2010 Calvin College Festival of Faith and Writing, Post 1

First, a partial list of the writers and speakers I heard this weekend:

Sara Zarr

Scott Cairns

Barbara Nicolosi

Wally Lamb

Joe Kickasola

Eugene Peterson

Kate DiCamillo

Lawrence Dorr

Richard Rodriguez

James Schaap, Luci Shaw, and Robert Siegel

Gene Yuen Lang

Mary Karr

Next, a few highlights:

I went to two of Sara Zarr’s sessions–a reading on Thursday morning and a more structured presentation on Friday afternoon. The title for her Friday session was “Young Adult Fiction and the Stewardship of Pain,” a phrase she borrowed from a Frederick Buechner sermon. Zarr is often some asked questions such as, “Why are your books so depressing? Shouldn’t we protect children? Why do you let your characters make bad choices?” These, she argued, are the wrong questions, because pain is an inescapable part of life; a better approach is to ask what to do with the pain. And by dismissing or ignoring pain, adults miss a crucial opportunity to model for young people what a complete human being can be, which is possibly the most important influence adults can have on children. I appreciated the passion and severity with which Sara approaches YA fiction, and also the way she synthesized her writing with her real-world philosophy of what it means, and how important it is, to be an adolescent.

Scott Cairns delivered one of the festival’s best lines when he related the response of a well-meaning evangelical who questioned a Eastern Orthodox priest with whom Cairns was studying: The evangelical asked, “Is Jesus Christ your personal savior?” The priest replied, “No, I like to share him.” As humorous as this line is, it also served to illustrate Cairns’s topic, namely that “Embodied Faith” (that is, salvation as a living incarnational life) is as much a communal pursuit as an individual one, a deliverance from the death-in-life routine that results in the awareness of the Kingdom of God in the here and now.

*More highlights to come*

PS I took notes at most of the sessions I attended, so let me know if you specifically want to hear about any of the speakers I listed.


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3 Responses to “2010 Calvin College Festival of Faith and Writing, Post 1”

  1. Andrew Says:

    What were your impressions of the seminar with Mary Karr? Just curious, because her book ‘Lit’ is presently on my nightstand, first in line to be read next.


    • facesunveiled Says:

      She talked about her biography quite a bit, which was interesting to me because I haven’t read any of her books. Despite how depressing and even tragic a lot of her story can seem, she has a great sense of humor that she brings out without making light of what she’s gone through (a hard balance). She was very honest about the concrete ways her faith affects her life, and she spent a bit of time talking about some kind Jesuit spiritual discipline thing she’s done. That part of the talk was a little hard to follow (and it was the last night of the festival, so I was pretty tired), but one part I remember vividly was when she talked about how she had to think of what she’s thankful for, and she was having a lot of trouble getting anything meaningful out of the exercise until her spiritual director told her that what she should really be thinking about are the little moments in the day that make her feel excited and alive, and to thank God for bringing those into her life.

      The session made me want to check out her books, which I wasn’t anticipating because I’m not usually very interested in memoirs.

  2. Andrew Says:

    Thanks for your response. Her speaking style – melding the heartbreaking with the comic – sounds very consistent with the description of her writing style in the New York Times’ review of ‘Lit’ (which they rated as one of the best books of 2009, IIRC).

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