All Right, Then, I’ll Go To Hell – Remembering Rachel Held Evans

Credit: Rachel Held Evans Legacy, Facebook

“This is gonna be a great post.”

No, not this one. 

Though, I hope it honors my friend at least a bit. I’m talking about a blog post I dreamed up long ago, but never wrote.

I had just finished watching the PBS documentary on Mark Twain which, incidentally, is fantastic and you should definitely make time to watch it. Anyway, Twain is my favorite writer of all time and a line in the documentary from arguably most classic work The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn caught my ear and gave me an idea for a post.

The line in question comes towards the end of the novel. Huck and Jim had found themselves in no small bit of trouble. Particularly Jim. Jim, as I’m sure you remember, was a runaway slave which meant there was a bounty out for his return. To make a long story short, Jim got caught and found himself locked in a shed by folks eager to collect the reward. Huck escaped capture, but found himself in an altogether different kind of bind, the moral sort to be precise.

Huck and Jim and become friends. Whatever Huck thought about slaves in particular or African-Americans in general before their adventures together began, Huck now saw Jim for who he really was: a fellow human being, equally created in the image of God.

Just as importantly, Jim had become Huck’s friend.

And friends don’t abandoned each other.

Which meant Huck found himself stuck in a moral quandary: get back on the raft and save himself or return to save Jim.

What you have to understand is that saving Jim wasn’t just a risk to Huck’s physical safety. It could very well imperil his soul as well. Because helping a slave escape to freedom was a crime. Breaking the law was a sin. And the consequence of sin was hell.

So Huck had a choice to make: save himself or sacrifice himself for his friend.

After wrestling long and hard with his conscience, Huck finally made a decision. 

He decided that no matter the cost, whether to his personal safety or his eternal soul, he had to do the right thing for the friend he loved.

Or as Huck put it, “Alright then, I’ll go to hell.”

It’s a simple, yet powerful statement that I thought perfectly captured the life of Jesus. After all, what was the life and ministry of Jesus if not a life of defiant, self-sacrificial love in the face of religious authorities who were constantly telling him his actions were worthy of hell.

What a post that would make, right?

Well, I thought so at least. And I wanted to make sure I got the quote and context exactly right so I immediately headed over to Google.

And what was the very first search result that came across my screen?

A blog post entitled “All Right, Then, I’ll Go To Hell” by Rachel Held Evans.

For the briefest of moments I was crushed that my brilliant original idea wasn’t so original after all, but then it hit me that of course Rachel had already written that post because Rachel was brilliant and loved Twain as much or more than I did. Of course she had already thought of that post. To be honest, I’m glad she beat me to the punch because she was a much better writer than I ever will be and if anybody is going to write about Mark Twain it should be her, someone that could do the sardonic bard justice.

I never told Rachel about my post that almost was, at least not until just before she died. 

Always the supportive friend, Rachel was kind enough to write the forward to my first book and as a way to say thank you, I wrote her a note telling her the story of my post that almost was and tucked it inside a copy of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

She passed away just a few months later.

I take you with me on that trip down memory lane, not because I want relive the past, but because for me that post or at least that idea that Huck articulated so well and Christ lived out so perfectly was also what I loved so much about Rachel.

It wasn’t her most viral post, not by a long shot.

But its popularity or lack thereof is not why it’s stuck with me for this long.

It’s stuck with me because of all the many wonderful qualities Rachel embodied and incredible contributions she made to the world, the thing about her life that inspired me the most personally was her willingness to look at what she had been taught, what the church commanded, and what religious leaders demanded and even if going against those teachings meant all of those people were going to damn her to hell, if going against those teachings was what was required to love people the rest of the world had ignored, oppressed, marginalized, and condemned, then alright.

She was willing to go to hell for it.

To me, it was that radical devotion to love and inclusivity, that fearlessness and willingness to question any and every sacred cow that didn’t lead her towards loving her neighbor better that I loved most about Rachel.

She understood that loving people was always always always more important than loving ideology no matter how sacred that ideology might be.

But most importantly it wasn’t just talk for her.

Sure, it saturated everything she ever wrote or spoke, but it wasn’t just an alternative ideology to the fundamentalism she rejected.

It was her way of life.

Each and every day whether she was being interviewed by national media or trading encouraging emails with strangers she would never meet. Rachel was always finding new, powerful, and lasting ways to love others no matter the cost, often when no one else was looking or would ever know.

Rachel was willing to “go to hell” so that others could find their place at the table of God.

No matter what.

I miss seeing that every day.

I miss learning from that every day.

I miss being inspired by that every day.

But more than anything, I just miss my friend.

Rest in power, Rachel. And know that Dan and Harper and Henry are in good hands. They’re surrounded by a whole bunch of folks who love them a whole lot and we’re never gonna stop loving on them ever. Even if it gets to the point where they’re like “Guys, back off. You’re starting to smother us.” Nope. We’re just gonna keep on loving on them in every way can up to and including sending Dan homemade bacon.

But don’t worry, I’ll bring you a batch of bacon when we meet again.

And maybe some ribs too.

Yeah, definitely some ribs too.