It’s been a wild 24 hours. Rich and I flew in to Atlanta late last night, and finally arrived at our hotel about 12:45 am, only to find that all the rooms had been given away. We were sent to the Marriott down the road, and unfortunately, they were out of rooms as well. The kind folks at the Marriott directed us further down the road to the Courtyard Marriott, where they had rooms available, but none with two beds.
We finally arrived at the Holiday Inn at around 2:00 am after the entire ordeal, and besides being a good character-growing exercise, it was a series episodes I’d prefer not to repeat in my life.
With that, we went into day one of Catalyst, known as a prominent conference of “pure leadership adrenaline”. I wanted rest more than adrenaline after the hotel hopping, but hey, the more unpredictable, the more exciting. 🙂
Anyhow, here are my thoughts about the conference thus far. Keep in mind I’ve only attended labs, which are kind of like seminars. The main bulk of the conference is Thursday and Friday.
1. This is a really well run event – From volunteers, to materials, to venue, to speakers, etc – this really is a massive production, and I’m impressed with the kind of detail work that goes into the packets, room set-ups, speaker lineups, and other fun stuff that makes catalyst catalyst (including live music, peanut vendors, African coffee, etc.). I appreciate the care that goes into this event. I certainly feel cared for as a result.
2. I wish we had more time for silent reflection planned into the schedule – There’s such thought-provoking content being presented, and it’s hard to process all the information so quickly. I’d recommend an hour of intentional silent reflection as part of the schedule. I’ll share a bit more about this later, particularly why this is hard for me as a personal discipline at a conference like this.
3. For me, large conferences tend to breed a celebrity culture – I don’t think is unique to Catalyst, I think this is what invariably happens when I go to conferences with a bazillion speakers – and high quality ones at that. I found myself asking the following questions – “Is this person good? Who’s worth listening to? Who’s someone I shouldn’t miss or someone who has something extraordinary to say?”
I caught myself for a moment, and realized we all have stories of God’s faithfulness, and yet an invitation to be a speaker at a large conference comes with a certain cache that gives weight to one’s particular story. And when the conference rolls around, “competition” (because there are other speakers on stage) inevitably brings a comparing and contrasting, liking and disliking.
I’m not quite sure how to get over this, but I think there’s a level of contemplation and prayerfulness that I need to have to remain centered, listening, open, and non-judgmental.
With all that said, here are the following sessions I went to and my brief reflections on all of them.
Session 1 – Andy Crouch – Incredible. I was flabbergasted by the end of it. Crouch wrote a book called Culture Making which is one of the best books on creativity and work that I’ve ever read. If you don’t believe me, Keller recommends it too! We used parts of it to inform our Your Life is Your Calling series.
Anyhow, his seminar was on creative power vs coercive power, and he introduced several new perspectives on power. I can’t do justice with a recap now, but I found his take on redefining power to be so compelling (even the use of the word!), along with the end discussion on power and privilege. Basically, he spoke of the beauty of creative power when it’s given away, and the reflection it takes to know that I’m giving it away, and not holding it as privilege.
There’s A LOT more to this, but yes, brilliant.
To be honest, the rest of the labs were meaningful and insightful too, but having heard this first, it stuck so clearly in my mind that it was difficult to engage heartily in what others were saying. Hence, the need for silent reflection.
However, I was stuck at a crossroads – do I go reflect and journal for a couple of hours, or do I potentially miss something as stirring as Crouch’s talk? I was torn.
So what did I do? I plowed through three more sessions. First, because I tend to think of these conferences as a “waste” unless I go to everything, and second, because I tend toward dutiful action.
Ah, the conflict.
Because of this first session in which my mind was piqued, I don’t think I fully engaged as much as I could have. Yes, Andy’s session was that good.
Session 2 – Alan Hirsch – He spoke about communitas and liminal space, something very congruent with one of my favorite authors and theologians, Richard Rohr. Hirsch is a great communicator who’s very thoughtful and engaging. He was encouraging us that journeying in community by taking risks (particularly entering liminal, unsafe places of crisis and challenge) inevitably builds up a deeper community (communitas).
Great stuff, and wholly relevant to the Western mindset.
However, this topic begged the question for me – what’s the balance between leaping into liminality and resting? After listening to the talk, I found myself getting really motivated and… tired? Yes, tired. There’s such an edge on mission and risk-taking, that it’s hard not to feel like I’m missing out unless life is constantly a dangerous adventure.
Many of the speakers here are advocating that we take risks constantly – very few are encouraging contemplation.
3. Session 3 – Scott Belsky – Time’s almost up, but a stimulating talk on making ideas happen. Scott is based in NYC at Behance, and I’d love for him to come to New Life to share some of the principles he’s seen in successful organizations. This is a weakness of mine, so I was mesmerized by his talk, although I didn’t get to reflect on it much. Why? I was writing the entire time. And thinking about Crouch’s talk.
But seriously, there was so much insightful content in Scott’s talk, and I was challenged in areas of prioritization, execution, and team building.
We’ll see if it makes a difference when I’m back at church!
The good thing is, it seems like we’ll be able to hear more from Scott since he’s a local guy.
4. Session 4 – Ian Cron – Contemplative spirituality through the lens of St. Francis. His influences seem very similar to ours, including Rohr, Desert Fathers, and other contemplatives throughout church history.
He’s another person that would seem great to connect with, especially since he’s in nearby CT.
I believe most of the leaders at Catalyst are stirred by Contemplative Spirituality – I’m curious about the masses that attend.
It seemed like Ian was interesting a wholly different perspective, and it was refreshing.
That was my first day.
We went to meet up with Chris Kim later at Richard Blais’ Flip. Great times, great food. Chris is on staff at Northpoint, in many respects the host of this enormous conference.
I loved hanging out with Chris and Rich. They keep it real.
We missed some evening labs, but I think it’s just what I needed that night.
Will write more later but gotta bounce!