This feels impossibly hard.
I cried and scrolled through Twitter all day yesterday. Rachel was our pastor, but our church didn’t have a building that we can go to to be together. She gathered strangers on her Twitter feed and made us family, and I don’t know where else to mourn now except on this screen with all our people. She always let us borrow her words during evil and dark times of national tragedy, and when we wrestled with theological questions way above our pay grade, she threw words down like a life-saver into the ocean and we hung on to them. Now we’re mourning without her to help us know how to mourn. It feels like too much to carry. This grief is so isolating, all of us trying to reach across the world to hold each other with only words, like Rachel always held us.
Twitter today has been reminding me relentlessly how Rachel never bought into the lie of scarcity.
There more she had, the more she gave away, but she never ran out.
I just can’t believe how many people can say that we are here because of her. On Twitter, everyone is sharing book blurbs she wrote for them, emails she wrote to encourage them after backlash from articles, Twitter DM’s and screenshots of Facebook messages. She threw encouragement and support out to everyone recklessly as if she would never, ever run out.
And she just didn’t.
We all knew that she was a networker and world-builder (thinking of the old joke from Emmy Kegler about how “letters to the editor are what you did before you could get Rachel Held Evans to discover your blog.”) We all knew that she was always keeping an eye on the margins and finding voices there and inviting them up on stage with her.
But I had no idea in the whole world how many of us there were. I had no clue. I scrolled through Twitter and cried as the screenshots kept coming, the stories of careers of writers and pastors and speakers – women, people of color, LGBTQ folk – that she nurtured, sometimes entirely behind the scenes. She kept her eyes open, and she went hunting for us, and she passed her mic. How to you even being to keep track of the sheer volume of people that she knew, loved, and promoted? How did she keep track?
She didn’t seem to believe that she’d ever come to the bottom. She gave until she was empty, except she never got empty. Her oil never ever ran out.
Look, I live in scarcity. Lots of us do. Especially those of us wrangling through the Christian online web of writing, promoting, Tweeting, conferences. Christian celebrity is dank with scarcity, and fear, and competition.
Rachel didn’t even nod at that worldview.
She talked with and listened to us all.
I had 143 Twitter followers the day that she retweeted one of my very first blog posts on my brand new blog, and the day that we stood in the corner of the pastor’s kitchen and mourned World Vision together I wasn’t on Twitter and didn’t have a blog at all. I wasn’t “a person to know,” but she wanted to know me anyway. She wasn’t interested in the important people. But she was always looking for people who no one was listening to – yet – and helping them speak, named their voice before they believed they had a voice, gave them a hand up.
And she did that for so. many. people.
How the hell did she do that for so many people. How did she see so many people.
Because she really saw us. She gave the world the gift of really looking at it, past what people could do for her – because we couldn’t do squat for her – and she gave us names, and supported us in hidden ways, tending secret gardens faithfully, caring for hundreds of people who went on to care for hundreds more.
It’s so heavy, the loss of someone who doesn’t just speak, but opens the mouths of others.
Rachel was one of the bravest public figures doing theology. She was my ally, and she showed me how to be an ally for others, and she held her privilege like very few people do.
I’m queer, and she came to bat for my people when it cost her a lot. Maybe she was scared, but she never flinched. The #faithfullyLGTBQ community, who has been burned and cast aside and lied to and used as props for people’s “progressive evangelical” careers only to be discarded when we get in the way of that particularly juicy promotion – she never stopped fighting for us, elevating our voices, supporting our vision, defending us from dehumanization, loving us well. While other allies made promises and broke them, constantly, we never had to watch our back with her. She was safe. Safe straight Christians are so rare, so heartbreakingly rare. She wasn’t interested in playing all ends to the middle. She choose a side, and she lost things because of it, and she never backed down.
I’m white, and she kept teaching me how not just to be an ally, but as A’Driane Nieves says, to be an “accomplice in the undoing of oppression.” I am really bad at this. I’m scared I’ll do it wrong, so sometimes, I don’t try. Rachel showed me how to mess up, apologize, and try again. She showed me how to fearlessly keep trying to dismantle white supremacy even when she did it wrong and had to try again. This sin is so evil, she kept showing and telling us, that it’s worth looking stupid or messing up while we try to unravel it. It’s even worth losing, because there are bigger things at stake here than our pride or our popularity. It’s worth making a misstep if we learn from it and do better next time.
I’m not as brave as Rachel, and I’ll probably never ever be that brave – but I can be a little bit braver. I can risk a little bit more. I can fail just a bit more often because I can start to believe what she modeled – that it’s better to fail trying to do what’s right than to stay very small, and very unseen, and taking no risks, when so much is at stake.
I owe Rachel my whole vocation. I could never thank her for that, even though I tried a few times. You literally can’t make words around that, pay that back, or pay that forward. It’s such a big gift that I’ve been almost embarrassed about it, like I don’t know what to do with this amount of gratitude.
It’s really scary to keep trying to do this work without her leadership, and thoughtfulness, and compassion. It feels like it’ll take more bravery than I have.
But it’s 3AM in Atlanta, and for Rachel, I want to be just a little more brave, and just a little more kind, and to see people just a little more. I want to be a little less afraid of what the gatekeepers can do to me. I want to be a little less afraid of where doubting will lead me. I want to take just a few more risks, even though they might lead to failure.
And if we all do this – dearest and Beloved wilderness children, the lost and angry and confused and afraid and spicy and weirdos and outcasts and isolated, all of us who have all been in this church online together for so long – if we all take one more risk, see one more person clearly, respond graciously just one more time – if all the thousands of us believe just for one more minute of the day that we aren’t going to run out, that we can give and still have some leftover – if all the thousands of us take a breath and try to take just one step further – she would be so freaking proud of us.
And even if we don’t, even if we’re scared and give up, even if we feel too lost to know how go forward – she would still be proud of us, because she wasn’t ranking us by what we got done, but by how much we were all loved by God. That’s something. That is some Gospel preaching. That’s a whole Gospel life.
Thank you, Rachel, woman of valor, for your words, and example, and courage, and kindness. Thank you for every risk that you took in the name of love. Rest in power, celebrate in peace. Save us a place at the Table like you’ve always done.