Monday, June 1, 2009

we was away, part 1: the conference

My mom's birthday was yesterday, and her one request was that we girls spend the weekend together in Spokane attending the Women of Faith conference there. She and Dad even paid our expenses. Not bad, huh? It was a really precious time together - my mom, Heather, Rachel, Zoralee, and myself. My family is going through some tough things right now, so the combination get-away of fun and hearing encouraging speakers was right on cue.
As for the conference itself, I didn't know what to expect, and I was surprised in both good and bad ways. I have been pretty out of touch with the whole pop-christian-marketing-and-paraphernalia subculture for a decade or so. I do love the music and writings of some believers, but only when they're about life as those people honestly see it, with subjects ranging from brown rice to Jesus to pot holders to worship to waterfalls to light to darkness to hang nails. Not necessarily in that order.
When we first arrived and saw boatloads of women entering the arena with perfectly coiffed hair and khaki Capri's, I scanned the crowds for anybody who appeared to be a free thinker, a question asker, an individual. Isn't that silly? I know full well that outward appearance is practically meaningless. Yet it's sometimes an indicator of a person's allegiance to a particular group. I was glad when I saw one girl with dreadlocks, EVEN THOUGH she might be more blindly tied to the grunge hippy subculture than the other 14,999 women I assumed were tied to the church lady subculture. Later I was glad to meet a couple gals with homemade slings for their babies. All of this, despite the fact that I am the most generic looking person ever. Yes, I was putting a whole crowd into one box. I know that. Rude. But....perhaps a little true.
Standing in the parking lot at the beginning there, Rachel thought she was going to have a panic attack like she did once when we attended a craft day at a relative's house and she'd had to go outside and concentrate on breathing normally. Something about a roomful of domesticity makes her crazy. And this was a whole arena full. (I asked her permission to say this - maybe she'll elaborate.) Anyway, she handled it just fine.

The layout for the conference was that everybody met in the big arena the whole time; we never broke into smaller groups. There were lectures and concerts for about three hours, then a break, when most of us would pour out into the sunshine and lay in the grass. Then, inside for another session.

a rather loud concert*
Several of the speakers conducted an informal forum the first day, answering questions from conference goers about real life issues like abusive husbands and the church's response to the gay community. That was good! I dug the talks by Henry Cloud, author of several books, including Boundaries, which I've heard good things about and now wish to read. He was one of only two male speakers the whole time, and my family agreed it was nice to get some testosterone in there. I also liked the strong focus on world poverty, a subject I would love to see become one of the church's primary concerns (to give me/us ideas of what to do about it!), since Women of Faith has a partnership with WorldVision. It's just one of those topics that, you know, Jesus seems to have cared about. Loving your neighbor, hanging out with the poor and downtrodden and neglected. All that stuff.

A highlight moment for me was actually during a psalm that Sandy Patti sang. All along, an interpreter signed the lectures and songs for the deaf participants. Well, this one song of Sandy's built to a crazy-ass crescendo, naturally, since we're dealing with Sandy Patti. All of the sudden, in the heat of that last chorus, she started signing the words herself while she sang. At that point, the interpreter stopped, because the Real Deal, the originator of the words, was speaking directly to the audience, both the hearing and the deaf. So there was Sandy hitting these high notes with such strength and intensity, but also delicately signing with her hands and arms, "Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah." And the interpreter stood still.
That touched me on lots of levels, but specifically I thought of motherhood. I know I'll be trying my darndest to communicate truth to my kid as she grows. I'm the interpreter. I'll be signing the truth I see in the world, the ways of God. Hope. Goodness. But sometimes, when God speaks for Himself, through a sunset or an act of kindness, I'll stop signing and let the event speak for itself, because it'll be coming from the Real Deal.
A couple tidbits on what I didn't like. Sadly, there was a lot of marketing thrown into the conference, which cheapened it. They would advertise various books and cds at every break and sometimes mid-lecture. Stylistically, I tend toward anti-pop-culture ideals in worship (like silence, non-flashiness, traditional hymns, or meaningful other music, which I know is totally arbitrary), so the bubblegum flavored worship was difficult for me to participate in. I can totally appreciate the fact that this meets a lot of people where they are (though perhaps the industry brings people to this point and then happily meets them there?...). Often the speakers would lead us in an a capella hymn, for which I was thankful.


Rachel Clear said...

Awesome, sis. Now I shan't have to type this all over again. :) I'll just direct people from my blog to come over here and read what you wrote. High-five!

Rena said...

And I don't even have to have a blog. I'll just direct people to both of yours...we won't even need to write family Christmas letters any more.