Monday, June 20, 2011

Developing Cultures and The Presence of God

I made the comment a couple posts ago, that God goes to Burning Man. This was a simple observation in connection to the idea of a God Who is omni-present.

Now strangely, I have had a few Christians challenge the idea of going to Burning Man - as though participation in the event would somehow be opposed to the nature of the Gospel and God's Will. This is partly due to the exaggerations people believe about the event (note this Christwire spoof article, which highlights many of those exaggerations), partly due to the wildness of the event, but partly due to the fact that as Christians we often do not see God in developing cultures.

It is far too easy for us to see transitions in culture as enemies to tradition, and therefore also lacking God. If we truly believed that God was opposed to radical changes in culture, we might easily assume that God isn't going to be found at Burning Man - thus, God doesn't go there.

This mistake in logic is two-fold:

1) it assumes that God does not show up at places where sin occurs.
2) it assumes that developing cultures which have elements of licentiousness within them do not have expressions of the Gospel itself in their basic construction.

(I could add to the list of mistakes, but will not do so for simplicity's sake here.)

In response the first mistake: It almost seems silly to have to respond to it, but here we go. Everyone repeat with me, "Where sin abounded...." You do know the rest, correct? If not, please see Romans 5:20. We read that Jesus was a friend of drunks, prostitutes and sinners of all kinds. Yet somehow befriending people He befriended is wrong for us? Of course we do not sin in order to experience grace, yet where sin is grace shows up excessively. Doesn't the story of the woman caught in adultery teach us this?

In response to the second error: (There are too many negative responses to changing culture to fully cover this mistake in a quick post such as this, but here go a few thoughts.)

a) Change is a dynamic of life with God. Perhaps we should anticipate change in culture to have some elements of God built into it. The Reformation is a radical example of this. It was more than a theological revolution, it carried cultural changes as well.

b) because cultural revolution may have elements of excess it does not mean that everything within a developing culture is birthed out of selfishness, or a lust-drive. The radical acceptance, and the culture of "gifting" (neither buying nor selling, nor even bartering, but simply giving freely) is part of the culture of the week at Burning Man. If nothing else, this models the dynamics of grace better than anything I find in our capitalistic American culture today. Everyone pitches together to make art projects happen, to give food, and gifts and services of all sorts.

c) If we make the mistake of seeing nothing but the devil in a developing culture, we will make the same mistake that many missionaries have made in history. We will either lose the audience we hope to love, or we will change them so fundamentally that many of those changes will isolate them from their own culture, and harm them. In these times of radically changing culture it is necessary to find God in the developments. Seekers are looking for ways to find God and authenticity in cultural shift, and because of that God is there in the cracks between the shift.

d) believing that cultural change is wrong is tantamount to deifying our own culture. The Jesus I read about came to the culture of 1st century Israel and turned the culture of the religion upside down. His work was progressive enough to get Him falsely accused and executed. He was an iconoclast of His times, tearing down the idols of a culture which viewed itself as the culture of God.

This missional consideration is the philosophical background behind our art project Pillars of the Saints, which is a Burning Man art installation this year. It is our way of meeting God at Burning Man, and helping those who are seeking find what they are looking for. This is our last day for reaching our funding goal. You can help us reach that goal by visiting the Kickstarter fundraising site. Thanks.

Of course, this will necessarily lead to another post in which I look at God's position both outside of, and inside culture, because I do view God as transcendent to culture, and yet immanent and present within it.


Sandi said...

I like it!

Pastor Phil said...

Thanks Sandi. Grace to you - and through you.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bruce said...

Why do you refer to this festival/carnival as an emerging culture? From everything I can tell, all the people have their ordinary lives, and this is about as much an "emerging culture" as going on a weekend campground music festival of oldies bands singing the songs of yesteryear.

Pastor Phil said...

I guess you would have to go to Burning Man and experience it, as well as get to know the people who do go to it, and discover how it is changing people's lives and their culture.

It is to a great degree like Woodstock (perhaps will end up being even more so): a festival which either directs a shift in culture or simply puts it on exhibit, or most likely both.

Dennis Huxley said...

You're going to teach that God is "immanent"? Isn't that a little pantheistic(I'm pretty sure you know I'm kidding)? Many excellent points here, Phil. Here's something I've noticed to be true in my personal life, and what I observe to be true in history: When things become static, they no longer reflect the nature of God. Also, something I think should be taught as basic: Whatever circumstance, situation or occurrence you happen to be observing, determine where God is in it before you make any judgments. Guaranteed he's there somewhere.