June 16, 2019

Rachel, we — the uncool — will miss you

Note from CM: It has been hard for me in the past couple of weeks to summon up the emotional energy to pay tribute to several folks who have died recently. Jean Vanier is one thing — I only know him through his books, and it feels more like I’m honoring a hero than a friend when I include posts about him.

But someone like Rachel Held Evans holds a different place in my heart. It’s not as though we were close friends or anything. We’ve talked a couple of times on the phone, especially when I was first writing on this blog, and I’ve corresponded with her occasionally. But I’ve followed her career and life with interest, and she was of the age and sensibilities of my own children. She gave me great hope of a better evangelicalism, a better church, a better spiritual/religious experience where doubts, questions, earthiness, and a more incarnational perspective on life and the Christian pilgrimage would lead the way.

Rachel allowed me to use this piece from her blog back in 2011, and I still love it. I still love her. We will all miss her. May she rest in peace and rise in glory with all the saints.

• • •

BLESSED ARE THE UN-COOL
By Rachel Held Evans

People sometimes assume that because I’m a progressive 30-year-old who enjoys Mumford and Sons and has no children, I must want a super-hip church — you know, the kind that’s called “Thrive” or “Be” and which boasts “an awesome worship experience,” a fair-trade coffee bar, its own iPhone app, and a pastor who looks like a Jonas Brother.

While none of these features are inherently wrong, (and can of course be used by good people to do good things), these days I find myself longing for a church with a cool factor of about 0.

That’s right.

I want a church that includes fussy kids, old liturgy, bad sound, weird congregants, and — brace yourself — painfully amateur “special music” now and then.

Why?

Well, for one thing, when the gospel story is accompanied by a fog machine and light show, I always get this creeped-out feeling like someone’s trying to sell me something. It’s as though we’re all compensating for the fact that Christianity’s not good enough to stand on its own so we’re adding snacks.

But more importantly, I want to be part of an un-cool church because I want to be part of a community that shares the reputation of Jesus, and like it or not, Jesus’ favorite people in the world were not cool.

They were mostly sinners, misfits, outcasts, weirdos, poor people, sick people, and crazy people.

Cool congregations can get so wrapped up in the “performance” of church that they forget to actually be the church, a phenomenon painfully illustrated by the story of the child with cerebral palsy who was escorted from the Easter service at Elevation Church for being a “distraction.”

Really?

It seems to me that this congregation was distracted long before this little boy showed up! In their self-proclaimed quest for “an explosive, phenomenal movement of God — something you have to see to believe,” they missed Jesus when he was right under their nose.

Was the paralytic man lowered from the rooftop in the middle of a sermon a distraction?

Was the Canaanite woman who harassed Jesus and his disciples about healing her daughter a distraction?

Were the blind men from Jericho who annoyed the crowd with their relentless cries a distraction?

Jesus didn’t think so. In fact, he seemed to think that they were the point.

Jesus taught us that when we throw a banquet or a party, our invitation list should include “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.” So why do our church marketing teams target the young, the hip, the healthy, and the resourced?

In Bossypants (a book you should really go out and buy this very instant), Tina Fey describes working for the YMCA in Chicago soon after graduating from college. This particular YMCA included, “a great mix of high-end yuppie fitness facility, a wonderful community resource for families, and an old-school residence for disenfranchised men,” so Fey shares a host of funny stories about working the front desk. One such story involves one of the residents forgetting to take his meds, bumping into a young mom on her way to a workout session, and saying something wildly inappropriate (and very funny — you should definitely go out and get this book). Fey writes, “The young mother was beside herself. That’s the kind of trouble you get when diverse groups of people actually cross paths with one another. That’s why many of the worst things in the world happen in and around Starbucks bathrooms.”

Church can be a lot like the Y…or a Starbucks bathroom.

We have one place for the un-cool people (our ministries) and another place for the cool people (our church services). When we actually bump into one another, things can get awkward, so we try to avoid it.

It’s easy to pick on Elevation Church in this case, but the truth is we’re all guilty of thinking we’re too cool for the least of these. Our elitism shows up when we forbid others from contributing art and music because we deem it unworthy of glorifying God, or when we scoot our family an extra foot or two down the pew when the guy with Aspergers sits down. Having helped start a church, I remember hoping that our hip guests wouldn’t be turned off by our less-than-hip guests. For a second I forgot that in church, of all places, those distinctions should disappear.

Some of us wear our brokenness on the inside, others on the outside.

But we’re all broken.

We’re all un-cool.

We’re all in need of a Savior.

So let’s cut the crap, pull the plug, and have us some distracting church services — the kind where Jesus would fit right in.

Comments

  1. Christiane says

    “But more importantly, I want to be part of an un-cool church because I want to be part of a community that shares the reputation of Jesus, and like it or not, Jesus’ favorite people in the world were not cool.

    They were mostly sinners, misfits, outcasts, weirdos, poor people, sick people, and crazy people.”

    Yep. If Rachel had visited St. Stephen’s, she would have felt right at home. We’ve got the lot. I love ’em too. 🙂

  2. This is what I so want for my church, and for myself, and yet find myself woefully inadequate when push comes to shove. Lord, give me the compassion and openness of Jesus, instead of my oh-so-fleshly almost-disgust at difficult, challenging, handicapped, ‘other’ people.

  3. Robert F says

    Spending Easter at Elevation Church sounds like a real downer.

    I don’t know what a Jonas Brother looks like.

    RIP, Rachel. Farewell.

  4. Phil Dickens says

    Rachel Held Evans was an inspiration in so many ways. Her ability and willingness to speak truth so clearly and without pretense will be sorely missed. I never met her, but her books helped me through some hard times when the small church I loved died. I honor her memory and humbly ask, Lord Jesus please take care of Daniel and those precious children.

  5. thatotherjean says

    The world, and especially American Christianity, is a better place because Rachel Held Evans was in it, and is poorer for her passing. I hope that her influence will continue to be felt for a very long time to come.

  6. anonymous says

    blessed are those who mourn:
    caoineadh for Rachel

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=otwKeIsOPkw

  7. Seems like the people, the messages, the voices we need most, are always silenced before their time.
    We are all poorer for it. The hope for some kind of turnaround in white American evangelicalism fades with it.
    I’m discouraged. I’m sad. And like the psalmist at times I really question and doubt God.
    Too many things are heading in the wrong direction.

    • Robert F says

      I feel the same way you do, John. It’s hard to sustain hope — but what other choice do we have?

    • anonymous says

      ‘white american evangelism’ is a solidly political entity now

      ain’t no goin’ back either

      • john barry says

        John/Anonymous, why bring a secular political message into a sting of nice reflections and heartfelt expressions for the lost of a talented young wonderful person. There is always a time and place for everything but this seems be a time for sharing the personal lost and comments for a gracious lady. I assume you two are the experts on white evangelical mindset. I have only read respectful and a sense of lost from anyone remotely aware of the life of RHE. I only had read the post here and it is certainly a well written , honest and thoughtful message.

        A young wife and Mother taken so quickly is not only the deep personal lost of the family but the family of God. God Bless her and comfort her familty

        • I actually posted a comment of purely personal lament on the first announcement of her death here on IM about a week ago.

          I’m a bit mystified at the offense you took, but I’m nonetheless sorry if I came across the wrong way. That was not the intent, and certainly I didn’t want to get into politics (which I didn’t mention).

          I think Rachel also hoped and worked for change in evangelicalism, and my words were intended as a sort of agreement with her words in this post.

        • Christiane says

          John Barry,
          Rachel stood with those who were most abused by ‘white evangelicalism’. And she wasn’t silent in the defense of the abused. That is why many honor her memory.

          She was ‘gracious’, just not in the way you may interpret ‘graciousness’. Certainly not in the way of ‘white evangelical’ graciousness, no.

          moral equivalency?

          not on her watch

          • Robert F says

            Yes, Christiane. It is impossible to honor her memory without honoring the values she advocated for; in her case, politics and religion were inextricably linked with those values. She was very public and very vocal in her support of progressive politics and religion. If that is forgotten in the name of “nice reflections” about her life, then she is not being honored.

  8. Thanks, Mike. I had thought about emailing you about doing a post for Rachel. Glad my procrastination didn’t keep you from it.

    Still very sad.

  9. Norma Cenva says

    I sincerely believe that Rachel was a Prophetess.

  10. cheesehed says

    What a great article! I’m starting to get why she was so beloved.

  11. I have been guilty of this, to the point that someone who had observed our family asked what church we went to and I said she should go to the storefront church up the road. OMGoodness, as soon as I reached my door I thought “What the hell was that?”. It’s a big church.