Sunday, November 22, 2015

Women of Faith conference 2015 Part 1

I removed myself from Facebook a month or so ago, and though I am loving life without it, it was a difficult decision. If Facebook is an artery for information, it was my abdominal aorta and it was about to give me an aneurysm. Because you can have aneurysms of the abdominal aorta and die very promptly. And Facebook was probably killing me - slowly, not quickly like an aneurysm. This is terrible even for internet hyperbole.  Wait, what? Anyway. I just got back from my first Christian women's event and I wanted to share about it but without my convenient abdominal aorta of information I thought I'd post about it her.

Women of Faith is a conference that has been going on for 20 years featuring primarily female Christian speakers and is aimed at an audience of Christian women. I cannot believe I got to attend the very last one with the core "porch pals", or speakers. It was really amazing, not least because it was the first major event I have ever attended with the women from my church and it meant I got to spend a lot of time just hanging out with them having a ton of fun. The speakers were the kind of women that are the absolute models of what we wish our Christian elders and mentors could be. If all such older Christian women were as fearless, candid and empowered to share their wisdom with women of my generation I'm certain we'd be much more centered in our experiences a women, wives, moms, Christians, humans and people with laughter-induced urinary incontinence.

The Women of Faith permutation of the conference is coming to an end, but one of the speakers and one of my top 8 favorites (guess how many there were?) will continue on under a new banner, as far as I can tell, with nearly the same mission. As of this writing there are a few dates left in this final season of Women of Faith with a slightly different combination of speakers, and the upcoming Belong Tour will kick off and continue all next year.

I don't think I've ever seen Jesus revealed so clearly and loved so openly and thoroughly. I'm still not used to people speaking with such confidence about who God is. Singing, crying, praising and encouraging in his name in a big old group of 10,000 women was IN. SANE. LY. POWERFUL. I don't think it really even hit me until just now, and the event ended 6 hours ago.

There was very little doctrine being discussed, the focus was almost entirely on the touchy-feely emotional side of knowing the Lord and living through life on this difficult Earth. It sounds like it could even be a little dangerous - I'm so used to vetting the sources of information I receive regarding the Gospel because I've been taught to be vigilant to avoid subscribing to faulty doctrine or accepting false teachings without knowing it. And yet? How can you go WRONG when you're talking about how much Jesus LOVES. EACH. ONE. OF. US. No one need know if they are a Calvinist or an Old-Earth Creationist to hear about how deeply God loves us. In a way, knowing the doctrinal and denominational idiosyncrasies of each of the speakers would have been cumbersome and potentially problematic. One of the speakers, Jen Hatmaker, said it best: "If you don't know and really understand God's love for you then you can zero everything else about your Christian life out completely - church, service, everything - zero." Meaning...if you don't understand the very core of the reason God gave us the bible and his Son then nothing else you do "for the kingdom" is important.

One of the most compelling parts of this experience for me was looking out on a huge gathering of humans who are all female. I've never seen so many women in one place, certainly not without men mixed in. It was like looking at half of God's Kingdom, in microcosm. And every one of those ladies? They feel guilt, shame, complete bewilderment, failure, anguish, disappointment in themselves and every single other thing I've been struggling with. And God sees and knows each and every one of them, every single detail of their entire life stories, has suffered with them in the midst of all of their sufferings and will never throw any of them away! And the same is true for me! To know that God has seen the entire movie of my life including the worst things I've ever said or done, the most embarrassing moments, every single time I was petty, and loves me anyway. And not with any sense of grudgingness either - he is, to quote Jen Hatmaker again, "in a good mood about me." He will never sever our connection - he will never "drop my leash" (I'm certain Marilyn Meberg has included that story in one of her written works so, rather than spoil the example by explaining it I'll just suggest you check her out because WOW she knocked my socks off with her Jesus love and wisdom!)

Some practical observations about having that many women in one space: the arena's men's restroom signs had all been taped over except for one to accommodate the small number of male employees and volunteers at the event - the rest became temporary women's bathrooms. Everyone was polite, no one shoved or behaved in a way that was threatening or inappropriate in the ways that are otherwise day-to-day experiences for us. So much so that I hardly notice them except by their conspicuous absence this weekend. Very few people were even outwardly grumpy despite the crowded conditions. The restrooms were clean, the security staff were shockingly polite rather than the kind of intentional intimidation I have come to expect at a metal detector where you are assumed to be a potential risk rather than a person to be protected. Women brought babies, nursed them, put them to sleep in baby backpacks despite the concert atmosphere (Building 429 performed an actual concert in between the amazing musical performances by the various speakers who were also musicians and the praise team for the event which were all superb).

I found myself thinking, "So, this is what it's like when the world prepares for our arrival and makes room for us." Now, the lack of men is not necessarily the cause of this unusual experience - for one the Holy Spirit put a twinkle on everything and we all felt it, and also it's not men that are the problem, nor is laying claim to male restrooms the answer to our societal ills - but just...having a space where I was anticipated and given space to be female without any requirements on my part besides the cost of admission was a brand new feeling for me. I know not every woman feels this pressure in the same way - I have always felt the burden of sexism in an insidious internal way that I still don't fully understand - obviously somewhere inside I feel like being female requires some extra debt I am expected to pay in order to exist. I may consciously refuse to pay it, because intellectually I know that belief to be false, but that does not change that feeling inside that it's still a debt expected or even owed.

Not only did I not owe a debt of femaleness at this event, but I am renewed in my awareness that any debt I may have had, imagined or otherwise, is completely erased in Jesus whose 8 pints of blood paid for the sins of every single person, past or future, who will accept that receipt of redemption.

If you ever have the opportunity to go to an event like this do it! In my next post I'll share some practical tips on how to survive the arduous side of leaving home to attend a crowded multi-day event with uncomfortable seats.

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