Accidental Saints (by Nadia Bolz-Weber)

It took some months after I first heard of Nadia Bolz-Weber before I decided to get hold of her autobiographical book ‘Cranky, Beautiful Faith’; I was intrigued by many recommendations, but put off by the mention of crude and strong language. I am very thankful that I did eventually read the book, and almost immediately put this one on my wishlist. I was given it for Christmas, and have just finished reading it.

‘Accidental Saints’ is a very thought-provoking book, peppered, as the autobiography was, with decidedly ‘strong’ language. Bolz-Weber is a Lutheran pastor who has somehow got to the heart of the Gospel, finding Jesus in the unlikely (and sometimes unlikeable) people she meets and ministers to. She makes plenty of mistakes, which she acknowledges freely, and finds different people around her to pray for her, and hear her confessions, and give her suggestions or advice.

Each chapter is a different story, some of them based around the church’s year, and the rituals and liturgies that can be used alongside the important dates. People of all cultures, nationalities and beliefs pass through the ‘Church for All Sinners and Saints’ that the author founded in Denver, Colorado, in the United States; some of them stick around, in some cases because it’s the only church that will accept and love them.

What I love is the lack of judgementalism that shines through the pages of this book. Occasionally there is a trace of racist feeling, despite the author’s best intent, or some kind of bias against a newcomer who is perhaps too talkative, or too demanding. Every time, as the text skilfully shows, Jesus is revealed in some way; sometimes in the most unlikely people with lifestyles that many evangelicals would reject entirely.

I come from a liturgical church background (Anglican rather than Lutheran, but as far as I can gather, they have a fair amount in common) but have spent much of my adult life attending non-liturgical church congregations - or none at all. As I get older I find myself hankering for a little more structure, sometimes, and this book was an encouraging reminder of the way a liturgical service can be uplifting and cleansing, encouraging participants to start each week afresh, bringing the Kingdom of God into their families and neighbourhoods.

‘Accidental Saints’ was the ideal book for me to read at the start of this year, and one I’m sure I’ll return to. I would recommend it to anyone, with the proviso that some may be shocked, even offended by the crude language.

It’s not on every page; the writing is mostly friendly, clear and intelligent. I’m aware that by mentioning this I’m in danger of being judgemental myself, although I don’t want to be.

Clearly, a heavily tattooed strong-speaking woman pastor is herself an ‘accidental saint’ in the minds of many, and this book is, in my view, an unexpected gem.

Review copyright 2017 Sue's Book Reviews

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