Blog Review Round-up

I have been really, really overwhelmed by the wonderful reviews that people have been writing for Reframing Hope. Most recently, Greg Smith named it as one of the top 10 books published in 2010. Here are some of the other reviews, for your perusal…

“Reframing Hope–Review,” by Bob Cornwall at Ponderings on a Faith Journey
“Restructuring the Church, Restructuring the Conversation,”
by Cynthia Coe at ET Christian Formation
“Reframing Hope: A Review,” by Jennifer Warner at Presbymergent
“A New Book: Reframing Hope,” by Tripp Hudgins at Conjectural Navel Gazing: Jesus in Lint Form (anglobaptist.org)
“Reframing Hope: A Book Review,” by Terri Pilarski at Seeking Authentic Voice
“From Scarcity to Hope,” by Dawn Leger at The Flags of Dawn
“Reframing Hope: Vital Ministry in a New Generation,” a review by Martha Williams Jordan at Pastor Martha’s Thoughts
“Reframing Hope: A Review,” at Simplecountrypastor’s blog
“Reframing Hope by Carol Howard Merritt–A Review,” by Mark Smith at Mark Time
“Book Review: Reframing Hope,” by Gord Waldie at Ministerial Mutterings
“Book Review–Reframing Hope,” by Nick Phillips at Maritimers.ca
“Review of Carol Howard Merritt’s Reframing Hope” by Jim Kane
“Reframing Hope: A Review” by the Expatriate Minister
“Reframing Hope: Vital Ministry in a New Generation,” a review by Ann A. Michel for Leading Ideas

Where Do You Find the Time?

There are two ways in which that question is asked. One is by the person who has been to our church, read my books, reads my blogs, listened to our podcast, heard me at an event, met my family, and they ask, “Where do you find the time?” They appreciate my work and I appreciate the question.

Usually I mutter something about how our house is a disaster, our laundry pile is the size of Mount Everest, I don’t match socks, I don’t watch television, I wake up at 4:30 every morning, and I’m blessed to live in an area with a decent variety of cheap, healthy, fast ethnic food.

But there is another way that “Where do you find the time?” is asked. The question usually has to do with social media, and it comes with a bit of eye-rolling and some underlying assumptions, mainly, “My time is much more important to spend it on blogging.” And it often comes with the requisite jab, “I don’t care what you had for breakfast.”

If you don’t think that blogging, Facebook and Twitter are a good way for you to spend your time, then that’s fine. It does take some significant amount of energy to keep up with things. But please don’t judge, and don’t assume that you’re doing things that are way more awesome than we are.

There are many, many things that people do with their time that I don’t find all that stimulating, but I don’t shake my head and ask “Where do you find the time?” when someone tells me about their various hobbies, sports passions, or TV viewing habits.

As Clay Shirky reminded me in his latest book, in a time when most Americans made watching television into a part-time job, it’s kind of ridiculous to look at people who are interested in the Internet as participating in a vast and meaningless time-suck. After all, TV is passive entertainment, and most people spend time on the Internet creating content and relaying relevant (although I know this term is relative…) information. Whether it’s status updates, blog posts, web sites, or conversations over our breakfast menus, we’re involved in creating things. We’re interacting with other people. You may not think that it’s worth our time. And that’s okay. But could you please keep that to yourself? Then I promise I won’t point out how ridiculous it is that you’re wearing matching socks.

What if it’s not men that men are looking for?

I got into a car recently, with another female pastor and an Evangelical man. I asked the guy about his church and he said, “I go to a church where men’s leadership is very important. Men don’t go to church any more. And so our church puts men in leadership so that it will attract more men.”

I was not very quick on my feet… it had been a long day… so I didn’t say anything and just swallowed the insult. After all, it’s not a new theory, I’ve heard it about a thousand times. It’s just one of those indignities that we endure as women clergy.

“Men are attracted to male leadership. We need more men. We will hire a man so that men will attend our church.”

Other than it being a clear affront to me as a female pastor, I also wonder if it’s true. I mean, overall, men have been running the show about 99% of the time. And if you look at the whole of Christianity, then the men have been in charge 99.99% of the time. And still, there are an overwhelming number of women in the pews.

What if these commonly held assumptions are incorrect? What if opposites attract? Maybe I should just start declaring that male leadership attracts female members (I mean, that seems much more historically accurate). And it must follow that female leaders would attract more male members. And so male pastors are really kind of obsolete.

Do I think that male pastors are obsolete? Of course not. But after being a pastor for growing congregations for the last twelve years, I’m really getting tired of the assumption that I’m obsolete, and that men won’t go to a church I pastor.

How can we be revolutionary?

So, I don’t think that all marketing principles should be whole-heartedly applied to the church. I think many people get exhausted by continuous marketing, and don’t want our congregations to adopt all of those principles that can leave people feeling manipulated and used.

But, I do kind of smile whenever I have this image in my mind.

What if top ad execs acted like some of our church leaders? Think about it, we’re sitting around… oh, I don’t know… the Apple board room. Apple has lost half of their customers, and the marketing person gets up to make a presentation.

She sighs deeply and says, “I don’t really know what’s wrong with this generation of customers. They don’t seem to have the commitment that we did when we were younger. You know, we bought our products. It didn’t matter what kind of content was in the product. No one had to cater to us. No one had to entertain us. We had a commitment to the brand and we bought into it because it was the right thing to do.”

She continues to shake her head. “I think it’s because this new generation is narcissistic. You know, they’re used to getting everything they want. They have no respect for us, as a company. So now, they just pick and choose, like the world is a cafeteria. And they expect us to cater to them.” [Insert eye rolling.]

What do you think their sales trajectory is going to look like in the coming years? Probably not so good.

What do I imagine Apple really is doing in their marketing sessions? Trying to figure out the needs of a new generation. Then, Apple explains to us they are revolutionary. They are going to change everything.

What if our faith communities stopped heaping on the guilt because a new generation is not giving us the money, volunteer hours, and attendance that we want? What if we stopped looking at what’s wrong with a new generation, and began to minister to their needs? What if we began to imagine how we can be revolutionary together?

Because we’re much more likely to change everything than the new iPod shuffle is.

Advent Whispers

When Elizabeth was six months pregnant, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a city in Galilee, to a virgin who was engaged to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David’s house. The virgin’s name was Mary. When the angel came to her, he said, “Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you!” She was confused by these words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Mary. God is honoring you. Look! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father. He will reign over Jacob’s house forever, and there will be no end to his kingdom.”

Luke 1:26-33 (CEB)

I can’t explain to you the overwhelming emotion that I had after peeing on that little stick and watching the plus sign appear. I had been married for seven years, and my gut longing for a baby was intense. When I was in Target and I heard an infant crying, I had an overwhelming urge to comfort the child. I mean, I had to stop myself from asking the mom if I could just hold her baby for a little bit. Every time an infant was carried into a room, my eyes would follow her beautiful face, and warmth would fill me as I saw her glowing expression. My biological clock felt like a time bomb ticking, because the urgency was so intense.

It’s not that way for every woman. I understand that. But it was for me. And after my experience, I know why women keep having babies, even with the advent of birth control. Even in the midst of war-torn countries. Even when we know about overpopulation. Even when we have incredible careers and no time for dirty diapers. Some of us just have that evolutionary drive within us to create.

I kept a box of those magic sticks in the bathroom and regularly tested to see if just the right mix of hormones would turn that negative into a positive.

Even with my massive baby-shaped vacuum sucking in my soul, we weren’t “trying” to have a child. I knew that would have been irresponsible. Our lives never seemed settled enough to bring someone else into our crazy world. My husband and I were both pastors in small rural congregations, so we never had enough money, and our jobs were never secure. We were always worried that we would have to move. Plus, I didn’t feel fit to be a mother. I mean, I had mountains of laundry that needed to be folded, I skipped breakfast on a regular basis, and sometimes the only nutrition I would partake in was a greasy pizza at 11:00 at night.

So when that second blue line appeared, crossing over the first line, making that negative sign into a positive, my world felt like it was overturning. Even with such longing, I panicked.

The elation, the fear, and the feelings of inadequacy were intense. When I told my husband, I wept. He comforted me, held me, and whispered, “Don’t worry. You’re going to be a great mom.” And he added with curiosity, “I thought you wanted this.”

I always think about that moment when I read this passage. Of course, Mary wasn’t holding a urine-soaked stick, bringing her the good news about the fruit of her womb. A messenger was there, telling her not to fear. But the words seem a lot the same. The angel was coaxing her, letting her know that she was adequate, and God was honoring her. In fact, she was going to great. And there would be incredible things in store for the child.

And yet, Mary’s feelings must have been intense. The world must have been overturning, as she dreaded facing her fiancé, who was not the father of the baby. Or as she thought about what happened to women in her position. She had to have imagined what would have happened if she were caught. An angry mob would surround her, hurling stones at her, until her brown skin turned black and blue, and she would die along with that great hope in her womb.

In this time of Advent, as we’re pregnant with expectation and all of these intense emotions swirl about us, as we long to see God’s reign, as we hope for a just and peaceful world, it seems that these messages are still important. In our elation, our fear, our inadequacy, and our confusion, we will need to keep holding one another, reminding one another, “Don’t be afraid. God is with you.”

[This post was written as a part of Common English Bible’s Advent Blog Tour. Be sure to check out the other postings. They have collected a wonderful group of writers.]