Carol Howard Merritt recently tweeted that she was surprised to be asked to write about homiletics, but of all the people who know her she was the only one surprised. She is a superb preacher. I am horrendously belated on this promised review of her book Reframing Hope and as I was contemplating what to say that others hadn’t said already, it occurred to me that though this is a book by the Alban Institute ostensibly about leadership it is at heart not a practical book, but a homiletical work.
Rev. Howard Merritt doesn’t dissect her subject matter into logical organizational units. She doesn’t start simply with a problem, move to diagnosis and then prescription. The subtitle does say Vital Ministry in a New Generation but it isn’t best used as a “how to” manual for revitalizing your congregation. Though there is a study guide for this book the conversation that flowed out of our study group wasn’t analytical in nature, but imaginative.
That is because Rev. Howard Merritt writes with a preacher’s voice. She builds her book on broad themes and weaves them together evocatively not mechanically. The subject of her book, hope, is not something you can come at head on. So she does it through stories and by repeating the theme symphonically, with variations each time, till you can hum along with her.
Though Reframing Hope is more evocative than prescriptive it does have a some places that challenge the reader: in particular her chapter on Redistributing Authority. She does a great job in a short space of debunking the cult of the leader and the myth of the expert wrapped in the old assumption that bigger is better. Instead, she invites us to see networks of creative people, non-experts, and small-scale initiatives as the road forward. The other chapter that really grabbed the attention of our study group was Reinventing Activism, which hones in on the potential of social media for invigorating social-justice movements.
It always surprises me the amount of pushback Rev. Howard Merritt gets on her work. To me this preacher is deeply pastoral. She invites. She coaxes. She offers. She rarely prods, cajoles, or provokes. That said, in comparison with her previous book, Tribal Church, you can see a touch more of the prophet’s voice emerging in her work – an aspect of her thinking which is much more prevalent in her blogging and speaking. If that is the direction her future writing trends, then this reader at least, will be shouting a hearty “Amen!”