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.

real beauty sketches

When I was a shy 14 year old, a woman at the music camp I attended sat me down and told me I had a beautiful smile, a smile that would light up a room if I’d let it. She doesn’t know it, but she greatly impacted my life in a single compliment. For the first time, I understood that others saw me as more than a musty piece of art to be critiqued – I understood that my appearance could not be captured in a flat image, that I was capable of revealing something beyond physical beauty in the features of my face, and that the hundreds of expressions I chose to contort my face into had an impact on my level of attractiveness. I wasn’t always able to hold onto that truth when the day had been difficult and the stress breakouts lingered on, but it’s stuck with me for a decade.

At this stage, I think I have a fairly positive opinion of my appearance compared to many women. That being said, I’ve had moments of incredible melancholy (or is it melodrama?). I remember sobbing on the floor of my parents’ room after a particularly bad acne breakout and the subsequent havoc I wreaked on my face in an attempt to pick and scrub the flaws away. I convinced myself that I would be happy when my acne went away. My skin has cleared up significantly since then, but there’s always something else to pick at or whine about.

I didn’t anticipate that this video would impact me as much as it did. It’s important that it has nothing to do with styling or makeup or contouring. It’s about self perception versus the perception of regular people who have nothing to gain or lose by describing someone as they see them. As a result, they see through sunspots and acne and laugh lines and begin to search for the physical signs of character, kindness, and love.

There are so many blog posts on self love that I was hesitant to post on the subject myself. But the issue I have with the type of self love promoted by (many) beauty and fashion bloggers is that it remains superficial. Sure, there’s value in looking at myself and saying, “You are beautiful.” But there’s greater and more lasting value in looking at myself and saying, “Your face is fine, but what does your heart look like? What are you doing to reveal love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control in dimples and laugh lines and ruddy cheeks? Or, are you conveying sadness, anger, and jealousy in scowls and frowns and furrowed brows?”

Because character counts when it comes to beauty. It counts for more than we realize. And simply telling myself I’m a good person doesn’t make me one. I am beautiful because I’m taking steps toward making my heart beautiful, toward helping others see beauty in themselves and in the world around them. And if those statements are true, others will see my beauty, too.

The women in this video are perceived as beautiful because their surveyors see humility and goodwill in their mannerisms and hear kindness in their voices. Any physical flaws fade to the background.