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.

Baltimore in the Age of Ultron

I wonder how many of us will watch Avengers: Age of Ultron as it comes out this week. It’s probably going to break records. For many of Americans, the rising of an inhuman an evil trying to destroy the community is not only fictitious but entertaining to watch the fanciful nationalists defend us against it. Others see the Powers more clearly, like the apostle Paul offered in his letter to the Ephesians “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

In Baltimore, it shouldn’t be hard to see something dark allowing a 25yr old to get killed for running after making eye contact with law enforcement. Six cops are suspended with pay and the department admits they should have buckled him in while in custody as well as attended to his medical needs sooner, multiple times. Although I think seeing that white supremacy inherent in the system actually requires some work for many Americans. We see burning cop cars, angry black people, and the headlines filled with “riots,” “looters,” or worse. We don’t see the inhuman circumstances that lead up to the outbursts or even the “peaceful” protests after Freddie Gray’s funeral. As a society, we see the destruction of property before the destruction of human life or community.

As much as we can point out thugs overzealous fans rioting celebrating a little too hard getting reported differently reflects a majority public opinion, we know that crowds burning stuff because Joe Pa got fired for not protecting kids from his sexual predator friend is different than Baltimore. Baltimore’s unrest, riots, or uprising stands as a challenge to white supremacy. It might be easier for you to see people damaging stuff than it is to see dead people. It might be easier to make suggestions for how desperate people should act than to stay focused on what makes them desperate.

I’ve noticed more “unfriend threats” on Facebook in the past day than in the last half a decade combined. Many by white people who are trying to be clear that they will no longer tolerate sympathy for the state/property without empathy for another loss of a black human by unreasonable policing methods. I wish it didn’t shut down dialogue or cut of relationships-even virtual ones but I get it. We all have our limits.

I actually saw this picture in my FB feed yesterday. You can read most of the original post [that not only got taken down but the profile deleted] with some commentary in this article.

While I haven’t talked to or seen the poster in almost 20 years, you might think “how can you still have a connection with him?” While admittedly, the connection is thin but I hope he reads this post. I want to influence him. If he was in the Philadelphia region, I would want him to get compelled by Jesus to see a bigger world than he’s been exposed to and get in touch with a healing agent that actually forms something more powerful than even the atrocity-spawning Powers.

I think forming the Church with Jesus actually heals the brokenness of the world. I also march (why not come out on Thursday?), organize, make deep relations with different kinds of folks, live in an urban whatnot, practice peacemaking, village parent, etc etc etc. I see Jesus still out there getting pushed around and told to be calm while thousands of national guardsmen and riot cops move to restore “order.” We are still angry because it’s actually this order that perpetuates ultraviolence here and abroad and doesn’t bring justice. We still don’t know who killed Brandon Tate-Brown. The War of Terror isn’t slowing down.

My sense of the Age of Ultron is more than a film about techo supermilitary turned back on its perpetrator/creator (like so many of my favorite robot stories). In real life there are no Avengers, only those moved by the Holy Spirit to resist & restore. We have an opportunity to take a deep breath of the Holy Spirit,  looking for something real in fiction while Jesus unmasks the fictions in reality. Let’s be considerate in our conversations and see. Maybe we can compel more people to come together and create something beautiful with our Creator even while we fight against the evil of our times.