Thank God That Is Happening In #Ferguson and Not Here

#Ferguson Ferguson, Missouri 2014

Noticing #Ferguson

It’s so profoundly important that we, living elsewhere in the U.S., don’t squelch the concern in our souls by saying, “Thank God that is happening in Ferguson, Missouri and not here.”

Don’t you agree it is tragically easy–in the jumble of to-do lists, multi-tasking, and smart phone notifications–to dismiss what is happening in Ferguson as just another CNN ticker tape at the bottom of our TV screen or just another link on the margins of our internet browser? To remove ourselves from a story that’s not centered in our own community, to go on with our weeding of the garden or picking up of the dry cleaning with a scary kind of casual-ness?

Sometimes I have to take a minute and focus. To intentionally pause and listen and humanize these strangers caught up in the headlines. To struggle with our neighbors in Ferguson, to face the grief and loss of real people each uniquely loved by their parents, siblings, and friends…people I might enjoy as friends if we found ourselves clumped into the same corner of life together.

If we allow geographical distance to detach ourselves from their journey; if we choose to avert our eyes and remain silent, we will only be subtly inviting these tragedies to continue to happen…and making room for the next injustice to explode into our own communities.

Please take a second with me to focus your care today, to read the stories coming out of Ferguson, to join me in conversations with our children, to speak out against racist commentary in our local dialogues, and to find whatever natural ways are available to us to put a stake in the ground for justice. What do you say? Will you join me in doubling down mentally–in raising our attentiveness–so that we do not risk becoming people whose nobility and compassion get drowned out by small enemies like busyness and comfortable distractions?

How much more good might happen if we, even us on the other side of the country, transferred the people of #Ferguson from the sidebars and ticker tape at the bottom of our lives and onto the screens of our awareness?

(Picture from my friend, our best man, and PICO community organizer, Wes Lathrop.)

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Best Christmas Ever: The First Donkey In the Living Room Book Arrives in the Mail

Browse on Amazon now for The Donkey In the Living Room by Sarah Cunningham

Two years ago, I hit the book section of a big box store in search of a fun family book that would help set the stage for Christmas.

I wanted to do more than ring in retail-Christmas, the kind that makes store aisles explode with lights and garland and “CLEARANCE” signs. But to gather up my family around meaning and hope. To scratch the surface of the sacred, special holy Christmas…the one fused to a God who chose to commune with humankind.

What I found:

  • A few books (one was an international best-seller) that touted variations of the “be-good-so-Santa-will-bring-you-presents” plot line. (Cute, but holy smokes do my kids already have enough toys.)
  • A skimpy handful of nativity story books–nothing that stood out, some poorly illustrated, some whose text lacked much connection to spirituality, and most near-carbon-copies of the others.

I went home without spending a dollar.

That afternoon, as I googled my brain about what-great-thing-was-missing, I found myself nostalgically retracing my childhood Christmas experiences. And before long, I was reminiscing about a specific tradition my parents had introduced to my brothers and I as a child.

Every night, my brothers and I would open a figurine from the nativity. And every night, we would crawl up on my dad’s lap as he told us the Christmas story from that character’s perspective. (Imagine sheep baa-ing on and on about the bright lights they saw in the sky.) 

This was IT. THIS was the Christmas book I wanted my kids to insist on reading over and over again.

We’d read about Jesus via the lamb, Jesus via the Shepherds, Jesus via the Donkey, Jesus via Mary. But mostly, we would read about JESUS. Every single night.

With caffeine in hand, I immediately got to work piecing together bits of story-ideas and stock illustrations around this tradition. And by the next morning, I was telling my friends about The Donkey In the Living Room, originally intended to be a gift for my own kids, as well as my nieces and possibly my parents. That’s when my friends started buying 3 or 4 copies at a time for every niece and grandkid they had…all the while totally unworried about the book’s ragged, self-published simplicity. 

Because, as I quickly learned, not many healthy parents really wants to sum up the Christmas spirit with dodgy encouragements to their kids to “be good enough” to get presents. (Perfectionism complex, anyone?)

And not many parents want to make the biggest promise about Christmas a pledge to fill their kids’ shelves and toy boxes (and by that I mean your floors, your stairs, your bathtubs) with MORE toys. More tribute to Disney and Pixar and this show and that movie.

What if, in addition to all that other childhood fun, in addition to those unwrapped toys and mealtime celebrations, family Christmas could be about sitting together? About cuddling close. About reading in hushed and then excited tones about the-God-born-Jesus every night of the season, year after year, until the kids won’t sit on our laps anymore?

And now a recap of what’s happened since: In a few weeks, with just a single press release and a few social media posts, the book was launched and made it to the list of top selling Christmas books for kids on Amazon.

Shortly after that Christmas passed, a friend put me in touch with a children’s publishing rep at B&H Kids and from there the vision grew into something that makes me pause and breathe in wonder when I think of it.

This year, the book released as a fully-illustrated hardback that is available alone (to use with ANY nativity set) or with a boxed manger scene whose figurines match those in the book.

I know that makes it another toy, in one respect. There’s no getting around that. But the idea that parents might have a simple tool, that families around the country might gather up their little ones on laps and say the name of Jesus over and over and over and over as Christmas fills their home…man, knowing thousands of families might do that is plenty enough goodness to last a lifetime of Christmases for me.

So this week, the week after my children received the first ever Donkey In the Living Room boxed gift set, I wanted to share some of their childlike wonder as they poured over the book and figurines (see photos I snapped below).

And I wanted to point you to where you can pre-order the e-book by itself or the book with manger scene, to ensure the kids in your life can get one this year if you so desire (they will be shipped to you September 1st).

I hope you and yours enjoy it half as much as we do.

Best Christmas Books for Kids

Browse on Amazon now for The Donkey In the Living Room by Sarah Cunningham

Browse on Amazon now for The Donkey In the Living Room by Sarah Cunningham

Browse on Amazon now for The Donkey In the Living Room by Sarah Cunningham

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Browse on Amazon now for The Donkey In the Living Room by Sarah Cunningham

Browse on Amazon now for The Donkey In the Living Room by Sarah Cunningham

Browse on Amazon now for The Donkey In the Living Room by Sarah Cunningham

Browse on Amazon now for The Donkey In the Living Room by Sarah Cunningham

Browse on Amazon now for The Donkey In the Living Room by Sarah Cunningham

DSC_0758

Browse on Amazon now for The Donkey In the Living Room by Sarah Cunningham

DSC_0783

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Meetups & Book Reviews

lake

It’s raining. The grass is wet. Little dimples fill the lake. Water coats the deck and driveway with a slick, glossy finish.

The backyard is growing at mach speed.

To make up for the lack of summer outside, we’ve been painting and play-doh-ing, reading and playing so many double headers of living room kickball. And occasionally, when the rain breaks, we sneak out to kayak which is mostly our boys’ vehicle for spotting snakes, frogs, lizards, deer, crane and other wildlife neighbors.

Summer is synonymous with family here. The days are slow and long, the to-do lists are kept purposefully short. It’s a simple time when we clean, and bake, and eat and play together.

Together is one of my favorite words.

Next week, I’ll be venturing out of lake country to co-host the first of a series of meetups about disillusionment and faith related to my newly released book, Beyond the Broken Church. If you live in Michigan, and would like to join us, we’re gathering for ice cream and sunshine at a historic Jackson park.

You can find out more here.

Also, if you haven’t read The Well Balanced World Changer yet, here’s a few words from a review by blogger Suzy Oakley.

 

 

I finished a book last night that took me a few months to read – not because I’m a slow reader (although I am) or that my life is too busy (again, guilty) but because I needed to spend time reflecting on each and every chapter. And I went back and read some chapters a second time. As I said this morning on Facebook, the book is filled with encouragement, insight and wisdom – so much so that I not only read some chapters twice but I highlighted lots of passages. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.

The book – The Well-Balanced World Changer: A Field Guide for Staying Sane while Doing Good by Sarah Cunningham (see links below) – is broken into 10 sections, with several short chapters in each. Every single chapter had something profound to say to me. The author was speaking my language.

To say that the book is strictly about “changing the world” is to do it an injustice. For me, it’s more about changing myself from within, of aligning myself with God’s purposes in the world. After all, to make a better world you have to start with yourself.

 

Read the rest of the review here.

May you find blessing in the sunshine and rain alike.

 

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Parenting > Blogging

My oldest, Justus (also known as The Emperor), turned 5 on Earth Day.

While five years is a relatively short time-span, it’s nothing to sneeze at when you’re the mom of said creature. They grow old in the blink of an eye, you know. (Or if for some reason you don’t know, everyone who has ever had a kid, will tell you.)

Due to the lightning fast growth of children, I am sticking to my previously declared blogging-hiatus of sorts…posting just once a month (or so) until Justus starts kindergarten in the fall.

But there are updates to be had…

I’ve thanked-but-no-thanked every speaking engagement that has come my way lately with one super-fun exception. I will be launching the fully-illustrated hardcover version of The Donkey in the Living Room at the D6 Conference this fall.

The book which helps families celebrate the real meaning of Christmas. And it was my somewhat sporadic and almost accidental entry into children’s publishing.

Though the book was initially a self-published venture, parent friends and friends-of-friends were quick to support the project and to spread the word, which led to the book being picked up by a publisher. Where it’s going in September…still hasn’t been fully announced, but is way cooler than I ever imagined.

If you have kids in your life, or on your shopping list, I hope you’ll consider inviting them into this tradition.

Secondly, Zondervan is generously publishing an updated version of my first book, originally titled, Dear Church: Letters From a Disillusioned Generation.  The new just-released version which is called Beyond the Broken Church: How to Leave Church Problems Behind Without Leaving the Church, contains about 35% new content plus an expanded guide for church and denominational leaders in the back.

To celebrate this book, which takes an honest look at church-related struggles but invites readers to well-being beyond bitterness, I’ll be co-hosting a series of fun, casual, conversation-style meet-ups in the tri-state area. (For me, that means Michigan, Ohio, Indiana…although we may throw in some Illinois or Canada just to spice things up.)

Stay tuned for meetups to be posted next week!

In the mean time, join me in spending these long spring and summer days loving the 5-year-olds *or-whatever-age people-you-value* in your life all you can.

Sarah

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Love Will Be What You Let It Be

egg

Fuzzy blond-haired boys roll into my kitchen every day around 7:00 and proceed to order food as if they were regulars at a local breakfast dive.

More often than not, they opt for eggs, not because of taste or nutrition, but because little boys rarely get the chance to break small fragile objects or unleash gooey yellow globs…legally.

I know posting about mundane kitchen tasks like cracking eggs is choosing to memorialize a little bit of daily nothing. It doesn’t solve social injustice, it doesn’t right bad theology, it doesn’t produce landmark books or art or events.

But the substance of that moment is ripe with the sort of things that do.

Feelings of love and family. Happily embedded in moments of “home.”

My toddlers, of course, don’t know that MH370 has been declared lost, or that the U.S. is freezing Russian leaders’ assets. They don’t know that Mark Driscoll has been accused or that he apologized or that the entire Christian spectrum is up in arms about Noah or Hobby Lobby or World Vision’s hiring policies. Somehow, though, in spite of the more meta social strains, these kids are whole and well and know deep in their little cores that they’re loved.

As much as this sounds like the set-up to a mommy blogger post, let me insert here that I think the work that goes on in my kitchen every morning is the exact same work I’m drawn to everywhere else.

That, at life’s core, the challenge is always about assembling and reassembling family from the people and circumstances I find myself in. About gathering people. About loving like it matters, like it’s needed, like if we loved boldly enough it’d create more moments of “home”–where we move toward wholeness and well-being in walking this planet (despite all its strains) together.

This has been a good, full month that way.

I’ve escaped to dates at giant plastic playlands, not only to watch toddlers scurry around plastic tunnels, but to talk to the various moms perched around me. To make scattered eye contact, over toddler spills and tantrums, with Tracy–a friend I first grew accustomed to talking to while laying out high school yearbook pages or performing in spring plays 22 years ago. Or with Bethany–mother of Eli–who together with her sister Jennie, have played dozens or roles in my life over the last 15 years–roommates, fellow small group leaders, co-workers, bridesmaids–and beyond all that sisters.

There was our third annual writing retreat–a hyper-small collection of friends who hole away in a giant hunting lodge to eat and talk…and to lay the foundation for our next year of writing. All while tucked away in the icy woods.

There’s sneaking out to meet our neighbor, Jamie, from down the way to wonder aloud together about career and family and friends and personal growth…and the piles of snow that have plagued our neighborhood for far too long.

There’s the conferences that rise up like little temporary towns, gatherings of tribes returning to bits of the homeland. That bring with them the chance, for at least fleeting moments, for their attenders to be with people who spend most moments believing toward better worlds from their separate, more distant corners of this one.

There was a single, calming and orienting conversation over lobster rolls with college friend Joe and two indulgent meals with a couple of 20-something siblings who snuck into my heart as children many years ago.

There’s been family birthday parties, where little sister-in-law Jill gifted me with a healing box of chai k-cups–not because it was my birthday, but because the 18 month old had crashed and been surgically glued back together just that morning…and chai makes at least a small dent in fixing everything.

There were three straight days of March Madness, days I absorb like a recycling of Thanksgiving or Christmas, where my brothers–my real genetic, flesh-and-blood, look-like-me brothers–take up residence in our house, lugging in with them multiple TV screens and copies of NCAA brackets and food with scary amounts of preservatives. And we all lay around in sweats, just barely talking, and then heatedly talking, in cycles, as we go to great lengths to do something we could do alone…together.

And for sure, yes, there were moments of career climbing and producing, producing, producing, woven through all of these. I signed off on the back cover copy of a book that’s being re-released in April. I smiled like a little kid as a I flipped through mock-ups of a children’s book and toy that will hit the shelves in September. I plotted who knows how many campaigns to help advance who knows how many projects I believe in.

But in the end, I guess, the ordinary, bits-of-nothing moments that mean nothing to blog readers or to agents or to movers-and-shakers in this or that industry, seem just as worth telling as the others. Because as much as we try to pull the pieces of the world together through big ideas, philosophies, theology, and so-much-plotting *which clearly I do*, I am pretty sure we stir wholeness and well being just as boldly in the softer more ordinary moments. When we look at everything spiraling around us–the lost planes and Russia, Driscoll and World Vision–and we choose not to relegate our active fostering of love to meal-making with toddlers around kitchen counters.

When we extend vulnerability and belief to those who weren’t born to us, but who are bound to us by our daily experiences just the same.

When we choose to be the one who takes responsibility for loving people, whoever they are, who we find standing next to us. Not because we’re the parent, but because we believe–as deeply as any belief we hold–that the world needs more of it.

When we adamantly refuse, in the face of ongoing cycles of disappointment and accusations of idealism, to become so detached from hope that we stop being known as people of… faith.

When we decide that reality is too harsh, and society is too apathetic, that we can’t afford not to foster family wherever we go.

As adults, knowing all the dysfunctions and realities of this world that our children may sometimes be blissfully naive to, it’s so easy to become numb and emotionally afraid creatures with muted hope.  To look at the world mostly through lenses of cynicism or bitterness or loss–lenses forged and continually validated through our suffering. It’s easy to shore up around self-protection and busyness, in the determined advancement of ourselves and whatever fierce battles we wage with all things wrong.

But what awakens a sometimes sleep-walking world to feeling again, to sifting out meaning again, to moments of spiritual “home” we could live alone but we choose to live together…I think it’s choosing to extend the same sort of unapologetic, fierce, everyday love often relegated to our homes to the people who come to us outside of them.

That’s what I’ve been thinking about in March anyways.

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Until we meet again…

superherosign

I’ve sat down several times to plot the course of this blog. To figure out how to move from a loose collection of posts on friendship toward some of the more important ideas and audacious claims stirring inside me.

There is far more I’d like to explore concerning how human beings relate to each other, both in the faith and in our western culture. And I’d like, also, to think more about what these relationships say about our understanding of God. 

Even though I’ve been dabbling in these subjects a while, I know I can’t do these topics justice right now.

I don’t want to just create filler posts to plug up the empty space on my blog. Nor do I want to pour myself into research to produce, produce, produce content at a faster rate than I can internalize or grow my own soul.

But I think I will get there eventually.

For now, though, I am going to give myself a six or seven month blogging sabbatical, to make space to think more carefully and to think in a more dedicated way about these subjects.

While I will likely contribute a few pieces–cultural commentary on the Huffington Post or maybe more children’s pieces a la The Donkey In the Living Room, I‘m cutting back to just one blog update per month until this fall.

Until then, if you’d like to stay in touch, I post nearly every weekday on Facebook and Twitter. And you can also subscribe to this blog via email (see the sidebar) so that you are alerted about the monthly update post and also about my eventual return to more regular blogging.

Good things are ahead, friends. I can’t wait to see you there.

Photo Credit

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Making Friends in Adulthood: What’s the Trick?

friends

In high school, you sat for hours in the same classrooms or ran the gym for hours on the same sports teams. In college, you lived in the same buildings–”dorms”–where for four years, you didn’t need to do anything but walk out the door to find yourself surrounded with friends and acquaintances.

But many people are taken by surprise how the nature of friendship can change as they age. Alex Williams recently took on this phenomena in his New York Times piece, “Why Is It Hard to Make Friends After 30?”

It was like one of those magical blind-date scenes out of a Hollywood rom-com, without the “rom.” I met Brian, a New York screenwriter, a few years ago through work, which led to dinner with our wives and friend chemistry that was instant and obvious.

We liked the same songs off Dylan’s “Blonde on Blonde,” the same lines from “Chinatown.” By the time the green curry shrimp had arrived, we were finishing each other’s sentences. Our wives were forced to cut in: “Hey, guys, want to come up for air?”

As Brian and his wife wandered off toward the No. 2 train afterward, it crossed my mind that he was the kind of guy who might have ended up a groomsman at my wedding if we had met in college.

That was four years ago. We’ve seen each other four times since. We are “friends,” but not quite friends. We keep trying to get over the hump, but life gets in the way.

Read the rest of the article here.

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But We Stand In Life at Midnight, On the Threshold of a New Dawn

midnight_threshold_of_new_dawn_MLK

“If we are arrested every day, if we are exploited every day, if we are trampled over every day, don’t ever let anyone pull you so low as to hate them. We must use the weapon of love. We must have the compassion and understanding for those who hate us. We must realize so many people are taught to hate us that they are not totally responsible for their hate. But we stand in life at midnight, we are always on the threshold of a new dawn.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. 24th February, 1956

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