It’s taken me a long time to find the time to focus and read just one book that isn’t for an immediate (like, in a few hours) adult ed class. But wow, I am glad I spent the time reading Carol Howard Merritt’s latest work, Reframing Hope.
The thing I love about Carol’s writing is that I feel like she may be the only person writing about a new generation without talking down-to/about-from-the-outside. I realize that she is part of this generational shift and so speaks from within rather than outside, but she also manages to write in that sort of inside voice. (By contrast, books such as unchristian, They Like Jesus But Not Church, etc, all feel like they are attempting to talk about “us” via the GenX/Millennial stereotypes and caricatures common among older generations, rather than from within.)
This book was, for me, a relatively quick read, and while I didn’t find it earth-shattering for my worldview or faith or church involvement, I could see in every chapter something that others in my church life would find surprising, new, or challenging. I also heard echoes of my own preaching, which is often characterized as “always being about community.” Well, yes, of course it’s about community—because I believe that is one of the defining issues of our time and one of our greatest needs as human beings…and something that has been so changed by technological advances over the past 50 years. Carol also talks repeatedly about the importance of community, and what community might look like in generations that have grown up in a postmodern era/the internet age, and during a generation-long distrust of institutions. (And, of course, even as these cultural changes play out we see how the turnings of culture and generations are relatively predictable—see Strauss and Howe’s Fourth Turning for more about how we now live in the midst of a culture shift that is likely to bring about a greater desire for, and building of, community.)
As leaders (ordained and not!) of established congregations, particularly in the mainline, we need to be reading this book (and Tribal Church, too!). These shifts are real, the culture change across the generations is real, and the needs of a new generation are real. New generations are not going to turn into the previous ones—there is no chance that GenX-ers are going to magically turn into Boomers as we age. Instead we continue to live out our experiences and our archetypes (drawing again on Strauss and Howe), only older. GenX and Millennials and the new generation of children are not going away, and we are not going to change to be copies of our parents and grandparents, so it’s time the church learned what that means for ministry, for community, for sharing and living the gospel, for caring and bringing hope and loving one another as Christ has loved us. This book is a good start as we seek to understand and minister to/with people of a new generation.