The cheers following Anthea Butler’s opening mockery of evangelical figures and President Bush cinched my impression that I might not have been representative of the majority at the PUSH Conference this week. Her rallying cry to avoid the polarizing use of values as a bludgeon and to reject apocalyptic fear-mongering rang as she seemed to use those same tools to stir the crowd.
Their applause echoed across the chamber as an Obama video played on the screen.
But then she switched gears, diving into a history lesson of nineteenth twentieth century religious patterns and traditions. Her conclusion? You (meaning liberals, agnostics and atheists) can trust the Evangelicals, the Pentecostals and the like. They share some of the same basic goals to change the world and are very effective in their spheres.
Butler’s presentation embodied the spirit of a good conference; Get the audience in synch with you, then push them to a place they have not been before.
The previous day’s Challenge Day presentation followed the same pattern. A moving video had many weeping as teenage tormenters acknowleged the pain they inflicted and pledged to change. Intellectual and emotional connection with a story is easy. They pushed us to stand and come to terms with our own pain. Completing the phrase "If you really knew me. . ." to a stranger is more interaction than some were expecting. Push Host and Founder Cecily Sommers noted Al Jazeera English UN reporter Mark Seddon’s reluctance to bare his soul as she introduced him, ‘Brits don’t do that.’
In "Tilling a Fertile Mind" I asked if a short conference could be meaningful, valuable and move attendees to change the world. For this Geekdad whose time is spent in a relatively narrow world, it was time well-spent. I can rarely get a block of time to absorb the social impact of SMS messaging with phone minutes as a new form of currency in Kenya. My normal schedule seldom includes critical analysis of homegrown second and third world leadership and whether First world intervention/aid is counterproductive. A conversation from day one comes back to me. Did it ‘stain’ me?
It’s been four days since the PUSH conference "The Fertile Delta" ended. I’ve told the story of the Nairobi orphan choir, Shangilia, to coworkers, my wife and neighborhood kids. I still chuckle when I think of Chandran Nair’s scathing comment from the seat behind me during the last panel discussion "They’re creating a mythology. They visit these countries as academics, as tourists." I’ve been humming the hook from Dan Wilson’s "Free Life" and am listening to it now. Yeah, the PUSH conference stained me.
Thanks to the Push Institute for allowing me to cover the conference.
The Conference Blog contains summaries of presentations