Bolz-Weber and her ministry—and there are many striking characteristics—is her liberal use of profanity. I want to get this out of the way quickly because it features prominently in my desire to read this book. It is shocking, and I still wonder why it must be included. However, I understand that frank and shocking language is the currency of ministry among those who would not find themselves in most American churches. So unlike Hope Jahren’s Lab Girl, which I cannot recommend enthusiastically to an audience that includes my preteen granddaughter because of the inclusion of profanity, I can unreservedly recommend Accidental Saints to an audience that includes thoughtful, intelligent, Godly, conservative Christians. We may be shocked by the language but we need to get past it to see that there are significant ministry needs and opportunities among those who would not find themselves in most American churches.

The core of the book is the truth that Jesus came to a world that is, and always has been, seriously messed up. All of us are weak, broken, damaged, lame, and inclined to lie, cheat, betray, and steal our way out of the difficulties we face, or to avoid admitting that we are weak, broken, damaged, and lame. Nadia Bolz-Weber owns her own brokenness. It is as inescapable and unerasable as the tattoos on her arms. She is as much in need of redemption and God’s forgiveness as the most unlovable addict or misfit in her congregation.

Accidental Saints is a thoroughly memorable book, but one passage jumped out at me. In Chapter 11, entitled “Parlors,” Bolz-Weber discusses death, funerals, and birth. She points out that even well into the 20th century, when someone died, it was common for the preparation of the body and the viewing or wake to take place in the home. In a commentary on how modern Westerners have turned over activities such as dealing with death to professionals, she includes playing a musical instrument in those activities.

Accidental Saints is a humbling, challenging book that is uplifting and encouraging at the same time. It is especially valuable for those of us in American Christianity who have convinced ourselves that the world needs to conform to our standards of holiness and purity before it can be welcomed into our faith communities. As Bolz-Weber would say, that’s bulls___.

Thanks as always for stopping by!

Pat

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