"All generous minds have a horror of what are commonly called "Facts". They are the brute beasts of the intellectual domain." -- Thomas Hobbes, "Leviathan"
I'm taking off dark and early Friday morning for two and a half days at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The occasion is the Festival of Faith and Music, which you can read more about here.
I'm looking forward to the time for many reasons. First, my daughter Katryn (nee Emily) and I are doing the father/daughter spring break roadtrip. It's not Florida, and the traveling companion is one's old man instead of some studly college boy, but I still think it has potential. We'll have twelve hours together in the car over the course of the weekend, and previous roadtrips have shown that wonderful bonding can occur as we converse by yelling very, very loudly over the rock 'n roll that is blasting from deep within the bowels of Van the Minivan. Okay, I had to bribe her into going by telling her that she'll probably have a chance to meet Sufjan Stevens. And that he'll probably write a song for her called "Katryn! They Have Misspelled Your Name! They Have Omitted the H!" Sufjan, don't let me down.
This time I'm just going. My role as "American Idol Judge" is now over. We've proclaimed the winner of the new music competition, I've written my little liner notes for the CD that will be distributed to folks at the conference, and I can kick back and simply absorb all the goodness.
And there will be a lot of goodness.If you've checked out the schedule, it probably goes without saying that some great music will be played this weekend. I'm looking forward to all of it. And yes, I'm looking forward to the dinners where I get to hang out with these folks. Two years ago, the last time this conference was held, it was a great joy to break bread with Sufjan, and Pierce Pettis, and Bill Mallonee, and David Bazan, and a bunch of people who have inspired me for years, some by their music, and others by their words. This weekend will be no different, and this time the dinner companions will be Sufjan and Emmylou Harris and Neko Case, and the guys from Anathallo, and a great mix of the new and familiar in terms of Christian writers and thinkers. I'm looking forward to seeing Josh Jackson, editor of Paste Magazine, again. Josh and I live by exchanging emails, with occasional phone conversations in between. It will be great to see him again in person. David Dark, a very bright and articulate man who has written several books about the intersection of Christianity and popular culture, and which I cannot recommend highly enough, will be there, and I look forward to reconnecting with him. I look forward to reconnecting with Steve Stockman, a warm, gentle Irish bloke who may be the foremost U2 expert in the world. Andrew Beaujon, who as far as I know is not a Christian, will be there. He's written the best, most objective analysis of the sometimes strange world of evangelical popular culture (Body Piercing Saved My Life) I've ever encountered, and I'd like to meet him and thank him for writing the truth. And Lauren Winner, one of the keynote speakers, has written two of the best books I've ever read -- Girl Meets God and Real Sex -- and I look forward to meeting her and thanking her for her insatiable pursuit of truth, her honesty, and the dazzling way she strings together nouns and verbs.
Then there are the hundreds of people who are "just" Christians and thinkers and music fans. These folks won't be presenting their views at workshops. They'll be listening, asking questions, taking it all in. I met some of them two years ago. I look forward to reconnecting with some people I now consider friends, and meeting some new ones.
For me -- and perhaps for quite a few of the people who will come together this weekend -- what Calvin College does every two years is a little slice of heaven. Christianity and popular culture in general, and music in particular, are often uneasy bedfellows. They smack up against one another in uncomfortable ways. The natural tendency is to codify the relationship, to set down five or ten hard and fast rules for what Christians should and should not listen to. It's natural, but it totally misses the point. As Thomas Hobbes has noted, the "facts" often don't address the real issues. And the real issues have to do with staying alive to God, to the work of the Holy Spirit in your life, to becoming less selfish and more in love with God and others, and to allow music, and yes, even popular music, to be a conduit that opens up new vistas of what it means to be a whole, fully engaged human being participating in this process. That's what people talk about for two days. They listen, and they listen well. And then they talk with one another. It will be a blast, and I can't wait to tell you about it when I'm back.