2016 ESR Ministry of Writing Colloquium

Eye of the Beholder featuring Keynote Speaker Patricia Raybon

November 4-5, 2016 / Register Online (event closed). Watch videos at ESR Video Archive page.

Keynote Presentation

Unlocking the Chokehold: Race, Justice, and the Grace of Writing Our Whole Selves

When a Black street preacher in Denver died after five sheriff's deputies put him in a chokehold, an A.M.E. church organized a protest and helped force a legal settlement. The incident also left one member of that church – author Patricia Raybon – with a familiar dilemma: should she ignore her other writing projects to focus exclusively on racial justice in her hometown? She did write on the killing; but what about her mystery novel, always on the back burner? Or her "frivolous" reflection on decluttering and faith? Or a sports essay called “Bicycling With God?” Should those officers’ chokehold restrain something in her, too? For writers, race alone is a minefield -- full of unofficial rules, unwritten expectations, and the possibility of triggering explosions. Should only people of color write about race matters? Must writers of color exclusively explore race – or put race at the center of their stories and lives? Will other writers stop tiptoeing around race, avoiding the topic as if it's an artistic taboo? As an award-winning African American journalist and author of spirituality narratives, Raybon has navigated these tensions for her entire career. In this talk, she will explore her dilemma: how to write stories that transcend her racial identity while staying real and relevant to that identity. At the same time, she will suggest that all writers – not just writers of color – can advance the conversation by writing race as one part of their whole selves. A journalist by training, Patricia Raybon is the award-winning author of Undivided: A Muslim Daughter, Her Christian Mother, and Their Path to Peace; I Told the Mountain to Move, a prayer memoir; and My First White Friend, a racial forgiveness memoir. A lifelong member of the A.M.E. Church, Raybon has also published a tribute book on African American spirituals, Bound for Glory, and The One Year God’s Great Blessing’s Devotional. Her essays on family and faith have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Newsweek, Christianity Today, and In Touch, among others.




David Dark

Choose Your Ancestors Carefully

If your religion is the story that locates you in the world and guides you through it, good news: your story can change. Introducing the concept of “attention collections,” David Dark will lead a discussion on the insights we gain by looking hard at our own preoccupations and enthusiasms. For example, when a creative work gives you hope – by articulating your loves, your worries, or your deepest questions – it can also teach you something about yourself, your story, even your blind spots. We’re stuck with our relatives, Ralph Ellison once observed, but we get to choose our ancestors. How can we surface our inner “genealogies” to choose wisely? Can we use the stories we love to more deeply understand, and own, the stories that make us, us? David Dark teaches in the College of Theology at Belmont University and among the incarcerated communities of Nashville. He is the author of Life’s Too Short To Pretend You’re Not Religious and The Sacredness of Questioning Everything.


Marlena Graves

What's Your Platform? Attracting Readers Without Selling Your Soul

Those of us who write long to be read—unless we’re journaling for our own sake. At the same time, marketing ourselves can feel insincere, false, and exhausting. For many writers, these tensions come to a head as they build their “platform” – meaning, basically, all the ways that writers build an audience. Building a platform might mean figuring out how to develop a community around your blog, expand your Twitter following, or reach readers through Facebook. Even offline, traditional book publishers routinely ask potential authors: what’s your platform? But how do you catapult your work into the world without selling your soul? Marlena Graves is the author of A Beautiful Disaster: Finding Hope in the Midst of Brokenness – named the 2014 Best Book on Spiritual Formation by a First Time Writer by Hearts and Minds Books. Graves is also a bylined writer for Christianity Today and Our Daily Journey (Our Daily Bread Ministries), and her pieces have appeared in Relevant, among many other venues. She is the Minister of Pastoral Care at her church and an instructor at Winebrenner Seminary. She lives in northwest Ohio with her husband and three daughters.



Al Hsu

What Editors Think When They Read Your Proposal: Calling, Vocation, and Writing for Publication

Nobody should write everything. But everyone can write something. This workshop will offer an acquisition editor’s perspective on finding the sweet spot. First, how can writers discern what they are most called to write? Second, how do editors decide which projects are publishable? Learn how to negotiate the dual discernment process of faith-based publishing. Al Hsu (pronounced “shee”) is senior editor for IVP Books at InterVarsity Press, where he acquires and develops books in such areas as culture, discipleship, church ministry, and global mission. In his two decades at IVP, he has worked with over 200 authors and published over 250 titles, including award-winning books by Os Guinness, Andy Crouch, Soong Chan Rah, Rachel Marie Stone, Richard Twiss, Mae Cannon, and Michael Card. Al holds a PhD from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and a master’s from Wheaton College Graduate School, and has served as a columnist for Christianity Today magazine. He is the author of three books: Grieving a Suicide, The Suburban Christian, and Singles at the Crossroads. He lives in the western suburbs of Chicago with his wife and two sons.


Shena McAuliffe

Recycle Your World: Using Collage to Make Art from the Words Around You

When we write we are always borrowing words, ideas, and forms from the world around us, and shaping these words into our own stories, essays, and poems. In this workshop, we will begin writing pieces that take the form of collage or assemblage; texts that incorporate or inhabit documents or photographs; and texts that scavenge ideas, forms, and voices from others in hopes of discovering our own voice within the chorus. Shena McAuliffe is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Earlham College. Her stories and essays have been published in Conjunctions, Gulf Coast, Black Warrior Review, and elsewhere. She holds a PhD in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Utah and an MFA from Washington University in St. Louis.



Patricia Raybon

Not Every Single Thing: Crafting Memoir with Narrative Focus and Courage

Writing about your life can tempt you to be exhaustive and exhausting – to slog through life’s minutiae in an attempt to give a comprehensive history of you. Memoir, by contrast, offers a challenge that’s both liberating and focusing: to tell about one particular slice, or snarl, of your life. Drawing examples from some of the world’s bestloved memoirs, this workshop explores the techniques that can turn one writer’s experiences into essential stories that challenge, surprise, and inspire.


Rabbi Sandy Sasso

Dreaming with Jacob

The rabbis, through midrash, question why the biblical patriarch Jacob stopped for the night where he did, why he dreamed of a ladder, and why he encountered God in that place. Reading the Genesis narrative of Jacob wrestling with the angel, they also wonder: with whom or what did Jacob struggle? Poets, composers, and artists have also grappled with these texts, and their work illuminates the power of fear, the process of creativity, and the revelation of the sacred. In this workshop, we’ll spend time listening to the music, reading the poetry, and looking at the art that has come to surround Jacob. In written exercises, we’ll ask how our own perspectives might enrich the text, generate diverse meanings, and inspire our own work. Rabbi Sandy Sasso was the first woman to be ordained by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 1974. She received her B.A. and M.A. from Temple University and D.Min. from Christian Theological Seminary (CTS). She served Congregation Beth-El Zedeck in Indianapolis for 36 years before becoming rabbi emerita. In addition to writing a monthly column for the Indianapolis Star, she is presently the director of the Religion, Spirituality, and Arts Initiative at Butler University and CTS and the author of many award-winning children’s books. Sasso has also written two books for adults, Midrash: Reading the Bible with Question Marks and Jewish Stories of Love and Marriage, co-authored with Peninnah Schram. She and her husband, Dennis Sasso, were the first practicing rabbinical couple in world Jewish history. Rabbis Sasso have two children and three grandchildren.



Panel Presentations

Marlena Graves

A Name God Can Change: Owning Our Stories and Wrestling with God

Genesis 32 describes how Jacob wrestles with God, emerging slightly crippled and with a new name: Israel. But before his renaming – before the wrestling match even begins – Jacob must own the story of his life so far. As writers, we also wrestle: what is our voice? What is our name? The answer must begin with owning our own stories and identities, even as God wrestles us toward new ones.

Shena McAuliffe

Writing as Recycling: Collages, Mashups, Documents, and Fakes

In Seattle, there is an 8-year-old girl who feeds her neighborhood crows. In return, they bring her gifts: Legos, buttons, glass beads, bottle caps, bits of yarn, polished rocks, and plastic figurines. The girl arranges her collection of glittering treasures in a box with a clear plastic lid. What happens if we write with the sensibility of crows, scavenging treasures from the world around us, and with the sensibility of this eight-year-old girl, gratefully arranging these gifts into our own masterpieces? Writers of contemporary poetry and prose use photographs, police blotters, historical documents, footnotes, and a slew of other “non-artistic” forms to make art and explore issues of justice. What can they teach us about writing and art?

Rabbi Sandy Sasso

Imagining with Scripture: Lessons from the Rabbis and Other Artists

The rabbis believed that the Bible spoke to every generation anew. They allowed the sacred stories to enter their lives and their lives to enter the stories. In part, this imaginative work became midrash, a body of literature that spins new stories out of narratives that scripture neverquite completes, as well as from questions scripture never fully answers. What the rabbis did with words, artists did with image and sound, moving beyond literal analysis to the creation of new, living meaning in every generation.

David Dark

Religion Happens

David Dark argues that religion might be the most catastrophically unexamined abstraction of our time. It’s an easy catch-all for craziness, a convenient location for placing blame, and a seemingly easy way to isolate chaos with a concept. But look deeper. Religion isn’t simply about who does or doesn’t believe in God or an afterlife. Religion is the question of what we do with ourselves, and with others. Your religion is your witness; it’s the shape your loves and hates take. Might re-examining this hot-button word, what appears to be the most divisive word of all, afford us the hope of undivided living? Might it change not just the way we write, but the way we live?

Al Hsu

The Spiritual Life as Editorial Process

Can editing – and being edited – bring transformation, and even redemption? InterVarsity Press editor and author Al Hsu contends that editing may be a spiritual process, and that both writing and editing offer windows into the spiritual life. This presentation will explore God’s identity as divine editor, writing as an incarnational practice, the grace of editorial review, and the significance of editorial community.

Patricia Raybon

Why Our Stories Still Matter

As Patricia Raybon struggled with a new challenge – writing a mystery novel – she flirted with despair. Did this made-up story even matter? Considering that the crime/ mystery genre ranks second only to romance/erotica in popularity, our culture seems to suggest that, somehow, it might. In this talk, Raybon explores what writers of faith can learn from plotting a mystery, from creating compelling characters, and from designing a believable story world – none of it “fact” but, as fiction, all worthy and true.



Friday, November 4th  
6:00 pm Registration Opens
6:30 pm Keynote Presentation: Patricia Raybon
7:30 pm Break
8:00 pm Open Mic for Presenters & Attendees
Saturday, November 5th  
8:00 am Registration & Breakfast
8:40 am Optional Worship
9:00 am Welcome
9:15 am Panel I Talks - Graves, McAuliffe, Sasso
10:45 am Break
11:00 am Workshop Session I
12:30 pm Lunch
1:45 pm Panel II Talks - Dark, Hsu, Raybon
3:15 pm Break
3:30 pm Workshop Session II
5:10 pm Closing