Rachel Held Evans died on May 4, 2019 at age 37.
She left behind a grieving husband Dan, two small children, and a host of admirers including me.
She was the author of four books; I read her first one.
Her untimely death ignited a public outcry.
The Washington Post acknowledged her as a progressive Christian author, The Atlantic dubbed her a hero to Christian misfits, a joyful troublemaker online. The New York Times proclaimed her the voice of the wandering evangelical. She wedged open church doors for many an outcast.
Five years ago, I blogged about her first book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood. You don’t even have to click a link to read my post published March 19, 2014:
This evening my alma mater, Eastern Mennonite University, is hosting author Rachel Held Evans, one of the foremost thinkers and writers in evangelical circles today who has appeared on Oprah and The View and spotlighted by NPR, the BBC and The Washington Post. Her spell-binding book will stir you to see women, biblical and otherwise, in a new light.
If your comfort zone is just too cozy to leave right now, you can read about a gutsy woman who ditched her comfy life-style, visiting “an Amish schoolhouse in Gap, Pennsylvania; a pig farm in Cochabamba, Bolivia; and a Benedictine monastery in Cullman, Alabama.” Admitting to being domestically challenged, she took up knitting and baking even working her way through the recipes in Martha Stewart’s Cooking School.
Rachel Held Evans characterizes herself as a liberated woman, but for one year she became an Old Testament woman who admits she “spent an afternoon on my rooftop, adopted a computer-baby, camped out in my front yard during my period,” and left eight pounds of dough to rise in my bathroom.”
Intrigued by many of her friends who abandoned their careers for traditional gender roles in the home, “Evans decided to try it for herself, vowing to take all of the Bible’s instructions for women as literally as possible for a year,” sometimes pushing them to their literal extreme. The result is A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband “Master,” a New York Times best-seller.
Each chapter records a month in which Evans focuses on a biblical virtue: October – gentleness, November – Domesticity, and so on.There is nothing starchy about her subtitles with chapters like February/Beauty “My Breasts are Like Towers” and March/Modesty “Hula-Hooping with the Amish,” who she mentions don’t wear white for their weddings because it’s worldly and don’t marry in June because that’s worldly too!
The end of each chapter “month” features a character study of women like Eve or Mary Magdalene, but includes more obscure women like Junia, the Apostle or Huldah, the Prophet. That’s where Evans’ astute scholarship is most evident. With two unanswered questions, author Evans plunges into astonishing biblical research as her 8 pages of documentation verify: What does God truly expect of women? Is there a prescription for biblical womanhood? She admits:
I took my research way too seriously, combing through feminist, conservative, and liberal commentaries, and seeking out Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant perspectives on each issue. I spoke with modern-day women practicing ancient biblical mandates in their own lives—a polygamist, a pastor, a Quiverfull daughter, an Orthodox Jew, an Amish grandmother. I scoured the Bible, cover to cover, isolating and examining every verse I could find about mothers, daughters widows, wives, concubines, queens, prophetesses, and prostitutes.
But Rachel had divine help along her pathway: Ahava, an orthodox Jew she met online who advised Rachel on all things Jewish. Guys in the food aisles at a Wal-Mart in East Tennessee who helped her search for Kosher ingredients for her Seder celebration. And her ever-accommodating husband Dan, whom she praises with a home-made sign at the city gates of Dayton, Tennessee, near where they live.
Evans’ book is definitely a page-turner. I read her 310-page book in under 3 days. As one reviewer exclaims; “An unexpected, laugh-out-loud then turn the page and tear up, enjoyable and poignant read.” Another agrees that Rachel Evans tackles “the most sacred cows, willing to ask the trickiest questions” and observing fresh perspectives. For example, she reminds readers that it took the defiance of two queens to save the Jews—Esther by appearing before the king, Vashti by refusing to.”
Her website: www.rachelheldevans.com
Eschewing the traditional interpretation of Proverbs 31 that yokes most women with unreachable goals, Evans strives instead to be more like the Hebrew Eschet chayil, woman of valor, at its core a blessing to invoke, not a title to be earned. “plain and fancy” observation
My brother Mark also died in May. Like Rachel’s, his death was unexpected.
One year ago today, on May 22, our brother passed from this life. He never made headlines. He got a certificate of attendance instead of a high school diploma. Yet, his death affected those who knew him as deeply as Rachel’s passing affected her throng of followers.
I have never journaled about Rachel Held Evans, whom I did not know personally.
My journal records my sorrowful thoughts about my brother.
I grieved for my brother. I still do.
Because he was family.