Last Saturday author/speaker Rachel Held Evans went home to be with the Lord. She was hospitalized two weeks before with flu like symptoms and an urinary tract infection. She was given antibiotics that she had an allergic reaction to and went into seizures. The doctors induced a coma but she was never able to regain consciousness and died suddenly and unexpectedly. . Rachel was just 37 years old and leaves behind her husband Dan and their two young children, a three year and an 11 month old.
This was her last blog post dated March 6, 2019 as she reflected on Lent. The last sentences are particularly poignant:.
“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, or the loss of your faith as it once was. You’re on your own for that.” – Searching for Sunday
As the season of Lent commences, I am aware this year of all who find themselves in a season of frustration, grief, and lament over the church or their place in it.
The evangelical embrace of Trumpism. The abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church and Southern Baptist Convention. The United Methodist Church’s divisions over LGBTQ inclusion. Not a day goes by that someone doesn’t reach out to me, in person or online, to tell me they feel betrayed by their family of faith-by what has been done, and by what has been left undone.
This path of lament is a well-worn one for me, so for the next forty days, I’ll be taking to social media-Facebook, Twitter,Instagram, and here on the blog-to share quotes, music, books, podcast episodes, prayers, and other resources that have been especially helpful to me in acknowledging the wounding of the church (both personally and systemically) and working toward healing (both personally and systemically).
If you want to read along, I’ll be drawing most heavily from Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy, Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faithby Lisa Sharon Harper, Mae Elise Cannon, Troy Jackson, and Soong-Chan Rah, Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor, and Searching for Sunday by Yours
Truly. I hope the series will be helpful.
It strikes me today that the liturgy of Ash Wednesday teaches something that nearly everyone can agree on.
Whether you are part of a church or not, whether you believe today or your doubt, whether you are a Christian or an atheist or an agnostic or a so-called “none” (whose faith experiences far transcend the limits of that label) you know this truth deep in your bones: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return.”
Death is a part of life.
My prayer for you this season is that you make time to celebrate that reality, and to grieve that reality, and that you will know you are not alone.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
Rachel was considered a theological progressive whose views on nationalism, sexuality, feminism and social economic issues rocked the proverbial conservative boat. Some thought of her as a heretic because she marched to the beat of a different drummer and didn’t toe the conservative, right wing company line. But for many, many people, she lent voice to the honest search for God. She was a trailblazer who ventured into territory long avoided by the Church. She asked the hard, uncomfortable questions and questioned the hard uncomfortable belief systems. And by her popularity you know she is not alone. She had over 167,000 followers on Twitter and hundreds of thousands more who read her books and blogs and listened to her speak at conferences around the world. Disillusioned by the church she lost her faith and found it again. She left the church and came back. What brought her back, she once wrote was “not the latte’s and skinny jeans but the sacraments such as baptism and communion.” She wrote: “Church attendance may be dipping but God can survive the internet age. After all, He knows a thing or two about resurrection.”
Rachel loved the Lord and loved the Scripture She may have distanced herself from the “evangelical” label and her beliefs and interpretations do not necessarily need to be agreed with But she lent her voice to many, many people who are struggling with their faith, who are struggling with the God of the Bible and have more questions than they do have answers. It is important that the Church take note and realize that shutting them up, shouting them down and shutting them out is not the answer. It does not build a bridge nor does it reflect the love of Jesus. The Church needs to allow people, especially the young, to ask questions, to question their faith, to struggle with belief, to see things differently, to have different interpretations and to grapple with who Jesus is and what it looks like to follow Him.
I believe people truly are searching for God and most don’t even know it. Even people in the Church are searching for God. If we decide the Church is not the place where people can feel safe to wrestle with faith, then don’t worry, we won’t have to deal with them; they will leave and find some place else to do it.