The Rev. Dr. David Vasquez-Levy

The theme of this year’s Earl Lectures was Be|Art|Now.  The lectures also serve as a reunion of alumni and, this year, as the inauguration of the school’s twelfth president, the Rev. Dr. David Vasquez-Levy.  Participating in the inauguration meant missing two workshops; the preaching (the inauguration worship service had the equivalent of three sermons) made up for this loss.

The initial lecture was an introduction to religious iconography.  While we may think of icons as those hanging in Easter Orthodox churches and therefore made of certain materials in a certain style, it is the subject matter of the icon that is important, rather than the media used.  An interesting insight for me was learning that icons of Mary and the infant Jesus are about the incarnation, that Mary’s presence in these icons is a reminder that Jesus was a real human being, born of a real mother, not just an experience of the divine.  And AV system at 36600 will allow us to utilize this ancient art form for its classical purposes – formation, veneration, and prayer – via new media.

I was simply too exhausted to participate in the second lecture on “Encountering the Sacred with Movement and Reflection.”

Friday morning’s “lecture” was experiential, no doubt echoing themes from the previous night’s lecture.  We did simple movements in the pews, tried different way so of walking, and prayed in the ancient posture of having our hands raised.  The “lecture” began with a poem that was beautifully interpreted – vocally and with movement – by our lecturer.  This lecture left me wondering how we can integrate movement into worship.  After all, as Mary in the icons reminds us, our faith tradition is founded on the notion that God chose to take on flesh.  We seem to have lost the importance, the radical uniqueness of the incarnation, moving out of the majority of our bodies and having our faith reside in our heads.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have our faith fully integrated into our bodies?

The first workshop I attended on Friday introduced us to sacred songs of protest from many cultures.  The presenter comes from a church in a very diverse section of Seattle.  His Presbyterian congregation includes people of many ethnic backgrounds who speak many languages.  They made an effort to introduce into worship hymns in those languages and from their cultures/nations.  This had two effects:  It made the English as a second language speakers feel more welcome and integrated into the church; and, because so many of these hymns came from justice movements or were used by justice movements (think of the roll Spirituals played in the Civil Rights movement in the United States), it has influenced the congregation to be more involved in justice work.  Justice works is becoming part of their DNA.  This left me wondering how music can form and move our mission and how we could use music to become more multiracial and multicultural.

Bishop Yvette Flunder

Yvette Flunder, the presenter of the second workshop I attended on Friday, has been exploring how sensuality and sexuality have functioned (or dysfunctioned) in the African-American Pentecostal tradition (the tradition in which she was raised).  Pentecostal worship is over marked by emotionality and ecstatic experiences of the Holy Spirit.  These are embodied experiences; they are manifested physically; they are seen, felt, and heard.  In other words, they are sensual.  Yet the tradition sees sexuality as “of the flesh” and things “of the flesh” as non-spiritual.  And this tradition is typically condemnatory of homosexuality.  Yvette wonders how the sensuality and even sexuality of this ecstatic worship could be embraced, and if doing so could reduce sexual boundary violations, especially by clergy.

Translating her inquiry to my cultural context brought up a series of questions.  Where does the anti-emotionalism that I think is present in the Congregational tradition come from?  Do we not trust our emotions?  Do we not trust sensuality and sexuality?  Is there a racism present in our cerebral tradition (“we aren’t animalistic like those African-American Pentecostals are”)?  Is our anti-emotionalism also anti-incarnational?  Could we find a way to embrace our whole beings and worship with our whole beings, to love God with would whole heart, our whole mind, our whole soul, and our whole strength (body)?  How can we be sensuality-positive and sexuality-positive without being sensually and sexually inappropriate?

Michael Franti

Friday evening’s lecture was a concert and conversation with Michael Franti.  Michael was born to an Irish-German-French mother and an African American and American Indian father in Oakland, then adopted by a Finnish American couple who raised him along with their three biological children and another African American son. While studying at the University of San Francisco, Franti formed the punk band The Beatnigs, and later the far more hip hop-inflected The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. In the mid-Nineties, Franti first formed Spearhead, and increasingly in recent years, he’s found his own voice musically and his own organic brand of popular success.  You can check out some of his music here.  I think you will find fun and fun-loving music that fosters cooperation and partnership between people and nations.

We are about to have a wonderful venue for concerts.  Could hosting concerts by musicians who promote similar values to ours be a way to reach out across generations and to spread God’s promise of love and justice more fully in our community?

Saturday morning’s “lecture” was the one-man play Cops and Robbers, by Jinho “The Piper” Ferreira, a sharp look at the dysfunctional relationship between law enforcement, the media, and the Black community.  Jinho “The Piper” Ferreira is a rapper, actor, and screenwriter from Oakland, California.  He is one-third of Flipsyde, an alternative hip-hop band that has toured internationally.  After attending the first demonstrations after the killing of Oscar Grant, Ferreira had a revelation:  if the bad cops are removed from police forces, who will replace them?  In the spring of 2010, Piper paid his way through a Bay Area law enforcement academy, eventually graduating in the top percentile and delivering the commencement speech.  The paradox of being a member of the Black community and a hip-hop artist, while simultaneously working in Law Enforcement, served as the inspiration to write Cops and Robbers.  The play was followed by a panel discussion.  The play invites the viewer to reflect on violence, assumptions, police violence, and racism.  Our new sanctuary would be a great venue for this show and, if followed by discussion, would be great community outreach.  It is another example of how we might utilize the arts to further our mission.

Jinho “The Piper” Ferreira