Poet in Residence at Redeemer Lutheran Church

Redeemer Lutheran Church

The following article appeared in the February newsletter of our mission partner Redeemer Lutheran Church as part of an ongoing series of articles about the people of Redeemer.

Ask young adults about their experience at Redeemer and how it relates to their faith journey, and you will hear a multitude of rich responses! This month, I interviewed Joe Davis, Redeemer’s poet-in-residence now living in the Glenwood House.

Lutheranism is Joe’s second faith language. He grew up in a nondenominational Pentecostal church in North Dakota, where his parents were active members. In college at Minot State, Joe began to go on spring break service trips with the campus ministry. The campus pastor, who happened to be Lutheran, encouraged Joe to become a peer minister. Her mentoring helped him grow in faith and as a leader, and the ELCA became an important part of his life.  While he used to feel he had to choose between the two, today Joe feels “a little bit of both” Lutheran and Pentecostal. Joe is a strong believer in ecumenicalism—the unity of Christians across denominational lines. He loves the Pentecostal churches’ affirmation of experiences of the Holy Spirit, and the mysterious ways of God. He also loves Lutherans’ focus on grace, and the vulnerability and honesty of a theology of the cross.

So how did Joe make his way from North Dakota to Redeemer? He sees God’s mysterious guidance at work in that story. While speaking at a ELCA youth event in college, Joe saw Redeemer member Agape* (Dave Scherer) perform Christian hiphop. Joe thought, “This cat is cool! That’s what I want to do!” The two became friends, and Dave became an informal mentor for Joe, helping him make connections and gain performance experience. One day, Dave introduced him to one of his own mentors and heroes, Pastor Kelly Chatman. Joe visited North Minneapolis and saw the Glenwood house in progress. Pastor Kelly told him to think about it when he graduated from college—Joe could use his creative gifts to be of service to the community.

Joe kept the Glenwood House in mind. After he graduated in 2013, he went to New York for the month-long Tribeca Summer Project, a creative training for young Christian artists. They were encouraged to strive for honesty rather than a preconceived notion of religious art. The final show, which included sculpture,
poetry, dance and more, was a powerful experience of seeing Christ in each other. Joe spoke of learning to write about resurrection—“the story of my wounds and scars, the triumph in the tragedy.”

While tempted to stay in New York, Joe felt drawn back to Redeemer. He says his months in this community have affirmed that choice. Joe enjoys this job at Redeemer because he feels free to fully focus on and explore his “passion for relational service through creative expression.” He loves to build relationships, which in turn inspire his poetry. Joe is always inventing while performing—his poems are “living, breathing, organic creations” that can be different depending on how the spirit moves him.

This spring, Joe is excited to start a series of open mic nights at Venture North. For years, he has loved organizing open mics, where people can share poetry, music and stories. In his experience, when people open their hearts to a listening audience, something very special can happen—a deep, healing connection.

The open mic nights may not be labelled “Christian,” but they are an important expression of Joe’s faith. He says, “people who won’t set foot in a church can experience God at an open mic— I’ve seen it happen.” In the healing power of truth and empathy, Joe sees God show up, “anywhere, anytime.”