For the past few weeks I’ve been diving into Rachel Held Evans’ new book Searching For Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church, as part of the book’s launch team. In this book, Rachel recalls her own experiences with the church, while exploring what church really is. She does this through the imagery of seven holy sacraments:
Baptism – Confession – Holy Orders – Communion – Confirmation – Anointing of the Sick – Marriage
Evans’ grew up in the American Evangelical church, renowned for it’s stringent answers to questions, strong and stern faith, and it’s whole-hearted community. It is also known for it’s political beliefs and potent presence on the US political stage. Much of her writing is centered around her search for the Christianity of Jesus, as opposed to the Christianity of modern day America. Sometimes she’s too liberal for me, sometimes just liberal enough, but I love a good debate, and I love someone who wrestles with their theology and scripture instead of blindly believing because that’s just what you do.
Honestly, I was expecting more of this combined with a history book on the sacraments. Her first book Evolving in Monkey Town (recently re-packaged as Faith Unraveled) was a personal tale yes, but littered with fact and history. Her second book, and one of my favorite books A Year of Biblical Womanhood wrote the book on being literal. I was expecting more of the same from Searching For Sunday, and that would not have been a bad thing.
What I got instead was a poem. A lyrical insight into the church as a body, as a people, as a living breathing thing. At times I had to pause and take in the magnitude of a turn of phrase, or an idea. This was not a simple retelling of things we have read on her blog. It was not a simple list of how the sacraments were formed and are practiced in modern times. Often I had to pause and remind myself that I was not reading Anne Lamott or Barbara Brown Taylor. Evans’ may have been searching for, and found the church, but she found something else along the way, her voice.
So many people try and paint Evans as an angry young heretic. However, this book, is not 95 Theses nailed to a door, this book is a modern day Psalm for the evolving church. This book, as it says in chapter 6 pours ointment on wounds, and bathes them in essential oils. As it says in chapter 4 it brings everyone to the table to feast on the truth. This book could unify, if people could get over themselves and let these words be these words without subtext or confrontation.
Very early on in my reading, I was thrown to the floor by a statement Evans’ makes upon leaving the church of her childhood:
Who will bring us casseroles when we have a baby?
These words have echoed around my soul. They are bouncing around in my brain, through my heart, off my teeth, down to my toes.
So what happens to your community when you decide to leave a church? Who are your people? Who can you turn to? And who will bring you casseroles when you have a baby?
By the end of the book, I think Evans’ had answered her own question by defining the church as “a moment in time 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’m a deacon at my church, and even before then, I don’t let go of people. If someone leaves our four walls, for whatever reason, I am still to be found praying for you, checking in on you, and yes bringing you casseroles if you have a baby. I don’t like to let go of someone until I know they have found somewhere, some tribe, to call home. This is usually helped by the fact that I have friendships that have survived church splits and mass exodus’s anyway. But still, the church is bigger than a building, and quite frankly is bigger than this thing we call a body.
This sad sentence, Who will bring us casseroles when we have a baby? reaches to the deepest nature of the church; that it is everyone and belongs to everyone. The church as opposed to my church. The church as opposed to the Church I go to on Sunday morning. Who will bring you Casseroles? I will.
I have never had a bad break from a church. I have seen division. I have seen nasty church splits and spirit led church splits. I have seen my church torn apart by differing agendas and come through weary but stronger. And even though I have never been personally hurt by the church, I am still searching for Sunday, for that moment we all long for, when Jesus comes into clear focus and everything else just fades away. That is a search I am happy to partake in on a daily basis, whether at my coffee table, just me and my bible, or at my church singing along with my family. I want to keep searching, I never want to rest, or be complacent, or fall asleep, I want to search and find, and then search and find all over again.
I’m going to need to digest everything I gleaned from this book, then go back and read it again. It is a deep, universally applicable book, that explores the church through the beauty of its practices. Searching For Sunday reaches far beyond the words on Evans’ blog, far beyond the media hubbub that surrounds her commentary, the book reaches deep into the soul of the American church and recognizes it for what it is, the church of Jesus Christ. And there’s nothing we can do to it that will take away that fundamental truth.
I received an advance copy of Searching For Sunday for review.