This past weekend took me off to the NW Emerging Women Leaders conference – Convergence! (It had to be good to get me away from Josh so soon after returning home from our honeymoon!) For me, this weekend was a beautiful experience. I will share a few things that deeply impressed me.
Diversity – I was astounded at the diversity of this group of women. Being women and being Christian were really our only common denominators. Generationally, we spanned a range from teenage to 70+. Denominationally we included mainline and evangelical Protestants from theologically “liberal” and “conservative” traditions, and even one Catholic woman (yay, Ruby!). We included Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. We included never-married, divorced, engaged, and married women. We included mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers, and those without children. We included pastors, church-planters, women’s ministry leaders, youth leaders, associate pastors, lay leaders, former church leaders, future church leaders, and many who are unsure of what leadership will look like in their futures. We had dreadlocks, braids, pink hair, red hair, very short hair, very long hair, very daring hair, very tame hair, trendy hair and timeless hair. We had tattoos and no tattoos. We had pregnant ladies and nursing mothers. We had home-oriented moms and career-oriented moms. We had knitters and bloggers (and knitting bloggers). We had emerging event first-timers, and emerging event old-timers. We even had women flying in from places like Baltimore and Illinois, and driving down from Canada. (Upon reflection, the area where there was a most glaring lack of diversity was racially, with the vast majority of us being white. This might be something to ponder in light of the observation/ accusation that the emerging church is a white thing – but that’s another conversation.)
With all of this amazing diversity spread among the 60+ women present, it seemed nothing less than the unity of the Spirit of God that brought us together so graciously and so intimately for the weekend. We talked and we listened. We learned from each other. We gained strength and inspiration from hearing each others’ stories. We were challenged by each others’ perspectives and experiences. We respected our differences and set them aside when they threatened our unity. In our closing reflections, many women commented on how surprised they were to find a group of women – Christian women at that – who were able to create such a safe place for one another.
Planning – It was a privilege to be part of the team who planned Convergence! I am so grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this creative endeavor, and to have seen how a few loosely-formed ideas were eventually birthed into this wonderful event. We all contributed thoughts and ideas, but what resulted was truly greater than the sum of our contributions. Many thanks to AJ (and Jason) for their technical work, to Deborah for her creativity and inspiration (including the name – “Convergence”) and to Kelly who, in addition to her wonderfully creative ideas provided a van full of supplies and kept us organized with all of our nutty schedules. I thoroughly enjoyed working together with these women and I have learned a great deal from them in the process.
New Friends – Though our time together was rather short, I feel that I made many new friends this weekend. I’m hoping that we will come together again and hear where our journeys have taken us. I hope that we can stay in touch online, and in person where possible. I’m so curious to know what the next season holds for these new friends – many who are, like me, in periods of intense transition and possibility.
Communion and Unity – More than anything else I’ve experienced, Convergence has given me hope for the unity of the Church. We will never agree doctrinally, but we can be unified in the Spirit of Christ whose body we all are together. As we took communion together this weekend, we participated in that sweet unity.
Saturday, January 20, 2007
I've just returned from honeymooning in Italy with my new husband Josh, and while there we availed ourselves of the opportunity to see many priceless works of art. I knew that I would be amazed at the Sistine Chapel and impressed by the Colleseum, but the most moving piece of art that we saw was a bronze statue of Mary Magdalene by the Renaissance artist Donatello, in the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo in Florence. Also in Florence at the Accademia Museum we saw Michelangelo's famous statue of David.
We've all seen pictures of the David, and yet the size and brilliance of this work amazed me in person. David is larger than life standing 17 feet tall. He is beautiful, strong, conquering, pensive, and confidant. His figure is the idyllic Greek model of beauty and masculinity. He is so skillfully formed that he almost looks as if he could walk off of his pedestal at any moment.
Donatello's Magdalene provides a stark contrast with the David. While many artists portray her as beautiful and even seductive, out of the extra-biblical tradition that she was a prostitute, Donatello captures her in her destitution. She is utterly wretched. Formed in wood, she is dark with hollow, deep-set eyes and long, matted hair that blends in with her dirty, matted clothing. She is emaciated, though with muscles showing in her thin arms. Her hands are held up in front of her and she gazes with desperation and vulnerability. She defies any standard of beauty from any era, and one of our guide books mentioned her only to remark on her unusual ugliness. But Josh and I were mesmerized and moved to tears by the beautiful way she portrays a soul reaching out to Jesus.
In pondering the contrast between these two works of art, I have to wonder if David doesn't capture something that we all wish we could be. One of the beautiful people. So strong and independent. Able to conquer any giants in our path and receive the admiration of all. But this Mary Magdalene seems to capture something more true. I see in her my own soul's desperate need for healing, grace, and redemption. In her vulnerability and wretched desperation, I see the truth of my own soul at the point at which I cry out for God.
The museum has brilliantly curated her opposite a crucifix, showing that it is Jesus to whom she pleads with her gaze. The scriptures reveal that Mary Magdalene was healed by Jesus of demon possession and from that day forward was one of his most devoted followers. She was there at the cross and at the tomb and was a witness to his resurrection. Her life was transformed by his healing touch. Her story inspires me, and in Donatello's representation of her wretchedness I found both her despair and the joy of knowing that she was saved and her life transformed when her plea was met with the love and mercy of Jesus.