This spring, I was invited to the Mockingbird NYC conference to read poems from my book, Phases. The lineup of speakers was impressive and I was looking forward to reconnecting with my old friend Alan Jacobs, who was headlining. Plus, my friend Jimmy had just moved from London to Manhattan to start this church. I couldn't miss it, so I flew across the country and met some of the finest folks around, while eating well and learning deeply.
There's a lot that I'll remember from the event--the energy in Manhattan is always electrifying, if a bit overwhelming at times-- but here's some takeaways, for those who couldn't make it.
- they recorded my poetry reading. This was a well-attended but intimate affair, featuring lots of questions from the audience. You can listen to the whole thing here.
- Timothy Blackmon, the chaplain at Wheaton College is a force of nature: incredibly informed and eloquent. He talked to us about a Dutch theologian named Kohlbrugge and how "the flesh fondly dreams of progress." How true.
- Actually, I was impressed right from the start with the opening lecture from RJ Heijman, who was trying to address modern divisiveness. He noted how strange it is that we insist now not only on being right, but on being 100% right, an admittedly high standard, and how one reason we seek out enemies is because it creates an easy unity (the holy/the in-group/the woke). This is what we really want: to be on the right team.
- Jamin Warren is a gaming guy, so I, whose interest in and experience of video gaming peaked at Super Mario Bros. 3 lacked some background for his talk, but it was so informative still; really, the talk all week that I keep thinking about the most. He talked about "Man-the-Player" or homo ludens, as an essential construction. Every human society has had games, the "magic circle that turns a park into a field wherein all the normal rules of life are suspended (viz. normally, you don't get to tackle anyone). That was interesting enough, and reminded me of G.K. Chesterton's attempt to isolate the unique-to-mankind in The Everlasting Man, but then Warren connected the game-theory to religious ritual. Bread which is normal bread becomes something extra, something different in this space because of these rules/words. He said that one of the attractions of gaming is that they are worlds wherein the consequences make sense. If you press A, X happens; in life, oddly, sometimes you eat healthy and still get a stroke. All this reminded me of poetry. There, we're using words--those pedestrian tools--but in a different way; there, the normal rules are suspended and new games are possible. Really, anything is, so long as the rules established for the game/poem are consistent. Anyway, it was meaty stuff and I'm looking forward to returning to these thoughts.
- Speaking of expanding my horizons, I attended a talk by Alyssa Wilkinson, the film critic. Those who know me know that I see about one film per year, believing the genre to be bankrupt. So I wasn't there to hear her talk about movies, but rather about the nature of criticism, which she writes at a pretty high level. She made the case that we should see movies in theaters because the screen dwarfs you, which is a necessary and useful humbling, and so you can see it with people who are having the same, but different experiences.
- Chad Bird then gave a sermon that was so powerfully poetic that I forgot to take notes. In fact, I forgot to breathe for much of it.
- Daniel Emery Price brought the brimstone. I like my preachers with brass knuckles and Price brought them out--though in service of broad grace--with tattoos to match. He convicted us about separatism, making the argument that we're surrounded with sinners, even in church, as a sign of grace; "lest you start believing you aren't one of them." I loved his talk and he was thoroughly decent in conversation afterward.
- Jacobs' talk was great (you can read the notes for it on his blog) and he and I had an enlivening and productive talk at lunch following the conference.
- This book, from which these ladies hilariously read.
If there will be a Mockingbird conference near you, or near and airport that's near you, I heartily recommend seeking these people out. To say it was edifying doesn't begin to capture it.
Oh yes, and I took some pictures: