Pastrix review — part 1

This is a brief review of Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber. Thank you to LisaNotes who recommended it to me.

These notes have been sitting in my computer for months. In case I never finish it, I’m posting in parts. Apologies to the author.


The main thing to say is that I liked the book a lot. I read it over a couple of days while on a business trip last December, and I skimmed it again quickly, making notes, on the train back. Mainly, I think I felt quite at home with the narrator, and the way she talked about God. Comparing her experience with mine, and listening to her new ideas were both very fruitful. I think my feelings for God are broader and richer having read this book.

I found the chapters read like a set of episodes with a common theme, rather than like a single journey building towards a climax. I thought the main common theme was a kind of ressurection, or death and rebirth within a life (e.g. pages xvii, 173f). This idea and the way the author tackled it very much appealed to me.

My favourite novel is Finnegans Wake, and FW is very much about this kind of thing: the dreamer sleeps to prepare for a rebirth the next day. In FW, just like in Pastrix, rebirth is entangled up with things like redemption, transformation, renewal, questions of what is preserved as well as what is changed or left behind.

One of the things I’ve always disliked about “born again” Christians is the attitude they seem to have to their former self. “A real slapper” was how one woman described herself. I thought that was inhuman. The new need not be a complete rejection and destruction of the old: the old can be transformed and made new.


My favourite quote, which I think about a lot, is “every time we draw a line between us and others, Jesus is always on the other side of it.” (p. 57)


The Punisher

I have also always hated punishers, and the idea of God the Punisher has always repelled me. Nadia offers a much more satisfying understanding of repentance as “thinking differently afterward” (p. 193) that makes repentance part of our ressurection and renewal.

“throughout my life, I’ve experienced [the story of Jesus] to be true.” p. xvi

I can’t say this is true of me. I was effectively raised an atheist and a materialist, and that’s my “default setting”.

However, reading this episode did make me cast my mind back. I have washed myself up against religion generally and Christianity especially again and again since childhood:

  • At junior school (aged 10ish) a friend and I went on a bus trip to see Billy Graham at a football stadium. It was his idea. He said something like, “if we’re going to disagree with it, at least we should go and see what it’s really like.” So we went, and with a completely un-scornful attitude.
  • As a teenager I browsed the usual Eastern religions: read the Bhagavad Gita & some Buddhist stuff.
  • At university I read various parts of the Old and New Testaments and the Koran. From time to time I would “adopt” some far-out Christian friend (or perhaps they adopted me). Infuriatingly, more than one told me I was already a Christian but didn’t know it.

“find a higher power you can do business with.” p. 37

This is quite similar to my own attitude — but (I hope) without the implied cynicism.

Reading Spinoza kicked off the whole perfectlips adventure. Among other things, the way Spinoza understood God and Jesus seemed to give me the best of both worlds: I could remain a materialist, and have God and Jesus too. Spinoza gave me permission for a more intimate approach, a more open reading. About any troubling metaphysical issues I thought, “I’ll put them to one side and worry about them later.”

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  1. It’s nice to read your thoughts. I agree with you: “my feelings for God are broader and richer having read this book.” And yes, it did feel more like a set of episodes. It actually left me with the feeling that her story isn’t over, which is a great thing to think for each of us.

    Glad this is part 1, implying there’s even more to come. :)

  1. My 2014 in books | Luke 7:39

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