Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.
The saying typically applies to weddings, but today, it describes the book of the month selection, which actually turned into books of the month.
Something old and blue: C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity (1952), my version of which has a partially blue cover.
Something new and borrowed: Nadia Bolz-Weber’s Pastrix (2013), which I borrowed from the library after seeing it perched on the shelf next to a Luther video.
The official book of the month selection is Mere Christianity, but I decided to throw Pastrix into the mix after seeing the following testimonial from an enthusiastic reader in the front of the book: “This book is Mere Christianity for an altogether new kind of Christianity that’s also blessedly ancient.”
A new Mere Christianity? Okay! Let’s go!
Book #1: Pastrix
Verdict: Could relate to it (in a qualified way)
For the record, Bolz-Weber and I could not be more different. If we were at the same party, we’d likely end up on opposite ends of the room—Bolz-Weber on the “heavily tattooed, recovering alcoholic, former stand-up comic, swears like a sailor” side (all ways in which she describes herself in her book), and me on the “conventional, by the book, terrified by the thought of being a stand-up comic” side.
But we’re both Lutheran. And we’re about the same age. And we’re tall. So we’d have something to talk about.
Actually, I’d be fine just listening to her stories (particularly sans profanity—if you want the cleaned-up version of her tales, check out this interview on NPR). Bolz-Weber has lots of stories, and that’s what her book is about—her experiences with her faith, particularly as lived out in her church work.
We’re different kinds of Lutherans, no question, but I found myself nodding along with statements such as these: “The thing I love about baptism is that it is about God’s action upon us and not our decision to ‘choose’ God” (p. 141), and “My failings hurt me and others and even the planet, and God’s grace to me is that my brokenness is not the final word” (p. 50).
Anyone who feels their “poor miserable sinner” status would be able to relate to Bolz-Weber’s own struggles with things like anger and pettiness and resentment. I may not be able to relate to her particular experiences or theological worldview, but the human weaknesses? The clear need for Christ? Absolutely.
Book #2: Mere Christianity
Verdict: Lives up to its reputation as a classic
I’m not sure what that testimonial writer had in mind, but Pastrix and Mere Christianity are two very different books—one is a memoir, the other a work of Christian apologetics. When you finish Pastrix, you know more about Nadia Bolz-Weber. When you finish Mere Christianity, you know more about the Christian faith.
Lewis, an atheist-turned-Anglican, avoids denominational lines in his book and focuses instead on beliefs common to all Christians (e.g., beliefs about the moral law, conceptions of God, Christian virtues).
Like the books of G. K. Chesterton, Mere Christianity (presented originally as radio talks in the 1940s) is marked by interesting argumentation and memorable lines. A few that I starred:
In response to the popular claim that “Jesus was a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept him as God”: “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with a man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell” (p. 52).
On the nature of Christian life: “A live body is not one that never gets hurt, but one that can to some extent repair itself. In the same way a Christian is not a man who never goes wrong, but a man who is enabled to repent and pick himself up and begin over again after each stumble—because the Christ-life is inside him, repairing him all the time, enabling him to repeat (in some degree) the kind of voluntary death which Christ himself carried out” (p. 63).
On the believability of Christianity: “Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed. That is one of the reasons I believe in Christianity. It is a religion you could not have guessed. [. . .] It has just that queer twist about it that real things have” (p. 42).
Ah, such brilliance. Imagine Lewis on the radio today, on Issues, Etc. or NPR—with special guest Nadia Bolz-Weber.
I would definitely tune in for that one.
I would definitely tune in for that one.