A Road Less Traveled

~ notes from an uncommon journey ~

How Rachel Held Evans Helped Me Lose My Faith—And Why I Think She'd be OK With It

With Rachel at Ohio Wesleyan University on November 7, 2014.
I still remember how I heard the news, one year ago today: I was sitting up in bed after sleeping in on a Saturday morning and scrolling through Facebook on my phone...when I saw the news that made me gasp in disbelief.

I had heard she had taken ill, that she'd been hospitalized, that she was in fact in a coma. But I remember not having been too concerned. I'm sure I assumed she would pull through. We never think it's going to happen to the people we care about. 

What I don't remember (as I wrote in 2013) is exactly how I first discovered Rachel (though I suspect it was Twitter). But as I read her first two books, Evolving in Monkey Town (now sold as Faith Unraveled) and A Year of Biblical Womanhood, and her blog, her voice became a welcome influence on my thinkig

She was a believer...who also had doubts, and wasn't afraid to express them. (Or if she was afraid, she shared them anyway.) She tackled tough Bible passages and tough issues. She called out the evangelical church on its bullshit. She cared about social justice and actively used her platform and influence to lift up the voices of the marginalized. And she did it all with such grace and humor. I believe the word "winsome" applies.

When she gave voice to her doubts, she was, without knowing it, also giving voice to mine. She made her blog a safe place to share those doubts, and she never once responded to me judgmentally. And I came to learn firsthand that she treated those whose doubts led them to different places than hers had...as kindred spirits, even. In fact, when I met her in person for the first time, she acted like we were already legit, IRL friends. She could not have been nicer to me. (And later, when I tweeted a link to the post I'd written about meeting her, she not only retweeted it, she also included in her next "Sunday Superlatives" post a sweet word about meeting me, a link to that post, and the photo we'd taken together. Incidentally, her sharing links to my post led to its views skyrocketing; it remains my most-viewed post of all time by far.)

And during the second—and as it turned out, final—time we met (photo above), we got to spend a little time together, just the two of us. And when I told her that I'd become agnostic, she didn't flinch or judge me or try to pressure me to change. She simply continued treating me like a friend.

In the years between that meeting and her passing, I got to the place where I wasn't really seeking out Christian content anymore (and Rachel's work wasn't any exception). I had largely moved on. But I still valued her voice and how she was continuing to use it. 
After she passed, I read many articles about her and about her death—straightforward news pieces, obituaries, and some of the numerous tributes posted by friends and fans alike. I read quite a bit of the #BecauseOfRHE hashtag. And I was surprised that among all of that I found not one mention of how, in addition to helping many people retain or return to their faith, she helped others eventually leave faith altogether and become OK with it, to become OK with, in my case, uncertainty.

And while my life is far from perfect, I am so glad to be free of religion, to have a vastly different—and more benevolent—view of the world than I did before. I believe there's a higher power, but I don't know what form it takes or what it looks like. And I no longer think it matters if I get it "right." Nor do I believe any longer that I'll be punished if I don't.

And, as it turns out, I am not alone. 

From Missy Hunsberger, "She gave me permission....":
  • "This book [A Year of Biblical Womanhood] gave me permission to see the Bible in a different light...."
  • "She gave me permission to be angry. To be bold. To express that anger."
  • "She gave me permission to be proud of my vote for Hilary Clinton... all I can think about when I see that picture being shared of her everywhere, is that this was the picture she posted when she wrote about all the reasons why she voted for Clinton and not Trump. There was a time I believed you couldn't vote Democrat AND be a Christian. She helped me see past that." [links mine]
  • "She gave me permission to be angry at the church and to take some [time] away if that's what I needed. She made me feel like I wasn't alone."
  • "Perhaps most importantly, she gave me permission to believe that being gay was okay. I was largely there, but she gave me permission to go all the way, even before I knew my own queerness."
  • In Faith Unraveled, "She spoke the words to so many of my questions in this book. I don't even know if she answered any of them, but the importance of someone writing down and also wrestling with these same questions was invaluable to me. She gave me permission to question."
  • "She also gave me permission to walk away. She didn't shame me, question me, and she wasn't concerned for my soul. She trusted my journey, my hurt, my disbelief and she understood.

Rachel was a lifeline.... As I delved into her work I was so hesitant because I had been warned about the likes of her. About the slippery slope I was about to go down if I listened to her. I heard all about the dangers of too much love and too much grace.... I didn’t think I would have the audacity to take such a leap [leaving church], but reading Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church that Spring gave us the push we needed to leave by Summer. It’s been three years since we left that world behind and we haven’t looked back.... The last part of the subtitle in Searching for Sunday reads Finding the Church. I don’t know if that will ever happen for us. If it does, I know it will be because Rachel laid the groundwork by leaving guideposts along the way of what is possible when the toxicity of evangelicalism is removed from the equation. She left behind hope that those of us who feel hopeless don’t have to wait for the religious establishment to offer us a seat at the table. We can offer it to each other here– now.

And from my friend Ashleigh Miller:

I can’t tell you the exact moment I found her; all I can tell you is that her life and blog changed my life. I have always seemed to live in the in between. Rachel was the first person I encountered that seemed to do the same. Her blog and the community she created gave me hope.

 Growing up in a conservative Mennonite community, questions were not encouraged from anyone and much less so from women. I always had them. When I found her blog, I remember thinking, "You mean other people think these things, have these questions?" The peace that came with that was incredible. Later in my deconstruction, she helped me to feel so sure that the god I was raised to believe in was not who god is. I remember an epiphany I had that year: I admitted that if that god did exist, I didn’t want to spend eternity with him.
Meeting her and hearing her speak was one of the great privileges of my life. I got this opportunity on three separate occasions, the last of which was at the very first Evolving Faith Conference. The blessing of seeing her preach boldly with a baby on her hip is something I will always cherish. This was also the place where she gave me permission to admit that I was no longer a Christian. I remember walking up to take communion, knowing that it was my last, at least for now. The inclusion she strove for was so incredible and inspiring and it gave someone like me so much hope and joy, even as I grieved for the things I was letting go of. The things I no longer needed.

The day I heard she had died, I wept. The world lost someone so important, and there would be no one else like her. I lost someone so impactful to my journey and my deconstruction. Dan lost his partner. But mostly I grieved for her babies. These two beautiful littles that now had to grow up without their momma. The trauma I knew too well that touched their lives. It was May 4th when she passed on; it was May 12th twenty-four years before that my papa passed, when I was five. This loss for her babies brought my own loss more to my mind than it had in some time. I’m so glad that they have access to things I never did. So many tangible ways to remember her, so many people to share her legacy. So today I do grieve for my loss, for the world's loss, but especially her family's and those babies' loss.

 Rachel, thank you for all you are and all you gave to the world; thank you for all you gave to me. I wish so much you could be with your littles. You are a woman of valor. May the Fourth be with you. Blessed Be.

Rachel: You will always have a place as a major signpost along my journey. I'm not sure if I ever told you this. So I'm telling you now: Thank you. I don't know if I'd be where I am without you. You are and will continue to be sorely missed.

#ThingsYouCanDo to Gain Some Calm

Photo by Simon Migaj on Pexels

These days are trying for sure, and even during better times, many struggle with anxiety.  So of course being in the middle of a global pandemic, while bringing new worries for some, only adds to the worries of others. And then of course there's the fear to deal with....

So how can we gain at least some measure of calm? (Note I didn't say become calm or get rid of anxiety. 'Cause I tend to think that's promising a bit too much.)

There are many ways; I'll just share a few here. But first I should say that many people need medication to best treat their anxiety, and if you even suspect that you're one of them, please consult a doctor. This post will not give medical advice; the following are just some things that have helped me and that have the potential to help you as well.
  • Do some relaxing breathing exercises, like the "4-7-8 Breath."
  • Listen to relaxing music. Music is the one thing that most saves my life. I've created a Spotify playlist (see below) of what I call "transcendent" music. It's the kind that if you take a break, perhaps lie down, press play, and close your eyes,...you're almost guaranteed to feel better it's done.

    At least...you are if you enjoy this kind of music. But if this kind of thing isn't your taste, there's no shortage of music designed to calm and soothe. Just type "calming" or "relaxing" into Spotify or your favorite player, and you're sure to have an abundance of choice.

    Also, Dr. Jeffrey Thompson, an expert in how sound affects the body, has created many albums' worth of music that includes specific frequencies to have certain effects, many of which include relaxation.
  • Do some yoga. Many kinds of yoga are relaxing, and there are myriad yoga resources out there. One of my favorites is Yoga With Adriene. Adriene Mishler has been sharing yoga routines on YouTube for ages, and she has developed quite a following. Here is her Yoga for Anxiety playlist, and I've embedded the first video from it below. Enjoy.

© A Road Less Traveled

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