Stubborn Hope for a Better Future
So many books, so little time. I know I’m not the only one. Stacks on my bedside table, a few floating around the backseat of my truck. You never know if you’ll be stuck at a stoplight or roadwork or something and why not have something good to read. Stacks in my office on each corner of my desk, piled on the file cabinet, pushed against the back of my credenza – maybe three stacks on the closest corner of my desk to me. When I worked as an Associate Pastor at Asbury UMC, Frank Dorsey was the Sr. Pastor and there were times when I would go into his office for a meeting, and I would be afraid that one day I might go in and find him injured because his stacks of books would have fallen on him. I think he must be chuckling at what my desk looks like now.
One of these books I’ve had since it first came out, I even bought it as a hard-back full price I was so anxious to have it. Released in 2021, I’m not certain the exact month, but it was at the top of a stack in my home collection, and then I moved it to my office, and it has been at the top of a stack here for several months. I finally picked it up yesterday and started it. There are moments when I simply know I need to wait until maybe the stars come together, or sacred timing reaches its place – I lack words to describe whatever it is. But somehow this book had to reach the right time for me to open it.
This book was published after the author, Rachel Held Evans’, death in 2019. I’ve loved and respected her work for a number of years. My Thursday morning theology class loved studying “Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church” several years ago. When I took a spiritual renewal leave in the summer of 2014, one of my much too scheduled weeks was spent at a conference with another favorite author, Barbara Brown Taylor, as the main lecturer. I had so wanted to hear BBT speak for so long, I didn’t even bother looking at the other workshop leaders, too many stars in my eyes I suppose, and BBT did NOT disappoint. Oh my goodness she was so articulate – an ordained clergy, college professor, and author.
But down the list of speakers and workshop leaders was Rachel Held Evans. On a lark, I stayed for the last day of the conference even past BBT’s final lecture to hear this young woman and sat astounded at her wisdom around theology, the church, and the world at such a young age – early 30’s at most. She was honest, unflinching with hard questions and even some mild criticism, and remained open-hearted to this mixed room of clergy, professors, general and wonderful church geeks, and huge BBT fans. She lectured and stayed patiently for every question that anyone wanted to ask. I wasn’t patient enough to stand in line to have her sign a book. Her words stayed with me on the long flight home as I realized she had reinvigorated my hope for the church and my own ministry in the complexity of the times. Aaaah, if we could only go back to the simplicity of what seemed overwhelmingly complex in 2014!
In 2019, suddenly, author and wonderfully beloved human being and child of God, this same Rachel Held Evans, died at the age of 37 leaving a husband and two small children, and a world of readers and partnering journey-ers on the path of faith, seeking her honesty and authenticity in our own way of being. At the time of her death, as her husband recounts, she had written 11,000 words well into the manuscript of her next book but not finished. He contacted an author with whom Rachel worked and who was a best friend, Jeff Chu, and asked him if he would weave together a finish for the manuscript blending other words and thoughts of her unpublished writing into a manuscript.
That’s the book I’ve had sitting on the stop of my “stacks” in various places for nearly a year. It took me awhile seeing it and being reminded that life and death work in such unexpected rhythms sometimes. Her husband is right, I think, she lived more in 37 years and reached more people in that short time than many of us will in double or triple that number of years. Yet for those who knew her well, most particularly her young children and husband, the years were not nearly enough. It makes reading this book as someone who didn’t know her other than as a favorite author, yet so bittersweet.
It’s called “Wholehearted Faith” and once it hits paperback, I will use it for our Thursday morning theology study. Her husband says this in the introduction: “This manuscript isn’t what Rachel originally envisioned. Our life today isn’t what she envisioned. Being dead at thirty-seven isn’t what she envisioned. But that’s the thing about having vision. It’s not about always being right about the future. It’s about constantly learning what’s right and striving for it. And that’s the vision Rachel had. It’s a vision of uplifting people and ideas that benefit the marginalized. It’s a vision that lives on. Her stubborn hope for a better future was all-encompassing.”
What better to have to say about a person than that last sentence? “Her stubborn hope for a better future was all-encompassing.” Over the coming days I believe I will savor this book. Some I blast through like a freight train without pause. But this one, this one embraces a life well-lived I believe. Not perfect as she herself would say without hesitation, but a life lived on purpose, seeking to live the way of Jesus in such authenticity that others could walk beside and learn and understand that God’s grace is in the midst of the everyday and ordinary as much as the expansive and thunder producing extraordinary.
So many books, so little time? Maybe that’s a reminder for each of us to slow down a bit as we hit this middle of August gearing back up for a year of wonderful and exciting opportunities in the changing of the seasons. There is such value in the moments that seem small and almost imperceptible, the beauty is there for us to catch a glimpse. A minute, or maybe two, of grace.
Broken and Beloved, by Rachael Held Evans