Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Burning Man 10 Principles Devotional Posts

Following the links below for the whole series of devotionals on Burning Man's Ten Principles, and how they apply to Gospel principles. I am often asked, how Christians can go to Burning Man, and sometimes I am asked to describe how Burning Man represents positive aspects of life and truth despite its overall hedonistic tenor. The devotionals below represent a radical missiology with a attempt to discover imago dei with the Burner culture.

Principle #1 - Radical Inclusion
Principle #2 - Gifting
Principle #3 - Decommodification
Principle #4 - Radical self-reliance
Principle #5 - Radical self-expression
Principle #6 - Communal Effort
Principle #7 - Civic Responsibility
Principle #8 - Leaving No Trace
Principle #9 - Participation
Principle #10 - Immediacy

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Immediacy: Burning Man Ten Principles Devotional Post #10


Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture. We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience.

The last and tenth principle does not speak to anything specifically spiritual, ad in some ways almost begs to remain materialist. Although inner self, social participation, and contact with something exceeding human powers  are listed, they are couched in the natural world, and do not necessitate God, or anything we might loosely define as a higher power. Nonetheless there is a sense of the transcendent being brought down, or at least something otherly trying to effect us. 

In the world of Christianity, we often fight to maintain a sense of the immediate presence or experience of God. The Transcendent One becomes the Immanent One through that experience, and this is our hope - to touch God. Touching God, knowing God, seeing God, hearing God - all have references in scriptures calling us to an experience of God, and there is nothing to be substituted for that experience of knowing God. Burning Man reminds me to press into life now, and not to wait. In the deepest sense it reminds me to press into Life now, and that Life is found in Christ.

"I have heard you in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I helped you: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation." (2 Corinthians 6:2)

Help make our outreach a reality. This will be the fourth Burning Man outreach for the Gathering in Salem, MA. Keep us in your prayers. You can donate here

Friday, August 15, 2014

Participation: Burning Man Ten Principles Devotional #9


Our community is committed to a radically participatory ethic. We believe that transformative change, whether in the individual or in society, can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation. We achieve being through doing. Everyone is invited to work. Everyone is invited to play. We make the world real through actions that open the heart.

I was born on Martin Luther's birthday. November 10th. This figurehead of the Protestant Reformation championed some values, which are at the heart of the ancient Christian message. Participation is one of them. In actuality, Martin Luther might have called it radical participation, because it was more than the idea that we all should work, play, and transform together. It included the idea that we all should work in a kind of co-leadership. In the Protestant Reformation, this was called "the priesthood of all believers." I can not tell you how valuable this truth is to me. I might not be alive today if it were not for this core value of the Christian Church being practiced in the small church I pastor.

Burning Man embodies this value. People bring things to share. People come up with crazy ideas, and perform them. People respect crazy ideas, and celebrate those who have them. This is something the Christian Church should master in. We have been called by God to be participative radical agents of change.

"But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty..." (1 Corinthians 1:27)

Monday, August 11, 2014

Leaving No Trace: Burning Man Ten Principles Devotional #8

Leaving No Trace

Our community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.

I have had to teach so-called missionaries this simple principle, which comes as a natural post-script to most anyone who has been to Burning Man until the completion of the event, and takes pride in being a part of the community. Some of those missionaries have learned the lessons, and others have not. Those who have not, have left a trail of frustrated people behind them.

Burning Man does not stomach sloppiness well. If you leave a mess in the space you've been given, you will get red-marked on the map, and it will be remembered the following year. Most Burners are serious about their MOOP patrol. MOOP is "Matter Out Of Place" - the stuff that should not be on the ground after we leave the barren playa. It is the desire of the event to leave the desert floor as clean as possible after To ensure that we do not leave a mess behind, we get in a line walk the ground we've been inhabiting for the week plus, and scour the space like police looking for crime clues.

The picture to the right was a 30ft circular yurt just a the day before. Then it was burnt to the ground, just the night before this picture was taken. We raked up the little pieces, and used our magnetic rake to get all the nails off the ground. There is a 4" base of decomposed granite on the ground which then is scooped up and taken away. All we left was a burn scar in the gravel, and that would disappear when the tractor came to scoop it up off the alkali lake bed. Where we camped, of course, looked much cleaner than this. We even picked up pieces of MOOP as small as a hair to make sure we left no trace.

I know missionaries, who have stayed in someone's home and left a mess behind. The people who put them up, do not want to have them return. I know other missionaries, who not only "leave no [messy] trace," but like this principle suggests leave things better than when they arrived. Those people are the kind of people other's want to have return to their home.

Yet, in the lesson of leave no trace we have more than a reminder to clean up our messes after us. Even in the preaching of the Gospel, there should be the introduction of Jesus, without the decimation of culture. Jesus did not come to blow up culture. He came to give hope, love and life in the midst of it. The Gospel is something that transcends culture. If I walk into someone else's world, and expect them to become an American Neo-Evangelical life myself, I have probably upset their world, and I may not be invited back. Jesus did not arrive on earth, and expect everyone to act like the angels in Heaven. Rather, He Himself became human, and while offering hope, love, and life was content to allow the culture to remain intact. This is what we call an incarnational model. Sure, there are always unhealthy aspects of culture that demand change, but changing the unhealthy things is like going the step further, doing that touch more than leaving no trace. It is leaving things better than the way you found them. Burning Man has something to teach Christianity. May we learn those lessons. 

Friday, August 08, 2014

Civic Responsibility: Burning Man Ten Principles Devotional Series #7

Civic Responsibility

We value civil society. Community members who organize events should assume responsibility for public welfare and endeavor to communicate civic responsibilities to participants. They must also assume responsibility for conducting events in accordance with local, state and federal laws.

Yes. It's true. Burning Man asks its participants to keep the law - not break it. It's not as anarchic as you thought, is it? And beyond that, Burning Man is asking those of us who organize events to consider the safety of those who will be attending our events.

Our team has had people eat grasshoppers, watch movies, stay up till 3am debating about a plethora of philosophical subjects (including the existence of God, and the legitimacy of Christianity), sit on pillars waiting for the voice of the Spirit to speak to them, and help us burn our exhibits to the ground, and in all these things we were expected to make sure safety measures were in place.

I camp with a group of people who jokingly (or, half jokingly, or maybe not so jokingly at all) say, "Safety third." But, when it comes down to it, Burning Man is trying to let the government know that they are trying to help people keep the law. When you have almost 70,000 people gathered out in the brutal climate of the Black Rock Playa for a week, you have to consider that keeping the law is something necessary for survival of the event. Yet, at the same time, there is something rebellious about the festival. This reminds me of a wild prophet from the first century AD who spoke of a better way of life, and simultaneously challenged the status quo. 

"Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience." (Romans 13:1-5)

 To donate to this outreach go to salemgathering.org

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Communal Effort: Burning Man 10 Principles Devotional #6

Communal Effort

    Our community values creative cooperation and collaboration. We strive to produce, promote and protect social networks, public spaces, works of art, and methods of communication that support such interaction.

One might be forgiven for thinking that this principle was birthed out of any number of sources other than Burning Man. On one hand, it appears to come from radical socialism or communism, on the other hand, it could be found at the heart of a religious community. It has the call to participation and co-creativity found in any healthy, supportive group.

I believe that humanity cannot create anything without at least some small smudge from the fingerprints of God. Imago Dei (the image of God) is imprinted upon all people. This imago dei is infused throughout our personalities, passions, desires, dreams, feelings, thoughts, and creative processes. Whenever a new cultural movement occurs, this imago dei has, by default, infused itself into the development of the culture, and its social fabric. This is not to say that everything we do is purely infused with the nectar of divine perfection, rather, it is to say that despite the foibles, the greed, the empty expressions of rebellion (Note: not all rebellion is empty, in fact, much of it is divine), the selfishness, and the stupidity of men and women 'God stuff' is inherent to our activities.

The sixth principle of Burning Man hints at these all invasive fingerprints of God: "We strive to produce, promote and protect social networks, public spaces, works of art, and methods of communication that support such interaction." In every place of human interaction, the Burning Man community seeks to be a support, and a protective force for each person, and for their productivity and and creativity. It is as though the all invasive omni-present love of God is the modus operandi of Burning Man. Like a church, it seeks to be a benefit to every member, and makes the effort to be there in all social interactions, leaving no social stone un-turned in the protection of peaceful cooperation.

"There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us." (1 Corinthians 12:4-6)

If you would like to help this ongoing missional effort, you can donate at to The Gathering as a tax-deductible donation to our ministry. Please mark your donation "Burning Man."

Friday, August 01, 2014

Radical Self-Expression: Burning Man Devotional Series #5

photo by Kevin Rolly
This fifth principle is perhaps the dearest to my heart (or at least runs head to head with principle #2). Radical self-expression is what most people think of when they think of Burning Man, and this is typically thought of in its most hedonistic variations: crazy drunkenness, drugs, public nudity, raves pounding loud music through the night, and wild sex parties. Yes, it true that these things happen at Burning Man, and this is one of the reasons that being a pastor going to Burning Man seems so out of place. It is like the Apostle Paul going to Corinth or Rome - oh wait, I think maybe he did that.

This radical self-expression is more than partying, and uninhibited sexuality. It is expressed in art, drama, music, dance, and simple interactions of gifted kindness. The circus arts with spinners, hoopers, jugglers, and tumblers are everywhere. Artists build amazing, and beautifully interactive installations all around the desert floor, which has become a blank canvas for their creativity. People wander from camp to camp giving away Otter Pops, or stickers and buttons, or poetic compliments. The sun rises and dancers dance in the first glow of the day. Meditation groups gather, and people interpret your dreams. Musical entertainment occurs in small stages all across the temporary city of over 60,000. People paint faces, wander around in colorful costumes, bling your bike, and fix broken things, because that's what they like to do.

Can you imagine if Christianity exhibited the wonderful creativity of Burning Man? Some year's ago, a group of people returned from Burning Man to LA, and asked that same question. They started a church called Tribe LA. They are some of my favorite people, and I feel at home at Tribe LA, almost as much as I do at The Gathering. I met them at Burning Man for the first time four year's ago.

This fifth principle is at the heart of the Protestant Reformation, or at least at the heart of the best of it. It calls to consider the Priesthood of All Believers. It also is at the heart of these strange and wonderful Pentecostal expressions we call the gifts of the Spirit. We are all being called to a radical self-expression that is uninhibited in its passion to benefit the people around us.

"Pursue love and desire spiritual gifts..." (1 Corinthians 14:1)

Help make this fourth outreach to Burning Man from The Gathering a reality. You can donate through our website.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Black Mass at Harvard

The Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club is holding and promoting a Black Mass on Monday. The Catholic Church isn't exactly happy, but then we wouldn't expect them to join in as an ecumenical gathering for this event. The Boston Archdiocese responded on Facebook with this (and more):

"The Catholic community in the Archdiocese of Boston expresses its deep sadness and strong opposition to the plan to stage a “black mass” on the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge."

The Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club is utilizing the Satanic Temple in New York City to run the Mass as a cultural experience. The Satanic Temple are the same people who held a "Pink Mass" on the grave of Fred Phelps' (of God Hates Fag fame) mother. The Pink Mass supposedly transformed Fred Phelps' mother into a lesbian in the afterlife. Uhm, the Pink Mass may have been nice Carnivalesque theater, I suppose, but a pretty childish act.

So, Harvard is now home to Black Masses and upset Catholics. All I can say is, "What did you expect from a college whose president is named Faust?" :-) Yes, It's true. The President of Harvard is Drew Faust.

Sometimes, fact is stranger than fiction. Get some silly Satanists together at a University in a predominantly Catholic city and you've got a story, but it's not worth much more than a byline and a laugh. It may say something about the nature of our eclectic experimental spirituality in America today, and it may say something about a growing divide between the secular and the religious, but those are not anything new. We experience spiritual weirdness every single day in America.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Harold Camping Dies

Harold Camping, whom I satirized in 2011, when he predicted the end of the world on May 21, 2011 died Sunday, December 15th at 92 years of age. Yes, he got it wrong, and it may be necessary to highlight that fact in his death, but I do not believe it is necessary to revisit mocking him. Death always requires a gentle hand, and a calming voice. In his prophetic failure, I think there was even a positive model for those of us who get it wrong to follow, and there just might be a few of us who get it wrong - sometimes. ;-)

I have written more about it here.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

I've decided I want to be a Fundamentalist. Who's in? It's easier and gentler than you might think.

Join me on my website and find out why --> Why I want to be a Fundamentalist.

I think you will want to be a Fundamentalist too. (snicker, snicker)

Monday, July 15, 2013

Our little church in Salem, MA has developed one of the most unique Christian Outreach projects in the world over the last 14 years. The video describes a few of the things we do, and needs we have. You can contact me for further information at philwyman (at) salemgathering.com or visit our donation page.

The Gathering, Salem | Fundraising video from Phil Wyman on Vimeo.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Interview with Jim Henderson

If you have not heard the interview with my friend and occasional companion in culturally sensitive (sometimes crazy) outreach - Jim  Henderson. You should check it out. I asked Jim about his interview with Ira Glass a couple years ago, which recently made some waves in the social networking world of Youtube and FB, and....

I've got the podcast interview with Jim, and the specific cut of the Ira Glass interview HERE.

He says that I am crazier than him. The verdict is still out, but he is certainly intelligent and eloquent.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Origin of the Universe: Why the debate is still so hot

I was asked by atheist Barry Hampe to answer this question. (Barry seems like a really cool guy.)

"Christianity: Why do some Christians and other theists lean so heavily on the origin of the universe ("creation") as proof of the existence of their deity, rather than evidence if the deity's presence in the world today?"

I answered, and decided to post the answer here as well. So, here ye go. :-)

*nod to Barry - thanks for the invite.

The answer to this question has a number of levels, which are worth considering, but cultural pressure has got to be considered at the top of the reasons for this tendency.

The argument against the existence for God (or gods) based upon evolution and random occurrence as the sources for the origin of the universe has been one of the primary debate points by atheists and skeptics since shortly after Darwin's introduction of evolutionary theory on November 24, 1859.

It can only be expected that this argument against the existence for God would be countered by theists of all kinds. A general theory arguing against the existence of any personal (or impersonal) deity based upon a theory of origin is an argument against all deities.

It has only been 154 years since the initiation of this issue as a primary argument against the personal interaction of a god has been rolling around in our culture. 154 years is not a long time for the development of a major paradigm shift. The imprecise nature of measuring time in billions of years, and tracking evolutionary change we can not observe with our eyes makes this paradigmatic transition a slow and awkward one.

The question, of course, can be reversed. Why do atheists and other skeptics insist on using the origin of the universe as an argument against the existence of God(s)? The cart may be in front of the horse with this question.

Historic events in America (such as the Scopes trial) have made this an even hotter topic than in other countries. It is not even 100 years since that event. People are still alive today who can mark that trial as a evental moment in their lives.

Believers in the existence of a deity can not be expected to argue for a deity they do not believe in. Thus, their arguments will typically come from the perspective of their own faith system.

The words "proof of the existence of their deity" are underlined. I am assuming this is a significant sub-point to the question. One can not expect a person of faith to argue for something they do not believe. Thus, I would not argue for the existence of the Mormon deities, Allah, or Krishna and the pantheon of Hindu gods and goddesses. Yet, I will submit that arguing generally for the existence of deity in general may be more effective than arguing for a specific deity in this particular debate.

Many people still believe that variations on William Paley's watchmaker illustration is as effective as when it was introduced in 1802.

The teleological argument for the existence of God is still alive and well. Oxford mathematician John Lennox, and Philosopher William Lane Craig are just two examples of scholars pressing the teleological argument today. Craig has revived the Kalam Cosmological Argument. Because brilliant people still hold variations on the teleological argument as valid, one can not consider the argument dead. To do so may be proof of a bias.

John Lennox
William Lane Craig
Kalām cosmological argument

The debate appears to be at a stalemate. Because of this, when a debate on origins is presented to the public it looks like two heavy weight contenders fighting for an unclaimed title belt.

Each side thinks that they are the winner and the debate has been won by their side. Ultimately no significant change appears to happen, but it sure sells books as the debate keeps going. So, perhaps each one of us who has bought a book, watched a debate about this subject, or had our own debate about it as responsible for the ongoing passion concerning the topic.

Is that bad? That's for the individual to decide, but if it was to become my passion, what is that to you? ;-)

This stalemate does look ridiculous to many people. Micro-biologist John Shapiro referenced this stalemate back in 1997 in direct response to books by Dennet, and Dawkins.

"Both sides appear to have a common interest in presenting a static view of the scientific enterprise. This is to be expected from the Creationists, who naturally refuse to recognize science's remarkable record of making more and more seemingly miraculous aspects of our world comprehensible to our understanding and accessible to our technology. But the neo-Darwinian advocates claim to be scientists, and we can legitimately expect of them a more open spirit of inquiry. Instead, they assume a defensive posture of outraged orthodoxy and assert an unassailable claim to truth, which only serves to validate the Creationists' criticism that Darwinism has become more of a faith than a science."

Is Darwin in the Details? A Debate
James A. Shapiro

As far as evidence of deity in the world today: If you think the teleological argument is a rough one to follow try bringing up the active presence of God as a debate topic.

Each time I see this one come up, it seems to get personal. ;-)

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Palenque Rainbow Gathering - post #2

After the great flood of 12/21, we left for an afternoon to find our campmates who were away during the flood, and then returned to the gathering. I call it the "great flood," because so many people had camped close to the river, and we had spent a few hours in the early morning darkness harboring wet fugitives under our large tarp, or helping pull tents out of the river.

This was our last full day in Palenque, and so we packed up our stuff. Joshua, Jeff, and Chris had already left for home. Shlomy, Cate, and myself were the remaining people from the Jesus camp with our new found friend Benjamin.

Benjamin joined us in the first few days at The Gathering. He said that he had felt his faith in Christ waning with his long travels and the influence of the Rainbow Gathering, but he was encouraged by his time with us over the week. He would prove to rock it for Jesus like nothing I've seen in awhile.

I said a few goodbyes on the last day, and then discovered there was going to be an evening ceremony. I was asked to join the ceremony by presenting an invocation for Christ to be present. I was honored to do so. Such ceremonies often dislike an obvious Christian presence, and so the invitation was a statement of acceptance by some of the leaders of the community.

Cate was feeling sick, and sat out the invocation. Shlomy and I prepared some simple ideas. We would start with myself giving an introduction, Benjamin would pray and invite the presence of Jesus into the circle, and Shlomy would do a recitation-response reading from Psalm 136.

The gathering of the ceremony circle took quite some time to begin. It included a group trying to create a spiral dance, and a long "Om" by the crowd of over 500. Then a spanish speaking man I had not met offered a New Age devotional, and a time to hug ourselves and tell ourselves that we love ourselves. I did not do too much self hugging, because having love of self seems to often be more my problem than my help.

He finished and Shlomy, Benjamin and I stood in the perimeter berm of the fire in the center of the circle.

With a translator helping to convert my words to Spanish, I started by saying, "We are wounded healers. We are philosopher clowns. We are impoverished philanthropists." At this many people identified personally and laughed, and so I continued, "We have nothing and everything to give. We are broken and yet we offer wholeness." 

Despite the fact that many in the Rainbow family feel that there is no such thing as good and evil - no imperfection, this was still received well. And seeing this I pressed just a little further.

"I come from a broken tradition." There was a smattering of laughter from those who knew something about me. "Everyone knows my tradition is broken. The whole world sees it. I am a Christian Pastor!" And now everyone laughed loudly with me.

"Even in our brokenness we have something to offer, and so we want to invite the spirit, not just the spirit, but the person of Jesus to join the circle. If you would like to join in this invocation, we invite you to lift your hands." 

And so, some sheepishly, some boldly, but many people lifted their hands. 

Then Benjamin prayed.

At first slowly, then increasing in a gentle rising meter he prayed. I had told Benjamin to use his spoken word, and hip-hop poetry if he felt so inclined, and a few sentences into the prayer he did. He was poppin' rhymes about our brokenness and Christ's crucifixion, rhymes about God's glory and Christ's uniqueness.

A few hecklers made some comments from the crowd, but it remained respectful for the most part, and was well received by a few. Then our friend Jorge, a Mayan Christian from Palenque began to translate. As he did, Spanish speaking Christians began to join his prayer loudly, and others began to counter the rising prayers by trying to shout the prayers down, and then a crazy pandemonium broke out. We were in the middle of 500 New Agers, Radical Faeries, noisy Spanish speaking Christians, angry Latin American travelers, and confused hippies. Some shouting that there is no god but ourselves, and some shouting that there is only one God. Others were shouting that there should be no division - that we are all one, and still others ringing bells, and trying to create the ever present Om.

I laughed at the silliness of it all, even though I realized it could get out of control in a quick moment. It seemed to go on for maybe five minutes. Then it eventually subsided with one group creating that ever present Rainbow Om. 

The ceremony eventually continued with far less control than the leaders hoped for, and occasional rants from hippies over little issues, but it ended peacefully. We hugged Jorge and Ingrid (his girlfriend who arranged the ceremony). I blessed them and their life together. Then we left to take Cate, who was feeling ill, back to Palenque. 

As we left the Rainbow Gathering, Benjamin said, "I would not have felt complete without standing up for Christ like that. It could only have been better if someone had thrown a rock at me."

I like how Benjamin thinks. I understand.

This was our last night at the Rainbow Gathering, and it felt just a bit Pauline.