Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Journeys from the Land of Jah (Chapter 14)

 Chapter 14 brings our small troupe of travelers to a village of barefooted country folk who are afraid of snakes, and have strange ways of dealing with it.


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Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Garden of Love

Yep, I wrote a hippie dancing worship song.  Thursday evening we meditated on Genesis 3 in our lectio divina gathering, and yesterday morning I wrote this song.  Sorry, hippie dancing (as my son calls it) is not included, you will have to do that yourself.

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Garden of Love
I want to walk with you
I want to talk with you
in the garden, garden of love
walking in the cool of day
we will talk, we will play
in the garden, garden of love

Here inside this land of harvest
I am a gardener and an artist
working with you in the garden...of love
I will see all things harmless
except the serpent and charmed hiss
here before You in the garden...of love

I want to walk with you 
I want to talk with you 
in the garden, garden of love 
walking in the cool of day 
we will talk, we will play 
in the garden, garden of love

Won't hide behind my garments 
sewed fig leaves or skinned varmints 
bare before in the garden..of love 
May we never have a parting 
or sentry angels standing, guarding 
my entrance back into our garden...of love

Monday, September 13, 2010

Further Thoughts on Burning Man: the direction of spiritual pursuit in a post-Christian America

Today I had my yearly eye doctor exam with Krishna Gaddipati.  Our whole church likes Dr.Gaddipati, he has been a life saver, you can read more about that story here.

After the rains at Burning Man 2010.
I mentioned to the Doc that I had just returned from Burning Man.  He spent time in the Bay area and had friends who had extolled the virtues of Burning Man.  For Krishna's friends Burning Man was a spiritual experience - a pilgrimage of sorts.  My last post relates some of those same spiritually enlightening dynamics which it held for me.

This is the nature of spiritual pursuit in our age as I have seen from the perspective of one living in a pilgrimage location.  500,000 people will visit my city in October alone.  Many come to Salem, MA in pursuit of fun in the month long Halloween season, but others come in pursuit of the mystical, magical and in hope of the answers or comfort it may provide.

There appears to be a growing movement of people leaving the Christian church as we know it in its traditional forms in search of something other.  Among those who have left Christianity altogether, some have adopted other forms of religious expression such as Neo-Paganism.   Others have adopted non-religious worldviews such as new-atheism.

Interestingly, Neo-Pagans and new-atheists have a common factor.  They are both movements which gather around events - "festivals" as it were. Whether the Amazing Meeting, or local gatherings during Pagan Pride days both movements exhibit a trend toward gathering together on a yearly calender cycle, and finding their inspiration to live throughout the year by a combination of the 'festivals' and personal reading during the year.

Enter Burning Man:  a festival based upon radical self-expression.  50,000 people meeting in the barren desert.  Like Jews traveling out into the wilderness to see John the Baptist they gather in a climatically brutal, and barren environment.  But these do so to celebrate life, art and a tradition of "gifting."  To find meaning, to cry at the temple, to celebrate the burning of the man - these are things which happen at Burning Man.

Is this our new mode of spiritual pursuit?  Is this how our generation is finding God, or inspiration, or direction, or hope, or learning experiences?  If so, the Christian church might be behind the times on discovering how to touch pilgrims wandering through the deserts, and festivals looking for God.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Burning Man: Post-apocalyptic, post-Christian, and somehow a return to an ancient faith

Burning Man 2010: I spent the week in the barren desert.  Well, it was a once barren alkali flat called a playa, but last week it was filled with 50,000 people, their goods, and art projects.  It was a party, it was a pilgrimage, it was a radical ongoing experiment in human community and creativity.  It was my first burn.

It was not new to me in its ethos.  I live in Salem, MA, and as a Christian pastor, I have been able to develop deep friendships with the Witchcraft/Neo-Pagan community.  This is not the same thing as Burning Man, but the rules of engagement are not dissimilar.

My church world, and their festival world are not the same.  We speak different languages - or we used to, but I have learned the languages of our culture in Salem, and it was not a significantly different language at Burning Man.

I walked away with a few observations which I want to put down in white and black.

Enculturation is at the heart of the Jesus way.

Popularly we speak of incarnational ministry in Christian circles, and this often means being filled up with God, Who then is poured out through us to others.  That view is good, but it is also mechanical if there is nothing more to it.  It presents the believer as a thoughtless, action-less vessel who becomes nothing in order to allow God to flow through unhindered.  The way of Jesus included that dynamic, but was not that only.  Jesus was incarnated as one of us.  Spoke our language, ate our food, worked a job we might work, and struggled with our calamities.  Incarnational ministry means being birthed into and becoming one with a culture.

So as to make sure I am not misunderstood:  This does not mean partaking of the unhealthy, unwise practices within a culture, but it does mean understanding and identifying with all things redemptive, and non-detrimental within a culture, and allowing those things to become a part of your own way of being.  For example - radical creativity is not antithetical to the Jesus way - in fact it is perfectly connected to the Jesus way.  It is part of the ethos of Burning Man, as it is in Salem, MA, and is easily embraceable.

Initiation into culture can be an important process.

A first time attender to Burning Man is asked to step out of the car, roll in the dust, and ring a bell declaring they are a "virgin."  The dust will be the ever-present host of the week.  It sticks to you like talcum powder, and will travel home with you as well.  Rolling in it has become the initiation.  Some people avoid this nasty process, and do not divulge that it is their first time on the playa.  I did not do that.  I happily declared that it was my first event.

I was ushered from the car to a dusty piece of ground near a large bell.  I was told that rolling in the dust was something new burners should do.  Dust angels were suggested,  I thought - 'no, not dust angels.  I grew up on the beach, not in the mountains.  I should surf the playa dust.'  So I did.

I laid on my belly, paddled in the dust like I was catching a wave, and then hopped up and declared that I was getting tubed in the playa dust.  I threw the dust over my head like it was a wave, then I shouted "wipeout!" and crashed around on the ground like I was being tumbled by waves.  This silly activity, was my way of embracing the ethos of Burning Man - I embraced the initiation with my way of doing things.  Then I hugged the group of greeters who had begun to gather around me.  This was followed by a lady who grabbed a big handful of alkaline dust from the ground, and poured in my hair delcaring "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust."

This encounter was more for me, than it was for anyone else.  I was initiated, and felt as if I had passed through a simple process of identifying with the event, and its people.  Those at the gate were laughing, and having a good time through it all, and I was in some small way identified as a contributor to an event which is all about contribution of the many members to one another in a radical community experiment.  The initiation was to prove to be a significant part of my high level of comfort with the whole event.  I was a theologically and morally conservative (I suppose some of you reformed thinkers may not believe that) pastor who was immediately at home in a wildly counter-cultural, post-Christian experience.

Finding the redemptive story in culture is invaluable.

People sat at the temple, which had been built out toward deep playa - away from the city, beyond the Man. 

Some sat on the ground holding pictures of loved ones who had died.  Others sat on benches built into the temple walls and cried over lost relationships.  All wrote on the walls with words of hope, or sorrow, loss or thanksgiving, lessons learned or pains inflicted.  I wrote on the wall too.  I wrote something deeply personal.  At the end of the week the temple would burn to the ground, and like the prayer written on a piece of paper and tossed into the campfire the smoke would rise to God.

This was a deeply potent experience for me to write on the temple walls, and I could have stayed in the temple for far longer than I did.  It came home with me, and will serve me well for a long time.

This was a redemption story built of wood, waiting to be burned to carry my struggles to heaven.  This was not the only redemptive story on the playa either.  Unbiased eyes will have walked away with a sense of holiness seen upon that blank canvas of desert, which had been turned into a painting with God's signature appearing upon some of the work.  God speaks into every culture, and developing cultures like Burning Man are not an exception to this rule.

God is already speaking.  We are merely translators of His voice.

I was privileged to participate in this event with a theme camp doing Dream Interpretation, and offering a variety of "Spiritual Encounters."  Every person I worked with was talented and brilliant, and it was an honor to stand with them.  Yet, we did not have to conjure up encounters with God.  People entered our Dream Tent with God upon their shoulders.

The Ancient One preceded us, and was already at work in people's lives.  How could it not be this way?  The One who loves us all, actively pursues us all.

People cried.  People rejoiced.  People had returned from previous years' encounters with stories to say thank you.

Incarnational ministry will change you.

Once you discover God speaking into other cultures, and are able to identify His voice you will be changed.  You will have learned more about God, and will have experienced His love in new ways.

Coming to Burning Man I was asked to have a "playa name."  I did not come up with one.  I did not pray for one.  I was determined that others would name me in accordance with what they saw in me.  Consequently no one name stuck, but I was constantly being named by people throughout the event.  Some names were embarrassing, some were glorious, all were acceptable because they came from other people.

Here's the list of the silly, the mundane, the sacred, and the profound names I was given over the course of the week:  Dr. Phil, Dr. Love, Jerry (as in Jerry Garcia), Treebeard and Greenman (for my costume), Moses, Abraham, and Socrates.

Hopefully I carry a little of all of those names with me.  Like being given a new name, I am in some small way a new person for having walked with friends, for having met new friends, and for having served in community with 50,000 other radical self-expressionists.

If our humanity is imprinted with imago dei, then self expression must have a bit of dei in it.  I found it last week, and I am the better for it.  I hope the people I encountered were imprinted with the little bit of dei I might have offered as well.

Like Old Testament religious experience, festival is the new (yet ancient) way of church for many people today.

People (like our new found friends at The Tribe in LA) have been fleeing the institutional church for decades.  Similarly to the Neo-Pagan culture I have come to know in Salem, MA there has been a development of seasonal festival experiences, which look something like the feasts of Israel.

It has replaced church, and become a new kind of church for many people.  God seems to have designed this pattern for the children of Israel in the desert.  Who's to say that it might not be a new, yet ancient way of drawing close to God today?

So, am I a Burner now?

Only if another Burner sees it in me.  I will not name myself what others can not see in me.  At the very least I am extremely comfortable in that world for the week Black Rock City exists.  Next Year in Black Rock City?  Who knows - perhaps - I would certainly love to be there in 2011.

Some special thanks to those who spoke into my life most potently:  Rob and Lisa - thanks for trusting me in a difficult season of life.  Hippie Fish and Fish-wife (couldn't resist) :-) - you make everyone feel comfortable - what a great gift it is, and I will be wearing a burner necklace for quite some time - even though I never wear jewelry.  John Bear - I miss your wry smile already.  Dannette - be seeing you soon in Salem perhaps?  The whole Deifell family - some real Burners who made me feel like a Burner too - included me in on their re-wedding, named me Socrates, and allowed their sis to hang with the weird Christian Dream camp and teach us how to really appreciate the experience fully. Roger, Elmer, and Monty - you may not have stayed in the camp with us, but your gracious ways both before and after we returned to default world were life giving.  Mr. Inventor Man - we could be seriously dangerous together if someone let us loose!  Godfather, and Mama Bear - I could not have met better friends to drive across the country with.  For each of you, mi casa es su casa.