All Sinners, All Saints, All Welcome

Nadia Bolz-Weber

Nadia Bolz-Weber

Editor's Note: God's Politics contributor, Nadia Bolz-Weber, recently delivered an address to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's (ELCA) Youth Gathering in New Orleans, where she told the story of her spiritual journey from tattooed, alcoholic ne'erdowell to tattooed, 20-years-sober, Lutheran minister. Nadia's is a powerful tale of redemption, God's unconditional love, and staggeringly real grace.

Nadia told the thousands of Lutheran youth gathered in the Big Easy earlier this month:

Some of your parents and some of your pastors were really upset that I was your speaker tonite. They felt like I was someone who should not be allowed to talk to tens of thousands of teenagers. And you know what I have to say to that? They are absolutely right.

Somebody with my past of alcoholism and drug abuse and promiscuity and lying and stealing should not be allowed to talk to you. You know what? Somebody with my present — who I am now — shouldn't be allowed to talk to you because I am sarcastic, heavily tattooed, I swear like a truck driver — they're having a heart attack back there, going, "Please help her not swear."

I am a flawed person. I should not be allowed to be here talking to you. But you know what? That's the God we're dealing with, people.

The HIV Minister (VIDEO)

The Rev. Andrena Ingram

The Rev. Andrena Ingram

The Rev. Andrena Ingram is currently the only known Lutheran ordained pastor living openly with HIV. Her husband's death from an AIDS-related illness, and the shame that he felt, inspired the pastor to be open about her own diagnosis with HIV. She is known as "The HIV Minister" – a title that has helped others with HIV reach out to her for help.

Listen to Ingram tell her story inside the blog...

Learning How to Live Well

I want to point out three things, regarding Paul's analogy of the fruit of the Spirit.

1. It's not something we can acquire by simply trying harder. Throughout Galatians, Paul dismantles the idea that all God wants is for us to try harder, to do more things, to count on our achievements to gain right standing with God. The fruit of the Spirit comes when the Spirit is living in us.

To state the obvious: if you want an apple, you grow it. You plant the seed, you water it, you care for it, you allow for whatever factors you have no control over — weather, for example — and you trust and hope that, in the right time, the tree will spring up, it will blossom, and it will bear the fruit you’re looking for. It takes time and effort, and even then, we have no guarantee of what, where, when, or how something is going to appear.

Have you ever heard someone pray for patience now? It kind of misses the point of what patience is, doesn’t it? I definitely think we should be praying for these things, but don’t expect them to be just placed in your lap — “Here’s the love for your neighbor you requested!" Absolutely, there are times when God pours out a supernatural measure of peace or joy on us, but more often than not, instead of just giving us those things, God gives us opportunities to learn those things — love, joy, gentleness — and he gives us his Holy Spirit to be with us at all times, including those times, and the Spirit brings peace and joy in the midst of those things, so thatwe can cultivate the life framework to sustain it all, to grow a healthy soul, where we learn how to weave body, mind, and spirit into one cohesive whole.

Going Easy On The Church

Whenever dialogue about the fate of faith surfaces, which seems like always (and perhaps it’s been this way since disciples first broke bread together), the church gets hit the hardest. The “relationship-not-religion” rap remains popular on the right, the left loves to loathe abuses of ecclesial authority, and so on; thus the internal bickering multiplies like so many loaves and fishes.

When my denominational family, the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA), decided against sanctioning gay marriage at its recent General Assembly, I expressed support for the defeated measure on my Facebook page and reposted a blog that denounced some of the more bigoted remarks from the assembly’s discussion floor. An old friend who participates in a Unitarian Universalist congregation read my post and replied, suggesting that I might be “going too easy on the church,” perchance because my comments accompanying the reposting were not harsher and more dramatic in my critique of what many view as religiously motivated homophobia.

This phrase and image of “going easy on the church” stuck in my mind because the church has been quite easy for me — inviting me, a confessed sinner, into its doors and into its community, after years of walking on the slippery slopes and loose living of the wild side.

In my experience, the church has not just been easy on reformed sinners, it has been easy on the poor, the lonely, the recovering addicts, the very young, and the very old. The church makes life easier for a lot of people, with its marrying and mourning, peacemaking and potlucks, prayer groups and parenting classes, rummage sales and support for refugees, disaster relief and radical discipleship.

Trapped in Your Own Story: Salome, Herod and John the Baptist

"Salome, Second Version" by the German painter Lovis Corinth (1858-1925)

"Salome, Second Version" by the German painter Lovis Corinth (1858-1925)

When Harper was born we decorated the nursery in a Noah’s Ark theme…images of Noah and of animals entering a large wooden boat  two-by-two. It’s a common enough decorating scheme for kids' rooms.

I mention it because this week at Bible study we discussed how weird it is that the beheading of John the Baptists isn’t a common decorating scheme for kid’s rooms.

Because this is just too gruesome a tale to show up on rolls of juvenile wall paper.

In case you missed the details, here’s what happened:

So Herod is the ruler of the region, and while vacationing in Rome he gets the hots for his brother’s wife who he then marries. John the Baptist, then suggests that maybe that’s not ok.

Now, Herod likes John, as much as anybody can like a crazy bug-eating prophet who lives outdoors and speaks consistently inconvenient truths. Truths such as it’s not ok to marry your brother’s wife, which, incidentally, is the truth that when spoken, got him arrested to begin with. 

It also got John on the bad side of Herod’s new illegal wife Heroditas. She did not like John. Then when Herod throws himself a big birthday party his daughter-in-law Salome dances for him and all the other half-drunk generals and CEOs and celebrities who were there. 

We don’t know the exact nature of her dance but we do know that it “pleased” Herod enough that he offered to give her anything she wanted up to half of his kingdom. So, you know, I don’t think it was the Chicken dance.

Happy Mandela Day: Madiba, Ubuntu and Vertigo


African schoolchildren celebrate Mandela's 94th birthday today in Soweto. STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP/GettyImages

Back in 2005, Africa was a recurring theme of U2's worldwide Vertigo tour, where Bono’s campaigning for debt relief, trade justice and immediate intervention in the AIDS pandemic — each fueled by his following of Jesus — met in his music in indelibly powerful collision of faith, justice, and art.

When Bono and his bandmates played “Where The Streets Have No Name,” the most amazing mass of colors dropped from the rafters as millions of Willie Williams-designed, light bulbs descended from the rafters to form stage’s back drop and a modern-mosaic high-tech screen. Then came the flags of each African nation in the most moving light show I’ve ever seen.

During the razzle-dazzle on stage, Bono made his claim,

“From the swamp lands of Louisiana to the high hills of Kilimanjaro, from the bridge at Selma to the mouth of the Nile…AFRICA…AFRICA…AFRICA…the
 journey of equality moves on, moves on…AFRICA…from town centers to townships…sacred ground, proving ground…”

The link between the Martin Luther King Jr. (the Doctor of the Deep South of America’s inequality) to Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela (the Archbishop and President of Africa’s inequality) was particularly potent art.

Take From Me These Myths: A Prayer

Good and gracious God,

Today, like the rest of the world, 
when I woke I wrapped myself in myths. 
They are comfortable and warming in what can seem like such a cold world. 
Yes, they are old and worn but they are familiar 
and even the most fashion forward find comfort in this thread-worn garb. 

They tell me that while it may not be fair
that 1,600 children die from hunger everyday,
I can do nothing about it.

They silence my own judgment of myself
when I put a quarter in the cup of a homeless man
as I walk on by the lack in his life
to live into the abundance of mine....

Hellbound? New Film Explores Ideas, Doctrine of Hell

One of the highlights of the Wildgoose Festival for me was a sneak preview of the feature length documentary Hellbound?,which will be released in select theaters nationwide this fall.

The film picks up on the recent media buzz generated by Rob Bell's controversial bestselling-book Love Wins, taking that debate into new levels of intelligence and depth.

Like any good documentary, we have the entertaining attention grabbing parts, which aren't hard to find when your topic is Hell and damnation:

We meet people at a death metal concert, take a tour through "Hell House" where actors attempt to traumatize teens into the kingdom by reenacting scenes from Columbine. Then there are the street interviews with the rather obviously mentally unstable and angry folks from Fred Phelps' church, holding their "God Hates Fags" signs and screaming at anyone who passes by.

The movie quickly moves beyond this however, delving into the deeper issues at hand. Unlike so many other Christian films, Hellbound? is neither sentimental nor sensationalist. The word that comes to mind instead is depth.



Losing Touch With Jesus

It’s such an easy thing to do,
To overshoot and lose touch with You;
Surrounded by everyday anxieties,
Add to them that you’re not too sensible to me,
And then you get me giving my all,
And then some,
Stretching and hoping,
Reaching and crying out for more of you
In my everyday moments.
I think that all simply misses the point.
You are present in my flesh and blood,
My soul but my pumping heart,
My thinking brain,
My biking legs and lifting arms.
I must believe you are more present
Than I know you to be....

The Death of Cynicism

I know I’m cynical, but I didn’t know how dead I got inside.

It was easy to give up on the world. There are way better people than I failing to pull us out of our quagmire.

It was pretty easy to give up on the church too. Pick your disappointment....

So, like I said, I knew I was cynical, but I didn’t know I was about to die from my cynicism. Then I went to the Wild Goose Festival. I wasn’t healed there. Just the opposite. I was playfully wooed to mourn the passing of my younger self.