I just finished reading my advance copy of Evolving in Monkey Town by Rachel Held Evans. I devoured this thing in all of the spare moments I've had over the past two days, setting aside all my other reading to do so. My initial reaction: I'm jealous.
I met Rachel on Twitter and we've had some limited engagement there. I've enjoyed her tweets and her blog and jumped at the opportunity to read and review her book. What I didn't expect was how timely the read would be and how close to home her words would strike.
Evolving in Monkey Town is a wonderful narrative of Rachel's spiritual journey from conservative evangelicalism to a more progressive Christian experience. She doesn't pretend to have all the answer and she's brutally honest about her struggles along the way. Rachel deals with doubt and lands in the same place I have - Doubt is essential to faith. In the last chapter, Rachel writes:
"If there's one thing I know for sure, it's that serious doubt - the kind that leads to despair - begins not when we start asking God questions but when, out of fear, we stop."
It is exactly this realization that has transformed my life in recent months and a notion I found so moving in her book.
Rachel shows mettle in her ongoing grappling with issues like religious pluralism, sexual preference, political diversity, inclusiveness, social justice and other topics for which conservative apologetics training had already provided canned answers.
Each chapter feels like it's dealing with a topic or influence somewhat in isolation but the overall story emerges beautifully. Rachel is a gifted writer which makes reading her work so enjoyable. Topics are meaty and substantial, but form matters and it's a beautifully written book; a much easier read than so many of the heavy theology books I've read lately. It's her story.
Back to the jealousy part. I'm jealous of Rachel because she's still in her 20's while on this incredible journey. I've spent many more years than her parked in "spiritual neutral", clinging to the same old dogma I'd been raised with, perhaps afraid of bringing the tough questions that were burning deep within me into the light to be dealt with. Rachel gives voice to many of those questions.
I'm jealous of her style and ease with word. Although I don't envy the depth to which she had been plunged into evangelicalism, so young and so often, I am envious of her depth of Biblical knowledge and the amount of insight she shows, again, so early in life.
I'm jealous because Rachel had the guts to write her story and become a published author. She's a wonderful author at that with a fantastic career ahead of her and I'm already looking forward to her next offering.
I'm not going to reveal any more about her book because I want everyone I know to buy it, read it, and consider it. My copy is going onto my wife's nightstand as soon as I'm done with this blog entry. My bride tends not to read much of the heavy stuff I've read lately (Marcus Borg, Dominic Crossan, William Lane Craig, etc.), but I know she'll love this book, Rachel's style, and her story. I'm convinced Evolving in Monkey Town will give Michelle deeper insight into my own journey and perhaps shape her own as well.
Although I'm envious of Rachel for these reasons, I'm mainly blessed to have a connection with her, to get the opportunity to read her work, and to join her on this shared journey to find Truth, Peace, and Grace. Life really is found in the questions more so than the answers.
"We thought that we had the answers.
It was the questions we had wrong." - U2
Blessings my friends.