Culture, Criticism, and Community

My tank is full.

I’ve spent the last three or so days back at my alma mater, Dordt College, filling my head with information and conversation and my heart with seeing good friends again. This weekend was just what I needed in the middle of a long semester of writing craft analyses and reading and writing and contact only through Skype and message boards. I miss the classroom, some days more than others, but not having that every-day engagement and conversation has left an empty space. I’m grateful for the ability to continue on with my education without having to upend my family’s normal, but sometimes electronic communication doesn’t hold a candle to the experience of in-person communal learning. I’m not about to change my plans, but it’s something I didn’t quite expect, this sense of distance and disconnect I’ve been feeling a little bit lately. It’s been remedied by some outside-of-class contact with my classmates via Facebook and email, but it’s still… well, just not the same. And that’s as it should be, I think.

The two youngers (who are also doing their schooling from home now) are sort of feeling similarly, but we’ve joined a local homeschooling group, which has helped the isolation a bit, and Amaryah’s been active on the school’s online student center message boards, making some new friends there. I think we’re all glad to be at home, all glad that we can even do this together (grateful for cocoa and coffee available on demand in the kitchen while we study), glad for the time that we’ve all spent on the road getting to school and back returned to our own use, glad for not having to deal with forgetting papers and misunderstandings, glad for the slower pace and the grace of home, but I’m reminded of the importance of intentionally engaging community after this weekend.

So, exactly what did I do this weekend? It took me a bit to catch on to what this whole thing was about. When I read about it at first, months ago, all I had to do was read “Dordt… conference… English department… student discount…” and I was running for the calendar. But I wasn’t entirely sure what it was about until I got a copy of the schedule and actually arrived. I might be reducing the scope a bit, but the sessions and lectures revolved around literary and cultural criticism from a Christian standpoint. How’s that for an abstract concept? So, what does that mean in plain English? It means we spent the weekend engaging with people in the profession of writing, teaching, and making films, music, and art, listening to how they, as people of faith, did what they did in light of being faithful followers of Christ, artists, educators, and writers of excellence, and people in a world and culture(s) impacted by the far-reaching influence of sin and corruption in the world. How do we as makers remain faithful to making good art that honors Christ and challenges our readers and viewers? How do we as readers and viewers discern what is good, powerful art that’s worth our time? How do we faithfully engage issues like underrepresented and oppressed groups (People of Color, other cultures, minority genders, other sexual orientations) in what we consume and create? It was also just a great time of getting together with My People –old friends, former professors, and other reading/writing/art-making people.

So, while I’m exhausted (introvert hangover… it’s a Real Thing), my heart and my tank is full, and I’m ready to tackle the next few weeks of the semester challenged, and reminded of just why I write, beside the plain fact that I do it because I simply can’t NOT write. It’s good to be reminded that there are people who are passionate about this vocation of words and images and story, and it’s just my favorite thing in the whole world to see people doing what they were made to do. That was my favorite part of the weekend, being around people in relentless, joyful pursuit of feeling God’s pleasure in the work they do, whether they were students, educators, writers, or creators. Is there really anything that’s better than that?

One thought on “Culture, Criticism, and Community

  1. I totally agree with this! Thanks for summing it up so well! I was dead tired too, but I think I got a whole lot out of it more than I thought I did. Thanks Shelbi!

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