Never, ever, ever again will I take the 6:00 AM flight. This morning my friend Andy and I left for three days at Calvin College's Festival of Faith & Writing, a bi-annual fest for readers and writers of literary fiction in Grand Rapids. I've always wanted to go to this eclectic gathering, but flying out at 6:00 AM is ridiculous. I set my alarm for 4:00. However, my body deemed it wise to wake me at 3:00. I suffered the effects of my foolishness all day --- and yet it was a good day.
Grand Rapids turned out to be surprisingly warm. By the time we arrived at registration, I had shed my coat and was wishing I had brought shorts. It was sunny and warm at nearly 70 degrees. Over 1900 people are registered for this conference. Looking over the crowd, it was abundantly clear I was among writers and bookish folk. Many wore glasses. They looked studious. Many looked like the folks you meet in used book stores. They probably smell like old books, speak in flowing prose, and can wax eloquently on contemporary writers such as Updike, Chabon, and Strout, their latest book names bandied about like familiar friends. I felt somewhat at home among people who love words.
The opening session was by Mary Gordon. It was not an upbeat start. Gordon is obviously not a Christian, at least does not profess to be, and is somewhat conflicted about her Catholic upbringing. The best she could admit to was not faith but "hope in the possibility of possibilities." She took issue with John Gardiner's view that good fiction makes us more moral people, and yet she admitted that good writing may help us become more compassionate as we grow more attentive to the people and world around us, realizing some of its complexity.
Later in the day, I attended a humorous and yet instructive seminar by David Athey, author of the forthcoming Danny Gospel, about the lessons he learned from writing his book. It took him 18 years. He became fascinated with the idea of the "holy fool," the believer who is almost (or perhaps is) mad in his belief. In the end, I was awed by the amount of revising he did, literally ripping up his work at times to try and get at what needed to be said. I was struck by his sense that this was the book that God had called him to write, no matter what, and the persevering nature of his quest. I bought the book, had him sign it, and told him he gave me hope and faith.
Then I attended a dialogue with Davis Bunn and Francine Rivers, both enormously successful writers, Bunn in the genre of the thriller novel, Rivers in the retelling of biblical narratives. Both have written for the Christian market and mainstream market and discussed the differences. Bunn said that his goal in writing for the mainstream market was to bridge the gap --- to bring Christian truth to the nonbeliever without any preachiness. Rivers is, in contrast, firmly rooted in the Christian market, but I found her purpose more message-laden (and thus suspect) I really liked her emphasis on being rooted in scripture and guided by the Holy Spirit, as well as how all her stories begin with a question she has about faith. There's hope for the Christian novelist!
Finally, the main lecture Thursday night was by Michael Chabon, author of The Yiddish Policeman's Union. Chabon is an articulate Jewish writer, funny, witty, and thoughtful. I really identified with his sense of exile, of not having a homeland. Whereas Chabon created a homeland of his imagination, as Christians we are exiles seeking our homeland in heaven. Andy and I mused on what the language of heaven would be --- Yiddish?
We skipped the poetry slam, the movie, and the late night discussion. We opted for sleep. We'll discuss the language of heaven later --- or not.