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Thursday, June 4, 2015

"Searching for Sunday" (Rachel Held Evans)

TITLE: Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church
AUTHOR: Rachel Held Evans
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2015, (270 pages).

Faith is never static. It needs to be nuanced accordingly as what the Spirit is leading us to, not according to subjective contexts. More importantly, it cannot depart from the biblical text otherwise it is not rooted on solid ground.  Standing in the gap of heaven and earth, we often aspire to heavenly goodness while at the same time, perspire in our earthly land. Trying to make sense of faith while on earth is a journey. Some of us brush it aside as there are more "important" things to do, like putting food on the table. Others treat it so rigidly that not going to church appears like a sign of backsliding.  Popular blogger and speaker, Rachel Held Evans tries to describe her own spiritual journey in such a way as to reflect the genuine desire to search for God. In this book, "Searching for Sunday" is less about the "club" we are seeking to belong in, but a kind of "current" that mirrors a search for a "Sunday resurrection." Using the seven sacraments universally accepted by various church traditions, Evans tries to express sacramental truths rather than mere sacraments or sacramentalism.

  1. Baptism - Church telling us how we are beloved
  2. Confessions - Church telling us how we are broken
  3. Holy Orders - Church telling us we are commissioned
  4. Communion - Church feeds us
  5. Confirmation - Church welcomes us
  6. Anointing of the Sick - Church anoints us
  7. Marriage - How the Church unites us.

In Baptism, readers can enjoy how Evans writes about the waters of baptism, how God's Spirit that hovered over the waters is the same Spirit that baptized Christ, and in the same spirit of obedience, believers are baptized into Christ. She begins with her own story of baptism where she disagreed with her pastor about baptism as a requirement to go to heaven, her nervousness about baptism getting her wet, and how her views of baptism broadens with time. For baptism is less about the act but the declarations that motivated the act. She talks and gives hints about journeying from legalism to grace.

In Confession, starting with Ash Wednesday, Evans makes a pretty good observation that "We could not become like God, so God became like us." How true! Confession starts by remembering that we are like dust in the first place. She confesses her continued discomfort with rigid religion preferring to nuance her beliefs, that speaking out on something must be congruent with God's compassion. Confession is also about acknowledging our weaknesses, our limitations, and our sins. It is one thing to feel safe, but yet another to be comfortable in Church. Only one thing is needed for a truly safe sanctuary: Truth. Confession is also about thanksgiving, and to remember not to be judgmental. Instead, learn of Billy Graham when he said: "It is the Holy Spirit's job to convict, God's job to judge, and my job to love."

On Holy Orders, we read about the way Church tradition commissions followers of Christ by the laying of hands. We are called to comfort the afflicted, be agents of God's grace, to go forth in mission for God, and how being a successful Church is not about learning best practices or most successful tips. It means simply being broken like Christ, joyous like Christ, compassionate like Christ, convicted like Christ, and be branded a failure in the world, like Christ. I appreciated the words of Barbara Brown Taylor about serving in an imperfect institution: "To be a priest is to know that things are not as they should be and yet to care for them the way they are." It is a beautiful reminder that we are called to serve rather than to be served.

On Communion, we read short reflections on the bread, the wine, the cup, and the open table. While it is a sacrament that ought to be done with solemnity and respect, it is also an opportunity to express unity in Christ, that we are who Christ died for. It is significant for the Christian community to be able to come together in spite of differences. With the table as a positive symbol of reconciliation and forgiveness, we learn that feasting at the holy meal is a reminder of the heavenly banquet that is to come. For we do not wait until we feel or be right before sharing a meal. We are already made right in Christ and in His Name we come.

On Confirmation, we are called to pay attention to the breath of God, to the moving of the Spirit, to be alert to God's prompting, and to be surprised by the Spirit. The search for a church to belong to is also about noticing the presence of God wherever we are.  Evans reminds us: "When the Spirit lives within you, any place can become a sanctuary. You just have to listen. You just have to pay attention." Looking at the numerous number of churches and denominations, we need to learn to appreciate the differences while affirming the similarities. It is thus, less about the institutional church confirming our roles or identities but the Spirit of God that informs us and affirms us. Being Church is about learning to let the fruit of the Spirit speak louder than mere talk.

Coming to "Anointing of the Sick," we serve because God first served us. This is not limited to simply helping the poor or healing the sick. There is a whole gamut of expression of love in action. With the debates over LGBT in churches all over the world, Evans is convinced that Christians in general have a lot to learn from Christians who call themselves LGBT. It is about truth-telling, confession, forgiveness, neighbourliness, accepting our brokenness while anticipating the resurrection.

The final theme is Marriage in which the author focuses less on human matrimony but more about Church being the bride of Christ, and Jesus coming that day to unite the Church to Him. She will be crowned. She will be part of the mystery. When the Kingdom of God comes, the glory will belong to God and Jesus will bring to Church with Him.

So What?

This is perhaps, one of Rachel Held Evans's most personal take on what church means to her and what church ought to look like from a position of Christian love and grace. The Church is called to be open more to God rather than toward people who look, feel, talk, or smell alike. They are called to be like Christ and to love another just like Christ. Each chapter is brief, with a very bold statement that the Church needs to do more than just talk love. Holding on to convictions is one thing. Practicing the truth in love is another, and this is something that frustrates the author as she shares from her past while grappling with the call of God toward unity, acceptance, love, and understanding.

The seven themes surround the common practices of Church. After meandering through the seven parts of the sacramental search from dawn to dark, from Baptism to Communion; from Confirmation to Marriage, readers will see how all the principles of the seven sacraments are merged into a person's search for what Church is all about. While one may be tempted to say that this is Held-Evans's personal search for a church to belong too, I would say that this is very much a journey of faith from the perspective of one struggling to expand the common area of faith and Christian love. Nice feelings of love will bring people together. Nasty moments of debates, disagreements, and disappointments can pull people apart. Yet, it is through moments of loving and loathing, living and leaving, that we find our need for God more and more. We learn that without God, there is no common ground. Without Christ, there is no common faith. With the Spirit, there is no common purpose or meaning to be together.

I really like this book.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Thomas-Nelson and BookLookBloggers program in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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