I've spent the last few days on the Elysian-like campus of Calvin College attending their biannual Festival of Faith & Writing. Its a gathering of writers and poets and all-around book folks, a 2000 person three-ringed circus of clowns with blood in their veins, walking the high wire, juggling to put into words the life of faith.
I heard a range of voices, people with names like Eugene Peterson, Luci Shaw, Scott Russell Sanders, Wally Lamb, Kate DiCamillo, Stephen Carter, James Schaap, and Scott Cairns, to name a few. All were both shaking and stirring, provocative in the best sense of that word. But for me, and I can say this because this is my blog, there was one voice that spoke distinct from the others, a part but also apart. He quietly but with conviction claims to be a bumbling agnostic. His name is Michael Perry...he describes himself as "not looking for trouble...just lookin'." Perry has written novels such as Population 485; Truck: A Love Story; and his most recent Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs, and Parenting.
As I listened to Perry, I also listened to myself, to those voices within that kept saying yes, yes, yes. Here was a man, probably my age, who had moved away from his childhood church, the one he was raised and "saved" in, the faith of his father and mother. However he had nothing but a gentle reverence for those days, even if he no longer held to their doctrines or tenets. There were difficult and painful moments in those early years, some of which he spoke, but there was no paper and ink vendetta to go back and make people pay. Perry has a profound appreciation for flesh and bone and the reality that, for the most part, most of us are doing the best we can with what we have. This was not sentimental hogwash, far from it. It was, I guess the word is, tender. Critics have loosely compared Perry to Garrison Keillor and his fictional town of Lake Wobegon. A big difference, however, is that Perry writes about a real town in rural Wisconsin...and he still lives there, works there, and is a member of the volunteer Fire Department there.
So yes, I flew all the way to Grand Rapids to have my heart strangely warmed by the words of an agnostic. Don't worry; I've told Jesus thank you several times already. If the word "agnostic" doesn't frighten, you can find out more about Michael Perry here - www.sneezingcow.com. Amen.