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Convergence and Direction

2010 March 15
by Julie Clawson

convergenceLife’s been crazy around here recently, so I am just now getting the chance to sit down and reflect on what went on at Convergence. It was great to go be a part of a gathering of Christian women leaders and hear the stories of how they have all committed their lives to serving God and others. There was a lot of pain there as many of the women still face hatred and oppression just for being a woman faithfully serving God, but there was also a lot of hope and encouragement. In some ways I felt a bit out of place there since at the moment I feel rather directionless in my life, but the environment was a good one to help me start processing some of those questions about direction.

What really stood out to me was the theme of the weekend as represented on the objects placed on each of our tables. Each table had an old object on it (light fixture, shoe, cigar box…) that had been re-purposed to grow plants. So each of these old unexpected objects had new life emerging out of it, and we were asked to meditate on the objects at our table and share what they were saying to us. The thing is, is that when I looked at the objects at my table, I didn’t see life there. There were plants there, but my first thought was that this life isn’t sustainable – these plants could not survive for very long. Flowers clinging to life amidst rocks placed in an old potato ricer or felt hat will soon wither and die. The water will drain out too quickly and there are no nutrients to feed the plant. They looked pretty, even quirky and appealing, but there is no way life could survive in these objects. While others shared about their call to cultivate life in unexpected places or even to follow a call to somewhere they never thought they would go (and in truth the objects at other tables looked far more sustainable), all I could think of was that these representations of life could never survive.

Then in our time of worship, we sang these words – “Why do I stay where it feels safe when you keep calling me to come out?” I realize that I do this all the time. I like to stay where it feels safe – or at least where it feels known and I assume it is safe – but these places don’t always help me grow. They look like pretty places to be planted, but in truth they are not environments that nurture life. The death might be slow, but the environment is hostile nonetheless.

But of course I stay. I feel like I am running if I leave. Or that I am selfish to consider what is healthy for me. Or that I just need to strengthen myself through adversity. Or that relationships are more important than fighting for what I need to survive. The environments might be outright abusive – telling me that as a woman my only worth lies in my service to my husband and kids, telling me that I should not be writing (and therefore teaching men), or telling me that by being intelligent and serving God I must hate God and the Bible and am in need of discipline. Other environments are more subtle – like those who constantly debate around me if as a woman I am created in God’s image or if I am in sin for following God’s call in my life. The look of surprise on someone’s face when I tell them I have served as a pastor or that I’m considering going to seminary. The assumption that I will take care of food and hospitality and not the content at an event. Or even being in a church where the voice of women is never heard no matter how theoretically supportive it is of women in ministry. And I struggle wondering if I am called to be a light and voice into these places or if they are slowly sapping the life out of me?

So Convergence really made me take a step back and ask these hard questions. Am I in a healthy place to cultivate life? Can I grow good things where I am at, or am I just struggling to survive? What direction should I be heading in order to be faithful to the gifts and calling God has given me? I know it’s not really safe to stay somewhere just because it is known if it is not a life-sustaining environment, so I am seeking direction (which is far easier said than done). It’s hard, but I am grateful for the push at Convergence to really work through these questions and start trying to get to a more healthy place.

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9 Responses leave one →
  1. March 15, 2010

    wow. excellent post and observations. and just so you know – i hear you. i get it. but it’s so hard to move sometimes. and so easy to listen to the loud voices of those that seem to have the answers. but safe is not satisfying. it’s easy. and non-confrontational. no controversy. less stress. but not true to who we are and who we are called to be. moving beyond the borders that seem to protect us is hard, and painful, yes. but i’ll be right there beside you….
    well, maybe a little behind. 😉

  2. Karen too permalink
    March 15, 2010

    Wow! My first thought when you described the odd items plants had been planted in was that they might not survive for long too. I’m trying to learn to garden so I know all about buying a beautiful plant, putting it someplace, and then watching it wither and die.

    The questions you ask are ones only God (not the voice of the church in our head) can answer. He transplants us. He makes us grow in inhospitable environments. He gives us rest with those who comfort our souls. He is the water, the fertilizer, the life. And he wants you to grow and flourish more than even you want that.

  3. March 15, 2010

    Julie,

    I really appreciate your thoughts and that you took the time to put words to them for us to read. I also love that you can do it concisely…something I have yet to learn to do! HA! I wrote a post a few days ago…that is probably too verbose…Anyhow…there was a lot from my past 35 years in the evangelical, charismatic mega church environment that has burdened me with so much baggage in regards to leadership, conferences and women’s ministries…or any combination of the three.

    Convergence was emotionally draining…but I too felt inspired…and encouraged by the envent and most especially the women! I will say that I tried for years to be a light or prophetic voice to my faith community and it almost cost me my faith not to mention my sanity…Eventually I didn’t need to decide if I would stay invested…because my husband and I were asked to “prayerfully consider finding another church home”…We left…and haven’t been back.

    I just want to say how influentual your voice, blog(s)…book etc have been and are for women like me.

  4. Andy permalink
    March 15, 2010

    Great post, Julie. That picture with the toilet planter was a little puzzling at first, heh. I’m sorry you’re getting all those messages from people. And it really is a hard question, whether to stay and risk withering or go somewhere you can thrive. I’ve faced it a few times in different circumstances. I just listened to Internet Monk podcast #162, where he says that you probably won’t transform your church. If you’re going to stay, you’ll probably have to be content to be a minority voice. You can take that for what its worth, but it seems true to me.

  5. March 18, 2010

    Thank you for sharing so much of your heart, Julie. I’m in a place where I wonder what direction I’m headed all the time. In my quiet times, God has been telling me to accept that I don’t know. He knows. And I know Him so I don’t need to know the next step. It is difficult because, in America, we’re raised to have everything planned meticulously. We don’t like not knowing. I think there is a freedom in Christ that we often forget: we don’t need to know our direction in life. We need to follow the Lord and he will take us the right way.

  6. March 26, 2010

    Julie
    Thank you for taking time to write about Convergence. I headed for Rwanda immediately after the weekend and only returned last night so your post is much appreciated. I am so glad you were able to join in and help shape the gathering of strong and amazing women leading the way forward in many context, some of them truly are the rough places-
    Time and time again I am inspired by the stories of women leaders who come together to encourage one another, connect and go back out to do good work for the kingdom

    Convergence 2011 will be March 11-13, once again at the colorful Edgefield in Troutdale, Oregon. http://www.womensconvergence.com. Mark your calendars…
    Peace
    Kelly

  7. March 26, 2010

    Julie, I stumbled across your blog and so related to this post. I spent years in a “Bible Believing” church that never would have supported my call to ministry. God used the demise of Enron and an unwanted relocation half way across the county to wake me up to the possibilities I never would have seen where I was. I went to seminary and found dozens of women who all felt the same way you described; torn between the churches that birthed their faith and the ministry that God was calling them to. Many women like myself end up outside the church walls ministering in unique ways. I work with the homeless in the inner city of Richmond Va and God has been so amazing. We are seeing God move in ways I never would have seen in my places of comfort. However, I do believe that some are called to breath new life into old structures and I recently wrote a post titled “Recycled Churches” to encourage those who are responding to that difficult and unique call. I pray God guides you in this season of discernment.

  8. Erin permalink
    April 5, 2010

    I sure wish I had known about the Convergence ahead of time (that’ll teach me to check my e-mail more often!). I did not know there was a community out there of women in ministry that helps and supports one another in the difficult call of women leaders in the Church!

    I am an ordained person in a liberal Protestant tradition who has learned through experience that the price to pay for being clergy in this church is that I follow the rules in what is a very dysfunctional system. After losing my church by being fired behind my back, I received no support from my church’s administration, much less anything like justice.

    My disillusionment with the church did not come voluntarily; if I could’ve fit in, I would have, sorry to say. But from the outside, from where I sit today, I am able to see some things that I couldn’t (or wouldn’t!) see when I was in the system.

    Firstly, the church as an institution (bishop’s office, congregations, councils, etc.) says it’s about one thing, when it’s really about another. So there is this crazy-making, unspoken agenda that is easy to trip over, especially if one is not versed in operating in this way. In too many instances, in my experience, the church as an institution says its about the good news of Jesus Christ, that we love because we have been loved and that our job is to bring that good news to the world, especially the weak and the broken. But what it is really about is protecting and perpetuating itself. There are too many congregations that are nothing more than clubs, in which the status quo is not only protected, but justified.

    I do go on, but thank you for your comments, not only about the Convergence, but about yourself and your own journey. You are not alone! (And neither am I!) I recently read a book that is about the journeys and struggles of a number of women in Christian ministry. The title is: A Church of Her Own : What Happens When a Woman Takes the Pulpit by Sarah Sentilles.

  9. April 5, 2010

    Erin – thanks for sharing a bit of your story. I understand about the church thing, slipping into institutional mindset is just way too easy. And it ends up just causing people pain.

    I hope you are able to connect with a network of women leaders – like Convergence. It is helpful to go on this journey alongside others.

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