When the Seventh-day Adventist Church tells its story, describing itself to those within or those outside, a fairly predictable cadre of storytellers come to the fore: theologians, administrators, televangelists...sometimes pastors, sometimes teachers.
The group that has seldom had a significant say in how the Adventist Church self defines, especially in post-Harry Anderson Adventism, is the artistic community—the creatives. It’s certainly not that Adventist creatives have nothing to say. It’s that Adventists, I think, have been fed a special diet of stylized realism and sincerity-saturated saccharine for so long that there’s no appetite for fictive meaning-making of the kind Pablo Picasso must have had in mind when he called art the lie that makes us realize the truth. That is why the General Conference couldn’t stomach an imaginative Great Controversy-inspired film, the Record Keeper, with as thinly-veiled an Adventist message as it had. It wasn’t overt enough, apparently. Instead, the General Conference gave the world this.
In the new Adventist landscape that follows the San Antonio General Conference Session, art, more than ever, needs to inform Adventism’s self understanding. Modernity—the garden in which Adventism grew and flowered—with its reliance on proposition, certainty, and rationalistic argumentation, has produced a deeply fractured church. Modernity, it turned out, was better at constructing citadels than cathedrals.
Art functions differently. Poetry, film, music, dance, textiles and painting speak the subversive vernacular of emotional resonance. Instead of a treatise on “Why America needs to deal more charitably with its immigrant populations,”
Lessons on Being an African Immigrant in America
1. Lose your accent. People will make fun of the African girl But nobody Nobody f***s with the black girls Even when young They can be so angry
2. DON’T. Stare. At. White People. They are not animals in the zoo
3. When they stare at you like an animal in the zoo, do not be confused. Do not bare teeth when they reach out to pet you To touch your hair without permission You are after all So exotic So foreign So other
Some will even call you inhuman They will call you alien Ask you ‘Who called your spaceship to crash-land your brain drain dreams onto these eastern shores? These eastern shores have already landed ships from your world when we invaded it But this is the 21st century and we don’t need chains to make slaves of people anymore’
4. With a name like Mwende Kalondu Katwiwa The jokes will come. Do not envy your brother David Or blame your mother Lucy The way their names roll smooth off foreign tongues is proof That colonization and assimilation go hand in hand You… Are your grandmother’s legacy
5. When black people tell you “You aren’t really black” Remind them How Amadou Diallo’s dead body looked no different than any other black man's in this gradual genocide And I know you may not call it that in this country But believe me when I say we know what genocide looks like Know what it sounds like It’s white lies telling families that they are now enemies We are identical twins that were separated at birth, now strangers The hardest thing we will both learn is how to replant a family tree whose fruits were exploited for gain and whose branches held nooses
6. When almost 300 of your west coast kin go missing and America claims them as 'Our Girls' Refrain from asking questions like, 'Why did it take a month and a hashtag for them to claim family when it was in the news? or 'Why weren’t the 60 schoolboys attacked by Boko Haram earlier this year claimed as 'our boys' too?’ Instead Ask that they do not Kony 2012 these 234 to the backs of their browsers That they not be the kind of family who only shows up to $12 weddings
7. When people ask you if you’re upset because you’re on your period the week Al Shabaab attacks a mall in your home country Do not marvel at how some think blood only comes out of holes that the body has formed naturally
8. Once you realize you can’t stop your metamorphosis from the African girl to the American girl every time you break free from western cocoon and fly to your roots Resist the urge to remain pupa in the silk of stolen comforts Brace for the turbulence that will shake your flight with the truth, That you are no longer sure which place is home and which is foreign To you.
I say Adventism needs a new language for telling its story, and I say art, to a much larger degree, needs to be that language.
In October of last year, I huddled in a San Diego hotel hallway with a small group of 20- and 30-something Adventists who wanted to create space for art within Adventism. That conversation was the birth of the Spectrum UltraViolet Arts Festival, which takes place this weekend in Glendale, California.
This festival could be just another Adventist gathering with interesting presentations and a thoughtful audience, or it could be something entirely different.
Since July, I’ve been looking for salty sea air to billow through the curtains into the stale room that Adventism has become for me. I’ve been looking for an inkwell to dip my pen into to start rewriting, and redrawing Adventism.
With DJs and Food Trucks, dance and music; visual, filmic and verbal storytelling, I’m hoping the UltraViolet Festival will blow open the doors of at least a small corner of the Adventist room with a blast of fresh air.
And I hope you’ll be there to see it happen too!
Here’s the registration page with details about the festival and its participants.
Jared Wright is Managing Editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.
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