2010 Calvin College Festival of Faith and Writing, Post 2

1st post is here.

More highlights:

Eugene Peterson spoke about the vocational fusion of pastors and writers, the “badlands,” and Labrador puppies. He prefaced his talk by saying that he has been thinking over his life a lot recently because he is in the process of writing a memoir about his life as a pastor and a writer, two pursuits he sees as linked by their shared focus on the lived qualities of theology and the sacred qualities of language, which have drawn him into new ways of living. While he was a young pastor, Peterson entered a time of his life that he called “The Badlands,” after the arid region in South Dakota. During this time of dryness, he begin writing more seriously, and to see himself as a contemplative, rather than competitive pastor; disillusioned with the “business model” philosophy of church growth, he learned to listen and see the world around him. This led him to a new understanding of his calling as a pastor, which was now to lead his followers in “making a home in the gospel.” Earlier in life, Peterson had been an “intently haphazard” Labrador puppy, running after whatever caught his attention. But after his time of dryness and searching, he concluded, “In the Badlands, I learned to sit. Amen.”

Some of my favorite sessions at the festival were focused not so much on writing, but on films. Barbara Nicolosi, director of the Act One program (training Christians to work in Hollywood with excellence and professionalism), spoke about the importance of good imagery, both in writing and in filmmaking, using the wooden leg in Flannery O’Connor’s story “Good Country People” as an example of an image that has a concrete meaning within the story, as well as larger metaphorical implications. Much of the power of this image, Nicolosi said, comes from the fact that the story never spells out exactly what the wooden leg “means”; instead, O’Connor leaves it to the reader to ruminate on what this “puzzle for the soul” might imply.

Joe Kickasola began his session with the provocative (and somewhat tongue-in-cheek) proclamation that “words don’t matter. They’re just hood-ornaments for images.” His point was that we often become bogged down by words and explanations, when we should instead allow ourselves to be dazzled by images we cannot necessarily explain. Kickasola illustrated his points with clips from several films–including The Son and The Decalogue–that showed how the wordless language of film can leave a lasting and mysterious impression.

I also attended a panel discussion by Nicolosi, Kickasola, and Calvin professor Roy Anker titled “Faith, Film, and Fidelity,” which billed itself as a discussion of why many of the most spiritually profound and significant recent films were not made by Christians. Nicolosi explained that Christian filmmakers often make the “bad imagery” mistakes she cautioned against in her earlier session, but went on to talk about the generational shift she is seeing in Hollywood right now. The new generation of filmmakers she (and Kickasola as well) are seeing are reacting against the mantras of their Baby Boomer parents (including those of the sexual revolution) and are instead seeking commitment and lasting relationships, as illustrated in the film Up in the Air. What we are perhaps seeing, the panel agreed, is the end of cynicism, giving way to a more hopeful era.

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