Over the last few weeks, the world has lost two of its most significant voices. I’m 99% sure they didn’t know each other, or even of each other, but I knew them both, even just a little. Lyra McKee was murdered in Derry on April 18, and Rachel Held Evans was stolen from us via medical tragedy on May 4. Both were wise women, women who wrestled with hard truths of the worlds they lived. Both believed in dialogue and inclusion, and neither were afraid of speaking truth to power. Both were tragically young, and I’m still struggling to fathom a world where their brains and their words are in past tense.
Lyra was born, raised, and lived her life in the frozen conflict zone of Northern Ireland, and her writing was about promoting the thaw. She wrote about the failure of the Northern Irish state to sort itself out, and she was a voice in the wilderness for so many like her who just want to get on with life but are forced to deal with political impasses and frustrating egotistical logjams. She wasn’t interested in ignoring the Troubles, she was instead interested in addressing them head on; their legacy, their realities.
She was deeply interested in conversation – her TEDx Talk was literally titled “How Uncomfortable Conversations Save Lives” – believing it was the only way the world changed. Opening the table, troubling the dominant narrative, turning the margins into the center.
Rachel believed the same thing.
Rachel Held Evans has been an internationally recognized holy troublemaker for nigh on a decade. She became a household name among a certain set of American Christians – it grew to global – as someone wrestling with their faith in a way a lot of us felt was familiar. Her death was sudden, and many tributes have been written to her to summarize who she was – and always will be – both publicly and privately. (This is my current favorite.)
For my money, as they say, Rachel’s greatest contribution to my generation of American Christians trying to wrestle with evangelicalism is that there are pieces of the system that are damaging and we are not only encouraged but required to question. Purity culture? Tear it down, it is not of Jesus. White Supremacy? Tear it down, it is not of Jesus. Patriarchy? Same. Heteronormativity as theologically necessary? Same.
What of chronic illness? Sit in the pain, for mourning collectively is an act of the Kingdom. What of Scripture? Here, friends, she said, let us examine it again, because you have been taught lies. What of many of the other pieces of institutional religion that made many of us feel like we just can’t with institution anymore? Well, she said gently, here are thousands of others wondering the same thing. Let’s wrestle through it together.
She was generous, and kind, and fierce, and brilliant, and I am positively furious that this happened.
Same with Lyra.
A few weeks ago, Sara Bareilles dropped her new album. It is genius as a whole, but this one song… this one tune I cannot stop listening to.
Oh, all my armor comes from you, Sarah sings to women – the ones she’s never met, the ones she loves, the ones who came before, the ones who will come. She writes of life as battle and I can’t lie, it feels like one. One of the things that Lyra and Rachel taught us, however, is that the weapons are not swords, they are words. They are hard words, spoken with fierce grace, around tables where everyone gets a seat.
This is how we build the new world.
And so, as we mourn these two eshet chayil, as I move through my fury to my tears and back to myfury and through numbness and try to make sense of what now, I take comfort in two members of my armor. I gather strength from their pragmatic optimism, and bless their memories.