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Posts Tagged ‘Rachel Held Evans

Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans, Nelson Books, 2015, 269 pp.

Searching for SundayI am enormously grateful for the voice of Rachel Held Evans and the contribution she makes to the contemporary conversation about what it means to be a Christian, to be a church, to love God and live as God intends. For me, she is added to a growing list of authors whose work gives a fresh eloquence to ancient questions, people like Rob Bell and Nadia Bolz-Weber. When I read their books, I never feel like I am reading anything monumental as a new idea or paradigm-shattering concept, but instead I find a new generation voicing the ancient-yet-always-new vision and theology at the core of our Christian faith. I know that for some people, these authors rock the boat and rock their world. That’s not the case for me, though it doesn’t make me any less of a fan. It’s as if someone gives eloquent voice to what I’ve been thinking for 20 years already. I’m indebted and grateful to these authors for giving me a way to share this with others, whether those whose boats need rocking, those who’ve already sprung a leak, and those feeling about to drown.

Searching for Sunday offers a refreshingly life-affirming take on the traditional seven sacraments of the church: baptism, confession, holy orders, communion, confirmation, anointing of the sick and marriage. Evans made the journey out of fundamentalism and found a new home in the Episcopal church. This book traces that evolution by placing her personal stories in sacramental context, tying these holy acts to the ordinary elements of our lives. I loved the way she makes these holy mysteries accessible and interwoven with the water, bread, hands, sins of our lives.

Mostly, I love her prose. It’s not the major, overarching insights of the book that draw me–it’s the minute crystals of light that she captures, phrases and ideas I want to remember and revisit for preaching and teaching the future. Here are a few of my favorites.

This book is entitled Searching for Sunday, but it’s less about searching for a Sunday church and more about searching for Sunday resurrection. It’s about all the strange ways God brings dead things back to life again. (xviii)

I hadn’t yet learned that you tend to come out of the big moments–the wedding, the book deal, the trip, the death, the birth–as the exact same person who went in, and that perhaps the strangest surprise of life is it keeps on happening to the same old you. (14)

Most days I don’t know which is harder for me to believe: that God reanimated the brain function of a man three days dead, or that God can bring back to life all the beautiful things we have killed. Both seem pretty unlikely to me. … What the church needs most is to recover some of its weird. … We are people who stand totally exposed before evil and death and declare them powerless against love. There’s nothing normal about that. (21-22)

I often wonder if the role of the clergy in this age is not to dispense information or guard the prestige of their authority, but rather to go first, to volunteer the truth about their sins, their dreams, their failures, and their fears in order to free others to do the same. … There is a difference, after all, between preaching success and preaching resurrection. (112)

I could only proclaim the great mystery of faith–that Christ has died, Christ has risen and Christ will come again, and that somehow, some way, this is enough. This body and this blood is enough. At Eagle Eyrie I learned why it’s so important for pastors to serve communion. It’s important because it steals the show. It’s important because it shoves you and your ego and your expectations out of the way so Jesus can do his thing. It reminds you that grace is as abundant as tears and faith as simple as food. (140)

If you are looking for words to describe how God is alive in the church, ancient and new, Rachel Held Evans points the way. She reclaims the historic witness of the church and places it squarely in the middle of our 21st century mess, and sees where God is alive and moving among us. Her words give me words to claim faith anew.

 

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Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to ask the Questions, by Rachel Held Evans, Zondervan, 2010, 232 pp.

I first encountered Rachel Held Evans when several of her blog posts received dozens of “shares” in my Facebook news feed. She wrote with wit and insight, with a cutting critique and a sense of kindness and grace. That voice has come through again and again, even as her blog has expanded to rock star status. I was eager to read Evolving in Monkey Town to hear more of her voice, because I expected it to be humorous, faithful, inspiring and fun. I made myself save it as a treat for the airplane ride to the Holy Land, and I was not disappointed.

Evans grew up in Dayton, Tennessee, better known as “Monkey Town,” the site of the 1925 Scopes Trial which put Clarence Darrow against William Jennings Bryan in a battle over evolution, faith and fundamentalism. Evans grew up on the losing side of that trial, in a fundamentalist enclave of church and Bible college. The isolation and insularity of that community, however, made her feel like they were on the winning team in all things. That is, until she began to ask questions and express doubts.

Evolving in Monkey Town tells the story of her journey into a different kind of faith. Unlike so many other authors who write about leaving behind fundamentalism, Evans is not bitter. She does not express animosity toward her upbringing, although she does write about the pain of rejection, the frightening wilderness of doubt and the loneliness of the struggle. She maintains grace and humor for her detractors.

Evans’ story feels familiar in many ways. It parallels the stories of so many who have left fundamentalism behind. She talks about being an “evolutionist,” which is not a claim about her understanding of science. She writes:

Just as living organisms are said to evolve over time, so faith evolves, on both a personal and collective level. … I’m an evolutionist because I believe the best way to reclaim the gospel in times of change is not to cling more tightly to our convictions, but to hold them with an open hand. … If it hadn’t been for evolution, I might have lost my faith. (21-22)

The central claim of the book is that doubt is not the opposite of faith, it is what allows faith to survive and grow. Evans works through a familiar list of doubts and questions. Does God really send all non-Christians to hell? What kind of God would condemn people who by “cosmic lottery” were born in a time and place where they didn’t know Jesus? How can you maintain that there is a biblical world view when the Bible is so full of contradictions? If God’s ways are not our ways, why can’t God exercise grace and forgiveness—not angry judgment and casting out of all who are different? Shouldn’t following Jesus inspire us to generosity and compassion, not just certainty about our eternal future?

Evans answers the familiar doubts of those moving beyond fundamentalist faith with humor, openness and room to grow. Her relative youth brings a fresh perspective to these longstanding debates, and her honesty invites us all to explore our relationship to the “false fundamentals” (207) that hold us back. Her writing is accessible to all kinds of readers, and the book is full of engaging stories and beautiful turns of phrase. It would make a great group study for those who are questioning their faith or engaging a path out of fundamentalism, but that is not the limits of its audience. Anyone looking for fresh insights about the path of faith and doubt would find a good companion in Evolving in Monkey Town.


About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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