Posted July 16, 2013 by Marg Herder
During the 2013 Wild Goose Festival Jared Byas & Levi Weaver will present “Re-membering the Creator(s): how spiritual creativity will lead us into the future” on Friday, August 9, at 3:30 pm at the Still Mountain Pub.
Yesterday I wrote about how I was introduced to Jared Byas and his rockin’ creative mind. Today I have the opportunity share the great stuff that goes on in there, since Jared was kind enough to answer some of my questions in advance of the 2013 Wild Goose Festival. My questions are in bold, Jared’s answers are in normal type.
Why Wild Goose? Why does this festival appeal to you?
I have a couple of reasons. First, it appeals to me as it attempts to intersect art with justice and spirituality. And to be honest, I think that’s a pretty good description of the trajectory that the biblical prophets set for the Jewish and Christian traditions. Second, I appreciate the grassroots nature of “festivals” over “conferences.” I find conferences confusing. They promote learning as the main attraction but I rarely learn anything at a conference I couldn’t just learn in a $10 book on Amazon. I go because of the relationships, which unfortunately, the conference format makes difficult. I like festivals because they make that “being together” time easy and more central and since many of the connections I’ve made online have taken to this particular festival, it seemed like a great chance to get to know them.
What will you be speaking about at Wild Goose 2013?
Our presentation will be about how institutions, mostly churches and schools, have increasingly marginalized creative people, in part, I argue, because they are founded on knowledge while the beauty and strength of creativity is the curiosity of not knowing. The call is for creative people to stop reacting against the system and start creating new systems that are founded on their profound ignorance. It comes from my reading of the philosopher Gilles Deleuze who says “The goal of philosophy is to question the doxa, the ‘obvious,’ and the ‘what everybody knows.’ ”
What are you trying to do here? By “here” I mean in this incarnation at this time. The question is posed both personally and as it applies to your work.
That is a great question and certainly the one that gave me the most trouble. Do you have time to read a 25,000 word rambling stream of consciousness? The thoughts I am most excited about are still in infancy but I’ll give it a shot.
Right now, the dominant thoughts I have are trying to create a creative reading of Christian ethics through Jesus’ statement that “for God, all things are possible” (Mark 10:27). Most Christians only use such a statement, similar to how they use verses like Philippians 4:13, when they are facing some challenge that they hope God will help them overcome.
But for me that’s a narrow, self-centered reading (not to mention uninteresting), one that denies the freedom of God to be God. If in fact, “all things” are possible for God, then that must include tragedy as well as triumph, devastation as well as celebration. And so, through an act of hyper-sovereignty, we’ve undermined sovereignty, and thrust responsibility back onto ourselves. If in fact, with God “all things are possible,” then we live in a universe of absolute chance & necessity, which compels us, as Nietzsche would say, “to say Yes! to life.”
There is much more to say of course, but I’ll stop there for the sake of space and clarity. Essentially, I want to constantly be opening up new possibilities for the Christian tradition. Once we get settled, we oppress, as Brueggemann creatively shows in his political reading of the Old Testament in Journey to the Common Good. So, we must remain nomads, open to seeing that at any given moment the possibilities for how Christ is incarnated in this time, in this place, are infinite, as Deleuze would say. Okay, well, Deleuze is an atheist, but that’s how I read Deleuze.
I am not sure how they fit together but my other pressing question is around this idea of ignorance, creativity, innovation, and power. This is what led me to my Wild Goose talk. I haven’t developed everything in a way that I can say it succinctly or simply, so I apologize. But in the end, I think I am going to argue that the ethic of innovation requires a posture of ignorance and that a proper theology of innovation stems from the example of Christ, who submitted, did not seek power, and as such created something new. That is, it is through ignorance, a giving up of power, that all things are created new.
Now personally, I think right now I am in the midst of giving up on trying to change the world. My whole life has been about trying to “change the world” but now I understand Jesus to be calling us to obscurity, to changing not the world but our world, by the way we pay attention to those around us. One of my favorite Kierkegaard quotes says “Cowardice wants only to concern itself with the really important, big things, not in order to carry something out wholeheartedly but to be flattered by doing something that is noble and great. Yet hiding behind the exalted is nothing but an excuse for not conquering all the little things.”
I am a recovering Messiah, always wanting to save “the world,” that place out there that so conveniently never interrupts my work, never pees in his pants in the middle of the night and needs me to come change him, never wakes up at 5 am, never gives me that passive-aggressive note telling me that my kids chalk art is making the neighborhood look “kind of crappy.”
“Changing the world” is abstract, clean, theoretical, on paper. The incarnation is about the shit, the ugliness, the messy anger, confusion, jealousy, and pain, of being human. It’s also about letting go of legacy, being remembered, making a mark on the world to embrace your limited, finite, and beautiful body and those who happen to be near it at the moment. Even more bluntly, I am learning to be a better husband, father, son, brother, and friend.
What consistently brings beauty into your life and what does that beauty look/sound/feel like?
This is a timely question and I think “I don’t know” would be the most honest answer I can give. I am still on the lookout for what beauty means to me. But I do know it has to do with human connection, that moment when we belong to another and we both know it. It makes me so sad to see how many of those moments don’t happen because of our other priorities that simply do not matter, me included.
Can knowledge and understanding really help us to become more faithful servants of humanity? Or is something else a more necessary ingredient?
I think the way you’ve put it would have me say “both/and” not “either/or.” Do we need a basic understanding of reality to serve others in a meaningful way? Yes. But is the missing link to why our world still has so much pain and isolation more knowledge and understanding? No. In fact, if Foucault is right, and I think he is since he wasn’t the first or last to say it, “Knowledge is power.” Now if that’s true, then the idea of knowledge leading to servant-hood is paradoxical and seems more to be a façade, a way to pretend to want to serve the world while in fact trying to control it. Every time we understand the world, we stand over it. This is why I think it’s important to know that understanding isn’t the goal of knowledge but knowledge must serve relations. The question isn’t, “Do I understand this person or this situation” but “Did I connect with this person or this situation?” You need knowledge for both but one leads to violence and the other to relationship. Levinas puts it in terms of the fact that another person is always the Other and we must accept that because if ever you truly understood someone, the are no longer Other, meaning you have violently swallowed them up as though they were the Same, that is, the same as you. You’ve cannibalized them.
You have said, “Some love by caring for the oppressed, some by breaking people out of oppression, & some by fighting systems of oppression. We need them all.” Where do you fit with that?
Well, I spent much of my childhood being told that there was only one category for Christians: that we are supposed to care for the oppressed, showing up to soup kitchens, weeping over poverty as we filled backpacks with lunches for underprivileged children. But no matter what lens you look at it through, the Enneagram, the traditional spiritual gifts test, countless examples from my childhood, I am sorely deficient in the compassion department. So if loving is about emotional response, I am screwed. And I felt so guilty for so long because of it.
But when I learned about things like the Civil Rights Movement, Apartheid, and so many other events and thinkers, I found out that I could tangibly love people by fighting systems of oppression. And that’s where I fit. I want to provide pathways for those whose personality inclines them to breaking people out of oppression and I want to provide guides for those who love by caring for the oppressed in ways that don’t simply lead to enabling, dependence, or more oppression.
Who taught you to love? Who else taught you to love better?
I guess it depends on which shade of love you’re asking about. Don’t you love asking philosophy students questions? We just answer with more questions.
If I think of love as responsibility, then my parents, who always taught me to be there for the people I have made commitments to.
If I think of love as emotion, then probably Disney movies and my mom’s 70s music that I listened to as a kid.
If I think of love as trust, then my wife, since I literally didn’t know what the word meant until about 5 years ago when I gave my wife something to do that I couldn’t do for myself and her outcome would affect me. Afterward, when she came through for me, I thought to myself, “Wait, is this what it means to trust someone?” I had never done that before. And it opened my eyes to the reality that loving someone also means allowing yourself to be loved by them, which is harder for me since I always want to be in control, always want to be the person people depend on but never want to depend on someone else.
As far as loving better, my mentor when I was a mega-church pastor, Dave Detwiler. He was higher on the org chart and pay scale and he showed me what it looked like to be a leader who gave away power instead of using it to feel secure or stroke the ego. I was in my early 20s, when I was obviously right about everything and all my superiors were so blatantly wrong. But he always helped me calm down and see things from everyone’s perspective, which has certainly helped me to love better.
What are some books that have changed your way of moving through the world?
I think overall, by the way you phrased the question, I would have to put Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling at the top of the list. I read it for the first time six summers ago and it gave a tremendous voice to what I was feeling at the time about my faith. So, I’ve re-read it every summer since and I keep finding new ways to make it fresh for where I am in the journey.
After that perhaps I should categorize them:
In the biblical studies world would come the works of Brueggemann, particularly Prophetic Imagination, Journey to the Common Good and Exile & Homecoming: A Commentary on Jeremiah, all the work of Jon Levenson, a brilliant Old Testament scholar who teaches at Harvard, the “Weekly Readings of the Hebrew Bible” series by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, and the commentaries on Jonah & Ecclesiastes by the philosopher Jacques Ellul.
In the philosophy & theology world (I kind of see those worlds as the same) I would have to say Todd May’s introduction to the philosopher Gilles Deleuze as well as Difference & Repetition by Deleuze, Jack Caputo’s What Would Jesus Deconstruct, Merold Westphal’s Whose Community? Which Interpretation?: Philosophical Hermeneutics for the Church, and the Gift of Death by Jacques Derrida.
For fiction, it would be The Giver by Lois Lowry, The Zax and Yellow-Belly Sneetches by Dr. Seuss. Confession: I rarely read adult fiction but I love YA, Middle Grade, and Kids books.
Last, but not least, Community: The Structure of Belonging by Peter Block, a must read for anyone in community development.
What do you think it will take to loosen end the patriarchal logjam that prevents so many in the church from being able to benefit from the full faithful expression of Christian women?
That’s a tough and sensitive question. But I think the first thing would be to take the philosopher Slavoj Zizek’s advice and “Stop acting. Just think.” We have to understand patriarchialism as an intricate system, not something that can be done away with in a few clever slogans, good intentions, and hard work. In fact, that’s the rub with systems. If you use knee-jerk reactions to attack their symptoms, it often just adds fuel to the source of their narrative. So, we should stop and keep thinking about what are symptoms of patriarchy and what are sources.
And what we will find for almost all evangelicals at least, is that one of the most important sources is the way they read their Bibles. I think that’s what most mainline Protestants and Catholics don’t understand about Evangelicals. They have eschewed tradition and the Church, so all they have left is their Bible. Of course, they take pride in that fact, but it means that if you mess with their Bible you are messing with the only thing still keeping their faith intact. There has to be more work done on convincing evangelicals of hermeneutics that allow them to retain their beliefs about inerrancy and infallibility but posit equality for Christian women.This would be the same for gay Christians as well. They will likely not be interested in the ethics of patriarchy until you can show them a way to read their Bible that doesn’t undermine the very foundations of their faith. And if you try to change their views on Scripture too quickly, make too much of a leap, many Evangelicals will simply get defensive and stop listening to you, assuming you are unorthodox. At best.
And every time someone who wears the feminist badge causes this reaction, they might be proud to be “standing up for the truth” but it hurts the cause, it doesn’t further it. As Jesus says, we need to learn better how to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10.16).
Jared Byas’ blog, Seeking the Good & Claiming it for the Kingdom
Jared Byas on Twitter
Jared’s book on Amazon.com Genesis for Normal People: A Guide to the Most Controversial, Misunderstood, and Abused Book of the Bible