Grief Draws Us to Belonging


As we rounded the corner, I saw the hearse. It was parked in front of the doors of First-Centenary United Methodist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee and the finality took my breath away.

This past Saturday, we shared in Rachel Held Evans’ funeral. I drove up from Atlanta with my dear friend Tina Francis-Mutungu and the miles flashed by quickly. Abby Norman and Osheta Moore were in a car behind us. When we pulled up to the beautiful church and the finality of it all struck me, I was so grateful to be with friends .

So many of us were avatars and words on the Internet, but in this place, we were bodies together. Grieving bodies and broken hearts coming together to hold space and honor a life that impacted so many many lives.

Grief gathers us. Shared grief gathers us. And it felt good to be together.

It still doesn’t make sense. When Dan, Rachel’s husband, stood in front of the church, holding their one-year-old daughter on his hip, the tears kept coming. It’s hard to understand why a mother won’t get the chance to raise her children. It doesn’t make sense, and yet Jesus meets us in this grief and desolation. Jesus gathers us in our brokenness and unanswered questions. Jesus—so beautifully expressed as a united Body during Saturday’s service—gathers us.

One of Rachel’s quotes, printed on the program, connected with me in a new way:

“This is what God’s kingdom is like: a bunch of outcasts and oddballs gathered at a table, not because they are rich or worthy or good, but because they are hungry, because they said yes. And there’s always room for more.”

As I looked around the beautiful church, I could feel it: We were hungry people. We were people who gathered and flew from many parts of the continent and drove for hours to be there.

I felt the hunger within myself.
I felt the hunger for a different world.
I felt the hunger for a different Church.

For so long, Rachel had given expression to that hunger. She had led the charge. I, for one, felt that Rachel would always be there for the battle. She would be there to stand in the place of fierce determination that this other world—this Way of Jesus that welcomes everyone to the Table—is real and true.

Rachel had these words on her desk: Your job is to tell the truth.

For so long, I felt like my job was to share good news; and it has been. I’ve also hidden behind “good news.”

Jesus’ example is that good news is for the oddballs and the outcasts; not for the ones who abuse power. Good news is for the queer teenager and the recovering fundamentalist and the woman recovering from purity culture. Good news is for the oppressed. Good news is also for the oppressor hungry to change her ways.

Good news is for the hungry.

I am hungry for a different way of being together. I am hungry for church. I am hungry for Jesus. I am hungry for room at the table—not just for myself, but for every other hungry person, because I know how it feels to be excluded. I know how it feels to be alone. I know how it feels to be so hungry.

Nadia Bolz-Weber gathered our hearts as she preached from the story of Mary Magdalene, a woman who wasn’t afraid to go to the grave. She received a commissioning from Jesus there, but first, Mary Magdalene was asked, Woman, why are you weeping? Nadia reminded us that this was not a dismissal, but perhaps an invitation to reflect on our Grief.

It is good to ask ourselves, Woman, why are you weeping?

I am weeping, because I am hungry and I am finally seeing that this hunger is good.
I am weeping, because this hunger gathers us with those who are also hungry.
I am weeping, because when the oddballs and the outcasts and the hungry gather, it is beautiful.

I am weeping for the pain in our world.
I am weeping, because there is so much wrong in our world.
I am weeping for the ways I miss the mark.

I am weeping for the many days I feel awkward and not enough.
I am also weeping, because many days I do my practices and find my rhythm and I am not tossed away.
I am weeping, because I am grateful for this journey .

I am weeping, because sometimes the walls seem so high and so impenetrable.
I am weeping, because sometimes it is so hard to make a new path.
I am weeping, because the road is long.

I am weeping, because true and honest Love is beautiful.
I am weeping, because Rachel is no longer here.
I am weeping, because it is time to grow up and get up and it is time—not just for spreading good news, but for telling truth.

For all the pain that is Grief, I am grateful that it gathers us. I was grateful to be reminded that when we belong to the community of the oddballs and the misfits, there is always more room at the table.


Dear SheLovelys, Why are you weeping?

If you’d like to share in Rachel’s funeral, you can watch it here on YouTube.