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Posts Tagged ‘Rachel Held Evans’

Rachel held Evans headshot

Like many people I know, online and off, I’ve spent the past week beginning to mourn Rachel Held Evans‘ death.

Rachel came across my radar nearly a decade ago, just before she released her first book, Evolving in Monkey Town. She was already writing online about faith in a way I’d rarely seen before: asking hard questions, wrestling with the tenets of the Christianity she’d grown up with and the layers of (often frustrating) evangelical messages attached to it.

After a warm email exchange, Rachel sent me an advance copy of Monkey Town. I read it avidly and found myself nodding at almost every page. Our experiences, as women raised in southern evangelical churches around the same time, were strikingly similar, and she rendered hers so well.

I kept reading Rachel’s blog, sometimes tweeting about her work or to/with her, for years afterward. I watched her grow bolder and more powerful in calling out the abuses of power (and abuse of many other kinds) perpetrated by churches and church leaders. She had the energy for the kind of online engagement I often shrink from, but I was (am) in awe of her voice and the way she used it. She wrote three other books, all of which I read and found well worth reading. She was no plaster saint: I watched her speak in impatience and anger sometimes, and I watched her listen and apologize and try to do better.

Rachel believed, fiercely, in the kind of Love that makes room for resurrection and redemption for all people. She championed the voices of women and LGBT people in the church. She made space for so many of us to grieve and doubt and ask questions – especially those who are refugees from a certain kind of evangelicalism, but who have not been able to stop wrestling with this story. She admitted, always, that she did not have all the answers.

We were all hoping and praying Rachel would get better after she went into the hospital with an infection a few weeks ago. My heart aches for her husband and two small children, her parents, and all those who knew and loved her. (Like Rachel, I am one of two sisters who are very different but love one another deeply, and I especially hurt for her sister Amanda.)

I’ve been amazed, in the last week, by how many people in different parts of my life have spoken about Rachel and what she meant to them. We miss her deeply, already. She was smart and fierce and thoughtful, kind and funny and faithful and brave. I never got to meet her in person, but she was my friend. May she rest in deep peace and love.

(Image from Rachel’s site)

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I met Rachel Held Evans via blogland and Twitter, and was thrilled to receive an advance copy of her memoir, Evolving in Monkey Town. So here, for your pleasure (and because I promised her), is my glowing review of the book.

Rachel grew up (and still lives in) a small, conservative Southern town, and graduated from a conservative Christian college. In these ways, as in so many others, her experience parallels mine. So it’s no surprise, particularly since I love her blog, that I loved her book. I read it in three days – would have read it all in one sitting if I could have. And I’ve been thinking about some of her statements and questions ever since.

Rachel admits in the introduction that at 28 she’s probably too young to be writing a memoir. And that she tends to change her mind. And that she doesn’t have all the answers or even very many of them – but this is her story, what she’s seen and heard and lived, and she hopes it will be helpful or informative to others. I appreciate her honesty here and throughout the book.

Like me, Rachel grew up in a culture obsessed with apologetics – and much of her early training was about “always being ready to give an answer” to anyone who questioned Christianity (or espoused evolution, or voted Democrat). As she points out, though, being ready to give a reason for eternal hope (which is what 1 Peter 3:15 actually says) is quite different from being ready with an arsenal of answers to fire off at anyone who dares oppose your views. And a lot of people, in both her life and mine, have overlooked the next part of the verse, which exhorts Christians to talk about their faith “with gentleness and respect.”

Rachel takes us through some of the major events of her faith journey, including her profession of faith, baptism and “sword drills” at church. She talks about going to apologetics conferences, winning the Best Christian Attitude Award, and trying to be a “good Christian” by every possible measuring stick. And then she shares how, through a series of events that really shook her up, her carefully constructed, certain faith began to fall apart.

My ultra-certain faith disappeared the day my friend Cheryl was killed in a car wreck in 2004. Rachel’s began to disappear when she heard about a young Muslim woman being killed and wondered what would happen to her after she died. For both of us, these events prompted major questions about the existence and methods of a loving God. And several years later, after lots of studying and conversations and more questioning, we’ve both come out on the side of faith. But our faith looks different than it used to.

I heard Mike Cope say a few years ago that faith is more of an art than a science. I’ve heard Richard Beck and many others say that doubt is part of a healthy faith. I’ve heard many people admit to having far more questions than answers when it comes to God and what He’s up to in this world. And yet it’s still really hard to live that way. It’s harder to “live the questions,” as Rainer Maria Rilke famously wrote to a young friend, than to live believing you have all – or at least most – of the answers.

However, Rachel – and I – are choosing to live the questions, for now. We’re choosing to live in the space between the certainty of our childhoods and the big questions nobody can answer. We’re choosing to believe that faith can adapt and evolve, that the faith of today doesn’t have to look like the faith of ten years ago. And I am so grateful to have a companion like Rachel on the journey. She asks thoughtful, thought-provoking questions; she believes this stuff really matters; and she conducts dialogue with grace and humor on her blog. If you’re the sort of person who likes to ask big questions, or who believes that faith can and should evolve over time, I highly recommend that you buy this book.

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