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.”
Full disclosure: I did get the pleasure of participating in the launch team for Searching for Sunday. I was able to get an Advance Copy for review purposes. The fact that I fell in love with the book and enjoyed it as much as I did was a bonus.