Sunday, October 09, 2011

Women of Faith Imagine: the Review

This past weekend was the first time I'd been to a Women of Faith event.  I'd heard about it from friends and was excited about the opportunity to go.  I took a girlfriend by the arm and away we went.  I was surprised by how well I liked it overall.  In general, these types of events tend to be a bit suburban and evangelical for my inner city Presbyterian self, but this one was not overly so.  (Although there were a large number of minivans and giant SUVs driving in from the hill country outside of Pittsburgh.)  In the interest of not writing a 12 page blog post, I'll try to keep this to bullet points about each of the speakers and some info on the conference as a whole. I'm also not going to fill this post up with pics.  I took a billion.  Click over to my facebook page from the sidebar on the right and you can see all my pics.  I'll leave you at the end with a video.
  • Anna Trent: Anna Trent was this weekend's host. She was totally lovable.  I enjoyed having her as part of the conference.  Even if she was a little more chipper than is normal in the morning. 
  • The Worship Team: The worship team for Women of Faith Imagine were a lovely quartet of women with beautiful voices.  They were engaging and sang a great selection of songs.  I fully plan on buying their album once my husband forgets that I just signed up to sponsor two more kids this weekend.
  • Henry Cloud: Dr. Cloud was fabulous! He is a  psychologist and I really appreciate the general "OKness" that was expressed toward counseling/therapy over the weekend. Sometimes as Christians we seem to feel that if we aren't miraculously healed by the power of our faith in Christ, we aren't praying hard enough.  The truth of the matter is that God gave us our minds and science (like medical science, of which psychology is a valid branch) for a reason.  Cloud had some great things to say about happiness and being in line with God's Word.  Very good stuff.  So good, in fact, I bought one of his books called "Boundaries."
  • Natalie Grant: I'm going to admit it.  I had never heard of Natalie Grant before Friday.  To be completely honest, I don't like much "contemporary Christian music."  Yes, I left the "music" part in the quotes on purpose.  There is so much garbage out there that is being produced simply because it's got the label "Christian" on it and not because it's actually good music.  I liked Natalie, though.  She has a FABULOUS voice.  She is an engaging performer and I liked her music (not in quotes this time).  It's always exciting to stumble upon a new artist I like! I'll probably be adding one or three of her albums to my collection soon too.
  • Lisa Harper: I just loved Lisa Harper and her sweet honesty.  She was engaging and energetic.  I also love that she's a runner.  Runners are automatically cool in my book, especially ones that aren't afraid to trail-run alone.  That's gutsy!  I at least take my dog. Lisa had such a touching story of redemption to share about her dad and I don't know that there was a dry eye in the crowd by the end of it.
  • Nicole Johnson: I am currently reading Nicole Johnson's recently re-published book, "Fresh-Brewed Life." (Look for the review shortly after I'm done with mid-terms next week.)  So far, I'm digging it, so I was pleased to see that she was part of the tour.  She did two dramatic pieces and gave a talk.  I really enjoyed her first piece on the ludicrous number of "hats" moms have to wear.  Her talk on God making broken things new really struck a chord with me because of my personal experience being a garbage bag of broken glass.  Her last dramatic piece made me cringe a little, though.  Not because it wasn't well-executed.  She's a master of stage presence and presentation. My only concern is that it could be interpreted to be encouraging women to settle for being "invisible." I agree with her that we aren't doing what we do to be noticed and that we need to be at peace with motherhood often being a background role. However, we shouldn't get into an "invisible is ok" mindset.  I have spent years trying to untangle that mess of danger that got me stuck in an abusive marriage.  God didn't call me to be invisible.  He called me to lead and to be treated with dignity and respect by those around me (including and especially my husband and kids). Overall, however, I like Nicole and her work. She was fun to see live.
  • Mary Mary:  I have enjoyed Mary Mary forever now and I had no clue they were going to be there until I read the program!  Seriously, I kick off every single run with "Shackles."  Every run.  Can't start a 10k with a better song.  Try it.  It's not possible.  Can you imagine my sheer joy when they closed the whole conference with that song?!  I may have squealed.  LOVE Mary Mary.
  • Angie Smith: Adorable.  Angie Smith (who blogs at http://angiesmithonline.com/) is capital "A-dorable."  Let's all just talk for a moment about how all you have to say is "20 week ultrasound" in a talk like this to start my waterworks.  (If you're new here, dig back to 2008 in the archives or go to Levi's journal.)  I'm really glad I was there with a friend who had walked through that time with me because I totally needed someone to gasp with me when Angie started talking about the dark walk she took during her third pregnancy.  It probably comes as no surprise to anyone that I bought Angie's book as well.  And I'm planning on ordering a copy for my friend Hannah as well.
  • Luci Swindoll: Dear Luci.  I immediately felt a kinship with her when she described landing in Guatemala City in exactly the same way I do.  You never forget that skyline with the smoking volcano in the distance, the beauty of the Mayan women or the irresistible charm of the Mayan children.  Luci strikes me as someone I could spend hours talking to.  She has years of vast experience to offer to the women around her.  I did grow a little concerned with the last half of her message that sounded a little bit "Prosperity Gospel" to me.  God provides, there's no doubt, but if we start to give money away with the mindset that we'll get a big check in the mail someday because of our generosity, well. . . that's just not good.  I didn't really know of Luci Swindoll before this and it's entirely possible that I misread her intentions.  I sort of hope I did because I like her and plan on checking out more of what she has out there.  She's funny and charming.
  • Sheila Walsh: Sheila is hysterical.  That and I always immediately like anyone with a Scottish accent.  (It's the Scottish Presbyterian ancestry.)  She has a great story of rising and falling and getting back up again and she has so much wonderful stuff to share. I feel like the people who didn't come Friday morning and only came for the evening on Friday got short-changed because they missed the bulk of what she presented.  Did I mention her amazing voice?  Angelic.  The hymns she sang sounded like what I think they'll sound like in heaven.
My conclusion is that this was definitely worth going to.  It was a refreshing weekend that I enjoyed on the whole.  I think everyone should go into it knowing that as with any multi-denominational gathering, there will be people there who won't see things in exactly the same way you do.  That's just the nature of humanity.  And that's ok.  I didn't go there expecting to agree with everything the speakers had to say.

I think that the ticket price can be a bit limiting for many women, which is probably why there were so many expensive SUV's in the garage and very few ratty little Mazdas like mine.  That said, there are volunteer opportunities, but they are limited.  I'd love to take a group of women from my church, but at a small inner city church like ours, you just can't ask people to shell out $90 for a two day conference.  That's alot of money.  However, I think that if you can afford it, it's a great conference to get to.  (And as conferences go, it's not a super-high price- I just wish there were more scholarship opportunities or something.)

While I love that they had all the books the authors mentioned available at the convention, as well as CDs and some other resources, I was a little wigged out by the merchandising at WOF.  I thought the WOF logo scarves were a bit over the top.  T-shirts. . . ok.  Souvenir fleece blankets?  Too far.  Even if the convention center was about 24 degrees inside.  Just bring a sweater, ladies. It just seems like a real contradiction to ask people to give as much as possible by sponsoring children, then offer to sell overpriced blankets and keyrings.  Take the $25 or whatever that blanket cost you and put it to far better use by giving it to World Vision.

WOF is a well-oiled machine.  I've been to alot of conferences and large events and they had running this thing down to a science.  And even though they were always prompt and were (with the exception of lunch on Friday) extremely well organized, you could see they were allowing the Holy Spirit room to move.  The leadership on stage were so very sincere in their worship and every word they shared.  The worship was powerful because the women leading the worship were really, honestly worshiping.  You could tell that it wasn't just a musical number for them.

Will I go again?  Yes.  I enjoyed Imagine.  God spoke to me there.  The worship was powerful and it was neat to see so many women gathering a celebrating God and each other.  Should you go?  Yes.  Even a socially and politically moderate, inner city, 30-something female PCUSA seminary student/ordination inquirer (actually-two of us) liked it. If you go to the next one here in Pittsburgh, you may be lucky enough to spot zombies in the crowd. . . I love Pittsburgh.

Also, as an aside to the folks in charge of WOF and their sister-tours, if you ever want someone to help add a little "hood" to the show, I'm available. . . Just  sayin'. . .I have a great story.  Or three.  I'm also very cute and hilarious.  And I have swag. . . like these lovely sisters. . .

video

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