(This post originally appeared at The Essence of Faith & Culture Writers Conference -blog post)

“Most people come to know only one corner of their room, one spot near the window, one narrow strip on which they keep walking back and forth.”-Rilke

About a month before the start of the 2013 Faith & Culture Writers Conference at Multnomah University, I received an email from a pastor at a local church.

FCWC - Window DSC_0200-Version-2He asked why I would let William Paul Young, the author of The Shack, speak at our conference. After all, the pastor said to me, how could an event that was being held at a reputable Christian university “invite a ‘heretic’ like Young onto the campus?” as he worded it.

The pastor went on to inform me that he would not promote our conference nor would he tell others at his church about it. At the time of the event, I was an adjunct professor at Multnomah, where I served as the faculty advisor for MUSE, the student publication I founded at the school.

My first response to the pastor was to ask him if he had read the book.

“No, I have not,” he confessed.

I offered, “I know there has been controversy surrounding Paul’s work over the years, especially regarding his (fictional) portrayal of the triune God, but we are a faith and culture conference, and if nothing else, whether you agree or disagree with the way Young portrays God, we must admit that the words and story Paul created has affected culture in a big way: 20 million books sold.

May we ask the hard questions? Can we start a conversation on topics where we have differing views? Can we question the way we have done things over the years? Are we able to sit in the same room with others who have a different creative way to express their story?

That is the essence of what the Faith & Culture Writers Conference is about.

On the top of my website, I have a tagline “Live the Questions,” which is a quote by the German poet Rilke. This is my mantra. And perhaps the mantra of the conference. We should not be afraid of hard questions. We should not be threatened with differing view points, with people stretching our worlds; we should not fear discussion around a subject we feel uncomfortable with, but rather embrace the difference and see life from someone else’s world. To get beyond that one spot near the window, as Rilke notes.

I say, let’s talk.

This year as the Faith & Culture Writers Conference moves to George Fox University, we once again have invited some speakers and authors whose views and takes on issues not all attendees may agree with. Heck, not everyone is a C.S. Lewis fan. He did have witches in his books and he prefers in infant baptism, to which some object.

Our speakers are thoughtfully sparking dialogue in their work, musing over long-held practices, pushing boundaries and borders, and asking questions that open up fresh perspectives, challenge presumptions, and stretch views.

Take Sarah Bessey, as an example. In November 2013, she released her first book, Jesus Feminist, the title itself stopping people from giving her a voice. Yet, if you can get beyond stereotypes and open up the pages of Bessey’s book, you’ll find the mother of three captivated by Christ while at the same time challenging the church to reconsider gender-based restrictions on women in ministry.

We welcome speakers — who are at once authors, professors, theologians, bloggers, journalists, movement starters, activists, editors — at the Faith & Culture Writers Conference to open up the doors to dialogue on issues in our current culture and we trust they will do so with grace, humility, vulnerability and the Spirit leading them. Can we bathe in discussions with differing views, and allow ourselves to listen rather than immediately criticize, and engage without feeling threatened? Instead of judging, let’s perhaps ask, “Hmm, I wonder what they mean by that? Let me find out.”

Other keynote speakers this year — Tony Kriz, Paul Louis Metzger, Randy Woodley, Micah J. Murray, Emily Maynard, Natalie Trust — have also written and spoken on topics that have made some people uncomfortable. That’s okay.

We’re about engaging culture, starting conversations, expanding our worlds.

And, maybe make new friends along the way.

Which makes me think about a story I read in Christianity Today about how, after writer Tim Challies calls into question Ann Voskamp’s theology, calling her popular book One Thousand Gifts “dangerous.”

And, how did Ann respond? Why invite him and his family to dinner, of course.

He accepted and during their time together, he apologized to her. In our online world, it’s easy to criticize someone we cannot see face to face. It’s a click of a button to publish judgment. But, when you are face to face with someone, it’s a whole different ball game. Being present matters.

Now, I realize of course things don’t always have a happy ending like this, but it illustrates that we can at least be in the same room together, maybe even share a dinner. Or coffee. We can extend grace and mercy and humility toward others and not be defensive.

And maybe, just maybe we can do just as Rilke said:

“I live my life in widening circles that reach out across the world.” Rilke

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