Josh Larsen & The Chicago Road Show

If one of the goals of Level Ground is to foster good conversation among those from disparate experiences and backgrounds, I certainly experienced that while being part of the Chicago Road Show event in September. It was especially gratifying for me because film was the focal point.

Throughout the day, film art was the common ground on which these discussions took place. After Kate Logan screened her documentary, Kidnapped for Christ, she was part of a raw and honest Q&A about the misguided ways Christians have tried to do ministry, particularly when it comes to troubled youth and those in the LGBT community. Later in the day, I was able to lead a workshop on "the art of empathy," in which we screened scenes from a handful of LGBT-themed films and discussed how cinema can foster empathy for those whose stories may be different than our own.

What was wonderful about that workshop was how many different voices joined in. We heard from gay Christians and straight non-Christians, straight Christians and gay non-Christians and others who didn't identify themselves along any such lines, but likely represented even more groups. With powerful art setting the table, we were able to share stories and experiences about faith, gender and sexuality. We may not have come away with any definitive answers or "solutions," but we certainly came away with a better understanding of the people who are at the heart of so much polarizing discourse in and around the church.

The day was deeply encouraging, especially because so much of my work is done online, often while dodging the sort of aggressiveness and gracelessness that too often counts as discourse on the Internet. The Chicago Road Show was a refreshing, in-person counter to such noise, reminding me that respectful discussion of difficult topics is not only possible, but necessary.