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.

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.

When God said poop: prophetic theater and suffering through our collective sins

I’m not totally sure how I got on an Ezekiel kick, but I’m on one. While talking to a couple of cool pastors the other day at the Urban Anabaptist Ministry Symposium in Philadelphia we got on the topic. They told me that they stick to Ezekiel’s “greatest hit” – the Valley of Dry Bones. The other week I dipped into this prophet while going through the story about the destruction of the cities Sodom & Gomorrah. God, through Ezekiel explains the sin of Sodom was that “She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” If there ever was an Old Testament prophet with a one-hit wonder for pastors – it’s Ezekiel with Valley of the Dry Bones and its “B-side” about Sodom.

The prophet Ezekiel

Since got into chapter 4 the other week, I haven’t been able to leave it alone. The big WOW is after God explained that he was to suffer for the collective sins of the covenant people through a 390 then 40 day session of laying on the ground while eating meager food & water and “playing dolls” version of a siege playset. “Eat the food as you would a loaf of barley bread; bake it in the sight of the people, using human excrement for fuel.” That’s pretty amazing. God says poop.

We could act like four year olds and stop there, but then we would miss out what is happening in the longer arc. Ezekiel, beginning his prophetic ministry in his early 30s is both re-enacting the sins of God’s covenant people and showing the future destruction of the city while he and his 2,999 other Jewish elites are in Babylonian exile. Through a very colorful display, God is trying to get his covenant people to deal with their collective sin – turning away from God as their king, moving out of being one people, and losing hope about their future. I think this is an engaging liturgical theater rife with politics, certainly causing problems but useful to God’s cause of restoring the covenant people back to the path of God’s harmony. Then comes a lot more preparation before the more popular word about Sodom and finally the dead dead dead things being made alive again.

I can’t help but wonder what God might be calling the covenant people in Jesus to do about our

One artist’s rendition of what Columbus Day is really celebrating

collective sins in North America. For starters, I’m concerned with the systems that benefit a small group to the exclusion of many trough the land theft/abuse and genocide of the people God made a covenant with about taking care of this land thousands of years ago and the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and generations of rape and forced unfree labor of Africans. How long will our sisters and brothers in Christ shrug off dealing with this set of unreconciled brokenness with “you still talking about that?” “shouldn’t you just get over it?” or “it’s really not racial injustice any more – it’s really a class issue.”

I don’t think Jesus is laying more guilt trips, I think Jesus is empowering us to do something substantive about it. Through the work of the Creator of the universe, we are capable of experiencing a oneness with God/creation/one another that unravels these systems and forms a healing balm to the atrocities bringing us back to Shalom. Our question is less about whether we have the responsibility to deal with our collective sins. Our question has more to do with what we’ll do with our Spirit-filled imagination in the restoration of God’s Shalom.

Theatrics have been part of good protests as well as worship for a long time. I don’t have a high tolerance for regular worship to be overly theatrical, but I do love the occasional Christ-centered demonstration. Can using some symbolic acts – even costumes – help make a deeper point to people who might not otherwise pay attention or be interested?

I think for many of us, like Ezekiel, the process will include suffering – but not as much as those who already suffered. If we use our prophetic imaginations, at least the suffering will be productive and the theater fun. Since around two billion people use dung for fuel (including our boy Ezekiel) can we not also use the proverbial excrement of life (our collective sins, personal failures,  etc) to fuel the daily bread of change?