I had been eagerly waiting for Rachel Held Evans’ new book Searching for Sunday to hit the shelves ever since I heard that it was in the works. While I’m only an occasional reader of her blog, which is more issue-focused and, frankly, sometimes too abrasive for me read consistently, I was deeply impacted by her first book Faith Unraveled, which told the story of her transition from an utterly confident (sometimes judgmental) completely sure-of-her-own-rightness Christian to one who wanted to wrestle with hard questions rather than write them off. So many of her stories and experiences and reflections were uncannily similar to my own and that book was like water in the desert to my soul.
When I learned that her new book would be specifically about her loving, leaving, and finding church again, I couldn’t wait to read it. All I can say is that it was even better than I was expecting it to be. Once again, I felt like I was reading my own diary at so many moments. To the point that if someone wanted to know where I’m at with the church, I would probably just hand them this book and say, “She says it better than I could.”
For the past few years I’ve struggled with church. And even as I’ve tried to remind myself that church isn’t primarily about what I can get out of it and that not all churches are the same, I’ve felt an increased disinterest in participating in the church. This has become more of a concern recently as we prepare to move back to the US, a move which will necessitate our finding a new church. I’ve found myself reluctant to even try. By the time I finished this book, I felt understood, even validated. But I also felt hope.
In the introduction, Evans’ pinpoints the reasons for the dissatisfaction that so many of our generation are feeling with the church:
“We don’t want to choose between science and religion or between our intellectual integrity and our faith. Instead, we long for our churches to be safe places to doubt, to ask questions, and to tell the truth, even when it’s uncomfortable. We want to talk about the tough stuff – biblical interpretation, religious pluralism, sexuality, racial reconciliation, and social justice – but without predetermined conclusions or simplistic answers. We want to bring our whole selves through the church doors, without leaving our hearts and minds behind, without wearing a mask….
We can’t be won back with hipper worship bands, fancy coffee shops, or pastors who wear skinny jeans. We Millennials have been advertised to our entire lives, so we can smell b.s. from a mile away. The church is the last place we want to be sold another product, the last place we want to be entertained.
Millenials aren’t looking for a hipper Christianity. We are 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 bread, in wine, in baptism, in the Word, in suffering, in community, and among the least of these.”
The rest of the book is structured around the seven sacraments – Baptism, Confession, Holy Orders, Communion, Confirmation, Anointing of the Sick, and Marriage – but if that sounds dull and dry, don’t be fooled. This isn’t a book of theology. This is a very vulnerable and personal story masterfully woven together with the story of the church and with some breathtaking theological truths. Take for example this profound reminder that
“…what makes the gospel offensive isn’t who it keeps out, but who it lets in….
Grace got out of hand the moment the God of the universe hung on a Roman cross with outstretched hands looked out upon those who had hung him there and declared ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’
Grace has been out of hand for more than two thousand years now. We best get used to it.”
Evans writes about stepping away from the church for a while as she wrestled with questions that no one seemed to want to discuss and becoming critical and cynical about the body as a whole. I saw myself in this, the way I began to feel when I went to my parents’ church or my in-laws’, or visited a new church with my husband.
“I expected the worst and smirked when I found it. So many of our sins begin with fear—fear of disappointment, fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of death, fear of obscurity. Cynicism may seem a mild transgression, but it is a patient predator that suffocates hope…”
For years I found myself growing more and more cynical about the church to the point that it was sometimes a struggle for me to admit that it could ever do any good at all, and this cynicism made it very difficult for me to accept that God is still using the church today. That, as Evans’ says,
“Church is a moment in tie when the kingdom of God draws near, when a meal, a story, a song , an apology, and even a failure is made holy by the presence of Jesus among us and within us.”
I can’t claim that I agreed 100% with every single word and idea in this book, but that really doesn’t matter to me because I agreed wholeheartedly with the spirit of this book which was like an empathetic companion in my grief, an understanding friend, and sustenance for my sometimes starving faith.
To me, the most beautiful thing about this book is that while it fully acknowledges the many problems with the church, particularly the evangelical church, it also leaves the reader with hope that maybe church can still be worth it. Maybe there is still value in this broken body. Maybe there is something so essential about the church that it’s worth investing in, in spite of all her failures.
Evans concludes, “God surprises us by showing up in ordinary things: in bread, in wine, in water, in words, in sickness, in healing, in death, in a manger of hay, in a mother’s womb, in an empty tomb. Church isn’t some community you join or some place you arrive. Church is what happens when someone taps you on the shoulder and whispers in your ear, Pay attention, this is holy ground; God is here. Even here, in the dark, God is busy making all things new.”
Once after attending a service at my in-laws (genuinely lovely) church I turned to my husband and said, “I just can’t do it. If that’s what it has to look like for me to be a Christian, then I don’t want to be one. I don’t fit with the floral clad church ladies making small talk, I’m not moved by the choir, and I refuse to laugh at jokes that aren’t funny just because the pastor said them. I’m sorry, but I can’t ever do church like this.”
But this church that Evans writes about, this is a church I just might want to be a part of.
Sounds like an interesting book, another one to add to the list! I can’t comment on the book as I haven’t read it, but I wanted to give you some encouragement as you struggle with the whole idea of “church”. I understand your disappointment and frustration with the church. There are many ways in which the North American evangelical church has gone astray, I think, and we can all think of exact examples to validate this claim. But I can’t believe that the solution for professing Christians is to leave the church. I can’t see that being a viable option in Scripture, if we are honest. What I have slowly learned in my life, small and unremarkable as it may be, is that the church is the place where we learn to be unselfish. Here are the people that I am in community with, and that I must love. How am I going to do that? Now some of those people are easy to love, and they are the ones I gravitate to. But it’s the others, the gruff German man whose first words always seem to be criticism, the older lady who rebukes you for something that you didn’t see as an issue, the awkward pastor who is painfully naive. I don’t particularly want to hang out with these people, never mind love them. But thankfully my hubby is made of better stuff, and he has never allowed me to hide amongst the people who make me happy. Christ calls us to love the members of his Body, and meet regularly, and to encourage each other. He calls us to forgive each other and to build each other up. He calls us to serve one another. “Let us do good to all men, especially to those who are of the household of the faith.” (Gal. 6:10). I don’t see how you do this apart from being in a church. Yes, it is hard. But I suspect that is the point. Anyway I hope this is some encouragement to you. There is no perfect church, as none of us are perfect. I’ll be praying for you that you will find a church that will be an encouragement to you, and where you will be able to use your gifts for the encouragement of others, and all for His glory.
Thank you so much for this message. I agree with you that it seems clear from scripture that the church is essential and even when I don’t like it, I can’t get away from the fact that God’s plan is to use the church and to work in the church and for believers to live in community with others. I grew up in a church that was abusive. The pastor had absolute and unchecked control and (most) of the congregation hung on his every word. This experience deeply damaged myself and the other members of my family. While I understand that not every church is this way, and I have been a part of three other churches since then, the fear and the wariness runs deep. Because my family and I were deceived for a long, long time. We believed in the rightness and the righteousness of our church and our pastor and our beliefs. And so I am hesitant with new churches. I am hesitant to throw myself into another community. Not because the people aren’t perfect and we will make mistakes and hurt each other, but because I am wary of church leaders and I am wary of those who follow them. I am especially wary when I consider settling in at a church that I might raise my own family in someday.
All of that to say, there are reasons for my mistrust and my frustrations. But as you said, I don’t think the answer is to turn away entirely, even if that’s what I want to do. I don’t think I’ll ever find a perfect church, but sometimes I despair of even finding a healthy one. But again, if the church is how God desires to work in the world, and the church is broken in some profound ways, how will she heal without the presence of the people who see that brokenness and call her to higher standard? I’m rambling now, but all of that to say that I don’t think leaving the church is the right answer, but that doesn’t mean I’m always excited about staying. 😉
Sorry I just saw your reply today – I totally understand where you are coming from. I am so sorry that you grew up in a church that allowed their pastor to be that way. I can see how that would be very damaging to people who truly believed in the absolute power of a pastor. Unfortunately that does happen. It’s sad and very disheartening when the church is the cause of pain in people’s lives, as it is meant to be the place of healing and refuge. I will pray that God will lead you to a church where there is freedom and accountability among the people and where He is able to help you find a true community.
Thank you, I appreciate it. 🙂
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Reblogged this on Infornet and commented:
Hi Lily, Good evening … Then here is your follower and admirer Brazilian!
I’m wondering if you know the work of some Brazilian writer?
Sincerely Yours; Rogério !!!
Hi! Thanks for the reblog! I think the only Brazilian writer I know is Paulo Coelho. Do you have any that you recommend?
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Yes Lily, gladly will spend the 10 most admired writers Brazilians.
If you have any questions? I will try as much as possible clear it !!!
The 10 most admired writers of Brazil
The Ibope heard 5,012 people from five years of age in 311 municipalities and reached the 10 most admired writers of all time in Brazil.
The survey was commissioned by the Pro-Book Institute, which aims to get a picture of the reading habits of the Brazilian people.
1. Monteiro Lobato
2. Paulo Coelho
3rd. Jorge Amado
4th. Machado de Assis
5. Vinicius de Moraes
6. Cecilia Meirelles
7. Carlos Drummond de Andrade
8. Erico Verissimo
9. José de Alencar
10. Mauricio de Souza