Seeking Sunday with Rachel Held Evans
I am happy in my current practice of Christianity. That, perhaps, is at the root level of why I balked at reading Rachel Held Evans new book, Searching for Sunday. The past few years have been a journey of doubt, hope, destruction and renewal for myself and for my family. Why then would I engage another person’s similar path, one admittedly ending in vastly different conclusions? Why expose myself to the same questions and concerns I’ve lived with, potentially to reopen old wounds or reveal chinks in the armor I had missed, and in the spotting would need to be dealt with?
I am content with my researched Biblical answers regarding cultural controversies swirling among liberal and evangelical Christians. If RHE could possibly defend her opinions with sound theological and practical reasoning, my current contentment could be set aside for further study and consideration. Certainly a reason for this sleep-deprived, often overwhelmed wife and mother to be less than enthusiastic about reading and reviewing this some-what memoir.
It was my husband. The one God gave for my further edification, growth, and love in this life of worship and obedience. He suggested the read. Then requested the book from his publishers. Upon its arrival the gauntlet was thrown, “Well, if you don’t read it, I’ll read and review it instead.” Challenge accepted.
How often are we ill-prepared for the challenges we accept.
The backstory presented was eerily similar to my own.
- She, a bible professor’s daughter; I, a pastor’s.
- She, consumed with who would end up in hell – asked uncomfortable questions in her youth at church functions; I, a tomboy with no intention to ever marry or have children – loudly expressed my desire to save the world sans husband at church functions.
- She, a high school student during the Columbine tragedy who showed up at school praying for the strength to die as a martyr if needed; I, doing exactly the same.
- She, hating the gross youth group competitions of the 90’s; I, potentially loathing them even more.
I could continue. We both had reputations of godliness in our small hometowns…and both suffered small town backlash when our college years caused us to question the beliefs we had so noisily proclaimed.
While these commonalities gave me pause, ultimately I was unmoved from my current beliefs and practices. An excellent storyteller, RHE failed to build foundations for her stories, relying primarily on emotion to make a case against the tenets of her evangelical background. For example, although we share distaste for political sermons, all her story contributed was a well-written experience of disgust and an acknowledgement that these people, though in her eyes misguided, are part of the church victorious. Why politicizing from the pulpit so troubles her is never mentioned, nor if her search landed her in a church devoid of such custom or practicing in the politics she prefers. Such is one example of the vagueness pervading Searching for Sunday, despondency over the state of the church given preeminence without biblical reasons for that state being despondent.
Along this journey of loving, leaving, and finding the church, I found myself challenged by staunchly held differing opinions and appreciative of the unity urged among believers. Searching for Sunday, nevertheless, maintained a feeling of dis-ease, of restlessness, of a wounded soul attempting to find healing but never quite committed to the prescription. To give RHE credit, the book does develop a journey with an ending, just never a satisfied homecoming. Despite the many stories about church participation and hope statements for the church, any testimony of actual deep love for the church fell flat. Her deep wounds set mine aching, she has human rationale for keeping distance, I empathize. But I cannot sympathize, and could not shake the current of despair leaking from nearly every page.
Engaging Searching for Sunday was worth the read. I faced specters from my past, acknowledged trials ahead, and was reminded that my judgment matters not at all compared to Christ's. In many ways I hope this book fades from relevance. It is the story of one generation in a single country, and although it does point to a larger church with a larger mission, its essence is limited to a single, specific experience of church. Though we all come to the church in that vein, church – Sunday – resurrection, encompasses more; those who seek it are only a small part of the story.