Searching for Sunday

For Lent this year, I led a book study of Rachel Held Evans’ Searching for Sunday at my church. I picked the book for a couple of reasons.

First, Held Evans can write. As a memoirist, she invites her readers into her life in a way that is both informative an intimate. As a storyteller, she brings her readers into her experiences. So, for example, when she writes about serving communion at a Methodist youth event, you can see the faces in front of her in all their variety and strength and weakness. Reading her work is like reading a letter from a friend. That is a gift that is too rare, and I wanted to share that with my parishioners.

Second, Searching for Sunday is about struggle. As one Baptist preacher says to her in the book, evangelicalism is like an old boyfriend who Held Evans broke up with years ago, but whose Facebook page she still checks compulsively. She is someone who struggles with her faith, with letting go of the parts that she can no longer honor, and with keeping a hold of the parts that continue to bring her life. And, using the traditional seven sacraments of the Christian church, Searching for Sunday tells the story of that struggle… of leaving the church she knew and of finding it in unexpected places.

That is a struggle that a lot of people know, and it’s a struggle that Held Evans spent a career giving voice to. I can’t even imagine the number of people who heard echoes of their stories in hers, and who were able to find their own voices because of her. And it was a struggle that I wanted my congregants to see… because it is a struggle that comes from taking faith seriously, from having to say, “This is a part of me whether I like it or not; what am I going to do with that?”

I was going to write this post when Lent ended. And then I put it on hold, because Rachel Held Evans went into the hospital and into medically induced coma. My Twitter timeline was full of prayers for her, and the most I could do was say a silent amen. I thought I would pick this post up once she was better.

Then, on Saturday, she passed away. Two weeks after Holy Saturday.

There are a lot of people feeling Saturday right now. Some of them are Held Evans’ family and friends who are going through the kind of pain that we like to call ‘unimaginable’ but that too many of us can imagine. More of them are her fans, facing a Saturday that is softer but still painful. It is a matter of faith that her race is run and she is resting now. It is a matter of faith that Sunday will come, for her and for everyone.

It isn’t an easy faith. It isn’t a faith that we can always hold onto. It isn’t a faith that is free from struggle. But it is, I think, the kind of faith that Held Evans championed. It is, I think, the kind of faith that is worth having.

Right now, there is a movement in churches and nonprofits arguing that charity is toxic, that helping hurts, and that the entire nonprofit sector needs to be reformed to truly lift people out of poverty. These charity skeptics are telling Christians that traditional charity deepens dependency, fosters a sense of entitlement, and erodes the work ethic of people who receive it. Charity skepticism is increasingly popular; and it is almost certainly wrong.

Now available from Wipf and Stock’s Cascade Books imprint, Radical Charity: How Generosity Can Save the World (And the Church) weaves together research and scholarship on topics as diverse as biblical scholarship, Christian history, economics, and behavioral psychology to tell a different story. In this story, charity is the heart of Christianity and one of the most effective ways that we can help people who are living in poverty. Charity—giving to people experiencing poverty without any expectation of return or reformation—can save the world and help make God’s vision for the church a reality.

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