a point around which things group themselves; a focus of concentration or attraction; a point of dispersion, a nucleus, a source
upsetting, disturbing, seeking to overturn or overthrow
the practice of thinking and talking about God
The c4st is a project of the Broad Street Ministry that focuses on spiritual formation and education. Not a building, school, or institute, c4st is people gathering around challenging ideas and voices. Our hope is to provide space and time for exploration and inquiry, questioning and listening, dialogue and discernment. Conversations will focus on things that matter most and we will often turn to the arts as the avenue to open us up to truths about the world, God and ourselves.
Because the questions of ultimate concern hold no quick and easy answers, we aim to take our time and dig deep; deep within the Christian tradition, deep within the expressions and voices of our culture, and deep within ourselves to discover who we are and who we are called to be in this time and place in our city.
We will turn to texts considered sacred and subversive and listen to voices that speak with poetic vision and urge dissent from our usual ways of thinking and living. Be prepared to encounter some unusual partners in dialogue and to consider those thinkers that, "everyone knows about," but few people read. The lines between sacred and secular may be blurred. And don't be intimidated by the term "theology." We use it in a broad and humble way of giving a name to the activity of examining self in relationship to the Other, and the Other's relationship to the self.
Our aim is not to convert or convince but to offer a safe place to contemplate and consider. Doubt, skepticism and unbelief are not enemies to be conquered but part of what it means to be human. We welcome and encourage the participation of anyone who will make our conversation more dynamic and our gatherings richer through questions, experiences, hunches and glimpses of truth. While disagreement is expected, we require that all persons be treated with respect and that each person participate with a spirit of openness to the possibility of transformation.
We are not big on lectures and are wary of those who spew out knowledge with a loud voice. Most of our time will be spent in conversation, sometimes in restaurants and taverns after a film or performance. We will seek out those places where our society's commitment to our neighbors is faltering or has failed. And at times we will visit those dark places that we are normally encouraged to avoid. We will take time to meditate and pray, to be quiet and listen. While we encourage "regular attendance," most sessions will be designed to stand on their own. In other words, come whenever you can.
A few words about "subversive": We contend that any theology worthy of its name is subversive; it will invite if not force us to regard the world, the reality of God and ourselves in new and challenging ways. We will be overturned, upset and disturbed. We will be taken beneath the surface of self and society. We will be compelled to consider overthrowing our old ways and turning to a new way.
We want to provide an alternative learning community: one that operates with honesty, humility, respect and openness. We did not begin this endeavor with an agenda but by listening to the thoughts and desires of prospective participants. Thus we will be flexible, willing to take risks, change our plans, and quick to confess that we screwed up. We do not seek success in numbers but in the opening of minds and hearts. Knowing full well that we don't know always the answers or hold the truth, we begin this endeavor with humor and humility in anticipation of being part of a community of discovery.
Broad Street Ministry invites you to be part of the discussion. Bring your experience and existence. Offer your questions, skepticism and doubt, your joy and pain. And be prepared to have some fun along the way.
To give you an idea of what you might be getting into, here are some past, present and future c4st events:
Why do biblical women have no names? No voices? Let's give these women voice! Let's discuss what she said, what she might have said and even what you would say. Christianity is not required, but curiosity is a plus.
(David Van Houten)
A candid exploration of some basic Christian themes (God, Jesus Christ, the church) using classic and contemporary texts, poetry and art.
(John Francis and David Van Houten)
The Christian tradition is full of some significant JC's. Join us as John Calvin (who burned a heretic at the stake in the 16th c.) matches up with Johnny Cash ("I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die") in a trans-century clash of two dead white guys. Conversation will focus on the themes of myth and reality, conversion, calling and vocation, social conscience, and living with paradox.
A staple in the c4st diet, this gathering candidly considers the text that will be used in worship the following Sunday and offers prayers for the community. A light dinner is served at 6:30 and discussion begins at 6:30.
Email David at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions, comments or suggestions.
1. First, what is the Center for Subversive Theology
We are pretty intentional about the name: It is not a school or institute. We call it a Center because that doesn't imply anything too highbrow. You don't have to know anything to get in. It's a gathering place and a point of dispersion. We hope it will be a place where people will come because of what they experience, and be different when they leave.
2. Why Subversive?
Any theology worthy of it's name is by necessity subversive. For me in this context, it suggests several things: to lift up voices that often are not listened to, to be turned inside out by a different way of thinking, to gather with people who hold very different opinions and do so in a constructive way, and to allow oneself the possibility of transformation. And I hope that it will be a place for serious thinking and discussion. Serious thinking may force a person to be disturbed. And that may be why it is something our culture seems to avoid at all costs. We also plan to pay attention to those new voices that encourage social dissent: artists' voices, poets' voices. The church's voice isn't the only one that needs to be heard. At times we may argue that the church has to change, that the church has to be converted and transformed.
3. Okay, let's define the rest of our terms: Theology:
In its broadest sense, I understand theology to be thinking and talking about God and self. Anytime we're thinking of the knowledge of self and the knowledge of God and their interrelationship, we're doing theology. So as it applies to this project, the center is the place where people come together to talk about God, themselves and the world.
4. Who can come? Who should come?
Everyone is welcome but we've yet to see who will come! We would like to be reflective of the surrounding community, thus are hoping for a very diverse group of people. Our goal is to get people together who wouldn't usually talk to each other and invite them to think and talk about things of ultimate concern. People from the neighborhood, people from the University of the Arts, the performing arts community. Obviously we'll draw from those who are coming to worship but we also want to welcome those who don't or can't attend the worship services. I am hoping we will reach people who don't normally attend events with a religious focus. Skepticism and doubt are part of what makes us human, and people who have serious questions about the church or religion are welcome to join the discussion.
5. What are the topics getting airtime?
For the first and third Sundays in December I'll begin by testing the waters with a discussion group introducing basic Christian themes. I'm calling it Christian UnDogma and will use poetry, literature, film and current theology to examine the idea of God and the Church. In January, Bill Golderer will lead a discussion group that will focus on a different biblical text each week and Rhonda Rhone will offer "Harlots, Honeys, Saints and Sisters: Silenced Women Speak." It will give voice to women in the bible. All of our classes will center on discussion and dialogue and we intend to rely heavily on the arts as ways of opening us up. Looking down the road a bit, I hope to be able to team up with singer John Francis and co-lead a series on John Calvin and Johnny Cash called "JC Smackdown," but that's still in the planning stages.
Before we did anything we started with a small focus group to gauge interest. We have some general ideas but not a specific agenda and are trying to be responsive to the community that is forming around the broader ministry. We welcome suggestions about areas and topics.
We will also do our best to make people aware of other worthwhile events in the area and offer follow-up discussion groups, such as the Marilynne Robinson lecture at the Free Library on November 8th.
6. What's important to know when coming to the C4ST? Any Requirements?
Only one: because we're hoping for and expecting a diversity of backgrounds and beliefs, we're going to ask our participants to be respectful of alternative viewpoints. It is not our goal to convert anyone to a particular way of thinking or believing. At the same time, we are not asking participants to check their beliefs at the door. We want honest dialogue and expect that people will challenge each other, but in respectful ways.
7. How many participants do you expect?
I think we will start quite small: 6 to 12 people per class would be great.
8. What's your background?
I earned my Ph.D. in theology at the Divinity School of the University of Chicago. But my primary vocation for the past 12 years has been that of stay-at-home father for my two sons, Lucas and Jacob. I am married, and my wife, Kim Olthoff, is a liver transplant surgeon at the University of Pennsylvania and the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
If I'm not out running or working in the vegetable garden, I am usually wandering with books in hand, looking for a good cup of coffee.
-interview by Lesley Valdes