I am so very far behind in book reviews and so very much in stasis mode in my life right now, not least because there’s a lot of Big Time-Consuming Stuff going on at work. I’ll never know why all deadlines are at the same time. I mean, I know there are only so many days, but surely we could figure out a way not to put them all in October. Right? No?
Fine. I need to get this book review off my desk since the book itself has long since been returned to Talkative.
He loaned Reframing Hope: Vital Ministry in a New Generation to me months and months ago on the heels of hearing that I was reading some other book I’ve since forgotten, which is definitely an encouraging thing to say about a book. So this was sitting in my living room until finally I packed it with my lunch at my New Adult Job (which, when eating lunch out of a bag, feels a lot like middle school did) to read over the break. It was a great book for that purpose, really, as Merritt’s writing voice is incredibly easy, accessible, and clear. Also funny, which is always a bonus. Importantly, you can read it in a semi-noisy cafe when you’re aware of being on a schedule. (Translation: not gut-wrenchingly emotional or mind-bendingly deep, yet still informative and engaging.)
So, the thing about this is that it was written by a woman. By an under-40 woman. By an under-40 woman in a pastoral role in the Presbyterian church. Gasp! And she never lets you forget any of these things, because she understands that hitting that target is what has created the market for her voice. I get that, but it got rather frustrating to me as an also under-40 woman (albeit in the Methodist church), because I don’t tend to define myself by my sex or age. It’s true that it’s a running joke among my friends that I fail at both categories, but still, I felt rather overwhelmed by the amount of times Merritt pointed out her generation and gender ties.
There is much here at which I found myself nodding, particularly about the way technology has redefined our concept of relationship and sacredness, about how we understand our history as people of the Church, about what it means to be in community. I felt rather lost as an old codger type when she would go into longish praise moments of all that new virtual communities and technological advances can do for the Church because, well, I just don’t think it’s all that great. I also felt rather lost in how often Merritt was definitely addressing like-minded Gen X/Millenials in the pastorate, because that really doesn’t fit me.
However, there’s a lot of humor and warmth here, which is great. As I said, Talkative loaned this to me, so his notes are all over the pages, and honestly I think I would have liked this book a lot less without his running commentary probing her assertions and illustrations. He pointed out a lot of things I would have glossed over, like the many times Merritt lauds the recent return to a connection with church history but then skips over the entire Middle Ages and Renaissance when discussing what that history is; or how she urges community and transportation and innovation in a way that can be done in larger cities but not really all that well in spread-out, rural places; or how she continually delights in the accessibility of information in this technological age but doesn’t really acknowledge that facts are not quite the same as truth.
Talkative can be quite intelligent, when he tries.
It’s a good little volume, it is, and it definitely spurred some interesting ideas for me about what it means to be working within or around the Church in the 21st century. But there’s a huge disconnect, I think, between the folks like Merritt who are super excited about what’s coming and the people like me who see how much we’re ignoring in what is. But then, I would totally be sitting on my front porch, shaking my cane at kids and telling them to get off my damn lawn. If I had a porch. Or a lawn.