I originally shared this piece on The 3:30 Project, a collaborative blog I worked on with two good friends. One month, we shared our thoughts on Rachel Held Evans’s book Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church. Rachel Held Evan’s passed away early on May 4th, 2019. I am honestly surprised by how sad I am to hear this news. Since reading ‘Searching for Sunday,’ I have, in fact, found a church home. I have continued to follow and have come to deeply admire Evan’s continued work and advocacy for a better church; her willingness to ask Christianity to face its sin and hypocrisy; and the way she cultivated spaces online and in real life for people who felt left out or kicked out of church. If you feel moved to contribute to her family during this time of devastating loss, there is a Go Fund Me Campaign to support her family here.
I think it’s fair to say that I’ve been experiencing an eight year-long crisis of faith.
Maybe faith isn’t the right word. It’s been a crisis of church. I feel a homeless, and I don’t know where to go.
Like basically every Christian I know, one of my favorite writers on Christianity and faith is C.S. Lewis. There is a moment in the fifth The Chronicles of Narnia book The Silver Chair where some of the kids and a Marshwiggle named Puddleglum get trapped under ground, and the Emerald queen is trying to convince them that there is no Narnia, that Aslan is a dream, and that only the darkness of the cave is real.
Puddleglum finally says:
Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all of those things—trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones… We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the playworld. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia… and that’s a small loss if the world’s as dull as you say.
Puddleglums statement sums up why, for me, faith isn’t the problem: “Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up all those things.[…].Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. […] I’m on Aslan’s side, even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it.”
That’s it. I believe that love is the force that heals and leads the universe, and if that isn’t true, it’s okay with me to act like it does — even if that makes me a little crazy.
But church can be hard to come by.
When I think about my faith and my life, I want my faith to be relevant and useful, even if Christianity isn’t “real.” When I look back on my life, I want to know that I treated people with love and kindness, that I remembered “the least of these,” that I practiced forgiveness – because heaven or no heaven, Jesus or no Jesus, Noah’s ark or no Noah’s ark – I have faith that this way of living will make my life richer, happier and more valuable for me.
Does that still count as faith?
I feel out-of-place in church, and it’s been so long since I’ve attended regularly that the mere thought of hunting down service times, getting dressed, and showing up sends my anxiety into a tailspin. What if they find out I believe in global warming? What if they preach a political platform from the pulpit? What if they don’t let gay people be members? What if I go once and it’s not a good fit, but I see someone I know and they’re offended that I don’t like their church?
The few times I’ve had the courage to step into a sanctuary over the last few years, I have felt like a stranger in my own land. I don’t like being the new kid. I don’t like introducing myself to people. I don’t like not knowing where the bathroom is. And, Culture Wars aside, I’m frustrated when I hear sermons that are answering questions I don’t have about my Christian life. I don’t need to know who’s not getting in to heaven. I don’t need to feel superior to non-Christians. I don’t need the Bible to be infallible to be full of many truths. I don’t need anyone to tell me that I shouldn’t have to wrestle with my faith because Jesus has already done that for me. And I really don’t want to wonder if someone is telling my daughters that they are somehow less worthy than men because Eve ate the apple first.
But I still find myself longing for Christian community.
So, when I saw the title of Rachel Held Evan’s book, Searching for Sunday, I thought: “Yes – that.”
I can relate to Evans’ desire to intellectualize church – to protect myself from judgement by being judgmental, to evaluate the merits of a church’s doctrine. And I can also relate to Evans’ description of the Evangelical church as “an ex-boyfriend who’s Facebook page you can’t stop checking”
I find myself speaking up for God and the church when I see nay-sayers (most recently, I engaged with a stranger on Facebook about whether or not God was causing hurricanes…). But, on Sunday mornings, I expect a lot from my church. I see a lot of church’s “reaching out” to people my age by having rock concert quality music from their Worship Team, changing their names (examples: The Meet Up, Roots, Cool place that’s not Church but is actually Church), modernizing their logos, having services at some other time, building a coffee shop (okay…I love the coffee shops).
And I believe that God loves our joyful noise (whatever music you play), and that it’s good to update your logo every 500 years or so, but I’m not trying to decide between church and rock concerts (maybe I’m the only one?). I don’t want to go to church and have to pretend I’m doing great all the time or that I don’t have any problems because I have Jesus.
I love this sentiment:
“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.”
I would like to go to a place like that…I think. But…how do you walk in the door the first time? How do you figure out from a church’s website if it’s more recovery group or “place where we pretend we don’t have problem because we have Jesus?” And…would that mean accepting that other people need something different from their faith than I do?
I want my daughters to know God…but I want them to know God as a loving friend who’s there with you in hard times, who will help you clean up your yard after a hurricane, bring you dinner when you’re overwhelmed, listen to you when your totally confused and don’t know why, and call you out for your bad behavior. I want the voice of God in their head to be a voice of love – not one of judgement, righteous fury, and perfectionism.
But…by being so picky about how other people experience God, and I not being a judgmental perfectionist myself? Reading Searching for Sunday, I felt a sense of comfort. Here is a friend who knows what I’m going through. At least I’m not alone.
And isn’t that we are all ultimately afraid of? And isn’t that what church and community offer us? The ultimate truth that we are not alone. That we are all struggling and wrestling with the challenges of life together.
I am still searching.
This is where I left this in 2017. Today, I would like to add:
We we driving through a terrible rain storm today when I found out that Rachel Held Evans passed away.
I have been praying for this warrior of faith and her family, even though I don’t know what it means to believe prayer works. I wouldn’t have had the guts to say that if Rachel hadn’t said it first.
But, as the rain cleared, the sun came out and this half-hearted rainbow showed up in the sky.
It seemed appropriate. I’m not sure God send us messages via rainbows, but if she does, I think this one would be say: “Yes, beautiful things can come from dark and sad moments, but we don’t have to like it.”
I’m so grateful to Rachel Held Evans for sharing and holding space for my doubts, for asking the church to be better, and most of all I’m grateful to her for starting early. For starting before she was ready, before the church was ready for her, and long before I would come across her blog and books.
In honor of Rachel, I will never again pass up an opportunity to say: I’m a Christian who has gotten comfortable with uncomfortable doubts; I’m not always sure I believe in God, but I’m pretty certain that God loves everyone and wants there to be room for everyone in our churches; and I have no information about what will happen after this life, but I’m so grateful that some people choose to spend their lives loving and ministering to people anyway, because people need that kind of thing.
Thank you Rachel, for being.