Browsing Tag

Rachel Held Evans


book review: "Searching for Sunday" by Rachel Held Evans

I sat down to start reading Searching for Sunday a little over a month and a half ago, and I couldn’t get past page xvi before I was sobbing. I’ve been reading this paragraph out loud to everyone I know, and it’s one of the things that rang inside of my soul like a sonorous bell:

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. It’s about giving up and starting over again. It’s about why, even on days when I suspect all this talk of Jesus and resurrection and life everlasting is a bunch of bunk designed to coddle us through an essentially meaningless existence, I should still like to be buried with my feet facing the rising sun.

Just in case.

And I’m sobbing again. That sentence– I should still like to be buried with my feet facing the rising sun— is exactly where I am right now. Exactly. It put every agonized, spirit-wrenching emotion I’ve had over the last few months into a dozen words. I sat my Nook down and cried like a baby until Handsome asked me what was wrong and we had a four-hour-long conversation about why we’re still bothering with this whole “being a Christian” thing.

This book was for me, and I think this book might be for a lot of you, too. If there’s a part of you– a big part, a small part– that is whispering the question why am I still a Christian? then I think you might need to read this. Not because she has some earth-shattering answer that will miraculously solve all our problems. I didn’t finish this book, set it down, and think to myself “ah, this was just the thing I needed to get me to go to church again.” I still have reservations, and questions, and doubts, and the thought of walking into a church still terrifies me. But it did help make hope a little more possible.

Since we left our last church, I came to the conclusion that my emotional well-being will not let me attend a church where a) women are barred from any form of leadership whatsoever, and complementarian messages are preached from the pulpit in subtle or overt ways, and/or b) anyone in church leadership embraces the “love the sinner, hate the sin” approach to the LGBTQ community. Those may not be hard lines for you (nor do they have to be), but they are for me now. Finding a church that doesn’t conflict with either of those has been … difficult. The longer I’m away from church, the easier it is to wake up like I did yesterday, make cinnamon buns and read The Great Hunt out loud to my partner while I pet my cat.

But the longer I’m away from church, the more a sliver in the back corners of my heart hungers for the bread the wine. Reading Searching for Sunday was a gentle, gracious, gorgeous reminder that I do believe in the sacraments. I do believe in the Body. Reading her chapters on Communion was one of the most sacred experiences I’ve ever had, and it gave me the nudge I needed to start reaching out again. I don’t know where this road will take me– maybe further away from church, from faith, I don’t know. But I want to hope. I want to believe. I want to try again, even if I get terribly burned.

Going through this book was comforting, and encouraging. It was like sitting down with a friend and drinking tea and being honest in a way that terrifies both of you, but once you start talking you can’t seem to stem the flow of words. Each slicing knife wound is recounted, each euphoric moment comes out tinged over with a little bit of sadness. You’re sad because you wish your faith were still that simple, that fresh and naive– and sad because you know that those moments of happiness came in the middle of suffering, and the pain made those brief moments of joy seem like ambrosia.

But we can’t get rid of who we are. There are many days, many weeks when I wish I could pave over my life and pretend like there isn’t a graveyard underneath what I’m building, but our lives aren’t like that. At one point in the book, Rachel uses the metaphor of a palimpsest, and that image made me catch my breath. My theology might look and feel completely and utterly removed from anything I thought or believed as a child, but there are remnants peeking through, things I won’t ever be able to shake.

I won’t ever be able to forget the look on my pastor’s wife when I tried to tell her I’d been sexually assaulted and she called me a liar who was only jealous of his musical talents.

But I won’t ever be able to forget it when I came to her, unsure that I’d been “sorry enough” when I’d said the sinner’s prayer, and she hugged me and took her face into my hands and said that wasn’t up to me, that the only thing that mattered was that Jesus loved me.

I won’t ever be able to forget the time a family friend lectured and berated me for not respecting my mother enough to clean our house like Martha Stewart would when I was 10, contributing to a complex that still has me panicking before anyone sees my home.

But I’ll never forget the look on her face when she came to my senior piano recital and she was so proud of me she could have burst, or that when she hugged me afterward she cried when she told me she loved me.

For better or for worse, all of those things are part of who I am today, all so mixed up and confusing it would be easier if I could set it all aside. However, Rachel reminded me that the God I believe in is one who makes all things new. She cares for the broken things, even the dead things, and restores them.


Searching for Sunday officially releases tomorrow, although if you’re near a brick-and-mortar Barnes & Noble some already have it stocked. If you buy it sometime this week and show a proof of purchase, you gain access to the “launch celebration” goodies. And yes, I got a free copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.

Social Issues

there’s a difference between criticism and bullying

Tone policing is wrong. Respectability politics is wrong. Telling victims that they shouldn’t respond with anger to someone participating in abuse apologetics (inadvertently or not) is wrong. Anyone, anyone at all, is and should be open to criticism, even vociferous criticism. When I read Captivating and watch John and Stasi go on for pages about white supremacy I’m going to call it like I see it, and I’m going to say what the fuck. Out loud. When Grace Driscoll perpetuates the extremely damaging teaching that victims should repent, I’m going to talk about it, and I’m going to be harsh.

When Matthew Paul Turner uses a gendered slur to complain about criticism, I’m going to say “hey, not cool,” no matter how much I appreciate the past work he’s done for people like one of my closest friends. When Rachel Held Evans repeats the same tired lines abuse victims have been hearing for centuries, I’m also going to point out that it’s not ok.

I’ve been on the receiving end of some pretty pointed criticism. I do my best to always listen to it, even if I have to walk away and leave it for a bit. Eventually I always come back and ask myself is this criticism valid? Where do I think they have a point? If what they’ve said makes sense to me, I do my best to incorporate it and move on. Some criticism has radically changed the way I do things on here. Some criticism has helped only in that it helps me avoid certain pot holes in the future– like writing “I know, not all men” ad nauseum when I talk about rape, no matter how ridiculous I think it is to include it.

There are some writers online who disagree with the way I do things, with the way I express myself and my opinions. I’m not overly concerned with being perceived as “nice,” and the whole tone of my blog is about the furthest thing that anyone would describe as “gentle.” A Sarah Bessey or Preston Yancey, I am most definitely not.

I also think it’s egregiously wrong to expect survivors to be a “well-behaved victim” or a “model survivor,” which happens sometimes. A lot of the time, our hurting is going to be messy and loud and obnoxious and I don’t fucking care if you’re ok with that or not. I have the right to stomp on things and rage, and so does anyone else. How we heal shouldn’t be policed or managed. Everyone’s journey is going to look different, and just because someone managed to recover while appearing placid and calm and tranquil doesn’t mean the person scream-sobbing is doing it wrong.

But. There is a difference between being angry and loud when you criticize someone’s actions or words and making it your mission for weeks on end to harass a person. Abuse survivors can also be bullies. Just because we’ve survived spiritual abuse, or sexual abuse, or domestic violence, does not mean that we are ourselves immune from engaging in the same behaviors that were used to control and manipulate us.

I am not interested in roaming the internet and telling people that I think the way they’re responding to X situation isn’t what I would do. This is something you have to evaluate on your own and decide for yourself if you’re comfortable with it. There’s lots of things that I don’t personally do because it isn’t the right avenue for me that plenty of other people do on the regular. For example, I don’t really do online debates. Not even in my own comment section. I don’t argue with people on Twitter. Sometimes I’ll respond, but it’s going to be a single comment or tweet most of the time. I’ll engage people in conversation, but the second it takes on that “debate” tone I whistle for a cab. That doesn’t mean that I think getting into it on Twitter is a “wrong” way to be an activist. I appreciate the people who are willing to do that because I’m not.

I’ve learned that, for myself, engaging in extended online debates isn’t healthy and is almost always unproductive in the ways that I’d like a conversation to be productive. Doesn’t mean that another person finds it extremely productive for a variety of reasons that don’t apply to me.

But I have seen whole groups, whole movements of people who identify as abuse survivors, who seem to wander around the internet frothing at the mouth for a good knock-down drag-out fight with pretty much anyone and I don’t agree with that. I left Stuff Christian Culture Likes because the community as a whole engaged in bullying en masse. I’ve seen relative unkowns, people with less than a hundred followers on Twitter, get ripped to shreds by hundreds of people all at once and it is disturbing.

To me, some of the things I see on happen on Survivor!Twitter don’t seem any different than the 4Chan trolls who organized to harass and threaten Anita Sarkeesian and Brianna Wu.

I also don’t think it’s ok to do the this to “public figures.” I will shout about how Mark Driscoll and Tony Jones are sexist bullies until the cows come home, and while I’ll join a protest– I’m not going to join a mob. I think leaders like Tony Jones and Matthew Paul Turner tend to see pitchforks and torches where none actually exist and misinterpret many people criticizing them all at once as a “lynch mob” (note: fellow white people, please do not use the term lynch mob to describe anything that happens to you until you’ve been an oppressed racial minority for centuries and a crowd of people show up at your house with a noose), but I have to admit that I am terrified of becoming a “public figure” like Rachel Held Evans and Nadia Bolz-Weber.

The platform I have right now is small and intimate and lovely and cozy and I think it’s pretty much the best thing ever. But, hopefully, someday, I’ll write a New York Times best-seller and have a blog where every post gets a 100+ comments, and while that will also be awesome… I’m still going to be a human being, and I am going to fuck up. I am going to do something pretty bad, and it is going to upset an awful lot of people. I hope that when that day comes that I’ll realize how badly I fucked up and be able to make amends, but I also hope that when I do, eventually, fuck up that someone doesn’t make a parody account of me and that my inbox isn’t flooded with people telling me that I’m a worthless human being and that I’m no better than an abuser.

Photo by Richard Elzey