The Women of Faith “Imagine” weekend in Philadelphia was not what I expected. At all. Instead of an authentic women’s conference, Women of Faith felt more like a fabricated “worship experience” that could be plopped down in any city to be enjoyed by the throngs. In essence, I suppose that is what a Women of Faith weekend is—something that can be easily created and re-created for women all over the country. Then again, isn’t that also what a concert tour is? Yes. But here’s how my Casting Crowns concert experience differed from Women of Faith—with Casting Crowns, I felt like I was having an authentic experience, but with Women of Faith, I felt like I was just another cog in the ol’ money making machine (which strikes me as funny since I received comp tickets for writing about the event).
The event started with a worship team made up of four female singers, who had excellent vocals. However, there was no worship band, which meant the praise music was piped into the stadium and the ladies led the audience in a big sing-a-long. In between songs, the singers shared one-to-two sentence insights, and dived into the next song. These songs were loud, upbeat, and instead of leading worship, I felt like I was watching a Point of Grace concert. It was just too perfect. A live band, who could led worship by the prompting of the Holy Spirit, though it would require more set-up/tear down would have improved the worship immensely.
Next, Sheila Walsh spoke about the woman who was bleeding for years before being healed by Jesus. Walsh was flawless in her presentation, using a combination of personal anecdotes, Scripture, and body language that really drove her message home. I was very impressed with Walsh, but slightly confused when the lights went down at the end of her talk and she belted out “Amazing Grace.” Apparently, Walsh is not only an author and a speaker, but a singer as well. Anyway, she received a well-deserved standing ovation.
Then Women of Faith president, Mary Graham, took the stage to introduce well-known author and speaker Dr. Henry Cloud, who somehow snuck into a Women of Faith event, despite his obvious maleness. Graham asked the audience if they knew what day it was. One woman yelled out, “Your birthday?” No, it was not Graham’s birthday, but it was “Wonderful Weirdos Day.” Graham said that if anyone knew about weirdos, it was certainly Dr. Cloud (she called him “Henry,” but I feel more comfortable calling him Dr. Cloud or just “Cloud”).
While those around me seemed to think this was both a charming and personal introduction, I tried my best to hide the tears streaming down my face. See, Dr. Henry Cloud is a clinical psychologist, the “weirdos” he works with are mentally ill. As someone who has been in therapy since 2006, I suppose I could count myself among the “weirdos.” It was then I wondered if I truly belonged at Women of Faith. I thought about leaving, but I was in the very first row, so I tried in vain to choke back my tears.
Dr. Cloud mentioned a verse here and there, but mentioned his latest book, The Law of Happiness, a lot more. I mean, if there was a drinking game for each mention of Boundaries or his latest book, the Women of Faith audience would have been rip roarin’ plastered. Still, I thought Cloud was OK…until his second talk. This time Cloud casually mentioned “hoarders.” Instead of treating hoarding as a serious mental issue, Cloud talked lightly about how hoarders don’t get rid of things because they “might need it someday” or because of the emotional attachment to object. Then Cloud joked that a hoarder probably wouldn’t get rid of her baby’s first poopy diaper because of its sentimental value. What could have been a very important spiritual lesson about keeping things we don’t need (I do believe that was supposed to be Cloud’s point), the illustration derailed into a joke about hoarders. Ha-ha, let’s all laugh at the mentally ill people whose gross houses we see on television. As if seeing a half-hour program on someone’s life truly illustrates the frustrations of obsessive-compulsive disorder! I assumed that Dr. Cloud, being a trained clinical psychologist would treat mental illness with a soft touch. He came across as brash and uncaring, especially when interchangeably throwing around the words “wacko” and “crazy.”
When Mary Graham took the stage again to announce that Sheila Walsh was going to talk about “their little monkeys” at World Vision, I just got up and left. I didn’t even look back to see if my friend who accompanied me was following me out. I ran right smack into a crowd of women gathered around the Women of Faith merchandise table. “How much is this bag?” a well-dressed middle-aged woman asked a volunteer.
“Oh, you can’t buy that bag,” said the volunteer. “It comes as part of a set.” Apparently, it was a set-up to generate more income because in order to get a tote bag, a woman had to purchase either a $50 set (bag, mug, and some other stuff) or an $85 set (bag, two books, two albums, and a special treat). I could get a nicer bag at the Fossil outlet for the same amount of cash. But I guess it wouldn’t have the Women of Faith logo on it!
However, I did leave my mark at Women of Faith, just after eating the subpar lunch provided for attendees, I decided to fill out a card for the Q&A session with Sheila Walsh and Dr. Henry Cloud. I wrote, “Dr. Cloud, as a mental health professional do you think it’s appropriate to refer to the mentally ill as ‘weirdos’ and ‘wackos’?”
Then I turned the card over and wrote, “I have an M.A. in counseling. I am mentally ill. And, yes, my feelings were hurt.” I doubt my question was chosen for the Q&A. I guess I will never know.
I hoped my Women of Faith weekend in Philadelphia would be a time to reconnect my hardened heart with a living God—and it was. However, that didn’t happen at the Women of Faith weekend; it occurred at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. There was something magnificent about glimpsing at Vincent Van Gogh’s “Still Life: Vase with Twelve Sunflowers” painting for the first time—the real painting—not a print. To discover the dimensions in his blobs of paint, to have tangible proof that my favorite painter lived and died, to be reminded that he was a madman (a “weirdo” or a “wacko”) and not recognized as a genius in his time. I’m not calling myself a genius or believe that my “art,” my writing, will outlive my life. I suppose I just felt more at home with a fellow weirdo’s priceless painting.
I was most affected by, “Wheat Field in Rain”, his depiction of beauty beyond the window of his asylum. Despite being interned at a mental hospital, Van Gogh still saw value in the world and still painted. Sixteen dollars to get into the Philadelphia Museum of Art versus 100 bucks for a pre-fabricated “worship” experience at Women of Faith? Next time, I’m going to skip the conference and head straight for the art museum.
*In exchange for a fair and honest evaluation of the Women of Faith weekend, I was given two complimentary tickets by Thomas Nelson. Clearly, I was not required to write a positive review, only a fair review, and that is what I feel I did. Other views may differ, and I truly hope that others did have a good time to connect with God and others at Women of Faith weekends and other events.*