Saturday, May 11, 2019

Goodbye, Rachel.

“There are recovery programs for people grieving the loss of a parent, sibling, or
spouse. You can buy books on how to cope with the death of a beloved pet or work through the anguish of a miscarriage. We speak openly with one another about the bereavement that can accompany a layoff, a move, a diagnosis, or a dream deferred. But no one really teaches you how to grieve the loss of your faith. You’re on your own for that.” -Searching For Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans

Generally speaking, I prefer to read fiction over non-fiction. Historical fiction is my favorite genre, as it blends learning about historical characters, events, settings, etc. with the escapism I love about fiction. However, sometimes, a special non-fiction book or author comes along and works their way into my heart. Rachel Held Evans was one such author. 

I grew up in a conservative Christian home. I have attended Church of God, non-denominational churches, the Roman Catholic Church, and eventually the LDS Church (aka Latter-day Saints, aka Mormons.) I grew up hearing and internalizing some pretty strict messages about Christianity and what the world should look like. The worldview I formed was a very conservative right-wing worldview that saw no problem entangling politics and faith, using politics to try to push my faith onto the rest of the world by way of legislation. Separation of church and state only ran one way, and that direction benefitted me and the people who believed the way I did.

Eventually, my life experiences and post-high school education brought me to the conclusion that I didn’t know everything, I didn’t have all the answers, life wasn’t as black and white as I had thought, and my views were to rigid. I won’t get into the long journey of my faith crisis because this is not about my faith crisis, but a faith crisis did happen. I got angry and sad. My feminist and liberal awakenings came along with the realization that oppression is not only still very real, but is being actively upheld by the beliefs I had internalized and regurgitated, by many of the very congregations I attended.
I told them we’re tired of the culture wars, tired of Christianity getting entangled with party politics and power. Millennials want to be known by what we’re for, I said, not just what we’re against. 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.”-Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans

As I questioned my faith and my beliefs and whether there was a place for me in Christianity, I stumbled into MoFem (Mormon Feminist) circles, and started hearing about an author named Rachel Held Evans and, very specifically, her book Searching For Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church. Other MoFems were saying “This book made me cry. She GETS it.” I checked out Rachel’s Facebook page and twitter and was amazed by what I read there. I bought the Kindle version of Searching for Sunday, and… wow. It was like Rachel was reading my mind somehow and writing MY feelings and questions down, like she was writing directly to me and my siblings who felt pushed out and excluded, discarded, cast out by our congregations because our views no longer matched theirs. My friends, I am normally a very fast reader. I get frustrated with e-books sometimes, because it takes so much longer to listen to them than to read books myself. It’s not that I skip around or don’t comprehend what I’m reading, I am just a fast reader. I always have been. But Searching for Sunday was different. It actually took me a couple of years to finish Searching for Sunday because it wasn’t a book I could rush. It evoked so many different feelings and required a lot of processing. Reading it, and reading it slowly over time, was an incredibly soothing and healing process. It was a balm to my soul. Reading Searching for Sunday and reading Rachel’s posts on social media and the comments and conversations of her followers, and the posts of my friends who were also reading her writing was like finding a much needed community of people who, like me, were hurting over the treatment we and/or our family and friends received at the hands of “Christians” who preferred to use the Bible as a weapon to try to force us to conform to their narrow worldview that endorsed racism, sexism, LGBTQphobia, and a myriad of other forms of oppression.
I explained that when our gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender friends aren’t welcome at the table, then we don’t feel welcome either, and that not every young adult gets married or has children, so we need to stop building our churches around categories and start building them around people.” Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans

In Searching for Sunday, I found insight and a message of love and solidarity, a reminder that we are never alone, a reminder that faith is not the same as organized religion. In Rachel Held Evans, I found a kindred spirit, albeit one I never had the pleasure of meeting in person. Rachel’s words have made an indescribable difference in my life and the lives of so many other people I know. I say indescribable because even though I am trying clumsily in this post to describe what her writing has meant to me and the impact she has had on me, it’s not possible to achieve that because it goes beyond words. Rachel Held Evans was an amazing person who used her gift with words to speak up for people whom many in Christianity have tried so hard to push to the margins and cast out (yo, Mormons, I’m DEFINITELY including us in this). She used her writing and her privilege to challenge the status quo and make a difference in the world. She publicly asked questions that made people uncomfortable. She confronted injustice and inequality and fought against oppression. She called on us to be live an unconditional and active love, to walk together as we heal.
Healing is not an event, but rather a journey we walk as we make our way back to the memory of God.” Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans

Rachel’s writing has been a huge part of the puzzle of me feeling comfortable with the fact that my beliefs don’t fit a very specific structure demanded by any one church. Her writing has helped me get to a place of acceptance with the fact that my faith is based on the teachings and character of Christ rather than a curriculum set by privileged white men. She inspired me to be strong and brave and not to fear pushing back against a status quo that says that I, as a woman, am a second class citizen of Christianity, that teaches hate and exclusion for people whose sexuality, race, religion, and political party isn’t the same as the leadership of the churches I grew up in or the churches I claimed and wandered through as an adult in search of a spiritual home. She said it was okay to doubt, that doubt didn’t mean I was lost. She helped me find my way to a belief that grace and love are more important than an archaic law that Christianity teaches is no longer applicable, right up until we conveniently need to point at it as justification for denying rights to people whose beliefs aren’t the same as ours. Would I have found my way without her? Yes. But it would have been a much more lonely path.

On May 4, 2019, Rachel Held Evans died. I cried when I found out, and my heart continues to hurt. I am 100% positive that she is at peace now, and I do not mourn for her. I mourn for myself, for her family and friends, for the people who read her writing, and for Christianity and the world at large, as we grieve the loss of an amazing person who made the world a better place. Even though I’ve already taken 3 pages of writing to try to explain a little of what she and her writing meant to me, I’ve only scratched the surface. Rachel Held Evans was a treasure, and she will be missed more than I can say. I wish I could have met her, but I guess I’ll have to wait to meet her on the other side of mortality.

Goodbye, Rachel, and thank you.
“Millennials aren’t looking for a hipper Christianity, I said. We’re 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.” Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans