On Saturday, May 4, the Body of Christ tragically lost a wonderfully creative and passionate young woman, Rachel Held Evans. “Raised in an evangelical household, she spent much of her adult life challenging the harmful role that conservative American culture plays Christianity” (New Yorker, May). Only in her death did I become aware of her most important role and prophetic place in our faith. Below I offer an excerpt from her last blog.
Life eternal grant to Rachel, O Lord;
And let light perpetual shine upon her.
The Rev. Paul Jeanes III
— The Power of Testimony —
Rachel Held Evans
Tiffany Thomas had reached a crescendo. As the twenty-nine- year-old pastor concluded her riveting and rhythmic testimony about how the hymns of the black church drew her to Jesus, the nine hundred people crammed into Saint Mark’s Cathedral in Minneapolis rose to their feet and cheered.
That weekend, a dozen speakers, ranging from pastors to artists to teachers to scientists joined Tiffany in responding to the question, Why Christian? Why, with all the atrocities past and present committed in God’s name, amid all the divisions ripping apart the church, in spite of all their doubts and frustrations and fears about faith, are they still followers of Jesus? What makes them continue to believe?
My friend Nadia Bolz-Weber and I posed the question at our inaugural “Why Christian?” conference in 2015 because it’s a question that weighs on us every day and it’s a question Christians don’t ask one another often enough. As each speaker approached the microphone to share their stories—some with the practiced cadence of working preachers, others with a quiet vulnerability, and all with the conviction of people whose faith has been hard-won—it became clear that there simply remains no greater apologetic for the Christian faith than a life caught up in the story of Jesus.
“I am a Christian,” explained Episcopal priest Kerlin Richter, “because having a body wasn’t always good news for me, but then I met Good News that had a body. In Jesus, I met a God who spits and kisses, who yells and cries. I am a messy and embodied person, and this is a messy and embodied faith.”
“I am a Christian,” declared Austin Channing Brown, an author and activist whose work focuses on racial justice in the church, “because God knows my pain, not in an abstract way, but in a real, bloody, enfleshed way.”
“I am a Christian,” said Rachel Murr, a researcher and counselor, “because the gospel is good news for gay people too.”
“I am a Christian,” explained Baptist preacher and human rights activist Allyson Robinson, “because I don’t always know if this story is true, but I choose to live my life as if it were. I choose to live as if the things Jesus died for were worthy of God’s sacrifice and therefore worthy of mine.”
When it came time for me to share, I spoke honestly about my doubts about the Bible and Christianity. I confessed my uncertain- ties about raising children in this broken and beloved community we call the church. I explained how gatherings like these help restore my faith because they pull me out of my head and into the lives of others, into the big, colorful, messy, and magical story of Jesus.
“I am a Christian,” I concluded, “because the story of Jesus is still the story I’m willing to risk being wrong about.”
I had forgotten the power of giving testimony, of publicly recounting our unique “gospels according to . . .” We can know a person for decades, share a pew with them in church every Sunday, without ever knowing their testimonies, without ever asking them, “Hey, why Christian?” We can spend a lifetime singing hymns and reading the Bible without honestly answering that question for ourselves.
Jesus invites us into a story that is bigger than ourselves, bigger than our culture, bigger even than our imaginations, and yet we get to tell that story with the scandalous particularity of our particular moment and place in time. We are storytelling creatures because we are fashioned in the image of a storytelling God.
May we never neglect the gift of that. May we never lose our love for telling the tale.