This week’s past Gospel, we call Thomas the “doubter”-he wants the evidence of things unseen to prove the resurrection of Jesus. I’m not going to debate the word doubt and Thomas’ need for tangible proof in the risen Lord. However, I find the timing of this Gospel perfect as I wrap my head around the brilliance that is Rachel Held Evans’ new work, searching for sunday: loving, leaving and finding the church.
In the vein of Barbara Brown Taylor’s Leaving Church, Rachel guides us through her crisis of faith with stories that will challenge us to consider our own doubt. Her authentic tale of evangelical upbringing, running away, and returning to the table is accessible to both the cradle believers and those who still seek. She walks us through this journey through the sacred sacraments of Baptism, Confession, Holy Orders, Communion, Confirmation, Anointing the Sick, and Marriage.
We are challenged to think–is everything I’ve been taught or I’ve thought I believed true? Is it real? Is there room at the table for all? Are our churches limiting the scope and reach of Jesus by making judgments on people, places, and things? Are we losing the millennial generation because making church a rock concert or serving hipster coffee isn’t making the great commandment relevant for us?
As a cradle Episcopalian, I am lucky I didn’t have to answer a lot of the questions with which Rachel has grappled. I grew up in a home and church that preached inclusion. I never knew a life without women in leadership at the highest level. I never heard anti-LGBT speech from my pulpit. I grew up steeped in liturgical tradition that honored reason as a part of one’s faith formation. However, as a college student in the Midwest, I gained an eye-opening baptism of my own in the world of evangelicalism. (Or as my Mom liked to call it “fundamentalism”—aka, Republican and Baptist.) This was a gift to me in a sense as it opened up scripture in a way that I hadn’t seen in my upbringing. It taught me the phrase “personal relationship with Jesus” and opened my mind to see the myriad of ways people worship and perceive God, Jesus, the Bible, and the Church. It made me appreciate my moderate, intellect loving background, but also respect the traditions and beliefs of others. It made me appreciate that doubt was an integral part of the journey.
To write a review of this book is hard. It is a “nugget” book for me. A book filled with so many quotables, that I found myself splicing the larger ideas into tastes. By doing so, I don’t want to undercut the message of inclusion that I think is at the heart of this book. Yet at the same time, I want YOU to read it, so I will offer you a few tastes with an encouragement to join our conversation.
“We want to bring our whole selves through the church doors, without leaving our hearts and minds behind, without wearing a mask.”
“The Spirit that once hovered over the waters had inhabited them. Now every drop is holy.”
“It was the 80’s, so all my earliest memories of Jesus smell like hairspray.”
“The good news is you are a beloved child of God; the bad news is you don’t get to choose your siblings.”
“Grace has been out of hand for more than two thousand years now. We best get used to it.”
“But no one really teaches you how to grieve the loss of your faith. You’re on your own for that.”
“I wanted to believe with my intellectual integrity and intuition intact, with both my head and heart fully engaged.”
“In the company of these friends, questions and doubts were met with sympathy, not fear. No one felt the need to correct or understand or approve. We just listened, and it was sacred.”
“Ultimately, we are all commissioned. All are called. All belong to the holy order of God’s beloved.”
“…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.”
“When Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, he was showing them what leadership in the upside-down kingdom of God looks like.”
“Something about communion triggers our memory and helps us see things as they really are. Something about communion opens our eyes to see Jesus at the table.”
“Communion doesn’t answer every question, nor does it keep my stomach from rumbling from time to time, but I have found that it is enough. It is always and ever enough.”
“I didn’t know how to tell them this was exactly the sort of thing that made me doubt.”
“The journey comes with baggage, yes. And heartbreak. But there are also many gifts. In a sense, we’re all cobblers. We’re all a bit like Brother Joseph, piecing together our faith, one shard of broken glass at a time.”
“And the notion that a single tradition owns the lockbox on truth is laughable, especially when the truth we’re talking is God.”
“My Mother always said you don’t have to believe much to be Episcopalian” (this one made me laugh so so hard.)
Anointing of the Sick
“The annoying thing about being human is that to be fully engaged with the world, we must be vulnerable. And the annoying thing about being vulnerable is that sometimes it means we get hurt.”
“The thing about healing, as opposed to curing, is that it is relational. It takes time, It is inefficient, like a meandering river…..Walking with someone through grief, or the process of reconciliation, requires patience, presence, and a willingness to wander, to take the scenic route.” (This was the most meaningful chapter for me entitled Healing. A stunning connection to grief and loss.)
“We must be careful, then, of idolizing the institution of marriage on the one hand and discounting its kingdom-reflecting potential on the other.”
“Perhaps she would talk about being underestimated, about surprising people and surprising herself. Or about how there are moments when her own strength startles her, and moments when her weakness–her forgetfulness, her fear, her exhaustion–unnerve her.”
“Sometimes I think the biggest challenge in talking about the church is telling ourselves the truth about it–acknowledging the scars, staring down the ugly bits, marveling at its resiliency, and believing that this flawed and magnificent body is enough, for now, to carry us through the world and into the arms of Christ.”
Hopefully, something in those words triggered your desire to dig deeply with RHE, as she is often called in our Launch Team circle. She is not a super-hero, she is not selling snake oil. She is opening our hearts and minds to the possibility of what the church can/could be. This book has encouraged my walk and I can’t recommend it to you enough.
Come to the table, you are welcome here.