Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Change is Gonna Come: Thoughts on Sarah Cunningham's Picking Dandelions

A few weeks ago, Sarah Cunningham gave me the opportunity to review her new book, Picking Dandelions: Searching For Eden Among Life's Weeds.  My free copy came in the mail and I was psyched to get started, especially after reading one of the inside notes of praise by another author..."Those strongest in faith are those who've questioned their faith."  I've found this to be true--whatever your faith(in God, in no God, in yourself, in each other) may be--and I love reading stories that really dig into the questions, dwell on the answers, and linger in all the spaces in between.  I read all 221 pages of the book on a  flight from Boston to Fort Lauderdale.  I read it, thought about it, discussed it with Jorge, and then re-read many of the passages again.

And now, writing my review, I'm torn.  Very torn. 

I want to like this book.  To be fair, there are many things I do like about this book.  And I admire Sarah for tackling a subject that isn't easy, for putting herself out into the world, for sharing her vision of Eden and daring us to all to create it.  I'm drawn to passages like this one:  "As much as I loved the world and faith as it was, I longed for the world and faith as I believed it could be.  And like many aspiring world-changers, I thought I could somehow be a bridge between the two."  I read that and immediately felt a connection with Sarah.  I recognized myself, my friends, and our belief that we have the power to make life better.

I couldn't help but relate when further down the page she writes, "In the end, we changed less of the world than I had hoped, not even solving the problems of the continent we were on, let alone making a dent in the others."  In those few lines Sarah captures the struggle that many of us are experiencing: We've been told that we can do anything we believe in--but sometimes, at least in the short term, that isn't exactly true.  We do the right thing, be the bigger person, and still find ourselves at the wrong end of fairness.  For world-changers, that can be more than a bit hard to stomach.  And it's exactly why it's so important to keep going, to renew our faith and hope when bitterness and cynicism has all but dried it up.

So why am I torn?  Because I finished the book and felt disappointed.  It was like I had met someone who was clearly interested in forging a new friendship, but was deliberately keeping me at arms length to protect herself.  I felt like this author has so much potential, so many worthwhile things to say, so many small, relatable moments that add up to a big, meaningful impact. 

But she only skimmed the surface of a deep well of thought, feeling and experience.  And because I sensed the potential, I wanted more.

In the last third of the book, Sarah's message is about change--not the airy-fairy kind of change that is so often thrown around these days, but real, self-actualized, personal change.  She tells us about her flaws and the challenge of "picking those weeds" to create a more vibrant, beautiful garden.  She subtly suggests we do the same.  Our own contribution to a global Eden.  I love that!  Then, just when she's starting to get into those blemishes, she abruptly writes, "In the interest of time, I'm going to skip to the last flaw on my list." 

Sitting on that overly-full plane, flying high above the cities, I shouted NO! in my head.  Don't stop there for heaven's sake!  This is the good stuff, this is the stuff that all of us who want to be better people need to hear more of.  Forget time!  Time will understand.  In the interest of Eden, of Sarah's journey, I wanted her to stick through the messy stuff (It's not exactly a good time to mine the tunnels of our flaws) and keep writing.  I wanted to hear about what made it hard for her to look her flaws in the face and open her arms to change.  I wanted to hear how she coped when change didn't happen quickly enough.  I got a little of that.  Snippets.  But ultimately I felt like the book that Sarah was supposed to write is hidden in the crevices of this one.

I encourage my readers to pick up this book and think about it for yourself.  If you're like me, it will push you into investigating your own faith, your own reasons for embracing change, your own need to examine your flaws honestly, critically, and compassionately.  As Sarah says at the end of her novel, "Picking weeds is a beautiful thing."

And I invite Sarah to take another look at her work, acknowledge her accomplishments, and dive back into the writing waters of self-exploration.  There's more there to discover; your readers will thank you for finding it.

Pick up Sarah's book here.

Read more about the author on her website.

No comments: