A Journey Toward the Trinity? Searching for Sunday (A Review)

I am not a millennial. I live with two of them in my home – well, one is part time now that she has gone to college. However, I have always had a difficult time figuring out which group I truly relate to the most. I could be a “Boomer”. No doubt my bowing to the god of consumerism labels me this way many times. I could be a “Gen-X” or “Buster”. God, my supervisors and my colleagues in ministry know that I have spent more than my fair share of time calling things into question. I enjoy upsetting the status quo just a little too much at times. Although my age would allow me to fit into either of these two groups – I was born in 1965 – I truly think of myself as part of the “Bridge” generation. (We have no “one” identity but find our tribe among many.) Perhaps that is why, even today, I find myself longing to listen more and more to voices of the “millennials” who have a relationship with doubt and questioning that I find exciting and fascinating, if not, at times, downright frightening.

SFS BookIt is because of this desire to hear the voices of millennials that I first started reading Rachel Held Evans’ work. It is why I have listened to her speak. It is why I am honored to be able to recommend her latest work, Searching for Sunday.

When I received my copy of Searching for Sunday, I immediately scanned the table of contents for the section on Communion. I knew the book was going to be organized around the Sacraments and the Eucharist has special appeal to me because I have learned so much about following Christ by being on both sides of “the Table.” It was in serving communion that I learned what a bold-faced judgmental hypocrite I was when I chose not to partake of Christ’s meal with a congregation I was serving because I felt their sin of racism somehow tainted the meal. It was in receiving communion that I learned what a beggar for grace I am and now only approach the Table with my hands held out. Sometimes, I will sit through a whole worship service with my hands cupped just so I can remember that grace is a gift.

So I decided to read that chapter first and then go back and read the whole book. Perhaps I wanted to take the book for a test drive around a topic that is near and dear to me. Perhaps I wanted to see if the part of the book which would be most important to me would live up to my expectations. I don’t know. I just wanted to read that section first.

I was not disappointed. My expectations were not only met, they were exceeded. Ms. Evans echoed the feeling I learned at that table in North Carolina when I thought I was too good to eat with certain people: “At Eagle Eyrie I learned why it’s so important for pastors to serve communion. It’s important because it steals the show. It’s important because it shoves you and your ego and your expectations out of the way so Jesus can do his thing. It reminds you that grace is as abundant as tears and faith as simple as food.”[1]

The power in telling any story, I believe, is as that story invites the reader in and allows them to find themselves somewhere in the narrative. This happened to me in a powerful way as I read “Communion” and happened again and again throughout the book. I am not a child of the evangelical church, I am and always have been part of a mainline denomination, the United Methodist Church. But still, I found myself in Evans’ narrative over and over and over again. As powerful as this connection to the story was around “Communion” it paled in comparison to how I felt the “guilt of silence” as I read the section “Vote Yes on One.” Silence seems to be the only way to survive in the UM Church these days.

I simply cannot tell you how great this book is for anyone searching for a reason to find faith again, or those who are sometimes wondering about the faith they have in the tradition they hold. Evans’ story of her journey shows how one can embrace evangelical, progressive and sacramental traditions as they follow Jesus. And this is a story for our time.

Recently, I read an article by Steve Harper where he said, “Staying together is a sacred act – a holy experience. We have become patterned to disagree and divide. But the witness in the Trinity is to unite and to be one.”[2] Evans poignantly tells us the sometimes tortured path that she took to get to that unity of past, present and future in her theology. Evans gives us the hope that we might one day do the same.

Read Searching for Sunday. Start your journey as well.

[1] Searching for Sunday, Rachel Held Evans, Nelson Publishing, 2015, page 140

[2] “No More Sides”, Steve Harper, Circuit Rider Magazine, Feb/March 2015, The United Methodist Publishing House, page 27

Sunrise…Sunset

Sunrise over Princeton, WV

Sunrise over Princeton, WV

He sat at the kitchen table sipping on the hot Chock-Full-Of-Nuts™ coffee that had just been brewed through the Kuerig™ and read the headlines from the morning paper as he did most mornings.  This pastor noted the arrest of someone for a Meth Lab and a story or two about local businesses.  Then for no real reason he looked up and out the window across the kitchen.

Drinking from his Duke Divinity mug, one purchased from the Baptist Student Union while he was still in seminary, this Methodist pastor took the three short steps over to window and looked out upon the mountains that made up the horizon.  Purple and orange light burst over the edges of the mountains with a dim shade of blue highest in the sky.  He blew across the surface of the steaming cup of coffee and smiled.  “I can’t count the number of beautiful sunrises I have seen from this place,” he said to himself or the coffee because no one else was around.

He continued to stand at the window and watch the changing sunrise as he thought back over the last year or so in his life and ministry.  He remembered the first beautiful sunrise that he witnessed there in the Southern mountains of West Virginia, the excitement he had in seeing it and rushing to take a photograph of it for his family to see.

His mind wandered back to a photo of a sunset that his oldest at-home daughter had taken while she had ridden on top of a bus, a quarter of the world away in Nicaragua several months before.  He remembered the tears she shed as she shared about the photo and the people and the whole experience of being that far way and yet feeling right at home.  She came home filled with tears that flooded our home for several days and when they did stop she had a peace about her that father, the pastor, had not seen in a long time – at least not in himself.  Sometime during those days, he remembered her saying, “Daddy, it doesn’t matter where we are but I would like to see your smile again.”

Watching as the blue of the daylight took over more and more of the orange and purple of the sunrise, the pastor’s mind wandered back to a tennis court and his youngest daughter.  It was a hot day in June and quite possibly the last time they would hit any balls on this court.  They had a great time laughing and chasing each other’s badly hit shots and celebrating the good points that she made.  He even remembered one very lucky shot of his own that left his daughter’s jaw dropping as she tried to figure out how her “old Dad” had hit the ball so soundly. The look on her face brought a laugh to him then and now.

Yet thinking back, he recalled that he had chosen the side of the court facing the sun.  He wanted to see it set – again.  He looked forward to it setting each and every day because it meant the day was over and there would be no more trouble. It may have been a hot summer day, but the sunset signaled something different, something almost wintry.  Night meant rest and he looked for rest like he would look for a lost child – desperately and deliberately.

The coffee cup was on the counter now and he was leaning into the sink, the sunrise almost over and the day well on its way to beginning but he thought back to all those sunsets he watched for the last year or so of serving before he moved.  He knew his fascination with them was more than just the beauty that they might bring.  He knew he watched because he was willing something to end – if not the turmoil he had inside, then at least the day.  So he watched the sunset time and time again.

He rinsed out his cup and put it in the top rack of the dishwasher before he walked back over to the table to straighten the paper.  He took one last look out the window and smiled thinking about the sunrise he had just witnessed.  Was it number 18? 19? 20?  He just wasn’t sure.  He just knew it was strange for a January morning.  He was surprised by them in the summer, used to them by Fall, but now they held a special place for him as he witnessed them in the midst of Winter.  He thought of the coffee, the smile, the rush to get to the window to see as much of the sunrise as possible.  The pastor smiled the smile his daughter had been missing.  He laughed the laugh that he himself had thought lost in a sunset somewhere.  The day had begun and the journey towards home continued.