Friday, May 10, 2019


"I thought I was called to challenge the atheists, but the atheists ended up challenging me.  I thought God wanted to use me to show gay people how to be straight.  Instead God used gay people to show me how to be Christian."
Rachel Held Evans, 2016

The Christian community is morning the loss of progressive Christian blogger and author Rachel Held Evans, who died Saturday May 4, 2019 at the age of 37.  She died from a severe allergic reaction to antibiotics that had been administered for a combination of the flu and an infection.  She developed seizures, and was put in a medically induced coma, from which she was not able to recover.  Her death has been a shock to her friends and family as well as the many who follow her blog and read her books, and to the broader Christian community as a whole.

In the days following her death, testimonies poured out from across the spiritual spectrum, reflecting on what an impact her ministry had.  And all of it centered on the brutal honesty and truthfulness from which she spoke.  She highlighted the difficulties that exist for a woman in a theological landscape dominated (and often fiercely gatekeepered) by men.  She fought back against the notion that questioning one's theological elders means defying God or "backsliding" into atheism.  She wrote unflinchingly about how hard it can be to trust God, to forgive church leaders, particularly in light of some of the horrific abuses we have heard of, and how to wrestle with Scripture.  Hers was a real and genuine life that reminds us that faith is often messy and complicated.

From her work, we can see a faith that should be more interested in the questions than the answers.  In living in the questions, instead of having to have "the" answer.  A faith that is continually seeking.  That is questioning and not just taking things that are told to you.  That seeks to learn more, to grow more, to understand more.

To become more gracious, more kind, more understanding.  More patient.  More loving.  More merciful.

That opens itself to outsiders.  To the excluded.  To the hurting.  To the broken.  Particularly those that the church has traditionally shunned or ignored.

And her faith wasn't afraid to step outside the bounds that the Christian community has traditionally drawn for itself.  She wrote about being pro-life but voting for Hilary Clinton because she believed the Democratic party created progressive social policies that make health and child care more affordable, contraception more accessible, alleviate poverty and support a living wage, resulting in driving down abortion rates.

She called out churches for trying to make church "cool" to appeal to the new kids.  "For a generation bombarded with advertising and sales pitches, and for whom the charge of 'inauthentic' is as cutting an insult as any, church rebranding efforts can actually backfire, especially when young people sense that there is more emphasis on marketing Jesus than actually following Him."

She was a progressive Christian writer who found her faith again in the traditions of the sacraments and liturgy.  

Somewhat beautifully, her last post before becoming ill was about Ash Wednesday, Lent, and an acceptance of death.  

"It strikes me today as the liturgy of Ash Wednesday teaches something that nearly everyone can agree on.  Whether you are part of a church or not, whether you believe today or your doubt, whether you are a Christian or an atheist or an agnostic or a so-called "none" (whose faith experiences far transcend the limits of that label) you know this truth deep in your bones: "Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return.

Death is a part of life.

My prayer for you this season is that you make time to celebrate that reality, and to grieve that reality, and that you will know you are not alone.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust."

In a perspective piece in the Washington Post, a colleague noted this as the true arc of Christianity; "that death comes before life, that doubt comes before belief, that the gospel of Jesus comes to us in a world sick with pain, loss, brokenness, and, as we know too well, senseless death."

But we also know the beauty that such darkness gives way to light.  That pain gives way to healing.  That brokenness can lead to repair.  

That the product of our faith is restoration.  So long as we keep seeking, keep questioning, keep learning, keep loving, keep growing and deepening in it.  

I pray her life, her death, and her message remind us of that.

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