Have you ever finally met someone who has unknowingly transformed your entire life?
Today I did.
About two years ago, I began reading the blog of a pastor out in Denver leading a mission start congregation - a pastor named Nadia Bolz-Weber.
At the time, I knew that one day I would pursue a seminary education in the hope of one day leading a congregation. I knew that this pastor was doing something new and exciting, and that her preaching and teaching and leadership was compelling to many.
But I did not know that her writings - her reflections on life as well as her Sunday sermons - would so phenomenally transform my own faith and life, and my dreams both for myself and for the church.
Her writings enriched my commitment to Lutheran theology as a source of grace and transformation, as something true in the face of so much that is false in Christianity, as something that still has a voice and a meaning in the postmodern world.
Her writings awakened my liturgical imagination. Neither the liturgy of the Episcopal church or the charisma of the non-denominational churches exposed me to mobile spaces, to meals for worship, to artistic expression and cultural engagement.
Her writings awakened, more importantly, my congregational imagination - she opened my mind to new ways of "being church". Without her writings, I would not have come to Luther with a mind open to the emerging / post-modern church; I might not now be in a class on the Biblical and Theological Foundations for the Missional Church, with the intent to apply for the Congregational Mission and Leadership cohort and concentration, and the hope of being someday approved to serve in vitalization (or "congregational re-development") or new church starts. Because I have seen an emergent, post-modern, missional church work, I am now free to dream of my own church start.
Pastor Nadia gains a great deal of attention by being markedly different from other pastors. She is tall, with a fierce and compelling beauty, with striking tattoos from her shoulders to her wrists.
By her own description, she swears like a sailor. And her writing is funny - like a Lutheran Anne Lamott.
Her difference is compelling because it is in accord with who she is. She does not blindly comply with standards for women, or for pastors, or for emerging church leaders, or in accordance with the standards of any other boxes in which she might be categorized - she complies with herself and with Christ.
Her willingness to be different, to defy expectations, is transformative for me - not that I would become like her in order to be different, but that I might be more like myself, confident that my differences would not be a hindrance. Her integrity - the integrated wholeness of her life - and her excellent leadership demonstrates that I too could be integrated, whole-but-not-perfect, and still be a servant-leader of the church.
Most crucially, her writings have convinced me of the ability - even the need - for a pastor to lead out of open and honest brokenness.
She is open about, among other things, her former alcoholism.
She is open about her anger - at injustice, at annoying things, at G-d's apparent inability to protect us from the pains of this world.
She is open about her own inability to live up to the Christian ideal. She has no pretense about being perfect - not because she is more flawed than others but because she is honest about the nature of being human.
Her openness permits my openness; because she has served, and served well, in her open and honest brokenness, I can dream of my own service. I can have confidence in revealing my own brokenness, because I have seen that its existence (either past or present) does not preclude my call.
In looking at her life - what slivers I see of it through her writing - I am freed to dream of the shape of my own. In looking at her call, and her church, I am freed to be audaciously hopeful.
Today I finally met someone who has, unbeknownst to her, transformed my entire life. And in thinking of the gifts she has unknowingly given me, I am newly encouraged and transformed.
So I say now, as I said in that moment: