A few weeks ago, I posted about the upcoming Christianity 21 conference here in Denver, January 9-11. With so many great speakers lined up – including Spiritual Advisor to the POTUS, Joshua DuBois – C21 is shaping up to be a conference you don’t want to miss. (And today’s the last day to catch the Early Bird rate of $199!)
To give you a taste of some of the fantastic people who are coming to share their “one big idea about the future of Christianity,” I’ll be featuring a series of Q&As with C21 speakers from now until January. In keeping with the numerical theme of the event, we’re calling the series “7 Questions Before C21”. We’ve invited each presenter to answer the same 7 questions here on Faith Forward.
First up … C21 conference organizer, author and Momma, Sarah Cunningham.
Patheos: What do you do in the world?
Sarah: Well, most importantly I think, I’m Chief Servant to the Emperor — my four year old son Justus who appointed himself ruler of our house shortly after his birth. He has a one year old Chief of Staff now as well, so I spend a lot of time fetching sippy cups and playdoh.
But beyond that I am an author of five books, the most recent of which is called The Well Balanced World Changer: A Field Guide to Staying Sane While Doing Good. It came out in October. I also moonlight as a freelance producer and marketer in the conference and publishing industries.
What are you most excited about in your work right now?
Definitely the world changer book. It’s this super practical book of short, 2-4 page essays that each present a sticky insight or piece of wisdom that would be useful for visionaries. It specifically speaks to those days when our vision for ministry or non-profit work, for example, crashes into realities like burnout, lack of support, and so on. And it focuses on simple profound ideas that can help us reframe our leadership journeys–things that help us expect disappointment, recover more quickly, and set a healthier pace.
I collected the wisdom mostly from other people and others sources who sometimes spoke into my most disastrous ministry and cause-related stretches. And their words were like a breath of fresh air; like a liferaft that helped me keep going. But I didn’t know how well these insights would translate to other people and that’s where I’ve felt really blessed. The book has been featured really widely, for example, on Rachel Held Evans blog, Religion News Service, ChurchLeaders.Com, and Red Letter Christians and I’m starting to hear from all kinds of readers who are putting it to good use.
What is one word you’d choose to describe the future of Christianity?
Hopeful.There’s a lot of information and a lot of mis-information about declining religious participation that strikes panic in the church. I’m well aware of that. In fact, my first book, Dear Church: Letters From a Disillusioned Generation is about to be released in a new edition called Beyond the Broken Church in May of 2014. So I am deeply immersed in those challenges.
But I don’t think these statistics tell the whole story about how our current culture searches for meaning and brushes up against and pursues God.
I am hopeful that instead of abandoning faith, that people of our era will take that tension between “the church as it is today” and “the church as they imagine it could one day be” and let that tension fuel their vision to live and be church in better and healthier ways. I already see this happening all around our culture. I am hopeful these efforts will continue to breathe vitality into the Christian faith, perhaps in a way that confounds those trying to measure it only by counting people in pews.So yeah, I am hopeful. I think as a person of “faith”–faith, right?–we should be naturally inclined toward hope.
Who are you looking forward to meeting at C21?
For me, Christianity 21 represents a special kind of reunion because it is bringing together many friends of mine who often times don’t speak under the same roof. We’ve got Mike Foster of People of the Second Chance, and Jonathan Merritt from Religion News Service, both friends I deeply respect, and they’re going to be on the same mainstage as some of my more progressive but also dear friends like Nadia Bolz-Weber and Tony Jones.
The fact that all these different influencers from different tribes will be not only gathering, but eating and singing and laughing together, that is like…relational heaven to me. A good picture of how I hope those on all poles of the religious landscape eventually learn to commune together.
What’s the best movie you’ve seen recently?
The Emperor keeps us watching a steady stream of profound theological movies including Monsters University, Despicable Me 2, and Planes.
What are you reading right now?
This sounds funny, because I am clearly not a father, but it is true. I am reading Know When to Hold ‘Em: The High Stakes Game of Fatherhood by my friend John Blase. For those who don’t know John, he is like…a born poet who drips wisdom. His writing is refreshingly personal and refreshingly optimistic and it examines parenthood as a risk-taking venture.
What’s one of your most meaningful spiritual practices?
There are many. I love the Bible. I am even still evangelical enough that I love grappling with the whole thing — Old Testament fierceness and all. I can’t dismiss it. It’s too rich and too nuanced and it just speaks beyond its pages. So I love to read it and second to that, I need solitude and reflection time to keep my life aligned and healthy.
But by far, the spiritual practice of nurturing friendship…of being a neighbor to those unlike ourselves especially…teaches me and enriches my life beyond any one ritual.