What can I say about this book?
I received an ARC, due to the special promotion for early preorder customers. I was one of the first 500 to provide proof of purchase. I received my copy on Ash Wednesday/Valentine’s Day–and how appropriate!
The timing of this remarkable book is impeccable. Not long before, I stared rereading Scripture again, to try and infuse daily Scripture into my morning routine. Like I did in high school, I read one chapter of the Old Testament and one chapter of the New.
The first chapter of the Old Testament I read was from Numbers–the Israelites utterly annihilating the Midianites and being scolded for keeping the virgin women alive. “Moses was angry with the officers of the army—the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds—who returned from the battle. ‘Have you allowed all the women to live?’ he asked them. ‘They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and enticed the Israelites to be unfaithful to the Lord in the Peor incident, so that a plague struck the Lord’s people. Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.” Numbers 31:14-18
So that’s nice.
One of the reasons I always read a chapter of the OT and the NT, is because the NT is less of a giant bummer. (And less Eleazer begat Simon who begat Melchior, etc.) The second bit I read was from Romans–a chapter I recognized as the verses that spurred Megan Phelps-Roper to leave Christianity. “One of you will say to me: ‘Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?’ But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use? What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory—even us, whom he also called,not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?” Romans 9:19-24
I’ll be honest. I kind of hate this verse. I hate any verse that tries to make me feel bad about arguing with God. “Who are you to argue with God? Who is the clay to argue with the potter?” Well, maybe God shouldn’t have made the clay with a conscience, with passion, with intellect, with critical thinking, with a temper if He didn’t want arguments to happen!
And then there’s that lovely “some people were created to be vessels of destruction”. Yuck yuck yuck. And here I was feeling so good about Lent.
Not great places to start out with Scripture.
I love Rachel Held Evans. I discovered her in…I think 2012 or so, but I couldn’t tell you the first blogpost I ever read from her or when it was that I started following her blog religiously. (Lol).
RHE and I have a lot in common. We were both weird Evangelical kids that loved the Bible and were overly concerned about the state of our neighbors’ souls. This is what happens when you put the fear of Hell in a hyper-empathetic nine-year-old’s heart, she will promptly go around to everyone she has had even the slightest interactions with and ask if they know the good news of Jesus Christ. I was really annoying at Girl Scouts.
I got to meet RHE in 2015, when she came to speak in St. Louis. It took about half a Guinness before I could talk to her (I clam up when meeting my heroes) but after I had a nice buzz going, she was incredibly wonderful to talk to. She asked me how my family took my faith shift and I admitted that the faith shift was fine…it was the politics that got me ostracized.
Which should tell us a lot about the state of the church right now.
One of the most memorable parts of that conversation, for me, was when I asked her something that I’d been feeling guilty about. I asked her if she ever missed it. If she ever missed the Evangelical culture, with all its rules and regulations, its legalism, its doctrine, its absolute certainty that they were right and everyone else was wrong.
Her response was, “Oh my Gosh, yes! Every single day!” Which was an intense relief.
I miss it. I miss the feeling that I had all the answers. I actually went to an Evangelical church this past Ash Wednesday, one I attended for a brief period of time (before the turbulent church politics made me uncomfortable and I realized that coming home angry from a sermon was not normal), because my new church didn’t have an early service. I sat there and felt guilty for how much I missed it, how much I missed the community, and that wonderfully addicting certainty.
It was easier. It’s easier than arguing with people about why they should accept and affirm my LGBTQA friends. It’s easier to stick with an Evangelical community and shun everyone else. It’s easier to think I had all the answers, rather than believe that maybe God wants me to grapple with things a little bit.
I was taught one way to relate to God and one way to interpret God’s word. So it’s very hard to learn to love the Bible a new way–a way that my upbringing taught me was straying from Christianity.
So thank God for this book. Thank God for a book that assured me that truth didn’t have to be literal. Thank God for a book that captured the magic of Scripture and encouraged me to wrestle with the things that trouble me. Thank God for a book that doesn’t explain away the genocide, that doesn’t hand wave some of the more dick-ish things Paul had to say. Thank God for a book that actually helped me reconcile with Paul and appreciate him.
Thank God for this book. RHE’s research is meticulous, she takes care to include theology from people who are not white straight men, and she even gets a little creative–with everything from short stories to screenplays to poetry. In that sense, she encourages me to be a little creative with my faith too.
I know mine is only the ARC and this book may go through some changes by June. But the post-Evangelical–the Exvangelicals, we might say–are in for a treat, especially if they’re like me. Someone who misses the environment but not the suffocation of Evangelicalism. Someone who badly wants to love the Bible and God again, but doesn’t know how to anymore.