My Dinner with Writer Rachel Held Evans

So I’ve been known to worship a personal hero now and then. Most of these have been teachers I knew, both women and men who inspired me to be better than I was. Sometimes, I’ve idolized women athletes, mostly because I want arms and shoulders shaped just like theirs, but without all the work. And okay, now and then I fall prey to idolizing Hollywood people, but only the classy ones like Tina Fey and Oprah.

But mostly, I hero worship on writers, people who I want to be like when I grow up. Seeing Anne Lamott on stage makes me giddy, and I began weeping when my husband got me tickets to a David Sedaris show. I’m tempted to go sit in Cheryl Strayed’s yard, or maybe run around her block in Portland a few times, just in case she’s looking for a new hiking partner.

All this to say on Monday, I finally got to meet a well-known writer whose work I really admire. This is a first for me, unless you count the time last fall when I walked by Anne Lamott in the Baghdad Theatre lobby, and had to act cool, as if it didn’t matter to me one way or the other that Anne Lamott was close enough to squeeze.

On Monday, though, I got to hang out with Rachel Held Evans, one of the hottest voices in evangelicalism right now, a progressive Christian whose written two books before she’s even thirty. (That part bothers me a little: before I was thirty, I hadn’t published anything, save for a story I’d written in seventh grade, for a Mennonite kids’ magazine.) Rachel was at George Fox for a three-day speaking gig, and I screwed up my courage, asked the spiritual life office if I could “help” with hosting—being the Christian servant I am, of course—and received a yes from them. And not only a yes, but a yes, and can you take her out for dinner?

Whoa.

I invited along a colleague, Abigail Rine, someone else who I enjoy hanging out with but who wouldn’t dominate conversation, leaving shy me smiling weakly and wanting badly to participate. And the evening turned out perfectly. We talked a lot about evangelicalism and feminism, teaching at George Fox, writing, and biblical womanhood, a topic obviously close to Evans’s heart—and to mine, too. Abigail and Rachel talked about the Bachelor, which I don’t watch so I sat by in judgment of their poor television tastes. But really, I was hoping we could also talk about The Real Housewives series, because there ain’t no skanky TV like Real Housewives TV.

So. What I learned is that famous—or even evangelical famous—writers are real people, and can be delightful dinnertime companions. I learned more about Rachel’s theological orientation, more about her belief in a God of grace and mercy, and more about her heart for Christ. (Though I hate that phrase, of course—“heart for Christ”—and would never let my students use it because it doesn’t really mean much. But what else to say about someone who obviously has a deep and sincere faith in God?)

Except that, of course, a number of people don’t believe Rachel Held Evans has any kind of faith. If you look through the comments on her blog, you can find those critics. They’re even more evident in other places, where I’ve read that Rachel is a heretic, that she dishonors the Bible, that she “disrespects” evangelicals, that she is divisive and that she is “a liberal.” (Oh, the horror!)

To people like those commenting on sites like here and here, I want to say “What the hell is wrong with you people?” Rachel Held Evans’s thoughts about faith, God, the Bible seem wholly orthodox to me, right down to her affirmation of Jesus as her Savior; and her conviction that the Gospels free us to be who we are; and her assertion that Christians need to be in conversation about the Bible and about faith, rather than seeing the Bible as a “how-to” book telling us exactly how to live. Because the Bible can’t do that, can’t be a blueprint, and Evans rightfully points out that viewing the Bible that way actually diminishes its power to transform lives.

I also wonder what such commenters fear, about Rachel Held Evans or about her ideas. Because after hanging out with a semi-famous author (and a certainly famous one in certain evangelical circles), I have even more hope about the future of Christianity. Voices like hers will certainly draw people to the heart of Jesus (agh! Another cliché!) and create richer Christian communities than will the more hostile among us, who would prefer that everyone believe just exactly as they do. If that’s what Christianity is supposed to look like, I want no part of it.