Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans

Searching for SundaySearching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the ChurchSearching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans by Rachel Held Evans

This is one of the books on my “Looking forward to reading them in 2015 list,” so I was excited to finally get a chance to read it.

While I knew I wanted to read it if for no other reason than I find Held Evans to be very thought-provoking, I especially liked the premise behind this one. It resonated with me and my current life so much.

In addition, I really was intrigued by the book’s structure being based on the seven sacraments – it sounded like such a creative way of arranging to book. Unfortunately, that structure didn’t fully work and ended up feeling more like a gimmick – some things felt forced to fit within that framework, and at times I struggled to see the connection she attempted to draw.

Some of it felt very repetitive from her previous books, or her blog posts, and the ending was a big disappointment. The title made it seem like there’d be a clearer “finding” of the church than just … there’s a church we attend at times. we’re not members, or all that plugged in, but it’s where we go when we go. Um, ok?

I don’t really want to make the review about theology – I don’t have that kind of blog, nor do I want that kind of blog. I like reading books from a wide range of perspectives, and find it valuable to do so, but I want them to be books I can learn from. While I actually related to her many times throughout this book (leaving the church I grew up in and searching for one to call home), there were enough times that I absolutely did not connect with what she says, or found myself noticing inconsistencies in the text that it kept the book from making as big an impact as it could have.

While I’ve found her previous books to be well worth reading, no matter if you agree with her or not, this one isn’t that way. It seemed more like she’s writing to those who already agree with her instead of really reaching out to others. If you feel like her as far as gender and sexuality issues in the church are concerned, you’ll probably read the book nodding your head the entire way. If you disagree with her, the book is unlikely to persuade you otherwise, especially as she comes across as very condescending to those who disagree with her (and I actually agree with her on many – not all – points. I still felt her scorn). I did not think it was as thought-provoking for all readers as her previous ones were.

There are some chapters that are absolutely fantastic. The chapter on healing versus curing was one of those for me, and I also really enjoyed most of the communion section. What I found disappointing is how it felt like the gospel was left out, and the focus was on sexuality and gender over anything else. The ending also felt really forced and rushed, and was a let down to a book that was fairly disappointing in general.

Publisher’s Description:
From New York Times bestselling author Rachel Held Evans comes a book that is both a heartfelt ode to the past and hopeful gaze into the future of what it means to be a part of the Church.

Like millions of her millennial peers, Rachel Held Evans didn’t want to go to church anymore. The hypocrisy, the politics, the gargantuan building budgets, the scandals–church culture seemed so far removed from Jesus. Yet, despite her cynicism and misgivings, something kept drawing her back to Church. And so she set out on a journey to understand Church and to find her place in it.

Book Details

Title: Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the ChurchSearching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans
Author: Rachel Held Evans
Category: Nonfiction / Faith / Memoir
My Rating: 3 Stars

Disclosure: I received this book for free from NetGalley for review. I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for supporting The Deliberate Reader!

Comments

  1. I agree. And I felt like she didn’t grapple with the scriptures she disagreed with either….they just didn’t show up in the book. I enjoyed her writing style, but mostly the book made me feel sad.

    • Yes, it seemed like she just glossed over things and never addressed them, or did so in a “and if you’re smart/progressive/don’t hate women you of course think like xyz just because.” It was disappointing, because I’d really expected to love it.

  2. I haven’t read Held Evans’ other books or her blog, so I can’t speak to whether this information is a retread, but I pretty much agree with the rest of your review.

    I thought the Sacrament structure worked well for some sections (Communion and Baptism, especially) and was forced for others. It was fine for her series-of-related-essays memoir style, though.

    I also didn’t particularly mind that there wasn’t a conclusion per se, that is, that she still hasn’t really found a church. That feels more honest and realistic to me than if she had been able to tie it up in a nice bow. Finding a church might have made it seem prescriptive, like, hey, if you are having trouble with evangelical denominations, you should become Episcopalian! Here’s why the Episcopalians are Right and Awesome! So I actually thought that worked for her story.

    The main thing is she often just comes across as so…catty. Sophomoric. It reminded me of high school and college, when everyone had to get their little digs and barbs in at The Other Side to show how superior their own New and Improved Views were. I had a college professor (well, more than one), whom I /loved/ and whose classes were completely fascinating–he was a great teacher and conveyed his enthusiasm for his subject. But in every. single. class. he had to make some comment making fun of Bush, or Republicans, or Christians, and I just sat there cringing (since I had voted for Bush, and was more Republican than I am now, and am clearly still a Christian). I still took four or five classes with him, and still loved him as a teacher, but it still was painful to sit and listen to it every day with no chance to respond.

    That’s how I felt about /Searching for Sunday./ I got a lot out of the book. It was very thought-provoking. But man. The incessant little jabs at people with other views! It’s tiring, and especially out of place in a book that is at least partially about seeking reconciliation and unification.

    Specifically, I don’t have a problem with passages where she states her /own/ views, even if they’re different from mine–they’re not all different; we agree on many things, though not all. But she also frequently mocks and criticizes other people’s views–and even if I’m on her side on that particular issue, it still bothers me. It’s fine to state what you believe. It’s fine to say you disagree with other people’s views–even that you do so strongly. It’s not really fine to make other people’s views the butt of your jokes. There’s one line where she says something about back when she and her husband were “young and poor and Republican,” with the clear implication of, phew, aren’t you glad we’re older and not as poor and Democrat, aka wiser, wink wink nudge nudge, amiright? It’s jut irritating, and it distracted greatly from what was otherwise a very thought-provoking book.

    Basically, clearly this is a great book if you already agree with her. It’s /so close/ to being a great book even if you disagree with her–but then it’s not.

    I don’t know. I’m not and never was evangelical, though I now live in a very evangelical part of the country. So maybe you could just say I’m not the target audience, and that’s fine. But was she really trying to write a book that was just preaching to the choir, or was she trying to reach out? I am in the process of switching congregations within my denomination, for some similar reasons as Held Evans had for leaving evangelicalism. So far as that goes, I /am/ the target audience. And there were some great thoughts in here. But I don’t think I could recommend it to, say, my husband, who’s in the same place I am, because of her tone in many of the chapters. Not all of them. At some points she attempts to make it clear that she does still love and appreciate those she now disagrees with. That’s what makes it even sadder to see that she missed the mark with the book as a whole.

    I actually thought the Gospel came through fairly clearly (more clearly than I expected at least, which might just say that my expectations were low–I guess other people’s stories I’ve read end up with them leaving Christianity entirely), and though the gender and sexuality issues kind of took over, I know that’s her primary interest and what she’s known for. Still, it would have been nice for other topics to have been used as examples occasionally. The publisher’s description lists “the hypocrisy, the politics, the gargantuan building budgets, the scandals,” but it should have just read “the fog machines and the refusal to ordain women and practicing LGBT Christians.”

    It was not a terrible memoir, and like I said, I did still find a lot of good thoughts in it. But it was really close to being really good, which makes it all the more disappointing that it was only fine.

    Anyway. Sorry for writing a whole giant review in your comments section! So would you say /A Year of Biblical Womanhood/ is worth reading, with less of the condescension?

    • Just kidding, I just looked up your review of /A Year of Biblical Womanhood/. I haven’t read it because I was afraid it would be like this book turned out to be, but with your endorsement I’ll go request it from my library. Especially since, for all the complaining I did above, I actually am glad I read /Searching for Sunday/.

      • I see you found my post on it and will try it but let me just reiterate: Yes! read that one, especially since you did appreciate this one. Super thought-provoking, and less aggravating.

        I’m so glad you did post all of that – I agree with you so much, and think if anyone reads down for it, it gives even more details on the drawbacks to the book.

        I think the conclusion bugged me mostly because of that subtitle. Don’t promise me “finding” when at the end it doesn’t feel like you’ve found anything. I’ve had this issue before with subtitles though, so perhaps I need to stop looking at them and thinking they’ll actually represent the book as much as I want them too. If she’d said “loving, leaving, and looking for the church” I’d have been much happier. Or something along those lines. 😉

        Anyway, yes, her jabs. I’ve come to expect them in books by progressives, and it’s aggravating. Even when I agree with them on most issues a majority of the time, I am bothered by them. Those are some of my friends and many of my relatives you’re talking about, and those snide comments wouldn’t persuade them to rethink their positions. And absolutely to the can’t recommend her book to some because of it.

        I’ll still read her next book, if/when she writes another one. 🙂

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