This is somewhat of an odd pick for TSS—Christian nonfiction?! But even our resident atheist loves Nadia Bolz-Weber!
It’s true! Hearing her speak was amazing, I fangirled out—but she remembered my review of Pastrix which really tickled me.
As a recovering Evangelical who spent most of this summer tearing my faith to shreds and reassembling it, I loved every part of this book. I love how she holds questions and her own conclusions in a delicate balance while still leaving room for those who see it differently to enter the conversation (which I suspect is what makes this approachable to atheists as well as people with differing faith values).
I feel a little bad about the fact that I liked this book most when it pointed out the flaws in modern Christianity and least when it talked about God. It was like a sign that I’m probably not the best audience.
Maybe her previous memoir, Pastrix, would have been more for you? I’m a Christian (and a Lutheran) so I fully resonated with the God-focused parts of the book, but the magnifying glass on the flaws in modern Christianity was probably my favorite aspect. I spent a long time (too long!) feeling like I saw those same flaws, but brushing them off and feeling guilty about what my gut was telling me. Because where I live, that kind of thinking is predominant—you don’t challenge the interpretation of the Bible you are given, you just “trust God.” So to hear someone like Nadia Bolz-Weber voice the same concerns and rebukes…that really spoke to me.
I felt the same way that Shannon did, this isn’t surprising in the least because I’m an atheist. I definitely preferred Pastrix over Accidental Saints, but there were still parts that resonated with me. The essay on the Sandy Hook massacre gave me shivers and almost had me in tears.
Yes! That one definitely got to me. I felt the same with the essay about her officiating the funeral for the kid who had committed suicide.
I was also brought to my knees when she spoke of assembling bleach kits being part of their Holy Week observance. Man, handing clean needles and condoms to drug addicts is truly TRULY meeting people where they are. That is raw Jesus. I loved it, and it broke me.
I agree, those essays were so incredibly powerful. The “Thief in the Night” chapter about “the rapture” also hit me pretty hard. It really showed how bad religion in childhood and youth can psychologically scar people, giving them something that carries into adulthood. I personally have a lot of anger and disgust about being taught that “Left Behind” was real (Note: My parents didn’t do this, it’s just such a huge part of the culture here it’s hard to avoid, and it seeped into our supposedly “mainline” church). Even though I never fully bought into it, those concepts are intense for a kid to have to work through! So reinforcements, even now in adulthood, are always comforting. Just hearing a minister say “rapture theories are nothing I’ve ever taken very seriously” and tear that stuff apart, recognizing the torment and later, the distrust, it causes (she calls it “rapture PTSD”)…it’s like having someone hold my hand and remind me I’m doing just fine.
I so related to the rapture PTSD. And I literally laughed out loud for 5 minutes when she asked “How does a universalist have a faith crisis?”
A huge theme in this book is one everyone can relate to: Fighting our nature to label people either “good” or “bad” (“saint” or “sinner”) instead of recognizing that people are simultaneously both. I mean, with election time coming up, that’s a hefty reminder—there are some people I’d much rather villainize and think nothing more about.
I also wonder if this book was less appealing to some of you because Pastrix was about all the ways she doesn’t fit, nor do many in her congregation and when we don’t fit, those words are a comfort. But this book is far more about belonging, even if you find you only belong accidentally (or because Jesus has chased your ass down – one of my other favorite lines). As a disenchanted person of faith, it’s easy (and cynically fun) to pick apart and criticize. I’ve done it, a lot. But it’s far less comfortable to recognize all that is wrong and to take part anyway, because even in the mess there is something so beautiful you can’t stand to miss it.
I think that’s definitely true for me. That pull is something that just isn’t there for me at all, so much of the book felt almost like it was written in another language. I can totally see how it would be appealing for many, many people, though.
How about you, dear readers? Do you have hangups when it comes to organized religion? Did you find Accidental Saints to be relatable or comforting?