The church is God saying: ‘I’m throwing a banquet, and all these mismatched, messed-up people are invited. Here, have some wine.’
― Rachel Held Evans
My iPhone is on shuffle. As an introvert when I get the house to myself only certain sounds are allowed, normal house sounds – the occasional barking dog, clicking heaters, dishwashers, and laundry. I am selective with my noises, so when I choose to listen to music, there’s a real and good reason.
The world’s noise is loud today. So the moratorium on house silence is on hiatus. Loud music is the only thing that works and thank God it’s U2’s Joshua Tree.
The streets these days seem to have no name. This road is unwieldy and tenuous. Grief is unwieldy and tenuous. Much feels foreign, yet familiar.
We lost our leader this week. Rachel Held Evans was a guide for those of us who had to say good-bye to the assumed secure faith of our youth, who had to plod forward on new and unfamiliar streets. Her questions were our questions and we trusted her. Starving for information, for guidance, I devoured every one of her blog posts within minutes. She was my beacon and my permission as I reconstructed my belief in a generous Jesus.
The beauty of her unwavering voice spurred me on. Her gentle, yet fierce spirit pulled me close. With humor and laughter she reminded us all along the way that she was to be trusted. And we knew we could trust her because the expansiveness of God’s love was her guiding principle.
For all of us who believed we were unworthy, who were told we weren’t the appropriate gender, sexuality, race, ability – she made room. She created space.
She saved us all a seat.
In my senior year, I was the flute section leader for the Savanna High School Marching Band and I was at a loss. The section leaders for my first three years were harsh, picking on us puny freshman flutists for minor infractions. Their leadership style involved all kinds of yelling, authority meted out by upperclassmen upon frightened newbies. It worked but it was terrible.
Upon my turn to lead I tried to yell, but couldn’t. It wasn’t me, I couldn’t do it. Instead I apologized and coined my own marching band leadership style, a come alongside and offer a kind word of correction and pray sort of strategy. I guess it worked. But I don’t remember much from high school marching band beyond a handful of successful tournaments and home football games and long bus rides.
Instead of adopting a vertical, hierarchical structure, I opted for a gentler, kinder way – a horizontal way.
In a hierarchical form of leadership I get squished. I can’t function, nor can I breathe. I can’t extend loving and gracious arms because I’m too busy trying to play the game I will never understand. I calculate and measure before I remember I’m always holding up the pile.
Rachel showed us how to operate horizontal in a vertical world.
She opened the doors for all of us to answer the call placed upon our hearts and our lives by God. She pulled up chair after chair next to her at the table, for people she knew and people she didn’t. We all believed her, that we too had a right to feast and drink.
We are all a part of this wide movement. Hierarchy isn’t for us. Hierarchical leadership may keep the patriarchy alive but that is not from the heart of Jesus. Inclusion, invitation, welcome, celebration is the heart of Jesus. Bring the wine! Let us feast! There’s room for everyone!
Rachel’s death has left a void, a void that I don’t think we are supposed to fill. But death always yields new life. New beautiful life that opens wide the doors, filled to overflowing with abundant grace that declares each of us and all of us worthy of love and belonging.
And in her name, with delighted laughter and full bellies we will motion enthusiastically to each new person entering the room: Over here! I saved you a seat!
For this is her legacy, a proclamation of the expansive, wide open kingdom of God.
Thank you Rachel for paving the way, for naming our streets, for pointing us to the Table of Life.
We miss you.