I spent last week at
#iog13 – the Idolatry of God conference organised by Peter Rollins in Belfast. I have known Pete for over a decade now and consider him a friend, so this review will be very ‘pro-Pete’ (I’ll leave the critique to his nemesis ‘Real Pete Rollins’). The conference was a three and a half day event that pulled together practitioners and those interested in what he calls ‘pyro-theology‘, a term that emerged from the Belfast collective, ‘Ikon’.
Peter took several sessions during the daytime on themes such as ‘Death and decay’, ‘The hellish pursuit of heaven’, and ‘Life before death’. He also gathered up an impressive list of other contributors, including: Jay Bakker – (interviewed by BBC journalist William Crawley); Katherine Moody (pictured below); Barry Taylor; and Kester Brewin (who joined in via a dodgy skype connection).
Other parts of the conference included: the opportunity for participants to sample the social and political context of Belfast via a tour of the city expertly guided by Susan Mcewen; and the choice of workshops on magic and foraging.
There were also other ‘fringe’ events open to members of the public. These included: an ‘Ikon’ event; the interview with Jay Bakker; a film night that showed the films Kumaré and The Prestige; and a brilliant gig with John Hardt and Duke Special.
You can see some pictures from the event here.
There is little doubt that the questions Peter is asking in his books and talks are resonating with many people as they explore issues of contemporary faith and belief. Participants traveled from far and wide to join the conversation. Many of those who attended claimed the best things about the conference were: the chance to hang out in Belfast for the best part of a week; make new friendships; and to enjoy the kind of conversations that this type of event creates the space to have.
One of my favourite quotes from the conference (and there were many) was from Barry Taylor (pictured below), who said: ‘The task of the leader is to guard the great questions’.
‘Guarding the great questions’ is a pretty accurate way to describe the overall spirit of the conference. Such questioning was not only directed outwards but also turned inwards. On the final day there was space given to talk about the successes of the event, to discuss how such spaces for conversations could be opened up in different contexts, and to raise any questions the event had failed to address.
In his summing up of the conference Peter used a well known story from Winne the Pooh:
‘Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it.’ – A. A. Milne
To conclude: #iog13 was a hugely enjoyable experience and a big success. I hope some sort of #iog14 is in the planning. I would thoroughly recommend it.