I've been doing a good amount of reading on culture this quarter for the class I'm teaching. I ran into this writing on carnivals by Mikhail Bakhtin. He wrote that in the medieval carnival, there was no separation between performers and spectators. In fact, performers were really not performers at all; instead, they lived in this carnivalesque space. Much more than a performance, the carnival was a life lived. Both 'spectator' and 'performer' held their roles lightly in this newly shared space.
Bakhtin went on to explain that all the oppressive conditions of everyday life -- and there were plenty in medieval Europe -- were suspended during the carnival. Revelry replaced terror, laughter replaced gloominess, abundance replaced scarcity, freedom replaced all restrictions. All social inequalities, hierarchical structures, and rules of social distance were set aside as well. The carnival space combined "the sacred with the profane, the lofty with the low, the great with the insignificant, the wise with the stupid."
When I read this, I immediately thought about a comment I heard from Karen Ward, how her community "plays in the kingdom", i.e. practices heaven. In their church life together, they are more than simply performers -- they participate in a life lived under a different logic, they indwell a different time and space, a future time, the 'now and not yet', the rule and reign of God.
I wondered, as followers of Jesus, how we might create these free zones, these spaces where the oppression of the world does not reign. I was thinking not only in our times of meeting together but separately as well, in our workplaces, neighborhoods, schools, parks. How do we create this alternative space where hierarchies are not observed, where everyone has a voice, where people experience liberation, where laughter is frequent, where the terror is lifted, even for just a few moments? What if our 'witness' is not a performance but the creation of an alternative space, a space that does not yield to the powers of this world but strives to point to the next?