If you’re going to illustrate godly principles using a material good, why not use a purse? After all, it’s one thing that is almost universal among American women today, regardless of age, race, and class. Each item found in a typical handbag then could represent a virtue sought after, a discipline to attain, or a lesson to be learned. This is exactly what Barbara J. Barnes must have had in mind when she wrote A Lady’s Pocketbook Ministry (Westbow, 2015).
The author is a former missionary and member of the Pleasant Grove Church of Christ (Inverness, FL). The book is a brief study guide, sorted into thirteen chapters and complete with prompts for discussion, organized for a typical women’s Bible class. Admittedly, I’ve generally not been impressed with self-published books, but I gave this one a chance because someone, who personally knows the author, recommended it to me. During my read, I found the content a little disorganized and the “worksheet” questions a little too basic, but the main problem was its outdatedness.
Right off, the title tells us something’s amiss. Not only does the use of “ministry” make it sound like a service is being provided, but the terms “lady” and “pocketbook” harken back to a “black and white” era. The items chosen also seem to fit the past more than the present: a Bible, set of keys, family photo album, friends photo album, small pendant watch, eye glasses, pen and paper, crocheted cross, bookmark, medication, coins, and mirror. These are too generation-specific to make effective illustrations. I would even argue that they are too person-specific because the list even leaves out another universal symbol of womanhood: lipstick, something that no “lady” with a “pocketbook” would’ve ever been without.
If the author had asked my opinion before taking the manuscript to print, I would’ve suggested to keep the keys and mirror and to reconsider everything else: No Bible. (That’s cheating.) No crocheted cross. (Too many CofC readers will cry “Catholic!” and throw the book away.) Cash or a debit card instead of coins, which are more of a nuisance today than anything else. “Pain killer,” which would still conjure up images of “medication” in the minds of older women but also “Motrin” in the minds of younger ones. Eyeglasses paired with contacts. Lip balm or lip gloss. And of course, a phone. Every reader, whether in her teens or in her eighties, can identify with a phone, even if they are one of the few who don’t have one.
Again, I think that the author’s idea has merit. The theme oozes with the kind of cuteness that attracts many women to Bible studies. Unfortunately, I don’t see a lot of leaders actually selecting it for their women’s groups. There’s just nothing to maintain interest in their younger members. For that reason, I can’t recommend this book.