Tanking with the Sixers for Lent

Love is central to our common life and common work. Our pastors and staff work on their love. We enjoy our work most of the time, and find it fun and lifegiving. We also make time to have fun together. To play. More common experiences shape us and build up our love and our sense of team.

I excitedly got us to buy Sixers tickets. We just suffered three years of taking, where the team kept the roster slim and traded away veteran talent for draft picks and players hanging out in Europe. This year some very talented rookies took the floor, and the #1 draft pick last year was set to return from his foot surgery. When Joel Embiid was playing out of his mind and the date for Ben Simmons’ debut was seemingly just days away, I thought seeing a young team playing well and sorting itself out would be good for us. Our team is young in a lot of ways – people are in new roles over the past two years and we’ve expanded to include more pastors over the past few months!  Then came more injuries and Joel and Ben were shut down for the rest of the year. The trade deadline did not pass without unloading more veteran talent for draft picks and project players. Tank 4.0 ensues. 

What can we learn from watching terrible basketball? Only a few of us are fans, and we hadn’t all been to a professional sporting event before. So there’s a lot we can learn just from bringing people with varying levels of interest and experience together. We can also learn about what it’s like to gut out harder times – startups, new ideas, life’s limitations, and high learning curves.  I’m among the dwindling yet faithful remnant who still #TrustTheProcess, I believe that all the losing is actually building a juggernaut from next season over the next 5 (at least). That’s a lot like Lent. We’re uncovering our limits and obstacles, and receiving what we need from God to face our suffering. We don’t think we’ll overcome it all right away. We know all of our efforts will pay off in the way we want or hope. We do want to learn how to hold on to hope – that Jesus is in our pain as we suffer with Jesus in his – and the Spirit will make us to bear good fruit for God. We need the Holy Spirit’s inspiration and equipping to overcome our important obstacles and we have her, just like the Sixers need and have Dario Saric. 

I’m so grateful for this classically wonderful group of people. It was so sweet and fun to be together knowing that as good and difficult as our work is right now, our future is even brighter.

In case you don’t recognize them all…(bottom row, left to right) Rod White, Gwen White, Ben White, Rachel Sensenig (middle row, left to right) Nate Hulfish, Joshua Grace, Bethany Hornak, Julie Hoke, Jerome Stafford, Jonny Rashid (top row) a few friendly onlooking coworkers. Missing: Luke Bartolomeo and our part time Local Site Supervisors Jimmy, Pilar, Kim, and Krissy. You can read more about our dynamic team here.

Pray for our squad (Circle of Hope, although many Sixers would appreciate it, too). We are daring to take risks with a brave face. We take great comfort in knowing we have so many parters wanting to co-create in making more beauty with the Spirit together. 

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.