This is another book I got from NetGalley
in exchange for a review. First off, the edition I received is not ready for prime time, although it appears that the book has already been out for close to a year. The edition I got has no functional table of contents and lots of formatting flaws. I think it was based on an Ebook conversion from a .pdf. Suffice to say, this mades reviewing ever so much more difficult.
Anyway, this is a delightful book. It portrays Ms. Held Evans journey from the church of her youth, a southern, white Evangelical congregation, through a series of off-and-on-again church relationships until she finally finds herself in an Episcopalian congregation, feeling included and welcomed, and feeling able to ask questions, whether or not others might find them "uncomfortable".
She has organized her the story of her faith journey (as we UCCs might term it) around the seven sacraments
, or "visible signs of God's grace in our lives". I find her structure to be a bit baffling. I grew up in a relatively liberal Protestant tradition (United Presbyterian Church, USA, now after a merger, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). One of the things I was taught was that Roman Catholics had seven sacraments, but we Presbyterians, and by extension, I believe, we "Protestants", held to only two of them, Baptism and Communion (Eucharist). The five additional RC sacraments included Confirmation, Marriage, Penance (Confession), Holy Orders (Ordination) and anointing the sick. So, did this mean that my marriage, which took place in an Episcopalian service, was a sacrament? My spouse doesn't seem to think so, but then she's a bit vague on sacraments in general. Theology doesn't much interest her.
Anyway, I'm not bothered by this organization, just confused. Ms. Held Evans grew up Evangelical, which I always thought were pretty much even less sacramental than Presbyterians (or UCCs, which I am now, essentially Congregationalist). She says that she's never been confirmed and didn't get baptized until she was a young adult (I didn't get the feeling she'd been a Baptist during her youth, just a non-denominational Evangelical). So, I'm not sure why she choose to embrace this organization. Despite my confusion, I found that the organization pretty much worked. She would begin each section with a sort of meditation on the sacrament itself, and then would weave the events in her faith journey that fit with the particular sacramental section.
I found her faith journey fascinating. As I said, she grew up in the southern, white Evangelical sub culture, a sub culture which, beginning in the 1970s began to be less about religion and more about political power. Yes, the Evangelicals use lots of religious language in their discourses, but their prime purpose is now all about political power, not about helping to create the Kingdom of God among us. One of the side effects of this shift in focus is that questions are no longer welcome. Perhaps they never were. I wouldn't know. Therein is where Ms. Held Evans came afoul the Evangelical church. She was a questioner. Questions were welcomed, to a certain extent, of course, but if you didn't accept the canned answers, then you became a cause for distress, or to use Fred Clark's oft-used phrase, controversial
. People who became labeled as controversial
were edged out of the confines of the Evangelical tribe.
And so, Ms. Held Evans no longer felt comfortable within the Evangelical tribe, and, one presumes, they not comfortable with her. So she searched elsewhere to find a group of people still more concerned with God than with mammon, so to speak. She tried for a time going to other more liberal churches. Then she helped found and run an "emergent church", whatever that is. We generally have a summer supply pastor who is involved in the emergent church movement, but I've yet to figure that out. She's a bit goofy, but I'm not sure that's not just her personal style. I wouldn't think that goofiness would be a prerequisite for emergent churching.
But eventually, Ms. Held Evans found a home with the Episcopalians. I find that interesting as well. Of course, I'm not clear with which "type" of Episcopalians she is consorting, the high-church smells and bells types or the low-church, plain-folks types like my in-laws. I'm guessing the high-church ones. Either way, she has found a home in a tradition where formal liturgy is the order of the day. A tradition with a set organization to worship, including set corporate prayers, as opposed to the more loosey-goosey organization of most Evangelical services, and even the services of the UCCs and Presbyterians. A tradition probably more similar to the early church than to most churches in the US today. Back in my youth, I would have considered the more liturgical approach to be overly "Papist" for a Protestant service, but in my twilight years, I think I might be able to fit comfortably in a more liturgical setting. But, that's not likely to happen yet, rather than seek elsewhere, I'll still hang (and sing—for me it's mostly about the singing) with my dwindling group of UCC friends. They tolerate my questions and eccentric differences.
Ms. Held Evans is a wonderful writer. Some of her descriptions are lyrical, and she writes with much good humor. This book is well worth one's time and attention.