Twice before in my life, someone that I really didn’t know in person passed away and I really, truly grieved.
Nine years ago, Michael Spencer, the Internet Monk, passed away. Michael was the first Christian I ever came across (solely on the internet, in this case), who was real about his doubts, his struggles, and his non-canonical evangelical faith. He taught me about a grace deeper than I could have ever imagined, a faith more ecumenical than I thought possible, and a Christ more mystical than could be imagined. His passing left a deep hole in my faith that I am still struggling to fill to this day. He was a great mentor to me, even though I never met him. And I grieved.
The next year, Steve Jobs passed away. Computers, specifically Apple computers, had helped this shy, awkward teenager engage with the world. They had given me my career. And they had brought delight. While Jobs was nowhere near as important to me as Michael Spencer, his impact on my life was such that I truly grieved as well. Even though I had never even seen him in person.
Rachel Held Evans’ passing is proving to be similar. I am truly grieving.
Looking back at my life, I really feel that Michael Spencer’s death cast me adrift. In the four years prior, I had seen the faith that I had received upon becoming a Christian in college radically transformed due to some wonderful teaching by Richard Rohr, Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Michael Spencer, and others. I began looking for something deeper, more authentic, and more connected to the historic church than what I had been taught.
But then Michael Spencer passed away, and I kind of turned my faith off. I didn’t do it consciously, but I think the unfairness of him passing away in his fifties, just as he was starting to become a voice of great good in the church, unconsciously impacted me and caused me to focus on other things. I still went to church (for the most part), but I really didn’t care. And most of the time I actively tuned it out.
So this year came, and so did God. He reawakened me.
Now, anyone who knows me well would know that when my faith is growing, it means I will have a stack of spiritual books that I am reading and another list of books that I would like to read. So on to the pile was added Richard Rohr and Thomas Merton, but I also picked up Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans.
While my faith switch had been turned off all of those years, I would periodically read an article by RHE where she excoriated evangelicalism for this or that. I enjoyed the skewering of conservative selective morality that she did with her A Year of Biblical Womanhood (though I never read it). And I respected her as someone who was authentically serving as a voice for the Nones and Dones who were leaving the church. As I kind of had already done, at least mentally.
But it wasn’t until my “reawakening” this year that I started to actually listen to what she had to say. I was first introduced to her on The Liturgists Podcast. And her openness about her doubts, and her struggles, and the fact that so much of modern Christianity makes so little sense really moved me. And yet she still believed. Which moved me more.
Searching for Sunday was a deep affirmation of where I was with my faith. My faith was flawed, but it was beautiful. Doubt, and darkness, and uncertainty were not a sign of weakness, but in fact the path toward God. And she told everything with such an authentic voice, and such a gentle wit, that I could not help but devour the book. Even at the expense of Richard Rohr’s Universal Christ (and if you know me, you know I LOVE Richard Rohr).
And this is why I grieve even though I never knew her. Never attended a conference featuring her. Only had the most basic contact with what she had to teach. I grieve because there was a prophet in our midst. And I slept through it all. I grieve because her love for all of the people who are absolutely fucking done with the church has become my love. And now our prophet will speak no more.
I will miss you, Rachel Held Evans, even though I only knew you from afar. I will devour your books over the coming weeks and months and I’m sure I will grow because of them in my love for Christ, the church, and all of the people who the church has done such a bad job serving. Thank you for a life well lived, and a love well given.