A Christian arts carnival exploring how we see the world around us.
By Grace Aheron
For a month, I lived in a world where our food was scavenged from dumpsters, our bathroom needs were taken care of by composting toilets and foot-pump-powered water stations, grown adults walked around all day in face paint and goofy costumes, conversations about Jesus’ call to nonviolence melted into contact improvisation dance classes— a world where we invited young children into drum circles and anti-corporation, eco-justice centered games, where we had days and days of singing rehearsals and workshops around Christian hegemony and white supremacy. In September, I was a part of the Carnival de Resistance crew, a movement that gathers artists and activists from all over the world for a month-long, intentional community-like residency. In its fourth iteration this year, the 30-person crew inhabited the back lot of Redeemer Lutheran Church in the Harrison neighborhood of North Minneapolis.
Working at the intersections of faith, activism, and creative expression, the Carnival draws in a wide range of folks— children from the neighborhood, young activists organizing for the movement for black lives, elders from the church community, radical puppeteers and muralists. The weeks were peppered with community engagements at various colleges, gardens, and after school programs, and on the weekends we convened our ceremonial theater— the prophetess Miriam dancing to reclaim the divine feminine, John the Baptist drumming and singing about baptizing children these days in dirty, poisoned water, Dove and Crow from Noah’s Ark reuniting after centuries of separation and commenting on the impending doom the world is facing once more. The drumming and dancing rose up those nights like a heartbeat.
Carnival invites participants to step into a transformed way of seeing the world. In the Midway which precedes the shows, we romp around in face paint and costumes, inviting folks to engage in anti-oppression games (like “Run the Moneychangers out of the Temple” and “Pin the Tail on the Scapegoat”). Adults and children alike are invited to play along— to pick a card out of a deck and participate in an activity that helps reconnect with their wild side (like howling like a wolf pack or lying on their bellies to experience the grass more closely), to engage in a magic show that helps folks believe in the impossibility of imagination, to walk through a village/art exhibition hybrid where beauty is made out of reclaimed and up-cycled treasures.
The shows feature the presences of familiar biblical characters and their prophetic voices and movements rise up in condemnation of present-day consumer culture, disconnect from the Earth, the endless pursuit of commodification and progress. Carnival invites a new way of inhabiting justice issues. What does it look like to dance out your mourning over the poisoning of the waters? How can we sing about God’s feminine presence? What would the prophets of the ancient days have to say to us in 2016?
In John’s Gospel, it is written that the word became flesh and dwelt among us. The verb for “dwelt” (skenoo) literally means to pitch a tent— that is, God pitched her tent among us. If God were to pitch a tent amongst us these days, how would she convey her messages? Perhaps not through didactic speeches or discursive sermonizing, but, we believe, in the delightfully wily and surprising ways God seems to work in the world— perhaps through movement, perhaps through song, perhaps through human bodies connecting to human bodies. Liturgical art is the external expression of internal truths. Like God, we take on flesh to bring new life into the world through creation. Carnival responds to those birth pains.