Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Catalyst West 2010: Labs

I'm sitting in the Community Center of Mariners Church (, which is again the host site for Catalyst West.  It is a remarkably well-kept and elaborate campus, with an enormous student center, skateboard park, and assorted amenities.  I wish they would have scheduled the start of the day for something earlier than 10:30 a.m. (PDT), especially since the day won't conclude until 6:00 p.m. and we have two very full days coming, including an evening session tomorrow night.

First up will be worship with Aaron Keyes.  Aaron is the worship leader ( at Grace Fellowship Church outside of Atlanta, and he likes to disciple young worship leaders.  He was pretty good, though I'm not a huge fan of the guitars/bass/drums ensemble that I associate with Southern rock; I prefer having a keyboard in the mix.  He also talked a little more than I am comfortable with, but his songs were good and he got the folks involved.  

Choosing the speakers to listen to today is difficult.  The conference itself is all plenary, no breakouts, but today we have to choose.  Gender is a factor in my choice, because the gender bias in evangelicalism is fairly evident in that there is almost no female leadership in the main conference, but there are a few today.

So I decided to see Susan Isaacs in the first breakout.  The audio from all of the sessions will be available, but I wanted to support the idea that female speakers can draw interest even at an evangelical conference.  She is an actress and comedienne ( who wrote a book entitled Angry Conversations with God: A Snarky but Authentic Spiritual Memoir.  Her talk was on writing your own spiritual memoir, which is different from a faith timeline, in that it is truly a memoir of your life which you then view through a faith lens.  She asked a really provocative opening question: "if you died without writing your memoir, what stories would the world be poorer for not knowing?"  She then led us in some interesting exercises and viewpoints that would help us compose such a memoir.  My reaction is that this would be a great summer seminar to have at my church, because seeing your own life story through the eyes of faith would make it easier for us to share our faith.

Next I'm watching Dan Kimball of Vintage Faith Church ( and he had one good quote to start but now he's annoying me.  His good quote was "Shepherds don't make sheep.  Sheep make sheep."  But his talk was centered on three things he thinks the church needs to be teaching more forcefully, and it devolved into a defense of the institutional church, a defense of "traditional" teaching on sexuality, and an admonition that we should be careful not to get so involved with professing the gospel by deeds of social justice that we forget proclaiming the gospel with words.  I was surprised at his explicit defense of the church's stance against LGBT persons because my experience of Catalyst has been that it shies away from the social issues stance of older evangelicals (in two years I haven't heard anything about abortion) out of respect for the diverse (and even mildly progressive) social views of younger evangelicals.  A real disappointment.

The last speaker in the breakout portion of the day is Margaret Feinberg.  I love her latest book, Scouting the Divine: My Search for God in Wine, Wool, and Wild Honey, which I discussed a couple of months ago here.  She uses actual experiences with shepherds (actually, a shepherdess), beekeeper, and vintner to gain insights into these oft-used Biblical metaphors.  She is a polished speaker, but it feels too polished - and she is basically speaking her book.  And I already read the book...

Yet to come is a final plenary session led by a person whose teachings haven't inspired me, John Ortberg.  He pleasantly surprised me.  Again, like so many speakers, he was really pushing the theme of his latest book, The Me I Want to Be: Becoming God's Best Version of You.  He's presently at Menlo Park Presbyterian, having gone there from Willow Creek.  I think being in a Presbyterian church has gotten to him; his speaking style feels a bit "old school."  He was basically pushing what sounds to me like a basic Reformed understanding of sanctification, though he never once used the word "sanctification."  My favorite quotes were "God is more concerned with you reaching your potential than you are" and a good reminder that somewhere along the way "grace got reduced to the forgiveness of sins"; John's core point was essentially that sanctification is also grace. He then reminded us that "spiritual growth is hand-crafted, not mass-produced" - that God, in the Bible, treats people very differently.  He called on churches not to treat spiritual growth as if they can just put people "on a Christian assembly line."  He scored points with many of us by asking: "how many of you can't stand journaling?" (I never keep a journal and don't understand why I should) and saying that spiritual practices are not the same as spiritual growth; after all, he pointed out, "if they measured spiritual growth by spiritual practices, who would win?  The Pharisees."

Day 1 of the full conference is next.

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