Thursday, June 30, 2016

Book Review: Live Like You Give a Damn! by Tom Sine

For whatever reason, God has chosen to use the insignificant and ordinary to change the world, which should give us all a little hope! I want to invite you to ask the Creator God to ignite your imagination to join others in creating our best communities, our best world, and in the process our best lives--in ways that both advance something of God's purposes and respond to some of tomorrow's urgent opportunities and challenges. - Tom Sine, Live Like You Give a Damn!

I think by now most churches in the United States are at least aware that the way the wider culture views and approaches them is quite a bit different than it was a few decades ago. People no longer feel obligated to be in a pew every Sunday, sports and other activities have made church attendance one option among many, groups like the "spiritual but not religious," "nones," and "dones" are growing larger every year. Younger generations in particular see faith, discipleship, and church involvement much differently than their parents and grandparents, if they give consideration to such things at all.

Given this awareness, churches and older generations have at least two options. First, they can gripe and grouse and blame societal groups and trends for all their problems, which plenty do quite extensively. Or, they can listen and pay attention to what energizes people outside their walls, and brainstorm how they can participate instead.

In Live Like You Give a Damn!: Join the Changemaking Celebration, Tom Sine wants to make the case that the second option is the better one. He does so by paying special attention to what those of Millennial age in particular are doing to help improve the world through various causes and organizations, as well as what inspired them to take action and how they organized themselves to pursue their goals.

Sine provides countless anecdotes from many corners of the world and his own life to show what can happen when we dare to imagine a different reality for our communities. At various points through the book, we meet people building roads in Haiti, improving waste management in South America and Asia, and removing crack houses from depressed neighborhoods. He shares the bold vision that carried each group through, as well as some of the pitfalls and roadblocks they faced along the way.

It is notable that many of these do not necessarily have a local church at the center of its organization, and Sine explains this: "many churches in North America don't sponsor a single ministry in their own communities. Those that do tend to support ministries like food banks, which help a bit with immediate needs that also sustain people in their dependency. Very few churches become directly involved in initiatives that are designed to empower neighbors or create more resilient and just local communities." (p. 100) Given such a quote, Sine instead presents an approach to "changemaking" that is rooted in a desire for long-term transformation, and grounded in one's own community, and a call to churches to become more involved in their neighborhoods in this way.

Fortunately, Sine does more than just tell stories. Pulling from the wisdom of such diverse places as tech companies, non-profits, and and the business world, he presents many principles for community engagement, from imagining how one's community may change in the next five years, to asking how one's church can help shape a more hopeful reality, to envisioning and implementing the steps to accomplish such molding.

Sine's book is one of many putting out the call to address issues in local places, and he offers many helpful ideas to this end. However, there are a few things that got in the way for me. First, even though he does present some steps for practical application, the stories still occasionally overpower them. He uses so many that it's easy to feel bogged down by narrative at the expense of implementation. Second, even though he often encourages churches to help their local communities, said stories and examples often come from what people are doing in other parts of the world, helping to reinforce the mistaken idea that service and mission happens "over there" rather than right where we are. Finally, while there is much wisdom to be found in the business world that can be informative for churches, he also brings much of the jargon with him as he explains his ideas, such that at times the book reads like an extended mission statement full of corporate double-speak.

The overall message of Live Like You Give a Damn! is a good and needed one: strive to make a difference where you are to help usher in a better tomorrow. Some of the presentation works against that message, but the basic call and wisdom can be found if one takes the time to see it.

(I was sent a free copy of this book to review by the Speakeasy blogging book review network. My opinions are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.)