This ‘book’ really ties the room together. My neighbours are probably wondering what book I’ve been reading on my patio because at some points I’ve laughed or chuckled out loud while reading Rachel Held Evan’s book Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church (usually because of references to The Dude). I know I audibly sighed in agreement and in anger. And I know for sure that at one point I had to put the book down to run inside to grab some Kleenex because I was weeping. And that right there is the church! Joy. Connection. Frustration. Sorrow. Suffering. Yet the church is also full of healing, and that is Held Evan’s message to her reader: the church does (and should) offer healing. It’s not a short-term numbers game driven by fear, but instead it’s playing the long game of loving others.
In her book, Rachel Held Evans offers her own personal experiences with church. She starts off by writing this:
“Millennials aren’t looking for a hipper Christianity, I said. We’re looking for a truer Christianity, a more authentic Christianity. Like every generation before ours and every generation after, we’re looking for Jesus—the same Jesus who can be found in the strange places he’s always been found in: in bread, in wine, in baptism, in the Word, in suffering, in community, and among the least of these.” (Pg xiv)
It is always interesting to hear someone else’s stories and experiences and try to see yourself somewhere to find a similar experience. The need to tell stories and to be heard is essential to healing, which Held Evan’s realizes and she does not shy away from sharing triumphs and epic failures for all to read. I truly appreciated her reflection both about her own thoughts and feelings about church and the reflections of others she has listened to along the way. She seeks to find a place where people are ok to talk about failures, sorrow, pain, grief, and then to help each other, not with quoting Scripture verses by memory or offering advice,but by being present and open. She is looking for genuine community, just like in the early church and with Jesus and his disciples and followers.
One of my favourite sections of the book is Held Evans talking about her faith and her struggle to keep going. She uses the image of the labyrinth, which is something that has become important in my own faith practice. She says this:
“It has become cliché to talk about faith as a journey, and yet the metaphor holds. Scripture doesn’t speak of people who found God. Scripture speaks of people who walked with God. This is a keep-moving, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other, who-knows-what’s-next deal, and you never exactly arrive…I believe the journey is more labyrinth than maze. No step taken in faith is wasted, not by a God who makes all things new.” (Pg 180)
No step is wasted. I like that she is strong enough to see her mistakes and distance from God as a step. Just like a labyrinth, there is only one path that guides us, even though it feels and looks like we are lost. Further on, she writes, “The church doesn’t offer a cure. It doesn’t offer a quick fix. The church offers death and resurrection. The church offers the messy, inconvenient, gut-wrenching, never-ending work of healing and reconciliation. The church offers grace. Anything else we try to peddle is snake oil. It’s not the real thing.” (Pg 209)
Her comparison to an ‘authentic’ church and a recovery group was wonderfully accurate: “At its best, the church functions much like a recovery group, a safe place where a bunch of struggling, imperfect people come together to speak difficult truths to one another.” (Pg 67) In my own personal experience, it has been gathering to Communion/The Lord’s Table/Eucharist that has always been the most profound to me: all kinds of people going through all kinds of things come together to share in eating the same bread and drinking the same wine. Community and the hope of resurrection and God’s Kingdom come. I like my church full of imperfect people: a transgendered man, a gay couple, an elderly widow, children, a homeless man, a woman and her mother, a single father. I like that on Sunday mornings I am reminded that God is present everywhere and in everyone, even, and especially, when we aren’t perfect.
“It’s strange that Christians so rarely talk about failure when we claim to follow a guy whose three-year ministry was cut short by his crucifixion…There is a difference, after all, between preaching success and preaching resurrection. Our path is the muddier one.” (Pg 112)
“On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” (John 7:37)