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Thoughts on Christianity 21

2009 October 14
by Julie Clawson

c21 panorama
So I’ve been trying to figure out what in the world to say about Christianity 21. It wasn’t a straightforward conference so it’s difficult to narrow down what exactly I want to say about it. It was intense, exhausting, uplifting, and encouraging all at once and I am still attempting to process it. (traveling immediately to Dallas the next day to go see U2 didn’t help with the exhaustion thing, although it totally carried on the spiritual high). So I’ll just throw out some of the things drifting through my mind about it.

In the lead-up to the conference I was part of numerous discussions regarding the need to give the stage so deliberately to a group of women. I get the desire to be at a point in the conversation where women’s voices don’t have to be highlighted but are just a normal part of things. Or to be at a place of if there is a Christian conference where the main speakers are women people don’t assume that it’s a women’s conference. I’d love that, but we aren’t there yet. I think C21 moved us forward in that direction, but women’s voices had to be highlighted this time in order for that to happen. mark spencerAnd I love that men who typically speak at these sorts of conferences came instead to serve at this one – doing all the behind the scenes stuff that we women often end up doing. Jay Bakker, Shane Claiborne, Spencer Burke, Mark Scandrette, and Gareth Higgins came to serve and help out. And as Doug Pagitt joked, to see the end of their careers as the privileged ones given the microphone at these sorts of events. Bono is right – women are the future and after this conference there can be no excuse for not inviting women to lead sessions at conferences because gifted intelligent women are out there. (and as a total aside the money quote from the weekend came from Shane Claiborne. I was talking to him about how he had “killed” my husband in a game of assassin as Wheaton College and he said “I love Assassin, I have to get my violent tendencies out somehow!” Awesome.)

all welcomeThe conference itself was intense. There was little down-time, little interaction or workshop time, just rapid-fire hearing from the presenters on what they see as important things to consider for faith in the 21st century. Granted, this wasn’t back to back lecture after lecture. There were some lectures of course, but there was also the telling of stories, short dramas, spoken-word poetry, musical pieces, times of prayer and reflection, conversations on stage, and a fast-paced group presentation pairing reflections with visual images. And as one of those presenters – let me just say that 21 minutes is a really really short time to try to do anything (especially when it is further broken apart into even shorter segments). Hearing a new idea every 21 (or 7 or 5) minutes is intense. With no time for interaction or question, jumping from one idea to another hardly gives one time to wrap ones mind around any given idea. So I am having a hard time summarizing what any one person talked about. I know Sybil MacBath did her thing about praying in color, Alise Barrymore did an amazing poetic speech about growing down. Seth Donovan pushed us to let people show up at church decompartmentalized from our identities and labels. Phyllis Tickle and Nadia Bolz-Weber chatted about the future of the church. Lauren Winner gave a killer list about what Christianity will be known for by the end of the 21st century. And Debbie Blue talked about roadkill and Jesus having an anus (it was beautiful, seriously). I remember the moments and that it was beautiful. And for all the controversy leading up to the event, this was one of the most Christ-centered, Bible and church affirming gathering I have been a part of in a long time.

nadia phyllisAs with most emerging conferences, one of the best parts was just being able to connect with people. I loved meeting friends from the Emerging Women blog and sitting down for drinks with someone I used to argue with all the time at The Ooze some seven years ago. I loved hearing people’s stories and what brought them to the conversation. I even got to spend the plane ride home continuing the conversation with new friends. I was blessed to learn from the Queermergent folks (and I totally apologize again for ditching so early, I was so falling asleep on the couch…). I enjoyed making new friends and getting to reconnect with old members of my tribe.

And I’m sure my rambling here makes sense only in my head, but I just need to get my thoughts out (as discombobulated as they are). But I do know that something significant happened this past weekend. And I was blessed to be a part of it.

Other people who are sharing about the experience –

Christina Whitehouse-Suggs on Drunk on the Wine of New Love

Danielle Shoyer gives a recap

Imago’s blog’s reflections

Tony Jones looks back at the event.

Seth Donovan talks about starting in a new place.

Pam Heatley compared C21 to a tropical vacation

Shula at Sensuous Wife blogs her reaction to the event.

Don Heatley has created an amazing highlight video from the event that really helps capture some of the themes that emerged there.

For more fantastic pictures from the event, visit Courtney Perry’s Christianity 21 photostream (the pictures here are hers, excepting the panorama which is Jake Bouma’s )

and if you want to witness for yourself the amazing live sketching Paul Soupiset did at the event, watch them here, here, here and here

Oh, and I’m super excited about the new publishing house, Sparkhouse, which launched recently. They created a video at C21 about sparking new life into faith communities, it’s pretty neat (I’m the space-y one in it).


8 Responses leave one →
  1. October 15, 2009


    thanks for trying to do the impossible. I can’t imagine how to take a few words to express what I am sure was a constantly growing experience.

    Part of me wants to hear more, more, more but I am afraid it will just feed my disappointment of not being there.

    I do hope the energy created reverberates throughout the church.

    Grace and Peace

  2. Karl permalink
    October 15, 2009

    Sounds energizing. How many people attended?

    My wife and I saw U2 a couple of weeks ago; great concert and worship experience rolled into one.

  3. October 26, 2009


    i was so sad to not be able to be there but so very happy Queermergent had some representation! Jules has a post up at Queermergent today on her experience.

    Thanks for the shout out to Queermergent!

    Warmest Regards,


  4. October 26, 2009

    one thing i’ve been wondering is how the male attendance at the conference was. was it overwhelmingly women who attended or were men pretty well represented as attenders? i’d love to hear a ball park estimate as my concern for the conference was that it would attract so few men. here’s hoping i was totally off on that.

  5. October 26, 2009

    Linda – I shared that concern. In talking to the conference planners, they said registration was nearly equal men and women. And it looked like that to me in the sessions. That mean that were far more women at this event than at other emerging events – since those have been really heavy on the guys. So it did feel very “woman heavy,” because equality was so outside the box for that sort of event. But I think it’s a good sign of things to come.

  6. November 2, 2009

    julie, i haven’t been to any emerging conferences and didn’t realize they were mostly attended by men but am not surprised after my time on the ooze since it was mostly men in the more theological & philosophical discussions. so, i think i’m glad to hear there were so many women at C21. hopefully, we’ll see a mix of women and men in both speakers and attendees in the future. also, more racial diversity. that is something that really concerns me about the ec. i think a lot of work still needs to be done to be more inclusive of races besides whites. i find predominately white churches very strange since it is so not representative of my diverse city.

  7. June 23, 2012

    I am not positive the place you are getting your information, but good topic. I must spend some time studying much more or working out more. Thanks for great info I was on the lookout for this info for my mission.

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