Pastrix – by Nadia Bolz-Weber (2013)

Pastrix

Nadia Bolz-Weber is an ordained Lutheran pastor who ministers primarily to people with alternative sexual orientations, and those given to addictions of one kind or another. She grew up in a loving Christian family, and was baptized at age 12 in a Church Of Christ. Sadly, she only understood being a Christian as a list of rules of things you couldn’t do if you expected to get into heaven. Nadia grew to hate the established church. (Ironically, she admits that her home church was one of the few places where people treated her kindly in her teen years when she was diagnosed with Graves Disease, while she was teased and bullied at school and other places.)

By the time she was a legal adult, she was heavily into alcohol and moved into a drug house. Fortunately, she had the good sense to move out shortly before it was raided. Nadia became a stand-up comedian, and continued drinking. She eventually found herself in an AA meeting in a church basement, and that was the beginner of her journey back to sobriety, Jesus and the church. Nadia’s passion became helping other people find Jesus in a setting where they would feel accepted.

There were parts of this book that I loved, like the way she developed a friendship with another Christian who had vastly different doctrinal beliefs from her own. I loved her passion for helping people who felt like outsiders. I also really felt for Nadia when she was conned by someone she poured all her energy into for months, and thought she was helping.

Some parts of the book showed brilliant insights, while other parts revealed a disdain of Christians who looked “normal”. She seemed to carry a large chip on her shoulder against anyone that didn’t share her personal views on certain issues. Conservative Christians are criticized for not being accepting enough of every lifestyle, but at times the author seemed to look down on those who had read the Bible and come to different conclusions than she had.

But perhaps the most difficult part of reading this book was the profanity strewn throughout it. It really didn’t seem like she needed to keep using the “f” word. No one’s perfect, and nasty things may slip out of the mouth when someone’s angry or stressed, but does it really need to be part of her written testimony about walking with Jesus?

All in all, I’m glad I read Nadia’s story. It is a reminder that Christians come in many varieties, and have different styles of worshiping God. As far apart as we may seem to be, we are bound together by the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ. Some day in heaven, we will understand those puzzling parts of the Bible, and be able to put aside the things that divide us here in this life. Until then, it’s up to each of us to love one another and follow Jesus as best we can.

Advertisements

Growing Up On The Edge Of The World – by Phil Callaway (2004)

Growing Up On The Edge Of The World

 

If you grew up in an old-fashioned church, where everyone knew everyone, and there was a definite code of conduct, and keeping up your image in the community was all-important, you will identify with a lot in this book. The main character is 12-year-old Terry Anderson. He loves his parents, but thinks they are sometimes a little extreme in their faith.

Terry and his brothers are very tight, sharing a love of playing practical jokes, but also yearning to break free from the pressure to be perfect young Christian men. The Anderson family has always been poor, but things become even worse as the mother battles a debilitating disease, and the father is injured in – of all places – church.

There are three story-lines that run throughout the book – the Anderson family trying to survive bad health, Terry finding a stash of money that becomes an albatross around his neck, and a church congregation moving from an attitude of legalism to grace and forgiveness.

I absolutely loved Terry’s quirky dad, and the way he worked to keep his family together. It didn’t matter what kind of trouble his kids got into, he still loved and encouraged them. I also enjoyed the descriptions of what Terry was thinking about in church, and things that went wrong during the worship service. But most of all, I appreciated Terry’s inner struggle to do what was right when he really didn’t want to, which is something everyone likely struggles with.

This would be a good book to read for a discussion group. It’s not overly long (283 pages), and it has a good range of issues to talk about.

Not A Sparrow Falls – by Linda Nichols (2002)

Not A Sparrow Falls

 

Bridie is a young woman who was greatly influenced by a sweet, God-loving grandmother, but has forgotten her roots. Now she’s living with a meth-lab boyfriend in the middle of nowhere. When she see things going bad, she stuffs a duffel-bag with his drug money and makes a run for it. Bridie figures she can just start life over somewhere else and bury the truth.

The other main character is Alasdair, a small-town widower. He’s the pastor of the church that his father originally pastored. But he’s got things he’s trying to cover over too. His wife had been plagued by life-long depression, and the car accident in which she committed suicide has been covered up as a mere accident. Their three children are being neglected by Alistair, who is now depressed himself. His 13-year-old daughter is having her own issues, and gets caught shoplifting. She crosses paths with Bridie, and they become close as Bridie starts taking care of Alasdair’s children.

The church is not portrayed in a very flattering light throughout the book. The congregation seems mostly concerned with their image in the community. Alasdair just isn’t meeting their expectations. They seem embarrassed by the mental issues of their pastor and his now-dead wife, and the misbehavior of his daughter. Instead of trying to help him, they try to force his resignation. I was dismayed by the behavior of the church.

But the turning point comes when both Bridie and Alasdair both decide that it’s better to stop covering things up, and face any consequences of their sins and shortcomings. They get to the point where it doesn’t matter if they are rejected by church members, neighbors or townsfolk. The only thing that’s really important is to have things right with God and their family.

I have to say I’m glad that I stuck with the book to the end. Some parts seemed unrealistic, but other parts rang true to life. My favorite part was when the sweet grandma was talking to Bridie’s old boyfriend and trying to reach him with love. She was the character in the book that demonstrated true Christian faith. She never gave up, and never showed hate. It drove home the point that no matter how far we wander from God, He always loves us and will put people in our life to encourage us to come home to Him.

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
Holy Bible, Matthew 10:29-31 (NIV version)

Food Trucks

Food Truck

Each month our church brings in a “Feeding America” semi-truck loaded down with surplus food, and we distribute it to whoever needs it. People living around the church begin lining up along the shade of the trees on the south end of the parking lot an hour, sometimes two hours before the truck arrives. We set up long tables in two rows outside, ready to have food piled on them. Then we wait for the semi to arrive.

Last Wednesday I had the privilege of being one of the volunteers for the food truck. About 5:15, a cheer went up as the semi slowly pulled into the parking lot, maneuvering between the two rows of tables. The side panels of the truck were whipped open, and we began to unload the food. Some things merely had to be set on the tables, other things had to be put into plastic bags. We never know ahead of time what will be in the truck. It’s like a grab bag. This month’s offerings turned out to be: potatoes, cabbage heads, carrots, sweet peppers, yogurt, canned milk, onions, tomatoes, and apples. Ah, a nice healthy mix, I thought.

The people began to file past the tables, and we filled bags, boxes, and wagons with food for them. Each guest was invited to stop inside the church for some cake and punch, as we were celebrating the tenth anniversary of the food truck. Every bit of food was given away, with the exception of a few bad potatoes. Our jovial, friendly truck driver closed up the side panels and drove off with a smile. See you back next month!

Having recently read the book “Toxic Charity”, I wondered if I would view our food truck differently than I had in the past. As we distributed the food, I observed that just about everyone was dressed simply – mostly in t-shirts and jeans. They arrived in older used cars. They looked pretty much like us, simple working folks. The sort of folks that are just squeezing by financially, but they make too much money to qualify for food stamps. The need for a little extra food for their families seemed quite genuine, and each of them was appreciative of the fruit and vegetables.

If you have the chance to participate in a local food pantry or food truck, I would encourage you to do so. Don’t worry about whether or not the people coming through the line are in true need, or are taking advantage of it. Just smile and share what you’ve been given. Blessings given out have a way of coming back to you.

The Devil In Pew Number Seven – by Rebecca Nichols Alonzo (2010)

The Devil In Pew Number Seven

 

Rebecca Nichols grew up in a town in Alabama that was so small it wasn’t even on the map. Her father was the pastor of the local church, her loving mother supported him in the ministry, their congregation was growing in number, a baby brother was added, and Rebecca had good friends. It should have been a wonderful childhood, but was instead a nightmare, thanks to a bitter old man who always sat in pew number seven in church.

The terror that one man was able to cast on the Nichols family is almost unbelievable. You will find yourself asking over and over how no one could stop him. But even more unbelievable is the way in which the Nichols treated their tormenter. Regardless of how you feel by the end of the book, you will have to admit that Rebecca’s parents truly lived what they believed.

 
Excerpt:

“I think Jesus was saying that you and I should forgive so many times that it becomes second nature to us. If forgiveness is the language of heaven, then forgiveness should be a way of life for me. Notice, I didn’t say it should be easy. It’s not.”