"Pastrix" is a demeaning term used to refer to female ministers by certain Christians who believe in male-only pastoral ministry. But Denver-based Lutheran Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber, a tattooed yet traditional liturgist, has reclaimed it as a title for her brand of faith. “It was an insult, and anytime you can reclaim an insult as a good thing, you win,” says Bolz-Weber.
Pastor of House For All Sinner and Saints (HFASS)--a church plant of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) that is liturgical, sacramental, queer-inclusive, and social-justice oriented--Bolz-Weber is the author of Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint (Jericho, Sept. 10) In it, she tells the tale of her zigzag voyage to ministry and her no-frills, no-nonsense focus on how screwed up people are and how sweeping and aggressive Jesus’ grace is. “Ultimately it’s kind of an imperfect confession of faith by an imperfect person of faith,” she says.
With the entire Christian liturgical calendar tattooed on her left arm, including biblical scenes from creation to Pentecost, and ink on her right arm of Mary Magdalene schooling the bewildered all-male disciples about the resurrection, Bolz-Weber knows she stands out as a contrariety. “It’s surprising to people that I am a Lutheran pastor,” she says. “Frankly though, it’s surprising to me that I’m a Christian.”
Raised in a “fundamentalist and sectarian” Christian household, she says, Bolz-Weber left the faith in high school before becoming a stand-up comedian. Along the way she picked up the “mouth of a trucker” and struggled with alcoholism. She bumbled her way back to faith while getting sober.
Bolz-Weber views her past as integral to her incongruous pastoral persona. “I have no idea how someone’s a preacher without being a comic first,” she says. More seriously, she adds, “12-step recovery deeply informs my work as a pastoral theologian. What you have to do when you get clean and sober is be pretty honest, and so I am a truth-telling pastor,” she says.
Not surprisingly, Bolz-Weber has her critics. One Web site describes her as a “pretending pastor” and prime example of what can go wrong when females become pastors. Her response to the criticism might be unexpected: while she can see how other public figures get discouraged by criticism, “it’s jet fuel for me,” she says. “What my detractors should figure out is that if they really don’t like what I am doing they should probably shut up.”
Bolz-Weber refers back to her Mary Magdalene tattoo. “Here’s this flawed woman who was delivered of much in her life, and she was chosen to tell the resurrection” she says. “I don’t know what more authority I need to be a preacher.”
Bolz-Weber also writes regularly for Christian Century and Sojourners magazines and is the author of Salvation on the Small Screen: 24 Hours of Christian Television (Seabury Books, 2008) A church speaking tour for Pastrix is lined up for September and will take her through the Western States, Minnesota, Illinois, and Texas.