What I Learned at the 2014 Faith and Culture Writer’s Conference

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We gathered together on Friday night and Saturday. From twelve years old to eighty, we joined forces to learn from, encourage, befriend, and inspire each other.

Success. By all accounts, a resounding success. The 2014 Faith and Culture Writer’s Conference promised all of these things and more, and it did not disappoint. Were there setbacks? Sure. Challenges? No doubt, especially in terms of keeping the schedule on track and moving people to various locations on time. But in the end, there were writers inspired to write more frequently, more authentically, and with greater creativity and inspiration. Thus, success.

Most of the speakers provided unique points of inspiration for me. Tony Kriz encouraged me to own my story, hurts and all. From a distance I was a bit intimidated by him. Maybe it’s his uber cool reputation. However, when I spoke with him face-to-face, I noticed kindness and compassion. It was then that I realized I had let pain from my personal past bleed into my perception of someone I had never previously met. How messed up is that? Or how common, that I should let the hurts of my youth nearly preempt the possibility that God would use Tony to penetrate the hardened defenses of my heart?

All of the speakers I had opportunity to meet were kind.

Derek Chinn, a fellow ’09 Western Seminary DMin grad, took the time to share a meal and conversation with me on Saturday. I love what he and his colleagues are doing at Multnomah Seminary with the DMin program. His workshop on writing about multi-ethnic and multi-racial ministry was singularly relevant to my ministry to the marginalized in Portland.

Leanne Sype offered the most practical and content-rich writing workshop I have ever experienced: “You Only Get One Shot: Editing Your Manuscript for a Good First Impression.” Her workshop is helpful both for writers and for aspiring editors. I intend to apply what I learn as I press forward in my writing projects and in future doctoral dissertation editing assignments. Plus, she is incredibly encouraging. Who knew editors could be so kind and affirming?

Ana Brors gave a terrific workshop on social media, specifically: “Twitter Intensive: The Nuances of Tweeting & Maximizing Twitter to Grow and Engage Your Audience.” I love how she leverages her expertise to help others, and especially to serve the public in redemptive ways.

Her work with American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – Oregon Chapter is critically important. I encourage my readers in Oregon to consider responding to her her recent tweet: Fellow tweeps…We are actively recruiting board members and field advocates for @AFSP_OR – we’d love to have you join us! #suicideprevention. For more information, you may go to www.afsp.org

I loved Karen Spears Zacharias’ workshop entitled, “In Lieu of Flowers, Send Fried Chicken Writing Workshop – Exploring Character and Story Structure.” In a word, hilarious. My one big takeaway? Get to know your characters and the needed story structure by writing obituaries for them. At first I was a doubter. Then she showed how it can be done. So yea, I have an obit. to write in the near future. Poor me. No, you can’t take out a life insurance policy on me. And yes, I once had a former employer do that. Seriously. Long story. I didn’t die. My bad. I was feeling mavericky.

There was lots of inspiration to be found. Sarah TheBarge showed amazing resilience and courage in the face of incredible difficulty. Talk about never giving up.

Deidra Riggs encouraged us to listen to the still small voice of The Lord and to break out of the routine and even venture off the customary path to see what he has to show us. It’s a risky thing to listen and obey The Lord. Usually, it means flowing against the cultural tide and walking in faith. Appropriate insight for a faith and culture writers conference, wouldn’t you agree?

Sarah Bessey made most of us cry. The Kleenex corporate executives woulda had a field day, sweeping in like marketing vultures, offering samples to all of us as we blubbered and wept–but I digress…

Here are a few live tweets I put out as she spoke during her keynote:

Discovering your real voice is often linked to recovering our real life in Christ. @sarahbessey #FaithCulture2014

Don’t skip over the pain, lean into it. @sarahbessey #faithculture2014

In listening to the pain in @sarahbessey’s story I’m challenged to confront my own. #faithculture2014

The decision to quit writing with an agenda gave me permission to write. @sarahbessey #FaithCulture2014

I was using strategy to mask my lack of substance. I didn’t know who I was. @sarahbessey #faithculture2014

You may ever be published, but does not change the way I made you. You are a writer. @sarahbessey, hearing from God #FaithCulture2014

In short, she is one of the most quotable speakers I have ever heard. And I have heard many, some of them world-renowned.

Paul Louis Metzger, in his talk which was equal parts informative and inspiring, shared one of the most important points of wisdom for all of us: “Learn from the literary guild, but guard against group think.” I hope we all take this to heart even as we continue to enjoy the ongoing fellowship with each other and mutual learning. It will help us continue to find and own our unique voices in a pluralistic world, albeit in an often ideologically homogenous publishing culture, and subsets therein.

More can and should be said. Others have written about their experiences, too. You can find links to some of them via www.faithandculturewriters.com

Next time, I will offer my keynote address. Stay tuned. I can neither confirm, nor deny that you may need a Kleenex. You might wanna see if the corporate marketing execs are still hanging out to see if you can score a sample, or two, or…well, nevemind… Until next time. Break camp and advance…

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