Tag Archives: doubt

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.

Good Friday

In 2011, God was silent. I didn’t stop believing, but I was numb. Numb like cold fingers in the middle of winter: on the brink of frostbite. I was terrified of losing the religion, the community, and the language of faith that had been central to my life as a child and young adult. The stillness made me feel unhinged.

Perhaps as a way of coping with not knowing what the future of my faith looked like, I found other practices – other rituals – to fill the void. And in retrospect, the quiet cleared the clutter, opening up space for new ways of thinking and being.

I also read Still by Lauren Winner, a book I’d recommend to anyone feeling existentially lost. I realized I’d been waiting for my faith to return or to grow back to just the way it was before the silence when I should have understood this dark period as part of the path.

There is nothing wrong with feeling numb. There is nothing wrong with stillness. Nothing is lost in the process – you are still you, God is still God (much different and much more complicated than we can imagine, I’m sure), a community is waiting somewhere to love you for who you are, not what you profess on any given day.

Today I feel stable, but not always certain. I feel loved, but I’m not always sure it’s unconditional. But what I know is that living with grace and intention will never be the wrong path. See people and love them anyway. Forgive. Work toward justice. Leave yourself vulnerable to the fulfillment and pain of love.

little boxes

I’ve been thinking a lot about the hard work it takes to realize personal goals. I’m a quitter, you see.

believe

A lot of my high school graduating class has successfully transitioned to “normal” adult life. They work at banks, in cubicles, or at medical offices. They wear suits or scrubs. They participate in the thrill of rush hour. They go on cruises sometimes. But I, at almost 25, just quit my job on a production floor to work part time at a coffee shop. I’m working jobs that most certainly don’t require a four year degree. And the thing about it is that, ultimately, I chose these paths, these technical jobs. Sure, I’ve interviewed for “real” jobs, but I’ve never gravitated toward them.

What I’m trying to figure out is if I’m afraid or enlightened. We think we know ourselves, but we’ve told so many coping stories, it all gets muddled in our heads. On the one hand, I know I’m terrified of getting stuck. The thought of spending decades in an office chair working toward something I’m not absolutely passionate about makes the veins on the side of my head pop out. But I also like to think I’m (rightly) ideologically opposed to buying into the myth that adult life has to look like that, as if wearing modest black pumps to work and conducting conference calls is the badge of responsibility or the marker of success. 

But refusing that life means it’s up to me to make something happen. If I’m not willing to be propelled into stable adulthood by a corporate infrastructure, it rests on me to provide the push forward. And I’d like to pretend I’m strong enough to take care of myself; I scoff at those who take the easy way out – who settle – but I allow the fear of failure to eat away at me before I’ve really started anything.

I quit my job because it was unfulfilling, but, I swear, it’s not because I’m lazy. I have big plans for my vintage store. I’m excited to make it happen. I’m also terrified that the success or failure of Platinum and Rust is my burden to bear alone. I need to believe I can do it. I need to believe I have the skills, the tact, and the talent to succeed. I’m afraid that my peers (and parents) living in cushy, corporate stability scoff at me. I’m afraid that they don’t think I can do it. I’m afraid that their boxed-in dreams (or contentment, as it may be) masquerading as wisdom will get the best of them, and the best of me.

But it really doesn’t matter, does it? When I succeed, none of the doubt will matter at all.

I am not less

graduate photo

One Saturday night a few weeks ago, Daniel and I were in the car on the way to a potluck dinner where several grad students would be present when he asked me:

“Why do you act embarrassed that you’re not in grad school?”

I replied, “Because I am embarrassed. And I’m embarrassed now that my embarrassment was so obvious that you picked up on it.”

Here’s my confession: I’ve been embarrassed that I’m not pursuing grad school since the semester before I received my undergraduate degree.

That was always the expectation, at first from only myself and later from everyone (at least as I perceived it): peers, family, professors, coworkers, friends. I heard them saying, implicitly or aloud:

Leah is the grad school type. Leah is smart and motivated and needs to use her academic talent to better the humanities. Leah is too good to leave academia. Leah’s job as a nanny/framer/barista is obviously temporary – we know she can do better

But here I am, two years later, not in grad school. And I can’t help feeling like a disappointment to myself and everyone who invested in a dream that may have been more theirs than mine all along. And I have to learn to cope with that. To not be ashamed of myself just because I don’t have a title or prepared statement for that pervasive, incessant question: “What are you doing with your life?”

Do I have to know what I’m doing with my life? Does anyone ever stick to their early-20s response? And if they do, are they satisfied?

I need to work through my feelings of inadequacy. I need to see value in myself as a living human being trying to better myself and be good to others. I need to recognize that I am enough as long as I strive to make life meaningful – by the moment and the hour and the day.

I need others to grant me the space to breathe. I need others to have the self-respect to see themselves as more than their resumes or academic accolades so that they can see me in that light, too.

I’m trying to internalize the truth that I don’t have to – and probably shouldn’t – measure myself by someone else’s standards for success. I’m trying to overcome the pull of the myth that the highest form of human being is the employed scholar. I can be who I want to be, read what I want to read, and discuss in depth what I want to discuss without a piece of paper that tells others I’m an expert, that tells me I have the right to speak. And I can do other things too. And I have the right to respect myself for grand things like my entrepreneurial goals and lowly things like my ability to make a great cappuccino.

And I am not less for the decisions I’ve made or the place I’m in. 

See! I am doing a new thing

The planting is hard but
the Sprouting
it hurts.
Imagine! Writhing
Up against nature’s grounding force
through mildewing grime
Would you – human –
with free will, with choice
ever push? Eat dirt,
awaken?
The mums are stronger
It wasn’t their choice
It’s nature
Look! If it’s light and
dew you want
you already have it.
Dilluted/deluded
in your watery
thoughts, you were
already taken Up
You have already fought
You are a golden mum
echoing light on each
dewy drop.

“Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.”

open arms

church

I stopped going to church for nearly a year for a variety of reasons. I didn’t feel that my academic knowledge was appreciated, I was limited by my gender, I wasn’t at all comfortable with opening up about real struggle, I didn’t fit in. I think Daniel and I feared that we would never really feel at home in any church despite wanting to fellowship with other Christians, despite having chosen our majors because of our faith, despite it being a daily topic of conversation and reflection.

When we got to Charlottesville, we went to a few churches and sat in on a few small groups and just didn’t feel it. I grew up in various evangelical churches, so I know the whole rhetoric about not leeching off the church, about how “feeling” it isn’t enough. But, honestly, after struggling so much to fit into a church in college, I think that mentality covers up a real problem. People in the church, very often, are exclusive in their friendships, judgmental, and afraid to engage issues they deem too controversial. Even for two, born-and-raised Christians, the church began to feel foreign.

But we put in the effort to stick it out somewhere. We started going to an Episcopal Church, a denomination neither one of us grew up in. Known for its progressive/liberal (you choose the connotation) policies, we didn’t really consider it until we sort of fell into it. We found a group of young people who are willing to deal with controversy, doubt, and all the complexities of Christian thought head-on. We found thoughtful, compassionate, loving people who welcomed us in. We found community.

I realized last weekend, as a large group of us sat around the table at a local restaurant sipping drinks and talking about theologians, Russian television, feeling accepted, and avoiding cynicism, that I feel unencumbered – accepted – at last. Really, I laugh without inhibition, I listen, I reply, I learn something new, I think about things in a different light. I feel weightless and unimposing. I become a part of the moment instead of an acutely self-aware bystander. I realize that I’m finally fitting in. I’m at home. I don’t have to fight anymore.

The church needs to stop crossing its collective arms and start opening them to embrace all who enter in. I really believe that there is a place for doubt and skepticism in the church, that it’s a part of everyone’s spiritual journey. Without transition and struggle and stagnancy, there is no incentive to push forward and keep developing as a follower of Christ. I’ve found a group of people who know that, who walk with me in that, who lead me forward to hope and faith again.

I encourage you to seek out a community of followers who love without inhibition.