Category Archives: thoughts

review: Rachel Held Evans’ Searching for Sunday

searching for sunday review

Rachel Held Evan’s Searching for Sunday is about church: its triumphs and failings, its hypocrisy and grace. Rachel, like me, grew up in a well-intentioned Evangelical community where the Bible is accepted as fact and the “plain truth” is within easy reach. It’s a culture of black and white morality, where spiritual cliches are a dime a dozen, rolling off the tongue the second something happens that doesn’t jive with the accepted worldview. Naturally, it has its limitations. Suffering is not easily alleviated with a dismissive utterance of “it’s all in God’s plan.” Rachel, like me, was encouraged to have a sense of ownership over her personal relationship with Jesus and, when the questions she wrestled with in the quiet started to gain momentum – when she started to ask them out loud – the church was unequipped to answer in anything but cliches.

Rachel, like me, flailed around, trying out new churches and new denominations, but the questions burned unanswered still, and she left.

Searching for Sunday‘s framework, quite fittingly, is the Sacraments: Baptism, Confession, Holy Orders, Communion, Confirmation, Anointing the Sick, and Marriage. These themes, like the Sacraments themselves, act as a jumping off point for a journey of faith. They encourage exploration and mystery; they don’t operate in spiritual cliches. One begins to realize that sometimes, the best answer to our questions is simply the space to wrestle with them. Rachel deals eloquently with this wrestling, acknowledging that the hurt sometimes makes it impossible to be in community, but always seeking the Truth of Christ’s unconditional love. She never gives up on that, and I think that’s the key to learning from the dark times in our spiritual lives. You may feel directionless, but you are moving forward if you are oriented toward love.

Searching for Sunday is memoir, but it is more than that. It’s theology. Steeped in the Gospel narratives, deeply respectful of those first disciples, and appreciative of the long, tumultuous years of violence perpetrated by and against the institutionalized church, it seeks to explore and understand what it looks like to do church now. It reminds us that Christian community was essential from the very beginning, that we don’t get to do Christian life on our own. 

Searching for Sunday gave me closure. I’d been hurt so badly by the church years ago, and I thought I’d moved on. But the truth is that I needed this reassurance that my pain was real, that my concerns were legitimate, and that the dark path I trudged through in the aftermath of leaving was not in vain. I needed someone to say, simply, “me too.”

As I sit here now with the sunshine streaming through the window and the birds singing and a cool spring breeze hitting my legs, I can tell you that I’m no longer searching for Sunday. I have found home in church community again. I am thankful for the path, and the hands that held me in the darkness, nudging me forward. I am thankful for space for the questions. I am thankful that God gave Rachel Held Evans the voice, and the heart, to tell her story, because it is my story, too.

I received an advance copy ofSearching for Sunday Searching for Sunday for review. Searching for Sunday is available for preorder here. It’ll hit store shelves this Tuesday, April 14.

*Artwork: Baptism by Ruth Catherine Meharg; used with permission.

homily: Abide Here

church pews

The Reading (John 15:1-11):

‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed* by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become* my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

Homily: 

In John 15, Jesus uses an agricultural metaphor to describe the Christian life. He tells us that he is the “true vine” planted and tended to by God. He goes onto say that we are offshoots, or branches, of that “true vine” and that we only live abundantly through our connection with Him, saying “Apart from me you can do nothing.”

Well, that’s all well and good, but, practically speaking, what does it look like to “abide” in and with Jesus when he’s not exactly walking around on earth waiting to come to our dinner parties and church services?

Though it may not be immediately clear, I think this passage is rooted in a simple concept:

Growth happens in relationship.

I’m not presenting a new theological idea here, but I think it’s one we often take for granted. Paul helps us understand what relational faith looks like in 1 Corinthians 12, when he tells the people of Corinth that God’s church acts as the “Body of Christ” on earth.

He says: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” He ends this section with this: “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” I love the phrasing of that last verse – though I read this passage over and over in my daily devotions as a young Evangelical, I’d taken it for granted. We don’t lose our individuality when we join a community, but we do become something different – and better – as a collective. Like the human body, we work together to survive and thrive. But we’re not just any body – we’re the Body of Christ – and we do His work when we band together.

That understanding helps clarify John’s passage – it helps us find a way to put into practice what Jesus suggests. Jesus is not present on earth as an individual entity – we can’t hold onto him like branches on God’s vine – but we do have the church. Through the church – Christ’s Body – we may find a life source, and a connection to God our planter and sustainer, while simultaneously offering the love of Christ to others.

A rewording of John 15:1-11, replacing the pronouns for Jesus with “the church,” becomes a powerful statement of the church’s relationship to us:

“Abide in the church as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in the church. The church is the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in the church and the church in them bear much fruit, because apart from the church you can do nothing.

…if you abide in the church, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you

…abide in the church’s love

…I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”

God can work through you or me on any given day, but the work God does is always relational. God’s children must join together for the work of the Kingdom to be done. We prune off the bad fruit in each other’s lives when we ask hard questions and hold each other accountable. We bear new fruit by creating welcoming spaces for everyone – not just the people who are easy to get along with – and by joining together to solve issues within our congregations and the larger community. Conversely, when we resist relationship, we stunt our growth.

I thought for a long time that I could go off by myself with my beliefs and convictions and be just fine, but that mindset fails to grasp the awkward, fulfilling, annoying, life-giving power of church. And I don’t just mean the formal church – I mean the miraculous spaces that allow us to be seen for who we are, to hurt and to hurt others in our confusion, to just be – that don’t give up on us. We cannot fully participate in the Christian life – we cannot build a Kingdom! – apart from Christian community.

My own life is a testament to the church’s work. I attended a highly patriarchal evangelical church through much of college. Though I majored in Religious Studies, I was barred from teaching Sunday School classes if men were in attendance. It was a congregation that privileged the opinions and perspectives of men over even the informed perspectives of women. It tore me apart. I had decided to major in Religious Studies precisely because I wanted to understand my tradition and share it with the church, but everywhere I turned, I saw people who once seemed to love and welcome me slam the door in my face.

I wanted the church, but it didn’t want me. It was a horrible loss; the worst kind of break up. I wasn’t wanted, so I left.

When my husband and I moved to Charlottesville in 2012, we hadn’t been attending church for over a year. We haphazardly church hopped once we arrived in town, but I knew there was still a lot of pain and bitterness in me and I wasn’t sure I was ready to come back.

Ultimately, it was the newly formed Women’s Prayer Group that restored my soul. For the first time in a long time, I was experiencing Church. Not the smug, scared, resistant face of some organization calling itself church, but the welcoming, intentional, safe haven I needed to come back to life. I was free to ask hard questions or say nothing at all. I was allowed to be vulnerable, to be human. But I was also a part of this tiny Body of Christ in the basement of the Canterbury House, and that meant I was called to give the same love and offer the same restoration to other members. We couldn’t do it alone. We had each come as individuals to be healed by one another, but we had also become something different, and better. We had become church.

The church is why I left and the church is why I came back.

There will be pain in this place. There will be hurt feelings and rash decisions and ignorance. But we are called to ABIDE here, in each other, in Christ. We wither and die when we go it alone. In her book, Searching for Sunday, Rachel Held Evans says it this way: “Like it or not, following Jesus is a group activity, something we’re supposed to do together.”

I need you to be Christ for me and, though you may not always feel it, you need to have access to the tangible, living Christ on earth, here in this community and in the universal church.

untitled

Let me die
in the summertime
by a window, with
the warmth, pushing
through the fragile skin
of my eyelids

Let me die
in a quiet
room; with the
tea kettle on
in the kitchen and
the laundry spinning,
pulsing like
blood through beating hearts.

Let me die
with a cat
at my feet and
a hand holding mine and
a smile tracing
my lips
And the sunshine –

Oh, please let me
die in the sunshine.

mansplaining: a definition and how to avoid it

Mansplaining in Four Points

1. Women are often socialized to approach their opinions passively by prefacing them with “I think” or “I feel” to lessen the blow of their words and distance themselves from potential controversy. When a man responds to a woman in the way men are often socialized to do by saying “This is how things are…” many women feel like they’re being bossed around or that the conversation is being hijacked by the man. This is often unintentional, but it’s still worth paying attention to, particularly when the woman is trying to share a personal anecdote rather than have an academic discussion.

2. Mansplaining as a term can only be used to describe a man’s conversational tone and behavior toward a woman or women because it results from the power imbalance between men and women in patriarchal societies.  Women can certainly be demeaning and callous to others, but this behavior does not fall under the category of mansplaining.

A man who mansplains is likely to use a patronizing, instructive tone with women that he doesn’t use with men. Or, as often happens in forums and comments sections of blog posts, he will specifically choose to address the comments made by women and avoid confrontation with any men involved, perhaps because he feels his arguments will hold more weight with women. He will often talk at instead of conversing with and will bring information into the conversation that derails it altogether instead of moving it forward.

(A friend pointed out that some men, rather than engaging with women in a condescending manner, will ignore women’s comments altogether. I’d say this is part of the same problem. In both cases, the woman’s comment is taken less seriously than the man’s.)

3. Mansplaining is a useful term for addressing this problem, but I don’t find it productive to call a man out for mainsplaining when I’m in conversation with him, especially if the incident occurs in a public setting (or on a public post on social media). It’s not helpful (or gracious) to use dismissive language like this because it cuts off the line of communication. It stops the conversation dead in its tracks, which makes it impossible to effectively address the problem. If you know the man involved, it may be best to take it up with him privately and preferably in person. If he is a stranger, just get the heck out of there (and maybe write a blog post about it!).

4. You’re much more likely to get called out for mansplaining if the woman you’re talking to doesn’t know you very well (or if you’re legitimately a jerk). It’s hard to read tone when you can’t envision what it would be like to talk face to face or when the woman has no sense of the assumptions you’re making about her during the conversation. For this reason, it’s important to articulate your point clearly and with kindness, especially if you insist on having the conversation online. Otherwise, try to meet up in person. Treat each other like adults who deserve to live in the world and have opinions and you’ll be okay.

Mansplaining is real, but it doesn’t justify women being jerks. Men and women are both guilty of  interrupting. Sometimes women say dumb things. This isn’t about refusing accountability, it’s about having productive and meaningful conversations that help us understand each other and the world a little bit better. Sometimes – oftentimes – that means checking our privilege. It means hearing each other out, respectfully.

month in review: 10/14

When’s the last time I did a Month in Review post? Why, it was January 2013!

I’ve been reading Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly and in it she cites research that indicates that those who are acutely aware of what they’re grateful for are more contented. That makes a lot of sense to me, but often I’d rather not “waste” time contemplating the good things; I’d rather distract myself with activities or blogs or online shopping. But I’ve been feeling awfully restless and discontent for no real reason, so I think it’s time to give this another try.

fg2

In October, I (often with Daniel in tow):

  • coordinated the thrift shop’s anniversary sale
  • attended a beautiful wedding
  • partied it up at a friend’s birthday party
  • visited with college friends who came to visit
  • picked apples at Carter Mountain Orchard
  • ate delicious, home cooked apple pie thanks to the friends who came to visit
  • sight saw on Skyline Drive on a foggy day
  • sang a solo part in the church choir
  • moved my fair trade blog over to Blogger (and got 1,070 views in the first month!)
  • wrote about lessons learned working at a thrift shop
  • went on my church’s 2nd annual hike
  • helped secure funding for the thrift shop’s maintenance fund
  • watched Fright Night with friends on Halloween
  • started reading Silence by Shusaku Endo

two post it notes

Someday, when the world begins
to darken, I’ll
walk in the silence
of early morning, peering
into empty shops with
cataract gray eyes

And I’ll remember being
young, moving fast, skin
smooth like a new bar of soap,
and wondering when I would
make it.

I’ll know then, there
is no making it.

Child, you’re already home.

At 4:00, I’ll eat my
dinner, just the basics –
salad, potato, tea.

And I’ll look out the window
near the garden and watch
the early robins feast
until my eyelids flicker,
slowly, closed.

The final act, not a drama but a lullaby.

Hobby Lobby pro-life?

I already talked about the Hobby Lobby case in various corners of the internet, but I realize it’s something I should address here because I take an approach few critics are taking, and it has a lot to do with the topic of my blog, Style Wise.

If you haven’t already heard, the Supreme Court exempted Hobby Lobby from providing certain types of birth control believed to act as abortifacients (basically, birth control that keeps a fertilized egg from implanting on the uterine wall). While I’m ideologically pro-life, I think it’s better to regulate the market and make safe options available to women than to restrict more invasive types of birth control. But I’m not all that disturbed by the immediate repercussions of this particular case. What scares me is that the court had to argue that Hobby Lobby is protected under rights normally granted to individuals. Corporate personhood is a slippery slope!

hobby lobby quote

All that aside, Hobby Lobby represents a type of Christianity prevalent in America that so heavily favors capitalism it can’t see the plank in its eye (that’s a Bible reference! Matthew 7:5). I should know because I worked there for a year. Because I helped set up a local store, I got to see the first boxes of products arrive. I had a lot of time to read the labels and scrutinize the products. As it turns out, the majority of products are made in China. And this isn’t artisanal stuff; it’s sweatshop quality. Even the custom frames are shipped from China. It doesn’t take long to realize that Hobby Lobby, a company that plays Christian elevator music over its speaker system and donates to Texan homeschool organizations, is making profit – a lot of profit – on goods sourced from sweatshops.

There have been several articles that point out the hypocrisy of buying product from a country with a one child policy, but I don’t think this approach goes far enough. It’s not just about abortion! If you’re going to be pro-life, that should extend to everyone. Everyone deserves a chance at life, even poor people in China, even non-Christians, even people who don’t like Americans very much.

hl2

What kills me about the Hobby Lobby case is that they had the resources to revitalize their production chain and provide better wages and better protections to the people who toil to make cheap shadow boxes and “handcrafted” garden statues, but instead they directed their time and money to the petty task of trying to prove a point about the shortcomings of universal health care.