I’m amazed at how upset I have been at the passing of someone I have never met. What a loss. Her poor family.
They say, don’t meet your heroes, and in my experience that is true. I’ve met three of mine in all, and those three were as human as me; tired, at times obnoxious and prone to mood swings. They were all slowly making their way through the world as best they could, just like the rest of us. Another, as of yesterday, I will never meet, unless the faint hope I cling to by my fingernails, that there is more to come after this life is true. Her legacy though, I have met and meet and will meet again and again. The need for her work I will meet again and again. In this corner of the world, that work is needed so keenly, words of affirmation, inclusion, kindness and restoration are the water to an increasingly parched place. The thirsty are dying for a drink.
I believe the best way to honour those you’ve looked up to when they are gone is to raise loud their causes. To celebrate their life, by sharing the beauty of what they did with those who will listen. To take the words they spoke and echo them. To take the kindness they shows and show it yourself. Rachel Held Evans leaves a kindness, a welcome and a hope in thousands around the world who had been broken down, silenced and sidelined by a religion that had embraced fear and fundamentalism as its friends. This religion sought political influence and doctinral purity as its own children who did not look right, live right, believe right or feel right were crushed in the name of the gospel; branded unwelcome and dangerous. Her writings spoke loudly of a God who welcomes all and who rebukes those who exclude. We must continue her work, for there is a long way to go.
There is a long way to go because LGBT young people are still chased from churches or silenced by fear of bullying by their peers and pastors and driven deep into mental ill health. There is a long way to go because women are still unequal in our churches, their voies and wisdom confined to their own heads by a patriarchal system that has been refined and strengthened for thousands of years. There is a long way to go because young women suffering sexual assault and harrassment by Christian men, some of them leaders, are still told to be less tempting and dress more modestly. There is a long way to go because pockets of this family of God embrace politcal power and pursue it and embrace it as refugees, minorities and trans people are maligned and persecuted by that same politcal power. There is a long way to go but there is a refuge that remains.
There is a refuge for those who have been cast out. There is a home for them, a table they can feast at and a family they can live in. There is a band of ragamuffin believers who will wrap their arms around you and welcome you in. There is a God who made you, loves you and calls you good. There is a God who doesn’t just tolerate you but celebrates you in all of your uniqueness, your failures and your wonder. There is a God who doesn’t make a compromise to make space for you, but who sees an empty space if you’re not there to fill it; a space that was built with you in mind. There are more of us out there who need people llke you in our Christian communities than you’ve been made to believe. You are not expendable, you are not removable, you are vital and worthy and loved.
I spent an hour last night reading through endless of tweets and posts under the hashtag #BecauseOfRHE. If you can read it without welling up then you are steelier than I am. What I can see is a group of people, when castigated by their previous church families, found an ally and a voice in Rachel. There are many more of us who will stand with you, not with her talent or her brilliance but we will stand with you and not only defend your right to exist but celebrate the greatness God has put inside of you. You will not be alone.
What I see as I read, is a group of people who, when experiencing the faith of their childhoods unravelling, found a fellow traveller who was way out ahead of them. People how found her site a place where their questions weren’t shut down with admonition and warnings to ‘not give Satan a foot hold’ but who were met with welcome and recognition from others. A community in diaspora, formed from the honesty and vulnerablity of one who grew tired of pretence. You are not alone, and those who follow will not be alone, there are many more of us who will listen and wrestle with the big questions and will listen and embrace you no matter the answer you choose.
I’ve a dear friend who, when we see the Christian message used to oppress or divide, write inbox messages to one another with the reponses we want to give. The loss of one who never shyed away from truth telling has challenged me to be bolder in calling out louder and standing up taller. When I write anything that challenges the church to rethink, my inbox is full of people saying things like, ‘I wish I could tell my church leader this’ or ‘thank you for sharing, I so agree but could never say so.’ I think its time we all go public, these systems that crush, these messages that exclude, these beliefs that drive members of our Christian family to the edge of their own sanity and haunt many to harm must be challenged. We must no longer tolerate preaching that speaks of the expanisve love of God but lists caveats that exclude LGBT friends, the divorced, women, foreigners, the poor and the forgotten from ever knowing the expanisveness of that same love. We’ve lost one who led us in that work, may we all follow well and continue to celebrate with those pushed to the margins.
Jesus tells a story that I paraphrase like this. There once was a man who had a banquet, the ‘good and great’ did not attend, so he filled his table with those who had been pushed far out of town, the outcasts and the rejects. He brought them in as honoured guests and fed them the best of food. They sat in the expensive seats. He didn’t ask one of them to stop being who they were.
May we be those who have tables that are large enough for all to sit at them. May we be those who embrace our enemies and show them the love they deny to us. May we be people of grace and kindness and welcome. That’s what this world now more than ever.