Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Searching For Sunday



I've really struggled the last several years with being disillusioned with the church, but at the same time yearning for that relationship with God that I feel like is fostered through the church community.  I even wrote a post a few months ago on Finding Jesus, Losing Religion. I know I am not alone in this feeling; the mass exodus of 20-somethings from the church is constantly discussed in the Christian realm. Churches are attempting to make church more "hip", "relevant", and "authentic". They want 20-somethings to be able to relate, so you see pastors rocking skinny jeans, light shows during worship, and rock bands leading music. With all that being said there are still a significant portion of 20-somethings who are cynical about the church and still not finding themselves walking through the church doors come Sunday.

Recently one of my long-time best friends mailed me Rachel Held Evan's book Searching For Sunday. He included a little note that said "This was a really good book I read recently. As I was reading it, it reminded me of many conversations we have had and a lot of our memories/stories we have from our upbringing in a Southern Baptist Church. I hope you enjoy it." He couldn't have been more right. This book hit home in so many ways for me. I read it in two days during Landry's naps. I laughed and I cried. Not just tearing up... there were times I had to sit the book down and just wept into my hands because Rachel's beautiful words reflected everything I have felt over the years but never knew/could express so eloquently and perfectly.

The book is divided into sections written around the 7 sacraments: Baptism, Confession, Holy Orders, Communion, Confirmation, Anointing of the Sick, and Marriage. At first I was a little concerned upon seeing how the book was organized. Baptists do not typically observe sacraments, instead we have the ordinances of Baptism and Communion. Many times the question is brought up of the difference between sacrament and ordinance. This is how I view it: ordinances are viewed more of what the participant does. It is something we are doing to symbolize our faith to God. Sacraments are a physical act of God's grace. As Rachel says

"we're looking for Jesus- the same Jesus who can be found in the strange places he's always been found: in bread, in wine, in baptism, in the Word, in suffering, in community, and among the least of these"

The sacraments are the perfect starting place for finding Jesus without all the noise and outside influences. It can be so hard to sift through the church politics, drama, and bureaucracy to find Jesus and his love. But the sacraments are essential in getting back to the basics and the love and grace God has given to us.

Upon reading the book the organization made complete sense. It gave structure to the book and also gave me a better understanding and appreciation of the sacraments, particularly communion. Growing up communion was typically only held once a quarter and maybe during holidays. Emphasis was never placed on communion being a physical demonstration of our faith. I have a new found appreciation for communion and the weekly act of participating in it. Rachel describes communion as a time for all to gather around the table: 

"...the gospel doesn't need a coalition devoted to keeping the wrong people out. It needs a family of sinners, saved by grace, committed to tearing down the walls, throwing open the doors, and shouting 'Welcome! There's bread and wine. Come eat with us and talk."

Doesn't that make you appreciate communion a little more? It equalizes the playing field! It doesn't matter if you are white, black, gay, straight, transexual, man, woman, republican, democrat. We are all welcome to take of Christ's body and drink of his blood. His grace is for all of us!

Rachel really leads the reader through her religious journey, from growing up in an Evangelical church to doubting and falling away to finding a new home in the Episcopal church. As she puts it she tells us about

"...loving, leaving, and longing for church, about searching for it and finding it in unexpected places."

The stories that she shares growing up evangelical resonated so much with me. From the youth group games at retreat (chubby bunny, relays, musical chairs) to trying to witness to every one you meet. I remember trying to befriend "un-believers" for the sole-purpose of trying to save their souls. Not because I genuinely loved or cared for them but because I felt called by God to make sure everyone believed in him as their Lord and Savior. I remember going with a few fellow Christian friends to the mall and going up to strangers and asking them if they believed in Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Now to think what in the world those poor, unexpecting souls thought about these dorky little teenagers trying to witness to them. When one of my friends drank one weekend I printed off Bible verses condemning being drunk and gave them to her with a harsh note about my concern for her "back-sliding". I am honestly embarrassed and appalled to think back on how I acted and treated other people. It was not out of love or genuine concern and it was not how Jesus would have behaved. 

My freshmen year of college is when my relationship with the church began to change. I began struggling with my depression again and many of the people in the Christian group I was involved with at college blamed my depression on me not relying on God enough. They told me if I trusted God more and spent more time in the Word I would not be having these issues with depression. Instead of joining me in my brokenness and taking the time to truly listen and try to understand they simply wrote me off as another sinner whose troubles were brought on by not being faithful enough. That really was the catalyst for me leaving the church.

I began to have my doubts and questions but none of the religious people I knew encouraged me to doubt or question. Instead I was told that faith is not knowing the answer but still believing. I was told to not question the will of God. But Rachel reminds us that "people bond more deeply over shared brokenness than they do over shared beliefs." The church should not shy away from the questions and brokenness, it is the perfect opportunity to comfort those and show them the grace that has been given.

I am so inspired now to really give liturgy and tradition a chance when it comes to finding a church. Daniel and I have  decided to visit one of the Episcopal Churches in town. I have swore up in down I would never go to an Episcopal Church. It is too organized, they leave no room for the spirit to move in the service. The services are boring and the same thing every week. Why do they read their prayers? That's so insincere.

Now I better understand the style of worship Episcopal's engage in. I can't find the exact quote but somewhere in Rachel's book she describes the differences in worship between evangelicals and anglican churches. Evangelicals view God as the director, the pastor as the actor, and the congregation the audience during worship. Anglican churches view God as the audience, the pastor as the director, and the congregation as the actors. That revelation has caused my view of church to do a 180. It doesn't matter as much how I "feel" about church. It's not about me. It is about worshipping God and him receiving the praise. I really feel like I can find comfort right now in a church less obsessed with feelings and more focused on tradition. My feelings can waver so often but finding grounding in the tangible elements like the sacraments and commonly recited prayers seems so comforting. 

I'm not saying the Episcopal church is the right church or that it is going to be perfect (I haven't even tried it yet). But Rachel quotes one of her friends who says "When you join a church you're just picking which hot mess is your favorite". Church is like a family, in all of it's love and dysfunctional glory.

I am not saying I regret my evangelical roots. Sometimes I feel like I need to introduce myself when interacting with non-evangelical Christians and say "Hi my name is Brittany and I am a recovering Evangelical." And Rachel and struggled with the same feelings

"At time 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-ver in some other community where they ordain women, vote for Democrats, and believe in evolution." 

But she points how Jesus continually uses the ordinary, the screwed up to introduce him. My foundation of faith was built on those evangelical ways. It showed me the personal relationship I can have with Jesus. It challenged me to live out my faith. At a time in my youth when I struggled with depression and isolation my church gave me a place to call home. It gave me a group of people that loved me and kept me involved.

Rachel really sums it up perfectly what mainly 20-somethings are longing for with the church...

"We're tired of culture wars, tired of Christianity getting entangled with party politics and power. Millennials want to be known by what we're for... not just what we're against. We don't want to choose between science and religion or between our intellectual integrity and faith... We want to talk about the tough stuff- biblical interpretation, religious pluralism, sexuality, racial reconciliation, and social justice- but without predetermined conclusions or simplistic answers." 

I am looking for a church that loves not only their members but also any one that walks through their doors and even those that don't. I am looking for a church who does not strive for uniformity but instead unity. I am looking for a church that helps those in need. I am looking for a church that loves God and loves Jesus. And for the first time in a long time I don't feel cynical about the church. I don't feel like this will be hard to find. And I don't expect perfection from the church because I sure as hell hope they don't expect it from me.

Lastly Rachel discusses the "death of the church" and her hope for the resurrection and what it will look like:

"I hope it looks like altars transforming into tables, gates transforming into open doors, and cure-alls transforming into healing oils. I hope it looks like a kingdom that belongs not to the rich, but to the poor, not to the triumphant but to the meet, not the culture warriors but to the peacemakers. If Christianity must die, may it die to the old way of dominance and control and be resurrected to the Way of Jesus, the Way of the cross." 

Have you ever read any of Rachel Held Evan's work? Do you struggle with your faith? 

10 comments:

  1. I Loved it, and I was so excited to read it!

    I am glad you posted it in the same day!
    Coming from someone who grew up Catholic-it was hard for me to understand anything other then what I grew up to know! I will have to look into this book-thank you for sharing!

    Molly

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    1. Thank you for your kind words Molly! You are too sweet. Definitely check the book out to see a different point-of-view. Growing up Evangelical definitely is different than Catholic. Got to love the crazy, beautiful world that is Christianity.

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  2. First of all, what a sweet friend to send this to you!

    I've never read anything by Rachel Held Evans, but I love your description of this. Adding it to my queue now.

    I grew up evangelical too, although I wasn't in a mainstream denomination so I think that helped me avoid some of the struggles you describe. I also went to a Mennonite Brethren college which I wouldn't describe as either evangelical or anglican. It's very socially conscious, traditional but not stuffy. Hard to describe.

    Anyway, now we go to a Methodist church but it's a church plant with a young pastor and I love his vision of doing life together and really being the church. We have communion every single week and it is not just a throw-away part at the end of the service but a real focus, and I love that. In many ways I do think communion should be the center of every worship service rather than the sermon.

    (It's not a perfect church though; because of where it is located in an affluent neighborhood I am seeing a divide between the wealthy members and those who aren't so much.)

    Anyway, great thoughts! Thanks!

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    1. I could not recommend it more! I am so glad my friend sent it to me.

      "Doing life together" that is such a wonderful phrase that describes what I am looking for in a church family. That just sums up what it is about.

      I love the idea of communion being the center of worship. At first it was a little hard for me to understand considering I always grew up with it always being about the sermon. Heck, we didn't even refer to it as worship a lot of times, it was simply "preachin".

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  3. Brittany, I attended an Episcopal church for about 7 years in the late 80's and early 90's. I personally liked the structure of the service and LOVED that we took communion each and every Sunday. It was very meaningful and truly reverential worship. There were NO negatives in this church for me. I will help you pray about this. Love and miss you!

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    1. Thank you for your prayers Jane, they are much appreciated!

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  4. I just stumbled upon your blog, and I'm so glad I did. Following along now.

    I've had this "sample" in my Kindle app for a while now. I've seen bits and pieces of the author's opinions and articles and things around the internet, and it made me want to read more about her. I'll have to start that sample and maybe buy the book! Thanks for the honest review and thoughts.

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    1. Aww thank you Laura! Glad to have you here!

      I would highly recommend checking it out. It was a great read and really helped me to have some one who shared similar feelings to me and my upbringing.

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  5. Great post! So glad you like her book. I haven't read this one yet, but it's on my shelf. I loved her last book, A Year Of Biblical Womanhood, and I think you would really like it too. Very funny and thought provoking! Her first book was pretty good too. Good luck with your church search. I think you will like what you find in the protestant traditions.

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    1. I am definitely wanting to check out her other books after reading this one. And thank you!

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