Thinking Out Loud

February 14, 2014

Pastrix: A Book for a Select Audience

The very first word in Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber is an expletive that cannot be printed here, and it is, I warn you, but the first of many.

PastrixThat said, Pastrix earns my highest recommendation, provided of course we’ve made clear the question, ‘recommended to who?’

Such is the nature of the contradictions in the book, and in many ways such is the nature of the contradictions that define (or undefine) the tall, tattooed, female Lutheran pastor of House for all Sinners and Saints, aka HFASS.  And yes, you’re allowed to — and they do — pronounce it half-ass.

The book is a random collection of biographic memories in a loose chronological sequence that sometimes act merely as springboards for some sermon extracts. You get the feeling that Nadia would have been more comfortable producing a book filled with some of her unique sermon insights, but the publisher no doubt felt some back-story was necessary, at least the first time around.

I have two takeaways from reading the book.

First, Nadia is a very wise person who unfortunately made some very unwise decisions early in life, but decisions that are redeemed in the unique voice her past gives to her present. Was writing this particular book using a very edgy, street vocabulary wise? A future Nadia might rethink it, but it does create a product unlike anything else that has crossed my desk before. She creates a meeting place in print where seekers and skeptics can join the sexually ambiguous in their quest for truth. She is, like other Christian writers, paving a road to the cross, but it’s a back route that few travel.

Second, it’s evident that Nadia has now, and always had, a pastor’s heart. Her calling to ministry is evident at different stages of her life — even in her darkest moments — and is perhaps more evident than dozens of other pastors I know who, granted, don’t drop the f-bomb as often. Her flock aren’t the type of sheep that would make it into an award-winning photograph, but they’re her sheep, and she is doing her best to shepherd them and truly grieves if one falls by the wayside.

Pastrix will appeal to people who match, demographic for demographic, the people who attend HFASS, or potential converts. People on drugs. People who sleep around. People who commit crimes. People who Jesus loves. People who Jesus died for. Future brothers and sisters you might find yourself sharing eternity with.

I do need to declare a conflict of interest here: My wife and I are fans. I featured her here a few years ago as her reputation started to go national. I download each new sermon as it appears on her blog, and track the printed text as we both listen to the audio. We’re not doing some ministry watchdog thing, waiting for her to trip up doctrinally, but with each sermon we’re always in awe of how theologically orthodox she is.

I begged the people at Jericho books for a pre-release copy of this book and had just about given up when I discovered a book had been delivered wedged between two 20-inch square pieces of cardboard. That never happened before. It seemed fitting, somehow. It’s a book that will certainly occupy a place on my bookshelf, but it will have to be a spot where my conservative friends won’t see it. Then again…


Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint is published in hardcover by Jericho Books an imprint of Hachette Book Group. Both Send the Light, one of the largest wholesale Christian book distributors in the U.S., and CBD, an online consumer book vendor consider this title too hot to handle.

April 30, 2012

God Meets a Family in the Midst of Crippling Loss

After my time serving on staff at a local church came to an end, we took a two-year break from that church and attended another in town, somewhat renown for its children’s ministry and Bible teaching. The pastor at the time was an excellent speaker, and his oldest son, Benjamin, was in a Sunday School class with our oldest.

Flash forward more than a decade and we learned that Ben had been diagnosed with a form of leukemia. To say this seemed to hit close to home was more than an understatement. It seemed to me like only yesterday the kids were saving seats for their dads at a Sunday School Father’s Day party by crossing their legs over the empty chairs next to theirs. My wife heard about a Facebook group, Pray for Benjamin Elliott, and as new feeds came in, she would forward them to me by email. Praying for Ben became part of our nightly prayer routine as a family.

After it looked like Ben had triumphed over the disease, sadly he relapsed; and not longer after, the Facebook group was renamed, The Ben Ripple; mostly because it appeared that the stories which rippled out from Ben’s life and death were impacting so many lives both near and far. Ben’s mom, Lisa Elliott carefully crafted each post, and the thought did occur to me that someday, this material might benefit a greater readership, and sure enough, much of the material from those Facebook posts have been gathered together into a book of the same name, The Ben Ripple.  (I suspect this will not be her last book.)

I asked my wife to take another look at those Facebook entries through the book, and share a few thoughts from a mother’s perspective.

The Ben Ripple is a challenging read.  Walking through another person’s pain and loss, even in retrospect, takes some doing, especially having been one of the followers of the ‘real time’ Facebook updates, which comprised an honest, hopeful and wounded journaling from a woman of faith and intelligence whose life was suddenly shaken loose.

In this book, Elliott brings back those first raw outpourings, ties them together with some more objective reflections on what was happening in the family’s lives at the time and closes each chapter with practical suggestions for those dealing immediately with cancer, and for those on the periphery who just want to not say or do the wrong thing.

Her writing is both skilled and passionate, drawing the reader closer to understanding and empathy with a situation that most of us will never experience –  the loss of a child –  and one that more and more of us live through – fighting cancer.  She takes time to explain the treatments, with their setbacks and successes, and to appreciate the medical professionals who were involved in her family’s lives.

All in all, it is important for us to know stories like Ben’s.  The places where God meets us face to face, and the places where he stands quietly behind us.  What the family next door might be going through and what they may deal with from one day to the next.  It’s been said that we live in a world that has forgotten how to lament — to cry out to God our pain and fear and loss.  This book is just such a thing, but like so many of the laments in Scripture, it ends on a note of “nevertheless…”  The possibility of healing, the value of trusting, the necessity of faith in one who loves us.

The Ben Ripple is a remembered and continuing journey well worth walking.

~Ruth Wilkinson

The Ben Ripple is published in paperback by Word Alive Press and available through them in Canada and through Ingram and Spring Arbor in the U.S.   A copy was provided to Thinking Out Loud by Graf-Martin, a Kitchener, Ontario based promotion and publicity agency which comes alongside Christian publishers to provide key titles with enhanced visibility.

April 10, 2010

Currently Reading: Reborn To Be Wild

It was 11:30 PM Thursday, I was getting into bed when I suddenly remembered that about twelve hours previously, I had received a delivery — a white cardboard box — which I had never got around to opening.   I knew it contained books from David C. Cook, but decided to walk back to the living room to open the package.

The book that caught my eye was Reborn to be Wild: Reviving Our Radical Pursuit of Jesus. I had never heard of Ed Underwood.   Never heard of the book.

The back cover offered this question:

Why did the Jesus Movement stop moving?

I was hooked.  By midnight I was about 50 pages in, and I was up early on Friday morning to squeeze in another 50 pages before heading out of town.

Underwood was part of the Jesus People scene in California.   No not that Jesus People scene in 1972.   He was there for the earlier grassroots events that sparked the whole thing in the late ’60s, 1968 in particular.

He tells his story.  But he weaves lots of good scripture into his text. It’s a book that is autobiographical in nature.   It’s a book that has teaching as a primary goal.

And I’m hooked.  And this isn’t even the book review I’ve yet to do when I’ve covered the next 200 or so pages.    Here’s a sample:

Picturing Revival

One sentence inside the story of Paul’s work in Ephesus describes its impact in words I would use to tell people what happened in the Jesus Movement.  “And this continued for two years so that all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus.”  (Acts 19:10a)

Nowhere in the entire Bible is there another report of the love and knowledge of Christ growing so quickly and deeply into a culture.  In only two years everyone living in the Roman province of Asia — today’s Asia Minor — had heard the word of the Lord Jesus.   It’s amazing to me that most of the people who speak in order to help us understand God’s Word, try to explain it away.

In one of my “only for preachers and other smart religious people who know Greek” books about Acts 19:10, the author drones on about how the time reference is obviously hyperbole because it really isn’t possible for God to do something that big, that fast.  He concludes that Paul must have meant to say, “a lot of people” instead of “all.”  In bold red ink, I wrote in the margins, “That’s because you’ve never seen revival.”

I have and it moves just that fast and it penetrates just that deep.

The book releases in June in paperback from David C. Cook.   In the meantime, here’s their rundown:

A long-time pastor ponders why the Jesus Movement stopped moving…and challenges all generations of believers to the radical commitment that fuels revival. Long before becoming a pastor, Ed Underwood was a “Jesus Freak”–a young man transformed by the Jesus Movement in the 60s and 70s. He and his friends threw their hearts into a revival they thought would change the world. But somehow, the Jesus movement stopped moving. How did these radically committed young people morph into today’s tame, suburban evangelicals?

That’s the question that sparked this passionate, provocative book, which aims at nothing less than fanning the flames of enduring revival today. Underwood draws on his personal revival experience and his study of the New Testament to expose six seductive lies that can easily sidetrack a movement and affirms five life-changing truths that can keep it going.

Ed Underwood is a pastor and author whose life was transformed by the Jesus Movement and has never lost his passion for revival. He oversees the ministries of the historic Church of the Open Door in Southern California.

August 2, 2009

Father/Son Relationships

Dan Hill - bookThis weekend, I’m doing something a little different.   My world normally consists entirely of reading and evaluating books that will be sold in the Christian book market.   This weekend, I’m reading I Am My Father’s Son by Dan Hill, a singer-songwriter who was inescapable here in Canada in the late ’70s and early ’80s; and whose songs (Sometimes When We Touch; You Make Me Want To Be; etc.) have been recorded by artists around the world.

Is this book biography or autobiography?    Hill masterfully manages to do both at once.   He tells the story of the constant tension between himself and his father against the backdrop of the story of his own success in the music industry.   But he tells much of his father’s story as well.   Honestly, I’ve never read a book quite like this; a book which manages to successfully carry out several different objectives.

Dr. Daniel Hill III is a name known to Canadians for his groundbreaking work in the area of human rights.   As a black scholar with an earned PhD in Sociology, he forged new territory in Canada in the 1960s; both easy and hard to do in a place where racism was more subtle than in the U.S.

But it’s the younger Dan Hill — that would make him # IV — whose story I have tracked throughout reading the book, for one very personal reason:  We went to high school together and Dan was a good friend with my next door neighbor.    (Though, I have to note, that even this story has a Christian element to it, as Daniel Hill’s father — Dan’s grandfather — was a pastor who went on become Dean of the School of Religion at Howard University in Washington, D.C.)

The book takes us into the living room and kitchen of the Hills home in Don Mills, and invites us, like the proverbial guest at Thanksgiving, to be part of the debate atmosphere that characterizes the senior Hill’s interactions with his oldest son.  To many readers, these scenes are all too familiar.

As most men will attest, the main subject of this book, the relationship between fathers and sons, is a theme that forms the underpinnings of many a man’s life.   We men are all shaped by our fathers in more ways than any of us would want to admit.   Many of us men end up becoming like our fathers in ways we never imagined.

When it comes to defining that, Dan Hill nails it.

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The book is available in Canada from HarperCollins and in the U.S. by special order with the publisher.


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