Recently, I attended a retreat at Friends House in Barnesville called "Speaking about Christ among Liberal Friends." While I found the retreat rich and meaningful, I came away unsettled. In this particular case, I had been led by the retreat's title to think that I would learn a vocabulary for expressing Christian faith to universalist Friends without offending them. This is important to me, because I do often unintentionally offend non-Christians with my language, and I don't want to do that. I also don't wish to use a vocabulary that is misleading about my own experience.
However, despite the term "speaking," this retreat was not about developing a vocabulary for talking to individual Friends but about infusing Christlike practices into our community. That was actually a deeper and richer topic--I especially liked the emphasis on community--but I wished the retreat had been named something like "Infusing Christ's ways into our communities" rather than "Speaking about Christ among Liberal Friends." As it was, I went out on a limb, because this subject is close to me, and thus I was more self-revelatory and vulnerable than I needed to be about my pain over the Christian/Universalist divide. I ended up feeling a bit unsettled at the end, in that I didn't need to say everything I said.
So good as this retreat was, I wondered about spending so much time in worship sharing that asked people what they wanted from the weekend, heard it and then basically said "OK, but this is what I came to tell you." Why not start at the end point, which is what I described in my prior post? Why not say "this is what I have to tell you" and move forward from there? Then there would not, for me, have been such a disconnect between the retreat's title and content. Especially when what Brian had to say was so good and helpful!!
The retreat also inadvertently made me more sensitive to the feelings of non-Christians, as the word "sin" was used at one point in a not helpful way. I could understand for the first time, not having been raised in a fundamentalist environment, how one could want to flee that kind of judging Christian discourse.
On a bigger picture note, I think I passed the point sometime ago where it's fruitful for me to sit in retreats talking about things. For some, they are the perfect place to be on the journey, but for me, at this point, I think need to be out more actively serving. Often the talk just saddens me, and seems to come out of ego, my own as much as anyone else's. Now I have no problem with ego--I don't think self-emptying into an egoless state is particularly healthy--but on the other hand, when too many people come already "knowing," it can be difficult to break through to the ostensibly desired "authentic" conversation. I tried to push through to that during the weekend, but felt I ended up disrupting an experience people had already decided was supposed to be a certain way. However, I did meet some wonderful, wonderful people, such as Gordon from Canada and Jack from Knoxville (among others).
I am curious about other people's experience with retreats and conferences and such like gatherings? Do you find them helpful? Disturbing? How do you cope when you begin to feel unsettled?