Embracing Doubt

So Jason Boyett and I have been talking about the fact that we’re not the only ones writing about doubt these days. In addition to Jason’s memoir, O Me of Little Faith (due out in May), and my memoir, Evolving in Monkey Town (due out in July), Zondervan has re-released John Ortberg’s book on the subject, now entitled Know Doubt.

Either the folks at Zondervan are having a collective faith crisis, or the evangelical community is finally opening up about doubt.

On the blogosphere this week, Scot McKnight posted a letter from a young adult wrestling with doubts about his faith. Scot’s response was absolutely fantastic, and something I desperately wish I had encountered five years ago, when I first started asking serious questions about Christianity.  He recommended a few books that I plan to order on my oh-so-old-school Kindle: The Myth of Certainty by Daniel Taylor and Faith at the Edge by Robert Wennberg.

Also online, check out John Frye’s piece entitled “Doubters Arise!” and the very cool illustrations of David Hayward at NakedPastor.com, from where I got the illustration above, (after buying David a beer, of course). 

And finally, I thought the conversation that followed Monday's post, "Does God Speak to You?" was one of the best we have ever had here, and I was so moved by your stories, many of which included your struggles with doubt.

All of this points to what I hope is a trend toward talking more openly about doubt and acknowledging the vital role it can play in shaping our faith. As I’ve mentioned before, doubt can take two forms—questioning God and questioning what we believe about God. Having experienced both, I know that the first can be destructive, while the second can be enriching and beneficial, though admittedly the line between them can sometimes get blurred.  But I remain convinced that serious doubt, the kind that leads to despair, does not begin when we start asking God questions, but when out of fear, we stop.

What do you think? Are Christians developing a more nuanced attitude toward doubt? Do you feel it is becoming less  taboo to talk openly about your questions about Christianity? Is this a good thing?

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Taking a Red Pen to Life

The directions from Zondervan are pretty simple.

“Please read through the proofs, marking any changes or corrections in red pen or red pencil.”

But every time I sit down to work on the 200-page galley proof for Evolving in Monkey Town, I suddenly think of something more important to do—like check my email or play guitar hero or finish off the rest of that ranch dip left over from Sunday night.

Galley proofs are an author’s last chance to make significant changes to a book, so I’m having some separation anxiety, knowing I’ve been given just a few more days of shaping and molding before sending my five-year-old “baby” out into the world.

The strange thing about editing a memoir is the fact that, in a sense, I’m editing my life. Part of me wants to take that red pen and mark out all the embarrassing stuff, circle all the good stuff, and add lengthy annotations in the margins about how I’ve thought more about this or changed my mind about that. Part of me wants to add a disclaimer to the front of the book and an apology at the end of it. Part of me wants to draw a big red ‘X’ across the whole thing and start all over again. 

But I don’t. Instead I focus on killing those passive verbs and catching those pesky typos.  The story remains the same because it’s true and because I think it’s helpful—the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Finishing a memoir puts a very clear period at the end of this chapter of life. When I’m finished with these proofs, I get to put the past five years into an envelope, mail them to Michigan, and start on the next book. I guess I’m just a little nervous because I’m not sure how the next chapter will begin.

Questions for you:

1. If you were to write a memoir about the last five years of your life, what would the title of your book be? What stories would you tell? 

2. What do you envision for the next chapter of your life?

P.S. To learn more about my “dirty laundry,” check out my friend Wendy’s blog, where I’ve written a whole post about it.)

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10 Reasons I Kept My Maiden Name

People often ask me why I use my first, middle, and last name as my writing “byline.”

Is it a branding thing? A feminist thing? A nostalgic thing?

I have a feeling that the lady at the social security office wondered the same when, looking incredulously at my beaming, newlywed face, she asked, “You telling me you want to drop ‘Grace’ and keep ‘Held’?”

“Yep.”

“You sure?”

“I am.”

“Alright, honey. Whatever you say.”

So, for her benefit and for yours, here are ten reasons why I made that decision:

1. I’m a writer and my name forms a complete sentence. Do you really need nine more reasons?

2. “Held” means “hero” in German.

3. Growing up, I didn’t really like my last name. It sounded like a swear word, and as the smarter bullies liked to point out, it turned me into an unfinished thought—“Rachel held what?”  But I made the best of it, sometimes even turning the joke on myself. In college, when I ran for student senate, I made my campaign slogan, “Want Your Voice Heard? Go To Held.” So eventually I grew to love my strange name…enough to want to keep it. Besides, who wouldn’t want the chance to say that her husband literally “completed” her!

4. I’m incredibly proud of my parents and their reputation. I love seeing people’s faces light up when they find out that I’m Peter and Robin’s daughter. Their response is usually, “Oh, she was my son’s favorite teacher!” or “He really helped me through a hard time.”  As Solomon said, “A good name is more desirable than great riches.”  My parents made my name valuable, and I am so thankful for that.

5. I’m enough of a feminist to believe that women shouldn’t have to trade in their identity at marriage if they don’t want to. (Though I'm not enough of a feminist to go the hyphenated route.)

6. A loving husband, Dan supported the idea from the start. A smart businessman, he immediately urged me to claim the domain name, rachelheldevans.com. 

7. Search for “Rachel Evans” on Facebook and you’ll find 1,700 results. Search for “Rachel Held Evans” and you’ll find 1 result. 

8. I’ve been writing since I was in third grade and publishing since I was in my teens. A lot of readers know me first as Rachel Held, and I want to remain recognizable to them.

9. Google likes “Rachel Held Evans” a lot more than “Rachel Evans.”

10. It’s interesting enough to warrant an entire post, which saved me from having to write about Massachusetts politics. 

Okay, your turn. Tell me something interesting about your name.

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Dear John, Why do you find it so easy to believe?

Transient

Since cutting our cable, Dan and I have been feeding our Lostaddiction via Netflix— re-watching every episode of the series in preparation for the big finale this spring.

[Note: If you have theories regarding polar bears, the Dharma Initiative, or time-travel, please bring them to another forum so that I won’t be tempted to spend the rest of the day debating predestination and free will, island-style.]

Anyway, one of my favorite scenes in Lost history occurs down in the hatch, between John and Jack. 

Arguing about whether or not to press the infamous button on faith alone, John demands, “Why do you find it so hard to believe?” to which Jack furiously responds “Why do you find it so easy?”

It’s a classic moment in Lost history because it perfectly encapsulates John and Jack’s characters, and because it points to a predicament to which we can all relate: Some of us really struggle to accept things on faith, while others seem to find it easy.  And occasionally we get on one another’s nerves.

For example, I relate more to Jack in the sense that I’m a skeptic. I think critically, challenge authority, and ask tough questions about my faith. Many of my friends,on the other hand, rarely wrestle with doubts about Christianity, and can’t seem to understand why I would.

“Why do you find it so hard to believe?” they ask.

“Why do you find it so easy?” I want to shout.

There are several reasons why their confidence bothers me. 

First of all, deep down I’m jealous of the fact that they don’t lie awake at night worrying if everything they’ve been taught is a lie, if God is good, or if He exists. I hate to admit it, but I envy their certainty and serenity.

Second, I’m perplexed because the things that move me to ask questions—disasters like the one in Haiti, religious pluralism, heaven and hell, science, poverty, injustice—don’t seem to bother them like they bother me, and I wonder if it’s because they are less compassionate or less intelligent than me.  I wonder sometimes if they are in denial, if they’ve checked their brains and their hearts at the door in the name of blind obedience and easy peace.

And third, there’s that nagging fear that the John Lockes of this world relish in the opportunity to judge me for my lack of faith.  We all have the tendency to return judgment with judgment, so the moment I feel vulnerable to attack, I put on the armor of resentment and pride and inform my perceived enemies that they’ve got it all wrong, that my faith is actually stronger than theirs because it can stand the test of scrutiny while theirs remains weak and unchallenged.

Clearly, my frustration with those who find it easy to believe has more to do with my own insecurities and fears than it does with them.

Perhaps this goes both ways. Perhaps the John Lockes of this world don’t find it as easy to believe as I think, and they get frustrated with me because my questions don’t make it any easier.

After all, John ends the conversation with, “It’s never been easy.”

So, to whom do you relate the most—Jack or John? Do you find yourself frustrated with the people who find it hard to believe or frustrated with the people who find it easy?

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