Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People by Nadia Bolz-Weber
Published September 2015, Read March 2017
Rating: ♥♥♥♥ (of 5)
“Your weakness is fertile ground for a forgiving God to make something new and to make something beautiful, so don’t ever think that all you have to offer are your gifts.”
At the end of Accidental Saints, I was left feeling conflicted. Emotionally, the book felt like a transformative experience. Nadia Bolz-Weber hits on so many key points in my faith that I was enraptured. Intellectually, though, I think Bolz-Weber needs to work, oddly enough, on being inclusive.
There were several moments in the book–most notably when she uses the term “cripple” to describe two parishioners, one with mental illness and one with a physical disability, and when she referred to homosexuality as a sin when recalling her words at a recently deceased bipolar, gay man’s funeral–where Bolz-Weber falls flat. And by flat, I mean flat on her face with blatant insensitivity. I am disabled, and I was personally offended by her use of the term cripple in that particular anecdote. It may be a word her parishioners self identify with (which is fine because it’s their disabilities), but an able-bodied individual using such a term without clarification or hesitation is inappropriate and off message.
Parts of the book read a bit self-congratulatory, and I think Nadia Bolz-Weber misses a huge opportunity in Accidental Saints to discuss the incredible injustices facing minorities in America and the church today. So, when I think outside of myself, the book is not very good. She mentions George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin, Newtown, and other incidents of violence in America, but always the scope is limited to her need to write a sermon or say a few words during a prayer gathering. There is a lot missing and so many moments where you wish she’d just push it a little further and write the social justice piece this book could be (and a powerful one, at that). I will say, however, that I am an activist at my core, and I spend much of my time informing myself and participating in the issues & movements of our time. Perhaps this book is forward-thinking and a major kick in the ass for some, but not in my case.
Personally, however, I was weeping by the end. I’m in a difficult season of my life, and I have been attempting to slog my way back to Christ, but I am changed and my questions keep pouring in. Chief among them was why did we need the cross? Why did I, specifically, need the cross? Did God really think I was going to be such a rotten and vile person to need His son to die an agonizing death on the Cross? Well, I will refer you to the chapter “Dirty Feet” for an answer. Well, as close to an answer as either of us will get.
Nadia Bolz-Weber taps into our deep insecurities as Christians. Anyone who has grown up in the Church, no matter how loving and tender and intentional their congregation was or is, has internalized destructive messages about our God and Savior Jesus Christ. That we must earn God’s grace, that we are not good enough, that the suffering of the world cannot be overcome, just to name a few. Here, Bolz-Weber is direct in tackling these issues. She brings a fine balance of scholarship and faithful passion to her writing that helps the reader feel grounded and surefooted.
I already have five or six people in mind that I’d like to pass this book along to. It is not a boring repetition of pop-culture faith (like The Shack, for instance). It is at once familiar and surprising. Each page holds the possibility of confirmation or the shake-up of your whole world view. As a Christian, I have to recommend this book. It could be better, yes, especially when addressing broader sociopolitical problems, but for an individual, spiritual journey, it provides an excellent road map.