Sunday, September 08, 2019


I'm reading Inspired by Rachel Held Evans (who tragically passed away earlier this year, leaving behind two young children) right now (among a few other things) and it almost has me wishing I was a person who could highlight passages in a book. But can't bring myself to do that (unless, oddly enough, it's the scriptures). It feels too much like desecration. I suppose that's what being raised in a houseful of librarians will do to you.

So instead of highlighting passages, I began sticking bookmarks (read: scraps of paper) in to mark passages, which was a great idea until the book was thick with extra paper (I'm only halfway through) and now I have to reread each page I've marked (and sometimes the next page) to find the passage I'd liked in the first place. But, it's a good book so it's not too much of a burden.

Some passages are about scripture, some are about the act of writing itself (which Rachel Held Evans believes, and which I believe, is a holy act).

p. 11 to 12: " of the most central themes of Scripture itself [is that] God stoops. From walking with Adam and slipping into flesh and eating, laughing, suffering, healing, weeping, and dying among us as a part of humanity, the God of Scripture stoops and stoops and stoops and stoops. At the heart of the gospel message is the story of a God who stoops to the point of death on a cross.... It is no more beneath God to speak to us using poetry, proverb, letters, and legend than it is for a mother to read storybooks to her daughter at bedtime."

p. 48 to 49 : "Storytelling always has been, and always will be, one of humanity's greatest tools for survival." And, " warned. in Scripture, and in life, the road to deliverance nearly always takes a detour. ... Indeed, some of Scripture's most momentous events occur not at the start of a journey, nor at the destination, but in between, in the wilderness."

p. 70: "People take extraordinary risks to be part of a story that will outlive them."

p. 96 to 97: "In the Bible, wisdom is rarely presented as a single decision, belief, or rule, but rather as a 'way' or 'path' that the sojourner must continually discern amid the twists and turns of life." (And then she recounts having a college professor who challenged the class to mark each appearance of "way" or "path" in their scriptures; they're numerous). She quotes Ellen Davis (from Getting Involved with God) saying that "From this book [Job] above all others in scripture, we learn that the person in pain is a theologian of unique authority.... The one who complains to God, pleads with God, rails at God, does not let God off the hook for a minute—she is at last admitted to a mystery. She passes through a door that only pain will open, and is thus qualified to speak to God in a way that others, whom we generally call more fortunate, cannot speak."

p. 104: "The ancients were not so removed from the realities of actual life that they didn't realize wisdom and discernment are situational, that what may be wise in one context may be foolish in another." And "When God gave us the Bible, God did not give us an internally consistent book of answers. God gave us an inspired library of diverse writings, rooted in a variety of contexts, that have stood the test of time, precisely because, together, they avoid simplistic solutions to complex problems. It's almost as though God trusts us to approach them with wisdom, to use discernment as we read and interpret, and to remain open to other points of view."

p. 106: "I believe that any time we tell stories like these that embrace complexity, we are participating in Scripture's wisdom tradition. We are doing things to which all artists are called, which is not to dazzle or instruct or lecture, but to tell the truth—in all its beauty, frustration, and surprise.... I love the challenge of creating like that. May I come to love the challenge of living like that too."

p. 109: "If the Bible is smudged with human fingerprints, then the Psalms may give us the blotchiest pages of all." Then she quotes Kathleen Norris, "The Psalms don't theologize or explain anger away. One reason for this is that the Psalms are poetry, and poetry's function is not to explain but to offer images and stories that resonate with our lives..."

And, finally (for now) p. 110: She discusses how we often want to ignore the lamentations of the bible, but that perhaps we should embrace them. She quotes Soong-Chan Rah, who said, "The absence of lament in the liturgy of the American church results in a loss of memory. We forget the necessity of lamenting over suffering and pain. We forget the reality of suffering and pain." Then Rachel says that she often hears "from readers who left their churches because they had no songs for them to sing after the miscarriage, the shooting, the earthquake, the divorce, the diagnosis.... The American tendency toward triumphalism, of optimism rooted in success, money, and privilege, faith community that has lost its capacity for 'holding space' for those in grief.... Life is full of the sort of joys and sorrows that don't resolve neatly in a major key. God knows that. The Bible knows that. Why don't we?"

I thought that last part was interesting, as our own hymnbook is currently in the revision process and the church at large has been asked for input on which hymns to keep, and which to do away with (as well as soliciting new submissions). Do we have enough songs available intended to help us mourn with our fellow church members? To mourn with the world? ...while at the same time offering hope, of course, but also just a song to allow the space to "simply sit with them in their pain, without judgment or solutions, and remain present and attentive no matter the outcome."

"It is telling, and extraordinary, that in his most vulnerable moment, Jesus himself turn to the Psalms." He quotes Psalm 22.... "Three days later, Jesus would rise from the dead, but in that moment, when all hope was lost and the darkness overwhelmed, only poetry would do."

I'm only halfway through this book, but I have obviously loved it so far and I wanted to have these passages "highlighted" somewhere so that I could find them again, if I needed to. So here they are.

Does this count as a critical review or essay?

I don't know. Let's say yes.

I appreciate that this book isn't tied to a single format. Evans plays freely with various formats (poetry, screen play, prose, narrative, fiction and non-fiction) and I like that because I've been working on a manuscript myself but haven't entirely been able to commit to a single format. But that's okay! Evans played around (and so did AshMae in one of her recent books).

Evans also called herself a memoirist, which is something I just learned about in my writing class last semester. I don't know why I didn't know it was a thing (though I suppose that if I had majored in, say, English literature rather than linguistics then I probably would have), but I didn't. I had always assumed, I suppose, things were biographical or fiction and had lumped memoirs into the category of autobiography. But memoirs are different, and I've always been drawn to memoir-ish things—personal stories that intimately delve into one's memories and feelings. There's less focus on being truthful to fact (though memoirs are factual) and more emphasis on being truthful to memory and emotion.

For example, in grade ten we read The House on Mango Street and I just loved it. I realize it's not entirely factual (and isn't quite a memoir, but it's memoir-ish and is based loosely on Cisneros' life). It's "made up of vignettes that are not quite poems and not quite full stories. Not wanting to write directly about herself, Cisneros constructs the book in a combination of genres pulling mantles of poetry, autobiography, and fiction." And I thought it was beautiful (I should probably revisit it as an adult). I guess I just loved that freedom from format, the freedom to tell a story from the preference of your perspective (with apologies to anyone else's perspective, naturally, but with respect to your own truth).

Anyway, I'm just rambling now, but it's been fun for me to learn more about this genre and to play with it a bit more this year.


  1. Nice! I need to read this book!

  2. So inspired by this. Thank you, Nancy!

  3. I have this book on my Amazon Wishlist. I've read a couple other RHE books. I'm so sad that she died!

  4. Oh, thanks for sharing these bits that spoke to you; I enjoyed them!