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Book Review: Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber

Nadia Bolz-Weber is the founding pastor of the House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, where she ministers to many of those marginalized by society. She is also heavily tattooed, uses profanity liberally, weight trains and is a recovering alcoholic and a former stand-up comedian. In short, she's not your parents' preacher and there is nothing stereotypical about her. In Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People, she uses her own life experiences, both personally, and through the members of her congregation, to demonstrate the relevance of Christian teaching in the lives of ordinary people today. In a wonderful story-telling style, she explains how many people have it all wrong in what they imagine the purpose of a spiritual connection to be. The goal isn't to make everyone become perfect people, but rather to find connection, purpose and meaning in their lives while accepting and embracing the fact that we're all flawed imperfect beings. In an age when cable channels are full of showy preachers telling their audience to lead more perfect lives or face damnation, her message is a nice change.

Bolz-Weber introduces us to a number of people in her life who encounter a multitude of life's most challenging situations that would test the patience of any saint. These include parishioners with terminal illness, complete strangers who have lost children to suicide, children struggling with cutting and other issues, victims of gun violence, and even members of the clergy fighting their own demons. Bolz-Weber shows how many of these people are able to learn and live the message of forgiveness, grace and love and to rise from the ashes of their loss, misery and imperfection. But what is even more fascinating is how, for her, these people are tremendous teachers of lessons in life and in how to minister to the afflicted. It is very educational to see how the minister is herself affected, and how her humanity and her own imperfections frequently turn weakness into strength.

Those with a bias against organized religion may initially experience some resistance with this book. Bolz-Weber makes it clear that she doesn't care what people believe, or even if they believe, and her attitude in this regard will help make this book more appealing to those who are put off by its "churchy-ness." Bolz-Webber is a devout Lutheran but not a practicing guilt tripper. Whether one is a member of a Christian church, a non-practicing believer, or a compassionate agnostic, it's hard not to be moved by many of the stories that the author shares about the people who are flawed, imperfect individuals who manage to confront their challenges with unanticipated strength and grace. In the process they also help their pastor to overcome her own imperfections and character defects and become a better person.

Have a box of tissue handy when you read this book and prepare for waterworks. This book is sweet, thought-provoking, funny and moving. And if you're on any sort of spiritual journey of your own, it will also be educational and self-affirming.
Tags: author: b, genre: non-fiction, review, subject: memoir

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