Reflections on Big Tent Phoenix 1

Last week I attended the second Big Tent Christianity conference in Arizona, and it was an absolute blast. A couple factors conspired to get me there (my friend being one of the organizers, free airfare) and it was certainly worth the trip. I got to meet and spend time with a ton of great people, speakers and attenders both.

Now I’m not really a conference guy. I had some bad experiences in my undergrad at music educator conferences, and it’s soured me on the whole experience. As exciting as the speakers might be, I generally don’t feel the need to be present at a conference to hear them share some ideas that they’ve probably already published and then MAYBE get the chance to ask a question. I’m suspicious that if I wasn’t involved in Big Tent, I might have felt similarly about it. My participation as a sort of last-minute volunteer, and my friendship with one of the organizers gave me additional opportunities that, if I had just been an attender, I certainly would not have had.

Rather than use this space to talk about specific things the speakers said, I’d like to try and explore areas where Big Tent could improve. I say this in the most positive way possible; I’ve been to both Big Tent conferences, I now know personally the main organizers, and I share their heart, desire, and hope for what the Big Tent represents. It’s an important vision and represents a practice that is desperately needed, that is, a breaking down of barriers between different and opposing groups.

With few exceptions, I would say that the Big Tent Conferences have not yet embarked on this ambitious goal. I think the Big Tent metaphor has begun conversations about what breaking down barriers would really mean. That’s an important start, but it’s just a start. The really hard work is yet to come. The crowd was broadly homogenous at both conferences, and the speakers, though demonstrating some important diversities, also seemed to have extensive shared perspectives. If there were differences, the conference structure did not serve to bring them about in a dialogue that stretched all sides.

I think these concerns can be addressed in future conferences, as long as there is an intentionality about it.

For those who were there, what do you think? Where did you see the idea of the Big Tent coming into being?

 

More to come.

 

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~ by Joe Paparone on February 15, 2011.

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