By Tommy Airey (all photos from Tim Nafziger)
Everything being a constant carnival, there is no carnival left.
The past two weekends, Redeemer Lutheran Church in North Minneapolis showcased the Carnival de Resistance, a traveling arts carnival and ceremonial theater company performing at the intersection of ecological justice and radical theology. These performers converged upon the Twin Cities during the month of September, migrating from the four corners of North America to reclaim and reframe the biblical prophetic tradition. They combined their standard four productions into two: “Rooted Wind” and “Burning River” (playing on Friday and Saturday on consecutive weekends). But the bulk of their month-long residency was devoted to uplifting projects and voices that are indigenous to this watershed, the mostly white crew consistently passing the baton to Native American leaders, people of color and women, those well-acquainted with the kind of grief and passionate resistance that it will take to create and construct Something sustainable in a culture well-adept at fooling itself into thinking America ever was great.
This team of carnivalistas displayed a rare blend of social analysis, creativity, talent and kind-hearted hospitality, ingredients often hard to find in most movement activist circles. Catapulting off the work of their theological godfather Dr. Jim Perkinson of Ecumenical Theological Seminary, Carnival de Resistance seeks to highlight voices of non-human agents. Sure, Miriam and John the Baptizer (played by Carnival co-founders, Tevyn East and Jay Beck, the brains and brawn of the project) make cameos, but the real actors are ravens, doves, trees and the four elements that root and ground this prophetic experiment (water, earth, wind and fire).
Carnival has something for everyone. The midway is a chaotic, energizing space shepherded by no one and everyone all at once. The entire cast stays in character, recruiting attendees to drop spectatorship and get into the game, including a chance to blast robbers of the commons like Monsanto, Nestle and Veolia, pin-the-tail-on-the-scapegoats and a communal effort at knocking down the wall of oppression brick by brick (patriarchy, white supremacy, imperialism, capitalism, hetero-normativity, etc). The opening acts last weekend featured a band from Honduras (who participated with Carnival the entire month) and a West African drumming corp. The main events featured dancing, poetry, social analysis, stilt-walking, fire toys and a live band accompaniment throughout, concluding every night with a dance party willing to break the neighborhood curfew by a few minutes (Oh, holy rebellion!). The entire experiment was powered by two bicycles, an ad hoc lineup of amateur cyclists eager to trump fossil fuels.
Make no mistake about it: this is an odd, exquisite, quirky, extremely creative band of radical disciples clearly not at home in a world dictated by trivial infotainment and imperial propaganda. These pastors, teachers, executive directors, coffee baristas, painters, vagabonds, photographers, PhD students, seminarians and musicians come from Virginia, Philly, Chicago, Elkhart, Cincinnati, L.A., Mexico, Honduras and beyond. More than anything, Carnival de Resistance does something truly wondrous: they are prophetic without making audiences feel pathetic about themselves and the world they inhabit. However, Carnival is allergic to denial, speaking truths about our current circumstances normally too much for 1st World residents to digest. They perform resistance with an elixir of celebration, adventure, laughter and wonder. Carnival is a priceless gift for our Movement, committed to creatively unveiling the carnival our culture has become: a task that typically gives birth to symptoms of despair, angst, numbness and cynicism. The semi-annual Carnival de Resistance, above all else, refuses to allow these to have the final word. Perhaps hope isn’t so foolish after all.