Searching For Sunday | Reflections & Notes

Rachel Held Evans. Searching For Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church. Thomas Nelson, 2015. (268 pages)

The Atlantic: Is Christianity Dark Enough For Millennials?; Huffington Post, Zach Hoag interview; Mike McHargue review; Patheos review by Ben Witherington; Crossway’s promo video;


Admittedly, I read this only at the request of a congregant. But as is so often the case, that which was obliged and compulsory turned into inspired and illuminating. While much of the content is anecdotal (explaining the paucity of quotes below in the notes), I did very much appreciate the insights and “view switches” that pushed me to seeing things in new ways, and to consider new thoughts. Evans’s outline, for example, of the sacraments was quite the phenomenological approach, drawing attention to the traditions while at the same time critically engaging traditionalism.

Most of all, reading this assisted me with one of my greatest weaknesses, which is to feel my way through the morass of my identity and vocation. That approach frequently causes me more angst than joy, even though I know that emotions and experiences are the other chamber of our collective hearts.

כל הכבד (all the respect) to Evans for yet another contribution to the ecclesial conversation.


Prologue: Dawn

I’ll tell you how the sun rose a ribbon at a time. – Emily Dickinson

…so we need to stop building our churches around categories and start building them around people. … We millennials have been advertised to our entire lives, so we can smell b.s. from a mile away. The church is the last place we want to be sold another product, the last place we want to be entertained. (xiv)

The church tells us we are beloved (baptism).
The church tells us we are broken (confession).
The church tells us we are commissioned (holy orders).
The church feeds us (communion).
The church welcomes us (confirmation).
The church anoints us (anointing of the sick).
The church unites us (marriage). (xvii)

This book is entitled Searching for Sunday, but it’s less about searching for a Sunday church and more about searching for Sunday resurrection. It’s about all the strange ways God brings dead things back to life again. It’s about giving up and starting over again. It’s about why, even on days when I suspect all this talk of Jesus and resurrection and life everlasting is a bunch of bunk designed to coddle us through an essentially meaningless existence, I should still like to be buried with my feet facing the rising sun. | Just in case. (xviii)

I. Baptism

1. Water

2. Believer’s Baptism

3. Naked on Easter

Baptism reminds us that there’s no ladder to holiness to climb, no self-improvement plan to follow. It’s just death and resurrection, over and over again, day after day, as God reaches down into our deepest graves and with the same power that raised Jesus from the dead wrests us from our pride, our apathy, our fear, our prejudice, our anger, our hurt, and our despair. Most days I don’t know which is harder for me to believe: that God reanimated the brain functions of a man three days dead, or that God can bring back to life all the beautiful things we have killed. Both seem pretty unlikely to me. (21)

In the ritual of baptism, our ancestors acted out the bizarre truth of the Christian identity: We are people who stand totally exposed before evil and death and declare them powerless against love. | There’s nothing normal about that. (22)

4. Chubby Bunny

5. Enough

6. Rivers

Repentance, then, meant reorienting one’s life around this reality. It meant repenting of the old ways of obstruction and joining in the great paving of the path, in the demolishing of every man-made impediment between God and God’s people, and in the celebrating of God’s wild, uninhibited presence filling every corner of the earth. (37)

II. Confession

7. Ash

8. Vote Yes On One

…their reactions had less to do with disdain for my doubt and more to do with fear of their own. (52)

Belief, after all, is the language of evangelicalism. Not sacrament. Not spirit. Not liturgy. Not tradition. Not discipleship. Belief. (64)

9. Dirty Laundry

…people bond more deeply over shared brokenness than they do over shared beliefs. (67)

The Refuge is a mission center and Christian community dedicated to helping hurting and hungry people find faith, hope, and dignity alongside each other.

We love to throw parties, tell stories, find hope, and practice the ways of Jesus as best we can.

We’re all hurt or hungry in our own ways.

We’re at different places on our journey but we share a guiding story, a sweeping epic drama called the Bible.

We find faith as we follow Jesus and share a willingness to honestly wrestle with God and our questions and doubts.

We find dignity as God’s image-bearers and strive to call out that dignity in one another.

We all receive, we all give.

We are old, young, poor, rich, conservative, liberal, single, married, gay, straight, evangelicals, progressives, overeducated, undereducated, certain, doubting, hurting, thriving.

Yet Christ’s love binds our differences together in unity.

At The Refuge, everyone is safe, but no one is comfortable.

10. What We Have Done

11. Meet the Press

12. Dust

…the easiest way to make oneself righteous is to make someone else a sinner. (91)

III. Holy Orders

13. Hands

14. The Mission

15. Epic Fail

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. (112)

16. Feet

IV. Communion

17. Bread

18. The Meal

19. Methodist Dance Party

20. Open Hands

21. Open Table

22. Wine

V. Confirmation

23. Breath

24. Wayside Shrines

Madeleine L’Engle said, “the great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.” I think the same is true for churches. Each one stays with us, even after we’ve left, adding layer after layer to the palimpsest of our faith. (179)

It has become cliché to talk about faith as a journey, and yet the metaphor holds. Scripture doesn’t speak of people who found God. Scripture speaks of people who walked with God. (180)

25. Trembling Giant

The many parts of the church are called to participate together in a unity characterized by interdependent particularity. Each is a part, and only a part, of the embodied witness to truth of the gospel made known in Jesus Christ. Each plays its part by bearing faithful witness to Jesus Christ in all the fullness of its cultural, social, and historical particularity in order that the world may know that the God of love has been revealed in Jesus Christ and that through him God is reconciling the world and announcing good news to all people. – John R. Franke, Manifuld Witness (183)

26. Easter Doubt

27. With God’s Help

28. Wind

VI. Anointing of the Sick

29. Oil

30. Healing

…there is a difference between curing and healing. (208)

The thing about healing, as opposed to curing, is that it is relational. It takes time. It is inefficient, like a meandering river. Rarely does healing follow a straight or well-lit path. Rarely does it conform to our expectations or resolve in a timely manner. Walking with someone through grief, or through the process of reconciliation, requires patience, presence, and a willingness to wander, to take the scenic route. (208)

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.’ – Brené Brown

31. Evangelical Acedia

Cynicism is a powerful anesthetic we use to numb ourselves to pain, but which also, by its nature, numbs us to truth and joy. Grief is healthy. Even anger can be healthy. But numbing ourselves with cynicism in an effort to avoid feeling those things is not. (222)

Cynicism may help us create simpler storylines with good guys and bad guys, but it doesn’t make us any better at telling the truth, which is that most of us are a frightening mix of good and evil, sinner and saint. | The annoying thing about being human is that to be fully engaged with the world, we must be vulnerable. And the annoying thing about being vulnerable is that sometimes it means we get hurt. And when your family includes the universal church, you’re going to get hurt. Probably more than once. (222)

32. This Whole Business With the Hearse

But lately I’ve been wondering if a little death and resurrection might be just what church needs right now, if maybe all this talk of waning numbers and shrinking influence means our empire-building days are over, and if maybe that’s a good thing. | Death is something empires worry about, not something gardeners worry about. It’s certainly not something resurrection people worry about. (225)

New life starts in the dark. Whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb, it starts in the dark. – Barbara Brown Taylor

33. Perfume

VII. Marriage

34. Crowns

35. Mystery

36. Body

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 (250) is enough, for now, to carry us through the world and into the arms of Christ. (251)

37. Kingdom

Epilogue: Dark

About VIA

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