Book Review: Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans

cover63896-mediumSome friends and I (who I was reading this book with) compared her to some other popular Christian authors. She comes in above the rest because her writing is relatable. I think there are some stuffy old white men who don’t really get feedback from their writing. But RHE is a blogger and is constantly getting feedback – I think that’s part of the reason she’s so good. (I didn’t come up with that – I have to give credit to a friend for it.)

Some of the passages are really beautiful. There’s a lot of great stuff in the section about the Holy Spirit.

And her experiences are so, so, so relatable! If you’ve been in churches that have strained credulity, or have hurt people, you can relate to a lot of what she’s saying.

But unfortunately, after reading the last 2 sections, I felt like the book failed. I get that it’s a narrative about Rachel’s searching.

Here is some of the beauty in the chapter titled Oil.

We know now what the Creator knew then: that the olfactory nerve is connected to the amygdala, the part of the brain associated with memory and emotion, which is why the fragrance of a particular flower or the scent of a certain soap can suddenly flood a body with a memory, stunning in its visceral clarity. God wanted his people to know his scent. He wanted them to remember. And so the pages of Scripture positively drip with oil.

But in the same section (different chapter), she tells the story of Claire who gave birth to a stillborn baby. She couldn’t find any healing in the church. She had to find it outside the church.

And then something clicked. (With me, I mean.)

Rachel keeps talking about what the church is supposed to be as opposed to what it is. I keep hearing from Christian authors over and over and over what the church should be.

And what they find is when they bring their pain or their doubt or their uncomfortable truth to church, someone immediately grabs it out of their hands to try and fix it, to try and make it go away. Bible verses are quoted. Assurances are given. Plans with ten steps and measurable results are made. With good intentions tinged with fear, Christians scour their inventory for a cure. But there is a difference between curing and healing, and I believe the church is called to the slow and difficult work of healing. We are called to enter into one another’s pain, anoint it as holy, and stick around no matter the outcome.

She goes on…

But if the world is watching, we might as well tell the truth. And the truth is, 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.

As Brené Brown puts it, “I went to church thinking it would be like an epidural, that it would take the pain away . . . But church isn’t like an epidural; it’s like a midwife . . . I thought faith would say, ‘I’ll take away the pain and discomfort, but what it ended up saying was, ‘I’ll sit with you in it.’”

But this is exactly what (in my experience) the church doesn’t do. I mean, look at Claire!

This is the difference between what the church is and what the church should be.

More on this difference:

I had a conversation with someone the other day who said he wondered if perhaps LGBT Christians had a special role to play in teaching the church how to more thoughtfully engage issues surrounding gender and sexuality. I told him I didn’t think that went far enough, that ever since the Gay Christian Network conference, I’ve been convinced that LGBT Christians have a special role to play in teaching the church how to be Christian.

Christians who tell each other the truth.
Christians who confess our sins and forgive our enemies.
Christians who embrace our neighbors.
Christians who sit together in our pain, and in our healing, and wait for resurrection.

If this is rare in Christianity then aren’t we trying to fit a square peg into a round hole?

I feel like Rachel is, to paraphrase the writer of the Proverb, like a dog returning to its own vomit. (Proverbs 26:11)

Or, to extend Rachel’s own metaphor about looking at an ex’s Facebook, it’s like a woman returning to her abusive boyfriend.

She says, “So basically my relationship with evangelicalism is like a Taylor Swift song set to repeat.”

And this made me think:

And I am missing out. I am missing out on a God who surprises us by showing up where we don’t think God belongs. I am missing out on a God whose grace I need just as desperately, just as innately as the lady who dropped her child sponsorship in a protest against gay marriage. Cynicism may help us create simpler storylines with good guys and bad guys, but it doesn’t make us any better at telling the truth, which is that most of us are a frightening mix of good and evil, sinner and saint.

Why is leaving evangelicalism missing out on God??

Why does it have to be a church? This whole book is about church, and Rachel – in this one section – defeats her whole thesis. Which seems to be that church is, or can be, a worthwhile thing.

And in the next section, she says this:

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.

Yes!

But I feel like that everyone goes back to this having to be “church”.

I rarely find this in church.

I find it when spending time with my family.

I find it hanging out with my friends on Tuesday night discussing this book, among other things.

I find it when I get into deep discussions about life, religion, and politics with online friends I have grown close to.

It just feels like all of the Christian authors I read default to this place being a literal church – even Rachel, in this book.

But maybe we need a paradigm shift. Maybe we need to stop trying to find this in church if church hurts so much. I think we can find this outside of church.

I’m giving it 3 out of 5 stars. Because it was beautifully written. But in the end, I was just left a bit hopeless.

Thanks to NetGalley and Nelson Books for a copy in return for an honest review.

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