Thursday, March 15, 2007

Christian Conferences and Retreats

I was inspired to write this by Bruce's link to Dan Edelen at Cerulean Sanctum. I have much experience with Christian conferences and retreats. I'll focus on retreats. Our church has many retreats during the year. The family retreat, men's retreat, women's retreat, leadership retreat, college retreat, youth group retreat, etc. When I was single, these retreats were automatic to me. Now that I have a family, not so. We decided this year to not go to any of the retreats. Finances and a baby on the way were the main villains. Yet I still received a number of reactions bordering on shock.

For me, retreats have always been a "hope" for some kind of spiritual experience. That's because it's promised. What I get instead is sharing a "cabin" with ten snoring elephants. There are always some slobs who I need to share a toilet with while somebody else is in the shower using the last of the hot water. I have stage fright, so my body shuts down and I get constipated for the entire time. Motel 6 is roughing it for me, and I need porcelain and four sound-proof walls. The food is always tragic, and it sits in my gut for days. The food doesn't say much for Christians loving one another. I can't sleep. I'm up all night in a funk. All I can think about is when the next time I'll take a regular crap. There's always six two-hour teaching sessions from some pastor or seminarian from somewhere. Not much time for relaxing and enjoying time with others. It takes all week back at work to recover. So how far do we have to push personal sacrifice again?


  1. Brother Steve,

    You make me laugh and cry at the same time.


    I also am a conference retreat go-er.

    I hate the bad ones. I love the good ones. Which do you think populate my life in greater number?

    That's the problem.

    But despite the fact that in large part most retreats are Crap (your word), they are worth enduring for the few good ones.

    I have had 3 of 50. Good that is.

    The 47 others ranged all the way from really stupid and boring to OK.

    The 3 GOOD:
    One was a fasting retreat. Thursday night to Sat Morning. Fast From Wednesday until Friday Night and then a wrap-up session on Saturday morning after eating. "teaching was only a few hours during the time". The rest was spent in prayer. Mostly solitary. Very moving. Earthshaking stuff. I came away changed forever.

    One was a retreat (it wasn't a fasting retreat) focused on release. This was held in Devils Lake ND. The same camp “Jesus Camp” was filmed in. This changed my life. I became a different person like it says about Saul did when he was released in the Prophetic. 1 Samuel 10:5-8. Very little teaching, much ministry and manifestation of the gifts of God.

    The Retreat that preceded all this was a Cursillo back in the late 70's. There are lots of iterations of Cursillo, but the pure form is the one that has the power. 12 talks, lots of ministry, lots of examination, confession and repentance. If you have heard about the Opus Dei "Sect" this is an offshoot of it. Yes, it was a Catholic church sponsored retreat. There are iterations of this in the protestant church. Via de Cristo, Emmaus Way, Kairos. But they all try to water it down some to make it more palatable. Then it's a lukewarm thing without power. I’m not catholic, never wanted to be, but always appreciate the Catholic’s capacity for devotion. This was the retreat where for lack of a better word I got “Saved”. I was in church before, but I was never really sold out. I was a good Lutheran boy.

    In reflecting on all 3 of these truly effective retreats they have one thing in common, all were time consuming; all took 3 or more days. All were more focused on ministry than teaching. All were directed toward breaking the participant out of the comfort zone they lived in.

    I think that's what retreating has to be and do to be “Good”.
    I love good teaching but I really love to be broken out of my shell. That can't happen in a 24 hour quick and dirty “listen to someone talk” meeting. I don’t think Jesus would approve of our ADHD Christianity.

    In fact he didn’t. “Could you not watch with me One Hour?”

    Our Post Christian culture IN THE CHURCH says to Jesus, you have 24 Hours to change me and then I’m going home to watch HBO.

    And Jesus said, “Depart from me, I never KNEW you.”

    How can you KNOW someone from a one hour lecture and a few songs on Sunday once a week? We need a getaway weekend from time to time with the lover of our souls.

  2. Well, I guess I am fortunate to have been able to work out my pottie time while others are usually out of the room or I go to one elsewhere. I also don't care for using the toilet that is right next to somebody's bunk! And the accommodations are usually less than desired and poorly designed, but liveable...

    But as far as the slob thing - Yes!, that is one of the biggest problems above all else for me regarding retreats. I get completely disgusted every time I go to a retreat at how my brothers treat each other in this regard. But I think it is not that they are disregarding their brothers as much as just that they are pigs and don't know any better. It makes you wonder how they were raised. It grosses me out just thinking about it!

    I guess I have also been fortunate in regards to snoring roommates. I have been with some light snorers before, but not too bad. I have heard the horror stories though. This is another issue of people who need to get a clue on thinking of others before themselves. They are obviously getting their sleep, but at the expense of others. And I think heavy snorers already know that they are such and should take whatever precaution necessary to not steal the sleep of others. Yes I said steal because I believe it really is a kind of theft since they already know beforehand what the effect of their snoring will be on others.

    As for the promised spiritual experience... I don't recall promises of this sort, so that has never been of any consequence for me. I guess it might also depend on how you would define "spiritual experience". I have heard encouragements given many times to go because they are certain that the fellowship will be a great experience for the attenders. And I have usually experienced this myself. I have very much enjoyed the vast majority of retreats and conferences that I have attended. I can remember some that I didn't, but I think it was usually my own state of mind at that time that kept me from enjoying the time. I think the ones I disliked the most were some of the times of summer camp when I was young and it was too hot! and often boring...

    I also feel the financial tug of the retreats and even though they say that if you can't afford it don't worry because the church has enough to cover things - they still came to me personally to collect the balance of what I didn't pay on the last retreat I went to! That was shocking and distasteful. So I don't know if I will go to anymore unless I feel like I can afford it.

    You could always sleep in my van Steve! And bring a port-a-pottie that you can use in there that nobody would know about or be able to hear! :-)

  3. Bruce,
    I take quite a bit of it already. It's not a content issue as much as it is a function issue. Hard to explain. I've met very few people who understand this.