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Radical pastor doesn't hold back in Ashland talk

Many Christians have fallen in love with Jesus, but also find church “unpleasant, boring, stuffy” and lacking in Jesus’ “radical power.”

That was the message of Lutheran pastor and best-selling author Nadia Bolz-Weber in two talks laced with humor, profanity and bone-scraping honesty about her youthful alienation and later alcoholism — sober

27 years now — Friday and Saturday at Ashland’s First Methodist Church.

Sitting on the Methodist stage being queried by the Rev. Cheryl Goodman-Morris, Bolz-Weber gave stem-winding homilies on the challenging paths of compassion and forgiveness in today’s oft-venomous and divided society. But she first told how she applied those principles to herself as a person “who can’t have anything to do with church but loves Jesus.”

She said she has heard many people complain of “church PTSD,” but “I never heard anyone say, ‘Jesus doesn’t have anything to offer me.’ I had to leave the church at 16, but my love for Jesus was always intact. Even the church couldn’t mess with that.”

Through his life, Jesus demonstrated compassion and forgiveness, especially to the lowest in society, talking to a prostitute more than anyone else in the New Testament, she said, and feeling so sorry for unclean demons that he drove them into swine instead of wiping them out.

Forgiveness is hard because “so many of us struggle with what to do with our pain when someone has hurt us,” Bolz-Weber said. “But if anything will drive you to drink, it’s hanging onto that resentment, even if it’s only 5 percent of the problem and the other person or institution did the 95 percent.”

She said we have to know we played a part in it — and facing that “is some grown-ass woman stuff. ... As a pastor, I want you not to be in bondage to it. The only freedom you will get is to ask yourself ‘what part did I play in this?’”

Bolz-Weber drew laughter when she said she’s “dabbling in compassion. ... It’s not my go-to thing.”

Forgiveness was hard to grant when Bolz-Weber said she was actually a victim of fake news when the headline “Feminist minister thinks porn is ethical” after she gave an interview to The American Conservative.

She always tries to search for “the thing under the thing” and, in this case, conservatives are “predisposed to think horrible things about progressives. So I had to ask myself, ‘How am I predisposed to get my outrage triggered about conservatives?’”

In the big picture, Bolz-Weber said, “Our true drug of choice is knowing who we are better than. That’s what we are addicted to. ... We love any fall from grace story. The fact is, you don’t hate Trump supporters. You love them because they carry all our xenophobia for us. They are worse than us. In theology, that’s known as scapegoating.”

Bolz-Weber outlined a five-step process similar to that in Alcoholics Anonymous. You list resentments, what they did to you and how it affected your life, relationships, finances and then how you performed in it. Then a “searching and truthful” confession, to God and another person, of your role in it.”

She found it so hard, she said, that she could only confess it to a woman with AIDS who would die soon, as “the woman had absolutely no judgment. ... It moved the needle on me to tell the truth, and if she confronted and called me out on anything, it would not have moved the needle at all. Compassion is what allows us access to the truth.”

Bolz-Weber told a personal parable of a friend who worked as a trauma counselor for years. She asked the counselor how she could handle such a constant flow of painful information, and the woman said she feels the heart of God right behind her own heart “and what I give back to them comes from the heart of God, and that’s compassion.”

Bolz-Weber, a Denver resident, has been an ordained minister for

11 years and was founding pastor of the House for All Sinners & Saints there.

She is covered with tattoos accumulated since she was a teen, when they were part of her rebellion — and helped her make the statement to society, “I will never be part of your tribe.”

Her most recent tattoo says, “Wild and Holy,” a bit of ink shared with her present “tribe” of friends — 12 women, half of them people of color, and one gay Chinese man, who, she said have pledged to love each other and “defy the message of patriarchy” about competing and besting each other.

Bolz-Weber spoke on Friday on “Christianity and Sexuality: New Views on Old Prejudices,” in which she explored themes from her latest book, “Shameless: A Sexual Reformation.” On Saturday, her talk was, “Is It Too Stuffy in Here? Liberating Church from Rigid Cultural Expectations.”

Courtesy photo Pastor and author Nadia Bolz-Weber gave two talks this past weekend in Ashland.