Monday, May 11, 2015

Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans

Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this book for the purpose of review. My integrity is not for sale. Those who know me well are aware I would relish the chance to give a bad review in exchange for a free book. If I've failed to do so, it has nothing to do with the source of the material and only with the material itself.

So, I've not ready any of Rachel Held Evans other books, but I've read a fair amount of writing on her blog, especially when a post resonates with people. I also believe we share some mutual acquaintances and certainly some experiences. This book, about her sojourn in and out of church is both familiar and foreign to me. It's well written and personal (to get the perfunctory specifics of a typical "review" out of the way). It hits home most deeply when she's sharing stories and less so when she's explaining stuff. Fortunately, she keeps each chapter brief and on point. I'm not sure I quite get the organizational structure, but that neither adds nor detracts from the book overall.

Searching for Sunday is and will be popular because I imagine there are points of intersection between her life and the lives of almost every reader. At times I found her experiences difficult to understand; at other times I knew exactly all the emotions present in a situation, whether they were expressed or not.

I can only do justice to this book as a review by inserting myself and my story into it. I grew up among a people who fancy themselves evangelical - although the label was probably not one most "real" evangelicals would apply. The Church of the Nazarene is a Wesleyan people and thus have always had room for incongruity and some bit of rebellious streak. I wrestled with many of the questions she raises here and still do in some sense. I am an ordained minister in my particular tribe and remain involved - but perhaps only because I found wise leaders willing to let me do my non-traditional sojourn with the blessing of the powers that be.

Towards the end of the book, Rachel tackles an interesting question - why she remains connected to evangelicalism when she no longer identifies with the theology and practice of her youth. I imagine the answer is the same one I have for remaining a part of the tribe that raised me. Beyond the core of fundamentalism, beyond the interpretation of scripture, the anti-intellectual leanings, beyond the legalism and the doctrine and the problems, at the core of evangelicalism is the firm belief that God's love changes the world. Not that evangelicals are the only people to believe this, but they are the most fervent representatives of the notion that this belief should be the center of our being.

If I can give any sort of review for Searching for Sunday it is simply this: Rachel Held Evans has written a book for those prodigal evangelicals, both those born into the traditional and those watching from afar, who have deep reservations about what evangelicals do and how they do it, but a deep, abiding, almost co-dependent love of why they do it.

She takes a simple, if meandering, story about her own struggle to find place and purpose in the community of Christ and manages to include all the good and bad of those experiences in a hopeful, life-giving package, that leave the reader neither filled with warm-fuzzies, nor feeling cold and alone. It is a real picture of real people and it somehow feels a bit ideal.

It might be cliche to say a voice like this helps people feel they're not alone. If that is the only thing one gets out of the book, it's probably enough - yet there's also a lot more there if you need it. I'm not sure it spoke to me as much as it might to others who've not stumbled into the same supportive system I have, but it was fun to read and certainly more interesting than most of the stuff that gets the "Christian" label these days.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the® book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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