New York Times bestselling author Rachel Held Evans embarks on a quest to find out what it really means to be part of the Church.
Like millions of her millennial peers, Rachel Held Evans didn’t want to go to church anymore. The hypocrisy, the politics, the gargantuan building budgets, the scandals—church culture seemed so far removed from Jesus. Yet, despite her cynicism and misgivings, something kept drawing her back to Church. And so she set out on a journey to understand Church and to find her place in it.
Centered around seven sacraments, Evans’ quest takes readers through a liturgical year with stories about baptism, communion, confirmation, confession, marriage, vocation, and death that are funny, heartbreaking, and sharply honest.
A memoir about making do and taking risks, about the messiness of community and the power of grace, Searching for Sunday is about overcoming cynicism to find hope and, somewhere in between, Church.
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About the Author
New York Times bestselling author Rachel Held Evans (1981–2019) is known for her books and articles about faith, doubt, and life in the Bible Belt. Rachel has been featured in the Washington Post, The Guardian, Christianity Today, Slate, HuffPost, and the CNN Belief Blog, and on NPR, BBC, Today, and The View. She served on President Obama's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and kept a busy schedule speaking at churches, conferences, and universities. Rachel’s messages continue to reverberate around the world.
Read an Excerpt
Searching for Sunday
Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church
By Rachel Held Evans
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2015 Rachel Held Evans
All rights reserved.
... by God's word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water.
—2 Peter 3:5
In the beginning, the spirit of god hovered over water.
The water was dark and deep and everywhere, the ancients say, an endless primordial sea.
Then God separated the water, pushing some of it below to make oceans, rivers, dew drops, and springs, and vaulting the rest of the torrents above to be locked behind a glassy firmament, complete with doors that opened for the moon and windows to let out the rain. In ancient Near Eastern cosmology, all of life hung suspended between these waters, vulnerable as a fetus in the womb. With one sigh of the Spirit, the waters could come crashing in and around the earth, drowning its inhabitants in a moment. The story of Noah's flood begins when "the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened" (Genesis 7:11). The God who had separated the waters in the beginning wanted to start over, so God washed the world away.
For people whose survival depended on the inscrutable moods of the Tigris, Euphrates, and Nile, water represented both life and death. Oceans teemed with monsters, unruly spirits, and giant fish that could swallow a man whole. Rivers brimmed with fickle possibility—of yielding crops, of boosting trade, of drying up. Into this world, God spoke the language of water, turning the rivers of enemies into blood, calling forth springs from desert rocks, playing matchmaker around wells, and promising a future in which justice would roll down like water and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. And the people spoke back, seeking purity of mind and body through ritualistic bathing after birth, death, sex, menstruation, sacrifices, conflicts, and transgressions. "Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean," the poet-king David wrote; "wash me, and I will be whiter than snow" (Psalm 51:7).
It is naïve to think all of these ancient visions must be literal to be true. We know, as our ancestors did, both the danger and necessity of water. Water knits us together in our mothers' wombs, our ghostlike tissue inhaling and exhaling the embryonic fluid that grows our lungs and bones and brains. Water courses through our bodies and makes our planet blue. It is water that lifts cars like leaves when a tsunami rages to shore, water that in a moment can swallow a ship and in eons carve a canyon, water we trawl for like chimps for bugs with billion-dollar equipment scavenging Mars, water we drop on the bald heads of babies to name them children of God, water we torture with and cry with, water that carries the invisible diseases that will kill four thousand children today, water that if warmed just a few degrees more will come crashing in and around the earth and wash us all away.
But just as water carried Moses to his destiny down the Nile, so water carried another baby from a woman's body into an expectant world. Wrapped now in flesh, the God who once hovered over the waters was plunged beneath them at the hands of a wild-eyed wilderness preacher. When God emerged, he spoke of living water that forever satisfies and of being born again. He went fishing and washed his friends' feet. He touched the ceremonially unclean. He spit in the dirt, cast demons into the ocean, and strolled across an angry sea. He got thirsty and he wept.
After the government washed its hands of him, God hung on a cross where blood and water spewed from his side. Like Jonah, he got swallowed up for three days.
Then God beat death. God rose from the depths and breathed air once again. When he found his friends on the shoreline, he told them not to be afraid but to go out and baptize the whole world.
The Spirit that once hovered over the waters had inhabited them. Now every drop is holy.CHAPTER 2
All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was.
I was baptized by my father. His presence beside me in the waist-high water of the baptistery marked yet another perk to having a dad who was ordained but not a pastor, able to participate in my spiritual life without ruining it. The expectations of the daughter of a Bible college professor are much laxer than those of a preacher's kid, let me tell you, and mainly involved gentle suggestions that I redirect some of the questions I asked in Sunday school to the one person in my life who knew ancient Hebrew and could explain over breakfast exactly how God managed to create light before the sun.
So I mostly believed my father when he assured me I wouldn't go to hell for waiting until I was nearly thirteen to get baptized. Mostly. I knew I was pushing the limits of the "age of accountability," the point at which kids no longer ate for free at O'Charley's or got into heaven based on their parents' faithfulness, and I knew that some Christians believed you had to get baptized to be saved. In a rude introduction to the realities of denominationalism, I'd been informed by a fifth-grade classmate that even though I'd asked Jesus into my heart when I was in kindergarten, I needed to seal the deal and get baptized quick before a car accident or nasty fall off the tall slide took me straight to the devil.
"My pastor says you have to be baptized with water before you can be baptized by the Spirit," the boy explained, a general practitioner recommending me to a specialist from across the monkey bars. "You should probably get that taken care of."
"Well, my dad went to seminary and he says you don't have to be baptized to go to heaven," I shot back.
(I should mention I attended a Christian elementary school where "my dad's hermeneutic can beat up your dad's hermeneutic" served as legit schoolyard banter.)
A lot of the kids at Parkway Christian Academy went to the Pentecostal church across the street and during prayer-request time delivered numinous accounts of demons sneaking into their bedrooms at night and flashing the lights or flushing the toilets. They took spiritual warfare super-seriously and considered my family liberals for trick-or-treating on Satan's holiday. My father said demons were in the temptation business, not the toilet-flushing business, but his assurances didn't stop me from trembling beneath my covers some nights, afraid to open my eyes and face the thick presence I knew to be a fallen angel looming over my bed, waiting to seize the easy prey of a girl who went trick-or-treating and hadn't bothered to get baptized. By the time I reached the age of accountability, I'd seen enough doctrinal diversity within the church to want to cover my bases, so I began working more questions about baptism into our regular theological conversations around the dinner table, hoping my parents would make an appointment with our pastor. When I learned that some kids got baptized before they even teethed, I bristled with envy.
Our church believed the Bible, so we practiced immersion. Believer's baptism, we called it. Had we lived in sixteenth-century Switzerland, we might have been killed for such a conviction, symbolically drowned or possibly burned by fellow Protestants who considered the "second baptisms" of the radical reformers heretical. (Fun fact: more Christians were martyred by one another in the decades after the Reformation than were martyred by the Roman Empire.) If I'd been born into an Orthodox family, I'd have been submerged as an infant three times over—first in the name of the Father, then in the name of the Son, and then again in the name of the Holy Spirit—before being placed, stunned and sputtering, into the arms of a godparent. If my family had been Catholic, I'd have worn a soft white baptism gown and a priest would have poured holy water over my bald baby head to remit the stain of original sin. If we'd been Mormon, two witnesses would have stood on either side of the font to ensure my entire body was totally submerged in the water. If we'd been Presbyterian, a few sprinkles symbolizing my place in the covenant family of God would do. Fortunately, while disagreements regarding the method of baptism abound, these days Christians prefer giving one another the stink eye over the stake.
I don't think it matters much. Believer's baptism strikes me as something of a misnomer anyway, suggesting far more volition in this circumstance than most of us have. Whether you meet the water as a baby squirming in the arms of a nervous priest, or as an adult plunged into a river by a revivalist preacher, you do it at the hands of those who first welcome you to faith, the people who have—or will—introduce you to Jesus. "In baptism," writes Will Willimon, "the recipient of baptism is just that—recipient. You cannot very well do your own baptism. It is done to you, for you." It's an adoption, not an interview.
The church that adopted me was Southern and evangelical and, consequently, obsessed with college football. Under the leadership of Gene Stallings, the Alabama Crimson Tide was rolling toward its twelfth national championship, so on Sunday mornings after game day, the traditional pews of Bible Chapel in Birmingham were mottled with red and white hair bows, neckties, sports jackets, and blouses—the sacred accoutrements of Alabama's second religion (or first, depending on who you ask).8 There were a few Auburn fans in attendance, but they were nearly as elusive as Democrats. A single Italian family, the Marinos, comprised our ethnic diversity. We gathered together beneath a vaulted ceiling of Alabama pine and, like good Protestants, faced a heavy, unadorned pulpit. It was the '80s, so all my earliest memories of Jesus smell like hair spray.
At the time, I had no concept of evangelicalism as a unique, relatively recent expression of Christianity with roots in eighteenth-century Pietism and the American Great Awakenings. Instead I understood evangelical to be an adjective synonymous with "real" or "authentic." There were Christians, and then there were evangelical Christians like us. Only evangelicals were assured salvation. Everyone else was lukewarm and in danger of being spewed out of God's mouth. Our Catholic neighbors were doomed. Nine-hundred miles away, in Princeton, New Jersey, my future husband was winning trophies in the pinewood derby at Montgomery Evangelical Free Church, which for many years he took to mean was a church free of evangelicals, like sugar-free gum. "But aren't evangelicals the good guys?" he remembers asking his mother. How early we learn to identify our tribes.
Our pastor at Bible Chapel—Pastor George—hailed from New Orleans and let you know it with his booming bayou drawl and purple-and-gold striped ties. Stout, playful, and a true raconteur, his favorite sermon illustrations involved drawn-out stories about fish that got away and gators that nearly ate him alive. My mother would sometimes tease him after the service by saying he was as bad as the Gideons, a group of Bible distributors whose tales of miraculous Bible encounters (there was one about a dog who delivered a tattered Gideon Bible to his homeless owner before dying in his arms) she never really believed.
I missed all but a few of Pastor George's famous sermons because my little sister, Amanda, and I were usually dismissed to children's church after announcements, hymns, and special music. My mother is a third-generation elementary schoolteacher and staunch defender of age-appropriate education with little tolerance for people who leave their kids in the service to doodle on the bulletin while a preacher drones on and on about substitutionary atonement. Having been forced to do just that as a child—often three to four times a week at a strict independent Baptist church—she made it clear to my father and to anyone else who asked that we only attended church twice a week: once on Sunday morning and once on Wednesday nights. We were conservatives, not legalists.
But even as a kid you learn pretty quick that church doesn't start and stop with the hours of service posted on the church sign. No, church dragged on like the last hour of the school day as we waited in the hot car with Dad for Mom to finish socializing in the fellowship hall. Church lingered long into the gold-tinted Sunday afternoons when Amanda and I gamboled around the house, stripped down to our white slips like little brides. Church showed up at the front door with a chicken casserole when the whole family was down with the flu and called after midnight to ask for prayer and to cry. It gossiped in the pickup line at school and babysat us on Friday nights. It teased me and tugged at my pigtails and taught me how to sing. Church threw Dad a big surprise party for his fortieth birthday and let me in on the secret ahead of time. Church came to me far more than I went to it, and I'm glad.
Given the normal Held family schedule, it felt strange to pull into the long, tree-lined gravel driveway of Bible Chapel on an early Sunday evening for our baptism service, Amanda and I quiet and nervous and strapped in to the backseat of our Chevy Caprice. Part of the reason we delayed my baptism was so she and I could be baptized on the same day, which I considered yet another example of Amanda's uncanny capacity for staying ahead of me in maturity, even though I have three years on her age. Precocious and dimpled, with olive skin and deep, mossy eyes that to this day instantly betray whatever joy or heartache is working through her heart, Amanda could pry a smile out of even the crustiest church elder. She was trusting, impressionable, transparent, and good—the last person in the world anyone ever wanted to make cry.
Pastor George called Amanda Miss AWANA because she so excelled at the Bible memorization classes we attended every Wednesday night. AWANA, which stands for Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed, is far less socialist than it sounds and in fact involved earning badges and pins for the successful recitation of the verses printed in our spiral booklets. The whole enterprise smelled deliciously of sugar cookies and the freshly laminated paper in our memorization books, and Amanda carried the scent home with her weekly, along with armfuls of ribbons and trophies. But rather than bragging, she offered to share her spoils with me. Sometimes, upon noticing I'd come home empty-handed, she quietly slipped into my fingers one of the plastic crown-shaped pins she had earned, meant to represent the crowns we would one day receive in heaven for memorizing so many Bible verses. It frightened me how much she looked up to me, how much she trusted me and rooted for me when I didn't deserve it. I was a good big sister to her until I hit puberty and in the ensuing existential crisis grew resentful of how effortlessly she was loved. Once, when I felt she had not been adequately blamed for some mishap we'd found ourselves in at home, I called her a goody-two-shoes and mocked her by singing the hymn "Holy, Holy, Holy" with derisive jeer. It is the cruelest thing I have ever done to anyone. Ever. Hers was such a tender spirit that I knew instantly I had bruised something precious, just for the sport of it, and that I was capable of greater evil than I'd ever imagined. Not even the waters of baptism could wash that sin away, I was sure of it.
On our baptism day, we followed my mother into the sanctuary's stark bridal room where we pulled thin baptismal robes over T-shirts and jean shorts. I felt anxious about my breasts. My "stumbling blocks" had emerged early and generously, and I felt like the Whore of Babylon every time I caught a Sunday school classmate's eye on them. (I didn't learn to deconstruct modesty culture until after college, and by then it was too late.) Wet clothes would do me no favors, this much I knew. Fortunately, we were supposed to cross our arms in front of us before getting dunked anyway, and Mom had layered me up with a training bra, undershirt, and thick cotton tee. She ran a brush through my limp brown hair that hung like a mop strings beneath a tangle of artificially poofed bangs, and I watched her brown eyes scan the eczema breaking out on my arms, my stooped shoulders, the gap between my teeth. I refused to wear makeup, and it drove her crazy, especially on a day when any trace of color in my pallid face got washed out by a white robe. Amanda, of course, looked angelic with her hair curled and pulled into bouncy, asymmetrical pigtails—a Precious Moments figurine standing next to a frightened, busty ghost.
"Good news," Mom said, her cheeriness pronounced against the nervous tension. "I remembered to bring a hair dryer."
Well, that was a relief.
Excerpted from Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans. Copyright © 2015 Rachel Held Evans. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsForeword by Glennon Doyle Melton, ix,
Prologue: Dawn, xi,
1. Water, 3,
2. Believer's Baptism, 6,
3. Naked on Easter, 17,
4. Chubby Bunny, 23,
5. Enough, 32,
6. Rivers, 36,
7. Ash, 43,
8. Vote Yes On One, 47,
9. Dirty Laundry, 66,
10. What We Have Done, 74,
11. Meet the Press, 80,
12. Dust, 90,
III. Holy Orders,
13. Hands, 97,
14. The Mission, 99,
15. Epic Fail, 110,
16. Feet, 114,
17. Bread, 121,
18. The Meal, 125,
19. Methodist Dance Party, 134,
20. Open Hands, 142,
21. Open Table, 146,
22. Wine, 154,
23. Breath, 161,
24. Wayside Shrines, 165,
25. Trembling Giant, 182,
26. Easter Doubt, 186,
27. With God's Help, 189,
28. Wind, 195,
VI. Anointing of the Sick,
29. Oil, 203,
30. Healing, 206,
31. Evangelical Acedia, 218,
32. This Whole Business With the Hearse, 224,
33. Perfume, 230,
34. Crowns, 237,
35. Mystery, 239,
36. Body, 248,
37. Kingdom, 252,
Epilogue: Dark, 257,
About the Author, 269,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
When I was given the opportunity to read and review Rachel Held Evans’ newest book, Searching for Sunday, in anticipation of its release this week, I knew I would enjoy the book. I knew it would be well-written, well-researched, and theologically diverse. What I didn’t know was how challenging of a book it would be.In Searching for Sunday, Rachel (because we’re tight like that) describes the things she loves about the church she grew up in, the things that pushed her away, and what ended up bringing her back—albeit to another slice of God’s kingdom on Earth. Over and over again I read how Rachel struggled to reconcile her political beliefs with her religious ones, grappling with how the church, in different times and places, has historically treated certain groups as the redeemed and others as the damned. Finding herself as an increasingly prominent woman in a denomination (in this case, evangelicalism) which did not believe women should preach from the pulpit, she began to see the cracks in the dam. It isn’t difficult to see where the church messes up. It happens every day across the world, and it isn’t a new problem. While the secularization and liberalization of government starting in the 16th century and really culminating with the enlightenment and founding of the United States formally separated church and state and stripped the world of most Christian theocracies, there have still been plenty of examples where the same church proclaiming the healing power of Christ has brought about nothing but pain, sorrow, and destruction. One chapter, in particular, highlights the harrowing short fallings of the church. Lord, have mercy. Christ have mercy. Yeah, I dare you to read chapter 10 without ending it curled up and sobbing. I identify with so many of the struggles Rachel has had over the last several years. Though she is significantly more theologically versed and slightly older than I, we are similarly strong-willed, ever questioning, and probably a little more political than is strictly healthy. I found myself putting down the book telling her, “Why must you conflate your political leanings with what the church is or should be doing?” only to remember that I’m often guilty of the exact same thing. At other times, I would practically scream, “You should really try a Reconciling Methodist Church!” I mean, my church’s motto is literally “An OPEN place for ALL to love, serve, and grow.”I have found it is really difficult for millennials (of which both Rachel and I consider ourselves) to rectify the words we often receive from respected leaders and mentors claiming to hold the keys to what is righteous and what is damnable with the message of love and hard-won grace spoken by Christ. Throughout the book, Rachel weaves her story of becoming frustrated with the evangelical church, suffering through a period of grief after leaving the church, then the feeling of coming home when she and her husband, Dan, found a new congregation. The prodigal daughter returned. I believe Rachel’s story is one of those with which nearly anyone can identify; who among us isn’t a prodigal daughter or son? Who among us doesn’t struggle with their faith? It was an incredible honor to read Searching for Sunday in preparation for this review. It wasn’t an easy book to read, because Rachel’s sometimes brutally honest introspection forced me to do the same, but I am so glad she did. I received a free digital copy of Searching for Sunday in return for my honest review
Loved the book. The book is a definite must read for anyone who has been hurt by the church or wants to work in a church. For me I just couldn't put the book down, I absolutely loved it. As a woman studying to be in ministry, I found Rachel's stories to be encouraging, as if to say keep going. It is a beautiful reminder that our God is bigger than any mess ups or mistakes we as leaders of the church make and will make.
I can’t begin to tell you how inadequate I feel reviewing the most recent book I read. But alas, I shall try. If we still wrote with pen and paper, you’d see a dozen or so crumpled balls of paper around me from failed drafts of this review. It’s been difficult to put into words exactly how I feel about Rachel Held Evans latest book Searching for Sunday. I could go on and on about the beautiful prose, the amazing structure of the book utilizing the sacraments, and the evocative storytelling. But that’s not entirely why this book resonated with me. No, this book… Oh, it was so much more than well written. It spoke truth to me. It made me laugh and cry. It was the epitome of the Biblical term “edify” – which means to build up. This book made me feel like I was sitting down with a friend over a cup of coffee and listening to her pour out her heart, laughing and crying along the way. And as we talked, we connected in so many ways: our similar upbringing; shared struggles and frustrations; broken hearts and doubt-filled faith; a search for answers and authenticity; and a new found appreciation of tradition and liturgy. And this new friend, well, she exhibited a needed maturity in my life right now. I’ll admit, I’m jaded in many ways. I haven’t really admitted so publicly, but I’m extremely upset and frustrated with so much of what we see in the church today. And that’s where Searching for Sunday is not the book so many are assuming it to be. Several of the more conservative evangelical publications have claimed the book is basically Rachel Held Evans breaking up with evangelicalism. They can’t imagine a more progressive Christian might have something valuable to say about the church and Christianity. I can’t even imagine they completely read this book. No, Searching for Sunday is far from a breakup. Searching for Sunday is an exploration of family. This is expressed through the autobiographical portions of the book: how church and faith influenced Rachel’s relationship with her sister Amanda (who wrote some beautiful music to go along with the book’s release), her parents, her husband, her close friends. Likewise, she relates how she belongs to a larger family, full of as much love as dysfunction: the Church. In her section on Baptism, she recounts her introduction to this extended family. “In baptism, we are identified as beloved children of God, and our adoption into the sprawling, beautiful, dysfunctional family of the church is celebrated by whoever happens to be standing on the shoreline with a hair dryer and deviled eggs.” Though some might get offended, we all have oddballs in our family, so I had to laugh when she went on to say, “the good news is you are a beloved child of God; the bad news is you don’t get to choose your siblings.” In my cynicism of late, I needed to read this book. I needed to be reminded that though far from perfect, I’m part of a family. I can’t blot out parts of my spiritual genealogy, just like I can’t erase certain relatives from my family tree. If Rachel Held Evans were truly washing her hands of evangelicalism, she wouldn’t have written this particular book. She celebrates our differences in the body of Christ as much as she critiques our flaws. She says, “a worldwide movement of more than two billion people reaching every continent and spanning thousands of cultures for over two thousand years can’t expect homogeneity… Our differences can be a cause for celebration when we believe the same Spirit that sings through a pipe organ can sing through an electric guitar, a Gregorian chant, or a gospel choir… In other words unity does not require uniformity.” Yes, Rachel Held Evans no longer attends an Evangelical church, but this book is not her farewell to the tradition she was raised in. This book is just documenting her journey. She, like many of us, has found solace surrounded by tradition and sacrament and liturgy… There’s something to be said about experiencing Jesus and his transformative grace with all five of our senses. Taste and see that the Lord is good! I think Searching for Sunday shows us that the church, the body of Christ, is more than just one particular American expression of Christianity. You’ll find the Church in traditional, small town evangelical churches. You’ll find the Church in suburban mega-churches. You’ll find the Church in a liturgy-reciting mainline sanctuary. And sometimes you’ll even find the church in a small coffee shop. In the closing chapters of the book. Rachel says, “Sometimes I think the biggest challenge in talking about the church is telling ourselves the truth about it – acknowledging the scars, staring down the ugly bits, marveling at its resiliency, and believing that this flawed and magnificent body is enough, for now, to carry us through the world and into the arms of Christ.” Searching for Sunday is a beautiful book, a personal book, and I know I’ll read it again and again. There will be days I find myself ready to walk away from organized religion (avoiding social media would probably alleviate that urge), and this book will speak to me. It will say, “like it or not, following Jesus is a group activity, something we’re supposed to do together.”
I have enjoyed Rachel Held Evans' writings for quite a while, so I was really excited to hear about Searching for Sunday, and I wasn't disappointed! Her experience in evangelical Christianity (AWANA for the win!) strongly mirrors my own, and her vulnerability, hope, and grace throughout her wrestlings were inspiring. The sections mirror the seven sacraments: Baptism, Confession, Holy Orders, Communion, Confirmation, Anointing the Sick, and Marriage. All seven spoke to me-- her eloquence drew out the beauty found in each--but the most surprising was Confirmation. As someone raised in a thoroughly evangelical/non-denominational tradition, I've had very little interaction with confirmation in any sense. Maybe it was because of this lack of familiarity that this section really hit me; regardless of the reason, though, I highlighted, starred, and exclamation-pointed about half of that section, and I continue to mull on it. I'm sure I'll reread the entire book many times, but that section in particular will likely draw me back incessantly. I really resonated with and appreciated Rachel's loving way of criticizing aspects of her experience with evangelicalism. Speaking of churches, she says, "Each one stays with us, even after we've left, adding layer after layer to the palimpsest of our faith." Rachel manages to eloquently and completely lift up church while addressing some serious problem areas. After reading this book, I feel more connected both the church universal and with others on their faith journey, and I am more prepared to recognize the importance of faith in community. Christianity is a team sport, and the sacraments, formal or not so formal, help us to participate more fully in that. I received an advance copy of this book in return for a review.
This was an incredible read that was beautifully written and probably Rachel Held Evan's best book so far! I was not able to put the book down and found myself reading it every where I went. I loved how she so authentically shared her journey of leaving and then finding a church where she can belong and feel loved simply for showing up. Sometimes it can be so easy to get caught up in how the worship is or what kind of music they play, but at the end of the day it is completely about the people there. It is about the community and how loving they are. This past Sunday I visited a church in town and I was overwhelmed (in a good way) about how friendly and welcoming they seemed to be. I could tell that the church knew that my fiance and I were visitors and they wanted us to feel welcomed and as if this was a place we could return to and belong at. From the very beginning people told us that we should come, get involved, become members, and find our niche in ministry. We could tell that this was not a place of just coming to church on Sunday, but that it was a place we could belong to. We could tell all of this just from the people we met that day. It felt like such a blessing I almost cried--which granted is not a big deal for me, but still. The book did an excellent job at showing that she still loves evangelicalism and would never completely give it up. I felt this book emphasized the importance of denominations, the sacraments, and unity without uniformity. Searching for Sunday helps one gain a better appreciation for the sacraments of: baptism, confession, holy orders, communion, confirmation, anointing of the sick, and marriage. There were chapters I cried in, laughed at, and underlined in at least 10 times in. Most of the margins have notes and scribbles affirming what was read in the book. This may be the best book I have read in awhile and it is a great one for anyone questioning how they view the Church or even how the church should be. There are examples of so many types of churches. This is a call to not leave the church--or even to leave a particular denomination, but to find the beauty in the Church universal. To realize that the Church is messy, confusing, and ongoing, but it is the Bride of Christ. As Rachel so eloquently writes, "All we have is this church--this lousy, screwed-up, glorious church--which, by God's grace, is enough."
[I received this book free from the publisher through NetGalley. I thank them for their generousity. In exchange, I was simply asked to write an honest review, and post it. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising] "Writing this book forever changed how I look at my own church story and the people who influenced it." So writes the author Sarah Held Evans, who has struggled with theevangelical faith traditions she grew up with with today's world and the church's reaction to it. Through her work and her writing, Evans has shown that you can stretch your faith to answer your questions. Its a struggle to stand up to powers that be who either have taken or been given the power. Evans doesn't pull many punches, either with the church or even herself. Part theological treatise on process theology and part memoir, she openy admits her struggles with the idea that maybe her God, her religion, maybe even her core faith values and expectations are too small to deal with the everyday issues that can effect the church and marginalized peoples. She's open about trying to build a more responsive contemporary church, and how the experiment itself failed, but that those involved found their faith stronger. And how acedia settled in replacing the positive. She dedicates this book to those honest readers of her blog and other bloggers struggling with the same issues. Perhaps this is the new church, the one that will remind us of what we were created by a good God for...community. And she writes: " This book is entitled Searching for Sunday, but it’s less about searching for a Sunday church and more about searching for Sunday resurrection. It’s about all the strange ways God brings dead things back to life again. It’s about giving up and starting over again."
Her book takes us on a journey through the seven sacraments (Communion, Baptism, Confession, Holy Orders, Confirmation, Anointing of the Sick, and Marriage) that carries us into the Bible, into church past and church present. At times, I felt like I was reading a series of interconnected and yet unique essays. One moment, I would be nodding at an oh-so-familiar description of doubt, and the next I would be catching my breath at the enumeration of the many ways throughout its history that the church has descended into darkness. Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. When Rachel would revisit Bible stories, she would do so in such a rich, sensory way, attuned to the history and humanity of it all, that it felt familiar in the best way. My favorite of these, I think, was a chapter that wended its through parables of seeds and wheat, through kneading and baking, and brought us to the Last Supper.
“This isn’t a kingdom for the worthy; it’s a kingdom for the hungry.” Searching for Sunday is balm for those who have traveled labyrinthian faith journeys, who are tired of wearing Sunday smiles, who feel like exiles in an assembly originally created by and for outcasts. As she traces first her certainly, then doubt, and finally hope, Rachel Held Evans explores modern American Christianity using ancient rites of the church. Personally transparent and yet universal, Held Evan’s writing by turns times laugh out loud funny and tearfully poignant. Her description of youth group games will bring back fond memories for anyone who has participated in such shenanigans. And, her account of open mic night at the “Live It Out” con-ference is heartbreakingly healing. Beginning with Baptism and concluding with Marriage, Searching for Sunday unwraps the ways in which the church is beloved, broken, commissioned, fed, welcomed, anointed and united. It’s no accident that Communion is at the core of this book. Feeding each other and the world is foundational to our lives as humans and as Christians. “Certainly nonbelievers can care for one another and make one another food. But it is Christians who recognize this act as sacrament, as holy. It is Christians who believe bread can satisfy not only physical hunger, but spiritual and emotional hunger, too, and whose collective memory brings Jesus back to life in every breaking of the bread and pouring of the wine, in all the tastes, smells, and sounds God himself loves.” Held Evans is both brave and kind in her unflinching look at the fiascos and triumphs of the church in America. And, ultimately, Searching for Sunday is hopeful. “I think the biggest challenge in talking about the church is telling ourselves the truth about it—acknowledging the scars, staring down the ugly bits, marveling at its resiliency, and believing that this flawed and magnificent body is enough, for now, to carry us through the world and into the arms of Christ.”
Rachel’s story reflects that of many young adults who eventually question the religion of their youth, but she doesn’t tell you about the journey using the reckless language of rebellion. It is a deep gut-wrenching love story, a story of her fighting to find a faith community that she can honestly worship alongside. She centers the book around the seven sacraments, and in the discussion of these sacraments she tells you about her story. The beauty of her language often made me stop and think through my own experiences of these sacraments and the moments I had shared them alongside various faith communities of my own. It made me long to find a community to share them with now, regardless of differences I might have with those people. It is a story of hope and of God being a relentless force for love!
I've long been a fan of Rachel Held-Evans, and this book did not disappoint. Beautifully written with honesty and vulnerability, using seven sacraments as a framework, she tells the story of her own faith journey, her doubts, her struggles, her fears and her hopes. If you have struggled to feel at home in the church or among other Christians, if you have questioned your faith, raised issues with the Bible or with Christian culture and been frustrated with the response, or lack thereof, you might find this book resonates with you and gives you hope. I also think it's a good place to start for those not familiar with her work. Rachel, like any writer, has her critics and this book may give a deeper insight into who she is and where she is coming from. Highly recommend.
This book was for me, and I think this book might be for a lot of you, too. If there’s a part of you– a big part, a small part– that is whispering the question “why am I still a Christian?” then I think you might need to read this. Not because she has some earth-shattering answer that will miraculously solve all our problems. I didn’t finish this book, set it down, and think to myself “ah, this was just the thing I needed to get me to go to church again.” I still have reservations, and questions, and doubts, and the thought of walking into a church still terrifies me. But it did help make having hope a little more possible. The longer I’m away from church, though, the more a sliver in the back corners of my heart hungers for the bread and the wine the wine. Reading "Searching for Sunday" was a gentle, gracious, gorgeous reminder that I do believe in the sacraments. I do believe in the Body. Reading her chapters on Communion was one of the most sacred experiences I’ve ever had, and it gave me the nudge I needed to start reaching out again. I don’t know where this road will take me– maybe further away from church, from faith, I don’t know. But I want to hope. I want to believe. I want to try again, even if I get terribly burned. Going through this book was comforting, and encouraging. It was like sitting down with a friend and drinking tea and being honest in a way that terrifies both of you, but once you start talking you can’t seem to stem the flow of words. Each slicing knife wound is recounted, each euphoric moment comes out tinged over with a little bit of sadness. You’re sad because you wish your faith were still that simple, that fresh and naive– and sad because you know that those moments of happiness came in the middle of suffering, and the pain made those brief moments of joy seem like ambrosia. Rachel Held Evans reminded me that the God I believe in is one who makes all things new. He cares for the broken things, even the dead things, and restores them.
Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the church is a collection of beautifully crafted narratives centered around the seven sacraments named by the Roman Catholic and Orthodox church: Baptism, Confession, Holy Orders, Communion, Confirmation, Anointing of the Sick, and Marriage. It is an homage to both the conservative Evangelical community in which she was raised, and the more progressive, liturgical teaching of the Episcopalian church to which she now belongs, as well as the painful, yet grace-filled, journey she traveled to arrive there. In sharing the journey of her own faith, and of the people she met along the way, Evans creates an emotional depth that will resonate with those of us who have struggled with doubt, who have been wounded by church or community, and who desperately want to fall in love with church all over again. I recieved an advanced copy of this book, and participated on the launch team.
Rachel tells of her experiences and of others who have been disappointed, who were sadly damaged, AND who have experienced hope in spiritual communities. Totally honest, heartbreaking, and full of healing. Her vulnerability leaps off these pages, and I hope that people can honor that--going through these faith journeys can feel lonely. Nobody needs to be roughed up for it, that's for sure. If you love spiritual memoir, you will want to pick this one up.
Searching for Sunday is a breath of fresh air for any of us who bring questions, doubts, and fears with us into church... And maybe even for those who have stopped coming because of those things. Evans offers a vision of Church and the Kingdom that is wider and wilder than anything I’ve grown up believing. She’s helped me find hope in the Church again. Yeah, things are messy. But maybe there’s beauty hiding in all that mess if we’ll dive into it. That’s what Evans suggests, and I think she might be right. Do yourself a favor and pick this one up. You won’t regret it.
Rachel Held Evans weaves her stories and personal experiences through the seven sacraments: baptism, communion, confirmation, confession, marriage, vocation, and death. Her depth of insight had me hungrily turning the pages for more: she spoke words of hope right into my church-weary soul. For those of you who struggle with church, with Christians, with doubt, who feel like you never fit on on Sunday morning, who wonder what is the point of it all… Rachel Held Evans’ new book will speak right to your heart!
I simply cannot tell you how great this book is for anyone searching for a reason to find faith again, or those who are sometimes wondering about the faith they have in the tradition they hold. Evans’ story of her journey shows how one woman embraced evangelical, progressive and sacramental traditions as she followed Jesus. This is a story for our time. I am not a millennial. I find myself longing to listen more and more to voices of the “millennials” who have a relationship with doubt and questioning that I find exciting and fascinating, if not, at times, downright frightening. It is because of this desire to hear the voices of millennials that I first started reading Rachel Held Evans’ work. It is why I have listened to her speak. It is why I am honored to be able to recommend her latest work, Searching for Sunday. It does not speak for all millenials, but it does give a powerful account of one journey. When I received my copy of Searching for Sunday, I immediately scanned the table of contents for the section on Communion. The book is organized around the Sacraments and the Eucharist has special appeal to me because I have learned so much about following Christ by being on both sides of “the Table.” It was in serving communion that I learned what a bold-faced judgmental hypocrite I was when I chose not to partake of Christ’s meal with a congregation I was serving because I felt their sin of racism somehow tainted the meal. It was in receiving communion that I learned what a beggar for grace I am and now only approach the Table with my hands held out. Sometimes, I will sit through a whole worship service with my hands cupped just so I can remember that grace is a gift. So I decided to read that chapter first and then go back and read the whole book. I was not disappointed. My expectations were not only met, they were exceeded. Ms. Evans echoed the feeling I learned at that table in North Carolina when I thought I was too good to eat with certain people: “At Eagle Eyrie I learned why it’s so important for pastors to serve communion. It’s important because it steals the show. It’s important because it shoves you and your ego and your expectations out of the way so Jesus can do his thing. It reminds you that grace is as abundant as tears and faith as simple as food.” The power in telling any story, I believe, is as that story invites the reader in and allows them to find themselves somewhere in the narrative. This happened to me in a powerful way as I read “Communion” and happened again and again throughout the book. Evans does not hold back punches - she talks straight about herself and her experience of church. However, she never tries to make these observations universal. They are definitely hers. At the same time, I dare any reader to try and NOT find themselves somewhere in this narrative. Recently, I read an article by Steve Harper where he said, “Staying together is a sacred act – a holy experience. We have become patterned to disagree and divide. But the witness in the Trinity is to unite and to be one.” Evans poignantly tells us the sometimes tortured path that she took to get to that unity of past, present and future in her theology. Evans gives us the hope that we might one day do the same. Read Searching for Sunday. Start your journey as well.
"Perhaps being disillusioned is a good thing if it leaves you facing the Truth." That was my thought after finishing Searching for Sunday. Rachel Held Evans knew who she was. She was a pastor's daughter, ensconced in a tight-knit Evangelical community. Her family was a link in a chain of giving and receiving, of visiting the sick and sending casseroles to new mothers. All of her childhood memories were bracketed by those familiar people and that particular expression of Christianity. And it was, in some ways, a very good thing. But in other ways, that same sense of unity would leave a growing Rachel wondering where she fit. She makes an excellent point partway through the book: In Evangelical circles, we call ourselves "a community of believers." Because we're afraid of faith becoming mere rote routine and ritual, we emphasize the personal beliefs. And we often ask our people to believe far more than just the Nicene Creed. We mine the Scriptures for dozens of other principles and doctrines, and we package it together as a whole. So when Rachel could no longer swallow the whole Evangelical serving, when she could no longer sign off on the doctrinal statement, she felt that she'd lost her place in her childhood church. She unfolds her stories a sensitive touch, holding on to the things that blessed and nourished her even as she describes her strong disagreements with the American Evangelical culture. When did she begun to trust her place in the Body again? When she found a place at the table of communion, a place on the path of pilgrimage, a place in the row of footwashers, a place where the healing oil flows. When she couldn't bear the weight of belief any more, it was tangible, tactile sacraments that re-introduced her to Christ and His people. I requested this book because I had heard that it was arranged around the sacraments, and that idea piqued my curiosity. Rachel chose seven sacraments: Baptism, Confession, Holy Orders, Communion, Confirmation, Anointing of the Sick, and Marriage. She writes several chapters about each one, telling us what they have come to mean to her and drawing in dozens of thoughts from saints both ancient and modern. She manages to meditate on the essence of each one, revealing them to be so compelling and beautiful that it seems to me like the sacraments must preserve the church, instead of the other way 'round. And she does a wonderful job showing how the sacraments apply to all of us. (Typically, marriage would seem to have no bearing on the single, and holy orders would be reserved for the ordained.) Rachel expands on those ideas, exploring marriage as the mystery of our union with Jesus and holy orders as the calling of every man and woman to recognize and live their sacred calling. Buried about three quarters of the way through the book is one of my new favorite quotes: "Scripture doesn't speak of people who found God. Scripture speaks of people who walked with God." Excellent point. I never like the whole "I found God," thing. It doesn't make theological or logical sense. But walking with God? Oh yes. That points to ongoing relationship, and that's what this book is about. I thank Traci at Traces of Faith dot com and Thomas Nelson for providing me with a review copy in exchange for an honest opinion.
This book is crap that pushes a liberal agenda, and denies some very basic Biblical truths.