Purity Culture, Andrew McMahon, and California, Oh My!

This week has been a huge, overwhelmingly beautiful and emotionally taxing week for me.

Let’s start things off right, from the beginning of last month.

Theopoetics and Dialoging with Purity Culture

I spent the middle two weeks of January in Richmond, Indiana on the campus of Bethany Theological Seminary, where I attended a 2-week intensive of their Theopoetics 1 class taught by the amazing Scott Holland. It was intense. So much reading. So much dialoging. So much beauty. I made new friends and new discoveries—about theology and about myself.

Scott announced the annual theopoetics conference coming up in March, which I have been longing to go to but figured I probably wouldn’t be able to because it’s out in Oakland, CA this year. My adventures in theopoetics began back in 2017 when I attended my first theopoetics conference in Cincinnati (which is much closer to home for me and a much more affordable trip). But I haven’t been to one since, because last year’s was in Boston. But Scott recommended the conference, and even encouraged us to submit workshop proposals if we feel the urge. For some reason, I did, so the weekend we got a ton of snow, I burrowed inside and wrote up a workshop proposal on found poetry, created an author résumé, and submitted my stuff barely by the deadline, thanks to some technological issues. I figured it was a long shot, but I was proud of myself for at least trying.

In class, my new friends and Scott encouraged me to think about doing a found poetry project for my final project for the class. So I decided that I wanted to be intentional and create a project that would 1) all come from the same book (usually when I do found poetry, I use words and phrases from various sources), and 2) dialog with an aspect of my evangelical upbringing that I’ve been questioning or rejecting.

I settled on creating found poetry out of Joshua Harris’s book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Though I turned in my final project yesterday, the project as a whole is not yet complete. I plan to do one poem for each chapter of the book, totaling 16 pieces of mixed-media art and poetry. Eventually, these will all be compiled into a book with commentary on the process and how I engaged with the materials. Below is the cover of the project, which I shared on my Instagram and Facebook pages yesterday:

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This project, which I am calling Goodbye Brutal Romance: Rewriting the Damaging Messages of Purity Culture, has gotten so much bigger than I originally envisioned it to be. So far, I have completed four of the pieces/chapters/poems for the project, and when I posted about it on Instagram yesterday, I tagged Josh Harris, who liked my post and followed me. So I’m sitting here thinking, how cool would it be to be able to engage in dialog with this man who wrote a book that was so influential on my youth (in not the greatest of ways, though I don’t 100% blame that on him—my feelings are that the churches and people caught up in purity culture at the time took that book and used it as an icon of what purity should and shouldn’t be, though Harris repeatedly says throughout his book that not everyone has to do things in exactly this way, and that it was his convictions. But this is a discussion for another time.)

My whole goal with the project is to take words and phrases from this icon of purity culture and reframe them into messages of hope, restoration, and healing for those who have been deeply hurt or damaged by purity culture. I also spent much time typing up quotes from Harris’s recent documentary I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye, and lyrics from Brooke Fraser’s song “Brutal Romantic,” to create the backgrounds for each poem.

I will be sure to post updates here, on Insta and FB as the project progresses and when I know more about when it will be complete and when I can publish.

Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness

About three years ago, my best friend introduced me to the music of Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, when he sent me the link to “Cecilia and the Satellite.” I loved the song, but I didn’t really listen to much else by AMitW until about a year and a half ago when, for some random reason, I thought, “Amy, you should probably listen to, like, the entire album.” And I did. And I was hooked. For weeks I would listen to all of his available music (under his AMitW band—I still haven’t delved into Something Corporate or Jack’s Mannequin yet) on shuffle and repeat on Spotify. And last summer, I decided that hey, since his music means so much to us, we should totally go to a concert. But when I checked his website, he’d written that he wasn’t sure he’d be writing any more albums or doing any more tours because he wanted to focus his time on his wife and daughter.

But last September, I got an email that he had—surprise!—written a new album and would be touring this winter. So when tickets became available in October, I snatched up two.

Well, we got to go, finally, this past Wednesday night. It was awesome! If you haven’t ever listened to Andrew McMahon’s music, you should give it a try. I think he’s a really good musician and a great lyricist. Also, his concerts are really fun.

I got some photos, but most of them turned out pretty crappy because the music was so loud, it threw off the focus/image stabilization on my phone’s camera, so I got one decent photo (with silhouetted heads in front of me) and a video of AM riding a giant sun floaty through the crowd.

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The concert was an awesome experience, and honestly my first live concert in about 12 years (my last one was seeing Imogen Heap live, which was also amazing). It was a standing-only concert though, and for this middle-aged woman with chronic pain issues, that was not the most pleasant thing in the world. But my body handled it better than I expected it to, and I was able to stand for almost the entire time, with just a short sit-on-the-floor session between Grizfolk’s and Flor’s sets.

California, Here I Come!

The day after the concert, while I was still massaging my aching calf muscles, I got an email from ARC, the organization that organizes the theopoetics conference each year, that my workshop proposal had been accepted! They were inviting me to come to California to teach a workshop on found poetry! I cannot even explain how honored and humbled I was and still am.

My workshop is called, “Redeeming Logos: Finding Poetry in Discarded Words.” I’m really really excited to be presenting this, and I will bring some of my own pieces to have on display as examples, including pieces from the Goodbye Brutal Romance series. I will walk through blackout/erasure poetry and découpé/cut-out poetry, both of which I have done, and participants will be able to make their own poetry piece(s) during the workshop.

If you live in or around Oakland (or anywhere else!) and are interested in attending the conference—where there will be many other amazing artists, musicians, creatives, spoken word poets, authors, and more to share their talents and expertise—then click here for more information on how you can come and participate.

This has been one of the most amazing weeks of my life so far. I know that probably sounds super dramatic, but to be honored in such a way, to realize that you are fully in the place where God wants you to be… This is not something to take lightly. I am so incredibly grateful that God has called me into a community of people who recognize the gifts and talents God has given me and who spur me on to use them and take risks, even when I didn’t plan to or when they are uncomfortable.

I hope you are as blessed with such a community.