2019 Conference Content

slam trujillo & son – Can a father and son get down on a Gangsta Thee.all.OG?

‘In spite of’ or ‘because of’?...if one wants supreme joy of beauty, one must be prepared to cry. Sadness is not an intruder in beauty’s domain. It is rather the air without which it dies…beauty touches us and quickly goes leaving only nostalgia in its place. Like God…

—Rubem A. Alves

We are yosoy homeboy and yosoy homeboy jr., father and son graduates from Homeboy Industries, the largest gang reentry program on the planet. Together we fight for our lives by embracing our bodies as ‘shared sites of struggle’, for our bodies are intended to enter certain spaces, while forcefully being rejected from others. The academy is one such space of intended rejection as the cradle to prison pipeline demands that incarcerated spaces are the only valid places from which our divine faces ought to be content to conform our bodies toward. As such, visions of healing and transformation from within dominant narratives of society dictate that the only way ‘we the disposable’ can find hope and beauty is from the notion that ‘in spite of’ the great pains in life, we must shed who we are in order to find ways to contribute to society by leaving behind all the streets had nurtured within our bodies. Fuck that! Contrary to this notion, we find ourselves in the throes of ‘surviving the madness of the academy’ by attempting to develop strategies that honor how it is precisely ‘because of’, not ‘in spite of’, our collective stories of ‘the pain of beauty’ at Homeboy Industries that we imagine how we have been granted an invitation to cultivate and mine our mysterious ‘gifts of becoming’. Gifts that stem directly from a beauty nurtured in the sadness of being discarded amid birth pangs that give rise to the emergence of a creative explosion we lovingly call, a Gangsta Thee.all.OG. We belong in this conference because we would be the first alumnus from Homeboy Industries presenting in this manner anywhere. What better place to launch our first official academic engagement than here?

Leslie Foster and Jessi Knippel – Heavenly Brown Body

A staged reading of our current short experimental film project, currently titled “Heavenly Brown Body”. The film is adapted from the poem “Litanies to my Heavenly Brown Body” by Mark Aguhar a trans activist, writer and multimedia fine artist who explored gender, beauty and race in her work. Aguhar’s piece, which adopts a rhythm similar to that of the Beatitudes, offers blessing to various marginalized communities that are not valued because of their contrast to straight, white, thin, able-bodied masculinity. Using Mark’s words we want to honor her vision by creating a visual celebration of all those represented within this powerful blessing.

Kyle Matthew Oliver – Learning stories by telling stories: Media arts in/as religious education

Religious education across faith traditions has often focused on hearing and reading texts and teachings, rather than performing, teaching, or embodying them. Out of a desire that learners receive the tradition, we often overlook the ways that even novice learners can powerfully and perhaps uniquely share or transmit the tradition. Modern pedagogy and the availability of sophisticated and easy-to-use media production tools are helping to challenge that long-dominant paradigm. This presentation and multimedia mini-screening by religious and media educators in the Jewish and Christian traditions will explore the possibilities that emerge when we invite learners to engage and interpret their faith and spirituality through various kinds of digitally mediated storytelling.

Dea Jenkins – Blk Halos

Blk Halos is an artistically theological reflection on race, giving a broad overview of the history and the present day reality of the African American experience through the use of poetry, song, and excerpts from theological texts. These elements lead into the prophetic call for reimagining the black experience. Blk Halos speaks to the future of black and brown people, whose physical qualities point not to the justification for social degradation, but to divine characteristics of people groups with a royal destiny.

Our group, consisting of three vocalists and a guitarist, begins the fifteen minute performance with an a cappella rendition of a the negro spiritual, followed by an excerpt from a theological text. Three poem-songs follow, each about a minute to two minutes a piece. Projected abstract art synchronizes with the poem-songs, adding a visual component to the performance.

Yohana Junker & Darci Jarret - Building the ARC Studio

Do you work at the intersection of creativity, spirituality, social impact, and innovation? Are you producing a lot of creative content without sustainable sources of income? This workshop will be an invitation to come explore with ARC the possibilities of building the ARC Studio, an online space for connection, collaboration, and sales. A marketplace and forum where artists and scholars can meet communities of faith looking for creative pathways into the divine, ARC Studio is one answer to the question “How do we find one another?” This workshop delves into the possibilities of creating an online platform where your artistic practice can be matched to potential communities looking to hire or commission. It will also provide opportunities for artistic and hands-on collaboration. Come be part of building a shared vision for ARC Studio. Let's Co-inspire and co-create together!

Max Brumberg-Kraus - Visions of Divine Love: A Drag Theopoetic

The origin of Visions of Divine Love was as much a joke as it was a question: what if Julian of Norwich’s Revelations of Divine Love was really about Divine the drag queen? As I played with the concept, it became evident that a medieval mystic and a 20th century drag queen had a lot to teach each other about God. Corresponding loosely to Julian’s sixteen shewings --,Visions of Divine Love comprises sixteen ekphrastic poems in response to John Waters’s Pink Flamingos and its star, Divine. The poems are written from the perspective of cloistered academic and film buff Dr. Julia Johnson-- a reimagined Julian-- and her nameless TA. As a queer woman in a conflated 14th and 21st century, Johnson’s vision is television, her christs are Dreamlanders, and her revelations are found in the spectacular rites of the cult movie. Through the theoria of cinematic engagement, Johnson uncovers secrets about herself, about the world, about God, and, indeed, about love.

This performance of poems from Visions of Divine Love speaks to several of the conference’s themes: subversion, art, and aesthetics, alternatives to rational ways of knowing, and prophetic imagination. These poems about a drag queen, written by a self-identified queer male through a woman persona, and performed by the poet in drag are an example of a drag theopoetic. Following the performance will be a brief discussion of drag theopoetics, or the reception and performance of drag as spiritual practice, theological inquiry, and divine gnosis. This project will be of interest to performers, poets, scholars, film enthusiasts and anyone invested in the performance of gender as it relates to theopoetics.

Anuj Vaidya - Forest Tales: Restorying the Ramayana

Our myths and sacred texts have long demonstrated the power of stories to shape the world around us. In past times, it was often the sanctity of spiritual knowledge that provided the foundational ethics for these tales. More recently however, it is the sanctity of the market that guides our stories. In this age of digital reproduction, our myths have been transposed from the register of moral epics to that of epic entertainment, in the process homogenizing our cultural archives and disenchanting the natural world. In India, the Ramayana epic has long been a site for the contestation of power, generating hundreds of versions that challenge the supremacy of the mainstream, normative version of the tale. However, this narrative diversity is under grave threat in the current state of fundamentalist politics, which seeks to enforce a monoculture of the mind.

My project Forest Tales (a queer, eco-feminist, science-fiction retelling of the epic) follows in the footsteps of a long tradition of questioning Rama's story as a way to speak truth to power, foregrounding the potential of art as a site for coalitional politics. Retold from the point-of-view of Sita, daughter of the earth, the epic acquires ecological dimensions. Sita emerges not as human in this retelling, but as plant and as forest. She reminds us that ecology is community, encompassing both the human and the more-than-human. Originally imagined as a film, this project intended to extend the ethos of ecology into artistic practice by finding human-powered energy solutions (bicycle-powered, hand-cranked, etc.) for the production. However, since the most ecological film is one that never gets made, the project now exists as a performance of the cinematic. 

Tomi Oredein – Teaching Theopoetics in the Academy

Though texts and discourse have been shaped from, around, and through it (and still are), for me the question of Theopoetics is less about content and more about categorization. Different voices name and use Theopoetics differently. This makes me wonder about its teachability: can Theopoetics be taught or is it an epistemology in itself? Can it be “discoursed”?

Not being able to define “Theopoetics” in a fixed way makes it valuable, makes it possible to belong to so many people in whatever form fits their faith and experience. As a course instructor exploring the question of what Theopoetics is is not necessarily of interest to me, but rather given its multiple forms and use, I’m most interesting in exploring how Theopoetics may or may not fit in the academy as a discourse.

Scott Holland and Ben Brazil - No Blueprints: Starting a Seminary Program in Theopoetics and Writing

The new program, the Masters of Arts: Theopoetics and Writing, is a joint venture between Bethany Theological Seminary (Church of the Brethren) and the Earlham School of Religion (Quaker). Located on the same campus in Richmond, Indiana, both seminaries represent historical peace churches with commitments to justice. The new program raises the question: What would a seminary theopoetics program look like? What could it be, and what could it empower students to do? In a “reverse panel,” two professors from a new theopoetics program will put the question to the audience, using both questions and more creative techniques, like writing prompts. The presenters will be the audience, seeking new work to teach, experiments to try, and edges to push. Participants will direct the flow of conversation.

Amy Lutes - Redeeming Logos: Finding Poetry in Discarded Words

In this workshop, participants will learn a brief overview of the history and various types of found poetry, especially focusing on cut-out/découpé poetry and blackout/erasure poetry, as well as how these expressions of art and poetry combined can be part of a meditative or prayer practice. Examples of found poetry will be given, from more well-known found poets, to Pinterest/Instagram sensations, to my own personal examples, which I will bring with me to display.

The title of the workshop is a reference to how we can often find God in places we don’t think possible: discarded things, forgotten things, things that don’t seem to matter anymore. Even these discarded words have much yet to say, and may carry secret messages only intended for our own eyes and soul, and found poetry can both fit into and enhance a meditation or prayer practice.

All materials for the project will be provided to the participants. I will bring art supplies (paint, brushes, pens/markers, pencils, etc); glue, tape; used/discarded books, magazines, newspapers; scissors, safety/art knives (for cutting out words and phrases); and paper of varying sizes for participants to put their poetry on.

I will also have some resources on found poetry with me that participants can look through (books, articles, etc.), as well as an introductory article participants can take with them for reference.

The main ideas I’m hoping participants to get from this workshop are that 1) anyone can add a found poetry practice into their life, 2) found poetry can fit into a meditation or prayer practice, and 3) found poetry can be a way of bringing healing to ourselves and others.

Michael Wright – The Expanded Field: Theopoetic Sketches for Engaging Visual Art

Beyond ideas of rightdoing and wrongdoing, there is a field. I will meet you there.


More than just illustrating theological concepts, the visual arts can be a grammar for spiritual reflection. From Theaster Gates’ and Vik Muniz’s use of discarded materials to dignify people and space to Vija Celmins’ meditative paintings and sculpture that seek ego-less sight, many artists work through processes that blend spiritual and creative concerns, even though their work may not directly depict religious subject matter. Participating in their art as appreciators, we participate in their ongoing creative process—processes that dignify, enchant, embody, and cleanse. Over time, these aesthetic, spiritual, and pedagogical processes can entangle into a way of knowing.

Still, this kind of visual art is often overlooked by religious communities trained to see visual art as static representation of ideas or intimidated by the white cube of the art world. Finding these deeper levels of connection requires a new language to explore art and theology. It requires a theopoetics. What I hope to do in this presentation is to gather artists with these embodied spiritual visions, to tease out how their creative processes work, and develop art appreciation strategies that entice religious communities into a deepening engagement with art and the world.

Ted Lyddon Hatten – Fleeting: An Exploration of Ephemeral Art

I will use images of three pieces of ephemeral art, two installations and a series, plus words and stories to offer an introduction to my work as a visual artist. Here is a brief description of each piece.

1. Remember That – Quad City Arts, 2014, spent coffee grounds, salt. The coffee comes from a memorable conversation, and salt is essential to brain chemistry for the formation of memories. Imagery: three circles, dendrites, neurons, roots, veins, entangled and entwined. Duration: 4 weeks.

2. Untitled installation - Scott Chapel, Drake University, 2017, myrrh, coffee grounds, liquefaction (a by-product and destructive force from the lethal earthquake, Christchurch, NZ, 2011). This installation is a response to the environmental crisis and the fractured nature of our world. A feather - Ukrainian Skycutter (Columba liva) suspended over the fractured world by a silk thread and a drop of beeswax. Duration: forty-eight hours.

3. Time, Tarnish, and a Quiet Canary – 2019 series, etched printers galley. As a sentinel for miners, the death of a canary (Serinus canaria) signaled the presence of the lethal gas. At the blunt edge of mass extinction the canaries have grown quiet. The image of a canary in this series is made by hatching fine lines through decades of tarnish, ink, and patina to reveal the metal (brass), but the bird will not last. The exposed metal will tarnish, eventually consuming the canary. The toxic gas that killed a canary underground tarnishes metal above ground. Duration: unknown.

Anna Talhami – The Embodied Prayer of New Blessings Poetry

Internationally and throughout the U.S, I have been grateful to engage in collective trauma healing, restorative peace building, and embodied liberatory theology as interconnected. Here I will perform “New Blessings,” poetry that came out of this work, as well as share my process. These poems came from answering my own desperate questions –– prayers and blessings I needed that I couldn’t find anywhere. My own “New Blessings” –– have come out of chronic depression after years of spiritual practice and activism. I felt lost and disconnected and needed, urgently, new answers.

Some I wrote in order to heal from traumas, new and old. Some came from a need to transcend limiting beliefs, for internal and external harmony: How do I see G!d in the oppressor while centering the oppressed? How do I honor my anger at injustice while engaging vulnerably and compassionately? How do I reflect back to people in crisis the blessing that they are? How do I question every assumption of possibility and find radical coexistence? My work seeks to weave these questions and embody their relationship. Answering creates new artistic work, as well as new rituals and practices for joyful, resilience and radical love.

Evan Underbrink - The Pedagogy of Divine Magic

This workshop is a foray into reclaiming a kind of Divine Magic, by viewing our lives as in part a kind of "High Fairy Tale," honoring the stories of miracles of which our current scientistic zeitgeist makes us wary. We are, in a sense, furthering the logic found in Tolkein’s observation that Jesus Christ is the great myth which came true. If, for Christians, Christ is the myth-figure from which all mythos springs, then a Christian’s relationship to the Divine is similarly the source of all fairy tales, as fairy tales are essentially the inbreaking of the divine into normal circumstances. By the end of the workshop, participants will gain a new insight into the fairy tale form. Participants will further leave having written and shared a portion of their lives in a unique and potentially soul-nourishing way. Authors, scholars, and artists such as G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, Fredrick Beuchner, Neil Gaiman, and Alan Moore will form the literary backdrop for this workshop.

Tawanna Benbow – The Soul Speaks: Engaging in Mythic Dialogue

This workshop seeks to address and explore the conference topic of alternative to rational ways of knowing by encouraging a mythic dialogue, a deeper awareness and conversation with the unconscious; adhering to images, symbols and dreams in which we have daily contact. Shifting the unconscious to the forefront and rendering it a viable communicative partner alongside the conscious mind. This workshop will explore the concept of “mythodrama,” an innovative process for enabling personal growth and cultural formation. An integration of mythical figures, scriptural figures, historical figures, or fairy tales and fables, mythodrama invites and explores the mixing of “personal narrative” and a hermeneutic interpretation.

Scott Holland – Theopoetics from Then to Now: The Growth of Theopoetics & Theopolitics

This session is a history of sorts for those interested in how “theopoetics” as an academic area of interest came into being. It will explore how the movement has evolved from a search for a vocabulary at the wake of the Death of God in 1966 to new artistic and literary experiments in decolonizing God and naming ourselves and others in the present. Scott Holland is a professor at Bethany Theological Seminary, the first program to offer a Masters level degree in Theopoetics. 

The Process of Art Making and Process Theology - Darci Jaret and Kiki McGrath

Many of us believe in the spiritual significance of embodied arts. We believe in the theological importance of art making as a way to connect with ourselves and others. But how do we actually do it? There is visio divina where we can appreciate art, but we can also practice a spiritually-based art making. During this workshop participants will experience guided inquiry and exploration using art materials. This will introduce familiar art making methods, and also give participants a language and a practice to think about art making as process. One barrier to art making is the focus on outcomes or products, whereas this workshop will focus on process. It is in the process of the work that art making can be ritualized and spiritualized.

This workshop will give participants ways to focus on process and relate this experience to process theology. We are by no means experts in process theology, but the language of becoming and growing speaks directly to the practice of art making; we are never complete, but always in process. Darci uses a method of introduction that employs photographs which allows people to speak about their own personal stories, and to give a part of themselves to the group. This Visual Narrative Pastoral Care model employs deep listening coupled with visual identification of a person’s individual stories. The workshop participants use photographic images to begin speaking about parts of their own stories being triggered into memory by the photos. We will make space for theological reflection on individual and group process, and participants will leave this session with art that they have made in the group.