I love that San Francisco has ample spaces to dive into conversations of depth with complete strangers. Its parklets, small locally-owned coffee shops, and walkable neighborhoods invite such interactions.
In one such recent conversation, a stranger turned friend and I quickly got into sharing some of our passions around our respective storytelling initiatives. I say that with humility. Entropy (her artist name) has a Ph.D in art education, came to San Francisco as a visiting scholar from Germany, and has created public art for different cities in the US (like one of the famous hearts locals see throughout San Francisco), Latin America and Germany. She’s also created spaces for others to tell their story through art. In addition, as an educator, she’s training the next generation of storytellers through art. Though I’m no artist, I’ve been working on the craft of storytelling through the liturgies, tours, funerals, and birthday parties I’ve led the past few years. I shared with Entropy that although my formal training was engineering and theology, I adopted art and music as my main vehicles to communicate the stories behind my most grand storytelling event, the “hero’s journey” of my own life.
“The Hero’s Journey” is a common storytelling template that represents the greatest of stories, from Homer’s Odyssey to Star Wars to the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Entropy and I come from very different backgrounds, and subscribe to very different world views. For example, she’s an evolutionist who sees ongoing decay as opportunity for reimagination. I’m a theist whose ultimate hero is Jesus, leading followers to live out Kingdom ethics with a “Kingdom heart” in the here and now. Yet we both subscribe to this template of the hero’s journey and I appreciate how she’s used her art with great effect. So I invited her to share a few aspects of her “hero’s journey.”
Steve – “Entropy, thank you for being willing to contribute to this post. You were born and raised in Germany. What motivated you to immigrate to the US and to come to San Francisco in particular?”
Entropy– “I came to the United States to realize my dream of community art. My PhD studies took me to San Francisco, where the mural tradition is passed down from generation to generation. As a passionate community artist and founder of the non‐profit CULTIVATIVE I am empowering people to discover, experience and explore their creative potential through the arts. I have been painting community murals for more than 10 years. My works can be found in public schools, hospitals, libraries and community centers.”
Steve – “What kinds of thresholds made it difficult to realize your dream of community art in Germany?”
Entropy – “I wanted to move beyond the traditional art paradigm that is taught in German universities. My aim was to weave my self-expression into the many stories of different communities. I left for America because German cities had only very limited interest in community-built art projects and too many restrictions. There was no possibility of living my dream, because of the system. Here you have a sense of freedom that you don’t have any place else.”
Steve – “Funny you should say that. I’ve long appreciated aspects of German culture and living, like the greater sense of apprenticeship – something that’s not really a part of American culture, not to mention the free healthcare and education. I admire how you’ve left that for the sake of this quest.”
Entropy – “Yes, one of the hardest surprises moving here was needing to go to ER early on, and being hit with an astronomical bill! But the move here was still worth it.”
Steve – “What art piece best characterizes what you’re about?”
Entropy – “This one below … the woman emerging from the ocean wave represents my liberation, when I was discovering free expression and moving towards my true self. While unleashing the power of the ocean, she reaches her full potential. In my art, my troubled heroes undergo a personal transformation in order to meet their challenges. They may be unusually sensitive or intelligent. They suffer because they are different and repress parts of their true character to fit in with society. Some of these become ‘heroes’ when they eventually overcome and become heroes not because they were chosen but out of necessity. My work creates alternative realities to make it possible for others to get on this hero’s journey, if not for myself.”
Steve – “And that’s why I was intrigued by your art. What you just said pretty much describes much of my life’s journey! I denied my character, my true self in my growing up years, and constantly strove to fit in to other’s expectations. I had to overcome these obstacles as an adult, and that drives a large part of how I storytell for others. To honor others is healing for me, and for others who witness the storytelling.”
“Let’s talk about your name. You’ve chosen “Entropy” as your artist name. That name harkens me back to my physics classes, where I learned that entropy describes the unwinding of the universe (e.g. shaking up a box of legos won’t result in new creations). Could you tell me more about that?”
Entropy – “Everything is constantly in movement and falling apart. For me, it’s all about transformation, about shifting a physical or emotional state. I wanted a name to convey that growth is always accompanied by decay. It’s part of our existence, and always balanced by creativity. Each moment in life is becoming something new. It is perishing, so that others can be generated”
Steve – “’Growth is always accompanied by decay.’ I’ve found that funerals are a unique place for this to happen. And your words are a good summary of my aim whenever I have the honor of presiding over funerals. With a decaying body of a loved one next to me, I aim for two goals I often find suppressed in today’s culture, to create space for silence and for grieving is the first goal. The second is to consider how the memory of the deceased might germinate new growth for all present. To help accomplish this, I see myself as a symphony conductor at funerals where I’m presiding. But instead of bringing harmony and timing and soul into the music through all the players, I’m tying together, synthesizing, and excavating a bigger story among all the eulogies, memorials, sentiments, hugs, and tears, and presenting this composite picture to mourners as an invitation to new growth.”
I’ve shared here just a fraction of our conversation, and I’m thankful to Entropy for lending her voice, calling, art, and passions to make this post possible. You might be wondering how I got into this conversation. Like I mentioned, many of SF’s coffee houses don’t have the luxury of “abundant seating” so asking to share a table is common here. Entropy was sharing my table, and I could not help but notice her paint-covered pants. That led to me eventually inquire about her art, her website, and her story. And that led to me sharing pieces of my story, work, and non-profit. And THAT led to the idea of writing this post.
I have these kinds of exchanges quite often (though my conversation with Entropy was among the best because of her journey, experience, and articulation skills). Many times, I’ll learn to see aspects of faith, world view, or sexual orientation differently. It’s not uncommon for people to tell me how they might see Jesus and faith differently. What a beautiful mutual exchange! In our pluralist city, I believe these kinds of exchanges build trust and help create community, and increase “true” tolerance.
I’m a Jesus-follower here in a city that views Christianity with much suspicion. I don’t blame the many friends I’ve met who hold that perspective. A lot of exclusion, a lot of “hate messages” have been dispensed by those who identify as Christian. Let’s not even get into how our current administration has been justifying horrific acts based on the “Bible.” Walls of fear and power have mixed “Christianity” and Jesus. Conversations over coffee, on a human level, help to tear down these walls. The dismantling of these walls starts with our own lives, and allowing others to speak into our lives.
I love these kinds of conversation, and the fact that I get to live in a place that’s a magnet for people like Entropy who are on an intentional journey. My world view is stretched and challenged, and my heart is enlarged whenever I converse with people who have sacrificed for the sake of their own “hero’s journey.”