Nadia’s latest book Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People begins with her discovering Alma White, a woman church planter in Denver from 1901. Nadia thinks “Gee (okay, it’s Nadia so her internal monologue probably begins with something stronger than“Gee”) a female church planter in Denver from way back… an old version of me… maybe old Alma is someone I could see as a role model and/or hero!” When she looks up Alma she finds out the lady was a bigot, and not just a little bit. Yet, Nadia realizes God used Alma for the Gospel despite her faults (side note, here is a good critical reading of this portion of Accidental Saints). God made her an accidental saint, because it’s God’s righteousness that makes us saints, not any of our own work. Accidental Saints takes a look at a few of those unlikely sinners God has grasped and sanctified, those Accidental Saints…
…Hold up, you say. A review is great, but what’s up with your title? Were you just trolling Nadia (maybe a little)? Does Nadia=Joe mean something?
Nadia, as she herself admits, is a biographical preacher and writer; she “preaches from her scars.” Nothing too strange there, it is often said Pastors preach to themselves first… it’s a thing we do. That said, she has a unique biography and a unique call as Pastor of The House For All Sinners and Saints (HFASS), and such a beautifully unique voice as a writer, that her words just bleed authenticity!
So too, Joe Biden is so authentic that excess authenticity sloshes around in his shoes. You could hear it slurping around his toes the other night on Cobert. In a political field where people like Bush, Cruz and Clinton are so very calculated, the laughing, smiling, Irish mom quoting, biography laden, Biden is so clearly cut from a different cloth.
The brilliance of Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People comes from Nadia’s authenticity; it’s brilliant in the same way Biden was brilliant in the Vice Presidential Debate, his authenticity, he wasn’t afraid to be Biden. Nadia’s personality, her Lutheran sensibilities, and her pastoral identity, all combine to make Accidental Saints a good read.
Nadia is plenty aware of her new found stardom as the face of hip/relevant Lutheranism. In a chapter entitled “Whale Spit in the Superdome” she describes feeling unprepared to preach to a bunch of teens, especially since she’d become “What middle-aged people think teenagers” think is cool. This is so true, the Nadia effect in the ELCA can be border on embarrassing. I know of a Pastor who faced a call committee that insisted, if he wanted the job, he had to get a tattoo in order to “do that thing Nadia is doing.”
Another very revealing moment is from the chapter entitled “The Lame” where Nadia notes that many people who show up at HFASS aren’t cool, they’re broken people, and she worries she’s not attracting people like her… then she realizes she is… that she’s not cool, that her tattooed bad ass exterior hides a bug-eyed hurting kid inside.
As a heart surgery scarred little boy who was always the new kids in school who has a propensity to hide behind words and degrees, this chapter above all the others, moved me! “The Lame” is worth the price of admission by itself.
My initial tweet/facebook post about the book was that Accidental Saints is so Lutheran it made me cry (well that and “The Lame” chapter). Part of this is that we Lutherans don’t have a lot of voices in the mainstream, so reading a really solid proclamation of the Lutheran faith that engages with the world as it is and written for a popular audience, is really refreshing.
Speaking of faith engaging with the world as it is, she insists on asking what Jesus thinks of Christianity’s Wishful-Thinking-Hallmarketting of idealistic positivity in the face of true despair and desperate moments. She “calls a thing what it is”… as Luther talks about in the Heidelberg Disputation.
She considers Mary and her blessedness, that it comes neither from obedience nor some sort of purely political reading of her situation, but instead it is something imputed to her by a gracious God, “Mary is what it looks like to believe that we already are who God says we are.”
Additionally, she challenges the Rapture-industrial-complex that is so widespread in North American Christianity. She challenges it with an “Advent Conspiracy-esque” reading of season that takes the rapture film “A Thief in the Night” and turns it on its head—perhaps in the crazy pre-Christmas consumerism of Advent, “the idea that Jesus wants to break in and jack some of our stuff is really good news.”
So, being a Pastor is funny, sometimes ha ha funny, sometimes strange smell from the education wing funny. Nadia nails the sacred strangeness of it, allowing people a peek into the life of a Pastor, and it rings true.
For example, she describes a month when she was only going to have three days off (This is not uncommon for Pastors), and she is asked to do a funeral for a non-member on one of those days off. She totally doesn’t want to do it… she does it, but there’s that hesitancy that gives way to a holy act.
She also writes, “I never feel like I’m getting everything done or am ever pleasing everyone in my life.” Definitely a common Pastor experience (and a common experience for most, let’s be honest). She compares this over functioning to her time as an addict, that white wine and cocaine isn’t all that different from habits of highly effective people.
The two experiences she shares that most match my own are—knowing you’ll fail your people, and being surprised when you experience the very grace that you preach every Sunday.
She, in fact, has this thing she tells new people “I will at some point let you down. I will say or do something stupid or disappointing. You need to decide before that happens if you will stick around after it happens.” She also shares a particular time when she failed a couple very badly, yet was offered grace by them, and she was struck by the grace, yet also recognized it as the very grace of God she preaches!
Ordination is of course not all one big horror show. She also describes some of those intimacies we clergy are let in to experience—baptismal water, “last rites,” prayer vigils at houses where suicides take place, those little things done in the community and neighborhood that are noticed but not mentioned, because they are too intimate to do so. These are the things of a Pastor’s life, and she captures them well.
What I’m saying is that it’s a good book, it is authentic about what Nadia sees God doing in the lives of 19 "Accidental Saints." And I’m left asking, have you ever seen Nadia and Joe in the same room together? ;)