Interview: Nadia Bolz-Weber

September 10th, 2013
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In Pastrix, you write about telling your parents about your call to be a pastor. And you weren’t quite sure how they’d handle that, but in fact their response was that they "prayed over you and gave you a blessing."

Now that you've been a pastor for awhile and they can see the fruit of your ministry and that you’ve planted a church, how have your parents responded?

My parents love my church. My parents are incredibly supportive of me as a pastor and of my ministry in particular. They’ve been amazing. I can’t think of a time when my father hasn’t hugged me and told me how proud he is. I have a gift that not a lot of people have [which is] the absolute support of their parents.

I think it’s biblical that we need a blessing. People needed to have a blessing to go on and do what God was calling them to do. So I tell people, if your parents aren’t able to bless you to release you to do the work that is in front of you, find someone else older who can send you with a blessing to do what is yours to do in the world.

How are blessing and mentoring different?

Mentoring is really an active sort of relationship with a person. I don’t think you necessarily have to have an active relationship with the person who has given you a blessing.

You are married to a Lutheran pastor and have kids. How do you balance time for family and ministry?

Well, the church, House for All Sinners and Saints (House) is not centered on its pastor. So a lot of what goes on in the community is done by the members.

Bolz-Weber explained that she is not involved in everything that happens during the week. Most of the ministry is led by people in the community so she doesn’t have to be. There also is no expectation for her to be there every time the doors are open, and no fear that the ministry of the church will fall apart if she’s not there.

I am called to word and sacrament, I do some pastoral care, and there are things I keep my eye on. But having a church that doesn’t have a committee system allows the pastor to actually spend time with their family.

So if I’m not on the road, I’m at home. I’m a homebody. I just happen to want to be at home spending time with my family. There was a time in my life when I went out and did a lot of conferences and was doing a lot of activities. That’s just not how my life is anymore; I actually just want to get home. It sounds boring.

If your daughter or son told you they felt called to be a pastor, what advice would you give them?

I would want them to make sure that it is truly the only thing they can imagine being fulfilled doing. Because if you can do something else, you really should do something else. It is just such a weird job and is demanding in some strange ways. It’s not for everyone.

I don’t think that being a pastor is for everyone who feels called to be a pastor. We have five people [at the House] in seminary waiting to be ordained, and I didn’t encourage any of them. I unsuccessfully tried to talk them all out of it.

I increasingly trust external call more than internal call. Because I don’t really trust myself or other people enough to rely on an internal sense of call. You’re either too humble to believe you are called or it’s too easy to be a form of spiritual self-flattery. There are too many tangled reasons that someone might feel they want to be a pastor.

The questions you should ask yourself are: Is there a history of other people making me their pastor? Am I already that in people’s lives on that level? Do I have a history of other people looking to me for leadership and guidance? Do I have a history of other people following me, of being their leader not feeling like a leader, but being a leader?

What spiritual discipline feeds your soul?

I lift really heavy weights, almost every day of my life. I go to a CrossFit gym that is part of a community. I competed in the Rocky Mountain State Games in Olympic weightlifting and won in the masters division.

A lot of my anger, frustration, and anxiety are left in the form of sweat on the floor of my gym. And then I don’t take it through my day with me. I don’t naturally have the nicest personality, and I’m in ministry so I have to do what I can to manage that.

Some worship leaders and pastors can be very critical of tradition and ritual. How does your church respond to your form of worship?

A lot of people who come to House are more comforted by mystery than by certainty and are suspicious of institutions and presumed authority.

The liturgy has its own integrity; it doesn’t demand your integrity. So no matter where you are, you can enter into it and it will do its work on you. Like water on a rock, it forms who we are. But it doesn’t only work if you believe it, or if you’re having the right emotional response to it, or if you’re feeling a deep sense of devotion and piety. None of that really matters. Some of that might happen but that does not determine the efficacy of the liturgy itself.

So for people who are slightly cynical its very comforting to be able to engage in something that has its own integrity and you don’t have to sort of like peek behind the curtain all the time.

Also, a lot people’s lives are very chaotic, so returning to something that is familiar and reliable and unchanging provides an important touchstone during the week when nothing else is like that for them.

In Pastrix, you mention that during worship your church has a time for "open space." Could you describe that?

Open space replaces the hymn of the day in the liturgy, so it occurs for ten minutes after the sermon. The function of the hymn of the day is to allow people to respond to the Gospel. Open space serves the same function.

[During open space] different prayer practices are available; sometimes we create art, or have some type of service activity—it just depends. But it’s a time for reflection and response. People [also] write the prayers of the people during this time that are then read later during the liturgy.

And so it is like saying, after having heard the Gospel, what it is that you want to say to God in this moment. [The response] then becomes the prayers of the people rather than prayers that are downloaded off the denominational website and just read.

How has your own recovery informed your understanding of God's grace?

It is impossible for me to completely pull that apart. My recovery formed who I am, who I understand myself in the world, and how I understand God.

I was twenty-two years-old when I got sober, and I’ve been sober for almost twenty-two years. Most of my life has been spent in a 12-step program. There would be no way for me to quantify it, it absolutely informs my understanding of [grace], in an absolute sense.

Richard Rohr has said that “anyone who has experienced real real grace in their life is no longer ever in a position to ever decide who the deserving poor are.”

Pastrix:The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint is the title of Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber's book you can read my review of the book here. I admire Bolz-Weber so it is a biased review.


Pastrix excerpt
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