From Befuddlement to Mystery during the Carnival de Resistance

I had two spiritually profound experiences two weeks ago that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. This is about one of them. I was part of the Carnival de Resistance residency in Minneapolis (many fond memories!), beginning a new seminary class and feeling lots of feelings. I was there for 10 days of a 30 person, 30 day eco village experiment and arts carnival – easily find pics on the Facebook page. I had been sitting for a few days with some difficult questions that had arisen during my seminary work. During one of our performances my befuddlement had moved into embracing mystery in a way where felt connected, and embraced back by God. I felt the Holy Spirit in my body as I drummed and choked through the lyrics to the anthem’s line “I’m gonna stay on the battlefield till I die…” You may want to listen to Sweet Honey in the Rock’s version while you read.

The Mexican muralistas walked behind our dancers (Jenna, Helen, Belle, and Tevyn – inspiring Circle of Hope partners!) with this banner (above) and raised their fists – both in defiance of tyranny and together with those defending water against the extraction industry with their private military. Everyone under the big top (besides people playing drums with both hands, I guess) raised a fist. It was the climactic moment of the show, the second time we performed it. It was more than an exhilaration from performance. It was more than just having strong and complicated emotions. I know what the presence of God feels like. God is there when I feel most alive, when I’m distressed – and still surprises me sometimes.

Experiences or activities that help us connect with God

I’m glad that I learned how to worship God at a young age – especially in the context of when the church gathers. Worshipping together has been a central discipline to my whole adult life. I use it as a time to be formed by bringing our hopes, worries, and everything else to God through mutual expression, often through art and music – while including others. Each of our meetings on Sunday night feel like an inclusive family dinner to me.

I’ve love how this meme can help us think about spaces of personal God time. They bring up a common problem – so many people unsuccessfully try to cram that experience into a church building and don’t acknowledge that a close encounter with God’s Spirit often happens when we’re doing what we love. I’ve heard people this year talk about developing intimacy with God when they run 5 miles, work on their garden, write a song, go hiking, sit in the woods and listen to birds, read and ponder the words of mystics, march against injustice, practice photography, consider the wonders of the universe, meditate on Scripture, dance, making a friend on purpose, paint, clean the house…I could go on.

These encounters don’t need a priestly figure performing the ceremonial rites ahead of time. Jesus made all times sacred, we just need to enter in. Everyone participating might not have the same intention and interpretation of the event. We do have unity of purpose at our Sunday meetings and cell meetings – we call it “setting the sacred space.” What practices or habits help you experience God’s presence? The two meetings of the church each week probably aren’t enough to sustain you longterm – part of following Jesus is growing your capacity to experience the Holy Spirit all the time.

We resist what we don’t already understand

Susan Boyle illustrated the classic aphorism

Susan Boyle illustrated the classic aphorism “don’t judge a book by its cover” on Britain’s got talent. *swoon

I heard one of our pastors, Gwen, say at Doing Theology last week that we are naturally suspicious of things we think are different than what we already know. I know I can be like that. When I don’t understand something or when an idea doesn’t reinforce something I already think/believe/feel – it takes some intentional work to not go with my instinct to close off, resist, or withdraw. It’s a risk because sometimes it’s healthy and others we miss something that the Spirit might be bubbling up.

If you’re still reading and ready for another relevant song, the First Nations DJ trio A Tribe Called Red dropped a new album recently that’s been on repeat for me. Here’s the first single featuring Yasiin Bey (Mos Def), “R.E.D.” 

I only have two classes left to complete for my Masters in Intercultural Studies degree through my seminary, NAIITS. My current class of ten people is Ethics in an Intercultural Context. Since it’s the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies, we often consider implications of mission in Native contexts (historically, currently, and the future) and give special attention to Native experiences. My professor was not afraid to start our class off with some rather antagonistic writings by Vine Deloria – a hugely important Native scholar.

The assigned article and excerpts were hard for me to get through. I was taking a break from Carnival community life, trying to study before sending in my reflections for our weekly class Google hangout. I felt a little mentally blown out to sea. I was struggling to know what I felt or thought about questions raised in my readings, like:  Do Liberation Theologies really just reinforce white supremacy, perpetuating the same myths & systems that keep us from creating new ways of thinking and relating? Can Christians become spatial (connected to place) as well as temporal (going along time) in order to become more than colonizing to her non-members? I wanted to understand other perspectives and only had a few hours of dialogue. I was in that headspace for a few days, feeling befuddled while trying not to resist, withdraw, or close myself off to the new ideas.

As a group we, local pastor Jim Bear Jacobs (Mohican) showed us the documentary Dakota 38 and led a talking circle. The US had forced Dakota elders (mostly women) into a deadly internment camp, a final straw for the nation. They fought back. The day after the Emancipation Proclamation, President Lincoln ordered the largest mass execution in US history – to hang 38 of the leaders of the uprising. I highly recommend the documentary Dakota 38.

The Reality that doesn’t quite exist yet

As we work to realize together what “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as in heaven” means, we are not just biding our time. Don’t we actually experience pockets and moments of Christ’s Reality. Thinks click. They make sense in our heads, our hearts, together, and give us courage to live a demonstration of it. A little taste of heaven! Rather than thinking heaven only exists in some other strange planet or dimension, why not live into the new reality Jesus initiated and invites us into right here in our own planet, time, community, geography, and body? We can live into it together and make more pockets and moments where Jesus is the foundation of all – and harmony returns to earth.

Back to the climax of the CDR’s water show “Burning River” : Tevyn just gave a moving closing monologue that tied together elements of the show. Water is a gift from God and is necessary for life, health, and healing – in both the figurative (living water) and literal (rivers, etc) sense. Working for the health of the water is deeply connected to how we view creation – as a commodity or a gift from our Creator and we’re invited to baptism even in the polluted water. We’re singing, dancing, raising fists (see first paragraph). It all connected for me. We were in one of those sweet spots. Our discourse and ideas merged with saying yes and being part of the Spirit’s movement. It connected us to the struggle against evil and greed, and with those forming an alternative that was ready to act.

Don’t let your befuddlement keep you from engaging with God and the befuddled others (aka the church). We may feel how it’s working before we understand it completely. That’s the kind of life I get to be part of every day as part of Circle of Hope. We’re embodying an alternative to what people generally think is reality. Generating justice and hope and our neighborhood (not just someone else’s neighborhood) is at the heart of us. I’m pretty excited for what we’re going to do this week about it.  

 

 

 

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My Carnival de Resistance highlights from NC last week

The Carnival crew and key organizers from Area 15

I’m really grateful for the opportunity to spend last week in North Carolina with the Carnival de Resistance. My dear friends Tevyn & Jay have been developing the ideas and expressions for a while, and I’ve been able to be part at different levels over the past three years. This year I got to take part in the training and formation as well as the performances. I am framing it all according to my own participation as an answer to “what I’ve been up to” so this will be less comprehensive than other debriefs. Thanks to the whole crew, the folks at Area 15 in Charlotte, and especially to Tim Nafziger for your photographs (used throughout this piece).

View from the pond house

We met up at a remote house on this wonderful pond for some group formation, training, and practice. Several of our carnivalistas were new so we focused on developing our midway characters as well as Bible study, worship, and fun games. We needed to insert playfulness into many aspects of the training as getting beyond our normal headspace is critical to our group dynamic and  theological performances.Some of the formation process for the group included discussions on ecotheology and carnival theology.

Major portions of our training included a few hours of an introduction to anti-racism analysis by a vocational trainer (Kara of Crossroads, which was the basis for Damascus Road & Roots of Justice) and team. We also held a panel discussion on cultural appropriation. We are trying to understand the systems that shape our cultural context right now and members have studied cross-culturally in ways of art (circus, music), education (college, seminary, informal relationship settings) as well as church life. From my experience, being white and being trained in cultural arts and theology/praxis by many people of color can makes me seem to some like a bad white person, a poser, or a race traitor. Playing certain instruments or singing in certain languages can be powerful expressions of unity & solidarity or accessorization and theft. We need to do our homework, both relationally and study – so that we give it the care it needs to be able to express what God’s given us as well as long for the captives to be set free.

One piece looked like a water slide, filled with empty water bottles and plastic fish – showing the irony of our love/hate relationship with our water

We also spent an afternoon and evening with DeWayne Barton at the Burton Street Community Peace Gardens in Asheville. DeWayne led us to process water devastation, mass incarceration, drone warfare, the need for immigration reform, police brutality, faith, and bringing an end to violence in a neighborhood that is now threatened by gentrification. His vision and hard work with kids locally especially inspired me.

 

Sarah playing capoeira to the song Paranaue

 

The ceremonial theater pieces, while only a part of the Carnival vision, require the most preparation. There are four pieces, each connecting prophetic Scripture to current ecological crises: Earth, Water, Air, and Fire. We prepared the Earth Piece “Blood on the Cedars” as well as the Water Show aka “Wading Through Deep Water.” I mostly played electric guitar, with occasional roles on the dununs (three West African bass drums) and electric bass.

Larrin Granderson, the producer and engineer at Soule Jukebox helping setup and later he ran sound. http://www.soulejukebox.com/

After our training and formation stages, we travelled to Charlotte to our host site – Area 15. Carlos Espin and friends bought this enormous industrial complex over a decade ago and continue to form a diverse small business incubator and parachurch organization. The Carnival is usually hosted by a church. Some of the businesses: a Free Store, a bike recycler/teaching bike shop, tattoo parlor, fitness center, a recording studio and a moonshine distillery. The people that hang out there come from many walks of life, and I could relate to being on the edge of post-industrial poverty facing encroaching gentrification. The setup for the tents, games, stage, bike-powered sound system, and fossil fuel-free kitchen took all day to setup.

Everybody wins at “Help Jesus chase the money-changers out of the Temple”

By the time the Midway began on Friday, we were warmed up and excited. My friend Kara and I ran three games, I mostly focused on two. The first was the easiest game to win – help Jesus chase the money-changers out of the temple. I focused on the materialism in our worship and how profitization shouldn’t keep people from praying. I also ran the frisbee toss, trying to throw a camel (frisbee with a camel on it) through the eye of a needle (painted needles with frisbee sized holes in them). This was the most difficult game in the park and usually took at least 5min of theological play as people threw four frisbees. Through the process, they got to acknowledge how wealth did not help you enter the kingdom, and by choosing various ways of community, mission, and redistribution you could move closer to the target. If the person would give me their wallet (all but one actually did!), you could push the frisbee through. I spent almost five hours in these conversations with strangers – very stimulating for me.

Readings, litanies, songs, and movement pieces prepared us for the Earth show “Blood on the Cedars.”

The opening acts  included a local capoeira group, an organizer involved with getting Bree Newsome up the flagpole, a local musician, and a local spoken word poet. Both Earth and Water shows highlight theological poetry of Jim Perkinson performed by various characters played by Tevyn and Jay. The loudest call came at the end of the Water Show when the character John the Baptizer told people they must be baptized in the dirty water, because all of our water has been made dirty. The final morning we led a worship time that included a foot washing before sharing a meal and breaking down.

There is so much more to say but I’ll end with another thanks – for the space to go and participate. I think that people change by practicing doing – and these opportunities gave chances for it. The playful nature of the games and artistic expressions help re-frame Scriptures that might not be as well-known as John 3:16 a chance to further deepen & expand our praxis of the gospel as well as to enter into a conversation about and with Jesus with some fresh ears & eyes.

A society of beggars: Navigating the seas of Brilliant Friends & Crowdfunding Fatigue

I’m a bit of a booster when it comes to my friends’ projects. While I certainly love creativity, most good ideas I hear about never turn into a reality. Sometimes it’s because some people are better dreamers than practitioners. I think most often, it’s because we don’t think we actually make a difference.

Not a small number of my friends shared the pixelated photos yesterday of a group of white people walking down the street. They were likely the group who assaulted two guys in Center City last Thursday after making anti-gay remarks, landing them robbed and in the hospital.  How could sharing these photos actually help? On Twitter, someone must have recognized the dude in the salmon/blue shirt while searching Facebook check-ins near the scene. No arrests have been made as of now, but it appears this case may have been solved by Twitter users. It’s amazing!

I hope that seeing how sharing stories or other seemingly small contributions like this make a huge difference for people involved. Caring & sharing go hand-in-hand with social media – especially with investing & crowd sourcing. Here are a few suggestions for how to navigate the seas of having brilliant friends while possibly feeling the fatigue of people asking.

Ask the questions “why are so many people begging?” I’ve heard my share of “back in the day” stories when if someone had a business idea they went to the bank and got a loan. Since 2008’s financial debacle, that’s not likely to happen – especially if your business doesn’t exist yet. Our financial rulers prefer to ramp up more big box franchises, non-tenure adjunct instructor, part time employee, consolidation of wealth strategies. Those of us without rich families of origin, benevolent wealthy friends, or friends capable of investing are left begging. How should we respond to begging when we’re turning into a society of lesser beggars?

People are asking us for money or signing up for something everywhere we go. Buying underwear at Target is to be asked if you want a Target credit card. Going to a show is to be asked to buy merch so the band members can afford to have a family. Watching a Youtube video is to sit through an advertisement and being asked to “like,” “share,” and of course “subscribe.”

Pay attention to your heart while examining what your friends are sharing. Do you have a few minutes to consider their idea or do you tune it out when you feel like you’re being asked for something? Have you been desensitized to a friendly ask by all the begging? Is God trying to soften your heart at times for meaningful attempts at breaking through

You might have the problem of there being too many good ideas for you to support. You can’t give money to all of them. You might not want to turn your Twitter/Facebook feed into a constant stream of advertising because it could violate your personal branding, image, or purpose for having them.

Consider what you give away unconsciously. Most of my friends fantasize about war tax resisting without looking at the resources we have while the war machine gladly enjoys our acquiescence. We’re hit with bogus fees on everything from ATM withdraws to processing fees to fuzzy administrative charges from utility companies.

It’s been a rough summer for my friends trying to crowd source some start up funds. Gary Ducket Pickles got about $4k of a $30k goal on Kickstarter. Crime & Punishment Brewery got about $13k of their $24k goal on Indiegogo. Are these ideas bad or are we fatigued?

This week my friend Alyssa is trying to fund her thesis show about PTSD and women in the military. My friend Nic is gething pre-orders for his upcoming book about Kensington Homesteading a block from my house. Scotty is about to go to to Iraqi Kurdistan with Christian Peacemaker Teams. My friend Blew, after a crazy landlord conflict had to close my favorite direct trade organic coffee house that happened to be a block from my home. She is attempting to courageously open a new one, right across the street from the old one. She’s got like 4 days and about $7k to raise or else she gets nothing from her Kickstarter campaign for Franny Lou’s Porch.

Consider what you give away consciously. You swim in a sea of imagination where people are less reliant on inherited wealth or debt to predatory lenders. Does your conscious sharing/spending match your values? Martha and I had to adjust our budget a few years ago to make room for gifting to projects we believe in or friends that need a blessing – on top of our normal common fund sharing with Circle of Hope. It is freeing for us and feels good to help good dreams become reality. We want more generative projects and businesses, even if it means less “freedom” to spend money on other whims and habits.

I don’t think God expects everyone to be huge boosters of all these campaigns. I hope that you can find some prayerful place between your the instincts you might have to shut down in what could feel like pressure or blindly say yes to everything. God will guide you towards Godly values and help discern how to keep putting them into practice. I think we have a chance to do so many beautiful things together, and our neighbors need more beauty.

The Scrapper

If you haven’t checked out Jon O‘s documentary The Scrapper, there is an upcoming screening (City Paper writeup to boot).

It’s really great, Jon gives the viewer a chance to hang out with Joe-pushing his shopping cart on roller blades around Kensington.  The film gets you inside-not only close to Joe’s story, but his humanity.

That Jon O is mad talented.  Below is from an email form him.

It will happen @ 941 Theater
941 N. Front St.
Philadelphia PA 19123
(on Front just as you hit the cobblestone)

SCHEDULE / PRICES
Sun May 17
6pm – 20th Century Boy – $6
7:30pm – The Scrapper – $3
8pm – The Mind – $6
All day pass – $10

20th Century Boy is a romantic comedy of sorts about a guy who thinks he was in World War 1
http://www.myspace.com/20thcenturyboyfilm

The Mind is a wild horror movie…
www.myspace.com/themindmovie

There will be free beer!

Get advance tickets here:
http://www.brownpapertickets.com/producer/7724

It should be a good time…Joe will be there….

Sorry about the Sunday evening thing, but maybe you could come after the 5?

end of semester, beginning of…

Lots of things coming to a good end lately:

The 2007 Frankford renovation.

The college semester (one more assignment and final).

Lots of good things beginning:

Wed night baseball

Shalom House Festival (May 13, 6:30pm at 2007 Frankford)

The Discerning Team has met twice about the next church plant.

Composting in the backyard, getting ready for our little garden (Japanese cukes, cilantro, some flowers already going)

I also managed to sprain my ankle during the first inning of the first game of the year.  I go to a specialist tomorrow to see how bad the damage is.  Today was the first day that the swelling went down, that’s encouraging.

Schoolly

When my teacher told me that Schoolly D was going to be coming into class, I thought it was pretty awesome and funny.  I had only heard of him because of PSK and by the word on the street that Ice T had stolen his whole deal.

Last Tuesday, Schoolly and some friends (including Umar from Street Fatigues) visited our class.  Schoolly grew up at 52nd & Parkside, and started playing guitar in a family band before he was 10yrs old.  He’s talented, personable, and hilarious.  Top moment of the day…

Nate:  “How would you describe your relation to so-called Gangsta Rap?”

Schoolly:  “I’m the father.”

Modesty may not be in the top 4 words to describe him.  Among other things lately, he’s been busy working on a new album.  You may know him also from Aqua Teen Hunger Force as he wrote the theme, most of the score, and the character Shake was loosely based on him.

Hearing him talk about hip hop was a privilege.  He still tries to do it “the old way.”  Recording, writing, and producing in-house as well as putting things out first on his own label.  It’s not made for mass consumption.   He told the kids in class about how important it was to be yourself artistically-don’t try to fit into a box that people (even you) think will sell before what you really care about.

I got to talk to him for a couple minutes after class.  I honestly wish I had brought my camera.  He’s a legend.

serious stakeholders

I was really impressed by the depth of those who were able to make it out last night to the FN Stakeholders meeting.  When we get together like that something profound happens.  I’m grateful for so many partners.  I’m glad we not only have something great going in our little congregation but are part of something much larger and connected by the way we live it out.

Grandiose groves grow

Seemingly seedlessly but

Only in our heads.
Me and Lily went to hang with my next door neighbor John today.  He’s been a published cartoonist since the 70’s.  Some of them got turned into snowglobes.  He let Lily hold the one that this comic (from the New Yorker) became.  Pretty cool.  Tons of his comics here.

me 3.0

my brother Jeffrey (funniest of the 4 of us) made a couple cracks to me about 3.0 today.  He is not only funny, he’s right.  I’ve been getting ready for the next version of me, today is a good day to be feeling it.   I feel good.

Lots happening these days.  Last week I was in Michigan with psalters most of the time.  Next week FN Stakeholders meeting, more music, CoH Camden, saying farewell to my boy Clarence.  So much and so awesome.

Maybe different looks like:

1.  I cried while watching A Little Princess with my family last night.

2.  finishing the rehab at 2007 Frankford

3.  starting my Kodo training

4.  both kids will want to go to Phillies day games

5…other?

also movin on up

My next door neighbor Mike told me yesterday that his band Philadelphia Slick just got a show next Friday at Temple opening up for Nas.  Pretty big deal for them.  The show is at the Liacouras Center, $25 w/Temple Id-liimit 2 per student (hey, it’s homecoming.  btw, I didn’t hear whether I was on the prom court this time yet).  Let me know if you need a Temple Student to get your tickets, although said student is not willing to pay for you.

They are a 10pc hip hop crew with soul/funk/R&B/Philadelphia Sound feel, 2 MC’s.   Lyrically they dabble in social consciousness and everyone I’ve met in the group is pretty chill.

Philadelphia Slick on myspace.

Become a fan on Facebook if you want here.