“The church is God saying: ‘I’m throwing a banquet, and all these mismatched, messed-up people are invited. Here, have some wine.”
– Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday
I took a temporary hiatus from the blog for a lot of family reasons. Some were good, some were bad, all of them ended well, and now it’s back to business as usual!
My last post was about being an Easter Orphan. It was definitely sadder (perhaps I should say more melancholy) than most things you’ll read on this blog. Unfortunately, we’re going to continue that theme for one more post.
Last Saturday, Rachel Held Evans passed away. If you’re not a Christian, particularly a progressive one, there’s a decent chance you’ve never heard of her. But if you’re a progressive Christian, you might be in mourning like I am.
There are many articles that give Evans an appropriate eulogy in better words than I ever could, so I’m going to touch on that briefly and then launch into discussing Searching for Sunday.
Evans’ was a Christian author and blogger. She turned away from her church in adulthood because of its exclusion of the LGBTQ community. Her first book, Faith Unraveled (originally published as Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions) touched on faith and science and growing up in the town made famous by the Scope Monkey Trials.
Her second book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, talked about the year she spent living the way the bible literally tells women to live. She camped outside during her period. Seriously.
My introduction to Evans was her third (and final) book, Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church. She discusses her frustration with the church (primarily, but not solely, focused on its exclusion of marginalized communities) and how it lived at odds with her faith and her beliefs. She explores what “worship” really means, and how she (and you) can practice worship on your own.
As I mentioned in my Easter Orphans post, my father was also my demon, the monster who lived under my bed. I found my church and my people when I moved to the Pacific Northwest. Coincidentally, the same time my parents began undergoing their divorce.
Their divorce had an added twist: a week after my mom informed my father she was leaving him, he was diagnosed with cancer.
Navigating this world, across the country from my family, was one of the harder things I’ve had to do in my life. It also involved finally finally finally confronting the church’s role in enabling the monster. The journey was hard, and I wasn’t sure if I would still be a member of the church by the end of it.
Then, my paster suggested a book club. I didn’t know anyone else in it, just my pastor. We chose Searching for Sunday and began discussing the sacraments and the different ways you can be at peace with God. Evans’ suggests things like lighting a candle, taking a walk, taking a bath, finding peaceful moments in your day to be at rest.
I realized that laying on the couch with Dom, eating breakfast potatoes and watching Agent Carter, actually was a form of worship, and that I could stop feeling guilty on Sunday mornings when I spent my time that way, instead of wearing uncomfortable clothing in a cold church surrounded by strangers.
At book club, when I realized that, I burst into tears. It was not the last time.
“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.” – Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday
Rachel Held Evans helped me reconcile my own faith with the shortcomings and failures of the church. She helped me realize that I could still be a Christian without supporting or participating in the institutions that support demons and monsters and exclude wonderful people based on their sexual orientation.
And years later, when I moved back to the South, and the UMC had General Conference and passed the wrong legislation, it was Evans’ teachings that led me to confidently walk out the doors of my church for the last time. Because of Rachel Held Evans, I don’t feel guilty about not having a church. I know how to practice and maintain my personal worship until I can find a church that upholds the same values that I do.
I owe my spiritual life to Rachel Held Evans. I’m sure I’m not the only one. Turn on your flashlights, fellow readers, and we’ll find each other in the dark.