With less than a month until our annual conference in NYC, we’ll be taking the next few weeks to share previews of our upcoming breakout sessions, covering a variety of topics both personal and spiritual. Here are the first five which will be available during the morning block on Friday, April 26.

StoryMakers present: Imagination, Stories, and GodMelina Smith & co

“Watch the whole world around you with glittering eyes.” – Roald Dahl

The Bible is beautifully written, and scripture does not shy away from the full breadth of the human experience and God meeting us in that experience over and over again. Yet that narrative becomes a tongue-twister when we (grown-ups) attempt to share God’s story with children.

Often times, when it comes to the big questions about God, we are left feeling ill-equipped. We worry that we are sharing more heresy than truth. Our attempts at sharing the Bible with children can seem like homework, and we come at it with a heavy hand, hoping kids will believe it is true. At the end of a busy day—soccer practice, dinner, baths, actual homework—the thought of engaging the Bible at home seems impossible.

From urban to suburban, Sunday Schools are now taking various shapes and many forms. Some churches are full of children; others may look more like a scene from Little House on the Prairie: a group of seven to ten kids, ranging in all ages, all gathered around one courageous grown-up attempting to share the Gospel in 30 minutes or less.

StoryMakers has seen it all and has lived in all of these different scenarios. We are Sunday school teachers, parents, artists, and writers hoping to breathe new life into the “Old Stories.” We seek to create tools that equip individuals and churches to share The Story.  We believe and know that play, tactile engagement, and thoughtful questions will draw us into God’s story because it is how he drew us to him FIRST. We at StoryMakers have all been encountered by the God who relentlessly meets us right where we are: in big churches, small churches, and everywhere in between.

Join StoryMakers for a break-out session about how we make space for our unique imaginations. Come and hear how a group of writers, artists, and jacks-of-all-trades have joined together to share the “Old Story,” with niños and grown-ups with the intention of creating deeper connections to one another, and ultimately our Creator.

P.S.…there will be treats!!!

Shooting Blanks: Baby Making in an Age of AnxietyBen Maddison

Performance.

It means something different when you find yourself in an uncomfortable, half-bath-sized room, with naked lady wallpaper and a note on the wall that asks that you “please wash your hands before giving your sample to the nurse.” This is just one scene among many of the growing anxiety that trying to create a family presents in 2019.

If you think you know how it works, you might be surprised to find out that there are about 6 million opinions about how you’re probably wrong. When the contours of performance are shaped by diet, lifestyle changes, medication, and very strict guidelines, where is the hope? And what happens when you “fulfill all righteousness”—religious, social, medical, psychological, marital, sexual—and still end up crushed by the weight of performance-driven virility?

If you’ve ever experienced infertility, or know someone who has, or if you know what “performance” is supposed to look like and accomplish, but you can’t quite seem to get there—perhaps by no fault of your own—this talk is for you.

Also, we’re going to have really uncomfortable and vividly descriptive details about sex and reproduction, potentially invoking the abomination that is Grease II, so obviously, you won’t want to miss it.

Living in Sin: Making Marriage Work Between I Do and DeathJason Micheli

Like Lazarus, I’ve received a reprieve from death. It’s temporary. In the beginning, my cancer couldn’t be staged like most other cancers, and I’ll never be in remission. The doctors spare me the lie. The odds are never in my favor. Of course, the odds on most marriages are only fifty-fifty, so you tell me which bet is worse.

I have something lethal latent in my marrow called Mantle Cell Lymphoma, which leaves my marriage to bear a peculiar burden. Living when you expected to die, you discover there’s no ought that accuses quite like the suspicion your marriage must now merit the miracle you’ve been handed. I get that Law laid on me all the time from both friends and the voice in the back of my head. Both my wife and I cope with the looming possibility of my death just as we also cope with our failures to live up to the “miracle” my reprieve from death has handed us. We’ve not yet crashed into that final clause in our wedding vows (“until we are parted by death”) but escaping death, if for a time, has made “I do” more difficult, often in hilarious and humbling ways. In my time at this year’s conference, I’ll share the funny ways we’ve born the burden of the Law on the path to discovering grace together.

Really, I know all the above sounds about as hilarious as Sophie’s Choice. Trust me, it’ll be funny. You might shart yourself laughing.

Love Is Stronger Than Fear: Rethinking the Conversation about PrivilegeAmy Julia Becker

Privilege is one of those concepts that people avoid in polite company. It makes headlines and inspires hashtags—#metoo, #blacklivesmatter, #buyingmywayintocollege—but it also can be levied as an accusation. Privilege—unearned social advantages, whether due to race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, “good” genes, or any number of other social factors—privilege runs through most of the dividing lines within American culture. As a concept, it provokes fear, shame, defensiveness, anger, and denial.

Why would you want to come and talk about such a depressing and alienating topic?

Because overcoming the dividing walls of hostility between different social groups is central to the good news of God’s redemptive work in the world.

How do those divisions mend? How do the wounds heal? Through the powerful, humble, abundant love of God. We are invited to participate in that healing work. We are invited to receive that love and to give it away. We are invited into a different kind of privilege, the privilege of being a human being loved by a gracious God, invited to love others with freedom.

I Died and Didn’t Go to Heaven: Grace, Grief, and the Big QuestionConnor Gwin

We are all going to die.

This is a fact, better yet, THE fact of life. No matter how smart, funny, or accomplished you are, you are going to die. Alternatively, no matter how terrible, mean, and failed you are as a person, you are going to die.

Humans are fascinated by death. It is the one door we go through once in a lifetime at a moment outside of our control that leads to a room no one has seen and been able to tell about it. There has been an explosion of books and movies about near-death experiences in recent years as everyone tries to peek through the crack at the bottom of the door and see the Great Beyond.

The simple question is this: what happens after we die?

We want so desperately to know what lies beyond the door so that we are not taken by surprise. We want so deeply to know that our loved ones who have already passed through the threshold are okay, whatever that means. An addendum quickly follows that first simple question: does being a Christian change how we treat that great, dark door?

This breakout will focus on the big question and the little questions that follow. We will look at what Jesus says about death, what grace ultimately means, and what grief can tell us about God. If that’s not enough, you will also get to hear my real, “live” near-death experience story!

Join in for these discussions plus good food and fun this April in NYC. Newcomers are especially welcome. Click here to register today

Featured image courtesy of Stellate Photography.