November 5, 2018

Evolving Faith 2018 & What It Meant To Me

Recap of Evolving Faith Conference 2018

It has taken about a week for me to organize and put all my thoughts down, but I finally felt ready to hit publish on this post. Evolving Faith was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I was actually making mental notes at the conference of all the things I wanted to write and share about it. Evolving Faith set into motion a stirring in my heart that I'm not certain can be fully expressed in this single string of words. It helped me reconnect to my word of the year but also feel a safety in what's coming next. It made me question nearly everything about Christianity and my place in "the church." I got up close and personal with my white privilege - a super uncomfortable place that every white person needs to go to align with making changes happen. It was not a conference for the faint of heart. The people who surrounded me at Montreat were brave and afraid and sad and joyful. Most importantly, they were loving.

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In case you don't follow on instagram or twitter, I attended the first Evolving Faith Conference hosted by Sarah Bessey and Rachel Held Evans in Montreat, NC weekend before last. 


It was a beautiful experience to be surrounded by 1500 other people who had retreated to this safe space for the weekend to finally feel at a home. To let out a deep breath they had been holding in for a long time. To look around and smile a knowing smile at a stranger. It was a beautiful experience to flee to the wilderness and grieve and rejoice and laugh and cry and clap and love. It was more than I could have ever imagined but exactly what I needed during this season of my life. It was a weekend of renewed hope and revived energy. It's nearly impossible to break down every little detail, but I want to share the highlights and leave a door open for conversation.

The theme, of course, was evolving faith and how it relates to several key aspects of our everyday life: one. the personal journey; two. the Bible, church, and science; three. family dynamics; four. justice and politics; five. the arts. There were brilliant minds and experts in their field who led incredible talks and engaged in conversation with conference attendees about these important (and often controversial) topics. You can still find the full line-up on the conference website along with bios.


Speakers from Evolving Faith Conference 2018


While trying to condense my thoughts and feelings into this single post, I decided a list would be the best way to organize everything. If you want to see some snapshots from the event itself I created a highlight on my instagram stories from the weekend, and I've included a few of my favorite photos in this post. So, let's jump right in.


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one. MAKE ROOM FOR YOUR GRIEF
This was a theme that carried through the whole weekend. Most of us who were attending the conference were experiencing a jaded feeling toward "the church." Sarah Bessey opened the conference with an invitation to bring our grief, sit with it, embrace it in the wilderness with people who were grieving just like you. It was beautiful and raw and comforting. Because real hope only comes after despair.

two. ANGER IS OK
There have been so many times in my life that I felt guilty for being angry - like that emotion was off limits. Because: angry women = emotional women = women who aren't taken seriously. Right? Y'all hear my struggle. Austin Channing Brown brought down the house with her sermon and gave us all permission to be angry - "Your anger points to what is right." She also made the most beautiful connection between the present struggles of social and racial injustices and the Biblical story of Rizpah - it will haunt you once you read it.

three. TAKE YOUR FEARS TO THE COMPOST PILE
During Jeff Chu's talk in the Evolving Faith and the Personal Journey session he asked all of us to write our fears on an index card, ushers collected them, and took them to the stage. Jeff read a few aloud. Jeff is a student at Princeton Seminary and spends his time at The Farminary. He told us that on Monday he was taking all of our fears to the huge compost pile on the farm to bury, let them die, and let them become good soil so that new life could come. Immediate tears. Is that not the most beautiful image. This photo tells the story.




four. POLITICS FOR THE CHRISTIAN SHOULD BE INSTITUTIONAL NEIGHBORLINESS
We are a lost and broken people, us Christians. And every day I'm reminded that the title "Christian" is more important to most evangelicals than the acts and heart that actual make us like Jesus. I'm jaded and really pissed off at "the Church" right now - that's how I ended up at Evolving Faith. "Love your neighbor" does not include a footnote that reads "...but only the ones you agree with" or "...but only the ones who look like you." Jonathan Martin was the conference pastor and his shirt in this photo is everything. Nish Weiseth said, "Politics for the Christian should be institutional neighborliness." Think about what that looks like, friends.

five. SOMEONE'S DISAPPROVAL OF YOU DOES NOT MEAN GOD'S DISAPPROVAL OF YOU
In the last two years, I have struggled beyond anyone's understanding with this very sentiment. Someone's opinion is not reality. Let me say that again for those in the back: Someone's opinion is not reality. You were not put here to live for someone else. You were not created to uphold the status quo. You were not created to maintain someone's comfort zone. You are not here to stay in a box for someone else. As your faith evolves you're going to test people's loyalty. If it proves to be too much for them, they will go. Their disapproval of you is not a reflection of God. You are never going to be too much for him. Thank you, Kathy Escobar, for this perfect reminder.

six. TRUE WORSHIP IS EMBODIMENT AND ACTION
The full quote from Sandra Van Opstal: "True worship is not about intention and intellect. It is about embodiment and action." We can think and dream up ideas all day long, but until our plans are on the ground, they aren't living out what God has called us to do. Stop journaling and get out there. We often get lost in the idea of the American church. The church is bigger than you. The white, evangelical, American, traditional way of "doing church" is not the only way, and in our current times, not the right way. Let me very clear: If your Jesus is white, you probably should've stopped reading this post way before now, and you probably won't get anything out of what I've written. Hard stop.


seven. SOME PEOPLE WILL LEAVE AND OTHERS WILL SHOW UP
One of the hardest things I've had to accept over the last few years is exactly this. People are going to leave your life. Even when you think you're grown and settled and your friend group is solid and your family is your rock - people. will. leave. And I'm here to tell you from experience, the ones who leave need to go for you to grow and achieve and not be stifled or held back or muted. God knows who you need and he sends them and takes them away. Those unfulfilling friendships you're holding onto? Let them go. Those people who don't support you, who aren't loyal to you, who bring more grief than joy? Let them go. New people will come and your world will be forever changed. Jen Hatmaker talked about this during her session. Grieve the loss of the relationship, sit with your feelings, fight for connection. Human approval is a dangerous idol. You lose yourself in maintaining these broken relationships. New people will come and bless you beyond measure.

eight. SO. MANY. WHITE. PEOPLE.
If everyone around you looks like you and sounds like you, you're probably doing this whole thing wrong. The vast majority of people at Evolving Faith were white. There were only a handful of people of color (including speakers) in attendance. So to quote Propaganda - "So many white people." If you want to know the position of marginalized groups - ask them. Don't assume. Also, don't think you can speak for them. Let them speak for themselves. Get them involved in your church groups, your community efforts, your organizations. After this conference one thing was solidly true for me - I do not experience enough diversity and representation where I currently live. Do I love this place? Yes. But it's time for me to leave. That is a core truth for me. I can't make a difference and live the way God has called me to live if I'm surrounded by people who look like me every day. I'm not faulting those who are ok with their current comfortable space. For me, it's not enough anymore.


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As I mentioned on instagram, there is now "life before Evolving Faith" and "life after Evolving Faith." It's a marker in my life, a stake in the ground that has moved me and stirred something in my core I can't shake. There is so much work to do in this broken, beautiful world. There are so many causes to attend to and people to love on and places to take Jesus. Evolving Faith encouraged me to embrace my imperfections. Our brokenness will be our blessing.

Below are some photos from the weekend. I've tagged everyone so you can follow them and love them like I do! Gosh, diversity is a beautiful thing - this is how Jesus intended it to be.

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Recap of Evolving Faith Conference 2018
Montreat is absolutely beautiful - even  in the rain! If you ever get an opportunity to visit you must!


Evolving Faith Conference 2018
My friend, Kristie, and I had an opportunity to meet Sarah Bessey a few months ago when she spoke at a local university's church. After the sermon we participated in a sit-down, one-on-one conversation with her. Basically, Kristie and I are BFFs with Sarah. So, when she recognized us and called us "her girls" our hearts burst. Sarah is full of incredible words and advice and gives great hugs. 


Recap of Evolving Faith Conference 2018
We realized on day two that we didn't have any photos together. The sweetest lady took this for us outside the conference center.


Recap of Evolving Faith Conference 2018
For me, one of the most special moments of the conference was communion at the end of day two. The unity that happened during that time was so emotional for me.


Recap of Evolving Faith Conference 2018
This is the grin a fan girl gives you when she's about to meet Jen Hatmaker.


Jen Hatmaker Evolving Faith Conference 2018
And an even bigger grin in the actual moment. Could I be cheesing any bigger? No. Clearly the love is mutual.


Austin Channing Brown Evolving Faith Conference 2018
Austin Channing Brown, you are a blessing and a gem and, hands-down, one of the sweetest, most genuine people I've ever met. I want to hang out with her and pick her brain and follow her lead. But I also just want to sit in my living room and drink wine and talk about the world.




Sandra Van Opstal Evolving Faith Conference 2018
This woman right here brought the house down. If you aren't familiar with Sandra Van Opstal, follow her now! She will make you question what the hell you're doing, where you're going, she'll test your comfort zone and do all the things that are necessary for change.


Propaganda Evolving Faith Conference 2018
A week later and I'm still wondering what the white mamaws thought when Propaganda did his spoken word on day one and rapped with Audrey Assad on day two. Seriously, so many thoughts. His talk during the "Evolving Faith and The Arts" session was something to behold, and I'm so glad I was able to express what a blessing he was to the conference.


Nish Weiseth Evolving Faith Conference 2018
Nish Weiseth, I still cannot thank you enough for being the strong, beautiful, take-action voice for white women that you were at this conference. It is not easy to be the voice for a group that needs to get their shit together and you did it perfectly.


Jonathan Martin Evolving Faith Conference 2018
Conference pastor and all-around awesome human being, Jonathan Martin, was just as humble as you would imagine him to be if you've ever heard him speak. (Our lumberjack chic was not planned)


Recap of Evolving Faith Conference 2018
Honestly, I was hoping for more EF merch! I'm all about some event merch. I do love this sweatshirt, though. It's going to be perfect for fall and conversation starting :)


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If you have questions or want to discuss anything about the conference please don't hesitate to reach out to me! You can leave a comment with an email address or email me directly julieleahblog@gmail.com.

xo • Julie
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1 comment

paperjunk-lc said...

What a fabulous post! Sounds like a transformational weekend. I grew up going to camp at Montreat so it holds a special place with me. Knowing that there are discussions like these give me hope for the future. At 56 (i know i'm probably your oldest reader) I still struggle with what my evolving faith I think that's why its called a journey.

Have a great week!

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