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‘Faith, art, activism’ combine at Philly church in a carnival atmosphere

Calm, quiet, peaceful, sacred are some terms associated with churches. And, on most days, these attributes are evident at houses of worship.

For the next week, though, Philadelphia’s Arch Street United Methodist Church is taking a more festive tack toward spirituality as it serves as the home base of Carnival De Resistance.

The traveling carnival aims to tackle issues of oppression and injustice through a theological point of view, and has transformed the church at 55 N. Broad St. with ribbons, string lights, tapestries, and cardboard cutouts of a smiling sun in the main area. Carnival games such as “run the money changers out of the temple” or “knock down the corporate giants” have also taken over the church basement.

After visiting many parts of the country — including Charlottesville, Virginia, and Minneapolis — the carnival is in Philadelphia for the first time.

Jay Beck said he and his wife founded the group as a way to connect the “worlds of faith, art, and activism.”

As Beck studied West African percussion traditions, his teachers’ relationship with their land inspired him to rethink his Catholic upbringing and teachings. He said he learned to “decolonize” the understanding of Christianity that was given to him.

Carnivals, he said, have always been a way of expressing “one’s vision of the world,” as well as “speaking truth to power.” And so creating a carnival atmosphere to address issues of Christianity and injustices seemed a fitting way to present those elements of faith, art, and activism.

To power the performances, for example, volunteers ride bikes to run the lighting and sound system as the group offers another view of Christianity that’s not always represented in the media, said Grace Aheron, the carnival’s network coordinator.

One of the main shows focuses on biblical prophets — including Moses and his sister, Miriam, who takes on the modern problem of water pollution. Miriam, who is described as a “prophetess,” leads the Israelites in song after Moses leads them out of Egypt.

As Aheron explained, Carnival De Resistance sees the story of the Christian Bible as a means of delivering a message to oppressed people.

“It was a faith that was rooted in a place and rooted in the land of a place, and that’s why we weave in a lot of the environmental themes,” she said.

It’s important to understand, Aheron said, that ecological injustices are connected with all other injustice and persecution.

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