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.

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