Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Searching for Sunday

I was chosen a few months ago to review Rachel Held Evans latest book Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church. I've been a long-time admirer of her work including biblical womanhood, her blog, and her lesson in the animate series. I knew I would like this book because her work is always thoughtful and challenges me. I received a copy of this book at no cost, but all the opinions shared are my own. I finished the book a few weeks ago, but you can finally get your own copy today!

This review is hard for me to write. While I've had negative experiences with Christians, and negative experiences with churches, I've never had a bad church experience that caused me to leave. While a lot of this book really resonates with me, I've not had the experiences that she has. I've not left the church of my youth. I've not had any length of time outside of the church and I've never church-hopped. My husband and I have both worked in various (United Methodist) churches our entire adult lives, and likely will for many more years.

But as an introvert, I struggle with the need to do church. Sometimes I just go through the motions because being with people is hard and messy. As an introvert, Rachel challenges my introvertedness and reminds me to be authentic and open because Jesus calls us to community.
Church needs to feel authentic. There needs to be depth, but that's messy and we are often scared of mess. While I've helped create authentic community, I've also stood in the way of it by not sharing my true self in church. 
So why do our churches feel more like country clubs than AA? Why do we mumble through rote confessions and then conjure plastic Barbie and Ken smiles as we turn to one another to pass the peace? What makes us exchange the regular pleasantries—“I’m fine! How are you?”—while mingling beneath a cross upon which hangs a beaten, nearly naked man, suffering publicly on our behalf?
Bam. Right?

This quote hit me between the eyes. She's exactly right. I rarely respond to "How are you?" with anything other than, "Great!" even when I'm exhausted, weary, or beat-up. But if I continue to respond with a superficial answer, how will I ever help cultivate the authentic community Jesus asks of me?

The best part of this book for me is that there aren't any answers. It feels more like Rachel and I are having coffee, lamenting and longing for authentic community. She shares her experiences and I share mine. We do not solve any problems, but rather explore and wrestle. We continue to come back to our need for the church and the things it can and should offer. We come back to the fact that we are both called to serve.

The book is outlined using the sacraments: baptism, confession, holy orders, communion, confirmation, anointing of the sick, and marriage. Through these topics, Rachel addresses the importance of the body of Christ and space to wrestle with faith. My favorite sections are holy orders and communion. Those concepts really appeal to me in my daily life and those are two areas where I am drawn more deeply into the church. I deeply believe that all are called. "Ultimately, all are commissioned. All are called. All belong to the holy order of God’s beloved. The hands that pass the peace can pass a meal to the man on the street." That's a tough call, but it is one we all have. Because I've wrestled with a call to ordination and have stood by my husband's side while he answers his, I'm especially interested in differences in call. Being called to ordination versus lay ministry is not superior.
I often wonder if the role of the clergy in this age is not to dispense information or guard the prestige of their authority, but rather to go first, to volunteer the truth about their sins, their dreams, their failures, and their fears in order to free others to do the same.
If we all had the permission from our clergy leaders to be authentic and sincere, would we follow? I hope so. What if we gave our clergy that permission so that they could be authentic and fallible? How would that change our churches? I think it might. I think it is.

In the section on communion, Rachel discusses the open table quite a bit. I love this. My denomination does practice an open table where the bread and juice are available to all who confess of their sins and desire a reconciliation with Christ. I respect churches that do not have an open table, but I deeply love that our tradition hosts an open table.
I don’t know exactly how Jesus is present in the bread and wine, but I believe Jesus is present, so it seems counterintuitive to tell people they have to wait and meet him someplace else before they meet him at the table. If people are hungry, let them come and eat. If they are thirsty, let them come and drink. It’s not my table anyway. It’s not my denomination’s table or my church’s table. It’s Christ’s table. Christ sends out the invitations, and if he has to run through the streets gathering up the riffraff to fill up his house, then that’s exactly what he’ll do. Who am I to try and block the door?
Yes. Exactly. Like I said, I have a deep respect for my brothers and sisters who do not have the open table, but this really resonated in me because of my love for the open table. I have a deep feeling that Jesus wants us to share grace with everyone. That grace should flow from us and touch everyone we contact. This isn't always how it works, but I believe it's how it should be. And communion is the manifestation of this grace being shared with all.
But the gospel doesn’t need a coalition devoted to keeping the wrong people out. It needs a family of sinners, saved by grace, committed to tearing down the walls, throwing open the doors, and shouting, “Welcome! There’s bread and wine. Come eat with us and talk.” This isn’t a kingdom for the worthy; it’s a kingdom for the hungry.
This year on Maundy Thursday I talked with Wesley about what we were remembering that day. I read him the passage from his story Bible and we talked about Jesus having dinner with his friends. I pray that he remembers that fellowship when he eats dinner. That is what makes communion so significant - it is a reminder of God's sacrificial grace every single time we eat!

While I desire grace for all, I was stung by the following line:

Sure, I’m happy to pass the bread to someone like Sara Miles or the neighbor who mows our lawn when we’re out of town. But Sarah Palin? Glenn Beck?

Ouch. Yes, I'd be happy to share communion with my child, husband, friends, and neighbors, but what about the homeless man I see on my way to work? What about the acquaintance that offended me? Do I want to share grace with them? Nope. Grace for all is messy like that.

The church is positively crawling with people who don’t deserve to be here . . . starting with me.

Searching for Sunday is a fantastic book about wrestling with faith while still remaining faithful to God. It's about finding a place within the church, even when that seems impossible. It's about longing to know God more, but being frustrated with the rest of humanity also longing to know God more.

I'll leave you with my absolute favorite quote from the book. As you know, I adore midwives and had a fantastic mid-wife assisted birth with Wesley. This is such a beautiful, albeit painful image of who God is calling us to be.

As BrenĂ© Brown puts it, “I went to church thinking it would be like an epidural, that it would take the pain away . . . But church isn’t like an epidural; it’s like a midwife . . . I thought faith would say, ‘I’ll take away the pain and discomfort, but what it ended up saying was, ‘I’ll sit with you in it.’”
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