The false, glittering promise of Christian conferences
I'm done with Christian conferences. I've really tried, you guys. I've attended and listened and smiled and wept and sang my way through conference after conference. I've attended an "exclusive" leadership conference and been asked to provide feedback. And there was that one time when I actually spoke at a conference.
But something just isn't working anymore. At this point I'm not sure if it's just me or the whole system of Christian Conferences. I'm guessing it's probably a bit of both. Maybe I just need to stop attending evangelical conferences? Maybe I need to start going to silent retreats at monasteries?
I mean, maybe if I had a How to Fall In Love With Jesus book to sell or a charity to promote or a cause to rally around--then maybe evangelical Christian Conferences would make more sense for me. You know, in a network-y, bussiness-y kind of way.
But as it is, I'm just a blunt-spoken and prickly personality With Baggage. Which is to say, I'm a former fundamentalist turned evangelical turned Catholic. Christian leaders don't know how to categorize me. So, usually they don't. Oh, but they're very polite about it.
They all tell me: "Elizabeth, we just love your passion and your voice and your honesty but...there's not a space for you in our conference/speakers list/leadership group." Or perhaps it's: "Elizabeth, we love you! We love you SO MUCH!" And then silence.
There is no action to back up those words. I'm supposed to believe they Love Me So Much because....they said so. And here it is: Christian Conferences are all about words, words and more words. Speeches. Talks. Sessions. Break-out groups.
But then everyone goes home.
And reality bites. Hard.
I call it the Post-Conference Crash. For me, it feels like falling off a cliff into depression. For one thing, I'm physically exhausted. But I don't really mind that part because BECAUSE! I've made all these heart-connections! And I BELIEVE something wonderful is just on the horizon! God! Is! Moving! And! I'm! PART OF IT!
And then I hit the Second Crash. This one is more painful. This is when I realize that all those sincere heart-connections I made? I'll probably never see any of those people again. There is no follow-up. Even if there IS follow-up, it's just not the same. After tasting IN-REAL-LIFE community, going back to Internet chatter feels almost like a betrayal.
Then I begin to wonder if all those connections I made were even real. Slowly, a dreadful realization dawns on me: I begin to realize that at a Christian Conference things were set up to whip me into an emotional frenzy. There was the heady, Jesus-Is-My-Lover worship sessions, the inspirational speeches and all kinds of weeping. Everyone was going around saying: "God is really HERE!" and "The Holy Spirit is just MOVING!" And I thought I felt it, too.
So, I fell for it. I believed it. I believed the false, glittering promise of Christian Conferences: that this was a new beginning, that God was Doing Something New, that the Holy Spirit was busting down walls, TO DREAM THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM! TO FIGHT THE UNBEATABLE FOE! TO REEEEEACH THE UNREACHABLE STARRRRRRR!
Oops, sorry. My Man of La Mancha is showing.
The point is, I felt it. And it felt so real.
But as the days turn into weeks following a Christian Conference, I can't help but wonder if I'd swallowed a false promise. I mean, I didn't really KNOW the people I fell in love with. I only FELT like I did because, well, the music. The giddy worship music. The weeping. The Weeping For the Poor African Orphans!
I mean, you don't just weep with people over poverty and then...nothing happens, right? You weep together and you're bonded for life and you go OUT AND CHANGE THE WORLD! Right? RIGHT?!
Most likely you go home to piles of dirty dishes, backed up laundry and neighbors who are more interested in you maintaining your lawn than in bonding with you over Jesus-y worship songs.
I know of people who are pretty much Professional Conference Goers. They go to Christian Conferences like it's their drug of choice. It's like they're inspiration addicts. I get it. I really do. Heck, if I had a ton of disposable income, I'd probably be jetting off to every conference just so I could get that high. Just so I could feel that hit one more time.
And I guess that's where the problem is all mine. I want to feel something. And I want that feeling to last. I always dream too big and hope too much and have such wild, impossible expectations that of course, the Post Conference Crash is bound to happen.
But you know what? The Post Conference Crash isn't worth it anymore. I've woken up on too many Morning Afters and felt the sickening, deepening chasm of emptiness open up inside me. I've waited for too many days, weeks and months after a Christian Conference for something to materialize, some glittering promise to come true.
The only thing that materializes, the only thing that comes true is a credit card bill. Beauty for ashes, indeed.