On Festival of Faith and Writing

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I’ve been back a few days now, but the Festival of Faith and Writing is still fresh in my mind. Calvin College is a magical place—or at least a place that puts out some pretty convincing trickery. And springtime in Grand Rapids is surprisingly alive. So why not get together a wonderful mix of writers for a Christian literary conference? The location, the speakers, the attendees, the gracious organizers, the entire campus of sprouting life…there’s something metaphorical about all of these like-minded wanderers gathered together and soaking in the grand design of God’s effusive beauty—some hyperbole seems necessary, for rarely have I experienced such a soul-saturated event. The idealism I so easily lose control of bounded out in my few days’ furlow. At times I sensed that I wasn’t the only one gorging on the rich mind-desserts and lyrical goodies.

Sure, for all I know this may be what every writers’ conference is like when you aren’t on faculty. The simple luxury of walking around anonymous (except to a few pesky overachievers) was certainly more satisfying than I expected it to be. But just to sit and enjoy the company of my fellow frustrated friends and courageous artists, I felt emboldened to chat with students, professors, and random people on the sidewalks about their perspectives on this writing thing, and what they felt their faith brought to the role, and how incredible it was that the faith part of writing need not be a foregone conclusion. I found myself smiling a lot at nothing in particular.

Luckily, an fellow CBA-editor friend spotted my Howdy Doody grin and pulled a recent issue of CBA Marketplace out of her handbag and whacked me. I started and stared at her. “Thanks,” I said. “I needed that.” I felt my cynical haze descending around me like a comfortable straight-jacket. Close call. Meanwhile, out of the corner of my eye I saw Ted Dekker poking out yet another miscreant’s eyes for threatening the dignity of commercial sell-outs who actually sell.

“Good Lord,” my friend was still gaping at me. “Is that drool?”

I blinked and wiped my chin. “Um, no. I was just wondering if there’s such a thing as Christian writing that isn’t as concerned with how Christian it is as much as it’s concerned with being high-quality art.”

She looked at me dubiously. “What would make it Christian then?”

Was she joking? I couldn’t be sure. “It’s written by a Christian. Isn’t that enough?”

She put her hands on her hips. “You went to a poetry reading, didn’t you?” She leaned toward me and sniffed as though checking for alcohol. “Alright. No more Michael Card for you. I’m cutting you off.”

“Aw, Ma. I was just having a little fun. Is that so wrong?”

“Yes. You’re here to meet authors who might actually sell.”

Funny. I thought this was about personal enrichment. Networking, creating a presence, raising my image.

“So people who sell don’t go to Card’s classes?”

She looked at me like I had just announced I married my cousin for her road-kill stew. “Uh, no.”

Oh. Well. Maybe I’m wrong about this, but I think there’s room in CBA for more books that trust God to use them to his glory regardless of the Christian language or concepts used. There’s nothing wrong with having the four spiritual laws in your book; it’s just not necessary in every book, right? Besides, if you want the truth of it, there are better ways to evangelize than by trying to write books. So I’m beating this dead horse a little more tonight because this Festival of Faith and Writing got me revved up all over again. The fact is there ARE many hopeful writers writing for the sake of writing rather than for publishing their spiritual agenda. It’s an inspiring thing to see. And God will use them whether or not CBA buyers ever accept them or not. These people write because that’s what they do. And publishing is the afterthought, as well it should be.

So anyway, despite the detractors, I think maybe this was a nice example of the old outshining the new that I was looking for in my last post. Many of us on this bandwagon about “a new day in CBA” have pointed to the early Christian heritage of literature, hoping the time is coming when we might reclaim a shred of that in our aging, consumer-driven market. Festival at Calvin is one place that old dream is beginning to shine through, like a line of drool on a slack-jawed chin of a hopeful CBA editor.

Come on back next week and see where the old practices will take us next… Until then. Semper Fi, friends. Semper Fi.

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17 thoughts on “On Festival of Faith and Writing”

  1. Not so fast, Mick. Before you go back to the old practices, would you (or somebody) pleeease tell us: What did Wangerin say? Marilynne and Leif and all the rest, what did they say???

  2. As someone who attended Calvin’s sister festival ‘Art & Soul’ at Baylor for its first few years of inception, I remember the excitement of finding Christian artists who didn’t feel the necessity to lead us to the altar before the end of chapter 2. I have found myself working as a book buyer in a CBA store for the past 3 years, and feel disconnected from those voices who see their faith as more than a commercial enterprise.
    I miss the good ole days

  3. Though I don’t agree with everything Dock’s saying here, he’s got a great refrain going about inferior art in Christian music: http://dickstaub.com/culturewatch.php?record_id=1004.
    Mark, I was sorry we didn’t hook up. I guess you were too busy with all the sychophants asking for autographs and what not. Should have made specific plans, I guess.
    Kathleen, I can hardly recall now what even I said to anyone. I took notes, so maybe I’ll give you another post about the comments that stood out to me before moving on. Mark had a nice overview at his site, I thought: jmarkbertrand.com. And CDs/videos of talks are available through Pat Worst (1-800-748-0122) at the Calvin College bookstore..
    Bob, I’m feeling you. Amen, RG. I’m praying for that too.

  4. Ah, how lovely. This is good to hear, Mick. So glad Calvin came through for you. Sometimes an abandoned swing around the dance floor with the muse is better medicine than finding the next best-selling author. Even for an ack editor.
    Love the line about marrying your cousin for her road-kill stew. :)

  5. Well, I admit I like to take a whack at the dead horse, too (hope it don’t end up in the road kill stew, though. . . ), mostly because I still head to the ABA shelves to look for fiction with prose that is drop-dead gorgeous. CBA writers are making strides, but I don’t know if anybody in the ABA is taking us seriously yet. We’ve (myself included) allowed the message to mess with the mechanics ’cause we think it’s “the message” that makes the book Christian. Why can’t it be the other way around? Why can’t it be astounding literary style that points to an astoundingly creative God?

  6. “Why can’t it be astounding literary style that points to an astoundingly creative God?” Exactly. The heavens declare the glory of God, and if we aspire to something remotely similar for our work, we could learn something from how the heavens do this (and don’t).

  7. Kathleen, I can’t speak for Mark, but I know what his words mean to me. Here’s a direct quote from the workshop notes I used when Mick and I taught together at Mount Hermon:
    “Beauty also speaks. The heavens declare the glory of God. . . We need to soak before beauty and write from the ache it produces. This concept of wrapping words around beauty is one of my mantras. I’ve written about it on Master’s Artist and elsewhere. I honestly think it touches on worship. When we find the right words—the right metaphor for beauty—we have a tangible version of the intangible we can give to someone else. A little piece of God’s glory, displayed for human eyes, breaking human hearts.”
    What the heavens don’t do is overexplain themselves or drive their message into the ground. They simply are. We see them, and our hearts break with longing to know the Maker behind the majesty.
    As creators made in the image of the Creator, shouldn’t our art follow suit? I think so.

  8. Mick,
    Don’t have a brilliant comment.
    Liked your post.
    Wish I could’ve been there.
    Working like a dog to be there one day soon.

  9. ah mick, your post bummed me out. people use poetry as the funny way to talk about not selling because they are not poets. it sucks to be a poet and know it is a hopeless scenario. makes one want to take that long walk off the very short pier.
    so, my face is downcast. but that’s okay. it’s just reality. reality really sucks.
    that’s why i avoid it.
    suz.

  10. Mmm, yeah, I see where you’re coming from. Quality art for God whether it mentions him or not. Good goal, absolutely.
    I’m just led a little differently. When I get to Heaven and go through some celestial receiving line or however we meet all the Bible writers–awesome thought!–I want to hold my (future) book and say “Here’s my *small* contribution to getting people up here.”
    And you have to be a little specific to do that, I think. : )
    To paraphrase a song, what if mine’s the only Christian book some will ever see? Wow. Again, awesome thought. : )

  11. If books are going to be published specifically with the intent of increasing the headcount in Heaven, it would be nice for them to have content warning labels. Oh wait, I guess they already do.

  12. I should have gone. Right here in GR, a mile-or-so away, and I stayed home. (With an infant, true, but absent is absent.)
    Knowing Calvin as I do, I’m surprised a CBA editor made it past the registration screeners.

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