Monday, October 07, 2019

The other half of Inspired

Bear with me as I write down the quotes I enjoyed from the second half of Rachel Held Evan's book, Inspired, which brought me to tears. I think it was just knowing that she passed away and hearing her speak of her hopes for her children that did me in.

On page 149 she poses the question, "So what is this good news?" and then she goes on to say what it might possibly mean to the many people who came in contact with Jesus during his ministry (and beyond). On page 150 she says, "The good news is as epic as it gets...and yet the Bible tells it from the perspective of fishermen and farmers, pregnant ladies and squirmy kids. This story about the nature of God and God's relationship to humanity smells like mud and manger hay and tastes like salt and wine.... It is the biggest story and the smallest story all at once—the great quest for the One Ring and the quiet friendship of Frodo and Sam."

That last part is particularly relevant today since Elder Uchtdorf discussed The Lord of the Rings in his conference address.

Evans quotes Flannery O'Connor who said, "A story is a way to say something that can't be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is. You tell as story because a statement would be inadequate. When anybody asks what a story is about, the only proper thing is to tell them to read the story."

"So," says Evans, "when someone asks, 'What is the gospel?' the best response is, 'Let me tell you a story.'"

On page 158, she says, " is notable that according to the Gospels, when God was wrapped in flesh and walking among us, the single most occupying activity of the Creator of the universe...was to tell stories. Lots and lots and lots of stories."

On page 164, "We are storytelling creatures because we are fashioned in the image of a storytelling God."

I love the quote she includes by Dallas Willard on page 186: "We don't believe something by merely saying we believe it, or even when we believe that we believe it. We believe something when we act as if it were true."

"So," she says, "perhaps a better question than 'Do I believe in miracles?' is 'Am I acting like I do?'"

"Act like you believe," she continues on page 188, "and maybe, at long last, you will. Move your feet and your heart will catch up."

I love her discussion on Paul and coming to accept him. His letters contradict themselves because they were written for disparate audiences who needed different guidance. We need to remember that while his letters may have been written for us, they were not written to us and we are "reading someone else's mail." (Page 209 has a good discussion on Paul.)

Dr. Boring (which, first of all...great name) is quoted on page 206: "No one lives in general; every human life is unique."

But, we also live together and shared experiences are important. Evans ays, " can't be a Christian on your own. Following Jesus is a group activity, and from the beginning, it's been a messy one..."

Page 214: "Was Paul a man of his time? Of course. But that's exactly the point. God meets us where we are, as we are. The Spirit shows up in the thick of it."

The epilogue (page 216) discusses "and then..." or the waw consecutive (which works the same way in Arabic as it does in Hebrew). Basically, while we have a word "and," Hebrew attaches the syntactic element "and" to the word it proceeds. It would be like if I made a list like so: bread andmilk andhoney. I guess. Anyway, it basically means, "and then, and then, and then," or, if you will, "and it came to pass." At our house it is often, "What else about...?" because that is something that our story-thirsty Rachel would say to get us to keep talking. She asked, "What else?" about everything (and still does, as a matter of fact).

We used this the other day to help the kids (Benjamin, mainly (Miriam is naturally prolific)) to write a longer response to their daily writing prompt. It worked well.

Anyway, on page 217, she says, "Christians believe we live in the 'and then' after Jesus' resurrection and before his return. We live inside an unfinished story.... We share this tory with Mary Magdalene... We share it with the pastor who runs the soup kitchen...and with the first guy in line to eat there each week. The stories we tell with our lives, then, aren't meaningless absurdities, tragic in their brevity, but rather subplots of a grander narrative, every moment charged with significance..."

She quotes Mobley, "The task of theology is the linking of our individual story to the biggest story we can imagine."

Then she says, "If the biggest story we can imagine is about God's loving and redemptive work in the world, then our lives will be shaped by that epic... [then she describes some, in my opinion, less than favourable alternatives]... This is why it's so important to tell our children good stories."

And this is where I started crying...

Page 218: "I want my son to be exposed to a wide variety of stories, including...strange and scary ones, not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be defeated."

She says that "one of the greatest gifts we can give our children is the ability to tell stories. Helping them apply narrative to their everyday experiences, and to see a purpose and direction...improves...well-being."

She quotes Daniel Diegel and Tina Payne Pryson from The Whole-Brain Child: "The drive to understand why things happen to us is so strong that the brain will continue to try making sense of an experience until it succeeds. As parents, we can help this process along through storytelling."

When children are at the stage of asking "What's that?" and "Why?" and "What else about _____?" they are really asking us to tell them a story. They want connection. She tells about how she done this with her little boy—and I've tried doing it with my kids since I read this and, honestly, it does seem to put them into a trance—and his bodily response, showing that this is what he wanted to begin with "to be near me, to hear the familiar cadence of my voice, to know he's safe and not alone," which is the exact thing we want from God.

We probe at everything in front of us—every trial, every creature—and cry, "What's that? Why me?"

(If I hadn't started crying earlier, this is definitely where I would have started crying.)

Evans says, "We may wish for answers, but God rarely give us answers [sic]. Instead, God gathers us up into soft, familiar arms and says, 'Let me tell you a story.'"

Y'all! Go out and read this book. It's beautiful (and it only took me so long to read because I specifically chose to savour it over several weeks while I was putting Alexander to bed, but I imagine it's really a pretty quick read). 


  1. I read her "A year of biblical womanhood" while I was in Poland. Slowly, over the week, savouring it. I guess a week is not very long, but I deliberately only let myself read a chapter at a time. Such beautiful writing full of wisdom.

  2. I enjoyed this; thanks for sharing your thoughts and some favorite quotes from her book!