Contrary to the propaganda that paints Christians as a dour, humorless lot (which, alas, like all effective propaganda, has at least a grain of truth), there's a long tradition that understands the Christian vision as essentially comic. All the confusion will be miraculously straightened out, everything that's been lost will be found, everything broken mended—and all this on a cosmic scale. And there will be a wedding, of course, as is fitting for the resolution of a grand comedy. (The details are spelled out in Revelation.)

Such was the vision informing Baylor University's 2005 Art & Soul conference, which began last Thursday and ended on Saturday night. Under the heading "Divine Comedies: Humor, Harmony, and Redemption," the conference—a biennial event organized by Baylor's Institute of Faith and Learning—cast its net wide. The plenary speakers included the critic Christopher Ricks, recently elected as professor of poetry at Oxford University (who spoke on Bob Dylan); Jeremy Begbie, the virtuoso of theology and the arts (on the dangers of sentimentality, particularly in worship); Phyllis Tickle, the dean of religious publishing (on her experience compiling a modern breviary, The Divine Hours); novelist Leif Enger, author of Peace Like a River (who quoted from some marvelous letters he's received from a self-described "old bat" he met on a book tour); Lauren Winner, whose book on chastity, Real Sex, has just been published (she traced affinities between writing and prayer); and novelist Kaye Gibbons (who gave a sardonic personal account of the Writing Life and read from the just-completed sequel to her best-known novel, Ellen Foster, to be published soon).

In addition to the plenary events, there were wide-ranging ...

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