In case you missed it the first time, here’s my last article from Hothouse Magazine (April 19):
The Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., held April 10-12 on the Calvin campus, was three days of intersections. Writers, readers, visual and performance artists, editors, agents and publishers converged. What they created was a festival that pushes boundaries, building a three-day inclusive community that explored faith within the arts, particularly writing, and what it means to be an artist of faith.
I forgot. I hadn’t been to the festival, held biennially, in four years. After discovering the community in 2008 and attending in 2010, I missed the 2012 season. Four years was too long to not attend, and I’d forgotten how soul-quenching that community of writers and readers can be. Soul-quenching because the artists push, straddle, wrestle with, think through and hold in tension what it means to be a writer of faith as well as what they think is true about God. Many hold their truths lightly so as not to overshadow and condemn each other and those outside the realm of faith. It’s how I try to live my own faith and it’s how I approach writing. Both are an exploration rather than a prescriptive framework. I’m right at home in such a community.
The community is open-handed rather than tight-fisted, reminding me of the kinship I see depicted in the sacred scriptures I hold dear. Featured writer, Anne Lamott, author of some of my favorites like “Traveling Mercies,” a book of essays that explores how she came to faith, looked out on an auditorium full of people and reminded them that they were accepted, good. In a near whisper, she told them, “When I look out on this audience, I see the Kingdom of God.” She had created a sacred space in the auditorium, a liturgy of love and peace, and those of us in the audience drank in her words. It was the third day of the festival and her words came across like Easter, the climax of the church year, the hope to come. It is indeed soul-quenching to be reminded that God loves rather than hates and condemns. It fills the heart with lightness and joy. As a person who believes in God but also the power of art and the virtuous and holy act of creation, I was reminded that I can taste and see and find refuge not only in the sacred but also in how others reflect the sacred in their work.
Other voices of peace and reconciliation included James McBride, author of another favorite of mine, “The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother,” McBride’s mother was a Polish Jew who raised 12 children in New York City. McBride spoke of the power of pushing through the boundaries of race, sexuality, and religion to find the common humanity and the image of God within all of us, no matter the categories we try to place on each other. It’s humbling when reminded that none of us have a corner on truth, that our brothers and sisters the world over are loved by God, not only those in our small spheres and corners, but the millions.
This got me thinking about what it means to be an artist of faith and what the responsibilities are of the artist of faith. While, to me, these questions are as fluid as my faith, I discovered writers who seem to embody at least some of the reasons why we should write. These aren’t only limited to writers of faith, but to all of us, anyone who is a permeable lover of justice, reconciliation, peace, stewardship, compassion and empathy, and even the frightening role of doubt.
Among those featured at the Festival of Faith and Writing (there were many, many more who are not listed here), I discovered the following friends, fellow writers I can get to know through their work, writers who, I believe, will help me keep the faith:
Scott Cairns, a poet whose collection “Idiot Psalms: New Poems,” allows the echoes of humanity to bounce off the divine through the beauty of words.
Ashley Lucas, author of an ethnographic play called “Doin’ Time: Through the Visiting Glass,” about the shame families of prisoners face, showed me the faces of the marginalized and called me to action.
Miroslav Volf, a professor at Yale Divinity School and the founding director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture, who wrote, among other books, “Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good,” reveals how those who identify themselves as Christians might reconsider their lives within acts of service and promoting the common good rather than as cogs in a political machine or by retreating into a private faith.
Rachel Held Evans, author of “A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband ‘Master,’” reminded me that women are valorous, not second class citizens simply for being women, and that the patriarchal structures of some faith traditions should not step on or strive to silence women.
Gene Luen Yang, author of the graphic novel “American Born Chinese,” convinced me that rather than a selfish act, the impulse of the artist to retreat in order to create is one born of worship and sacrifice and love.
Sharon Garlough Brown, author of “Sensible Shoes: A Story About the Spiritual Journey” and pastor of Redeemer Covenant Church in Michigan, encouraged me to maintain habits that will spiritually form me as a writer.
Fred Bahnson, author of “Soil and Sacrament: A Spiritual Memoir of Food and Faith,” visited with those who care for others by feeding them and loving the land.
John Suk, author of “Not Sure: A Pastor’s Journey From Faith to Doubt,” taught me that others in the faith will condemn you for your doubt, but many more will celebrate with you when you find peace.
The Festival of Faith and Writing is a home I will no longer neglect. It is a home I will return to again and again if only to be reminded that the faith community is strong, vibrant. It is in love with God and creation. It is a home where I am reminded that the fundamental acts of God are love rather than punishment. The festival is a place where my faith in God and joy in writing can be renewed through the exploration of intersections.