Sunday Superlatives 6/2/13 (and a shout-out to my family)

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free


Eshet Chayil – Woman of valor! My grandmother recently reached her 90th birthday and we celebrated last week with family and friends in beautiful Boone, North Carolina. Pictured above, left to right: Rachel, Robin Held (Mom), Madge Greiner (Grandma), Amanda Held Opelt (Sister). 

Grandma, who taught elementary school for more than 30 years, is as smart and witty as ever, able to charm even the coolest mechanic, sales clerk, or total stranger into laughing along with one of her stories.  After she read A Year of Biblical Womanhood, Grandma called me up to tell me about a time when she was demoted from an administrative position at a Christian school because the new pastor of the associated church believed women should be forbidden from leading in any capacity. I’ve always admired her tenacity in the face of challenge. Her mother (also a schoolteacher) was the first woman in her small Appalachian town to drive a car. I come from a long line of women of valor, and am so grateful for that! 

We match and Mom didn't even plan it that way.

We match and Mom didn't even plan it that way.

Another highlight of the week was spending time with my parents and my amazing sister, Amanda, who also celebrated a birthday last week. I was coming off an especially difficult week online and Amanda spent a good two hours talking through it with me, helping me see things more clearly.  It’s hard to describe what a special person she is. What I admire most about her is how she fully inhabits whatever community she finds herself in, embodying neighborly love like no one else I know. Whether it’s her elderly neighbor down the street for whom she does laundry and household chores, or the Indian families from Hyderabad and Chennai she has stayed in touch with and visited since her first mission trip there in college, or the church community with which she is connected there in Boone, Amanda doesn’t simply “serve”; she befriends and loves. A reporter asked me this week to provide a tangible example of what it looks like to be “Jesus in tennis shoes” (a reference to Evolving in Monkey Town), I told him about Amanda. 

Also coming up is my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary! I’ll share more about Team Peter & Robin later this month. 

Okay, on to superlatives! 

Around the Web….

Pinterest, You Are Drunk with “When your DIY starts with ‘saw through a grand piano…’” 

Emily Freeman with “Why You Need to Tell Someone How Scared You Are” 

“Sometimes it’s good to let them see you sweat even when it feels awkward. Fear seems to grow in the darkness of isolation. But when you expose it in the light of community, it tends to lose power. Sharing my fear is often the path that leads to courage.”

Martin Luther Insult Generator 

Aaron J. Smith (Cultural Savage) with “When It’s Not Enough

“Hear this very carefully: you are not the missing piece to my happiness. I don’t expect you to magically snap me out of my depression and set me back into real life. I don’t expect you to know what to say or what to do. I don’t expect you to even want to be around me when I am in the middle of these hard days. But I need you… I need you because I have no other way to know Jesus. My faith is enough in these times of depression, but I still need Jesus. When I can’t find him, when I can’t feel him, when I can’t have faith in him, can you embody him and just be near?”

Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers: Van Sessions (Just discovered this!) 

Most Prophetic: 
Micha Boyett with “The Pursuit of Enough When Sadness Lives on the Doorstep of Happiness” 

“I love the kindness of this idea. I love that Jesus’ words are, Happy are the sad people. Maybe the sad people are the healers and the prophets. Maybe the sad people have been given a gift to see the world as it really is. And when we see the world, when we see ourselves as we actually are, we understand how desperately we need God to come and bring healing. We don’t have to pretend anymore. We get to need God.” 

Most Helpful: 
NT Wright with “How Can the Bible Be Authoritative?” 

"There is, indeed, an evangelical assumption, common in some circles, that evangelicals do not have any tradition. We simply open the scripture, read what it says, and take it as applying to ourselves: there the matter ends, and we do not have any ‘tradition’. This is rather like the frequent Anglican assumption (being an Anglican myself I rather cherish this) that Anglicans have no doctrine peculiar to themselves: it is merely that if something is true the Church of England believes it. This, though not itself a refutation of the claim not to have any ‘tradition’, is for the moment sufficient indication of the inherent unlikeliness of the claim’s truth, and I am confident that most people, facing the question explicitly, will not wish that the claim be pressed. But I still find two things to be the case, both of which give me some cause for concern. First, there is an implied, and quite unwarranted, positivism: we imagine that we are ‘reading the text, straight’, and that if somebody disagrees with us it must be because they, unlike we ourselves, are secretly using ‘presuppositions’ of this or that sort. This is simply naïve, and actually astonishingly arrogant and dangerous. It fuels the second point, which is that evangelicals often use the phrase ‘authority of scripture’ when they mean the authority of evangelical, or Protestant, theology, since the assumption is made that we (evangelicals, or Protestants) are the ones who know and believe what the Bible is saying. And, though there is more than a grain of truth in such claims, they are by no means the whole truth, and to imagine that they are is to move from theology to ideology. If we are not careful, the phrase ‘authority of scripture’ can, by such routes, come to mean simply ‘the authority of evangelical tradition, as opposed to Catholic or rationalist ones.’"

Related (this is where I found the quote!): 
Kristen Rosser with “You’re Not Arguing With Us But With God” 

“When religion, God or the Bible are used to uphold a person or movement's real or perceived authority in ways that control or coerce, bringing shame, harm or misery to those perceived to be under that authority, this is spiritual abuse.”

Most Thoughtful (nominated by Ben Howard
Joseph Randall at Christena Cleveland’s blog with “Idolizing Diversity

“We idolize diversity when we place higher value on the perception of diversity than on actual diversity."

Most Inspiring (nominated by Michele Grooters): 
Jordyn Osburn with “I have stretch marks

“Is it possible that the beautiful, spotless bride of Christ looks like a body that has lived? A body with wrinkles and scars and calluses? A body that has loved beyond herself in a way that stopped caring about what she thought was perfection and fixed her gaze on the one and only Perfect One? A body even willing to groan and bleed for love the way her Maker and Savior did? I think it’s possible. I think I want to be that kind of bride."

Most (Surprisingly) Moving (nominated by Emily)
Luiz Antonio: Why He Doesn't Want to Eat Octopus

Most Heartbreaking: 
Becca Rose with “The Only Thing My Double Ds Ever Got Me Was Kicked Out of Church

“It's really no surprise that I have come to believe that my body is a shameful thing, meant to be hidden, covered up, backed into corners. It's no shocker that my conditioned response to men, young and old, openly ogling my body, is to internalize that shame, blame myself, and remain silent. It's not a surprise to me, either, that thousands of women brought up in the paradox of strict evangelical modesty/purity culture and the hyper-sexualization of American culture have developed such an unhealthy relationship with their bodies. Whenever I hear of someone else admitting that they've struggled with an eating disorder or self-harm, I don't think How awful! I think how normal.” 

[For another perspective on this, check out Sharideth Smith's post at Rage Against the Minivan, "But there is glitter on your boobs! The flip side of modesty culture"]

Most Whimsical (via Ann Voskamp) 
Surreal Self Portraits of 14-Year-Old

Most Aweseomely Sarah Besseyesque (and yes, I can make that category because I am the boss of this blog) 
Sarah Bessey with “In which I know, I’m sorry, and I hope I was kind” 

“I will gather up all these disparate seasons and thoughts and opinions and experiences, and hold them all in my hands with gratitude.”

Most Informative: 
Scot McKnight with “How We Got Our New Testament

“The first written books now in the NT were the letters of Paul. He wrote before the Gospels were written. Paul has 13 letters to his name in the NT. But 1 and 2 Cor (2:3-4) make it clear that Paul wrote others, but the 13 are the only ones that survived in the churches as authoritative letters. Paul’s letters are shaped for a particular context at a particular time, and his letters are interactive communications between him and his churches (and other leaders too).”

(Looking forward to the next post on this topic. Also, the conversation in the comment section is well worth a read.)

Most Poetic:
Esther Inglis-Arkell with “Butterflies Remember a Mountain That Hasn’t Existed For Millennia” 

“We think of mountains as structures that are, nearly, ageless. They stand while successive generations of animals change and evolve around them. Perhaps not this time, though. This time, butterflies kept up their same pattern while the world changed under them, the mountain wearing away, or being destroyed. This time, flesh outlasted stone.”

Most Relatable: 
Micah J. Murray with “The Day I Stopped Believing in God

“We believe that every life is precious. That God knits us together in the womb. And yet, He randomly predestines most to eternal destruction? But why? Why doesn’t He stop creating people that He knows He won’t predestine to salvation? The answer was probably something about His ways being higher than our ways. Maybe something about God getting glory from both the people who go to heaven and the people that go to hell. But how can I enjoy my salvation, knowing that it’s just the luck of the draw? That I won a divine lottery to keep me out of hell, but that most won’t? How is salvation good if it’s unmerited, arbitrary, random, and most are predestined to destruction?"

[If you’ve read Evolving in Monkey Town, you know these are the very questions I struggled with when I first began asking tough questions about my faith.]

Most Likely to Bring a Tear to Your Eye:
Patrick Stewart responds to a question on abuse 

Most Likely to Go Viral (It did!)
Jen Hatmaker with "Worst End-Of-School-Year Mom Ever"

"The emails coming in for All Of The Things – class gift, end of year letters, luncheon signup, party supplies, awards ceremonies, pictures for the slide shows, final projects – are like a tsunami of doom. They are endless. I mean, they will never ever end. There is no end of it. I will never finish and turn it all in and get it to the (correct) Room Mom and get it all emailed and I am pretty sure the final week of school will never be over and this is the end for me."

Most Thought-Provoking (nominated by Ken Haynes) 
Greg Newton with “Beyond Either/Or

“Unfortunately, dualism is too commonly the paradigm employed by many as an adequate model for reality. Everyone is either saved or lost. Christian or not Christian.  A believer or unbeliever. Clear dualistic categories leading to simple judgments.  After all, you’ll either go to heaven or hell, right? That is a useful tension to consider, but also remember that the gates of Hell cannot resist the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom. Perhaps Heaven is invading Hell; busting down the locked gates and setting prisoners free. In this mode of thinking, we may find ourselves in Hell with Heaven in our midst all at the same time. Is Heaven and Hell a future state or present reality? Dualism.”

Most Observant: 
Thad Norvell at G.R.A.C.E. with "Depreciating Humility: The importance of being the best at being right"

"The cycle goes like this: The urgency of the cause reinforces the importance of being right, which further fuels the notion that the most important people in the cause are those most skilled at being right in front of the most people. And if that is true, then those people must be protected and kept on stage at almost any cost.  Question them without an air-tight case of disqualifying sin, and you risk being sacrificed for the greater cause. It’s all very logical. And it’s very common. It just isn’t biblical."

Favorite Tweet: 

Favorite New Blog:
The Matter with Megan 
Check out “Please Don’t Pray With Me (In Airports)

“Though Individually uncomfortable and at times, even amusing, these incidents collectively have left scars on me as real as the ones on my body. Rather than heal me as they intended (and you know the old maxim about good intentions), they helped break my self-esteem. They brought forth questions I’ve sought to stifle, questions that repeat in my head with sadistic rhythm when I’m out in public. Do I really seem that broken to people when I walk out the door? Does my body project a fate seem so grim that I actually need saving? Every once in a while I have to actively remind myself that what happened to me was an objective case of a genetic splicing error-not the Devil’s handiwork.”

Best Challenge:
Laura Ortberg Turner at Her.Meneutics with “Too Girly to Lead?” 

“Paul concludes his letter to the Romans by commending a number of people to the church at Rome, including Phoebe, Priscilla, Mary, Junia, and "Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord." Paul wasn't thanking them for their delicious potato salad at the church potluck—important though that is. He wrote to publicly recognize these women whose contributions had done nothing less than help to establish the Christian church.” 

Best Series: 
Jen Hatmaker with Examining Adoption Ethics: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

“We have to dig deep and reject the notion that Americans know best, are best, are better. We have to listen to dissenting voices and carefully assess, prioritizing first families, first cultures, first countries whenever possible. We move forward as if our goal was no orphans ever, setting aside our agendas, however altruistic. Our standard operating procedure must always include Being Good News: good for children, good for birth mamas, good for the poor, good for other countries and cultures.”

I just want to pause for a moment and applaud Jen for the tenacity, grace, passion, and wisdom she brought to this series. It was practical, challenging, and well-researched. I am so grateful for this woman of valor! 

Best Storytelling: 
John D. Sutter at CNN with “Walking the path of the tornado

“At the end of Pendergraft Lane, I met the Eubanks family's horses, Denali and Mikey, who didn't seem to have a care in the world; saw a few downed tree limbs; splashed in a puddle or two, left from the rain. The most memorable scene, however, was that of Leacie Pratt, 8, swinging on a broken play set. Its wooden pieces were intact but had been twisted, as if its joints were melted. The swing set creaked and flexed and swayed beneath the weight of the tiny girl in purple sneakers. She kept on swinging just the same.” 

Best Point: 
Sean Palmer with “It’s Not the Bible’s Fault. You Just Might be a Bad Dad

“As long as the narrative continues which articulates that men lack what it takes to nurture and raise children, as long as some argue that the cultivation of children is the domain of women only, we will continue to produce dads who believe they risk their ‘man-card’ by trying... Loving parents – male and female – nurture because that’s what loving parents do. There is no “nurture gene.” Mom’s staying home, rather than dad, is a lifestyle choice. If you’re incompetent in caring for your children, please don’t drag my entire gender along with you.”

Best Wedding Party Photo of All Time:
Quinn Miller with this gem 

Best Sermon: 
Nadia Bolz Weber with “On Why Hope And Vapid Optimism Are Not the Same Thing

“The Easter hope we have, brothers and sisters, the hope that never disappoints has nothing to do with optimism or the avoidance of suffering,  is a hope that can only come from a God who has experienced birth, and love and friendship and lepers and prostitutes and betrayal and suffering and death and burial and a decent into hell itself. Only a God who has born suffering himself can bring us any real hope of resurrection. And if ever given the choice of optimism or resurrection I’d go with resurrection any day of the week.  This is the God of whom Paul speaks.  And the Christian faith is one that does not pretend things aren’t bad. This is a faith that does not offer platitudes to those who lost children this week to suicide or a tornado. This is not a faith that produces optimism it is a faith that produces a defiant hope that God is still writing the story and that despite darkness a light shines and that God can redeem our crap and the beauty matters and that despite every disappointing thing we have ever done or that we have ever endured, that there is no hell from which resurrection is impossible. The Christian faith is one that kicks at the darkness until it bleeds daylight.”

Best Conversation-Starter:
Zack Hunt with "The Bible Isn't Perfect and It Says So Itself"

"Because scripture is also “God-breathed” it means it too isn’t God. Nor does it even come directly from God, but instead it passes through an intermediary. In the beginning, the intermediary between us and God was dirt. God breathed into it and the result was that we were created. In the case of the Bible, God breathed His truth into the hearts and minds of people and the result was that the Bible was created. But like that ancient dirt that gave birth to us, the people who wrote the Bible, God’s intermediaries, weren’t perfect. Which is why Paul says “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.”

Best Imagery:
Tedd Cadd at Mary DeMuth’s blog with “There is a Crack in Everything

“If I patch up my cracks and you patch yours, we will never find each other. We remain in darkness.”

Best Photo Series: 
Huffington Post with “125 Amazing Animal Photobombs” 

Best List: 
Leigha Cann with “Thirty Things I Want the Church to Know About Christian Feminism

“Feminism is not out-dated.  It is needed.  Desperately.”

Best Advice:
Shauna Niequist with "Change the Story"

"And because I’ve believed those things about myself for so long, I sometimes don’t expect myself to be anything other than a punchline. I don’t push myself the way I could. I don’t ask for opportunities or promote my work. Essentially, I don’t take myself and my life as seriously as I could."

And finally, this video reminds me of what Dan does for me, pretty much on a daily basis:
"Hero turtle rescues upside down turtle"

On the Blog...

Most Popular Post:
"I Don't Write for an Audience of One"

Most Popular Comment:
In response to the above post, G.D. Sandeen wrote:

"It always seemed so clichè and an attempt to sound overly spiritual. I was encouraged to sing for an audience of one during worship on Sundays once. I asked her to account for the other two people of the Trinity. She wasn't amused."


So what caught your eye online this week? What's happening on your blog?

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