Real hope is messy, edgy, and freeing. It’s what we need right now.


On Dec. 3, 2023, more than two billion Christians around the world celebrated the first week of Advent, which is honored by lighting the first of four Advent candles. For Christians, Advent is a time of reflection and waiting in the darkness of winter. We light four candles in four weeks, and the first candle represents hope.
The two of us are statistically improbable to be friends or collaborators, as churches are the final frontier of segregation in America. We are two very different people and different types of storytellers. We only met each other two short months ago at a coffee shop in Uptown through our mutual friend Richard Moody. (We mention him by name because the likelihood is very high that you, our dear reader, have had the pleasure of meeting Richard, or will very soon!)
Zac Calvo is a Seattle native and Presbyterian pastor of a small urban church where he gives weekly sermons to a mostly White, mostly liberal congregation, and Sean G. Phillips (seangarrison) is a native Detroiter, writer and abstract painter influenced by the words of Nikki Giovanni, Amiri Baraka, Pablo Neruda and Yusef Komuyakaa, among others.
Our unlikely story centers several dialectics that are often present in Advent: joy yet hesitation; full of peace yet chaotic; beautiful yet rough. When we met in that coffee shop back in September, we explored whether the space at Zac’s church could be used for outreach and celebration of local artists. The Technicolor Truth gallery was born out of a wondering about what could happen if a mostly White church hosted 25 provocative, justice-oriented Black artists for two months.
We wanted the artists to feel fearless, and we wanted to make people sweat a bit. But we also had some trepidation about how church-goers may react. Art pieces came in that were notably striking and provocative, particularly around Black male sexuality, and we had no idea how folks would receive them.
What unfolded in the subsequent two months was a blur of raw energy and creativity that woke people up. The opening event hosted more than 225 people, and over the weeks that followed, a total of nearly 345 people came to visit the art work, some folks stopping by after a casual walk around Lake of the Isles, and some people arriving via bus and even airplane to see the show.
East-Isles church-goers who may have previously considered themselves woke after reading “White Fragility,” engaged in unexpected and challenging conversations and were pushed to engage in the church’s mission outside the walls of the sanctuary. At the gallery closing, the community got to hear from the artists firsthand and to receive their vulnerable experiences, and this helped folks to move from conversations to actions.
None of this could have happened without the willingness to try something new and to jump in without knowing what the outcome would be. When we approach issues that are difficult and fear that we may not have all the tools and resources to do it the right way, we miss out on the beautiful, messy ways that hope manifests among us. Hope does not require safety, just a willing spirit to try.
Advent is meant to wake people up. We call on our community to resist the seductive comfort of a version of hope that is sanitized, naively optimistic, or familiar. To cultivate real hope, churches can and should be both spaces of healing and leading against injustices. We need to ruffle feathers. We can’t heal from pain without facing it.


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  • hollyjolly

    So proud of Zac and Sean and all The Technicolor Truth artists!

    Sunday, December 17, 2023 Report this