Twitter has been an uncomfortable place for me lately. There’s been a lot of discussion about these three things: whether they are OK for a Christian culture and whether there are enough women taking part. I suspect this blog post will be full of contradiction and hypocrisy, as I try to figure out what I haven’t said very well in 140 characters.
Even the phrase Christian culture gives me the heebie jeebies. We’re called, I think, to be counter-cultural, to challenge that which we see as mainstream – not to replicate it. So, for example, catalogues full of differently-branded Bibles, tapping into consumer culture – that seems Awfully Wrong to me. Discussions about which gadget is the best or which shiny Mac one should have – also seem a bit wonky. Those are just two examples. I guess the megapastorbrandedempire is the extreme end of that, where the Vicarbots have every word endlessly promoted as if it was amazingly profound. We need leaders. But I wonder if we have too many who are seen leaders because they are well-known, not necessarily having anything concrete, or wise, to share. Would they wash your feet?
Last week on Twitter and Facebook there was a discussion about Christian celebrity. ‘Was it a wrong thing?’, was the question posed. I nearly fell off my seat with the irony of having someone discuss this…when their avatar is A Picture OfThem On The Telly. Does anyone else see the irony in that? Or is my cynicsm showing?
Then there was #cnmac13, and criticisms of the awards and the conference. I don’t have a problem with awards, and for the record, I did mind that I didn’t make the shortlist last year. This year I was judging – against set criteria, for a number of categories. I wasn’t holding those I gave more points to as better than everyone else; but as good examples of those criteria in action. I have not enjoyed being made to feel guilty for this participation. Awards showcase good stuff, and inspire people. I’ve been lucky enough to win two library-related things: a conference place and a ‘rising star.’ There was, for me, nothing quite like having my achievements read out at a conference to really make me reflect on my own shortcomings. But, my point is that the effect of the awards is to inspire people to do well, and for the awardees to share their knowledge & experience. There is no pulling up of the ladder afterwards – instead it is a way for more people to show more other people how to negotiate that ladder. I
Which brings me on to the last point, about the conference circuit. God_Loves_Women has done sterling piece of work looking at the speaker lineups at various Christian conferences, and unsurprisingly finds women under-represented. Various ways of addressing this have been suggested with Martin Saunders sharing how the Youthwork conference made a conscious decision to coach potential speakers. Mostly conference producers are out to break even, or at least not lose the farm; so they need bums on seats; so they need people that punters will pay to hear – or a really, really killer theme. We’re back into Christian culture again – where we package and brand and commoditise – no time for that diversion today, though. So it does become a bit of a vicious circle – crowd-pleasers get invited, who please crowds, and get invited back – and meanwhile voices that might be more interesting, or wiser, or more challenging – are ignored. And maybe yes, I include myself in that – it’s hard to break into a circuit to talk about the things I’d consider myself expert in. Do those already there offer the helping hand? Do they suggest other women to organisers? I don’t know the answer, but I have my suspicions. My comment this morning, that perhaps the way forward is to have some awards at which Christian women can speak – was only partly tongue in cheek – because in *this* version of our culture that would actually be a valid way of bringing people together, celebrating achievement and giving first-timers conference platform experience.
It seems odd to have seen discussions of lack or recognisable women – and criticism of those who are too recognisable – and the recognition of achievement – because to me they are interlinked, in the current system. In a different world, commercial Christian organisations would have time to seek out new voices, and fickle consumers would listen to the message, regardless of who delivers it. But we’re not there – and to pretend we are not complicit in the status quo when we RT a celebrity, or gush over their media exposure, is disingenuous. To want women to be well-know through the conferences, but then not be celebrity – where is the line between them?
I don’t have an answer. I’m too tired to think this through any further. I know I am privileged to be part of the Gathering of Women Leaders which will do a lot, I am sure, to give space for those different voices, encouraging and coaching and providing a safe space to be and to practice (and yet… is this not also a clique… is everyone welcome…). But this is what has been sloshing around in my head over the past week or so.