An Interview With Antler’s Dave Harrity
by Emily Grant
Dave Harrity, featured in Rock & Sling (vol. 8.1) is the creator of Antler. According to their web site, “through onsite workshops, print media, and digital content, ANTLER exists to help people engage creativity as a devotional practice for spiritual formation.” Harrity is the author of recently released Making Manifest, a compilation of 28 days’ worth of writing exercises, designed to help people realize their potential as creative beings. He is also, most passionately, a teacher who believes that art is open to all people as a way for them to add to the Economy of God.
I sat down, via Skype, to interview Harrity. We discussed his poems that appear in Rock & Sling, as well as Making Manifest, his current poetry project Sacred Circus, and what it means to be a Christian and a writer. The following are snippets taken from our conversation.
Emily Grant: Tell me more about Antler.
Dave Harrity: We work with religious communities to teach creative practices as devotional practices for spiritual formation. Antler is kind of a bridge for the “creative class” and the “non-creative class” in the church. Some people are better at [being creative] but that doesn’t mean that a person can’t learn to write a poem and have that deepen their spiritual experience. Antler is designed to help people access that creative confidence that’s usually latent.
EG: What is God’s Economy, or the Economy of the Kingdom, that you discuss in several of your poems, and on your blog?
DH: I think the thing that’s important for writers of faith to deal with is to establish what it is they want to add to the world… which sounds like it’s a really big and scary kind of thing to discuss, but it shouldn’t be. It shouldn’t be for a lot of reasons. One reason is that I think over and over again we see in scripture, in the history of the church, that people of great smallness are the ones that make substantial contributions, and they’re okay with that smallness… Square one for the Christian writer, or Christian artist, or Christian whatever is thinking about what they can add to the world. Then you have to ask, why are we using the word “economy”? And that’s partly because … Economy is something we understand a little better. We put something in and something comes out. There’s this fluctuation between our actions and what our actions produce. That’s the reasoning for the use of the word economy.
But on a larger scale, that’s where we begin that conversation about adding. If we add something to the world, what is that going to be? I could subtract something just as easily. … God is a God who creates, and because we’re made in the image of God, we create. That’s kind of, if you ask me, our highest calling as believers, to create. It doesn’t have to be artistic necessarily. It can be, “I create wells in Africa.” And I think that those things are artistic as well, because they add to the economy of heaven. Whether we call it a Kingdom or we call it an Economy we have to believe that we can change things, even if it’s small things. As I started Antler, as I started writing Making Manifest, both of these are predicated on the idea that anyone can do this. Anyone can be creative.
[Making Manifest] walks people through how to develop writing: how to write, how to journal, how to contemplate, how to sit and be still and know. I think that’s something that anyone can do. As I get deeper into writing that book and deeper into Antler, I’m way more content to just “be” with my writing and my art, and not have to push it and to sell it.
EG: Would you consider yourself a Christian artist, or an artist who is a Christian?
DH: The issue is that it’s hard for artists in general, and especially hard for Christian artists, because the only place we have a home is with other Christian artists. We don’t even have a home necessarily among other artists (laughs). I consider myself a Christian and an artist. I don’t think I have to be one or the other. I think it’s a fallacy that says that we have to choose.
EG: My sister said to me today, “Everyone is close-minded. Those who are ‘open-minded’ are close-minded because they hate everyone who isn’t like them.” How do you respond to that, with your desire to allow everyone into the God’s Economy?
DH: I think that your sister’s generally right. I do have a deep desire to see everyone in God’s Economy. The purpose of Jesus is reconciliation, and the shitty part about reconciliation is that nobody gets everything they want. I think if we want to get serious about reconciliation we need to understand that everyone gets to come to the table. “Everyone comes to the table looking for a handout, and everyone gets one.” That’s what the Economy of God is about, and that’s what makes it really hard.
I was in ministry for ten years, and I’ve seen people hurt themselves in very profound and unique and bizarre and painful ways, and I’m not talking just about physical hurt. The things that people do to themselves are very sad. We try to maintain in my family, my wife and I, that everyone’s allowed to participate in reconciliation, even the people we don’t like.
EG: Do you consider you writing meditation? What is the purpose of meditative writing?
DH: It is meditative; anyone who’s added something to this world was a journal keeper – Ghandi, [Martin] Luther King [Jr.]. These are people that sat down and made time to do them. I think the most interesting stuff is people’s journals. I’m an obsessive journaller and an obsessive journal reader. I think people would be less likely to kill one another if they journalled. Hitler and these guys, that’s why they don’t journal. If you’re journaling, you’re forced to see yourself and see the world in a different way. It’s ultimately what happens. You can’t put people in ovens and be a reflective journaller.
EG: What advice do you have for people who want to write poetry but can’t do it or aren’t?
DH: Read Making Manifest (laughs)… I’m in a minority here. I’m one of the people who believes that you get better at writing by actually writing and not by reading. Which in the academy is pretty backwards. People think you get good at writing by studying writing, but that’s why there are so few good literary critics who are also poets, or fiction writers, or what have you. You write first, and you write every day, and you make a little progress every day. You’re going to want to read from there.
EG: Who influences you?
DH: The single biggest influence of my life is William Stafford. And Stafford is famous for saying that “Anybody could write with standards as low as the standards that I have.” [His work] was very freeing for me. If you’re wanting to write, or anyone else, the advice is to lower your standards. And write every day. If you wrote every day for a month, and the end of that month you’d see everything differently. It might be only a little different, but my advice is to start there.
EG: The Zulu tribe has a greeting, “Sawubona,” meaning “I see you.” The response to this is, “I am here.” What is your response to that?
DH: That’s what I’m put on earth to do, is to see things clearly. I think that’s a profound thing – I see you – because I think that’s what Christianity should be doing. Saying, I see your life. I think it’s more a prophetic thing: witness is not about getting someone to change their behavior, it’s about telling the truth. If you’ve ever been around people with terrible things going on in their life, the only thing you can do is sit there. You can’t fix it. So much about what we do in the world should be about that, about just seeing people.
Sacred Circus, when it comes down to it, is about the incarnation. I think that if we’re being serious about the incarnation, we need to be serious about the messiness of the world. Jesus didn’t get over [the messiness], he lived in it. That’s what I’m trying to do with these poems, to say that I see you, and I can’t fix it, but I’m here.
Emily Grant used to live somewhere around Wenatchee, Washington. Now she lives somewhere around Spokane.