Tuesday, April 14, 2015

I found something sacred in Rachel Held Evans' "Searching for Sunday"

I've been looking forward to Rachel Held Evans' new book Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church for several months. Her excellent blog has challenged, affirmed and inspired me over the last few years. Books written by bloggers often read like scrapbooks of their greatest hits: A rehash of the post that went viral here, an astute observation from commenter Mary L. from Kansas there. Thankfully, Searching for Sunday is not that.

It is an honest, hopeful meditation on her disorienting drift away from her childhood church into the wilderness of doubt, then back to a renewed search for community and the discovery of Christ's Bride in unexpected places.

While many topics covered in her book have been discussed extensively on her blog, Evans resists recycling popular posts. Instead, the book benefits from her versatility as a blogger. Chapters like "Chubby Bunny" humorously relive Evans' childhood growing up small town Baptist. Chapters like "The Meal" showcase her training as a journalist as she interviews the pastor of an innovative, inner-city "dinner church" in New York. Chapters like "Trembling Giant" meditate on the awesome single organism that is an entire forest of quaking aspens in Fish Lake, Utah, as a metaphor for the universal church.  Still other chapters, like "Dust," stem from Evans' Bible college education, reading like beautiful sermons that explore stories from scripture.

Surprisingly, the entire book maintains cohesion, poetically arranged around the seven sacraments of baptism, confession, holy orders, communion, confirmation, anointing the sick and marriage, a choice possibly inspired by her and her husband's eventual returning to Sunday morning church as Episcopalians.

On that note, evangelicals or conservative Christian readers who are unfamiliar with Evans should know that she left her own evangelical church over the debate about same-sex marriage, of which she is a strong and thoughtful supporter. But this book is so much more than that one issue. Evans gives readers the space and grace to follow their own hearts, minds and consciences as she shares her own journey.

The book closes on a quiet, slightly open-ended note. My husband pointed out that he wished she had ended with a little more pizzazz. Perhaps, we thought, Evans could have finished on a celebratory note, with vignettes of a handful of fellow searchers who left and landed at diverse versions of "Sunday." I agreed that the finale wasn't my favorite part of the book, but wondered if the lack of closure was intentional. It might signal that she's not done searching. And even if she is, I'm sure she didn't want her book to be seen as a narrow promotion of one particular church, even the one to which she and her husband eventually came home. 

In conclusion, I whole-heartedly recommend this book to anyone harboring secret or outspoken fears, doubts or disenchantment with organized religion. Evans' words breathed hope into my hardened places and tuned my eyes and ears to notice the Spirit's moving among the little "c" churches and the big "C" Church.

*I happily received an advance copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.*

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