How Rachel Held Evans Taught Me to Color Outside the Lines

How Rachel Held Evans Taught Me to Color Outside the Lines May 6, 2019

I’ll be the first to tell you that I didn’t know Rachel Held Evans personally.

Sure, we followed each other on Twitter and snapped a couple of pictures together when we found ourselves in the same place (mostly at my starstruck insistence), but we didn’t text. We didn’t email. We didn’t reach out to one another with encouragement and lament and laughter alike.

Jeff Chu, (then pregnant) me, and Rachel Held Evans at the Festival of Faith and Writing, 2014.

But our lack of personal knowing didn’t mean I wasn’t changed by her. 

Perhaps like you, I mostly got to know Rachel through her words. Nearly a decade ago, my best friend sent me an email with a link to Rachel’s blog and retitled first book, Faith Unraveled: “I think you need to read this, Cara. She’s right up your alley.” But if I’m honest with you, I’ll also tell you that I didn’t give her much thought, mostly because I didn’t think her words were something I needed to hear.

Of course, had you looked at my bookshelf, you would have seen a wide array of theology books already crammed into its dark wooden enclaves – after all, I was in seminary at the time, so reading and writing about books was what I did in my spare time.

But I didn’t notice that nearly every book on my shelf had been written by a straight, white dude …and I didn’t necessarily see the need for yet another book, yet another writer, yet another perspective.

Now, don’t get me wrong: there is nothing wrong with my white brothers, for there is nothing wrong with being white. But when whiteness permeates our world, and when the only voices that subsequently influence what we think and believe all sound and look alike, then something is wrong. Because when that happens, we fall into believing that only one type of person is allowed to hold the power, including the very power to use our brains and think for ourselves.

Without even realizing it, I’d fallen into that trap.

When it came to theology, I believed that men like C.S. Lewis, N.T. Wright and Hans Urs von Balthasar had something to say, something that warranted me pull my pen out to take notes.

But women? Women were storytellers. Women wrote about the heart. Women weren’t, in other words, theologians, nor were they deep thinkers whom God might use to change the way I think, believe and interact with this world.

Then I met Rachel Held Evans.

To say that she flipped-turned everything upside-down would be nothing short of an understatement, but it’s also the truest thing I can say three days after her untimely death. With every blog post, and subsequently, every book, Rachel unknowingly showed me that women can think.

Women can write. Women can speak truth. Women can be theologians too. Women can use their brains and do the research and come to their very own conclusions, all on their very own!

Of course, even as I type these words, I cringe at the discrepancies that cradled me: I didn’t believe the gospel was for every single one of us, least of all for me.

So, what began as an invitation – to read her words, to wrestle with her thoughts, to wonder what I really, actually thought about a subject – became the wildest of adventures.

Did I really believe that every was welcome at the table, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation?

Did I really believe in a theology of abundance, instead of a theology of scarcity, that there’s more than enough room for all of our words, thoughts and ideas to occupy a previously limited space?

And did I really believe that the Christian faith didn’t have to be so black and white, that there was room enough for gray, for questions and disbelief and not knowing?

After all, Rachel Held Evans was one of the first people to teach me how to color outside the lines, to guide me toward scribbling with a most holy ferocity. 

Because of Rachel, I am changed.

Because of Rachel, I know that I am loved.

Because of Rachel, I am exhorted to speak the truth, even when it hurts, even if I wonder whether or not I’ll emerge unscathed on the other side – for this isn’t about me, but this is about a God who asks the hard questions, who challenges the establishment and who champions the underdog.

Your words changed me, Rachel, and I’m so very, very grateful.

Want to show your support? Give to the family of Rachel Held Evans. Otherwise, consider getting to know Rachel by reading all four of her books: Faith Unraveled, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, (my personal favorite) Searching for Sunday, and Inspired

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