The first thing I can say about Searching for Sunday is that it’s a very slow read.
I know that beginning a book review with a sentence as loaded as that one can run the risk of implying that the book was dense or boring or simply a chore to get through. Those implications, however, couldn’t be further from the truth, so allow me a moment to explain myself more fully.
Yes, the third literary offering by Rachel Held Evans (officially released today: April 14) was actually a slow read for me. But that’s only because it’s the kind of book that requires enough time to actually slow down and experience it.
Fifteen minutes between one meeting and the next? No… I need time for the experience.
Sitting in the waiting room of the auto body shop? No… I need space for the experience.
Late night quiet time after a 12-hour day? No… I need alertness for the experience.
It’s a wonder, then, that I ever managed to find conditions acceptable for reading this book. Eventually, I recognized that if I waited for the right time, I’d be waiting forever.
So, my experience ended up looking a lot like this: a day off, seated in a reading chair, with a cat on my lap and the aroma of a morning cup of coffee by my side.
It was then and there that I became immersed in her story.
And that’s exactly what this text is: Rachel’s story. A memoir that describes her own journey of (as the book’s tagline puts it) “loving, leaving, and finding the church.”
Rachel Held Evans grew up in Dayton, Tennessee, well-known for being the epicenter of the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial. Growing up in conservative evangelical Baptist circles, she was essentially shunned when she began to express doubts, or ask difficult questions, or reflect more deeply about the unintended consequences of a particular theological position.
Having once been “intoxicated with certainty,” she now found herself filled with doubts. What she quickly learned she lacked, however, was a space to voice them.
She discovered that most folks – while faithful people, no doubt – would rather find an easy cure for her ills than to walk alongside her through them. Eventually that lack of support, coupled with the increased political action of her church in a fight against marriage equality, led her to simply start sleeping in on Sunday mornings.
Books abound that describe the well-known phenomenon of millennials leaving the church in droves. Entire conferences are organized for reflection upon the incredible statistical rise of the “spiritual, but not religious” – those who find beauty and truth in spirituality but who often find organized religion to be toxic. Webinars explore frequently-used descriptions of the church that first emerged from a groundbreaking Barna Research study: the church is too political, too judgmental, too homophobic.
Pastors, educators and other ministry leaders flock to these resources, perhaps as an effort to simply stay informed, but more likely out of a deeply-lodged anxiety that comes from a church that’s graying and splintering and appearing to be somehow losing its relevance altogether.
Pastors, educators, ministry leaders – really, anyone with an interest in the church and its future – would do well to flock to Searching for Sunday, as well.
“Why don’t young people want to be a part of the church anymore?” Perhaps somewhat by accident, Rachel Held Evans has found herself attempting to answer this question on behalf of millennials everywhere… on her blog, in interviews, and as a speaker at conferences.
This, despite the fact that – at age 33 – she readily admits to being “barely a millennial” herself. This, despite the fact that she is not a scholar per se, nor a preeminent theologian, nor even a pastor. This, despite the fact that she has only one story to share: her own.
But again, that’s what Searching for Sunday is all about: exploring the deepest doubts and concerns of every generation, and especially the perspective of the millennials among us, through the lens of her own faith journey.
Organizing her faith journey by means of the seven sacraments of the Catholic, Orthodox, and Episcopal traditions (Baptism, Confession, Holy Orders, Communion, Confirmation, Anointing the Sick, and Marriage) allows for an intimate touch:
“When my faith had become little more than an abstraction, a set of propositions to be affirmed or denied, the tangible, tactile nature of the sacraments invited me to touch, smell, taste, hear, and see God in the stuff of everyday life again. They got God out of my head and into my hands. They reminded me that Christianity isn’t meant to simply be believed; it’s meant to be lived, shared, eaten, spoken, and enacted in the presence of other people.
Throughout the text, she weaves her own voice together with the voices of those she’s met along the way: family and friends, colleagues and mentors, fans and acquaintances. She has seen and heard and experienced the church at its best. Unfortunately, she has also seen and heard and experienced the church at its worst.
I have never considered myself to be evangelical (let alone Episcopalian, the denomination where she currently finds comfort). But I join with Rachel Held Evans in the shared belief that the church does indeed have Good News to share.
In large part due to the strong and faithful witness of the congregations to which I’ve been connected throughout my life, I have never felt an urge to take a break from the church or to leave it altogether. But I join with Rachel Held Evans in hoping and praying that the church might be a “place of refuge for its own refugees.”
I, as a straight, white, cisgender male have never had an experience of deep emotional wounding by the church. But in knowing and loving so many faithful folks who bear the marks of emotional scars, I join with Rachel Held Evans in praying that the church might become a place of healing.
Rachel’s story is not yet over. In some respects, one could argue that she remains in a state of “loving, leaving, and finding the church” to this day, and perhaps for her whole life henceforth and forevermore. She continues to celebrate the church and the traditions that introduced her to the Christian life, even and especially as she continues to heal from the disillusionment, frustrations, and pain that those same traditions have caused. Even and especially as she continues to search for a place to call home.
“In my struggle to find church, I’ve often felt that if I could just find the right denomination or the right congregation, if I could just become the right person or believe the right things, then my search would be over at last. But right’s got nothing to do with it. Waiting around for right will leave you waiting around forever.
I'm grateful for the beautifully-written reminder that we all have a seat at God’s Table and that that seat remains even when our doubts threaten to overpower us. In it all, God's Grace abounds. And I, for one, give thanks for the invitation.
The wait is over: Searching for Sunday is released today! If you order it this week, you also get a free gift.
Searching for Sunday has earned a coveted 'starred review' by Publishers Weekly.
I'm grateful to Nelson Books, Inc., an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, for the invitation to be a part of the Searching for Sunday launch team and for sending an advance copy of the text.
I'm a husband, father, news junkie, theatre lover, enneagram enthusiast, bi advocate, amateur foodie, wannabe barista, and an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA).
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