Blessings And Abuses at a Rainy Writers Conference


I am approaching hour five of my time in the Grand Rapids airport, and the airlines now tell us we will be leaving in another four hours or so. But I don’t believe them. They’ve been changing their story all day long.

Speaking of stories, I heard some good ones the last four days at Calvin College’s 2018 edition of the Festival of Faith and Writing. And told a few. And learned some things. One speaker said, “Stories don’t happen. Events happen. Stories are made.” Nice.

Edwidge Danticat was mesmerizing—beautiful in many ways. Loved her reading a prayer that she imagines her mother praying during her mother’s last moments of life. Her mother asks God to reveal to the kids that there’s five hundred dollars in a blue, tin can in the freezer and hopes they will bury her in her best wig. At least that’s how I remember it. I was sad that she finished early.

Discovering Fleming Rutledge was a gift. A no-nonsense woman full of wisdom. The large crowd was around half preachers and she exhorted them to care about language when they preached–and gave examples. A message as good as the gospel deserves the best use of language we can muster (my thought, not hers, but inspired by her).

Unfortunately, not long after her talk I picked up a well-known leftist Christian magazine. Invoking Bonhoeffer, its lead article considered whether this time in history is parallel to the time of Hitler. Yes, it concluded, but near the end of the article (keeping the reader in a bit of suspense, I thought) allowed that violence was not the called for response. Forswearing violence, however, seems not to extend to violence against language. In the article are sentences such as the following: “Do we recognize Christ in everyone othered by political structures in ways that push minoritized people to the margins and crush them against walls?” How can we promote social justice, much more the gospel, if we fabricate verbs such as “othered” and “minoritized”? I protestize against such language abuse. Are not we supposed to be people of the Word?

The highlight for me by far of this year’s festival was my time in prison. I taught a two-hour “life writing” course for about thirty men (many of them serving life sentences). They were the most eager, engaged, responsive group I can remember teaching. They have few opportunities any longer to make a difference in the lives of the one’s they love and they seized with both hands the possibility of passing on wisdom and blessing through telling their stories.

Many friends, much to think about, new books to read. As I said in the last post—a time with kindred spirits.