When the Revel Reads program offered this book among its options, I leapt at the chance to read it, largely because I liked the subtitle of the book. “How to Live Sent in the Place You Call Home.” I thought it sounded very charming and it appealed to me as a woman who believes we are all sent with a purpose to different places, whether it be a little visit to a nursing home or a long-term stay in a state where we’ve never lived before. We as a family have entered a season of putting down roots and I was interested in what this book could offer someone like me.
When I received the book and began reading the Introduction, I found the author’s perspective to be refreshing and circumspect. I had become acquainted somewhat with the urban missionary movement in the contemporary American Christian church and some of it really bristled me. Some of it sounds incredibly naive, and other examples have sounded downright entitled. Some call it “new monasticism” and others refer to it as upside-down kingdom living. I wanted to know where this book fit on the spectrum of stories/guides to being missional in one’s own community.
After reading the Introduction, the two chief questions I had in reading the rest of the book were:
Question #1: The author is white but does she recognize her privilege in moving into a community?
Question #2:- As a transplant to a community where she and her husband are trying to church plant, do they work with organizations already on the ground to learn more about their community?
I was sorry the answer to Question #1 was…not really? I am frustrated when I read about one more white woman in the church who doesn’t realize the amazing backpack of privilege she carries. The author talks about the three places she and her family moved to in and around San Francisco. It appears she blithely moved into each home without having concern as to whether or not she would be well-received. In fact, the author speaks about not receiving anything—no welcome or acknowledgment. This actually both struck me as naive and privilege-blind. I’ve lived in the city for 10+ years and I never expect to be acknowledged. It’s part of survival in a densely populated area. You just cannot expend your energy to each and every person passing into your lane. She does not mention worrying about any looks askance or overwhelmingly suspicious surveillance of her family moving in — something plenty of people of color have to worry about each day of their lives as they move through the world. The author talks about adopting their daughter from India during their early years in San Francisco. I’m sure becoming a multi-ethnic family overnight came with its lovely points and challenges, and I would have wanted to hear more about that. Instead, here is a passage from the book that bemused me:
”In my city, I’ve got a lifetime of people to love. The immigrants. The refugees. The under-resourced. The minorities…and I joyfully say, ‘You are welcome here.’”
I could barely read the rest of the book after this passage. It sounded at turns Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, and also incredibly pompous. Really? As a transplant to a city, you still feel entitled to tell others that they’re welcome in a city? There’s nothing wrong with being a welcoming person, but maybe those folks already know they belong. Maybe they don’t need a white woman to validate their being there. Being blind to one’s own privilege is a huge turn-off and I just never found the level of awareness I had hoped to find in this book.
The answer to Question #2 was maybe. As church planters, it appeared that this family and the other planting staff did reach out to others in the trenches who were doing their best to start churches. But I didn’t see much in the way of allying with organizations already on the ground who could provide resources and an invaluable intel into the community. The author prescribes whittling away the shoe leather in walking the blocks that surround her home and meeting the people and praying for the places in which her ministerial circle comprises. I think this is great, but it’s also one of the criticisms of new monasticism: that oftentimes these idealistic ministers seem to get burned out by doing it all from scratch, when they could have sought existing, embedded resources to help them find their path.
There were many redeeming parts about the book, including the early chapters on doubt and discomfort. I loved this: “A fear of missing out is not from God.” The author and her husband offer excellent, tactical strategies for planning a purpose-driven move. The book is also filled with a tremendous diversity of perspectives from luminaries such as C. S. Lewis, Marc Batterson, Maria Goff, and Pete Scazzero whose words enriched the pages.
Overall, there were far too many surefooted explanations for how ministry should be done in a place outside of one’s own comfort zone. The blindness to privilege was a major detractor for me as a reader. However, I think this book would still be a helpful companion for those who are discerning a move for ministry because of the cards the author is willing to show in sharing her spiritual walk through discomfort and toward the unknown.
I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review.