IN PRISM'S BOOK BAG: SPIRIT IN THE CITIES Kathryn Tanner, ed. (Augsburg Fortress)

reviewed by Rachel Parker

It is unfortunate that a large number of Christians equate church growth only with suburban megachurches and are unaware of the revitalization taking place in the urban church. In Boston, for example, the number of churches has risen 50 percent over the past 30 years while the general population has remained stable. In many cities the Spirit of God is thriving in and expanding from storefront churches where members live in the ghetto and don't speak English.

In SPIRIT IN THE CITIES: SEARCHING FOR SOUL IN THE URBAN LANDSCAPE, editor Kathryn Tanner offers readers a hopeful glimpse of spiritual presence in the urban landscape. Although this presence is often discovered in unexpected locations, it offers transformative potential.

The highlight of the book is Linda Mercadante's essay in which she talks about the experience of being a citizen of Newark, N. J., a city with a longstanding reputation for crime and poverty.  In her essay she reveals that the sense of shame she feels as a citizen of a reviled city has caused her to identify with Jesus, who hailed from Nazareth and was the subject of the biting words, "Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?" Mercadante also discusses the concept of "spiritual geography," suggesting that one's context be considered a lens through which one experiences God. Therefore, all places – not just those labeled holy – have the potential to evoke the Spirit, although some places may nurture that Spirit while others may kill it.

In his essay on Philadelphia, Mark Lewis Taylor identifies two challenges that confront the contemporary city: alienation of people from the natural earth and alienation of people from each other. However, in the vision of "restorative urban utopia" that he espouses, these threats will be resisted as relationships are restored. Therefore, urban theologians and religious communities are encouraged to take action against structural practices that promote class division and racial inequality (two forms of human alienation), as well as the estrangement of people from nature.

Although several of the essays in Tanner's book are unfortunately not as well-written and relevant as the two mentioned here, SPIRIT IN THE CITIES is worth reading for those looking for a hopeful glimpse of the life of the Spirit in the city. Whether readers live in a city, suburb, or rural area, they will be forced to reconsider the traditional ways of seeing and experiencing God and to examine their own surroundings as a potential dwelling for God's Spirit.

Rachel Parker works for Starlight Ministries, serving men and women who are homeless in Boston.


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