The cynic that lives in my head likes to remind me, "Conferences are for selling books." So are blog posts and websites and lead magnets for that matter. Everything is about selling and everyone has an angle, so why bother? That's what my cynic says.
Thankfully, I have a softer, more hopeful side to remind me that there is more to behold if only one will look.
Last weekend I attended the Inklings: Creativity, Collaboration, and Community Conference hosted by Square Halo Books.
This conference was more than a marketing ploy. It was a catalyst for inspiration, connection, and a trove of treasure waiting to be discovered.
By far the best part, the buttercream icing on top of a very delicious cake, was the community. The conference was local, so I knew the hosts, a few of the presenters, and so many of the attendees, including the dear friends who took the leap and attended with me! I never felt like an anonymous face in the crowd. We were a group of artists - a parish if you will! - united by our love of things good and beautiful.
Within that welcoming spirit, I had my three friends. We sat together, ate together, and processed together. Together, I think, is the whole point. Community and art go hand in hand. Stories do form us individually, but they also shape us collectively.
"All art is a labor of community"
I don't remember who said that. It was either Ned Bustard or Douglas Mckelvey, so I will credit them together.
Everyone made in the image of God takes part in the ongoing work creation.
Creativity is a valuable gift, given freely out of God's grace, and is not limited to art. We may not all be called to expressive art, but we are all called to a life of creativity, making order out of chaos.
Our misdirected creativity is the desire to be our own author, to usurp God's authority rather than rest in his will.
In God's upside-down kingdom, resources are not limited. The question is, "Can I be faithful to my calling regardless of earthly success?"
Leaf by Niggle
Another of my favorites at the conference was the staged reading of Leaf by Niggle, a short story by Tolkein. I'd never heard this story before and I immediately fell in love and identified with the plight of dear Niggle.
Niggle is a painter (not a very good one!) who struggles to get his art from his head onto the page. He dreams of a spectacular tree and works tirelessly on capturing each leaf. He constantly battles his own idleness (yes!) and the interruptions from friends and neighbors (um...yes!). When the time comes, he must leave for his Journey and his work is left unfinished. Left alone in the workhouse (because he arrived sick and destitute) he finally learns to manage his time resulting in deep satisfaction for a job well done. But he is not ready to go to his final destination just yet. He is sent instead to another place. A beautiful countryside where he finds the tree he painted, real and alive and as gloriously as he imagined it!
I won't spoil all the delightful details here. The story unfolds beautifully and continues to inspire me. It is important to work. Expressing things in my writing and directing and developing my skills is part of how I participate in the grace of creation. But also, I must remember that the "interruptions" are also invitations.
The creativity, collaboration, and community of the Inklings Conference refreshed my soul as only corporate worship can. The stories sparked my imagination and inspired me to keep pressing forward in my calling as a Writer, Director, Teacher, Wife, Friend, and Mother.
And yes, I also bought some books. :0)