I went! I drank the Kool Aid! It was a super fun weekend, attending the Belong Tour with friends. Once the conference was over, I dashed to Santa Cruz to spend 24 hours with my family. Last night, we drove back, returning just in time to watch the 2nd Presidential debate (talk about a brutal return to reality after 48 hours of bliss). I promised a handful of friends that I’d pass my notes from the conference to them. So, I’m going to start there. As I sit here now, on the heels of last night’s political spectacle, I can’t help but end with a few political observations – in addition to my Christian conference notes.
Quick intro, for those not familiar: the Belong Tour is a conference for Christian women to spend time reflecting and connecting, to ultimately move closer to discovering who we are and what we’re called to in this world. It kinda takes the place of the Women of Faith conference, which ran for many years. The main speakers are Patsy Clairmont, Jen Hatmaker and Shauna Niequist. Nichole Nordeman, Sharon Irving and JohnnySwim were the musical guests.
SPEAKER HIGHLIGHTS – MY NOTES
- Our struggles flourish in the dark.
- Things don’t just disappear because they can’t be seen – they merely hide them from someone else’s eyes.
- The light is the only thing that reveals truth. And, the truth is the only thing that will set us free.
- When we pull something into the light, we take away its power.
- Whatever it is, whatever we keep in the dark, God is big enough to overcome.
- Personal adoption story + lessons
- Most of the world’s orphans are POVERTY orphans.
- It’s that nobody wants them or loves them – it’s that their families can’t afford them.
- We should want EVERY mom to raise her kid in safety and security.
- POVERTY = PAIN
- He built us with things in mind.
- Not one of us wasn’t built deliberately. God has a plan for all of us.
- Clues for finding your purpose
- What are you good at?
- Your playing small does not save the world.
- Claim the gift you have – not the gift you want.
- Pay your dues.
- Do your thing. Run your race. Do not get derailed if it is small.
- He did not ask us to be famous – He asked us to be faithful.
- You are in charge of obedience – not outcomes. (God’s got outcomes)
- What are you good at?
- Put your 1st yes on the table – DO THE NEXT RIGHT THING.
- If He has set it in front of you – nothing is impossible.
- Throw Aspirin at people running their race.
- Failure won’t kill any of us – it will teach us.
- “I used everything you gave me.” – Erma Bombeck
- Often pain and clarity go together.
- Lost track of what was important, prioritized projects over people.
- Sacrificed the best part of herself on the alter of productivity.
- God doesn’t forget us. Sometimes, there’s wreckage along the way.
- Pain is isolating – Joy is connective.
- The story of God is ALWAYS a love story.
- Sometimes you have to ‘fire’ your version of God…the version that has started to sounds like the meanest voices in your head.
- Two new spiritual practices (and tattoos!)
- There is nothing we can do to earn more love. Nothing.
- There is nothing we can do to ruin His love.
- The things you say yes/no to define your life.
- Now, she says no to proving, pushing, competing, hustling.
- God’s unconditional love was there all along.
- She describes herself as, a “wrestling poet,” this singer/songwriter doesn’t shy away from life’s messier realities. Her Opening the Garage story will stick with all of us.
- Friend’s story
- She started with the story of a friend who had avoided clearing out his mother’s garage (she’d recently moved into a home). The friend had a very strained relationship with his mom, and was avoiding going thru the boxes, unpacking the memories and possibly confronting some painful reminders from the past.
- His wife finally got him to go, saying that they’d just drive there, open the door, close it, and go. And, they’d keep doing that, till he felt ready to actually go in.
- Once he was there, he went ahead and began the task. And, it wasn’t as bad as he’d thought.
- Since then, for this couple and for Nichole and her family – this has become a mantra: Just Open the Garage.
- Nichole’s Story
- She had her own pain and brokenness, namely in the form of a marriage that fell apart.
- She hid this news from her grandma, who was the person who loved her most in the world. For a long time, she kept the garage door shut. She was too embarrassed and ashamed.
- Grandma’s Story
- Grandma loved her family – she was a fierce defender of her grandkids!
- Late in Grandma’s life, when her father was checking into a hotel, the front desk clerk remarked how strange it was that there was a guest staying at the hotel with the same last name. Long story short, it was a son that grandma had had years before this other family. Turns out, Grandma had her own secrets, her own pain.
- Missed Opportunity
- You could have heard a pin drop, as Nichole shared the sadness of realizing they’d each carried their own painful stories, yet neither had been brave enough to just open the door.
- On the flip side, she shared how in recent weeks, as grandma passed over to the other side, her daughter was baptized on the same day.
- Favorite song
- Slow Down, had us all wiping away tears.
Sharon Irving (yes, from America’s Got Talent)
- Do it afraid.
- Love people with the same love we have been loved with.
- Trust God to meet us in the rubble. There is beauty in the breaking.
- Born with the ‘gift of correction’ (later realized that’s not listed with the other gifts in the Bible).
- Learned the hard way that we have to ‘lean toward mercy’.
- What you give comes back to visit with you.
- Growth takes risk.
- Former agoraphobic (fear of open spaces) – long journey of recovery.
- Prayed: “I’ll do whatever you ask me to do.” She wanted to change the world,
but kinda hard to do that from bed. So, God said to get out of bed.
- When you are faithful in little things, God will give you more.
- A course on listening to the voice of God thru creation was life-changing.
- Open your heart. Be kind to other people.
- Husband: “You’re not angry. You’re jealous.”
- Prayed: “I’ll do whatever you ask me to do.” She wanted to change the world,
- Shut-up in Jesus Name
- Do it afraid
- Beauty in the breaking
- Lean toward mercy
- Normal is just a setting on the dryer.
- Your playing small does not serve the world.
- He didn’t ask us to be famous – He asked us to be faithful.
- The story of God is always a love story.
Ra Ra Versus Crosses
I’m still processing what this conference meant to me, and how I can use it as a catalyst for diving even deeper into the places God is calling me. It was such a treat to see these teachers and musicians in person. And, I had a great time hanging out with my BFF’s. If I were going to make any tweaks (and, Lord knows, I’m a rare bird, so that might not be a great idea), I’d love to see the following:
- No jazzercise. Sorry! I know many, including some in my own group, loved Angela Davis. It was just hard for me to go from jumping up and down to techno music while she shouted *encouraging words*…..to a quiet reflection, as I consider my purpose in life, a little while later. A little too ‘Ra Ra’ for me….
- Tell me more. I loved the moments when they briefly touched on poverty or racism or the issues that symbolize a world that’s broken and hurting. But, I think that while the church has a few brave leaders speaking out against these things, you could have attended this conference and not felt convicted that we should do more. As I told one friend, ‘We can not *World Vision* our way out of poverty’. We should do World Vision – but, we need to do much, much more. Like, oh, let’s say pay for better schools, invest in early childhood education (esp for lower income families), support fair wages, fight injustice in the criminal justice system, and the list goes on and on. To be fair, I know these ladies have advocated for these things on social media – but I think that we need to step even further out of our comfort zones when we have these big platforms, and encourage the evangelical community to fill the holes in our gospel.
- Show me more. Again, I am 110% behind these ladies. I love their vulnerability and desire to make faith relevant for Christian women seeking their purpose. But, here’s the rub. Historically, the church has put the stay-at-home mom with her home-cooked meals and well-decorated, clean house on a pedestal. This has made it hard for women, who have to work in order to put food on the table, or who want to work because they feel called into certain careers/callings. One reason I personally hesitated to enter the blogging world, is that it seemed there were already SO MANY moms who had found their *calling* in writing. And, let’s be honest – this is a bit of a fad. But, here’s the thing: we need Christian women in medicine, technology, law, the classroom, the boardroom, non-profits, police/fire departments and more. And, those of us raising daughters and even trying to find our own path, need the stories of women taking Jesus into the laboratory, courtroom, classroom, jail, food bank, start-up, etc. WOMEN BELONG EVERYWHERE. I would love to hear from women who have followed God into spaces, other than just being a Christian author/speaker. We need to broaden the spectrum of examples out there for women of faith, young and old. There are a lot of brave women, already coming alongside those carrying very heavy crosses – I’d love to hear their stories and maybe inspire others to do the same.
OMG. Where do I even start? I’ve made it pretty clear that I’ve never
considered voting for this man, even for a single second. In every way, from his policies to his character, I’ve found him not only wanting, but repulsive. But, last night….I was physically ill, watching him threaten to throw Hillary Clinton in prison. Going nuclear against his opponent felt like a punch in the gut for so many women – LIKE ME. Afterward, Republicans and Democrats quickly came out, saying that it was ‘dangerously authoritarian‘ to even make such an assertion. Still, he reeks of complete disregard for women – including the one who could be our first female President. One reason his threats and vulgarity hurt so deeply, is because much of the pain felt across the globe is sexist...whether we’re talking poverty, access to education, sex-trafficking/abuse, time, equal pay, etc. Our world needs leaders who will actively take up the cross and work on behalf of women (and other groups!) who suffer from bigotry or bias. Nate Silver posted this map of what the electoral map would look like if women refused to vote for Trump. Translation: evangelical women could have a major impact in this election.
I WANT TO BE BRAVE
I don’t know if others connect these dots, but I do. When I hear someone tell me that the story of the Bible is a love story….when I am told that God created me with a purpose and His love is unconditional, I am driven to hope, to love, to mercy and redemption – away from fear, anger, aggression, revenge and greed. The contrast could not be any clearer.
I am a feminist, in large part because of my faith. As Laura Ortberg Turner explains, feminism is simply the belief that women are equally as human as men—equal in the eyes of God, equal in image-bearing, equal in ability. From the very beginning, God called us out as warriors. Sarah Bessey writes in her book, Jesus Feminist, “Neither one of us – woman or man – is secondary or backup; we are all key parts of Kingdom building, intrinsic to the story of God, right now.”
Right now, we need to be brave. Right now, we need to stand up for the marginalized and oppressed. Right now, we need to acknowledge the elephant in the room – and, it’s not Donald Trump. It’s all of us. It took decades to sow the seeds that he is now harvesting, seeds that have been watered intentionally or not by evangelicals. Here’s the thing… You can’t talk justice and advocate for stop and frisk. You can’t act like you care for the poor and yet reject policies that lift them up, like fair wages. You can’t say you’re not a racist and yet fail to acknowledge systemic injustice, implicit bias or white privilege. You can’t declare yourselves the defenders of the family and yet offer late-in-coming tepid support (and sometimes opposition) to pro-family policies, like Paid Family Leave. You can’t say women are to be loved and cherished and then turn a blind eye to mindsets and policies that subjugate and hurt them. (Btw, kudos to Beth Moore for her brave and public words to both Trump and evangelical leaders.) You can’t scream ‘the unborn!’ as your rationale for irrational candidates, especially when their policies actually do less to prevent pregnancy. (Check out this article in the Christian Post outlining why Hillary Clinton is the best candidate for voters against abortion or this thoughtful post by Rachel Held Evans.) You can’t say ‘character counts’ and then vote for someone like Trump. You can’t just quote scriptures about suffering the little children and then ignore actual statistics on spending for children vs the elderly (FYI, it’s about 1:6.5) or turn a blind eye to child molestation by clergy. You can’t say that the main message of the Bible is a love story, and then remain silent in the face of violence, hate and greed. Right now, we need turn slogans of love, justice and mercy into both personal mantras and public policies.
I’ve already got a ticket to attend the Belong Tour next year. When I go, I’m praying there’s not only a woman in the White House, but a broad-based willingness to keep constructive conversations going. We will not stay silent so that others can be comfortable, for the battle does not end on election day. As Martin Luther King, Jr., said, ‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.’ So, we will meet God in brokenness and rubble, and we must sow new seeds. I am reminded of a conversation Nichole Nordeman talked about, which happens to be the longest conversation Christ had with anyone – it’s the discussion between Jesus and the woman at the well. This was a radical conversation for many reasons.
- Jews weren’t supposed to speak to Samaritans.
- Men couldn’t talk to women without their husbands present.
- Religious leaders/rabbis were forbidden from talking to a woman, such as this.
Jesus didn’t just offer her the Kool Aid. He wasn’t looking for a convert; instead, He offered living water, inviting her to open the garage, and find freedom in truth spoken with sincere love. John Ortberg expands on this encounter in a sermon at Menlo Church:
“In John 4, the first sermon in the movement of Jesus, was given by a woman. A five times married/divorced/Samaritan woman. Jesus thought it was a good idea for the first sermon to be given by a woman. As it turned out, the entire town came out to listen and believed!”
He goes on to say, “maybe it’s women that ought to argue about whether men should be ordained to preach!” We belong in a conversation with other women, and with our world, that that leads with love. Till then, I am taking to heart the words of the Belong Tour speakers: I am raising the garage door for evangelical women. Let us all bring truth into the light, and believe that it will set us free.