When IF:Gathering - a multi-denominational women’s conference - debuted last year, they made an unheard of decision.
They didn’t charge a ticket price.
With a stellar line-up of must-read Christian female blogger-writers (including Canadian queen mother, Ann Voskamp), Jennie Allen and her colleagues likely could have charged whatever they wanted. Instead, they opened their ticket sales with a “pay what you can” promise and sold out in minutes… two years in a row.
This was an admirable choice and one which made it possible for any woman (with high-speed wireless and within driving distance) the chance to fellowship, worship with and learn from the who’s who of, dare I say, feminist evangelicalism.
It certainly allowed me the chance to tune in from across the pond while my kids watched cartoons and ate dinner. I cried with Shauna Niequist and her mom, Lynne Hybels (my new spirit animal). I laughed with Jen Hatmaker (who doesn’t). I nodded my head in affirmation with Melinda Doolittle belting, “There is power in the name of Jesus, to break every chain…”
Faith conferences as a whole are big business. They cost thousands of dollars to install, light, decorate and host. And I’d be remiss to not admit that we’ve spent more than a few pinched pennies on Christian conferences in our day (women’s conferences, church planting conferences, marriage conferences, creatives conferences). I wince thinking of the massive payout for a weekend’s worth of spiritual highs that soon wore off after we returned home to our normal day jobs without a contemporary worship soundtrack.
So, it’s with a hefty amount of appreciation I tip my hat to IF:Gathering. This is no small, down-home shindig. With a pricetag of $500,000, the IF:Gathering Conference is a Martha Stewart affair on a grand mason-jar-scale. And I loved glimpsing just a few small peeks of it.
But while like-minded online Christian communities make many of their products free or nearly-free, they also give market to the upper-middle-class Christian woman and her identity as a consumer of fine, ethical goods. And boy, have they got our number:
We love jewelry.
We love distressed leather bags.
We love hand-lettering.
We love paper goods.
And we will shell out cold, hard cash for it.
To be fair, IF is promoting ethical, eco-friendly, sustainable businesses at home and in the developing world. They are highlighting and paying women in poverty a more than fair wage for their beautiful, quality handiwork. This is hand-made stuff from Africa! $180 for a leather tote is a good deal when it comes to saving a woman’s life.
Another favourite website runs a devotional website for free online, but markets high end journals to enhance the experience. One can always follow along with the blog, but that Lent book (you have the option of a journal or devotional) is of a high standard. I mean, it’s SCRIPTURE for crying out loud. God’s Word and limited edition artwork don’t come cheap. It has hymns and flowers and is totally worth the $40 (sorry, sold out). There’s always the two-week devotional for $24. And then we’ll start another one and you can buy another journal.
And then another one.
And then another one.
Did I mention you can sign up for free daily email devotionals? With links to the shop, of course (and coupon codes, too!). Don't forget, a popular Christian home blogger says that $600 cowhide rug will last at least 10 years. All you need to do is sign up for this exclusive online shopping club…
Now let me stop right there before you close this browser window and never come back.
I love art. I love culture. I love creating work that will move people and I am so thankful there are people who will support new and exciting endeavours that add beauty to our world, that impact a community of women across the ocean or in our own backyard.
I’m happiest when surrounded by writers, musicians, sculptors, painters, woodworkers and designers. I’m inspired by them and want to promote them. My brother-in-law created a major music festival out of thin air and I think you should all buy tickets. An Irish friend weaves the most brilliant (in every sense of the word) handmade, silk scarves and I want everyone to know about it.
We should pay for good art, for quality products, to change a life, to impact the world. Let’s all do that. But let’s not mistake consuming with discipleship.
Let’s not pretend we’re not perpetuating the marketplace with a plethora of "Christian" goods that will be replaced on a rotating basis. Let’s not all wear matching gold leaf necklaces on stage and not admit that it’s advertising. Let’s not pretend our paper goods are modestly priced and then ignore discussion on the costs. And let’s not pretend one must buy a $200 leather knapsack in order to empower a woman in Ethiopia.
Let’s be honest and admit we just want it. I want to buy that bag and pretend I bought it because it’s ethical and organic and local and whatever. I saw a rainbow of gorgeous women kneel in prayer and I thought, “Oooh, I love that leaf necklace.” So I opened a second screen in my browser, looked it up online, discovered it was nearly $80 and cried a single tear. Still, I WANT IT.
And I want a pretty devotional, which will help me grow closer to God. But then I’ll replace it in two weeks with another devotional or another journal or another print of another motivational saying.
If it’s for God, for women, for humanity, it’s totally justifiable. And you will sell it to me. It’s the grown-up version of the teenage Christian t-shirt. “Not Ashamed” is so mid-90s, but an actual key on a chain will last forever.
Professional Christian women conference-hosters and teachers and devotion-makers, I’m so thankful for you. For your spirit, for your fire, for the communities you’re creating, the artists you’re highlighting and the God you’re following.
But I can’t afford it anymore.
Actually, I never could.
I can’t match your leaf necklace with mine, buy another bracelet, invest in a leather magnet clutch. I’m not going to look like you, shop like you, study the Bible like you. I’ve got to do it on the cheap, so I can be a real-life Christian woman in my messy, tarnished world. I want to try and tell a story with my life, not with my jewelry. It’s not going to be as noticeable, it sure as heck won’t be as pretty, and it’s not going to offset the costs of your conference, but I’m still one of the many women who need your encouragement, your teaching and your support.
So please don’t treat us like consumers. Don’t market to us, don’t tempt us with your hand-stamped chevron. It’s unethical to spiritually blackmail your sisters into buying expensive stuff because it’s for a good cause.
We’re cultivators and we’re storytellers, just like you.
But if anyone wants to buy me a distressed leather tote, you go right ahead. I actually really do need a new bag for my vintage 2007 laptop. I hope those straps are sturdy, though, and the leather is treated, ‘cuz it weighs 23 pounds and overheats like a boss.