Far be it from me to determine what is or isn’t appropriate for a faith-based conference for women. I know there is an unmistakable and significant bond between women when they gather in large groups, where otherwise unentertainable actions take place: you start a conversation with the woman next to you (whom you’ve never met) and suddenly you’re talking about the recent diagnosis of a close friend’s cancer. You behave more politely while standing in line for a lunch box—even grabbing two or three extras so others don’t have to fight their way through the crowd of 4,999 other hungry women. Someone approaches you and asks about your hobbies because they notice you have a professional-looking camera. You actually meet eyes with other people, and smile—intentionally. It’s a sacred place in many ways.
This year I was fortunate enough to cover the conference in Seattle. Speakers included the standard faces (Patsy Clairmont, Marilyn Meberg) as well as some new ones, including a (gasp!) male motivational author and speaker, Andy Andrews (a name which he says is exactly what his parents gave him—not Andrew Andrews or Andrew _________ Andrews or Andy _________ Andrews: just Andy [no-middle-name] Andrews. He wooed the crowd of ladies with his absolutely engaging and energetic personality, always—and I mean always—moving all over the stage, the stairs, the floor, the aisles while spewing rapid-fire witticisms as fast as an Alabaman can while simultaneously offering incredible insights and wisdom (if you could let it sink in between breaths). A great life story with a powerful testimony, combined with laugh-out-loud humor, endeared the solo male on the team to the audience with hardly any effort at all.
Patsy Clairmont, a long-time Women of Faith speaker, also lifted the audience with her incredible sense of humor, impeccable delivery and knock-out timing. Her newly-colored bright orange hair in a sassy textured cut complemented her spicy humor, inviting the audience to laugh at ourselves as she laughed at her own hang-ups. Other speakers included Lisa Whelchel (of Facts of Life fame); Brenda Warner (wife of NFL quarterback Kurt Warner); Sandi Patty (of contemporary Christian music renown); Katharine Everett (actress); Mandisa (a fiery-hot modern gospel singer from American Idol); and the ever-present humor-driven grounding force of Marilyn Meberg. Also featured was the music group Selah, which gave a rousing concert Saturday afternoon.
Needless to say, I enjoyed the conference. I laughed. A lot. I bought a few books and a new bag and travel mug, which made great gifts. There were more books that I wish I could have bought—several “bundle” packages were offered with certain collections of books in them, but no substitutions were accommodated, which I found frustrating—though ultimately it saved me money because I couldn’t buy the books I wanted in any bundle, so I didn’t buy them at all.
But the main disappointment for me was that while we worshiped in song before every session, and God and the Bible were referenced regularly, only one speaker (my favorite—a scholar as well as a gifted humorist and speaker) actually used Scripture in her (single) talk on stage: Marilyn Meberg. While I understand that many of the women there were hoping to lighten their loads by hearing funny people and laughing with their friends, I found it distinctly disturbing that the Bible itself was quoted so little. I didn’t even catch the theme verse for this year (though I know that next year’s is from Joel). Yes, women need a chance to lighten up and be freed from the tedium of work and raising children and running their families, but as a specifically Christian conference, there was little challenge to become a greater disciple; little access to Scriptural references to reinforce the truths brought out even in humor; little more than several people sharing about God’s work in their lives—which, while undoubtedly important and innately valuable, tends to draw more attention to people than to God.
As a hyper-rational woman (often more masculine in that way than my beloved husband), I want meat to chew on. I want a challenge to become a woman of greater faith, not just admire what God has done in others’ lives. Again, not that testimonials aren’t crucial to the gospel, or that they are not immensely beneficial in terms of encouragement and growth—but when it’s all experiential, the Truth becomes a story, rather than a story illuminating the Truth. It’s a fine line, I know.
Please don’t send me hate mail for wanting more from the conference when you got a year’s worth of strength from it. For me, personally, I wanted more teaching on Scripture, pulling truths from Scripture that are evidenced in our lives, rather than pulling truths from our lives that are evidenced in Scripture. In other words, I’d rather have the grist in my mill be Scripture that I must apply to my life, not my life be the grist of the mill to which I must apply Scripture.
One last positive note: As press, I had a great seat—about six rows behind the speakers’ guarded chairs. In a moment of boldness, I tore several sheets out of my notebook, and left them on the first chair with a note asking each of them to write a “verbal hug” for my sister and her best friend/housemate who would have been there had not the latter just been diagnosed with Stage IIIC appendiceal cancer… and they did. I picked up the sheets of paper at the end of the day, and each of them had written a note of encouragement and compassion.
These women are REAL women, being loving and transparent and allowing millions of women into their private lives in order to bring glory to God. And that’s the bottom line, isn’t it?
Music and Worship Sampler
Closing Remarks from Speakers