Tuesday, October 30, 2012

eschet chayil, rachel.

A year ago, I was a dazed college graduate, an evangelical Christian who had somewhere along the way started to think differently about gender roles, about what Jesus meant when he talked about money and the Kingdom of God, about the brokenness of the American church, about how to read Scripture, about the theology of the incarnation and the resurrection. 

Look, I cannot possibly begin to explain the transformation that occured during my college years.  It was as dramatic as it was subtle: it was planning Chapel services and sitting in silence after reading a chapter of Scripture; it was the story of Judah and Tamar and a letter to religious perfectionists in Rome; it was “101010” by Sleeping at Last and every song Brooke wrote; it was therapy; it was Bob; it was sociology and gender issues; it was “making the invisible God visible” and other pieces of Richard’s sermons; it was the fruits of the Spirit and a new understanding of my own brokenness; it was dinner parties and practicing confession with friends; it was the unrelenting love of Chris and Jesus and many others in the face of ugly parts of my heart.  I can’t sum it all up for you, but it was all this and more, and God has been stripping and re-building me like the carpenter, the potter, that God is.

So I stumbled out into the world last June, nervous that my new thoughts and ways of understanding were perhaps at odds with the faith I had known all my life.  Christians in America are best known, of late, for their contributions to political causes, their positions on abortion and gay marriage and evolution (although certainly, blessedly, there is serving and caring and confessing going on in quieter ways).  I was unsure of how I fit into this faith landscape—more certain than ever of the holiness and grace available from a God who put on skin to be with us; more uncomfortable than ever with the politicized and hierarchical nature of the evangelical church, which could seem to me too similar to the Pharisees to really embrace.

I am certain my transition from the nurturing environment of a Christian university to the outside world would have been infinitely harder without Rachel Held Evans.  When I stumbled out of the cocoon of school, mourning the loss of gentle guidance and wisdom offered by a handful of professors and trying to make my place in a city some several hundred miles away from “home,” I found Rachel when I most needed her.  I discovered her the way we stumble across blogs: a link posted by some friend in cyber space.  I perused casually.  I became hooked.  I tried not to cry while reading posts in my cubicle at work.

I found in her a voice expressing my discomfort with traditional gender roles in marriage and the church and my desire for the church to stop trying to explain away ambiguity and complexity in Scripture (here and here).  I found myself profoundly grateful for the insight and respectful conversation she has encouraged with her “Ask A…” series, which provides consistent opportunities to participate in honest dialogue regarding situations that might normally break down into stereotypes and stone-throwing.  While the general Christian culture too often resorts to labels to help us feel comfortable, Rachel asks us to listen to one another’s stories, breeding compassion and inviting us to find common ground with someone we might once have seen as alien and even heretical. 
I have found her a tireless and cheerful resource for all sorts of topics and issues relevant to the church right now, and I celebrate this.  Her desire to ask honest questions without rejecting orthodoxy leads to sessions of fist-pumping and dancing around the dining room table with my housemates (a literal scenario, not poetic language).  We need women like this rattling around in our hearts and minds, giving us the resolve to keep our own fires of passion and intellect and insight burning bright and out from under a bushel.

Rachel: I am so grateful for the role you have played, and will continue to play, in helping me step boldly and humbly into the world after college as an evangelical without apology or rejection of my dear faith.  You have created and cultivated a space online that has helped to fill some vital holes in my life, providing a place to continue learning, a place to wrestle with texts and discuss communally, and a source of facts for consideration that have played a crucial role as I strive to develop a worldview that is informed and well-measured. 

Perhaps most precious is the affirmation provided by so many of your posts: I know I'm not alone.  You have given a voice to a generation of Christians, who wanted to be more than “anti-something” in the eyes of the world, a generation who has been asking for permission to strip away some old things, ask hard questions, and perhaps do things a little differently than the ones before them, all while re-claiming some of the perspectives and practices that had gotten lost in the shuffle. 

Thank you for loving Scripture enough to admit when it troubles you; by doing so, you honor it more than those who squelch questions or doubts.  Thank you for helping me approach Scripture in a way that recognizes the very people who study their Bibles can then miss Jesus when he is standing right in front of them.  Thank you for helping me to keep my eyes and ears open.  I am consistently astounded by your wisdom, conciseness, and humility.

Eshet chayil! Woman of valor, indeed.

Read more toasts to Rachel here.

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