“HOPE has never trickled down. It has always sprung up.”
That’s the final line in theologian Ann Morisy’s manifesto for discouraged congregations, Bothered and Bewildered: Enacting Hope in Troubled Times. Her books are loaded with research drawn from sociology, political science, economics and theology. From that solid foundation, she raises her call to arms: The revival of Christianity—and the accompanying revival of communities—begins with small circles of men and women unleashing the power of their faith, their compassion and their creativity.
If you have never heard of Ann Morisy’s name until today, you should know that she stands in a long line of prophetic British writers whose appeals to conscience have crossed the Atlantic and built huge followings in America. That line certainly includes Charles Dickens (ReadTheSpirit is starting a Dickens reading group this week) and includes C.S. Lewis (see our earlier cover story on Lewis’ enormous legacy). That prophetic line also includes writers, teachers and musicians who have sprung from Scotland’s Iona Community (as examples, see these profiles of John Philip Newell and John Bell).
Care to read more on UK-US connections? All this week, sociologist Dr. Wayne Baker is writing about our up-and-down trans-Atlantic relations in his daily OurValues.org columns.
Care to see and hear Ann Morisy? She occasionally comes to the U.S. and will appear March 21-23 at the First United Methodist Church of Ann Arbor adjacent to the campus of the University of Michigan. Sorry—yes, we know that most of our readers don’t live in Michigan, where ReadTheSpirit’s core staff is based, but we couldn’t resist heralding Ann’s visit with this interview.
DICKENS, LEWIS, IONA and MORISY
There are echoes of Dickens, Lewis and the Iona writers in Morisy’s work. She preaches that congregations should not wallow in their anxieties about the future. Congregations are not poor, besieged outposts waiting for some do-gooder to come save them. In fact, every congregation is made up of men and women, and the truth is that each person can contribute in an “economy of abundance,” one of Morisy’s favorite phrases.
In other words, even if your options in life are extremely limited—perhaps you are wheelchair bound in an assisted living community—you still have a lot you can share with the rest of the world. Your contribution to abundance may amount to your compassionate smiles and encouraging words to others. There is no excuse for refusing to share, she argues. And, in fact, the vast majority of men and women are not so extremely limited—and can give far more on a daily basis.
The problem, Morisy argues, is that our societies—especially in the UK and the US—are tragically out of whack. Most Americans, today, know about the yawning wealth gap between the “rich 1 percent” and the rest of us. But Morisy’s preaching and writing doesn’t let the 99 off the hook. She asks audiences: Are you a Baby Boomer? Then, to those in that generation, she says: You’re contributing to the imbalance. Aging Baby Boomers—and she is one of them, she admits—are demanding that the majority of the world’s resources flow toward them. In other words, even if you’re among the “99 percent,” you’re not free of a moral responsibility to share.
“I write as a Baby Boomer, and on reflection it does indeed seem as if I have had an uninterrupted stream of benefits throughout my life,” Morisy writes in her book, Borrowing from the Future: A Faith-Based Approach to Intergenerational Equity. “But maybe I and my fellows are in for a shock. Our confident expectation of financial security rolling steadily into deep old age is threatened. The collapse of banks and the ensuing unsustainable mountain of debt that nations face mean that the future is going to be tough—even for the blessed generation of Baby Boomers. All the components are lining up for an intense bushfire as Baby Boomers and younger generations have come to terms with their—oops, I mean our—hampered desire to acquire and consume.”
OUR UNUSUAL INTERVIEW
As Editor of ReadTheSpirit, I have conducted many of our Cover Story author interviews via long-distance connections with other countries, including the UK. However, Ann is based in Streatham on London’s south side, working out of a home office that runs on an intentionally modest budget. Her own telephone connection is via the Internet and has such limited capacity that our 90-minute interview was interrupted dozens of times. Eventually, Ann turned off all the lights and other electrical devices in her office in the hope that it might improve her connection. It didn’t. So, in the end, it was impossible to publish a typical ReadTheSpirit Question-and-Answer transcript.
She is proud to be part of the laity in the Church of England; although she is a theologian, she is not ordained as a priest. She says: “To distinguish myself from academic theologians, I call myself a community theologian because I like theology that grows from the ground up.”
Ann is 61 and teaches a lot, these days, about the need for older men and women to keep learning—and contributing to the larger community. “As Baby Boomers are getting older, we are a pioneering generation entering this very long old age that people are experiencing today.” She works across the UK training communities in multi-generational dialogue. “We try to encourage churches not just to respond with pastoral care in relation to older people—but to encourage older people to think and reflect—and do their damnedest—not to be a pain in later life. … If we fall prey to being a pain in later life, we can really wreck the lives of those around us—for decades.”
That kind of in-your-face preaching and teaching is guaranteed to spark some anxious responses, and Morisy says she has not been eager to establish a personal website or other online column. Shifting to slang, she chuckles and says, “I like me privacy. I like to keep me head down.”
Fortunately, although she values her privacy, Ann isn’t shy and chooses when to emerge with her best shots—sometimes in book form and often in public workshops and talks, usually across the UK. This week, she brings her prophetic ministry to Michigan. We encourage our readers to find out more about this remarkable teacher. No, we won’t see most of you in Michigan—but you can sample Ann’s books and you can seek her out in the future.
This report is by ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm. You are free to repost and quote from this column.