Rachel Held Evans has died, and I am crushed. She died Saturday, and I was lined up to lead our Bible class discussion on Sunday. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to do it through all of the tears. I had no idea she meant this much to me. I have experienced pain before losing people unexpectedly and tragically, but never felt this much for someone I did not know personally. We interacted some on Twitter, but without that this grief would be the same.
So many people are apologizing for their grief because they did not know her. I am glad PantSuit Politics addressed this; if someone has affected your life, even if you haven’t broken bread together, it is ok to grieve them. We need more grief for people we have never met, not less.
Rachel went after the hypocrisy of white evangelism. She wasn’t doing it out of a sense of urgency because she might die tomorrow; no, she did it because it was the right thing to do, and the only way to fully live.
She made some mistakes, and she apologized. I have been crying out for an apology from men who have hurt so many woman and children in their evangelical, catholic, protestant and mainline churches. Not only will they not apologize; they won’t even address it. Rachel demonstrated everything we desperately need to see more of in our churches. She wasn’t afraid of anything- including being wrong.
Her writing sent me on a journey. She opened my eyes to a new day through her books. My world went from black and white to color. Rachel saw the hypocrisy with our Christian superiority. She knew there was no way because she was born in the US to Christian parents that somehow she had an advantage of going to Heaven over people not born to Christian parents, or those born in predominately Muslim countries. She could not understand why we prayed for parking lots in our churches-and those prayers were answered-but her prayers for starving kids in third-world countries were not being answered. She took on racism, sexism, and our politics. There was nothing she was afraid to take on if injustice was present.
Reading so many Twitter posts of people she lifted up using her platform gives me chills. She was looking for writers who were unknown to lift up. She was especially looking for writers addressing their own injustice. She made room for voices the system was trying to silence. She not only lifted them up, but they became friends. And that is the gospel story-to become friends.
She was a controversial leader. She was unapologetically for the LGBTQIAplus community. She said this: “What makes the Gospel offensive isn’t who it keeps out, but who it lets in…starting with me”. She also said she used to believe it was her job to make gay people straight, but turns out they were teaching her how to be a Christian.
It was a blessing, and I rarely use this word to describe anything because it has been hijacked, to lead class the day after her death. The lesson lined up with my feelings of the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, and it was communion Sunday. Rachel said the sacraments are what sent her back to church-and communion is her favorite. How beautiful. I feel I got to lead my own personal funeral for her on Sunday. Here is what I wrote to her on Twitter:
I made it through class @rachelheldevans ! You probably know, but it was good. I talked about you throughout the story. I feel so much grief, like the disciples walking away from Jerusalem. I feel disoriented and confused. How do we go on without you? These disciples wondered too. Then Jesus punks them (thank you Jonathan Martin for that observation Ha!). Jesus hears their pain, as you hear ours now too. Your words are filling us up and setting us on fire. You took me back to church when you walked this earth – a new one-one that values me in every way you taught me. You and Jonathan Martin took me in and told me a great story. Your words guided the very first class I ever led, and your words guided me again today. It’s not an accident I was leading class the day after you left this Earth. It was also communion Sunday. I couldn’t help but think of those disciples as they saw Jesus when they broke bread. I felt your presence strongly too at that moment. Thank you, Rachel. You led me to a church that wants to get me trained. That really scared me at first, because I was just coming to hear the story. They are asking me to tell it too. I feel your energy telling me to do this, so I will.
To grieve this much for someone, means they gave you that much joy. Rachel demonstrated love, courage, and humility. She showed us the way. Her spirit is now poured out into each of us.
This quote: “Christianity isn’t meant to simply be believed; its meant to be lived, shared, eaten, spoken, and enacted in the presence of other people”
Here’s a pic of the first class I ever led for adults (and mixed gender). I got to tell Rachel she helped me. I’m so grateful for this moment.