2018 Conference Content

Religious experience, including sacred space, overflows the built environment. Objects and media of material culture help carry and form our religious identities throughout the interlocking networks of difference that constitute our fraught and complicated public sphere (and its many publics, counter-publics, and intersectional constituencies). The political import of our innermost religious convictions is revealed when the diffuse and diverse material expression of religion is our focus. But how, in our interpretations and our creative work, do we hold onto tradition while embracing radical difference? A concept from art and architecture is promising amidst the vagaries of material religion: ornament involves the many ways that certain aspects of any environment mediate between the whole and the experience of it. After exploring the history, theory, and practice of this conception, this session invites audience reaction to objects, prompts, and scenarios to consider possibilities for interreligious understanding.

This session is a hosted dialogue launched from a multisensory experience detailing the story of how a group of people started an interactive and controversal online Advent devotional. During the time together we will: 
● ask conference participants to imagine creating artistic subversive online communities rooted in faith though a World Café dialogue;
● encounter words, images, and videos to spark creative imagination in community; 
● engage online participants in real time, as online world takes place in real life; and having a multisensory experience through the artistic contributions of a community.

Most conversations about race focus on inter-racial violence and competition (whites v. people of color). This talk explores intra-racial violence and competition (elite whites v working class and poor whites) as the origin and purpose behind the creation of what we call “white” and how this designation is maintained through ritual violence.  The talk explores theories of mimetic competition within white people and the ritual use of a sacrificial class of underprivileged people to diffuse that competition. This theory is illustrated within the U.S. context in three distinct eras: enslavement, post-Reconstruction lynching, and the industrial prison movement. In each era, I illustrate how elite whites, fearing violence from exploited working class and poor whites, were able to cast onto the Black body, particularly Black men, a symbolic danger that was then purged to restore order and reestablish allegiance to the elite whites.

Black musicians are always already theopoetically heterodoxical in nature. By exploring (via YouTube, visuals, music, etc.)Tupac’s Makaveli album cover, the phonoaesthetic performative groanings of Michael Jackson, Nina Simone, Lauryn Hill, and Kendrick Lamar, our conversation will explore how Black artistic opacity operates as a methodological tool of the spirit that unsettles the necropower suturing the U.S. racial state. We intend to foster an organic, shared learning space by having artists participate in the production of the talk itself. We are three men who love Black music and truly feel that we may have some insight that can aid us in collectively thinking about the history of Black popular music in creative, theopoetic ways.

The universality and intersection of theology and the arts becomes clear upon the recognition that the two appear almost to have begun history together. Some form of both theology/religion and the arts, even if not fully developed, exist in every culture known to humankind regardless of size or location. And just as there is a theological concept of each human being implanted with a “seed of religion” or a “sense of the divinity”, whether it’s recognized or not, so, too, is there a growing belief among psychologists that we are hardwired with creative abilities in some form, including the arts. The multiplicity of creativity correlates with the multiplicity of religions and theologies. There are as many different artistic cultures and forms of expression as there are religious/theological cultures, with all ultimately needing each other. Just as there are “theologies of religion” to help process and understand our own religion and/or theological beliefs in relation to others and where they fit in with each other, so there are, I believe, “theologies of the arts in religion” that could endeavor to compare how religions/theologies view and utilize the arts to gain a better understanding of the religion and its theology and philosophy and in comparison to how our own religion/theology views and utilizes the arts.

Accessing all of the creative powers within us and around us, we aim to stir the creative spark that lives, sometimes latent, within the spirits of all those we encounter-- who we feel are our siblings and fellow-journeyers along the way towards a world of greater compassion, connectedness, and human flourishing . Together, through the prophetic imagination of poetry and song, we aspire to inspire a fresh vision of awe, wonder, and passion while creating that world. Stepping into the lineage of a tradition that was formed both in us and beyond us, we carry forward the legacy of the story-telling griots of ancient West Africa, the Negro spirituals sung to alleviate the suffering of American slavery, the Freedom Songs chanted to ignite courage in the face of snarling dogs and firehoses, the political poetry of the Black Arts Movement raising the consciousness of those hungry for justice, and the resilience of black and brown youth claiming their power in the midst of poverty as Hip Hop was birthed. We are the rivers answering the oceans of ancestral echoes.

This workshop will engage participants in telling their personal and communal stories both narratively and visually through a pastoral care model rooted in the work of Karen Scheib and Shaun McNiff. We will look closely at the imagery of the veil, as employed by W.E.B. DuBois to both listen to each other’s stories, and place our narratives on the landscape of privilege and perception of the veil that separates different experiences of race in the United States. The perception or misperception of the veil is a way to talk about and visualize a landscape of privilege and the limits of our perspectives based on experience. This process prioritizes personal narrative and experience allowing equal time to speak and listen to each other and to create and show our stories through art making. This workshop is an opportunity to practice creativity in community and no artistic precision is needed! We will create a group mural using mixed media and an image of the veil. The practice of Visual Narrative Pastoral Care allows us to tell our stories through image, practicing creative healing and respectful listening. 

This session will be a showing of the film Spitting Fire, a documentary about the work of spoken word artist and teacher, Joe Davis with youth from the Boston area. After the film will be a chance for Q&A with the director, Jeremy Fackenthal, and with Joe. 

This session is a hosted dialogue, launched from a consideration of the writing of Octavia Bulter, particularly her work in the Parable Series. Through weaving together political, economic, cultural and religious themes, we are invited into the theological developments of a teenage black girl. While it is clear that Lauren (the main character in the novel) rejects her father’s (Christian) religion, she still is left to wrestle with her circumstances in religious terms. In the midst of great suffering, political upheaval, and economic disparity, Lauren does not create an organization or political platform. She creates a theology. In approaching this series, this fish bowl discussion will embark on an adventure in order to ask the following question: is Octavia Butler a Theopoet? 

Whether it is the songs their grandmother used to sing sloshing about the kitchen as they sat on the floor by her side, or the latest song played on a local music station, almost every person has a story that is shaped by music in some fashion. The goal of this talk is to expound on the use of music and lyric in shaping theology and spirituality. It will combine studies on music and the brain, the use of music in the wider culture, as well as music in the life of the church. The intersection between musical lyric and theory and theology is a leverage point for considering God outside of the ridged systems of theo-logical methodologies. We'll consider how theology is not just done in the classroom, seminary, or the sanctuary, but in life, and the fact that much of our life is done in rhythm and song.

Sacred activists inhabit the intersection of spirituality and social change, of personal and collective transformation. Not only is no spiritual path complete without embodying compassion, but also justice work is most transformative with a connection to and grounding in what is most sacred. The space between the seen and unseen worlds is the place where sacred activists and creatives alike live, channeling divine inspiration into reality. This dance between the transcendent and the manifest is the place from which your calling emerges, the place where your passions respond to the suffering of our Earth and all of Her beloved creatures. What is calling you? How can you more radically embody divine inspiration and be a vessel for change? Through practices of inquiry, group reflection, creative expression, and more, we will discover ways to live our prayers into action.

Gaming simulations are a fun way to role-play. They are also educational experiences that can allow students to practice skills, identify strengths and weaknesses, and understand how their actions affect situational and organizational outcomes. Recently, a simulation for ministry formation was organized within a Contextual Education setting. This workshop will review that process and the research discussing how learning takes place in simulations.  Participants will then be led through a similar, abbreviated process for planning their own role-play simulation.

Western Christian preaching tends to be narrowly focused on words in spite of the doctrine of the Incarnation being essential for Christianity. This play in progress, experimental in nature, shows the main characters, "words" and "flesh" ; who fight for the attention of the audience and realize that they are entangled, that competition is death-dealing, and that collaboration shall be more generative. Using Diana Taylor's concepts of the repertoire and of scenario as the category of analysis, this session begins to develop a way to identifying what aspects of our performance reiterate the oppressive systems that we preach against, and which aspects of our performance actually subvert those systems.

In the summer of 2016 two Black queer men, one Dominican, one African American, both from the Bronx, were together having a conversation about Afro-Cuban LGBT subjectivity and political agency in Veradero, Cuba.  One said, “we are the salt, the light, and even the sugar of the world.” Beginning with a contextual understanding of Christ’s words to the disciples in Matthew 5:13-16, meaning making for BlatinX (Black + LatinX) queer subjects as a performance of Christopoetics is incarnated en conjunto.  Working together thus becomes more than a communal activity, but an embodied, spiritual, and political way of queer becoming in African diaspora.  This paper contributes to conference discussions of the relationship between privilege, power, and imagination or imaginaries.  BlatinX queer biblical interpreters are not recognized as subjects with agency to appropriate scriptures toward the goals of theological reflection and communal flourishing.  Privilege and power have been held by heteronormative gatekeepers in racial ethnic interpretive communities on one hand, and by homonormative (i.e. white, Western, capitalist) gatekeepers in queer interpretive communities.  It disrupts U.S. historiographic and homonormative metanarratives about queers of color, and pushes the creative boundaries of contextualized biblical interpretation.

Tongue is a performance hinged on taking seriously the power of African women’s tongues. Tongue is also a project of explanations. True liberation is having adequate room to “explain yourself,” not along the lines of reprimand, but in the vein of self-speech. To explain yourself is to have full permission to narrate and tell the truth about the reality that has determined and shaped you, in your own voice and tone. It is to tell yourself. As an African woman the idea of a “told” life is not appealing to me, unless I am the one doing the telling. Interestingly enough, for those who are not African women, too often our divine tellings are separated from what others (from their tongues) have told us is divine truth. Tongue makes the leap between those with influence and power simply hearing the stories and voice of another to asserting said stories and voice as God’s voice. And it does so quite plainly - in mundane stories, ordinary thoughts, and experiential wondering. It challenges paradigms for hearing God’s voice and places it in the throat of women whose lives many are fine with seeing, or even hearing about, but not considering the divine place through which their knowledge of God and themselves might come.

People listen differently. This is not something rooted solely in personality or taste but rather something deeply engrained in our cultural background--a positionality rooted in race, ethnicity, nationality, class, gender, sexuality, (dis)ability, and age. The way we listen reveals our orientation to the world. This presentation will address topic that range from karaoke, lip syncing, and air guitar competitions to process theology. We will challenge the limits of what we might call “listening,” and, in so doing, attune ourselves to alternative ways of appreciating music, in ways that challenge some of dominant and privileged ideas of listening in our society that emphasize rationality, seriousness, and discipline. What does it mean to imagine the universe as its own kind of embodied mind, as a cosmic Bodhisattva, as God, or as a Cosmic Karaoke Artist? 

This workshop is intended to develop the skills inherent to teaching theopoetics theopoetically. My experience is that the multiple discourses that come under the umbrella of ‘theopoetics’ are important, but they can be inaccessible to folks for many reasons. Accordingly, we will wonder together: what is your entry point, and how can you invite others into these orbits? I found that, even as a lifelong musician and graduate-level theologian, I sometimes felt like a fish-out-of-water at the theopoetics conference I attended. (In retrospect, being trained as a graduate-level theologian may simply mean I have more bad habits to unlearn.) I hope this workshop will appeal to those non-experts among us, folks like me who benefit from stepping stones on the way to water. The focus is on both what kinds of topics can be covered in the diverse teaching/leading situations in which people find themselves, and ways to approach teaching these topics.