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Meeting the Team: Alexander Carpenter

This week we introduce Alexander Carpenter, who oversees the blog here at Spectrum.

Question: How did you get involved with Spectrum and what are your responsibilities?
Answer: I was in my late teens when I read my first Spectrum. It was one of the last that Roy Branson edited and it included stories of growing up Adventist as well as a long article on the role of comedy in the life of faith. I was hooked. I would often retire to the seminary periodical section at Andrews University (feeling out of place as an undergrad) and read issues between classes. I met Bonnie Dwyer because one of my English professors invited me to a meeting during my junior year. I pitched a story on cinema as religion and spent the summer reading Paul Tillich on culture and Mircea Eliade on religion while watching films and nervously rewriting the article dozens of times. It was my first article for the magazine.
After graduation, while in India, I emailed over a short reflection essay on a bittersweet Sabbath visit to Spicer College. Then when I returned after a year (five years ago), Bonnie invited me out to lunch and offered me a job at the Roseville office. I started by helping to archive all the old issues and by doing whatever else the Adventist Forum organization needed. I created the blog after I started graduate school, and as the site has grown I’ve enjoyed working with a whole new group of folks who are creating a community for Adventist conversation.
Question: You spent a year assisting with micro-credit projects in Bangladesh. What continued impact does this have on the projects you’re involved with now?
Answer: In the middle of my time at Andrews, I took a year off to volunteer as a grant writer with ADRA Bangladesh. My time there certainly pushed me away from focusing on individual relief work toward larger issues of systemic reform in religio-political structures. ADRA’s 10,000-member women’s empowerment project works well by moving power from the men and realigning it with women in villages across the country. And while there is plenty of corruption and harmful ethnic political wrangling inside and outside the church, the few hundred thousand dollars that the governments of Sweden and Australia provided went a very long way. After living in a moderate Muslim country I can testify to the fact that the best way to keep folks from turning toward violence is to make sure that they can feed their families and have basic personal freedoms.
Question: One of your many current activities is serving on the advisory board for the Beatitudes Society. What is the Beatitudes Society and why does it excite you?
Answer: It is part of the Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy! Despite the hyperbole, there is truth to that in some folks’ minds. Glenn Beck’s recent bête noire, Van Jones, was on our board until President Obama asked him to lead the White House’s Green Jobs initiative. We actually work to develop emerging Christian leaders in order to build a progressive network for justice, compassion and peace as expressed by Jesus in Matthew 5.
I really like this organization because we are very intentional about reaching out to moderate and progressive Christians in seminaries and giving them a community of hope in a slough of literalism and phobia. This is the faith that moves mountains – just like the faith of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Dorothy Day. Folks forget that many of Spectrum’s first-generation writers were directly involved in the Civil Rights movement while many others in the church stayed silent. Forty years later we see who was on the right side of history. The same will hold true again in a few years as the arc of history continues to bend away from the timid who sit in the middle and attack those who stand up for social justice today. The reason I work with The Beatitudes Society and Spectrum is because I see a growing movement among my generation to push beyond the recent preference for just personal piety. It’s time to balance that with prophetically-inspired action to help the poor in spirit as well.
Question: You spent a year in Mumbai, India researching the Bollywood film industry. What was that like?
Answer: Great fun. I worked on ads for Toyota and Samsung, and had my face plastered on billboards around Mumbai and danced in the back of third-rate movies. It was a small-stakes way to learn the highs and lows of how popular visual culture gets created and consumed in the developing world. My collaborator, George Kimmel IV and I produced, directed and wrote a short film, Solipsistic Suicide; or, She Could Kill for Sleep! which got me hooked on making films while also getting me interested in work that actually pays.
Question: Your full-time job is teaching in the Department of Visual Arts at Pacific Union College. What are some of your favorite classes? How do the visual arts inform your theology?
Answer: Thus far, I have taught History of Western Art, History of Photography, Modern Art, American Art, Elements of Cinema and The Media and the Christian. I’m particularly interested in social histories, which I’ve been able to pursue through a couple of those classes. Beyond the temporal, for me, the visual arts function as windows into the Divine Presence. As reflected in early Christian theologies of synthesis and the use of icons for mediation as well as works by Mark Rothko and Bill Viola, at a personal level I find human creativity being linked to something always, already infinitely universal.
Question: You were involved in the production of This Adventist Life, a PUC drama that was performed at the recent AAW/AF conference. What is the play about and why did you do it?
Answer: Mei Ann Teo of Pacific Union College’s Dramatic Arts Society (the creators of Red Books: Our Search for Ellen White) and I took a spin on National Public Radio’s This American Life format to explore a variety of stories, images and sounds from around the Adventist world.
Along with a fantastic crew of talented actors and brilliant writers, we mixed documentary theater and film into This Adventist Life. We were attempting to remix representations of the spectrum of Adventist cultural and moral experiences from cleanliness and missions to food, sex and Uncle Arthur while raising questions about memory, narrative and meaning. These included: How do we find and fashion “present truth” from our personal and collective cultural experiences, beliefs, and recollections as they constantly work to define Adventism and our own lives? Who gets to make meaning from a story, a book, a flavor or a hope, or the habits of a culture? What role does a person’s age, passions, and church membership get to play in our definition of this Adventist life?
By crafting a very personal play from these shared questions, we aimed to stir up memories, remix some truths, and foster a constructive conversation about what this Adventist life meant to those who were in our audience, and what they meant to it.
Question: Where do you get your ideas for the Spectrum blog?
Answer: From what I read and watch and listen to and from the growing network of brilliant Spectrum blog readers who contribute to the conversation.
Question: You don’t have much of it, but what do you like to do in your spare time?
Answer: I like visiting various parts of the USA. I’m fascinated by American regionalism. In fact, it really bothers me when folks on the Right or the Left allow politics to lead them into bashing any part of this country.
I enjoy playing racquetball and golf. I like touring museums and driving my 4×4 to hang out with friends in the desert. A significant part of my early conscious years was spent in high desert mountains. When I return to those far, rough horizons, I am in heaven.

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