I did a lot of painting this fall – the porch, then a chair that was a gift for my partner.
When I painted the shed on a windy day in September, dead leaves from the massive elms that line our street kept falling in the can. I pulled them out – green again – wiped my fingers on my shirt. My kids played nearby, out of sight but still in earshot, riding bikes up and down the sidewalk, then toting their tempura paints outside to colour beside me, first on pieces of paper and cardboard, then on stones they found in the yard.
I love the repetition, the steady pull on the brush to make a sharp line (I’m an excellent edger), then the wide sweeps it takes to fill a larger area. It’s one of the most meditative things I get to do as a busy parent and editor. It’s an opportunity to be alone, sometimes for hours at a time.
I often like to paint in silence, but this time I decided to multitask.
Ever since I started working at Geez, my coworkers and friends have been helping me compile a reading list on radical Christian theology. It’s an impressive list, but I haven’t made much progress yet.
It’s not that I don’t love to read, I just do so much of it already, and when I’m not reading for work I prefer my old favourites – a good novel, a poetry journal or some feminist theory. The radical part of radical theology doesn’t scare me; it’s the God part, the faith part, the part I haven’t tried very hard to figure out after rejecting the conservative, patriarchal theology of my upbringing.
Sallie McFague (her book Life Abundant is on my list) taught me that we each have a theology, but not necessarily one we’ve spoken or written down; the theology that matters is the one we live. Made up of “our deepest picture-beliefs” about God and the world, it influences the way we treat nature and other people.
That means that the years I’ve spent clinging to some kind of Christian spirituality through many conversions – to feminism, to intentional community, to anti-oppression, to affirming queer people, to recognizing many ways to know the Divine – have made me think theologically along the way. So have my everyday decisions: where to get our food, whether to drive the car, how to interact with my family and my coworkers and the people I meet on the street, when to dodge the evils of my culture and when to get indignant and find a way to push back.
This fall I felt almost ready to tackle that reading list in earnest, but I chose to pick up my paintbrush instead of finishing Jesus for President. As a compromise, I brought a stereo outside to check out some Iconocast interviews – something on my reading list that didn’t require reading, and a way to learn about Christian anarchism for this issue of Geez.
The Iconocast is a project of some folks from the Christian anarchist website Jesus Radicals. They interview theologians and activists – not all Christians or anarchists, but allies of radical Christianity – and produce a podcast of the interviews.
With my feminist sensibilities heightened (I had heard Christian anarchists were mostly white, heterosexual men), I started with interviews of women – two Catholic Workers, then Calenthia Dowdy, Eda Uca-Dorn and Starhawk. More comfortable with the hosts and their politics, I moved on to some other names I recognized – Cornel West, Ched Myers, Becky Garrison, Richard Rohr. After I admitted I was hooked, I started listening to each episode, from the beginning in 2010.
There were moments when I stopped painting and just listened: as Starhawk described why worshipping nature, not just loving it, makes life fuller; as Waziyatawin gave a litany of reasons why the oppressive tradition of Christianity is irredeemble and has no place in a just world; as John Dear described the Sermon on the Mount’s call to peace and justice activism as a call for every Christian (apparently no one’s called just to be a good person); and as Mary Jo Leddy said we resist consumer capitalism by recognizing when our communities and our activism are “good enough.”
I keep listening because of the thrill I feel when the radial language, politics and theology of these lovely people resonates with the deepest picture-beliefs of my soul. This is God-talk that I can stomach and even get excited about; it’s got me super engaged in this issue of Geez on the anarchist impulse in Christianity.
The painting projects are finished and the weather turned cold, but I still have plenty of episodes to go. It’s a good thing there’s always lots of dishwashing, laundry and cooking to do. Maybe this winter I’ll take up woodworking, or knitting – or find some rooms that need painting.
Melanie Dennis Unrau is an editor and publisher at Geez. She lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba. She can be reached at melanie [at] geezmagazine [dot] com. You can find the Iconocast online at jesusradicals.com/iconocast.