Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Searching for Sunday: Book Review & Giveaway

I grew up in church pews.

There are stories still told about baby-Katie falling asleep under the pew or crawling around in some new adventure. I have early memories, fuzzy as they are, of the way the floor felt under my toddler hands. The first pastor I have clear memories of talking to wore a cowboy hat sometimes and he had a toy horse in his office, which endeared me to him immediately.

I did Sunday School and VBS and all the stuff that kids do.

Somewhere along the way, though... things began to change. I wasn't comfortable with the kids my age at church - they were mostly into much different things than I was, and we were standoffish with each other at best. That they seemed to all get along with each other led to a feeling of being more than a little bit left out. My usual way of dealing with this - to befriend the adults as i did my teachers at school - didn't work, as it seemed like the adults weren't interested either. I began to feel more than a little out of place. I wasn't really listening to the sermons - I was reading through the Bible during that time, just waiting for the next hymn to begin.

(Hymns are my favorite part of church and always will be, I think - at least when they're the old-school piano-and-voices hymns and not the contemporary songs that are popular now.)

Then, later, things just... stopped.

I stopped going to church except for Easter or Christmas and sometimes not even that. It just didn't seem like a place for me any longer. As an adult, I've taken up trying to get back into it. I church-hopped for a while last year and the year before. I tried churches that were too "cool", churches that were studiously uncool. I tried the Unitarian Universalist church, which I loved for its social messages but which frankly just does not have enough Jesus in it for me.

I stumbled into a Presbyterian church and stayed there for several weeks, and have continued to attend off and on, but I'm pretty much the definition of the "problem with Christian millenials" that is being analyzed and beat to death and then analyzed some more today. I don't want a church with a coffee shop or guitar strings or sermons that bring politics into the sanctuary. When I research before attending a church, I look up their mission statement to see if they've added something in there that references politics. I don't want what many churches are selling and I'm not going to return to a place that, for instance, implies heavily that putting your kid in daycare will somehow result in her becoming an HIV-positive prostitute... but don't worry, with the power of Jesus she'll forgive you. (Yes. Yes that was a real sermon in a real place. This was several years ago, and my husband and I (both daycare kids from babyhood) sat there in stunned silence.)

So what do I do with that? What do you do when pat answers aren't even beginning to touch at your questions, and 'Christian culture' is telling you that your problem is just that you're not politically conservative enough, that you would be fine and faithful if you would just get better at keeping your mouth shut? If you're Rachel Held Evans, you do the exact opposite of shutting up and keeping your opinions to yourself; you speak up and write one of my favorite Christian memoirs, become a famous blogger, and then you write some more.

I've written about her before a couple of times here (I even met her once and made a fool of myself and hopefully will one day get to do so again). I love her self-deprecating, frankly pretty funny style of writing. I love that her books have not been neat and tidy and wrapped up in a bow at the end. Christian memoirs tend to push the "conversion narrative" - bad things happen, some more bad things, suddenly the writer realizes she just doesn't believe hard enough, with Christ all things are healed and end on the happily ever after. But life isn't like that, and neither is faith.

Rachel has a new book out on April 15 - Searching for Sunday: On Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church.

It's a book written for me, and for those like me, people stumbling around trying to find their way through faith crises and life changes and all those things that take us from the certainty of the young into the more unsteady places of adulthood. Rachel was raised a conservative evangelical, 'sword drills' and all, and her stories about her upbringing will resonate with other raised in that tradition. I have a friend raised very much similarly who often nods when I talk about these things and remembers them pretty well herself. In college, in the wake of 9/11, she underwent a serious shaking of the foundations of what she thought she knew about religion and about God and Jesus. She went through some crises of faith and has found her way now to attending an Episcopalian church. Searching for Sunday is, in effect, a series of stories about her finding and losing church, one way or another, and then coming to rest again.

Her book is informed by the liturgy of Episcopalians; she sets up the chapters around the Sacraments, which gives each section a natural beginning and ending point even as the messier stories unfold within. She writes about the overt politicization of churches, the heartbreak of speaking to the people wounded by these churches who somehow, miraculously, can find faith again even if not with the people who shunned them and turned them away. She writes about a failed church plant, what it means to be a famous Christian writer and what it doesn't mean, and in my favorite turn of phrase she has coined; she writes about the simple truth that Christians, in the end, as 'Resurrection People'. We made our faith out of walking out of Death, and that churches are losing attendance and having to change to come out of the ashes may not be the death-knell that all those railing about millenial apathy want it to be.

Or, perhaps, it's the death-knell we need.

Full disclosure: I received an Advance Copy as part of the Launch Team for the book. That I love the book is a bonus. I have already marked it up with pen and will probably mark it up more than a few times more.

I had planned to purchase it as soon as it came out, but with the ARC in hand, I don't have to.

Which means I'm going to purchase a copy for one of you!

The winner will receive a copy of Searching for Sunday. I'm also going to throw in Faith Unraveled (formerly Evolving in Monkeytown), Rachel's first memoir and the writing of hers that has resonated most deeply with me. Giveaway will run until April 15th. On April 16th, I will contact the winner and get an address for shipping and get your book on its way!

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  1. Some of my favorite memories of church are Easter. Everybody dressed in their best clothes and attended church as a family.

  2. I grew up in the first baptist church of my town, and I spent hours exploring all the rooms while my mom would update the Sunday school bulletin boards. One of my favorite rooms was the choir room, because it had a Dutch door on it!

    Additionally, I could have written this post.

  3. It sounds like this book was written for me, thank you for reviewing it!

    As for a favorite church memory I would have to say worship in general. I, too became a church hopper and have tried on a variety of places. No matter where I was or how much I liked/disliked the church I was in, I could always find a good moment in the worship.

  4. After reading the book first, I hope to gift one to each of my millenial children who presently don't "do church".

  5. OK, so I can't follow directions! A favorite church memory...would have to be last summer when I finally got out of my comfort zone and participated in a liturgical dance.


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