Searching for Rachel Held Evans

Today marks the one year anniversary of the death of Rachel Held Evans. She was a Christian columnist, blogger and author. She wrote two New York Times bestsellers, Searching for Sunday and A Year of Biblical Womanhood. She was 37 years old when she died from a reaction to medication for an infection.

I only recently discovered her writing. I am about halfway through her book, Searching For Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church. I don’t agree with everything she writes, but agreement isn’t the point. As she says in her book, “I am writing because sometimes we are closer to the truth in our vulnerability than in our safe certainties.”

Rachel Evans possessed the ability to use her life’s struggles with Christianity to challenge the American church to get past black and white thinking, the tiresome culture wars, and the Christian tendency to shut out others, rather than invite them in. Even though I just started reading her book a week ago, I identify with her writing. I’ve lost a lot of my earlier fervor for the church in recent years.  Like Rachel, I have sat out Sunday at home for a season, rather than attend church. And like Rachel, I am back in although with reservations.

I never lost my faith in God, but I have had my doubts about his church. However, I have found that I need the church with all of its blemishes and faults. To quote Rachel from Searching For Sunday, “They (church friends) reminded me that Christianity isn’t meant to simply be believed; it’s meant to be lived, shared, eaten, spoken, and enacted in the presence of other people. They reminded me that, try as I may, I can’t be a Christian on my own. I need a community. I need the church.”

What I like about her writing is how she continually points out Jesus’ tendency in the Gospels to break tradition, to invite the marginalized and challenge the religious mindset of his generation. Christianity isn’t supposed to be a place where we fortify our mindsets against the world, secure a battlement against society, and keep out the impure. So many times, that’s what has happened as we have devolved into a self-righteous camp of naysayers.

This is my favorite quote thus far by Rachel Evans, “This is what God’s kingdom is like: a bunch of outcasts and oddballs gathered at a table, not because they are rich or worthy or good, but because they are hungry, because they said yes. And there’s always room for more.”

On this day, the anniversary of her death, I hope I can honor her life with remembering I am an oddball at the table, hungry for something more, and leaving room for one more.



15 thoughts on “Searching for Rachel Held Evans

  1. Never heard of Rachel, but she sounds like someone I’d like to get to know. I agree that too much of Christianity recently had turned into finger-pointing and alienating people who might not agree with us.


    1. I think church people wouldn’t like Jesus himself in their midst. He spent most of his days turning things upside down. Do you think Jesus would like to be around these so called Christians who are gun-toting Republicans and who actively hate gays, Democrats, and Muslims?


  2. I find it interesting that what one believes is a direct result of two things: Religion of one’s parents and where in the world one is born.The latter, of course, almost always determines the former. If you’re born in China, you likely believe in Confucius. If you’re born in Japan, you’re almost certainly a follower of Shinto or Buddhism. If you’re born in Mexico, you’re almost certainly Catholic, not just Christian, but a specific form of Christianity. If you’re born in India, you’re probably Hindu. Pakistan, Mohammedan. If you’re born in Mississippi, chances are excellent that you’re Baptist. In short, eternal truth is a slippery thing.

    Humans are funny things, ¿no?


    1. I agree that certain areas of the world have different religious world views. That’s obvious. However, China is one of the most fertile places for Christianity today. Japan, as far as I understand from the few younger people I have met from there recently, essentially has no religion at all. And Mexico may have a heritage of Catholicism, I believe that Evangelical Christianity has made lots of inroads there. I don’t think my brand of Christianity has all eternal truth perfectly laid out, but it meets my needs very well.


  3. Like Al, I have not heard of Rachel Held Williams,. That is not entirely true. I have heard her name and I have seen excerpts of her work. But I have never read any of her works in full.

    She reminds me of Anne Lamott and Philip Yancey — two writers I enjoy reading, but do not always agree with, but who always make me challenge what and why I do believe. Thank you for the some additional things to consider.

    I have been considering writing an essay about the issues surrounding guns in churches to make everyone start considering what Christian principles look like in operation. On one of my visits north, the shooting in the Texas church had just happened. My Mom was listening to a Christian talk show while I was in the tub. She likes the volume loud enough that I do not miss a word.

    The host was relarting the story of the shooting, when he got to the part where the church security man shot the shooter dead, the audience burst into loud applause and hooting. It seems that the audience may have skipped over quite a few of Jesus’s teachings. The application of those teachings is not easy. But we really do need to consider them.

    With that conversation, we just may realize “Christianity isn’t meant to simply be believed; it’s meant to be lived, shared, eaten, spoken, and enacted in the presence of other people.”


    1. The fact that there was a good guy with a legal gun in that church saved countless murders. This is certain. If it had happened in, say, Chicago, they would have been pulling numerous innocent bodies from that church, and irrational Democrats would have been screaming for even more gun-control laws.

      “Gun-toting Republicans” are an excellent thing. And so is Texas.


      1. Steve doesn’t mention if the guy carrying a gun was a Republican. I am committed to being first about the Kingdom of God, not about party. Those of us who are Kingdom of God followers need to remember where our first priority is and always should be – following Christ. Jesus in his earthly ministry, condemned violence. As Paul wrote, we who are following Christ are called to show fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, self-control, and more. Living that way is harder than just rattling off virtues.


      2. Oh, I reread my comments. I did mention gun-toting Republicans, didn’t I? I really do want to be better than that. I shouldn’t have mentioned Republicans and Democrats in my comments to Alfredo. I truly don’t want to be partisan.


    1. I don’t know. I do know that politics and party affiliation were stumbling blocks for Jews of Jesus’ day, who denied Jesus as Messiah, mainly due to their political and party affiliations. The two major religious camps of the day were also political groups: the Pharisees and the Saducees. They were both guilty of wanting to hold on their political power, and thus, denied the significance of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Power, politics, and religion are old bedfellows.


    2. Politics is the basic building block of societies. It is how humans interact with one another, and It is far more than campaigns and elections. Politics is/are everywhere, even churches.

      One should not ignore politics. To do so puts you at peril.


      1. I do not know how we got where we are with our attitude towards politics and Christianity, but I do have some theories that are not really pertinent to this exchange.

        Christianity is not anything unless its principles are lived out daily by Christians. And I agree that politics is part of our lives, even though I rate it as far less important in our daily routines than does Felipe. But, for the sake of this discussion, let me concede that it is an important aspect of living.

        Christians have been leading forces in favoring social change based on Christian principles. Without their support abolition, public education, prohibition, anti-war demonstrations, and the civil rights movement would have been poorer in spirit. I once told a friend who was ranting that the separation of church and state meant people should not think about religious ideas when making any political decisions that my faith informs every single decision I make in life — and that includes politics. He was aghast. He was also shocked when he realized the civil rights movement was spearheaded by Christian ministers.

        So, yes, I agree Christians should apply their principles to politics just as they should apply them to how they deal with the cancerous issue of violence and anger.

        What has changed is that Christians of all stripes have let themselves get sucked into the same type of virulent division that harms our society. We demonize one another with labels. Liberals. Evangelicals. Fundamentalists. Each one separating Christians from one another rather than uniting in the faith we hold in common. Someone once asked me in the 1980s if I was worried that the church would harm politics. I told him that I was far more worried that politics would harm the church. And it has.

        I find it hard to believe that the Jesus who instructed his disciples to turn the other cheek and to forgive seventy times seven would have applauded the death of a person — even one who was committing murder. He would have done as he did on hearing of Lazarus’s death: Jesus wept.

        Christianity is not a comic book faith. Its principles are just the opposite of what we think of when we describe human nature. But it is seeking answers for the hard questions and applying those lessons to our lives that softens our hearts in dealing with one another.

        What is the correct answer for dealing with violence in the world? I don’t have it all worked out. But I do know the principles. And killing people while letting God sort it all out is not the answer. He has given us far better ways of dealing with one another.


  4. Once again, Steve, your insightful comments are welcome here. I might add that our current freedoms in the West for women are a result of Christian thought, too. Western civilization owes much to Christians who engaged the world of politics from a Christian point of view.


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