SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO (ANS)—I interrupt best-selling author James K. A Smith (aka Jamie) as he’s talking to Greg Pennoyer, author and executive director of Image, a faith and arts organization. The two are sitting in a porch at a restaurant on Santa Fe’s Canyon Road; art galleries surround them, as do the Sangre de Cristo Mountains (The Blood of Christ). Smith is wearing salmon pants (not pink) and polka dot oxford shirt. I mention this because my wife and I discussed the color. She won. Also, because Smith fits right in with the fashionable Santa Fe scene.
“So sorry to interrupt,” I begin. “But I wanted to thank you for a provocative conference.”
Smith looks up with a smile. “I’m so glad you stopped by. What’s your name?” he asks, putting out his hand over the railing. We shake hands and briefly discuss the conference. Pennoyer looks on.
After our conversation— which include comments that the 2019 Glen Workshop has one of the highest attendances—particularly with commuters, Smith declares, “Can I just say, that is a fine hat you’re wearing!”
James K. A Smith
So goes my introduction to the Canadian-American philosopher who is currently a professor at Calvin College in Michigan and the new editor-in-chief for Image Journal.
I was introduced to Smith’s thought several years ago via his academic works. As an educator and journalist, I’m attracted to this kind of stuff. But I really became an admirer of his insight with his best-selling book You Are What You Love, nominated for several awards, including Book of the Year in the 2017 Christianity Today best book awards.
In addition to his popular works, Smith has contributed to theological/philosophical issues regarding postmodernism and Radical Orthodoxy.
Diversity: Iron Sharpens Iron
As the new editor-in-chief, Smith, along with hundreds of others from around the country—and world for that matter, gather at St. John’s College in Santa Fe for a conference that engages art, mystery, and faith. This year’s Glen Workshop theme is “As Iron Sharpens Iron: The Promise & Peril of Friendship.”
In addition to Smith, other presenters include Lisa Beth Anderson (Mennonite photography), Tara Isabella Burton (writing), Scott Cairns (poetry), Jessica B. Davenport (art and race), Biko Mandela Gray (race and religion), Daniel E. Garcia (film), Randall M. Hasson (script and lettering), Marianne Lettieri (mixed media, art), Daniel Nayeri (design), Kaya Oakes (creative nonfiction), Natasha Oladokun (poetry), Pádraig Ó Tuama (poetry), Jeffrey Overstreet, (movies and writing), Over The Rhine (songwriting), Lanecia Rouse Tinsley (abstract expressionism), Brian Volck (silence and beauty), and Carey Wallace (creativity).
The workshop chaplain is author, Laruen Winner, and the worship leader is Liz Vice, recently featured on NPR Music.
As one can surmise, this is a diverse group, covering many artistic and theological fields of inquiry.
St. John’s College
As a local, I’m familiar with the beauty of Santa Fe and St. John’s College, but for the reader, know this: St. John’s College (established in 1696) is a Liberal Arts—Great Books university—tucked into the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. It’s ranked as one of the finest Liberal Arts institutions in the country. And to say the least, the campus is beautiful, the Spanish revival architecture is a sight to behold.
At St. John’s, participants of the Glen Workshop gather in the various classrooms and meeting halls to explore the intersection of art and faith, writing, painting, and learning from leading academics and practitioners of the arts. The cross-section of aesthetics and practical application is the hallmark of the Glen Workshops, established in 2000.
Image and The Glen
After checking in with Lisa Ann Cockrel, director of programs—and a lovely human being, I was afforded an opportunity to attend two sessions. But before I summarize the lectures, Cockrel explains the connection between Image and the Glen Workshop.
“Image is a faith and arts organization of which the Glen Workshop is just one part. But the journal itself is not the sponsor of the Glen. Rather, the journal and the Glen are both programs of the same faith and arts organization: Image. We have a close relationship, but are now best understood as siblings, the journal being the older sibling.”
For those not familiar with Image Journal, a short word will do. Image Journal is a publication on the confluence of faith and art, a leading voice in faith-based aesthetics. Knowing this, helps one understand why the sessions at the Glen are so arts-based: it is part of the Glen’s DNA. To give you an idea of the arts-information provided at this year’s workshop, I turn now to two representative sessions.
The first was the opening keynote address by James K. A Smith. In a lecture entitled “Irons in the Fire: Critics, Enemies, and Friends that Provoke Creativity,” Smith took the audience on a ride through nuances of the Proverbs 27:17 text, using film, poetry, and quotes as his helpmeet. Smith reminded us that aesthetic excellence needs a type of relational grind, friends that shape, push, and provoke results in the arts—and life, for that matter.
In the second session I attend, Drs. Biko Mandela Gray and Jessica B. Davenport address a crucial, often neglected aspect of the arts: the African-American experience.
Jessica B. Davenport
In the first portion of the lecture, Dr. Davenport tackles what she deems “violent intimacies.” Using various artists and writers as a springboard (Audre Lorde, Carrie Mae Weems, Lorna Simpson, and others), Davenport discusses how black individuals, women in particular, are portrayed in the arts, noting the nuances of friendship, desire, and relationships.
Biko Mandela Gray
Dr. Gray homed in on the intersection between race and the arts, using the relationship between Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol as an example, a symbiotic friendship developed out of want and necessity.
To say the least, the presentations were marvelous.
Question and Answer
Yet it was the Q and A after both sessions that provided deeper insight. I was particularly impressed with a question a gentleman asked after Smith’s lecture concerning redemption and the African-American experience (something Smith alluded to in his talk). The interplay between Smith and the questioner were articulate and provocative.
And after the second session, a question a woman asked Davenport and Gray regarding how one was to implement the information presented in a classroom setting, drew interest for me.
Hospitality, Learn, and Listen
It was Dr. Gray’s answer that I think summarize the Glen Workshop. In answering the woman, Dr. Gray states the way to implement the information in a practical way is to “listen to other possibilities,” and to “move beyond emoting to action.” But it was his final recommendation that hit home: “Hospitality is key. Open the door to listen and converse.”
I like that: hospitality, listening, and conversation. And in a way, this is what the Glen Workshop is about. Hospitality—listening to God and others in an on-going conversation about art and faith; where professionals in differing and diverse fields share his or her knowledge in a challenging and beautiful environment; but it behooves the participants of the Glen Workshop to listen and learn from this delectable group of fellow-travelers, yearning to create great art.
But the Glen is more than a workshop; it’s a life-shop, a place to learn how to live well, allowing faith to to poke it’s head in fields of the world.
To learn more about the work of Image, including the Glen Workshop and Image Journal, visit imagejournal.org.
 For the reader: My hat is a Silver-belly Stetson Open Road. This is big sky country, after all.