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Festival of Faith and Music 05 - A Personal Response 

Stocki reviews his two days at the Festival Of Faith and Music at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan and gives a very personal account as well as reviewing Pierce Pettis, David Bazan, Bill Mallonee, Sarah Masen, Sufjan Stevens... 

There are moments when the space blows up to a size that is way beyond our normal daily allowance. In that space the energy of mind and heart and soul is quickened and vocabulary falls effortlessly onto the pages of dreams and discernment. It might be the place where songs and poems are caught, where the plots of novels are conjured and where the artist sees colors shimmy and shake into beauty. In the space life takes a perspective that transcends and divine grace drenches. Life gets a little more sorted, redemption visits and births new convictions.

The Festival Of Faith and Music at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan has become such a sabbatical for me. As I moved between seminar, concert, creative worship and conversation I found myself in a community whose lungs had been filled with a short sharp burst of oxygen that might just keep me spiritual alive for months to come. Calvin’s Head of Student Activities Ken Heffner has created something that is too precious to have been planned. In 2003 some of us came. When we reconvened in 2005 we were embraced by simply being back in each other’s presence and then we got to add new touches of brother and sisters, many hitherto unknown to us. For thirty six hours we shared something above us, underneath us and surrounding us and we basked in the sacred space.

For me there were a few moments of disbelieving that the ridiculous grace that follows my life should be lavishly poured out again. I got to hang out with the best man at my wedding, David Dark. In a bizarre beyond coincidence, David and I met in Ireland in 1992 and in a story too long to trace, here we find ourselves living a long distance apart in Belfast and Nashville but somehow living this twin tracked connection where we both just released our second books and I was keynote speaker at the first festival and David at this one. His wife Sarah Masen did her first gig in many months and simply reached beyond her phenomenal potential with a performance that stole the weekend.

The Calvin College Theatre is perfect for music. The big stage, the crystal clear sound and an audience of hundreds of students who have a unique discernment in quality music maybe as a result of Hefner’s shaping in the great artists he brings into this College based upon the theology of Dutch Reformed thinker Kuyper; culturally engaging Calvinism. This weekend saw Brother Danielson build on his zany concert in 2003. Dressing himself inside a tree he threw out all kinds of high pitched songs of practical Christian challenge leaving many wondering like Bob Dylan, “Something is happening but you don’t know what it is, do you Mr Jones.” 

His pal Sufjan Stevens is the current critical success garnering entries in many of the world’s most prestigious magazine’s albums of 2004. At the festival, his entire band dressed in angels wings (he did follow Brother Danielson!), he played the most beautiful songs, subtle and sophisticated in their delivery from a band that traded so many instruments it was impossible to keep up. Danielson and Steven’s other co-conspirator Half Handed Cloud gave an equally quirky flavor to Saturday night. Sort of stuck inside one of Larry Norman’s humorous songs he lets toy mechanical sheep off across the stage as he sings about The Lamb Of God. It is full on Biblical content played more regularly far from Christian ghettos. 

David Bazan, from Pedro the Lion and a new incarnation The Headphones, was a surprise addition to the Saturday night where he did his now traditional question and answer sessions between songs. His songs have Flannery O’Connor’s gloom and doom but somehow redemption lurks. He covered Randy Newman’s politically provocative "Political Science" which perfectly showcases his humor, cynicism and prophetic punch. Moments later he is ranting against Blockbuster Video censorship and singing the hymn "Come Thou Fount" as response to a question about which songs touch him the most.

Another of those “I don’t belief this is happening” moments was when Pierce Pettis approached me after my seminar and asked if he could run a song past me. “Yes, I reckon that would be ok!” Pierce had written a song about Belfast called "Donegal Road" and wanted a cultural editor so that he wouldn’t look like a dumb yank! Far from it , the song which he added to his brilliant solo set was so spot on to the Irish contradictions where the stranger is loved like nowhere else yet we hold up our own at knife point. "God Believes In You" is always a song and truth worth hearing and again was a highlight of Pierce’s set.

Both Pierce and Saturday night headliner Bill Mallonee asked for prayer for their Pope who had passed away in the afternoon. Bill, now without his Vigilantes of Love, did the best solo set I remember him do, showcasing songs from his new album Friendly Fire. Highlight was his classic "Resplendent" which deals with natural disaster and humanity’s culpability in the plot. 

But it wasn’t the gigs that made the biggest impression. Just hanging out, going out for food and watering at the end of the two days, moving and breathing in an air filled with imagination and spiritual intention makes this a unique place. I need to save for 2007. 

Steve Stockman 

Steve Stockman is the Presbyterian Chaplain at Queens University, Belfast, Ireland, where he lives in community with 88 students. He has written two books Walk On; The Spiritual Journey of U2 which he is currently updating and The Rock Cries Out; Discovering Eternal Truth in Unlikely Music. He dabbles in poetry and songwriting and he has a weekly radio show on BBC Radio Ulster (listen anytime of day or night @ He has his own web page--Rhythms of Redemption at . He also tries to spend some time with his wife Janice and daughters Caitlin and Jasmine.



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