#FFWgr, the Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is a biannual conference of writers and readers of faith: about finding faith, leaving faith, and returning to faith; about the connection between faith and writing. I make my pilgrimage there to find inspiration and motivation. I'm completely positive (in the ironic sense of those words) that I will eventually be one of the speakers there, talking to the little people about getting up at four a.m. and sitting down in front of the computer and waiting for God to show up.
Actually--that was James McBride's line. My perspective will be more of a p.m. perspective, because mornings give me hives; and my topic will be Why I Keep Writing Even Though I've Never Been Published; And As A Matter of Fact, Why Would You Even Listen To Me?
I'm going to give you two kinds of #FFWgr candy: motivational and/or interesting quotes from some of the talks I went to; and a reading list. I kept notes as I listened, and wrote down the names of books and authors that the speakers mentioned. I may have missed a few, but I've still got a pretty good list.
So first, the quotes, in order of their appearance:
"Everyone should write their own apologetics--how do you tell this story of faith to yourself?" This is a riff, he said, on Milton's idea that everyone should write his own theology. I tried to confirm that Milton actually said or wrote something like this, but could not. Internet, could you do me a solid and let me know a) did Milton ever say/write anything like that and b) what's the source?
The topic of Taylor's talk was The Use of Story in Apologetics. He said, "stories defend faith by making it desirable, powerful, winsome. Stories don't just tell truth. Truth can be a sledgehammer. Stories can make faith not just reasonable and believable, but also attractive."
"Stories are convincing; they require us to change, and tell us how to do it."
"Stories don't prove anything, but stories prove everything that's important."
"Don't just tell anecdotes, tell stories. Anecdotes are reduced; they lack personal experience and emotion." I'd like to learn more about this distinction.
"Look for evidence of the divine in the mundane and even in the profane."
John Suk talked about something called "perspective by incongruity," an idea of Kenneth Burke's which I didn't quite get but will add to my growing list of Things I Want to Know More About.
(Sigh. #FFWgr always leaves me with the existential exhaustion of realizing ever more clearly how much I don't know.)
From James McBride:
"Most of what I do fails. Learn to fail. Fail--then forget it." I'm not sure I believe this. Maybe it's hyperbole? I would like to know, operationally, what that looks like.
"I wake up at 4 a.m. and just sit there waiting for God to come into the room." Many speakers at the conference mentioned the productivity of the early morning hours, which discourages me a tiny bit.
"Skepticism is good, but cynicism is a killer of dreams." Ooooh, this was good. (And by the way, how do you spell "ooo" that rhymes with "mood" rather than ooooh that rhymes with "road"? Because I was aiming for the oo in mood sound there, but it just didn't look right without the h.)
Shannon Huffman Polson:
"Grief and loss are lonely, but they connect you to humanity." I think this is why suffering is such a useful tool for an artist, writer, musician. Dammit.
"I wanted to suffer, wanted the pain of grief--because it would keep me closer to those I had lost." This certainly resonated with me, even though I remember when I said it to a friend, she looked at me strangely. I saw other heads nodding--and I was glad to see that this counter-intuitive feeling of wanting to hold on to the pain of grief was not merely a glitch in my otherwise well-adjusted persona, but that it had universal resonance.
"If the grief ebbed, did it mean that the love and connection were not that great? There is a lot of guilt in grief." This, too; both the question and the statement.
"Take small acts--actions outside of the interior life of grief and loss--and write them into your story." This is actually a paraphrase, but I like the notion that small acts have great value. I think he was making a reference to the book Small Acts of Resistance: How Courage, Tenacity and Ingenuity Can Change the World.
Peter Marty (whose appearance reminded me of Dietrich Bonhoeffer):
"If you want to be a better writer, become a deeper person." I wish he had offered Seven Steps to Becoming a Deeper Person.
"We keep on outsourcing our brains--we know and remember less. We externalize our knowledge, our taste, our experience, and our faith. We reference and rely on the faith and experience of others. In Genesis, by chapter three they stop talking with God and start talking about God."
"Is it possible for some people to miss their lives in the way that they miss a plane?"
"Tell me what you love, and I can tell you what you believe." Oof.
"We identify our center through suffering." More on this, please.
"Life and writing are very, very hard. I don't think we're here to figure things out."
"There is perfect healing, but people die anyway. Frankly, if I were God, I would have a completely different system."
"I think if there is a God, he probably looks a lot like Isaac Stern. Or Bette Midler."
"We were taught to stay one step ahead of the abyss. If the abyss opens up at your feet, go to Ikea. Get an area rug."
"It's OK to admit that you're crazy and damaged. All the better people are."
Hugh Cook offered practical advice about writing fiction:
"Your character must desperately want something; but something thwarts her. She must make specific, decisive actions."
"Use dialogue not for narration or description, but to show your characters."
"Reveal your character's age early on."
Start a story with what you know, and head into "what if"--what if this happened, or that?"
Suzanne Woods Fisher:
"Answer the call to write; keep the calling at the forefront of your vision all the time."
"Living for the opinions of others is seductive; don't do it. Remember who you are."
I have no quotes from James Vanden Bosch, but his presentation on corpus linguistics was one of my top three sessions. Who knew. I might even sign up for the eight-week MOOC in September.
"Atheists point to ways that religion and Christians have failed and malfunctioned."
"We must listen to the voices of our brothers and sisters from around the world to penetrate our own self-deception. We must listen to the wisdom of saints and critics."
"We are restless for God; we reach for the transcendent. The orientation of our selves to the Divine is the primary function of faith."
This next quote is from an audience member who might have been quoting someone else, but it struck me as worthy of inclusion: "Christianity has become so sentimental and shallow that we can't even produce good atheists anymore!" This was connected to the part of the interview in which Volf said something to the effect that he'd take Nietzsche over Dawkins any day.
"I don't bemoan the marginalization of the Christian faith. There are strengths in the margins. When Christians were in the center of power we were used, and the faith was abused. Like the band of twelve followers on the outskirts of Jerusalem, we can testify to the beauty of Jesus Christ from the margins."
Rachel Held Evans:
"Every challenge--the challenge of writer's block, distraction, discouragement, fear, lack of ideas--is solved by getting back to work. In writing, that work is paying attention, naming things, telling stories."
"Remember that God is generous, and grace is scandalous. God has called us to this work. There is no scarcity principle at work in writing--there's plenty of work to do, plenty of stories to tell."
Now, I bet you can't wait until #FFWgr2016! I know I can't.
Stay tuned for Hashtag FFWgr, Part Two: Reading List.