Rachel Held Evans, Christian Writer Who Questioned Evangelical Beliefs, Dies At 37

Rachel Held Evans amassed a loyal following over more than a decade of reflecting on faith issues. An Episcopalian, she was a popular and sometimes divisive figure among evangelicals. She died on Saturday.

Daniel Evans via Chaffee Management


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Daniel Evans via Chaffee Management

Rachel Held Evans, a progressive Christian author whose writing challenged traditional evangelical views on politics and the role of women and LGBTQ members of the church, died on Saturday. She was 37.

Evans was hospitalized in mid-April for what she described in a tweet as “a flu + UTI combo and a severe allergic reaction to the antibiotics they gave me.” She was placed in a medically-induced coma after her brain began suffering constant seizures, according to updates posted online by her husband, Daniel Evans.

On Saturday, he wrote that she had experienced extensive brain swelling after being weaned out of the coma.

“This entire experience is surreal,” he wrote. “I keep hoping it’s a nightmare from which I’ll awake. I feel like I’m telling someone else’s story.”

He thanked everyone who had prayed, offered the family support and donated money. “Rachel’s presence in this world was a gift to us all and her work will long survive her.”

Evans amassed a loyal following over more than a decade of reflecting on faith issues. An Episcopalian, she became a popular — and sometimes divisive — figure among evangelicals. As of Saturday she had about 163,000 followers on Twitter.

If you’re the praying type – I’m in the hospital with a flu + UTI combo and a severe allergic reaction to the antibiotics they gave me. (I’m totally going to miss GOT! 😢)

— Rachel Held Evans (@rachelheldevans) April 14, 2019

Evans was born in Alabama in 1981 and moved to Dayton, Tenn., as a teenager according to Slate. After graduating in 2003 from Bryan College, a small Christian college in Tennessee, she worked as a journalist and humor columnist.

In late 2007 she started her own blog, calling it a “traveler’s forum” for faith journeys. Her writing pushed theological boundaries and sparked debates, as she challenged traditional evangelical interpretations of the Bible, including on the role of LGBTQ people in the church, for whom she was a vocal advocate.

Her first book, originally titled “Evolving in Monkey Town” and later republished as “Faith Unraveled,” charted the evolution of her faith and her struggle with questions around Christianity.

“I thought I was called to challenge the atheists, but the atheists ended up challenging me,” she wrote in a 2016 post detailing her college graduation years earlier. “I thought God wanted to use me to show gay people how to be straight. Instead God used gay people to show me how to be Christian.”

In 2012 she published a second book, “A Year of Biblical Womanhood,” about her experience trying to follow the Bible’s standards for a woman, which included submitting to her husband’s authority.

“That was a challenge because my husband and I have a very egalitarian relationship,” Evans told NPR’s Guy Raz ahead of the book’s release, “so it was kind of weird trying to impose a hierarchy onto that relationship.”

In 2016 she gave birth to the first of her two children and wrote about becoming a new parent. “We plan to raise him Christian, despite of our own persistent doubts about God and struggles with the Church,” she wrote.

Later that year she wrote an article for Vox justifying her decision to vote for Hillary Clinton as a pro-life Christian.

“Even though I think abortion is morally wrong in most cases, and support more legal restrictions around it,” she wrote, “I often vote for pro-choice candidates when I think their policies will do the most to address the health and economic concerns that drive women to get abortions in the first place.”

While Evans was hospitalized, fans and friends took to Twitter, using the hashtag #prayforRHE to share what she had meant to them. Seminarian Becky Castle Miller wrote that she’d seen many women who said they wouldn’t have pursued the ministry if not for Evans, adding, “I’m one of them.”

Sarah Bessey, a friend and collaborator of Evans, said her writing was meaningful to those walking the same path. “She championed the voices and experiences of people who often were ignored or marginalized in the church,” Bessey told NPR.

In her last post on March 6, Evans wrote about the beginning of Lent and the frustration and grief that readers of faith might have over their own churches, citing recent divisions in the United Methodist Church over LGBTQ inclusion.

“It strikes me today that the liturgy of Ash Wednesday teaches something that nearly everyone can agree on,” she wrote. “‘Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return.’ Death is a part of life. My prayer for you this season is that you make time to celebrate that reality, and to grieve that reality, and that you will know you are not alone.”

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Factory Explosion Rocks Illinois Town, Killing At Least 1 Person

Authorities say one person is dead, and two others still missing have likely perished in an explosion at a manufacturing plant outside of Chicago. Four other people were injured in the blast which occurred Friday night at about 9:30 p.m.

The explosion occurred at the AB Specialty Silicones manufacturing and distribution plant about 35 miles north of Chicago, near the Gurnee-Waukegan border. Waukegan Fire Marshal Steven Lenzi told The AP that it’s “not likely” anyone survived the blast, and says crews are now classifying the search as a recovery. Officials have suspended their search for the missing employees due to concerns about the stability of the plant. Nine employees were inside the plant when the explosion occurred.

Officials are still trying to determine what caused the explosion, which shattered windows across the area and damaged at least five surrounding buildings. Area residents say the explosion shook their homes, and some people in southern Wisconsin reported feeling the blast, which knocked out power to about 1,000 people.

Megan Hener lives nearby the plant, and told The Chicago Tribune, “It shook our house and shook my insides … It was massive.”

Marilee Sanchez spoke with WBEZ’s Dan Mihalopoulos, “We were pulling into our driveway. We heard a big boom. It sounded like a bomb. We turned around, and the back of the neighbor’s, the whole thing, it looked like fireworks … It was awful. It was scary. My husband had been taking a shower, and he said he almost fell, because the house shook.”

Crews fought to contain the fire through the night, and urged residents to stay clear of the area.

Fire, police, and paramedic personnel are working diligently at this scene. Again, please stay out of the area and let the first-responders work. Additional information regarding the explosion and fire will be released by Waukegan officials as the details become available. pic.twitter.com/RtA7MjTVxt

— Lake County Sheriff (@LakeCoILSheriff) May 4, 2019

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Setting Precedent, A Federal Court Rules Jail Must Give Inmate Addiction Treatment

Many jails and prisons won’t give prisoners buprenorphine, a drug which controls heroin and opioid cravings, known also by the brand name Suboxone.

Elise Amendola/AP


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Elise Amendola/AP

This week, a federal appeals court addressed the right to treatment for an inmate who suffers from opioid addiction, a move that legal advocates say could have wide repercussions.

The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston ruled that a rural Maine jail must provide Brenda Smith with medication for her opioid use disorder. One of her attorneys, Emma Bond, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Maine, says the new ruling has the potential to create a “big signal” for jails across the country and combat the social barriers preventing incarcerated people from receiving treatment.

“This is the first federal appeals court in the country to address the right to treatment for opioid addiction in jail,” says Bond. “It represents a huge step forward in the fight against the opioid crisis and for our client who will get her medication in jail.”

Brenda Smith, a resident of Madawaska, Maine, was sentenced in 2018 to 40 days in the Aroostook County Jail for theft at an area Walmart, according to statements in an earlier court decision. Smith currently receives a twice-daily dose of buprenorphine — more commonly known by the brand name Suboxone. This medication helps people with opioid addiction control cravings and maintain recovery. Smith has been in stable recovery for five years on the medication.

Jail officials told her lawyer they were going to interrupt that treatment during her sentence, according to this week’s ruling, forcing her to undergo withdrawal in jail. They argued the drug is contraband in the jail and could hinder rehabilitation and become a source of trafficking. Smith and the ACLU of Maine challenged that position in court, arguing that withholding treatment would violate the Americans with Disabilities Act and the 8th Amendment of the constitution.

Susan Friedman of the Legal Action Council in New York has worked on the intersection of the Americans with Disabilities Act and access to medication-assisted treatment for the better part of a decade and she agrees with Bonds’ assessment. Friedman says not only is the ruling binding for courts and jails in the First Circuit, courts around the country will pay attention to this affirmation that denying inmates in jail medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder violates the ADA – and is illegal.

Under the ADA, it’s illegal to discriminate on the basis of disability, and this includes people who have gone through or are going through drug rehabilitation.

“That sends a really important message to jails and prisons around the country as well as to policy makers who are grappling with these issues,” said Friedman.

Friedman said some jails and prisons will likely start trying to provide access to medications for opioid use disorder to avoid being the subject of a similar lawsuit or because administrators recognize it’s the right thing to do.

Research has shown that providing medication treatment in jail and prison can prevent relapse and reduce risk of overdose upon release. A number of jails and prisons around the country are starting to offer medication treatment with buprenorphine or methadone — but many refuse to, citing concerns that the drugs will be diverted and abused.

Smith’s won her Maine-based case this week when a three-judge appellate panel upheld an earlier ruling by federal judge Nancy Torresen in U.S. district court for Maine.

Last month, Torresen ordered the jail “to provide the Plaintiff with her prescribed buprenorphine during her sentence at the Aroostook County Jail in whatever way the Defendants deem most appropriate in light of the Aroostook County Jail’s security needs.”

The new ruling comes while county jails around the country struggle to meet the needs of patients struggling with opioid use disorder and addiction. According to The National Sheriffs’ Association more than half of the country’s jail population struggles with drug use and dependence. Like Aroostook County, other jail administrators in the U.S. have expressed concern with jail-based medication-assisted treatment’s cost and effectiveness.

Friedman says many of these concerns don’t hold up to scrutiny. The drug can be monitored like any other controlled substance deployed in jails. Additionally, she says, the medication is not prohibitively expensive nor do jails make the same arguments when it comes to other treatments needed for health concerns like diabetes or heart conditions.

“This is no different — this is a medical condition that kills over 100 people every day,” said Friedman.

The ruling closely follows two recent suits in Massachusetts and Washington State which also addressed access to medication-assisted treatment. Yet Brenda Smith’s case solicited a decision by the highest court yet to rule on this particular issue.

Smith’s lawyer Bond says this week’s ruling could do more than ensure people are receiving addiction treatment while in jail. She says the ruling could influence how people perceive addiction stigma.

“This decision is a big step forward in fighting that stigma and fighting that discrimination and so it will be a big step forward in fighting the opioid crisis itself,” says Bond.

Bond says Smith is grateful to receive the treatment many doctors say is medically necessary for dealing with opioid use disorder.

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Friendship And Grief Drive The Strong And Surprising ‘Dead To Me’

Linda Cardellini and Christina Applegate star as fast friends in Netflix’s new comedy-drama Dead to Me.

Saeed Adyani/Netflix


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Saeed Adyani/Netflix

The new Netflix show Dead To Me is very good. Beyond that, it’s a hard show to review. It’s hard to even discuss what kind of show it is without spoiling things that you should get to discover for yourself. But let’s try, because it’s an enormously interesting and rewarding watch.

Christina Applegate plays Jen, a mother of two whose husband has recently died in a hit and run. Jen is awash in grief and anger — the first time we see her, she’s accepting a casserole from a sympathetic neighbor while brutally volleying back the woman’s clumsy attempt at kind words. She tries out a support group for the bereaved, but when she gets there, she’s instantly uncomfortable until, as you always hope will happen in these situations, she meets one person she can talk to. Judy (Linda Cardellini) manages to crack a little joke, and recognizes Jen from Jen’s real estate advertising.

Judy is entirely too eager and earnest for Jen’s darker and more reserved tastes in people — she wants to hug Jen almost upon meeting, which Jen rebuffs. But it turns out that Judy’s story is similar to Jen’s: her fiance died two months ago, and she doesn’t know what to do with herself. And before Jen knows it, Judy is growing on her. Their friendship grows out of the fact that they both can’t sleep, can’t talk about anything else, can’t get past the things that haunt them. Jen even confides in Judy about her freelance investigation of her husband’s death, which involves writing down the license numbers of cars with dents in their front ends. (Judy, like any good friend watching someone tilt at a windmill: “Okaaaaay.”)

Is this going to be a galpal bonding show, like Grace & Frankie? Will they fall in love? Will Jen enlist Judy to help her solve the mystery? How, exactly, does James Marsten, playing a hilariously obnoxious and arrogant weasel, fit into this story? Let’s not answer too many of these questions.

Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini are both actresses who are never unwelcome, in any project, at any time. They both enliven practically everything they appear in, and this is my favorite thing I’ve ever seen from both of them. Applegate is so, so good here as Jen: angry and vulnerable and intelligent, clever and sometimes foolish. Cardellini’s Judy is initially more of a mystery, and it spoils very little to say that by the end of the first episode, Jen has learned some things about Judy that she didn’t know. But that is only the beginning of the complicating and re-complicating of the story.

Dead to Me is often very, very funny — but it’s also rooted in profound emotion that makes everything matter. It invests in the friendship between Jen and Judy at the same time it makes that friendship feel loaded and unpredictable. The pacing is very good, doling out plot developments at the right speed.

There are times when the most helpful, accurate, non-spoiler review is something along these lines, and so I leave you with it: I binged this sucker almost as soon as the screeners came in, and I didn’t do much else until I finished all ten episodes. It’s a good one.

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