Book Review: Searching for Sunday

If this reads like a break-up letter, that’s because it is. Rachel won’t receive it, and that’s fine. Her pool of fans is large enough, so she won’t notice me quietly slipping out the back door.

My first experience with Rachel Held Evans was with her first book, Evolving in Monkey Town, and it was a breath of fresh air. It was 2012 and we were coming off a year-long break from church. We’d discovered we weren’t Baptist anymore, so when we moved back to Tennessee we hesitated every Sunday morning. That hesitation turned into an altogether protest. Exhausted of politics from the conservative pulpit and no answers to hard questions (or even an attempt to answer them), I needed a long hard break.

Rachel’s story was similar to my own. I felt like she had snatched ideas from my brain, a comforting realization that I was not alone.

Her second book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, was another watershed experience in 2013. She took Proverbs 31 and turned it upside down, or maybe she turned it right side up. Either way, she stirred my theological brain in a new way – pushed, pulled, swirled. I walked away feeling like a lot of it was meant for me. I tossed the bits that I thought were unnecessary, but mostly, Rachel was speaking to me about God in a new way.

Fast forward to 2014, then 2015, and mostly 2016. Rachel’s Twitter feed became less and less about God and the church and more and more about Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party, and snide, shoddy remarks about the other side. Sometime last summer, I unfollowed her. I don’t care what she believes politically. I care what she wrestles with theologically. That’s what drew me to her in the first place. The empathy I once saw in her was gone. She had left the conservative church, but by all accounts, she didn’t hate them.

That’s not the case anymore.

I knew from the very first sentence that I was going to struggle with the book. Glennon Melton of Momastery wrote the Foreword, and the first line produced one of the biggest eye rolls of my life:

I mean, seriously. The world would still turn.

Side note: Something fishy is going on in the writing world and I don’t like it. Writers are being collected and folded into a super-duper high-profile club – like Oprah pulling Rob Bell into her prominent ring of spiritual experts alongside Glennon and Liz Gilbert. Rachel’s book was fraught with club references – Nadia Bolz-Weber, Sara Miles (people I read in 2014, 2015) … Watch out, Jen Hatmaker. You’re next.

I understand there is a larger, underlying marketing equation at work here. If you read one writer, you’re likely to read one who’s similar. It makes sense from an economical, book-selling point of view.

But for me, it cuts credibility. This club of writers all reference each other, all say the same thing, all boost one another’s books on their websites and social media. They’re on TV together and in conferences together, and now they are all on my nerves. It’s annoying. I wish they’d stop.

Actually, it’s fine. They can continue. Their fraternizing just pushes me back to C.S. Lewis and Thomas Merton.

Once I got over myself (and the Foreword), I got into the actual book and settled in for a dose of Theological Rachel. I wanted to know how her searching for a church had gone in the last few years. I had hopes that the book would not mirror her Twitter feed, and when I read this line, I thought, yes, she understands. We are tired of party politics in church! 

But then…

There was one jab…

… after another jab…

… after another jab.

Let me summarize: God made everyone and loves everyone, and everyone should have a place at the communion table, but thank goodness we saw the light and are not conservative Republicans anymore. WHEW!

There is good stuff to be found in this book, such as her chapter on Communion (the book is broken into sections by sacraments – totally something I’m into). She quotes Nora Gallagher, saying, “On those days when I have thought of giving up on church entirely, I have tried to figure out what I’d do without Communion.” This remark spoke right to me, as it’s been a big reason I’ve continued to attend church when I’ve really wanted to ditch it.

The chapter on oil under Anointing the Sick was also moving and gave me much to think about in the way of marrying eastern and western medicine with eastern and western theology in regards to healing.

But those flashes of inspirational thought are greatly overshadowed by Rachel’s political pin pricks. They may accurately reflect her personal marriage of religion and politics, but she overshot on assuming all of her readers would relate. She misunderstands that progressive theology does not always parallel progressive politics.

More so, the intermittent political comments beg the question: Are you shaping your politics through a theological lens, or has your theology changed to suit your politics? 

Again, her credibility is cut.

I’m not a Republican, so her pin pricks were not necessarily directed at me. But I’m also not a Democrat, so I don’t understand the camaraderie she’s boasting among her fellow liberal Christian writers.

Ultimately, the fact that I’m even referencing political parties in a book about God and the church tells me that I’m no longer Rachel’s audience.

For what it’s worth, the relationship was off to a great start.

There Was Once by Margaret Atwood

Political frustration depicted in fiction. There was never a truer conversation. Enjoy.

“There was once a poor girl, as beautiful as she was good, who lived with her wicked stepmother in a house in the forest.”

“Forest? Forest is passé, I mean, I’ve had it with all this wilderness stuff. It’s not a right image of our society, today. Let’s have some urban for a change.”

“There was once a poor girl, as beautiful as she was good, who lived with her wicked stepmother in a house in the suburbs.”

“That’s better. But I have to seriously query this word poor.

“But she was poor!”

“Poor is relative. She lived in a house, didn’t she?”

“Yes.”

“Then socio-economically speaking, she was not poor.”

“But none of the money was hers! The whole point of the story is that the wicked stepmother makes her wear old clothes and sleep in the fireplace-”

“Aha! They had a fireplace! With poor, let me tell you, there’s no fireplace. Come down to the park, come to the subway stations after dark, come down to where they sleep in cardboard boxes, and I’ll show you poor!

“There was once a middle-class girl, as beautiful as she was good-”

“Stop right there. I think we can cut the beautiful, don’t you? Women these days have to deal with too many intimidating physical role models as it is, what with those bimbos in the ads. Can’t you make her, well, more average?”

“There was once a girl who was a little overweight and whose front teeth stuck out, who-”

“I don’t think it’s nice to make fun of people’s appearances. Plus, you’re encouraging anorexia.”

“I wasn’t making fun! I was just describing-”

“Skip the description. Description oppresses. But you can say what colour she was.”

“What colour?”

“You know. Black, white, red, brown, yellow. Those are the choices. And I’m telling you right now, I’ve had enough of white. Dominant culture this, dominant culture that-”

“I don’t know what colour.”

“Well, it would probably be your colour, wouldn’t it?”

“But this isn’t about me! It’s about this girl-”

“Everything is about you.”

“Sounds to me like you don’t want to hear this story at all.”

“Oh well, go on. You could make her ethnic. That might help.”

“There was once a girl of indeterminate descent, as average-looking as she was good, who lived with her wicked-”

“Another thing. Good and wicked. Don’t you think you should transcend those puritanical judgmental moralistic epithets? I mean, so much of that is conditioning, isn’t it?”

“There was once a girl, as average-looking as she was well-adjusted, who lived with her stepmother, who was not a very open and loving person because she herself had been abused in childhood.”

“Better. But I am so tired of negative female images! And stepmothers-they always get it in the neck! Change it to stepfather, why don’t you? That would make more sense anyway, considering the bad behaviour you’re about to describe. And throw in some whips and chains. We all know what those twisted, repressed, middle-aged men are like-”

Hey, just a minute! I’m a middle-aged-

“Stuff it, Mister Nosy Parker. Nobody asked you to stick in your oar, or whatever you want to call that thing. This is between the two of us. Go on.”

“There was once a girl-”

“How old was she?”

“I don’t know. She was young.”

“This ends with a marriage, right?”

“Well, not to blow the plot, but-yes.”

“Then you can scratch the condescending paternalistic terminology. It’s woman, pal. Woman.”

“There was once-”

“What’s this was, once? Enough of the dead past. Tell me about now.”

“There-”

“So?”

“So, what?”

“So, why not here?

Five Ways I’m Preparing for the Trump Presidency

It’s coming whether we like it or not. The Trump Presidency will be an animal all its own, and there are plenty of reasons to be concerned that: 1) things won’t go as planned, or 2) things will go as planned. It’s kind of a crapshoot.

As a Libertarian-leaning moderate who did not vote for Hillary, Donald, or Gary, I’m wary of government growth both as an entity and in its specific areas of legislation.

However, I’m more concerned about the deep division our country continues to experience. In the last two months, I’ve seen families and friendships buckle under the weight of political differences, and it’s grieved me. There was even a time when I feared that might happen to a few of my own relationships, but fortunately love and loyalty runs deeper than unforeseen election night results and the residual heartache it brings.

I wish I could make it all better between us, but I don’t know what that answer is.

Wherever you fall on the spectrum – from your comfy seat on the Trump Train to getting your passport out of the country – I want to share with you five ways I’m preparing for the Trump Presidency.

No. 1: I’m casting a wide net for gathering information and double-checking.
When the publisher and executive editor of The New York Times say they will rededicate themselves  to honest, unbiased reporting post-election, you know something has gone awry in the American media. When precious few journalists saw the Trump win as a real possibility, and We The People didn’t consider them, you know something is up.

That is why now more than ever is the right time to know your source of news and information is accurate and unbiased.

I’m a regular reader of The Independent and Reuters, and I’m looking more at The Real News. I’m a big fan of The Cato Institute and Reason Magazine, libertarian resources that do a consistent job of calling out Democrats, Republicans, and third parties when it pertains to the Constitution and our civil liberties.

Cable news is mostly out, though I greatly enjoy the diverse dialogue and banter on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

My goal is simple: Before I read something that tells me what I should think, I want to:  1) already know what happened, and 2) know how my personal belief system aligns on the matter.

Also, hypocrisy runs rampant in our nation’s capital, so before getting upset about something Donald Trump does, I’ll effort to see if he wasn’t the first. (Ahem and ahem.)

No. 2: I’ve established my political priorities, so I’m dropping the anchor.
I’m pretty clear about what I believe politically. I separate church and state easily. In a nutshell, I think the role of the federal government should be much smaller than it actually is. You can ask me how I feel about a particular issue and my first answer will likely be, “I don’t believe the federal government should be involved in it.” This is the standard against which I consider many, if not most, issues. It’s subject to change over time (life and experience forces that flexibility), but for now, today, at 38, I’m pretty firm.

Regardless of what President Trump does or doesn’t do, I will hold him against the standard of my own political standards, regardless of what is on trend, what others tell me I should believe, or what actors/athletes/preachers/pundits say is “right.”

No. 3: I’m learning about Islam.
This one is a biggie. Before the rhetoric starts and legislation regarding Muslim Americans or Muslim immigration crosses the presidential desk, I want to know more about the religion so I can have my own thoughts on the matter. Beyond the Five Pillars, I know virtually nothing concrete about Islam. Is it a religion of peace, or is it a religion of submission? I recently started listening to Let Us Reason: A Christian Muslim Dialogue and am continuing to find other helpful resources as I go on. Your suggestions are welcome.

No. 4: I’m leaning into what I know is true.
– Jesus is my savior, not whomever is president.
– My husband, parents, sister, and core group of girlfriends are my support system, not the American government.
– The balance of power among the three branches exists for a reason.
– There are plenty of good, honorable, respectable people who voted for Hillary Clinton.
– There are plenty of good, honorable, respectable people who voted for Donald Trump.

Whatever happens in Washington, these things will not change:
– how I parent my children
– how I treat others
– how I care for my own well-being
– my convictions about liberty
– my desire for learning
– my deep and abiding love for animals, solitude, and coffee.

No. 5: I’ll take a minute. 
Emotions have run high lately. Way high. In recent days it has taken massive amounts of self-control to turn off social media, to not comment, to not assume the worst, and to not eat all the leftover Christmas candy in one sitting because someone has shared a piece of fake news or condescending garbage online. It’s been hard to take the high road when unsolicited messages have come my way or when I’m watching crazy unfold before my eyes.

The hardest and most challenging obstacle ahead of me is to practice mindfulness, self-calming exercises, and the ever-essential PAUSE before I react. Beyond the pause, there’s yoga, a long run, a Netflix binge, a phone call to my sister. Whatever I need to do to calm down, I will do it. Whatever I need to do before reacting, I will do it.

It’s not a perfect recipe, but I’m trying here. I hope you’ll try, too.

In the words of President Obama from his farewell speech on January 10: “Understand, democracy does not require uniformity.  Our founders quarreled and compromised, and expected us to do the same. But they knew that democracy does require a basic sense of solidarity – the idea that for all our outward differences, we are all in this together; that we rise or fall as one.”