Amena Brown is an Atlanta-based poet and the author of the newly released memoir How to Fix a Broken Record. As a teenager, her interest in writing and performing found her dabbling in rap and exploring religious poetry. As an adult, however, she ended up finding a home performing for a diverse range of audiences at open mics throughout the Atlanta spoken word scene.

Brown is passionate about the interplay between faith and art. Her shows aren’t “churchy” affairs, though; she intentionally sets aside altar calls or blatant evangelistic messages, instead inviting people from all walks of life to share their art with—and speak truth to—one another.

On today’s episode of The Calling, Brown joins host Richard Clark to discuss her adolescent aspirations toward rap stardom, why she has trouble with the idea of ‘sacred’ and ‘secular’ art, and how the church can reimagine the role of art to better allow God’s light to shine in and through it.

Click the “play” button above to listen in.

On her early experiments with verse: “The church that we were going to was very arts-centered. I immediately had an opportunity in my youth group to write poems or perform poems…. We were performing our rhymes about Jesus over Biggie’s beats.”

On the limits we place on art: “We want to make art preach in super explicit ways, which sometimes takes away the artfulness—and takes away the work the Spirit of God can do. The Spirit of God can take what looks like an abstract painting and speak to us; but sometimes in our church settings, we go, ‘Well, that’s too abstract.’ That hurts us in the long run.”

On finding God in unexpected places: “I’ve had so many sacred moments in what people would consider to be a ‘secular’ place; and I’ve also been in what should’ve been some sacred places and had what would be considered very ‘secular’ moments.”

On making sacred art that feels more human: “We feel like in [a faith-based] setting, the poet should become a window: Your job as the poet is to be as clear as glass. You become nothing, you become invisible, so that God can stand behind that window.

“I wonder if our concept of what that window means is actually true. God’s window doesn’t necessarily look like clear glass. It could look like this field of flowers. It could look like the two of us having this conversation. That’s also a window of God’s—of how God is allowing us to see how he works.”

Brown opens up more about her view of God and his “ministry of disappointment” in a recent excerpt on CT Women.

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The Calling is produced by Richard Clark and Morgan Lee, and edited by Jonathan Clauson.

Theme music by Lee Rosevere, used under Creative Commons 4.0.