|Sara Miles and Nadia Bolz-Weber|
The smart-assed tattooed lade is Nadia Bolz-Weber, pastor of the House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colo. and author of the new book, Pastrix, which has reached number 24 on The New York Times combined print and e-book non-fiction list for this week. Oh yeah, she is also an ordained minister of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, not known for smart assess (other than Martin Luther) or tatooes.
The middle-aged sexual deviant is Sara Miles, the directory of ministry at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco. The sexual deviant reference is to the fact that she is lesbian. But the heart of her story (told in Take This Bread) is how she walked into this church one day, someone handed her bread at communion and her life was changed. Now she helps run a food pantry out of the sanctuary of the church and writes compellingly about Jesus. Her new book, City of God: Faith in the Streets, will come out next February.
They sat together on stage, trading quips and insights in front of the roomful of journalists at the annual conference of the Religion Newswriters Association in Austin, Tex.
“What's you favorite thing about Jesus?” Nadia asked Sara.
“His mom,” was her quick reply. And then a bit more. “He tracks you down.” She told her story of eating bread and discovering Jesus when most of her adult life, neither knew nor cared much about Jesus or God or religion or any of that.
Nadia talked about the beginnings of her church community, a few people gathered at a house one of them a transgendered Unitarian who one day asked her out to coffee. “I think I’m having a crisis of faith,: the young woman said. “I think I believe in Jesus.”
He tracks you down, Nadia echoed.
“Jesus has no taste,” added Sara. “He hangs out with all the wrong people.”
So it went, stories and insights mixed with laughter.
Nadia talked about the emphasis on participation at her congregation. At both churches, the singing is without accompaniment and often in harmony because those who can harmonize, do so. At Sara’s church, to say they gather around the communion table understates how closely every bunches up.
“Here's the thing about Christianity,” Nadia said. “Bodies matter.” So people stand where they can see each other.
Sara’s forthcoming book is about her going out onto the streets of her on Ash Wednesday in a a church robe and offering to cross people with the ashes and remind them that they were going to die.
“I am always terrified to do it,” she admitted. “I am appearing in church drag in my neighborhood.
Yet this challenges what she calls the chronic lie in our culture that we will not die. The ashes represent a welcome truth telling that we all have dying in common and that we can believe in something beyond death.
Both talked about realizing that if church is not about welcoming the stranger … whether it’s a suburbanite visiting Nadia’s church or babies making distracting noises or bad smells from street people – then it is missing an opportunity.
“We have to welcome strangers,” she said. “They are the ones who mess things up.”
Someone asked how they deal with the growing range of views in America about God, spirituality, religion.
“I feel I’m in no way responsible for what people in my church believe,” Nadia said. “They believe all sorts of shit. I’m only responsible for what I say,” adding that she is pretty conventional on Christian doctrine, if perhaps less sanitized in the way she presents it.
And then there was sin. Someone asked how they view that concept.
“Sin is the key to everything,” Nadia said, getting animated. “We all carry brokenness inside ourselves. We can do that in cunning, masked ways. If we didn’t carry these things, we wouldn’t need God’s grace.”
Sara added that repentance is not about saying “I’m sorry.” It’s about change in our lives.