Monday, June 16, 2008

Trinity Arts Conference

I wouldn’t say I’m a veteran of speaking at arts conferences, but I’ve had half a dozen chances to get it right, and you’d think I’d start to get the hang of it. And there’s a smidgen of evidence that I’m getting there. I don’t think I totally embarrassed myself this weekend, except maybe with the big Rorschach blot of a coffee stain on my shirt that I noticed five minutes before I was introduced before the assembled masses. It looked like a continent. Africa, with the equator running between the second and third buttons. But there wasn’t much I could do at that point.

I routinely feel overwhelemed in these circumstances. And I did this weekend as well. I feel like I’m out of my league, an impostor, and that within mere minutes I will be exposed as the fraud that I am, a pathetic loser of a human being who really doesn’t warrant any kind of attention. I want to tell people, “Look, I know you didn’t pay money just to hear me, but it’s okay if you ask for a refund on my 20% of the conference proceedings. I wouldn’t blame you.” But I bite my tongue and fake it.

Kate and I spent three days in Dallas, Texas, right across the street from where the Dallas Cowboys play football. We took part in the Trinity Arts Conference, a gathering of visual artists, writers, and musicians who come together to discuss the relationship between Christianity and the arts.

Here were the speakers/entertainment:

Ann McCutchan, whose biography reads (in small part): “Ann McCutchan has received grants, fellowships and residencies from the Rockefeller Foundation, the MacDowell Colony, the Mid-America Arts Alliance, the Hambidge Center for Creative Arts and Sciences, the Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation, the National Park Service, Lancaster Theological Seminary, Cornell University, the University of Wyoming, the Wyoming Arts Council, and the University of North Texas.” Shit. Compare with: “Andy Whitman writes about database capacity planning, and loves the Cleveland Indians.”

Bruce Herman, an astoundingly gifted painter from Boston, whose triptych showing the Annunciation, the Holy Spirit overshadowing Mary, and Mary’s visit with Elizabeth, absolutely took my breath away. In addition to being a superb visual artist, Bruce is also a very articulate and erudite speaker. And a humble guy.

Reva Williams and Gretel (that’s a band name, not a person), who provided the musical “entertainment.” Look, just skip the trip to Chipotle for a couple days and buy all the CDs. I’m not kidding. I will be writing much more about Reva and her band, but think Lucinda Williams, think Sam Phillips, think every great woman singer/songwriter who wrestles with the faith, is a poet, and who, as a bonus, happens to have a howlingly great voice.

Greg Wolfe, who is the founder of Image Journal, head of the Creative Writing program at Seattle Pacific University, and author of numerous books, all of which are worth reading. Greg is one of my heroes. No lie. The Mark Heard journals he published, lo, probably seventeen or eighteen years ago now, informed the way I viewed the intersection of music and Christianity, and helped me formulate a way to think about popular music that helped me break free of the CCM ghetto. I will be forever grateful. Greg has a Ph.D. from Oxford. England, not Ohio.

And then there was, well, me.

To their great credit, all of these folks were extremely warm and gracious, not at all full of themselves. I was welcomed and affirmed. And because of the relatively small size of the conference (perhaps 100 people), I was able to connect with everyone there to a greater or lesser degree. I met a bunch of wonderful, talented people. I listened, I learned, and I was challenged in new and good ways. I had some wonderful dinnertime conversations. I got to sip some good bourbon at midnight. I came away with several new friends. Thanks to Mike Capps and Kim Alexander, who organized the conference and were the epitome of hospitality. Thanks to the numerous volunteers who made it happen. Thanks to Cynthia Miller, who transported us to and from the airport, whose photographs charmed and moved me, and whose two young children were a delight.

I spoke twice, once in front of everybody on Saturday morning, and once in front of a smaller group at a workshop Saturday afternoon. I hope that who I am came through. I hope Jesus came through. I am so thankful for these opportunities. I am a blessed man.

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