Rachel Held Evans, Ms. Corinna and knowing your “through line”

“It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more amazing to carve and paint the very atmosphere in which we live… To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.” – Thoreau  
Jesus answered, “Unless someone is born anew, it’s not possible to see God’s kingdom.” Nicodemus asked, “How is it possible for an adult to be born anew? Can someone enter their mother’s womb a second time to be born anew? Jesus said, “They must be born of water and the breath of God.” — Jn 3: 3-5

The late author and pastor, Forrest Church, tells the story of Corinna Marsh who lived in a tiny cluttered room at the Marquis Hotel in Manhattan. The hotel was now located in a high crime and drug dealing neighborhood. But she’d lived there for more than 30 years and couldn’t see any reason to leave, though she didn’t have enough money to upscale her living situation if she’d wanted to.

And in her last decade, legally blind by that point, she at least knew where everything was in the apartment, especially her note pads and pens. She was an avid poet of less than stellar, but still fervently acidic, humorous, wit.

“When all the malfunctions of old age assail me,

            And skills that I’ve always depended on fail me,

            The best way I’ve found to avoid thoughts of hearses

            Is putting my mind on composing light verses.”

She reminded me of my Aunt NiNi who lived to be 96 years old. When people would praise her vintage age, she’d often retort, “Come grow old with me, the best is yet to be.” And then she’d add, “Whoever said that never lived to be 96!” I imagine she and Ms. Corinna would have had a lot to say to one another regarding old age.

Over the years, Ms. Corinna, a lifelong liberal, developed a curious, appealing relationship with the very conservative publisher William F. Buckley. Over the final years of her life, she submitted several conservatively incorrect poems to Buckley’s National Review, who, to his credit, published them all. He often had lunch with Corinna and once said to her, “I hope you will tell all your liberal friends that I don’t bite.” She replied unflinchingly, “And I hope you’ll tell all your conservative friends that I do!”

Corinna lived to be one hundred years old. On her tombstone she chose the words, “That’s that!” “But,” wrote Forrest Church, “To her dying days, in all of our visits, she never fooled herself about life or death but simply animated life with her choices. Humor was her through line.”

Something similar to this sense of how we choose our through lines for our own life’s story can be said to be true of the late bestselling author, blogger, mother, and former evangelical speaker Rachel Held Evans. Tragically dead this past week at the age of 37 from complications while in the hospital, Evans’ life and writing inspired thousands and thousands of young adult spiritual refugees — woman and men seeking a path for faith where former beliefs were now riddled with doubt and questions.

Her writing challenged the evangelical faith of her childhood/young adulthood, advocating for women and LGBTQ rights in the church and debating big questions around theology, gender, sexuality, and science. A major influence in the emergent church movement, Rachel Held Evans’ writing and life were a witness to how God’s presence in the world animates justice, inclusiveness, compassion, and curiosity, not narrow-mindedness and oppression. Rachel soon donned an identity as an “ex-gelical,” earning the Washington Post title of “the most dangerous woman in evangelicalism”. But her spirit was never animated by hate or aggressiveness, but by a kind of passion that arises from knowing her “through line,” what brought her story to life.

This Sunday is Mother’s Day and I want to continue to think about Resurrection Stories, exploring the ways God’s presence in the world “animates” life and invites us to experience, and participate in, that animation. Just when we thought our story was set, the ink dry on the page, and the deed done . . .  Just when we thought the problem we’re dealing with too difficult to get a hold of . . . We discover a deeper, more affirming through line . . . that the problem we’re facing has handles . . . that life is animated with a spirit of possibility and curiosity and deep joy.

Join us this Sunday, May 12, at eleven: eleven, downtown . . .

11:11 @ the 512

Resurrection Stories

“animation – stories that give life”

rev. tom mcdermott


with brad thompson, the revolution band and the music of

florence and the machine, the bare naked ladies, and sly & the family stone!

Rev. Tom McDermott
Associate Pastor of eleven:eleven


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