Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Our place at Burning Man - Wow. Three days of wow.

We arrived at the gates of Burning Man. Matt and Dennis rolled in the dust, just like all virgins are supposed to do. In fact they were dramatic and fabulous about it. We received our materials, which included maps and information about camps, villages, and events.

Hope started looking through the map of the city, and the location of the art installations. We did not yet know where our art installation would be located. We knew that we were going to be in that barren patch of the desert beyond the open mouth of the somewhat Pacman-looking Burning Man city layout called "deep playa." You can see a slightly heavier dark dot in the beginning of that open area. That is the temple. Everything beyond the temple is "deep playa."

Hope was hunting for our project: The Pillars of the Saints. She let out a little "whoop" if I remember right. We were in deep playa alright, but we were the first installation past the temple on the 12 o'clock line in deep playa.

If you have not been to Burning Man that doesn't mean anything to you. If you have, and if you have done an art installation it does mean something.

It means that we could not possibly have been placed in a better location for what we wanted to do.

When I am trying something for the first time, and it starts that well, I think to myself, "Who the heck am I to get blessed with such favor?" The Gang the Artery in Burning Man: Miss NIK, and Awesome Sauce, and Daniel, and Betty June: You rock. Thanks.

For the next three days I repeatedly was saying things to Hope, Scott, Dennis, and Matt like, "Wow..." (long pause) "I can't believe where they put us."

So, on the third day, the pillars were up, and had a great view of the temple on one side, and the empty desert of deep playa on the other - with great Sunrise views. Perfect for meditation pillars - almost seemed like God organized it.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Pillars of the Saints Video

We had such a great time, and so many of the people who experienced the art installation were touched in a positive way. We built the meditation pillars with a 5th century Christian mystic Saint Simeon Stylites in mind. People came to meditate upon the pillars and share their experience by writing what they"heard" upon the walls.

Thanks to all our supporters who helped make this project come to life.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Looking for Tomorrow's Prophets in Today's Madmen - Burning Man 2011

"Yesterday's Madmen have become today's Prophets, Seers and Saints. Today's Madmen...?"

The quote remained unfinished upon the walls of the art installation. This was Burning Man, and the search for people who hear voices ought not to be considered a strange thing in this radical desert festival event of self-sufficiency and self-expression. But of course, even the mad create their own boxes of sanity.

Over the course of the week hundreds - no, I am sure thousands of people visited the site. They stood at the flame altar, they cast the things they felt compelled to surrender, they meditated upon the ten to twelve foot tall pillars, and they shared words which they "heard" by writing in holy graffiti upon the walls.

Some people might tell us that divine inspiration does not come in words. Others might view deity as something distant, unconcerned or perhaps even impersonal.

Caveat writes about his experience with the Pillars in an extremely fictionalized manner. (We know this, because we remember Caveat visiting with his mask.) He defines divinity as having the capacity of a capricious 2 year old, "It doesn’t care about prayers and poetry.  The only words it knows are “yes” and “no.”" Somehow Caveat sees this impersonal "it" divinity only using events like, "dreams and comets, in calls to action and faces suddenly appearing out of the darkness," but words are not part of the domain of the divine.

We thought otherwise, and provided a place for the Divine - God - The Spirit, to speak in words we can communicate with one another. It was a place for people to sit and listen - to sit and learn, to discover the simple things of life - the things we all need to be reminded of, and occasionally even the divine might explode upon us.

I suppose our view of God was larger - more personal, and allowed for dreams, and comets, and masks in the darkness to communicate as well as poetry and prayers. And so the walls were filled with words of a gracious expression - certainly more powerful than limited legalese of "yes" or "no."

We were looking to create an anthropological experiment by asking people who hear voices to do so in an un-moderated manner. Yet, we also believed that the Creator of the universe has the capacity to break into our little lives and speak in ways we can understand, and ways we can communicate to one another. Did this happen? We have hundreds of photos of the all the phrases written upon the walls, and we think it might have occurred. Naturally, that is how a group of five silly Jesus followers might think.

Of course, some of the words are personal expressions of catharsis. Some of the words are ideas people carry every day, but some of the words were too deep for words, and some were transformative and new thoughts to the hearers, and that's why we went to Burning Man with this concept. That's why we will go back next year as well.

But of course, Burning Man is a place where the search for a voice in the wilderness ought not be considered a strange thing. Well, at least not for most, but I say that with a caveat in mind. (wink)

Stories from Burning Man #1 - Jesus was lost, and I found him.

It sounds like a joke, but this is a moment when truth is stranger than fiction. I am told that I am one of those people for whom truth being stranger than fiction is a common event. That thought is both exciting and fearsome, and I am not sure what to do with it, because these things seem all very commonplace and normal to me.

Hope, Dennis (whose playa name should have been "Two Tents") and I arrived at the Pillars of the Saints to prepare ourselves for the coming of the afternoon visitors. It was a hot afternoon as most afternoons on the barren playa can be.

As we parked our bikes behind the pillars, I looked out into the deeper desert of "deep playa." Jesus was walking across the barren landscape carrying a cross. I shouted to Hope, "Look it's Jesus carrying a cross, let's go get a picture of him."

The three of us started out walking across the playa toward Jesus, but Jesus turned away, and was walking further into nothingness and away from us. So I hastened my pace and after a couple minutes caught up with him.

Referring to a Biblical passage, I lied and said, "Hi, my name is Simon, and the Romans sent me to carry your cross." He of course, was familiar with the Biblical reference - after all, he was Jesus, and he handed me his cross and said, "Oh, thank you, it's not too heavy is it?"

I walked and talked with Jesus. I confessed, "My name is not really Simon. It's Phil, and my friends and I created an art installation in honor of one of your saints - Simeon Stylites. We'd love to show it to you."

Jesus stopped. He looked me in the eyes, and said, "Are you Phil Wyman?"

"Uhm. Yes."

Jesus teared up. He said, "I've been looking for you. I was lost and couldn't find you."

And then Hope and Dennis finally arrived with cameras in hand.

Dennis took the cross from me, and we walked back to our art installation. Jesus meditated upon our pillars, and wrote something gentle and profound.

Jesus was kind enough to do an interview with us. Turns out he is really a bookseller from Canada, but that doesn't change the fact that Jesus was lost, and now he is found. I found him, and it turns out he was looking for me all along.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Pastor visits Pagan Pride (again, and again, and again)

It is no secret that many of my friends are Pagans: Witches, Druids, Shaman and the like. This last weekend I skipped church because of them. Myself and three friends from church, and five more from other places joined me at the Eastern Massachusetts Pagan Pride Festival.

I taught a workshop, my friends interpreted dreams, and we made new and wonderful friends there. This is my 4th Pagan Pride event. I love the people, enjoy teaching there, enjoy helping others lead Dream Interpretation, and typically just revel in being places a Christian pastor is not expected to be.

During the closing ceremony I heard one person speak up in the ritual and say they hoped to encourage Christian-Pagan discussion. I wish I had seen who that was, because that has been a desire and activity of my own. It is time for the world's to meet and discover that God is making Himself present in all of our lives and working by the Spirit to touch us with His love. (Okay, I realize that I expressed that in the typical Christianese of a Patriarchal mindset - but hey, that's who I am. No apologies, no regrets on that one, and I am glad we can take one another exactly as we are.)

I taught a small group on the subject of Interpreting Spiritual Phenomena. There were a couple people who saw, spoke to, and regularly experienced ghosts, and we interpreted those experiences. In one case a girl had been haunted by a malevolent red-glowing eye at night in her room, and competing voices attempting to help her. As a group we spoke to her need to run to the place of safety, which is found in the gentleness of the God's Spirit.

Our team of interpreters, lead by John Harding, worked throughout the afternoon, and touched people's hearts in a significant way.

I know. A pastor going to Pagan events is weird. But, I am looking for weirdos who are willing to navigate this world, and work to generate a place of discussion for the Spirit of God to work between these worlds.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Burning Man Art: Pillars of the Saints story

A little more than three weeks ago myself, and four friends embarked on a missional adventure. We went to Burning Man to find God, and to see if he was actively participating in the event. I suppose in some sense we hoped to bring Him with us, but since God does not fit into a 12' tall shopping cart, and isn't likely to need a ride from Boston to Nevada, we just brought an art idea we thought He might be willing to work with.

This was my second Burning Man, and I was entering the project with Sophomoric innocence - thinking that I could make a difference in someone's experience at Burning Man. Now the rest of our team was in varying states of Burner experience: Dennis and Matt were virgins (Burning Man terminology for a first time participant - see their initiation process on Youtube), Scott was coming for his third year, and Hope was attending for the seventh time. This made Hope the matriarch of four crazy guys who are all older than she is, and she made sure we respected the brutal climate, and navigated the playa without feeling lost or overwhelmed, or getting dehydrated. Bear (aka John) joined us a little later in the week, and he kept us green, and brought needed supplies.

Our plan was to build three meditation pillars, a flame altar for releasing the things which hinder people from hearing the "Voice of Spirit", and sufficient wall space for people to write what they have heard upon the the walls.

Our original 17th century mission design had to be scrapped, because the pillars were redesigned for strength and for climbing from the inside, and no longer fit the motif. We also had raised enough money to do the project, but not to its full specifications, and so it did not have the columned entrance from the original design. But, as planned we built it to do what Burning Man is most famous for - burn it down to the ground at the end of the event.

The photo above is a wedding I performed at the installation early in the week. The Groom (Ryan) and The Bride (Rhonda) blessed our installation with their wedding vows, and we were greatly honored.

The art installation was really just a blank canvas. The true art is what people experienced and wrote upon the walls of the project. By the end of the week it was a well graffitied group of white walls and pillars.

The project was designed as an unmediated search for the "Voice of the Spirit." We were looking for people who hear voices, and asking them to share those voices with us.

Now before you start saying that we were looking for and wanting to exploit the insane, consider the fact that many of history's most famous people were "voice hearers." We entered the event with the assumption that Yesterday's madmen have become today's seers, and prophets, and saints; and that it was similarly likely that some of today's madmen will become tomorrow's seers, and prophets, and saints. Of course, not all voices people hear are beneficial, but we believed that many of those voices have the potential for transformation and good. As Christians, we came with the assumption that Spirit of God desires to speak to people today, just as the stories of the scriptures tell us happened then. This was the art we hoped God might ride on and whisper through.

Thousands came to experience the Pillars of the Saints, and left their marks upon the walls. They cried, they thanked us for being there, and many returned throughout the week.

I am still in the process of putting together the video describing the event, showing interviews with participants and responses from our team. These will be coming out in the next week or so. To all you who have helped make this come to pass - thanks. If bees have knees - then you are it. (I'm not sure how bees knees got to be of such high value either, but it sounds pretty darn good.)

Some theological thoughts as a post-script:

1. God does go to Burning Man. I traveled with the philosophical certainty (which is probably not an accurate phrase, but it is how it feels to me, so I will use it) in my heart, and the experience validated it further for me.

2. Allowing people to experience the spiritual realm in unmediated, undirected ways allows for an experience of truth and wisdom to occur, and it is not something we should be afraid of. But of course, as Christians we are often afraid that the devil might show up. I am not worried about this, because I already know he shows up - usually it is on a Sunday morning at church, or in the homes, hearts and minds of those who proclaim to follow God. Similarly, the Spirit of God shows up and speaks as well, and I am confident that His voice is wiser, kinder, and more compelling than all other voices.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Returned from Burning Man and back to blogging

Hi gang. I'm back.

I decided to place my posts on moderation while I spent the last three weeks traveling to Burning Man, building an art installation, and returning. Posts are no longer being moderated before being posted - that was just a way being able to easily tell what did or did not go on while I was away, without having to forage through emails, blog reports, and posts.

So, here I am ready to begin reporting on the Burning Man trip, and other adventures in faith. Stories and concepts coming soon. ;-) (That's a winky-face icon telling you that I am silly, and have kooky things to say. Hope says that "kooky" is my favorite word. It's probably true when it comes to adventures in faith.)