Dying Good Deaths: A Review of Rachel Held Evans’ Searching for Sunday
Rachel Held Evans, popular blogger known for addressing questions people are afraid to ask in Christianity, tweeted and asked for 300 people to receive an advanced copy of her latest book, Searching for Sunday. A little community formed on the internet after we all received the book, posting our favorite excerpts and constantly coming back to the truth that Rachel makes us feel like we have a place to call home, both in the story of Christianity and in our own personal stories of church. We’re all positing our reviews during Searching for Sunday’s release week, meaning you can preorder it right now or walk into Barnes and Noble and get one.
Books seem to find me during seasons of personal transition and they become my favorite books. Maybe it’s because I remember who I am the most when I’m reading. Transition means leaving one season and starting another, with so many similar and familiar aspects of life discovered in between. Hearing someone’s writing voice while turning pages late into the night is exactly the kind of love my soul needs. It was Lauren Winner’s Girl Meets God when I graduated college and Donald Miller’s Through Painted Deserts when I moved to South Carolina. Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist when my mom had cancer and Bread and Wine by the same author when I was celebrating my last year as a Resident Director. Searching for Sunday found me right in the middle of our first year of marriage and weeks before we moved from our little safety net of the Greenville community we’ve known for ten years. All of these books helped me close doors on entire worlds lived before and gave me the courage to open new ones.
Rachel has certainly joined my patron saints of authors and I’m sure I’ll revisit Searching for Sunday every year we become more established here, to remember the Emily I am now and to be challenged again.
Searching for Sunday’s structure immediately struck me. Rachel focuses the entire book around the seven sacraments of the Church (Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, Confession, Marriage, Holy Orders, and Anointing of the Sick) by telling stories from her own life and the lives of others to illustrate the Holy Spirit’s work in each. She beautifully weaves in her own story of coming to terms with Christian culture, having eyes to see different aspects of the church, dealing with the brokenness of being rejected by church people, and receiving those the church rejects.
Here are some of my favorite quotes that tell the story of the sacramental sections:
“…I’ve wrestled with the evangelical tradition in which I was raised, often ungracefully. At times I’ve tried to wring the waters of my first baptism out of my clothes, shake them out of my hair, and ask for a do-over in some other community where they ordain women, vote for Democrats, and believe in evolution. But Jesus has this odd habit of allowing ordinary, screwed-up people to introduce him, and so it was ordinary, screwed up people who first told me I was a beloved child of God, who first called me a Christian. I don’t know where my story of faith will take me, but it will always begin here. That much can never change.”
“As my mother tried to tell me a million times, they weren’t rejecting me for being different, they were rejecting me for being familiar, for calling out all those quiet misgivings most Christians keep hidden in the dark corners of their hearts and would rather not name.”
“Our reasons for staying, leaving, and returning to church are as complex and layered as we are. They don’t fit in the boxes we check in the surveys or the hurried responses we deliver at dinner parties. How easy it is to judge when we don’t know all the details. How easy it is to offer advice when what is needed is empathy. How easy it is to forget that, in the words of novelist Zadie Smith, “every person is a world.”
“It’s not my table anyway. It’s not my denomination’s table or my church’s table. It’s Christ’s table. Christ sends out the invitations, and if he has to run through the streets gathering up the riffraff to fill up his house, then that’s exactly what he’ll do. Who am I to try and block the door?”
“It may be tempting to dismiss the miracle and Cana as a mere magic trick, an example of Jesus flexing his messianic muscles before getting to the real work of restoring sight to the blind and helping the paralyzed off their mats. But this is only because we have such a hard time believing that God cares about our routine realities, that God’s glory resides in the stuff of everyday life, just waiting to be seen.”
“As a Jew, keeping kosher was tantamount to Peter’s very faith and identity, but when following Jesus led him to the homes and tables of Gentiles, Peter had a vision in which God told him not to let rules—even biblical ones—keep him from loving his neighbor.”
“The marginalized are always the first to comprehend death and resurrection.”
“The purpose of the church, and of the sacraments, is to give the world a glimpse of the kingdom, to point in its direction. When we put a kingdom-spin on ordinary things—water, wine, leadership, marriage, friendship, feasting, sickness, forgiveness—we see that they can be holy, they can point us to something greater than ourselves, a fantastic mystery that brings meaning to everything. We make something sacramental when we make it like the kingdom. Marriage is sacramental when it is characterized by mutual love and submission. A meal is sacramental when the rich and poor, powerful and marginalized, sinners and saints share equal status around the table.”
There is so much more I could say about this book, but I’ll leave you with this: Rachel reminds us exactly what Christ reminds us over and over again in the gospels: Christianity is not a political empire with culture wars to be won, it’s a Kingdom of life filled with sacraments made from ordinary moments of holiness. Life and death are intertwined beautifully, so we should (as Rachel says) die good deaths, meaning we should take risks, move on, let old attitudes die, and continually understand that somehow, mysteriously, life comes from death.
I kept joking with people before we moved that I was giving up Greenville for Lent, but it turned out to be true. I had to let the most precious community fall away and die so new life stood a chance in the Spring. This was especially poignant contemplating Christ’s death and resurrection during Easter, how one man’s death could mysteriously open millions of doors of life for so many after him.
Please, please, please,