I’m probably always going to love anything Rachel Held Evans writes. It was more or less inevitable that after the incisive questioning of her childhood faith and its values that she chronicled in A Year of Biblical Womanhood and Evolving in Monkeytown, Held Evans would have difficulty remaining in her church home or finding a new one. Searching for Sunday chronicles her struggle with church — leaving a church, leaving church altogether, starting a new church, watching that church fail, church-shopping, seeking and (perhaps) finding a new church home.
While the title falls oddly on my Adventist ears (surely we are all searching for Sabbath, aren’t we?), her struggle resonates. Like many people, I too have seen a lot of changes in my faith throughout the long years of this spiritual journey, and sometimes those changes have made me feel uncomfortable in the church home that birthed and nurtured me. At the same time I’ve been keenly aware, as Held Evans is, of all the ways that church home has nurtured me — how church people, even when you disagree with their theology and their politics, can simply be there for you and your family at times when no-one else would.
All this makes for a messy struggle, and Rachel Held Evans locates her personal struggle on a map of other people going through similar struggles with church, including those who have far more at stake than she does. She talks, for example, about LGBT people who have been rejected and condemned by their churches, yet somehow managed to hold onto some faith. She, too, holds onto a core of faith and to the need for a spiritual community, a need that has led her (as it has led many progressive evangelicals) into the more sacramental and liturgical worship of the Episcopal church.
Rachel Held Evans does something that I usually don’t like, but she does it well, and I’m trying to figure out why. I try not to be that crotchety middle-aged person who says “People under 30 shouldn’t write memoirs!” but I am wary of memoirs that are written in the midst of experience, without allowing the writer time to reflect back. Authors like Deborah Feldman suffer from this, I think — their work would be richer if they allowed more time to elapse so they could better fit their experiences into the framework of their whole lives. But from her first book (and, of course, on her blog) Rachel Held Evans has been writing right out of the middle of her faith journey, as she’s living it — and it works for me. Maybe because she’s honest about the fact that she, and her faith, are works in progress, and that she doesn’t have all the answers. But she’s asking the questions a lot of us are asking, and I think that’s why so many of us are happy to come along for the ride.