I am glad to be back in Chicago again after nearly a week in California.
I discovered Jesus in some of the unlikeliest places at the Mt. Hermon writers conference:
– I felt Him embracing so many who’d come with high hopes, only to be told by an acquisitions editor or agent that their idea wasn’t marketable.
– I saw Him celebrating two childhood friends who’d come to the conference from different places in the world – hoping to connect with an editor, and knowing they’d connect with one another.
– I heard Him sharing conversations with those who were strugglng (literally, in some cases) to find their place at the table.
– I noticed Him in the eyes of a middle-aged workshop presenter who talked about his wife as if he was a 20-year-old newlywed.
– I saw Him in the celebration of some of those who’d received a green light on their project from someone.
– I experienced Him in the thoughtfulness of the Mt. Hermon staff – always smiling, always eager to serve, always anticipating the needs and wants of those at the conference before the conferees had an opportunity to express them.
This was definitely an old-school event – from the organ music (I’m not kidding; some of the worship accompaniment was done on an organ) to the folksy emcee to the emphasis of most of the speakers. This was for the most part an older crowd, and the programming was safely traditional.
It was also a business event. Christian publishing is an industry, and all of the rules of institutionalism and commerce apply. It is hard to watch and feel the shock of new writers who come to events like this thinking solely in terms of ministry, because, though ministry happens (books have changed our lives!), the financial/platform/marketing talk drives the lion’s share of the decisions publishers make. Sure, talent matters, but so does this other stuff. And this other stuff matters A LOT.
I got some nice feedback and a couple of green lights on things I’d brought to the conference. Met a lot of people. Got some fantastic information. And fought some discouragement and loneliness.
I frequently migrated to the coffee shop because they had wi-fi, and I have a bit of a deadline on a small project due next week. One night, the place was mostly empty. It was me and about 4 or 5 other people, all sitting there working on our laptops. The only sound was organ music drifting up the hill, followed thoroughout the rest of the evening by sporadic laughter of the crowd in the redwood auditorium, gathered to hear one of the keynote speakers. No one in the coffee house spoke, but it was a peaceful, companionable silence.
Those moments actually brought me the sense of community I’d hoped to find at Mt. Hermon. Weird, isn’t it? A few people who ditched the conference’s evening session, sitting in a coffee house, gave me a sense of community. Maybe because I was there doing what I love. And those other people were there, doing the same thing. Seeking God and trying to communicate that journey to others.