Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Searching for Sunday

I ask a lot of questions. It's in my nature to be skeptical, I guess.  There's very little that I accept at face value--and my faith is no exception. It's one of the things I usually put in the "negative" column when listing my Christian or pastor's wife or parenting character traits.

But not any more.

I've occasionally doubted the very existence of God, even though I really haven't ever endured any hardship that might make me feel that God isn't present in my life. I grew up going to church and would consider myself and my family "all-in" when it comes to following Jesus. But still, I know I'm not alone in my occasional doubt.

In her new book, Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church which is being released today, Rachel Held Evans (I KNOW HER) addresses fear, doubt, and unbelief because she's been there. Raised in an evangelical church, she thought she had all the answers. She memorized and catalogued scripture and used it to correct and instruct her friends and classmates. She attended youth groups and retreats. But as she grew up and began to sort out her future, she was reminded that even though she clearly possessed gifts to preach and teach, women weren't meant to be preachers because the bible says so. 

That didn't sit right with her.  It raised questions--questions not easily answered by her pastor, peers, or parents. Her questions led to doubts. Her doubts led her to search for answers, and as a writer, she bravely shared her struggles in her blog, which I started following several years ago. 

Evans writes about her search for a faith community where she felt she belonged. What she (and her husband, Dan) were searching for was authenticity. And this authenticity can be found in the sacraments: baptism, confession, holy orders, communion, confirmation, anointing of the sick, and marriage. These are the ancient mysteries that founded, grew, and sustained Christianity, and they are still what brings us into community today through our varied traditions and denominations.

Evans' book is organized around these sacraments. Each chapter is a series of vignettes around themes like water, bread and wine, confession, breath, and healing. This is a book for those who are perhaps fearful of the church, those who may have be hurt by the church, and those who unashamedly and wholeheartedly love the church. This book helps stretch us to think about how everyone might be included--sinners, saints, doubters, faithful, young, old, gay, and straight.

A passage that particularly resonated with me was when Evans mirrors Barbara Brown Taylor's "spiritual practice of wearing skin", whereby you (literally or  figuratively) strip yourself bare, gaze in the mirror, accept yourself simply as you are, and stand in awe and gratitude at your fearful and wonderful creation. Evans turns this same practice on the church:

"This is the church. Here she is. Lovely, irregular, sometimes sick and sometimes well. This is the body-like-no-other that God has shaped and places in the world. Jesus lives here; this is his soul's address. There is a lot to be thankful for, all things considered. She has taken a beating, the church. Every day she meets the gates of hell and she prevails. Every day she serves, stumbles, injures, and repairs. That she has healed is an underrated miracle. That she gives birth is beyond reckoning. Maybe it's time to make peace with her. Maybe it's time to embrace her, flawed as she is."

If you, too, are Searching for Sunday, or are asking hard questions, I encourage you to read this book. You are not alone. 

Searching for Sunday would make an outstanding small group study. If you're in the Neoga, IL area and want to read and discuss the book, I'd love to put a discussion group together!

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