Some time ago, I read Carol Howard Merritt’s book, “Tribal Church.”  I appreciated her narrative description, much of it in the first person, of the situation that the ‘Gen-X’ faithful find themselves in.  In sweeping strokes, she offered some key areas for attention, if the church really intends to include this segment of the Body of Christ in its life together.

Tribal Church lead me to use the age old moniker “Community of Faith,” to get at some of the church issues here where I serve. For us at least, both these terms need to get ‘unpacked’ and ‘re-emphasized’ in our congregational life.

A few days ago, “Reframing Hope” arrived at my door.  I was eager to open it as several ‘cyber’ colleagues have been informally discussing this book.  As I often do, I quickly read the introduction and the conclusion.  Sometimes when I do this I am left to simply pick up a kernel here and there, perusing the body of the text, filling in the few blanks that were left in my book-end reading.

I could not do this with Carol’s book for two reasons. 

First, when I read the introduction I became aware that Carol is someone who is deeply committed to what you might call the ‘institutional’ church.  For me, you would say, that’s the United Church of Christ.  For Carol, it’s the Presbyterian Church USA.  Some folks might say we’re committed to the ‘old-line.’  But at the same time it was apparent to me that Carol is feverish about this treasure of tradition and resources and history adapting itself so that younger disciples have space appropriate for their gifts.   Every pastor actively involved in ministry knows that this is a recipe for a hernia.  I had to read more.

In her summary, Carol made it clear that the biggest hurdle we all have to overcome is that our ‘frame of references’ are usually different, and sometimes in conflict. 

Second, it quickly became apparent that Carol intended to be quite specific about how we might create a community of faith that is both attentive to the traditions of the church and welcoming to the gifts for ministry in the community.  This idea she stole from me (not really) so I had to keep reading!  To do this, the objectives must be ‘reframed.’  This change is described narratively, and like a good narrative sermon you agree to go on a journey to a place you did not agree, at first, to go.  The narrative carries you there. So I was caught, reading the entirety of the text enjoying the movement and thus appreciating the destination.

Throughout this text, Carol’s own view of the world and the community of faith made me realize how different mine is.  For this boomer, white, protestant minister, many of the Gen X’ers ‘frames’ are quite different than mine, at least in one way.  For example, when Carol speaks about her experience in Uganda and a cultural awareness, she is describing something that for most of my life was outside my range of experience.  My community was very homogeneous.  Economics were booming.  Social and religious organizations were at their peak.  Being aware of my own privileged status was almost impossible.  This generation assumes they a part of a very diverse tapestry of color, tradition, and creed.

Carol’s mastery of the social ‘sitz em lieben’ is that she does not always require that we dream up some new means for reframing activism.  She reminds us that the church has time tested tools for such work.  They may need to be polished up, adapted, sharpened maybe, but they are already part of who we are.  She also notes new tools, technology in particular, that simply assist in age old emphasis’ in ministry.

I readily admit that there were moments in my reading, as Carol described some of the experience and insight of her colleagues, when I felt that I was being ‘talked down to.’  There we descriptions of the ‘old guard’ (my term, not hers) that made me feel irrelevant and uninformed.  After the first time or two this happened, I pondered that feeling and wondered if that was not similar to what some of Carol’s generation feel as they approach the existing structure of the institutional church.  What was hardest, and at the same time most exciting, was to realize yet again that my own view of the world and ministry is limited.  My own euro-centric, middle class, affluence worldview is revealed to be a flawed, or at least too narrow, view of the world.  Yet, Carol doesn’t chide me, not really.  She does was many of her generational colleagues do: she pleads that I take seriously her ‘frame’ of reference, and ‘reframe’ mine accordingly. 

Still, I do not think that Carol is suggesting that we ‘reframe’ our hope as some sort of intellectual enterprise.  That would be so ‘my generation.’  What her generation is suggesting is that this ‘reframing hope’ is an activity of the Body of Christ, not just the intellect.  I suspect this is a thinly veiled call for us all to get busy in ministry, together.   She gives you seven areas to focus ministry that has the capacity to engage everyone, not just the Gen X’s.  Some might read this book and see it as an outline for a ‘church development’ program.  It wouldn’t be a bad one if you chose to use it that way.  I don’t think Carol or her colleagues would appreciate it if I saw it this way.  After all, that would be so ‘my generation.’  What it does do is remind us of some particularly rich places for us to plant the seed, nurture the growth, of this community of faith.

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