Why Can’t Women’s Retreats be so INTENSE?

My church’s women’s retreat is this weekend. I’ve never been, which I see as my problem and not the church’s retreat planners. Everyone who goes comes back happy, and I imagine I might, too, if I gave women’s retreats a chance. Given my discomfort with sharing space/meals/sleep/spiritual life with people I don’t know well, I’ve never even risked the thought of attending a women’s retreat.

Besides, my idea of retreat is more equivalent to personalized bacchanal: a big, soft bed all to myself; a few friends I know really well; copious amounts of sugar, in various forms; and hours and hours of reality TV.

Somehow, I don’t think the church would endorse a women’s retreat like that.

But then I saw news about a retreat I would probably really like (especially if I could have my own bed to crash on after each day’s end). The INTENSE retreat is coming up in a few weeks, and the whole event sounds perfect for me, except that 1) it’s in Texas and 2) it’s only for Alpha Males.

Yes, it says that right in the tagline for the INTENSE weekend: the focus of this year’s retreat is the Alpha Male. If that whole INTENSE title and “Alpha Male” tagline isn’t enough, the web splash page includes a big ole’ snarling wolf. Nothing says building Men of Christ than an animal ready to bite the face of anyone who stands in his way. Can I get an amen?

The entire INTENSE weekend promises to develop godly men by competing, communicating, and sharpening! Which is, I suppose, why jousting is on the schedule of events—those jousting sticks must be sharpened for the many competitions promised.

Other events sound like a lot of fun: football and basketball games, soccer, a warrior run, bull riding, boxing, and paintball. For those not inclined to athletic competition, there is also chess, dominos, ping pong, and chili cook-offs, but I cannot really imagine that INTENSE Alpha Men would be involved in such activities.

Would they?

And can every man at an Alpha Men conference be Alpha Men? Doesn’t a football field full of Alpha Men somehow undermine the very definition of an Alpha Man? Perhaps the men playing chess and dominos are not really Alpha Men. Maybe just alpha men.

Conference speakers are pastors at churches with names like PowerHouse and Big Country, which do well to highlight the vastness of Jesus, his strength and masculinity. Indeed, the pastor at PowerHouse believes ardently in the INTENSE Alpha Men conference because in his mind, manliness and Christ-likeness are synonymous.

If Jesus were around today, he’d be right in the scrum of a football game, cooking off his spicy chili and being first in line for the boxing ring. Wouldn’t he?

Given how much I like competition, playing basketball and soccer, and pretending I’m a cowgirl, I would no doubt prefer an Alpha Men conference to many women-oriented retreats which focus on scrapbooking and crafting (though I must be clear that this is not necessarily what my women’s church retreat does: I have not attended, because of my own stupid hang-ups).

Which suggests again the multitude of problems with these INTENSE experiences, designed as men-only, testosterone-fueled events or women-only retreats intended to focus on “what women are designed to do.” Not all men want to be Alpha Men; not all women find interest in building relationships through intimate fireside chats and making crafts. We have our own interests, and it would be nice to find some kind of spiritual retreat experience that played to our gifts, not our gender-designed roles.

This is why I always liked GFU faculty retreats, despite the boring discussions about assessment and flipped-classrooms. At least there, I could play volleyball during my free time while my male colleague, Ed, took off for antiquing with some of his GFU friends. We were free to pursue what interested us most, gender roles and God’s apparent “design” be damned.

Until churches can come up with retreats that acknowledge our unique giftedness and the ways God is reveal to us differently, I’ll stick with my idea of a retreat: a big bed all to myself, some close friends nearby, and some good reality TV. That fits best my idea of what it truly means to retreat, after all.