Elizabeth Harlan-Ferlo

is creating an Arts Chaplaincy

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Thanks for visiting!  However you've arrived, I'm glad you're here. I am a writer, poet, teacher, facilitator and Arts Chaplain. I curate Interfaith Muse, which offers ways to explore spiritual questions through civic conversation and creative arts. 

The main expression of Interfaith Muse is currently the Inward Digest, a newsletter that than includes an interview with one or more artists, recommendations and reviews of art that engages spiritual questions, and a column called Musings,  brief essay meditations. These are usually written by me, but occasionally by a guest. Subscribe! It's free and fun to read.

I also host pop-up events with one or more artists, or workshops for communities wanting to explore spiritual ideas through the creative arts. Check out the Interfaith Muse pages for more about those, or choose one here as a supporter. I'd love to plan one with you!

Your support makes it possible to 

  • compensate guest writers who contribute to the Inward Digest
  • host more Artist in Conversation live events
  • relaunch the the Eavesdrop podcast 
    • pay for better syndication
    • rent and buy good recording equipment
    • hire a professional producer
  • keep believing in this work

There's a hunger for this--please help me prepare the feast!

Frequently thought-about but not always Asked Questions: (F-tabna-A-Q):

What is a Chaplain?
A chaplain is someone who "intentionally loiters" in a purpose-driven community, creating public and private spaces that respond to spiritual needs. Instead of a group like a sangha or a church  congregation, these communities have a purpose other than a spiritual one (think hospitals, prisons, schools, and the military.) But the work of these communities often raises spiritual or 'ultimate' questions. These are questions like, "what is my purpose?"  "what do I need to understand about the world?" "how can I  make more justice and less of suffering for others?" "how can I live in harmony with my community?" "how do I understand death and grief?"

I am an accidental chaplain. After receiving an MFA in Poetry, I was looking for a teaching gig. When a priest friend offered me a part-time school chaplaincy assistant job, I thought, well, this will be glorified Sunday School--no problem. I can do it while writing and holding down another job too. I was wrong about all of that. And I fell in love with chaplaincy.

As an language-driven and performative maker myself, and a friend of artists, I know that ultimate questions arise when making art. They arise for all of us when we encounter art--when we're moved by a photograph or painting, after a theatre or dance performance, or during a concert. Art exposes the depths of life's meaning. A chaplain is there to witness and accompany such an encounter, and to light the depths. 

Aren't you supposed to wear a collar?
In the tradition I practice, the Episcopal version of Christianity, ordained people wear white collars to indicate their ordination vows and public role. I am a lay chaplain, which means I am not ordained. My training comes not from a  traditional seminary education, but an academic and experiential study of religion throughout my entire life. I served a school chaplain for nine years, working with PreK students and teenagers, and all ages in between, as well as with faculty colleagues, administrators, and the families of the students. As an undergraduate, I studied religion (specializing in Hinduism and medieval Islam) and visited religious spaces on almost every continent. I read and wrote poetry for my MFA degree on the limitations of language in the face of the ineffable. And I had the opportunity to study Contextual Theology at a seminary in South Africa. That's why when I taught academic religion classes, I stressed understanding practice as well as text; experience as well as doctrine. Now I lead public conversations with Oregon Humanities about how to connect across religious difference. Some of my best friends are priests and pastors! But I'm not one.

What does my support help you do?
That's partly up to you! I make art (usually the written kind) and I make public events to experience, think about, and talk about the ultimate questions of art with artists. (Sometimes we make some art together, too.) I ask other artists and writers to do these things with me. Because I'm not connected to particular institution, an Arts Chaplain in-the-world (or in the wild), there isn't an organization that supports this work directly. Patreon allows you to support my work through individual pledges--like a church stewardship campaign or a public radio one, if that's your religion. Like church or NPR, a pledge doesn't necessarily come with a guarantee of particular content; you're supporting the endeavor as a whole. That said, you can opt for perks!  (Think of it as your NPR mug or tote bag; indulgences are in development.) Right now all the live events I offer are in Portland, Oregon, but I'd love to travel to your community (parish, seminary, school, sangha) to create an event or a participate in one of yours. Check out all the rewards right over there --->

Why Does This Work Matter?
When I served at an Episcopal church-affiliated school, most of the community itself was not Episcopalian, or even religious. Many described themselves as spiritual and some, irreligious. I often thought of my students as as skeptical seekers--people with hesitation and prejudice about spiritual ideas, but very thirsty for ways to understand the world's depths. Working with this community energized my own spirituality, and made me very good at discovering the pith of spiritual experience and religious approaches across traditions. Often, music, performance, visual images or crafted language could meet these seekers where they were, especially when they made them themselves. When I left that community,  found the same thirst among both religious and the secular people--to encountering ultimate questions in dynamic, active ways that intersected with culture and civic dialogue. Interfaith Muse is an attempt to meet this need. We offer the pop-up events and a monthly newsletter to respond to art and artists asking ultimate questions. But like any good practice, regularity and habits are what make the growth happen. To offer these experiences consistently, and to properly recognize those that give their time and talent,  I need your support.
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When I reach $200 per month, I'll be able to pay contributors to the newsletter.
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