Thursday, August 09, 2012

Blue Ocean Summit

This week I attended my first Blue Ocean Summit. This is a conference sponsored by, a group that got its start at my own church, and now brings together faith leaders and interested individuals from all over the country (and I think at least one person from Ireland). The focus of the group is to explore new ways of approaching faith within the secular world, in a way that leads to conversation and listening, rather than preaching and selling. What drew me in particular was a focus on the arts, and how the arts might help to catalyze thoughtful conversations about faith, spirituality, and secular culture. The conference was held at our church.

Several program items were of special interest to me. One of the invited speakers was the writer Andre Dubus III (House of Sand and Fog and Townie: A Memoir), a riveting speaker who makes no bones about the fact that he regards religion as bullshit and the Catholic Church he grew up in as irredeemably corrupt. At the same time, in describing some of the events of his life, he remarked on a nudge from "the Divine" that got him started writing one night. He also retold an event (described in Townie) that occurred on a blacker night, when a terrible dream seemed to presage his coming death as a result of his own violent nature. His desperate attempt to find something to read in the lightless room to take his mind off the dream led to his being able to make out just three words in the darkness, as though lit by a splinter of light: "Love one another." He had picked up his wife's pocket New Testament in the dark. That stayed with him, along with the dream, and marked a turning point in how he dealt with potentially violent situations soon after. (It didn't alter his views about religion, but he noted the seeming contradiction with charming humor.)

A second point of interest was a talk by a Vineyard pastor from Minnesota about churches' relationships with the GLBT community. His thesis in a nutshell: Do people of faith really want to be in the business of judging people instead of welcoming them? How does gay marriage conceivably threaten hetero marriage—especially when among Evangelicals, the divorce rate is over 50%? And does the Bible even address the question of monogamous gay relationships? (Arguably not. Close examination of the generally quoted passages suggests that they quite possibly were condemning temple prostitution and abusive sex, rather than loving relationships.) Perhaps more to the point, reasonable people can disagree on these questions without making them a litmus test on whether one is "in" or "out." Indeed, the whole notion of "in" or "out" is antithetical to the building of a healthy and supportive community.

The third, and most entertaining, event was a stage reading by a team of local actors of the play Revolutionary, written by our own pastor Dave Schmelzer. To my surprise it was a science fiction play, involving baseball players, time travel, and Visigoths and Huns. It was funny, engaging, thought-provoking, and a delight to watch. On some levels, it did exactly what I try to do on some levels: It talked about faith without being even remotely religious, in the form of an entertaining story with engaging characters. Dave asked afterward how people thought it might speak to the question of faith intersecting with popular culture. My wife Allysen offered what I thought was the best comment: "It made us friends. It made us laugh together so we could start the conversation as friends."

That in itself was a fine summary note to the conference, I thought.

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