Search For Meaning 2009
The School of Theology and Ministry’s first annual Pacific Northwest Spirituality and Theology Book Festival, “Search for Meaning,” drew over 400 participants to campus on Saturday, February 7. The festival celebrated the best regional works on issues of spirituality, faith, church-state matters and theology. STM Dean Mark Markuly introduced the book festival as “a gathering space for all of those in the region who take their faith and spirituality seriously—who have made it a lifelong quest to search for meaning.
“When you put together intelligence, faith or spiritual commitment with self-reflection, you come up with a powerful, life- and world-transforming combination,” said Markuly. “In our challenging and often fearful times, we need this combination more than ever.”
The day opened with keynote speaker James K. Wellman, Jr., Associate Professor of American Religion at the University of Washington and author of Evangelical vs. Liberal: The Clash of Christian Cultures in the Pacific Northwest (2008). Dr. Wellman was surprised to be introduced by STM friend, supporter and advocate Clodagh Ash, who taught his ninth grade confirmation class. She eloquently described him as “still asking questions of God, himself, and us.”
Wellman’s subject, the polarizing of Northwestern religion/spirituality among several subcultures, is a hot topic that he handled with grace and guts. He took risks, both in his talk and in responding to audience questions. “I can’t answer these questions as thoroughly as you want me to,” he said to the audience, adding, “I do like to provoke, so I hope some of you are upset after I speak.”
“All of our insights…are approximations,” Wellman observed. “A moral life is one in which we admit our mistakes. So I invite you to think with me about these great issues, and to keep an open mind—to say, ‘Maybe I am wrong and I need to change,’ or ‘Maybe I am right and I need better reasons.’ In either case we are free to speak, and this very freedom is the source of our power and our ability to find a place where we can talk without killing each other; and that fills me with hope.” (Wellman’s lecture can be heard/downloaded on the STM website at www.seattleu.edu/stm).
Award-winning author Sherman Alexie filled the second keynote address with stories, observations, and poems (many not yet published). With Alexie everything is funny and poignant—boot tracks in the snow, drums, piranhas, the inevitable cell phone ringing in the middle of a poem. “We get wrapped up in worship and celebration and it ends up being these huge ideas,” said Alexie, “but I like little things, odd things.”
Participants in the many workshops throughout the day were able to hear from authors including Patricia O’Connell Killen, Daryl Grigsby, Paul Anderson, David Domke, Maliha Masood, Sharon Daloz Parks, Rabbi Daniel Weiner and Judy Pigott, as well as STM and Seattle University faculty Dan Dombrowski, Wesley Howard-Brook, Marianne LaBarre, Gary Chamberlain, Ted Fortier, Rev. Flora Wilson Bridges and Fr. Mike Raschko.
Volunteer hosts, including STM faculty, staff, and students, were able to interact even more personally with guest authors as they greeted them, showed them to their presentation rooms, and introduced them before sessions. The author workshops were interactive and intimate, most taking place in classrooms holding under 30 people. Authors presented their work, shared from their life stories, and answered questions. “I like things that are practical—I want people to be engaged immediately,” commented Julie Rochelle Stephens, author of RSVP: Recovery, Spirituality, Vision, Purpose Journal. That kind of practical engagement was the tone for these sessions. The book festival celebrated not only the authors’ work, but the relationships between people—author and participants alike—who gather to search for wisdom, grace, and meaning together.
Stephens concluded, “Find your teachers. There are teachers for you. Elders need to be needed; and we need them.