*personal note (as if this whole thing isn’t one long personal note). At least for the foreseeable future, I’m not goin’ anywhere. Those of you who were curious, wonder no more (I was happy to make the final four).
Last weekend saw the most recent iteration of the IAM conference:
For those of you who were curious but didn’t go, you missed out on a significant event.
I’m not speaking out of some kind of smug elitist position here. It was the first conference that I was able to attend most of – from beginning to end. Last year, I caught one of the workshops and missed a talk on Christianity and kitsch by Betty Spackman and James Elaine. That was my major tip that Mako Fujimura had set a high bar for the conferences, so I decided to make sure I had this year’s conference in my schedule.
Here are my highlights:
Opening night – Art show and two sessions.
This was the second year that I was asked to curate the juried art exhibit that accompanied the show. I was initially reluctant, but when they agreed to adhere to some strict guidelines and pair the process down to Chris Anderson and myself, I agreed. Chris turned out to be great to work with and very interesting to get to know. In the end, I think we were able to piece together a good show.
The opening of the conference was a discussion between Mako Fujimura (founder), Gordon Pennington and Joshua Trent. It was a productive conversation moderated by Dick Staub. When you get dynamic, intelligent people together, you can have some interesting results. I think they’re reversing Mark Noll’s arguments in The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. That is to say Christian’s (evangelical or not) aren’t as dumb as the public might think.
Second – a lecture on faces (actually titled“Christianity and World Culture Origins”) by Roberta Green Ahmanson. I wasn’t familiar with her or her husband before the conference. What became immediately clear was that she was a freight train of information and gave a fantastic lecture at about a hundred miles per hour – perfectly timed to her constant flow of visuals. She basically traced the world’s fascination with the human face through history beginning in pre-christian Jerusalem and concluding with a look back at C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces. It was fascinating and enlightening – not just because I’m particularly interested in Christianity and the human face lately. I believe my most popular descriptions for it were, “she threw down” and “she displayed superior kung fu.” For the introduction to the conference, I was both hooked and thoroughly impressed.
Friday – I had to work during the day, but was able to duck out of my office and hear the interview with Daniel Libeskind. The conversation, again with Dick Staub, surrounded the making of sacred or spiritual public space and Libeskind’s integration of faith into his life and work (he’s Jewish). Something Mako encouraged me before the conference to watch how Libeskind is able to talk about his faith relating t his work. He pointed out how the Jewish community often has an ability to interweave these elements in conversations in ways that Christians have not been able to. The architect was a fitting (and lively) example. His book, Breaking Ground, was tauted as an expansion of this conversation.
Later, I returned and caught the evening’s festivities. The evening session was highlighted by the first part of a two-part lecture by Jeremy Begbie. Let me just say that Dr. Begbie is not in a ccm band (I don’t know why I had that impression) and could probably exhaust my entire personal vocabulary as an afterthought to pouring Cheerios (he possesses the superior linguistic skills to kick you out of his new British pub). This first part was under the heading, “The Shock of the New.” I think I heard him say this and arrogantly rolled my eyes too slowly, because I was playing catch-up from the get go. Needless to say, I was coming back.
Saturday – Beth and I began the elective workshops with the “creative professionals” panel discussion. Beth was the representative writer of the group and held court quite handily. Her co-panelist, John Silvis, remarked, “we rocked that…They totally loved it.” I was again impressed. Other panel-people were: Chris Anderson (painting), Ryann Cooley (commercial photography), and Karen Goodwin (executive producer of Les Miserables and Miss Saigon) with moderation by none other than Nigel Goodwin.
The afternoon session I wanted to attend was full (Responding to Cultural Crisis w/Michael Itkoff, Joshua Trent, Aaron Collier) so I ended up in “Dynamics of Cultural Change” with William Edgar. If there was a slight deflation in the red balloon of the IAM conference, it may have been Edgar’s afternoon lecture. Dry as a bone, he didn’t seem to actually touch on the dynamics of cultural change so much as how evangelicals can stick themselves into missionary experiences. Not to mention that as a seminary professor, it didn’t seem like he had a strong grasp on current cultural dynamics, but that may have only been my impression. I wanted to throw my book on micro-credit by Muhammad Yunus, Banker to the Poor, at him. If you want to know about cultural change, read this and see how he began lifting millions of people out of poverty with $40 loans. That’s what I call cultural change.
OK, so saltine dryness aside. It was time for Dr. Jeremy Begbie’s part-two lecture on the “Culture that Ought to Be.” I thought he threw down the first time. The second part was truly riveting. Not only is he a phd in theology, associate principal of Ridley Hall, Cambridge, but also a concert pianist and overall smarty-pants. He had used an example from a piece by Prokofiev in his first lecture and used it to lead into the second. He argued its shocking newness the night before, now he was arguing it’s cultural redemption as a model for Christian creativity- through points like: combining contradictory elements to form new ones, referencing a sense of history and an awareness of pain or agony. After several demonstrations, he ended with a Bach performance that, he argued, represented each of his 5 points. Even the innate rudeness that often accompanies large groups of Christians (who largely still don’t understand “postmodern” concepts like, “cell phone etiquette” or “timeliness” or “shutting up”) was quelled in the end. Standing ovations ensued.
Next spring, if you have any connection to the arts and/or Christianity, I would consider clearing your calendar for this conference.