Faith, Writing, and Insane Amounts of Coffee

FFWgr

Listening to Tara Isabella Burton’s presentation at #FFWgr

I have to tell you all about the incredible time I had last week. Every two years, Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan hosts the Festival of Faith + Writing — a conference where readers, writers, and language enthusiasts of all stripes gather to talk about all things faith and writing. There are keynote speakers, panel discussions, poetry readings, and an exhibit hall that will make any bibliophile beam with equal parts excitement and envy. There are just so. many. books.

I’d never been to Grand Rapids before so, naturally, I had to do some prior research on coffee shops to start my mornings. Madcap Coffee is the big name in town, but I loved Rowster and Lightfast Coffee + Art as well.

After being sufficiently caffeinated (and then some), I was so excited to learn and be amazed at the truth, grace, and creativity oozing from every corner of the Calvin College campus — a phrase that is admittedly odd for a Lutheran pastor to write, but I call it like I see it.

Highlights for me were getting to see, hear, and meet Zadie Smith and George Saunders. They are two of my favorite writers and to be able to hear them and learn from them was such a cool experience.

The other incredible highlights were the workshops — particularly my lineup on Friday. I started out with an early morning panel about writing/being prophetic with Drew Hart, Austin Channing, and Aiden Enns. I’ve been reading a lot about race, slavery, stand your ground culture, and have been wrestling with ways to use the space my privilege affords me to work for justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God and my sisters and brothers in Christ. This panel brought up so much for me around truth-telling, naming the lies our culture and privilege tell us, and practices for listening to and writing about these truths and lies in ways that are life-giving for people who are marginalized. I will be forever grateful.

On the drive home on Sunday, I realized that not only am I a better pastor for having been there, but I am a better reader, writer, and person for having shared that space for those days.

A huge blessing of these conferences is all of the conversations and stream of ideas that begin and extend into my everyday life back home. I’m excited to continue these conversations and deepen this learning for the sake of wholeness and life.

Any time you want to talk about this kind of stuff — faith, writing, race, privilege, gender, forgiveness, etc.  — let me know. I’m happy to listen and share in that conversation.

Oh man! I didn’t even get in to how Jeff Chu, Kelly Brown Douglas, and Shane McRae took me to SCHOOL about the nature of forgiveness and reconciliation. That’ll be up next. Until then… Be blessed. And let’s start the countdown until the Festival of Faith + Writing in 2018!

Cheers,
Eric

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Jars of Clay & A New Language for Church

This past Friday night, my wife and I went to a Jars of Clay concert at a church in Mesa. We got the “VIP” package which included participating in a Q&A session beforehand with the band. I was really excited for this because I think a lot of Christian music artists focus more on the Christian and less on the music. But not Jars of Clay. They have substance. They talk about suffering and brokenness with an honesty that’s pretty unparalleled in the Christian music scene.

When we got to the Q&A session most of the people were asking questions like “What’s *insert song that’s meant to be ambiguous* about?” It was pretty frustrating. But one of the things that stuck out to me was that even though the questions were awfully shallow, some of the responses and stories had some incredible depth.

One of the things that stuck out was when Jars of Clay lead singer Dan Haseltine got the microphone and talked about how the language of our church has become so toxic. The language of our church has become one of exclusion. That’s not good. The language of our church ought to be language of recovery. That really resonated with me. So often the majority of Christians take this accusatory look toward culture — holding everyone to some sort of unspoken moral standard, just waiting to tear down. That doesn’t help anybody.

But the language of recovery comes from a place humility. It acknowledges that we are all displaced from where we ought to be. It starts with acknowledging the brokenness of all, which is where so many people come up short. It takes that attitude that ‘I’m more than happy to point out your brokenness, but don’t you dare point out mine!’ It’s so unhealthy.

There’s one song that really embodies this idea of recovery and what recovery looks like. It’s the Jars of Clay song called “Oh My God”. In an interview they described this song as all of their laments to God — all the things that make them say “Oh my God”. Check it out! (It’s about 6 minutes long, but the verses and the build at the end are WELL worth the wait.)

 

What are your impressions of the song? Is there any language of recovery in your church? What do you think that would look like?

Cheers,
Eric

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