The toughest position I ever held during my time on a college newspaper was that of a reviewer. It is difficult for me to put into practice the instruction of my professor – observe and dissect – knowing how intensely artists labor over their work. They practically bleed onto the page or the canvas. Nevertheless, it is important to strive to be as even-handed and objective as possible. That is my goal in this piece, and the one that follows.
SETTING THE STAGE
When a friend of mine mentioned in early spring that Jen Hatmaker was taking applications for her book launch team, my interest was piqued. I’d never done anything like that. I knew a little about Hatmaker, having heard her speak at different venues a couple of times and through some of her writing, mostly online stuff. Nothing of hers that I’d been exposed to was “out there.”
Mostly, she was funny – and I always appreciate good, clean humor. So I thought, “Why not? I’ll apply.” I didn’t really expect to be chosen. (I also never expected that my brief endorsement would appear in the front of the published book).
Color me surprised when the email arrived in my inbox. Given a link to a pdf download, I began to read.
On my smartphone.
I betrayed my own non-ebook supporting principles.
Jen Hatmaker is a warm and witty woman, and that comes through loud and clear in her writing. The Jimmy Fallon-esque “Thank You Notes” sprinkled throughout the book had me laughing out loud. Chapter Four, “Fashion Concerns,” left me tears. Leggings are not pants, tights are not leggings, and tights are DEFINITELY not pants! She hits on female awkwardness and worry in a way that allows us to laugh at ourselves, which all women need.
Chapter 10, “Surviving School,” is one that I would love to photocopy and send to all the parents I know:
They don’t need every advantage skewed their way and every discomfort fluffed with pillows. I bet they don’t even need sandwiches [shaped like] dolphins… Kiddos, make your own lunches, do your own laundry, buy your own replacement ID after you left yours on the bus. Write your teacher an apology for doing the worm across her classroom, even though Dad and I laughed our heads off. You want more clothes than we bought? Save your money. Make your own case to the teacher for a higher score. Relinquish your phone for running that mouth. Endure that class. Work for that grade. Try harder never time. Take your licks and learn from them. Put your plate in the dishwasher, for the love of Palmolive. (p. 62-63)
Chapter 21, “Poverty Tourism,” was a sobering look at the way many American Christians treat short-term missions work. The sincerity of those who take such trips is never in doubt, but it is true that we need to reconsider how we approach the work. Hatmaker writes that we need to,
…look seriously at systemic issues in that community. We [need to] learn about root causes, broken structures and societal breakdowns, such as violence and lack of subsequent justice, poverty orphans, the abuse of women and children, economic disempowerment, environmental degradation, educational disparity, maternal health, and nutrition and healthcare. We [need to] listen to local leaders on long-term sustainable solutions… (p. 145-146)
In essence, when we take the Gospel message anywhere, we need to have an understanding of the situation into which we walk. The Gospel is timeless and never needs to altered, but the way in which it is delivered and the tangible work projects that go along with it – building homes, repairing schools, putting in wells for clean water – should be determined by the particular needs of that community, not our preconceived ideas of how things should be.
Chapter 22, “Dear Church,” and Chapter 25, “Dear Christians, Please Stop Being Crappy,” stand as yet more shots fired from within the Body, at the Body. As with all such essays, there are some valid points. No doubt we have problems. No doubt we have done ourselves no favors by entwining the Gospel with the “American Dream” and structuring our congregations as businesses.
While acknowledging the value in these chapters, I am weary of people within the Church complaining about the Church. That only contributes to its breakdown. Yes, we have issues. Absolutely. No denying it. But let’s not forget that we are the redeemed of the Lord. Let’s not forget that the Church is a good thing. If we have complaints, then we must be willing to do the work of prayer and struggle in order to come to a solution. If we are unhealthy, then we must seek the remedy.
Further, I am equally weary of seeing statistics about people leaving the Church – because I know who’s leaving. It’s my generation. It’s the fickle, entitled, selfish, self-absorbed, immature Millennials. (Yep, I said it). When we were in high school, we whined about relevance. We wanted church to be “cool.” We wanted church to “meet us.” We pushed the “seeker-friendly,” rock-show experience. Now that church leaders have bent over backwards to accommodate our whiny-ness, we leave. We say we want something “more substantial.”
Except that we don’t. We don’t study our Bibles, we don’t spend time discussing doctrine and we won’t unplug from our smartphones if our lives depended on it.
That’s not a Church problem, folks.
That’s our problem.
My first impression of For the Love: A relatively light, funny book that offers women permission to be themselves. Jen Hatmaker invites her fellow females to take our places in Body life while simultaneously inviting us to step off of the hamster wheel of perfectionism. This is a message that should be oft-repeated, and loudly.
I would have liked it if Hatmaker had maintained this focus in the book and avoided making what I would term “bandwagon” comments about the state of the Church. As outlined above, it is popular at the moment to criticize the problems of the Church without recognizing the very real good of the Church. These essays felt out-of-step with the overall tone of the work.
I have battled for weeks over whether or not to type these next words. I would prefer to end this review here, as it is. I would prefer to say that I stand one-hundred percent behind my endorsement. I would prefer to tell you that you can read this book without any problems.
Yet I am unsettled, and for what I believe is good reason.