Item description for Dear Church: Letters from a Disillusioned Generation by Sarah Raymond Cunningham...
Overview Through this series of letters from a former emergent church staffer to the global church she's not always sure she wants to be a part of, this volume invites every person to engage their own disappointments and journey through disillusionment and back again.
Publishers Description Dear Church is a series of letters from a twenty-something to the global church she's not always sure she wants to be a part of. The author's story awakens the voice of a younger generation whose attendance in the church is dropping, yet she encourages the church that their Christian faith is still alive and well. In the end, Dear Church tells a story that will be familiar to every age group: the story of overcoming disillusionment and staying the course.
From Publishers Weekly First-time author Cunningham is a 20-something who feels ambivalent about and alienated from the church. In 14 letters, she vents her frustrations, telling the church why she is dissatisfied and letting other disgruntled Gen-X and Gen-Y readers know they are not alone. Her generation digs technology, but still craves human intimacy and community. They value "authenticity" and thus are suspicious of churches where worship seems too polished, too "preplanned," too self-consciously cool. The Holy Spirit may move some people to leave their local church, and Cunningham thinks that's okay, as long as they find Christian community somewhere else and refrain from gossiping about the members of their ex-church. The book is not wholly devoted to complaining; Cunningham also highlights the aspects of church life that give her hope. She loves the resiliency and flexibility of the church. And she loves Jesus, who was simultaneously anti-institutional and deeply committed to the church. Cunningham's epistolary format is ironically gimmicky, drawing from the same wells as the inauthentic church services she critiques. Questions at the end of each chapter will help small groups who want to use this book as a jumping-off point for discussion, but ultimately, there is little here that hasn't been said before. Copyright 2006 Publishers Weekly.
Citations And Professional Reviews Dear Church: Letters from a Disillusioned Generation by Sarah Raymond Cunningham has been reviewed by professional book reviewers and journalists at the following establishments -
Library Journal - 07/10/2006
Christianity Today - 04/01/2008 page 69
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Est. Packaging Dimensions: Length: 7.64" Width: 5.85" Height: 0.61" Weight: 0.55 lbs.
Release Date Aug 1, 2006
Publisher Zondervan Publishing
ISBN 031026958X ISBN13 9780310269588 UPC 025986269586
Availability 0 units.
More About Sarah Raymond Cunningham
Sarah Raymond Cunningham is the author of Portable Faith and The Well Balanced World Changer and the creator of the children's Christmas book, the Donkey in the Living Room. As a freelance consultant, she has also helped develop some of the top Christian events in the country. When her hands aren't busy juggling projects, Sarah is living as Chief Servant to the Emperor, her four year old son, and his chief of staff, his one year old brother. She blogs about finding extraordinary friendships in an ordinary world at sarahcunningham.org.
Reviews - What do customers think about Dear Church (OP)?
Review of Book for Course on Young Adult Ministry Mar 9, 2007
With witty humor and in a cleverly constructed format, Sarah Cunningham writes a series of letters on her generation's disillusionment with the church. Telling things as they are, these letters are addressed simply as "Dear Church". Cunningham begins by recounting her own story of disillusionment with the church and then shares a list of characteristics she has found to be true about twentysomethings - who make up the so-called "disillusioned generation". Following, she explains our disillusionment and proposes a way for hope in the end.
One of Cunningham's particularly astute observations comes from her list of twentysomething characteristics. She points out that because of today's technology - which allows us to "get the dinner dishes done and still make it to the movie on time" - we live in a "both-and" culture that has pervaded not only our society, but also our politics and spirituality. As a result, we do not feel threatened by polar opposites but perhaps thrive off the differences. I appreciate Cunningham's mention of so many "groups" who are often excluded by the church because I believe that it is in the context of twentysomethings' "both-and" culture - as well as our resistance to identity labels - that the postmodern generation has come to value inclusiveness.
Cunningham's fundamental question regards the identity of the church. What or who is the church? Her raw reflections realize that the church is human, that "thanks to the imperfect nature of its participants, every kind of local church we imagine or bring to expression is marked by human flaws, missed expectations, and disillusionment" (2006:108). This statement most plainly means that the church is the people themselves, not the building nor the institutional structure. The quote also brings to the table what Cunningham raises as a major reason for our disillusionment: unreasonable, unhealthy expectations up to which no human could possibly live! Implicitly tying this to the characteristic need among twentysomethings for authenticity, she writes that we must honestly admit the flaws that are present in the church. Finally, the quote leads to the book's conclusion that the church is not to be the hope of the world. Rather, Jesus is! We are merely flawed reflections of Jesus, trying to live by his example but failing miserably at it.
By her poignant understanding that the church is the people, Cunningham creatively places the responsibility for disillusionment not on a distant, faceless institutional church but on each individual comprising it, including - and perhaps even especially - on those who have been disillusioned. In her words: "We all do our part in contributing to the church's shared mistakes, but when it comes time to take the blame, we seem to lose our individuality. All of a sudden, the church is just one faceless, nameless, ownerless institution that can't own up to its failures" (140). Therefore, we must each collectively take responsibility for the mistakes of the church, owning up to the reality whether we are to blame or not. Indeed, I would agree that ownership of the church - or the lack thereof when it comes to our collective faults - is key toward developing serious credibility, not only with the church, but also - and I believe more importantly - with the world. Dedicating an entire chapter to the dangers of dwelling on our disillusionment and the need for forgiveness, she calls attention to the fact that any solution process will necessarily involve pain. However, that "suffering is actually linked to the production of hope" (135). We must understand this reality in order to keep moving forward and not run away when the difficult moments arrive.
In a sense, Cunningham's conclusion borders on the simplistic. While she introduces a solution - to live as Christ - I wish she would have analyzed it in the context of postmodernism, using her list of Generation X and Y characteristics. What is it about twentysomethings that might call for a slightly different solution? What are some practical steps we can take - specific to our generation - toward living like Jesus? Indeed, Cunningham does not directly address the postmodern issue other than to base the book on her extensive correspondence with a diversity of postmodern twentysomethings. At the same time, perhaps a simplistic solution is best, since that is what the reader may remember best in order to apply to complex contexts.
My final comment is this: What about those who are just plain disinterested in church?
A Must Read Mar 9, 2007
Being over 20 something I had a hard time with the first few chapters, because I totally agreed with everything the author said. I don't think disillusionment with the church is something that is reserved only for the 20 something group. It runs the generational gammet. Chapter nine had me in tears and the rest of the book was pure perfection. A must read for everyone inside and outside of the church.
Important words, but... Feb 22, 2007
First, I was extremely excited when the names and places of my (and now Sarah's) hometown of Jackson, MI showed up. I have been away from home for four years now, pursuing my M.Div. degree while pastoring a small, rural church in Ohio and I miss home. The nature and substance of the letters struck a deep chord with things I have observed, experienced, and criticized from within the system to which she writes. However...
Part of my dilemma as Christian/pastor/worship leader/theologian/dad/etc. is the undertone of Sarah's book (which echoes the very words I have heard from many people in my own generation (X) and after) that take the form of complaint regarding "boring worship services." She makes valid points about the word "service" and the like that we associate with "going to church." But what I fear is the ignorance (and I mean this word in it's true sense: the act of ignoring) of the word "worship." The Sunday gathering is not, as the Boomers started and everyone after swallowed hook, line, and sinker, feeding time. It is not designed (nor has it ever been so until contemporary services came along) to give anyone an encounter with God, an emotional/spiritual high, or some divine insight. To be sure, any one or all of these MAY happen, but that is not the intention of the gathering. It is WORSHIP, it is an offering of ourselves TO God, an intentional giving of our attention to God, a recognition of the, for lack of a better word, hierarchy of the relationship. Worship is not an expectant waiting for God to come to me, it is me coming before God. It is not a time to receive, it is a time to give.
I can hear the heads shaking everywhere now, so please don't misunderstand. God does desire relationship with us. God does desire our relationship to each other. This is why love of God and love of neighbor are, in Jesus' teaching, the greatest and second greatest commandment (note that the greatest is our love TO God with all our heart, mind, soul, etc.). I am deeply excited that the dialogue of God's people is finally taking this relational turn. But I beg you to consider how you would feel about a relationship with another person who only came to you in order to GET from you.
Keep seeking, keep loving, be at peace and be blessed.
A Nineteensomething Feb 19, 2007
Dear twentysomethings, oldersomethings and younger. I read this book when I was eighteen years of age and cannot express to you how deeply moved I was. When beginning the book, the first thing I saw was someone just like me, getting everything off their chest about the Church today and was completely reading my mind.I must say, in the beginning it was very nice to let out even my own anger with the Church as I read through these pages, but as I read on, it became a tool for me. She began to uncover how these problems and issues we face with the Church today can be of great use and in turn be the exact opposite of what we thought. This is a book I thought was going to make me feel all good inside about not wanting to go to Church anymore and make me feel right about my rebellion and frustrations with the church. I came to find the exact opposite with her convincing people that maybe leaving the Church isn't the best thing and showing how to truly forgive. It's a beautiful book that you will relate to whether you are twentysomething or not. This book brought me great hope and insight. What a blessings I have received!
Re: Dear Church Feb 14, 2007
Dear Ms. Cunningham,
I have read your letters and I must admit that I was very surprised. I was surprised by your brutal honesty. I was surprised by your assessment of the church. I was surprised by your hopeful ending. But most of all I was surprised by my reaction. I can understand your situation--I too am a life long Christian. In fact, I entered life the same year as you, but that is not all that we have in common. We have shared similar experiences of disillusionment and frustration with a church which fails to meet our expectations. I must admit that my first response to your letters was skepticism and even a little bit of outrage. Like you, I stayed with the church despite her flaws, but it wasn't easy. After years of arguing with my friends who have walked away from Christianity, defending the church has become a part of my identity. So, you can understand my indignation when you stripped off the church's pretty outer garments and laid her flaws bare for all to see.
Yet, as I read through your letters, your pain began to resonate with something deep inside of me. Your schizophrenic experiences of trying not to be ashamed of the church (because true Christians know that we shouldn't be ashamed of the gospel), while at the same time flinching when someone mentioned the "c" word in the real world rang especially true with me. They reflect my own experiences and feelings toward the church--a mixture of love and disappointment. Just last week the speaker at my church used the aforementioned verse to chastise anyone who would be uncomfortable holding an altar call every Sabbath. A part of me wishes that life were so black and white, but another part of me knows that it is not. Am I being too influenced by the secular culture? You don't seem to think so. Although you are freely willing to admit that part of our culture needs sanctification, you also affirm the good in it. You acknowledge that we are overly idealistic, impatient, and maybe a little too consumed with questions, but you also affirm that we bring honesty and transparency to the church.
That is when I realized that your letters were not merely rants about the shortcomings of the church. Rather, they are heartfelt desires poured out on ink. They are not just a list of complaints--they are guides to solutions. Despite all your negative experiences with her, you still love the church. Your love for her hums a melody throughout the first few chapters and breaks forth in full harmony in the last three. Yours is a responsible rant, because your final letters propose solutions to the problems we have for too long ignored. This is not a spur-of-the-moment complaint dropped in the suggestion box. It is a carefully prayed over message that brings out some wise suggestions of getting over disappointment with the church.
This is not to say that I agree with everything you have written. I do have a couple complaints (I am a Gen Xer after all). First, it seems that you put very low importance on doctrinal truth. It is true that many battles in the church are fought over insignificant details. However, that does not mean that we should never cause a ruckus. God wants his people to lovingly stand up for truth found in the bible. In addition, you seem to oversimplify the issues involved with unity. You seem to suggest that the great number of denominations is a problem that needs to be fixed. However, that type of trite observation does not do justice to the bigger issue of how to deal with heresy and abuse of power in the church. Should a group that is being maligned by those in power stay within the church merely to create an appearance of unity? Perhaps if people and churches were perfect these problems could be resolved without schisms, but as you yourself have pointed out, neither are. Perhaps the problem is not in what we disagree on, but how we disagree.
We can disagree and we can debate as long as we show courtesy, respect, and love to each other. Perhaps when we actually listen to one another we will all learn something new. For that reason I hope that many more people will read your letters. Though they may not agree with everything that you have written, I hope that they will read them with a measure of love. You have begun a dialogue on a topic that has been silent for too long. Perhaps your letter will open the door for more letters or emails or phone calls. Perhaps other disillusioned twentysomethings will read them and be prompted to return. Perhaps powerful fortysomethings will read them and be moved to adapt. And perhaps then our disillusionment will be surprised by hope.