This week is very difficult to deal with in light of the recent passing of Rachel Held Evans. Though I make no claims to know her well at all, she was a remarkable woman who helped many people find a voice in the crowd of faith. For those who questioned the structures that be around them on Sundays, for those who struggled with the doubts and emptiness of a Church that excludes all the “others”, for those that said that “Yes, there is room for you here too at the table”, this his a blow that will take time to heal from. Her voice let people know that they can still be welcomed even while clinging to shattered and broken faith. To many people, the reason why they can still look in the mirror and call themselves ‘Christian’ is because of the courage they found in her. To try to sum up her impact here completely is an impossible task. She brought light and hope to those that desperately needed it. Rachel was one of the first progressive Christian leaders to talk about police brutality and racial bias through the lens of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement. She advocated for inclusion of LBGT+ people in the community of faith, and empowered women to worship with their head held high in equality and in positions of leadership. All one need to do is follow the Twitter thread of #BecauseofRHE to see the massive impact she had.
It is because of one’s like her that helped me find the courage to leave the church I was born into and grew up in and still have my Christian faith intact. To believe that it was okay to disagree strongly with “religion” or “church” and still be a believer. That God was big enough to handle our differences and doubts and welcome us all at his table with open arms.
Psalm 30 describes a time of trouble and grief that was turned into relief and joy. It is a Psalm of thanksgiving to God for his help. Though at this particular time it’s hard to read such texts in light of Rachel’s passing and not ask the obvious ‘Why did this happen?’, or ‘Why did God not help’, it is also a reminder that loss and grief and pain is a very real part of everyone’s life. We do not get the picture that tragedy is something that we can avoid as long as we are faithful enough, good enough, or spiritual enough. As if God is a petty and vindictive person who inflicts pain on people because they didn’t pray right, or believe right.
No – what it tells us is that even in the midst of pain and suffering we are not alone. God does not abandon us, and He is there to lift us up. It’s kinda His thing. To turn sadness and tears into joy, darkness to light and even death to life. In this Easter season we are reminded that God invites us to live in the resurrection life even in the midst of suffering which is temporary. “The nights of crying my eyes out give way to days of laughter.” (Psalm 30:5 The Message Bible) For that we can still be thankful to God.
One of the things Rachel talked about that moved me the most was her belief in being kind and reconciling with those who may not give us the same benefit. While pointing out serious disagreements with the evangelical church, Rachel spoke about welcoming others and making room for them, differences and all. Working for change and showing love. Her death leaves us all with the task of continuing to fight for those beliefs.
The last words Rachel gave us in her blog was about death. That knowing that it will be the end of us all actually can be something that can unite us:
“Death is a part of life.
My prayer for you this season is that you make time to celebrate that reality, and to grieve that reality, and that you will know you are not alone.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”
Today I am thankful to have had the opportunity to have known Rachel Held Evans through her writings and impact on people. To know that her temporary suffering is over and that God has turned her tears to joy and her death to life. Thank you Rachel. Well done.