Q&A: Kirstin Vander Giessen-Reitsma

Today we introduce a new feature to ThinkChristian: e-mail interviews with thoughtful Christians about faith and culture. There are many wise voices we need to hear from in addition to our own writers and readers here at TC, and we're grateful for their willingness to join our conversation. (We'll be doing the interviews by e-mail for the sake of convenience, accuracy, and thoughtfulness of responses.)

Our first interview is with Kirstin Vander Giessen-Reitsma. She and her husband Rob are Research and Program Coordinators for Student Activities at Calvin College, and editors of catapult magazine, an e-zine devoted to exploring "the implications of following Christ in and through all aspects of culture." Earlier this month, the Student Activities Office hosted the third biennial Festival of Faith and Music at Calvin College.

What is the Festival of Faith and Music, and why do you hold it?

The Festival of Faith & Music began in 2003 as a biennial counterpart to the Festival of Faith & Writing at Calvin College. The Student Activities Office, led by Ken Heffner, was responding to a sense of a growing conversation about what God is doing in popular music—not necessarily worship music or music by Christians. There are several gatherings that already address those types of music well. Rather, FFM seeks to embody Calvin's (both John Calvin's and Calvin College's) commitment to be on the lookout for common grace. We feature a diverse slate of presenters and musicians from various faith backgrounds who are doing important work that's worth listening to intentionally. Over three days of concerts, workshops, artist interviews and more, Festival-goers collaborate to tease out issues of discernment and artistry beyond simple black and white lines of "Christian" and "non-Christian."

Two of the biggest names at FFM this year were Lupe Fiasco and Cornel West, two new voices to the Festival. How did they start or change conversations at Festival this year?

In a very good way, the prominent presence of Dr. West and Lupe Fiasco disarmed part of our audience that's used to talking, not listening. Being confronted with an alternate history that's invisible to people of privilege begs us to listen in a new way. We were exploring hip hop for the first time ever at the Festival, which opened a door and invited a whole bunch of new people into the conversation. The committee set out to do so very intentionally, realizing that we were in a unique position to serve and reconcile, rather than perpetuate systems of injustice by our neglect. The response to West's and Fiasco's participation convicted us that we had taken the right path and that African American music should be a part of the discussion at every Festival going forward as an expression of anti-racist commitment.

What were some of the unexpected highlights of Festival for you this year?

Of course in all of our planning and preparation, we hope the Festival will have a lasting positive impact on participants, registrants and presenters alike, but people's experience of grace and love and hope through both music and discussion went beyond our expectations. To hear students say that Dr. West made them feel committed to be more loving or that Baby Dee was Christ to them—that's just incredible and we're grateful to a Power beyond ourselves for creating such moments. We're also grateful that some of our participants who have reason to be particularly skeptical of a Christian conference experienced healing hospitality within a Festival community that encompassed everyone from evangelical college students to a Muslim hip hop artist, yet was still centrally rooted in the Kingdom of God revealed in Christ. It was an amazing celebration full of surprises!

Related ArticleReport on FFM 2009 by Byron Borger of Hearts & Minds Books

Topics: Music, Culture At Large, Arts & Leisure, Art, News & Politics, Social Trends, Justice, North America