Thursday, June 04, 2015

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

There’s something impersonal about Pastrix that prevents me from loving it, and it’s the same thing that makes the book’s subtitle (The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint) seem imprecise. The problem is this: I hardly have any idea of who Nadia Bolz-Weber is after reading this book. Instead, I have only a loose caricature of her in my mind that she herself painted. I want to know more about her story and journey, not just the obvious and relatively superficial details: she was Church of Christ, now she’s Lutheran; she was an alcoholic, now she’s sober; she has lots of tattoos, most Lutheran pastors do not; etc.

Don’t get me wrong. Bolz-Weber does offer a few interesting insights into the scriptures. I pulled a handful of quotes from the book that I’d like to remember. But Bolz-Weber doesn’t delve too deeply into her own story, nor into her own emotional and spiritual evolution. The sad result is that even at its most humane moments, Pastrix feels more informative than moving. It is as if any ascription of emotion found in the book is used merely to categorize and contrast Bolz-Weber’s experiences and mindset from one moment to the next. Readers quickly get a feel for what to expect in that regard. By the book’s end, the presentation feels a bit clichéd, with almost every chapter following the same basic pattern: something happens, Bolz-Weber initially responds as her “cranky” old self would, and then enlightenment strikes and she calms down. And, often enough, weeps. Yes, Bolz-Weber is at her best when she trades pathos for straight-up theology. I don’t know that anything in the book warrants the label “profound,” but there are definitely some worthwhile ideas to consider, and you could do worse than to have them couched in the charmingly gruff anecdotes Bolz-Weber spins with ease. I give Pastrix my mild recommendation.

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