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On the Arts: Rupture, Art, and Queering the Liturgy

Maria Fee

Dr. Maria Fee is the author of Beauty Is a Basic Service: Theology and Hospitality in the Work of Theaster Gates. Maria holds an M.F.A. in painting, an M.A. in theological studies, and a Ph.D. in theology and culture. 

The work of artist Rachel Barnard titled Wisdom Pavilion is situated in a dreary office of the City of New York Department of Probation. In this unlikely location, she suspended hundreds of sparkly cobalt blue pinwheels from the ceiling of a meeting room for parole officers and young parolees. Barnard is also the founder of Young New Yorkers (YNY), an arts-based initiative for teens in the adult criminal court system. These strategically placed pinwheels cause the pavilion to gently sway, and the whirling wheels magically transform the space. But there is more. Blue whimsy becomes the effective means to disrupt antagonisms and shift the mood of weekly interviews. “Glittery things are the secret weapon of social justice, where you can interrupt people’s genuine grievances to focus on what is possible,” explains Barnard.1

The rupture principle is the subject of this reflection. Wisdom Pavilion demonstrates it, the actions of queering often use it, and Christian liturgies can host it. To rupture is to interrupt what may be expected by the incongruous, absurd, or rival to engage new ideas. The principle is evident in many of Jesus’ parables about kingdom values, which challenge the unjust regulatory forces of governing institutions. Rupturing norms, whether through art, queerness, or worship, subverts narrow estimations of God’s creation, thereby preserving the glory of marginalized bodies, sites for hard conversations, and seemingly inconsequential things like glittery pinwheels.

To endorse and better understand the rupture principle, let’s turn to queer theory. Historically, queer ideas and practices have looked to disrupt binary thinking about bodies, gender, and sexual identity. Queer theories are important for all people because queering broadens, opens, diversifies, complicates, and upsets dualistic, reductive, or mutually exclusive summations of Western standards. This includes theological assumptions ignoring or flattening human experiences, including life with the Divine.2 By attending to the real, queering deflates abstractions to discover God in strange places, incongruous things, and unruly bodies.3 Like Jesus’ kingdom lessons, queering eschews conformity, comfort, and control to embrace intricacy, fluidity, mystery, and faith in ceaseless becoming. The artist activist ALOK outlines this bumpy journey. “We don’t just want to be safe, we want to be free, to create the capacity to author lives that are . . . magnificent, triumphant, exuberant, flamboyant.”4 Queering honors growing pains, and in doing so prepares individuals and communities to face the unknown and celebrate! The queer theological enterprise looks to an unsettling figure, a unique body, one that is human and divine, crucified and risen, a body scarred confronting dehumanizing factors, including death itself. Queering the Liturgy emulates a christological model necessitating vulnerability to reconsider what victory looks like. 

This pattern is illuminated in the art of Wisdom Pavilion, where the lie of invincibility is blown away by the breeze of pinwheels. The poetic has the power to “resurrect dead things like hope,” maintains ALOK.5 Hope delivered by art ruptures despair, opening pathways previously blocked. One of art’s rupturing methods is juxtaposition. “Force relationships between forms that seem incompatible,” advises the painter Kerry James Marshall.6 We see this in Wisdom Pavilion with the positioning of playful things alongside court mandated meetings. The juxtaposition evokes all types of feelings, eventually giving way to meaningful interactions. “When two contradictory emotions are made to confront each other and are required to have a relationship with each other,” writes literary critic Lionel Trilling, there is a “felt awareness” of new occurrences working upon “old forms,” adding depth and complexity.7 This process is mirrored in the “social dramas” that anthropologist Victor Turner studies. The term refers to conflicts between people groups. Mutual ritual performances mediate social dramas belonging to law, religion, or the arts. According to Turner, collaborative enactments advance a liberative moment—“a liminal gap”—where participants transcend known order to grasp alternative “social arrangements.” Liminal experiences are so significant, notes Turner, they explain why tribal societies issue taboos while industrial societies legislate the subversive elements of art. 

For this reason, Turner maintains religious rituals reformulated or reframed hold power to revitalize aspects of society.8 Take for example the artist Nicolás Dumit Estévez’s pilgrimage and baptismal performance certifying his Bronx identity. The life-art water ritual of Born Again: A Lebanese-Dominican York Is Born Again as a Bronxite made use of the symbols and gestures of the artist’s faith (he also studied theology) to launch a series of artistic collaborations. Working with local people groups and institutions, Dumit Estévez galvanized their commitment to the Bronx while locating contemporary art activity therein to disrupt old stereotypes of the borough. Aesthetically cementing connections between identity, spirituality, and the politics of locality, Dumit Estévez’s queering of baptism also complicates, in a good way, sacred-secular bifurcations.

Water flows out from liturgies. When it flows in, it carries associations that burst open when juxtaposed with the person of Jesus. It seems he, too, defies the sacred-secular binary. Liturgies host rupturing possibilities when words, localities, utensils, people, gestures, and symbols are intentionally positioned to garner new insights. Juxtaposition proposes a thick living grace held in tension with ancient biblical texts.9 This is because divine love is more than doctrinal. Liturgies that adopt radical truth-telling and negotiate methods used in art, like rupture and juxtaposition, become queer liturgies, supplying practical and profound ways to bring into conversation God’s ethos and human pathos. These liturgies expose radical love10 undeterred by human fragility. Imagine the possibilities erupting from this liminal place! Dumit Estévez’s Bronx baptism is one example. On that day, the water drawn from the Bronx River compounded in significance. Indeed, rupturing proposes a radical more.


1. Rachel Barnard, “An Artist Finds Wisdom in NYC Probation Department,” A Blade of Grass, Fieldworks, accessed October 5, 2023,

2. Elizabeth M. Edman, “Introduction,” in Queer Virtue (Boston: Beacon Press, digital ed., 2016).

3. Linn Marie Tonstad, Queer Theology: Beyond Apologetics (Eugene, OR: Cascade, digital ed., 2018).

4. ALOK @alokvmenon, “we deserve magnificence,” Instagram, June 24, 2023, accessed October 5, 2023,

5. ALOK @alokvmenon, “thinking about the role of poetry in times like these,” Instagram, September 6, 2023, accessed October 5, 2023,

6. Kerry James Marshall, Letters to a Young Artist, ed. Peter Nesbett (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan, 2006), 27.

7. Lionel Trilling, “The Meaning of a Literary Idea,” in Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends, ed. David H. Richter (New York: St Martin Press, 1989), 528.

8. Victor Turner, Dramas, Fields, Metaphors: Symbolic Action in Human Society (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, digital ed., 2018), 7–8.

9. Gordon Lathrop, Holy Things: A Liturgical Theology (Minneapolis: Augsburg Press, 1998), 23, 33.

10. Don E. Saliers, Worship as Theology: Foretaste of Glory Divine (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1994), 22. “Christian liturgy transforms and empowers when the vulnerability of human pathos is met by the ethos of God’s vulnerability in word and sacrament,” writes Saliers.


On Liturgy – 56.2

On Liturgy – 56.2

One Friday during a recent low point in our community’s COVID-19 infection rates, my husband and I bought tickets to a dinner show at an iconic jazz club in our city. The evening’s featured performer was a local musician who also happened to be a congregation member—I had not yet had the chance to meet him, and I was eager to hear his music.

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On Liturgy – 56.2

On Preaching – 56.2

In keeping with the Directory for Worship, Kaela (not her real name) was presented for baptism with neither undue haste nor undue delay. She was thirteen years old, wearing her backpack and clinging to a stuffed animal as she walked to the baptismal font. Her mothers had been Presbyterian for a little over a year—they joined soon after visiting our church’s booth at the downtown Pride festival the year before.

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