Public Conversation History 

Did you know the first Public Conversation in 1996 featured Kurt Vonnegut, John Updike, and Dan Wakefield in a conversation at Clowes Memorial Hall about the relationship between "spirit" and "place?" 


25th Annual Public Conversation
featuring Pádraig O'Tuama and Manon Voice


Presented by Spirit & Place and The Church Within.
In conjunction with the John D. Barlow Lecture in the Humanities.

Do we have it within ourselves to begin a genuine journey of reconciliation? One where the harms caused by systemic injustice are truthfully acknowledged and the work of repair can begin? Join theologian and poet Pádraig O’Tuama and local spoken word artist and activist Manon Voice as they explore the relationship between poetry, faith, and reconciliation.

Activities are made possible in part by the Indiana Arts Commission, a state agency, and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.

A video of this event will be available on the Spirit & Place YouTube channel through 2020. Click here. If you would like a transcript of the event, click here.

About the speakers:
>>Poet and theologian, Pádraig O’Tuama’s work centers around themes of language, power, conflict, and religion. Pádraig presents Poetry Unbound with OnBeing Studios and in late 2019 was named Theologian in Residence for OnBeing, bringing art and theology into public and civic life. In his book, In the Shelter (2015), O’Tuama interweaves everyday stories with narrative theology, Celtic spirituality, and poetry to reveal the transformational power of “welcome.”

>>Indianapolis native Manon Voice is a poet and writer, spoken word artist, hip-hop emcee, educator, social justice advocate and practicing contemplative. Manon has appeared on stage with David Whyte; is a Pushcart Prize in Poetry nominee; a featured 2020 Art & Soul Artist; and the 2020 Robert D. Beckmann, Jr., emerging artist fellow with the Arts Council of Indianapolis. For the 2020 Spirit & Place Festival she was commissioned to create a new poem in celebration of the ORIGINS theme and the Public Conversation topic of reconciliation. 

"A Brave Attempt" by Manon Voice
No matter what name we lend it, 
What the story of our life determines to call it,
We come delivered from the wombed privacy of darkness 
Struggling to reconcile ourselves with creation the moment we arrive.
Crying at the fright of our own incarnation,
Our consciousness held fast by a fleshly chamber for which we did not ask,
A family we do not see ourselves in,
A vocation, a religion, a caste, a country.

And what does it mean to be human?
We need only start at our own wounds,
Absconded aches
Private ruptures tearing us into otherness 
Indiscriminately kin to every pilgrim of this way.
The pattern of stitches striven to heave the guise of opposites,
To suture the cleave of our histories and blot the blood,
To make peace with the splits of trauma that preys us into a trinity of separates.

What does it mean to be human, 
But to live between stretched limbs reaching to gather close the distances.
Daily we endure the naked cruciform
Between birth and death
Between beauty and brokenness
Between lament and praise song
Between the ordinary and the transcendent 
Between love and fear.

When the world’s song of duality bewilders
We search for something to gauze the break
To dam the breach,
To hold the center, 
The battered tongues of our survival have many names
Bless these thorny crowns of individuation 
Bestowing peculiarity and protection 
Fortressing us in a world that would not take us as we are.

And what is the world but the mirror of our valley of broken bones?
The imagined skeletons of our fears constructed into borders and byways
Segregating us between city and countryside
Parties and politics 
Belief and disbelief
Systems and structures 
Hoisted atop the faulty roofs of power and privilege
The ghosts of our illusions lead
Us gilded strangers of the earth.

If we dare to stand at the gravity center of our duplicity
What surprise may we find in these rifts
In the cracks of our dilemmas, a bridge?
From our sorrow, our soul’s medicine?
From our fears, a frightened rejection of another?
From our rejection of ourselves, our peculiar gifts?
And from our peculiar abandonment by the world, the face of who we really are, 
From which  we cannot turn away.

And who have we turned away in our leaving?
Who have we fretted in our fear?
Who have we subjugated in our surviving
Who have we left out in our lauding?

Are we not all emissaries of reconciliation?
Tasked to remove the burden and stumbling block from one another
So that we too may be free of our own?
Not of pompous announcement but in our everyday practice 
And struggled faithfulness to justice and mercy.

Are we not all students of repair?
Even our deeds of good are published with the vulnerability of desire
Every poem, painting, or song in its composition
Every genuine and imperfect practice of faith 
Every rally cry for peace 
Every sacrifice of love and service 
Is a brave attempt toward union

To live in this world takes courage
But to love this world takes forgiveness.

Although we do not have all of the language on our tongues
We have the memory in our bodies
And the gratuity within our souls.
We sense in our origins the possibility of a reality
Unbroken,  
Not uniform, but unified. 
And by being here we are all trying to cross this chasm, to bridge the divide
To belong to one another and to belong to something to which we sense has always 
Been One.


24th Public Conversation featuring Nikole Hannah-Jones
The 2019 Public Conversation asked the community to join together–Civic Saturday style–around history, poetry, and music to explore why it is time to revolutionize the way we talk about our past and how it is a moral imperative we re-frame conversations on history, society, and race in order to address systemic injustices. America’s traditional origin stories don’t work for everyone and now is the time to wrestle with the meaning of who we are and who we want to be in order to bring America closer to its promises. Leading this conversation was Nikole Hannah-Jones is an award-winning investigative reporter covering racial injustice for The New York Times Magazine. A 2016 Peabody Award winner for her series on school segregation for “This American Life” and 2017 MacArthur Fellow, Hannah-Jones was most recently the lead journalist for The 1619 Project.

2018 Public Conversation featuring Zeynep Tufekci

Techo-sociologist and author of Twitter and Teargas, Zeynep Tufekci focused on social movements and civics, privacy and surveillance, and social interactions. She examined both the positive and negative ways digital platforms support the work of social change. Tufekci, a leading expert on algorithmic decision-making, also spoke on the moral and political implications of  Facebook, Google, Twitter, and others on society. (Think: Facebook and Cambridge Analytic.) Tufekci does not believe these platforms are neutral players and should be held accountable for the spread of false information. In a recent TedTalk she argues, "We need a digital economy where our data and our attention is not for sale to the highest bidding authoritarian or demagogue.”

2017 Public Conversation: Reflections on Race

Featuring Indiana historian Dr. James Madison, poet Dr. Maria Hamilton Abegunde, SongSquad, and actors with Indiana Historical Society’s Museum Theater program, the 2017 Public Conversation used historic documents, images, and music to help the community reflect on the history of race. Attendees heard fresh insights from thoughtful thinkers and doers, but they were also challenged to use their power to tackle intractable issues like race. By bringing the past alive through music, dramatic readings, interactive opportunities, and meaningful reflection, we connected attendees to opp
ortunities, inspired an open minds, and strengthened conviction to engage in critical conversations.

2016 Public Conversation: Home
The 2016 Public Conversation brought together Harvard sociologist and MacArthur Genius Matthew Desmond, author of  New York Times bestselling book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in an American City; Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz, the artist behind the "Homeless Jesus" piece outside Roberts Park UMC downtown; and Allison Luthe who serves as the Executive Director of the Martin Luther King Community Center (MLK Center) located in Butler-Tarkington. The event was moderated by Terri Jett, Associate Professor of Political Science and Special Assistant to the Provost for Diversity and Inclusivity at Butler University.