Last weekend I was in Portland, OR, for the Women's Convergence meeting and I've been processing my thoughts about the event since. I'm still not sure that I'm done with that, but here are my thoughts so far:
1. First, let me begin by saying that I met some freaking awesome women. Beth and Traci made it all worth it. I loved Angie from The Bridge. I didn't get her e-mail, so if any of you have her info, please send it on. Thanks. There was definitely a desire to worship and serve God, and there was an emphasis on actively showing the love of God by serving the poor and marginalized.
2. It was very generationally diverse, but not at all ethnically diverse. That surprised me, given that Oregon isn't exactly a haven of white power. I was really grateful, however, for the perspectives of the older women there and to see how they resonated with what could be considered a "younger" model of ministry and worship. Many times, the ethnically diverse groups are of the same generation - hopefully some day we can find a way to achieve both. The one African-American woman there, Donna (need her e-mail too) commented on the various shades of white, which was pretty funny.
3. For me - and this is only for me - there is a fine line between supporting someone in their pain and assisting someone in marinating in their pain. At some points, I feel the line was crossed. Yes, we need a safe place to express our pain and feel supported and encouraged. For me, that's in a one-on-one relationship like spiritual direction or therapy. There were times at this event when it seemed like some of the women had been holding in all their issue for the express purpose of vomiting them out in public at this event. It made me feel sorry for them that they don't have any sort of outlet in their regular life and I hope they took advantage of the spiritual direction sessions that were offered. Also, many of these women already knew each other and I was really the outsider, so this may very well be part of their normal gatherings.
4. I was also not into being asked to focus on rejection during communion. Actually, no - that's not what communion is about for me. Jesus was rejected by people but that really wasn't the purpose for his death. And, because of God's grace, I've moved to a place of healing from my rejection and don't need to keep coming back to it. I would prefer to celebrate the redemption of inequality and the supportive people (especially men) who we have in our lives rather than the idiots who try to keep us from expressing who we are.
5. I can be inspired by the life of a woman who did not grow up in a dung heap. We heard a lot of stories about women around the world who have beaten horrific odds or who are still in the midst of difficult circumstances and have survived and even triumphed.* The stories that were the best were of the women from around the world, particularly Africa, who live in a constant state of ebullient hope, regardless of circumstances. At camps, retreats, and other religious gatherings there is a phenomenon called "Top That Testimony." Not unlike other competitive sports, it involves trying to top the levels of debauchery displayed in the previous stories to show how merciful God is as to have brought the person out of it. I am not suggesting in any way that the stories we heard were fabricated. I am suggesting that stories don't need to contain the most extreme poverty, abuse, violence, etc., to be inspiring. Here's the thing - if "inspiration" means "God-breathed," and we are all the temples of the Holy Spirit, or "breath of God," then all of our stories are inspiring, no?
*at the end of each story we were asked to place a bead on a piece of wire and make a bracelet that would remind us of the women. Whatever. My kingdom for a women's even that doesn't have you make anything.