Northern Mummy

General thoughts and wittering about all sorts of things

Girls’ day out (with a difference)

on October 25, 2012

As promised last weekend, here are my reflections on this year’s Northern Women’s Convention which took place in Fallowfield, Manchester on 13th October.

If memory serves, the convention has been running for 8 years now, and I have attended the last 7 of them (I had originally planned to attend the first one too, despite being extremely pregnant at the time, but being stuck in a traffic jam in the middle of the A1 a few weeks before – with only a sleeping Bookworm for company – had made me reassess the wisdom of long-distance travel once I was into my full-term window.  As it turns out I’d have been fine, as the Butterfly stubbornly held out for a good couple of weeks after the convention).  I feel I have benefited from them in countless ways, through being able to hear speakers I’d never usually have the chance to meet (Dr Helen Roseveare was a highlight), through gleaning helpful advice about aspects of the Christian life from the seminars, through meeting up with Christian women from other parts of the country, through ticking off several people on my Christmas list courtesy of the well-stocked bookstall!

This year, the main speaker was Kathleen Nielson, from Lookout Mountain in Georgia, USA.  She works with the Gospel Coalition and has qualifications in literature.  Her talks were about the Bible and our study of it.  One of the things which struck me most of all was right at the start, when she explained why she was talking on this topic.  She pointed out that often at such events, we spend time listening to talks, attending seminars and using the Bible to investigate how to be more godly in different aspects of our lives, such as parenting, evangelism, etc.  She went on to say that whilst this is good, the real thing we need to do is to be reading the Bible for itself, getting to know it and what it has to say, the result being that the more we know of the Bible, the more we’ll know about how to live our lives in a way that honours and glorifies God.  She gave two talks, one from Isaiah 55 about why the Bible is worth studying and one from Joshua 2 about how we should study the Bible.  This was her other main point: that often, when we look at the Bible, we tend to read what it says and then jump straight to the “how do I need to apply that to my life? what does this say to me?” stage, when in actual fact, most times we need to ask “what does this passage teach me about God?” so that we can know him better – and the application which follows will be to respond to what we’ve learned or been reminded about him.  Kathleen used the story of Rahab to illustrate this method of studying the Bible, showing that the passage demonstrates how God keeps his promises, saves and builds a people from all the nations.

After the morning talk I went to the seminar Kathleen was running on “Literary Beauty in God’s Word”.  This is of especial interest to me as, like Kathleen, I spent a large part of my education studying literature in its various genres and forms.  A student of literature is trained in methods of critique and analysis which enable him/her to draw the maximum amount of meaning from the text and sometimes to explore the writer’s thoughts and motivation behind what is written.  I became proficient in using these tools to appraise all kinds of literature, but never the Bible.  It felt wrong to treat it like anything else, when it’s God’s word.  I thought I should just read it and take everything at face value (meaning a lot of it was a bit confusing, but hey-ho, that was what commentaries and Bible dictionaries were for, non?)

Then, a few years ago when I began to lead Bible Studies on a regular basis, someone gave me a copy of Dig Deeper, which professes to be a tool-kit for understanding the Bible.  Imagine my surprise when most of these “tools” turned out to be the very literary analysis techniques I’d learned at school and university!  Nobody had told me before that it was OK to treat the Bible in this way, to look at it as literature and explore the meaning by analysing the language and the structure!  And yet now I was discovering that this is what many people were doing in their devotional times, their sermon and study preparations, their article- and book-writing.  Since then I’ve tried to take more of that approach to the Bible but it’s always encouraging to hear more about it, especially from a literature expert such as Kathleen.  That day she talked mostly about the poetry of the Bible and about how people seem most fearful of considering this genre, often choosing to paraphrase the language quickly into prose before trying to analyse or apply it.  As Kathleen pointed out, this is quite ridiculous – if God had wanted it to be prose, it would have been prose to start off with, and therefore there must be more we can glean from the poetry, just as there is in any other poem.  Obviously our Bibles are in translation, so we don’t have the original language.  Usually the translation of poetry from one language to another is impossible, as metre, rhyme, etc cannot be replicated (without losing sense).  In Hebrew, however, one of the main poetic features is parallelism, where two lines are used together to emphasise a point, so it’s a happy accident (or divine providence) that Hebrew poetry can, for the most part, be translated without losing impact.

The other seminar I attended during the day was about “chatting the gospel”.  I’ve heard talks on this before and not found them especially helpful or constructive (“you should be doing it, and that’s all there is to it”) so I didn’t have very high hopes, but the three women interviewed were very down-to-earth and open about their practices and difficulties and some helpful ideas emerged.  One of the comments which had most impact for me was that if we get into the habit of talking about the Bible and about our Christian lives regularly with our Christian friends (e.g. “I’ve had an amazing answer to prayer today” as opposed to “Something amazing’s happened today”), that kind of talk will become more natural and “spill over” into conversations with non-Christian friends.

As usual there was the chance to learn some new songs and buy plenty of books, including Kathleen Nielson’s book Bible Study (which Southern Daddy has already seized upon and started reading) and some study notes and questions she has written on 1 and 2 Thessalonians.  Inevitably I made my annual stop at the “Colin” stall too, to stock up on his latest DVD for one of my girls’ stockings and a CD for our godson’s birthday.

It’s a long way to travel from Newcastle, but I always feel it’s well worth it for the teaching and the fellowship (and the shopping opportunities!) of the day, and I’m fortunate usually to be able to spend a weekend staying with Peacock and her family, who live much nearer.  She and I travel to the convention together, sometimes with other friends from her church, and the rest of our families spend the day having some Fun With Dad time (I used to worry that I was too neurotic and never let my children get dirty/in danger/etc, until Southern Daddy pointed out that that is what Dads are for, and we’ve observed that particular division of labour ever since.  So you can imagine the fun of a day with two Dads and no Mums!)

It’s started to occur to me, however, that I am the only person from my church family who makes the trip, and I really feel that’s a shame.  Recently a local church has started to run a day for women of the North East, which is great, but for various reasons I feel it’s complementary, rather than alternative, to the NWC.  For one thing, it’s very different in style, which means that people would benefit in different ways, and for another, there’s a reason why the Northern Women’s Convention is so called: it’s for women who live in the North of England – not the North West, or North East, or North Wales or anywhere else, but the whole of the North.  The encouragement and benefits of meeting all together, just for that one day, could not be found in the same way at a smaller, more local, event.  Until this year, the event encompassed the Midlands, too, but rising attendance figures and the inevitability that some people would miss out once it was full to capacity has led to the establishment of a similar, separate event for the Midlands.  (It was definitely needed – for the last 2 years the NWC has reached capacity at 1000 attendees.  This year, the NWC saw 900 in attendance and the MWC 600.) It’s a shame not to see some of the Midlands people I have met in the past, but encouraging in a different way to hear the news of this latest development.

All in all, I think it’s something my friends at church and Bible study could benefit from, which is why next year I’m not going to be staying with Peacock (although I hope to see her there).  Instead I’m going to organise a group of people to travel together, there and back in the day.  It will mean an early start, but I think it will be fun to set off really early, all in one or two cars, then stop to eat together on the way.  On the way home we’ll be able to discuss what we’ve heard and learned, maybe during another stop-off, and when we get home we can support one another in trying to apply it all to our lives and the way we study and pray together.

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