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. 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Stories From the End of the World Rainbow Gathering

A first of a short series:

Front page of Christianity Today is carrying a short dispatch post of our time at the gathering:

Direct link:

At the ceremony circle:

On our third day at the rainbow gathering in Palenque, the morning food circle was followed by a "focalizer group" to determine the type of ceremony to occur on the 21st. These are the festival moments I feel most compelled to participate in. From our camp only Cate From Asheville was there with me.

The discussion centered around only a couple topics and lasted almost all day. The first topic was the location of the ceremony. The second was the nature of the ceremony. The ceremony had a talking stick to regulate discussion and keep interruptions at bay.

Most of the Rainbow Family wanted to hold the ceremony on the archaeologocal grounds at the temple site. They were willing to sneak in over the mountains on a four hour trek to come in a back way if necessary. The temple site is not open at dawn and gaining access  appeared to be impossible, because even the Mayan elders were not holding ceremonies on that day. It seemed clear from the discussion by those who were familiar with the government, and the site that access would prove difficult if not impossible.

A young man with long dreads (which defines 50% of the young men at the gathering) told a story of holding a siege type ceremony at Tikal, Guatamala - complete with riot police on 12/12/12. He was part of a Rainbow Caravan that started a year earlier in Canada, and made it's way to the international Rainbow Gathering in Guatamala to meet another caravan coming from Argentina. Those who wanted to gather for a ceremony in Tikal went to the temple grounds and were denied access. 80 people stood in a circle in front of the gates, and began to hum, "Om." Then they walked through the front gates untouched. They created a sacred fire, and began a ceremony in the rain which began to fall. Soon the riot police arrived. One last girl tried to protect the sacred fire, but the guys carried her out. The whole event ended peacefully with the police driving many of those who had walked or were on bike out to the distant entrance. The wiser locals did not consider this a best example to follow in Palenque.

The circle was filled with many interesting characters. Many people had no opinion on the meaning 12/21, but felt that unity was important. Most ideas were no more creative than holding hands in an "Om Circle." Some people did not care if the date was important. Some thought it was the beginning date for the transition to the age of Aquarius. One long white bearded gentleman called Raja Merk Dove said he was a Senior Interplanetary Space Ambassador, and encouraged unity. The Interplanetary Space Commission was in charge of helping take care of "trash planets," and of course, Earth was considered one because of the way we treated the planet.

At one point, Cate took the talking stick and stated graciously that she desired to see her path represented. She was a follower of Yeshua - Jesus, and He is the Prince of Peace. She desired a moment to seek His Spirit. Oh, yeah. Cate rocks.

I spoke after Cate. My goal is often to open only a slightly larger crack in the opportunities which present themselves to us.

"Shwmae fy nheleu. Fi ydy Phileo. Oedd fy nhadau yn dod o gwlad Gymru."

I translated my own words and then continued. "Hello my family. I am Phileo (this was the name Shlomy had given me). My fathers came from the land of Wales."

Then I talked about how I felt connected to the early Welsh saints who were likely the last of the ancient Druids. Who (it is said) were slaughtered by the Romans. Then I spoke of how I could bring to the table of our common gathering something from this tradition, and I suggested an Eisteddfod experience - a place for poets and musicians from many traditions to share their skills.

After all, an open event with many people sharing seems far more open to the Gospel than silence and "Om Circles," because good news does come through proclamation - no matter how silly that seems at times.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Post Halloween Thoughts from Salem, MA

Almost 60 people from around the US joined our little church to offer spiritual counseling to the celebrants in our city. Our church meets in a former bank along the red line marking the visitors route around the city. From our church, and from tents set up in one of the busiest squares in downtown Salem they provided Dream Interpretation (ala the Book of Daniel) and “Spiritual Readings” as a means of identifying with the spiritual seekers coming to Salem.
Valor is a local Witch. She likes our church. On Saturday before Halloween, I taught a class introducing the 60 outreach ministers to the world of Salem. It was part introduction to the belief systems of Neo-Paganism, part sensitivity training to fight back the urge to engage in spiritual warfare, and part pep rally for the outreach. I introduced Valor to the class.
“If you haven’t met a Witch. This is what a witch looks like.” It wasn’t hard to imagine. She was dressed in black and red – complete with robe and pointy hat. During October, this is the look for many Salem Witches for the Halloween season. The rest of the year, most look like your next-door neighbor. She smiled. She hugged me. She shared a few words. At the end of the teaching I told everyone to hug a Witch.
Kelly and her daughter Bonnie joined the outreach from Raleigh, North Carolina. They were two of the first Witch huggers to approach Valor. The stage was set. People were ready to treat Witches like regular people with the same dreams, passions, struggles, and joys as everyone else.
Despite cultural clashes with evangelism styles, the people coming to Salem are seekers. It is a surprise to those who join us in outreach. People are still standing in line to experience spiritual counseling after 13 years of sharing God’s love in October.
Kimberly and Leeland offered love expressions in our church throughout the month. “You are amazing! God loves you so much, and sees how special you are.” Kimberly would sing out to people. I’m not sure what unique quality Kimberly carries, but love is the biggest portion of her power. People would melt in front of her. People cried, they laughed, they prayed and asked for Jesus to touch their hearts.
The variety of evangelism expressions visiting Salem creates a wild, sometimes violent culture clash each October.
Visiting street preachers know about our church. We are fairly famous for a small group of about 40 people. Weekends in October some of the preachers decide to declare by loudspeaker, that “The Gathering is a cult,” or some such accusation.
Dan Kupka, a local musician and self-described agnostic, who hangs out at our church, stood patiently in front of a street preacher with a microphone and a loudspeaker. I watched from a few feet away as the rain from the remains of Frankenstorm - Hurricane Sandy pounded the few visitors walking the streets a couple days before Halloween. I wondered what craziness might erupt once the preacher finished his monologue. Dan had come out of our church without a coat, and was soaking wet before he had a chance to say his peace. When the preaching subsided, Dan stepped forward into the street preacher’s face and gently asked, “Can I get you a sandwich, or a coffee or something.”
For the previous month, I had been telling people in our church (who often are bothered by the incoming street preachers) that it was imperative for us to respond peacefully and lovingly to the noisy visitors, even if they felt that the preachers were leaving the local churches to pick up the mess afterward.
Dan’s gracious offering to the street preacher became a model for our church. This was the way of our Savior – the Prince of Peace. And the way was modeled by an agnostic.
More stories to come soon...

Friday, November 02, 2012

of long tongues and cleaning up after the carnival: Post Halloween Thoughts

This Halloween was a unique and crazy carnival for The Gathering. Every Halloween is that, but they each have their own strange life. This year a few new friends, and new events set the stage for the changing future of outreach in Salem.

Christianity Today asked me to write a story about the circus of outreach styles which occur every October, and to focus on the things we do during the month. Our friends Michelle Pritzl and Shawn Fitzgerald were asked to provide photography back up for the story.

I placed myself and a few friends in the last slot of the evening: Aaron Zev Katz, David Gerard, Mark Muzeroll, Jim and Allison Trick, and Michael Pritzl (who just moved to Salem a couple months ago, and when we get together we look like Dumbledore and Snape ) joined me for the closing set of Halloween Night. My favorite moment of the whole month of Halloween Outreach (remember Halloween is a month long event in Salem) was when we were leading a crowd of hundreds singing with us to such songs as Lake of Fire, and Amazing Grace.

Friends from other outreaches joined us for the first time: Hope Deifell (my favorite Burner), Kelly and Bonnie Williams (who were at the Wild Goose Festival), and our always faithful and surprising friend Alan Drake from Dallas brought his friend Kresimir Zeravica (a brilliant Croatian now living in Dallas).

Our Children's Day was on the verge of going extinct, but thanks to some help from Jason Silva from the mayor's office, Ellen Talkowski (the Queen of Halloween), Dominic Benvenuti from Domino's Pizza, Aggregate Industries, Fiesta Entertainment, and Shara Sobelman the event is on the rebound and should grow well over the next couple years.

Dream Interpretation teams rocked it, and a few new friends (Leeland and Kimberly) joined us through the month and touched people's hearts deeply.

More than any other year, some of our visitors from distant places left in tears, because they were so touched by new friendships they developed. And of course, those friendships included our friends who love The Gathering, but do not identify as Christians. Bonnie, Kelly, and Debora Spotted-Eagle just had to get a picture with their new friends. They just fell in love with Valor, Stephen and Dan - the Witch, the Tie-dye Buddhist Guy, and the Agnostic.

Valor added color to the season by making a "Hug a Witch" sign and standing in front of some aggressive street preachers. Dan (the agnostic) stood in the pouring rain of Hurricane Sandy getting drenched, and waited for a street preacher to take a breathe, and then asked if he could get him a sandwich or a coffee (note: Dan has been out of work for quite a while). These were funny moments, where the people who love us but do not identify as Christians were showing love to people they struggled to accept. These are lessons for all of us who do call ourselves Christians.

So, now my tongue is hanging out, and I am ready to sleep for a month, but the clean up must follow the carnival. This was a great year of surprise, and the biggest surprise was the fact that dozens of people wanted to start following Jesus. Of course, as always we will gauge that by the daily changes occurring in heart, mind and action. Following God is not the easy path of life for most of us.

If you would like to follow upcoming events and outreach events of The Gathering and our friends you can sign up to our mailing list on our website.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Who's Forcing Who? A response to a cowardly atheist blog post

So Danger Ranger doesn't like Christians forcing their way into his life - or at least that's how his rant sounds. He decided to respond to my article in Christianity Today from his post Baptist, atheist worldview, but since he blogs without allowing comments, I will respond with a return post - an open one, with comments allowed. ;-)

Mr. Danger Ranger does a few things I find sad in the world of blogging:

1. He posts about someone in debate, calls out names, and leaves no place for response. I think that is cowardly. It's like a drive by shooting. Dude! Come on down to the O.K. Corral and let's shoot it out like men! Consquently,
2. He gets really preachy. Hypocritically, he berates myself and other Christians for being forceful about our approach to sharing what we believe, and then force-feeds his own opinions like a parochial school nun with a heavy ruler.
3. He recites the tired evangelistic atheist lines so popular today. "Yawn." Please read beyond the Four Horseman, and look into some atheists with more intelligent, less biased responses - how about Zizek or Badiou?

That said, I will respond to a few things Danger Ranger wrote:

He hates the subtitle of the online version of the Christianity Today article: "How God used us at Burning Man." 

Me too. That was actually my biggest disappointment in the CT edits. I never wrote that line. I dislike that terminology, and it got added only when the article went to the website edition and they wanted a lead in line to get people to click through.

One of the difficulties in writing missional material is how editors edit it. They do so for the Christian crowd, and I do not write for those who speak the ghetto language of Christian circles. I do not live in a sterile Christian environment, but in a wild world of people with wild ideas, and I am just another one of those nuts. That line was not my writing - not even my way of thinking. I am not sure I even like the terminology of getting "used." So, he had a valid, but misdirected point. That's what people who preach and don't listen do.

He says, "It doesn't appear to strike Mr. Wyman as odd to admit that Christianity is incapable of "wildly creative thought" such as is all over the place at Burning Man, and then claim, only a few paragraphs later, that Christianity's beliefs are somehow "embedded" in Burning Man..."

That is an extremely poor read of the story. I did not say that Christianity was incapable of "wildly creative thought."

Two mistakes are happening here: 1) he is using a different definition of the word Christianity than I am. He is talking about the whole system of faith, and I am talking about the current iteration of Christian institutions in the world today. Both valid definitions, but they mean something significantly different. The late Christopher Hitchens* regularly used the difference in definitions of "Christianity," "religion," and also of the word "faith" rather disingenuously to argue that because certain people and institutions were corrupt or stupid that the whole system of belief was therefore corrupt and stupid. I shouldn't have to point out that such an error is basic logical fallacy. 2) Incapability is not even to be assumed in my point, it is read into it by a biased mind, which assumes that Christianity is stupid. Mr. Danger Ranger, please re-peruse history and note the brilliant and creative minds, which have wildly traced our world with their influence and see the hand of their Christian influence - both rebels and leaders: Galileo, Newton, Kierkegaard, Bach....

My quote: "I wondered why Christianity had not typically embedded itself into these festivals, why we weren't among the leaders of new cultural developments and wildly creative thought."

Now Danger Ranger takes the greatest part of his post to respond to this issue. He sees Christianity as a non-creative system incapable of doing anything but hitching onto the creativity of others. In fact any kind of Christian expression is viewed as the "pinched confines of [our] reality tunnel." I find this beyond ridiculous. Danger Ranger desires no success for Theists (but of course, he also assumes that I am trying to convert people - another common mistake made by preachy atheists like Danger Ranger - personally I do not believe that I can convert people.) He also denigrates my choice of seeing God in all things. Of course, he doesn't think that his own shallow worldview (all our worldviews are shallow in my opinion) is likewise incapable of defining the universe - no, it is fine for him to see Burning Man through his own atheistic philosophical system, but it is not okay for me to do so through my theistic system. I would contend that this makes me more open that it makes him. maybe that is why I allow comments, and he does not.

on Daniel:

Danger Ranger accurately points out a mistake in the article about the definition of someone's name. I was retelling a story given to me by someone else, and after placing the story in the article and having it accepted, I realized the mistake. The story was a great story despite the error on the definition for Daniel's name, but I decided not insert a correction to the story - probably a mistake, but certainly not a great one.

Danger Ranger's mistake is to take this and see it as the crux (probably not noting his own poor pun) of the difference between Christianity and Burning Man. Christianity is judgmental and Burning Msn is open is how he sees it. That may be true for certain iterations of Christianity down through the ages. It can only be expected that the largest expression of religion or even philosophical construction the world has ever seen will have the largest number of stupid adherents. It will also have the largest number of brilliant minds, and creative expressions. It should be remembered, that we gave birth to the turn of phrase "judge not lest ye be judged."

Burning Man is not a group of Atheistic Anarchists. It is Buddhists, Neo-Pagans, Hedonists with no interest in faith systems at all, Atheists, Christians, Anarchists, and probably a few Raelians and Scientologists as well. It is an open system, and I have approached it from my Christian worldview with an open mind toward loving and accepting others. After reading his post, I am not sure Danger Ranger has learned to do the same thing from his own worldview. In fact, I would conjecture by the tone of my own writing and his that I fit the anarchist worldview better than he does. Coming from a pentecostal/anabaptist theological construction places me into the realm of the great iconoclasts and rebels of history.

So, Danger Ranger, if you read this, you are welcome to join us at the Theremaniacs Camp at 3:45 and G at 9pm on Thursday evening for our Philosophy session. You will find it in the events for Burning Man - or, come and find me at the Theophony art installation, which I think will be near the 12:00 line between the Temple and the Man - don't know our placement for sure yet. I think you will find that we are far more open, accepting, and liberating a group that you can imagine. Well, that is if you can imagine outside the confines of your own worldview. Here's to hoping we meet up, and you are more open in person than on a page.

* for a perfect example of Hitchens' logical error on the definition of the words "Christianity," "religion," and "faith" see his debate with Tony Blair. This illustrates the same manner in which Danger Ranger illogically uses the word "Christianity" against the context of my article. Unfortunately, Tony Blair appeared to argue accurately about "faith," but did not appear to catch the logical fallacy in Hitchen's duel use of the words. The introduction is really boring and far too long, so most of part one is a wash. Part two begins the debate.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Only Two Weeks to Burning Man!

Welcome to SquareNoMore - Phil Wyman's blog about outreach, church life, and finding God in this crazy world.

My most current activity involves creating a large art installation at the Burning Man festival. This will be second year of this festival outreach. Currently, Christianity Today has a feature article about last year's project.

We successfully raised $8,000 on a Kickstarter fundraising campaign to build this year's installation, but that just scratches the surface of what it costs our team of 15 people to build Theophony: a large interactive musical instrument, which teaches lessons on spiritual disciplines. 13 artists from aroud the US have joined us to create 24 4'x8' murals for the walls. Engineers are working on the theremin (musical instrument) we are creating, and the lighting. Contractors, and carpenters are building our custom yurt, and we have a small team of boys who play with fire, who will help burn the thing down at the end.


If you would like to help make this project come to life, there is still time to give. We are in need of help getting the elements to the desert, and the 60,000+ people we hope to touch with the gentle goodness of God. You can still give through our paypal donation link on The Gathering Website.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Omnipresence of God and Burning Man

I believe in the omnipresence of God.
I believe God loves everyone in the world.

These two simple truths lead me to a simple conclusion, which I am hoping is correct.

If God is everywhere, and loves everyone, then He probably would like to have the people who love Him be available in most places. This certainly makes sense out of the Great Commission. He sends us everywhere to touch everyone.

I am headed to Burning Man in a month, because I believe in these values. I live in Salem, MA because I believe in these values.

On one side of this conclusion I ask myself: What are the limits to this? Are there any?
On the other side I ask myself: Has Christianity done a good job of being willing to go anywhere to love people in the same way God does?

What do you think? How would you answer these questions? What caveats are there, and in what ways have we fallen short.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Carnival as Revolution

The Italian "carne levare", or perhaps the late Latin "carne vale" are both potential origins for our word "carnival." Meaning to "remove meat" or "farewell to meat" respectively they point to the prohibition against meat at Lent. The Latin "carne vale" would later be thought of as "farewell to the flesh" since it translates the same as "meat" or "flesh."

Carnivale was presented as a means of revolution by Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin. In our wild world driven by growing freedom in hedonistic pleasures and capitalistic designs taking advantage of the same pleasures for the purpose of greedy gain, carnivale has become a revolution of pleasure. It has also become a trap for those who would enslave us for greed's sake. Every generation has the struggle for freedom, and in our generation this struggle it has been empowered by the commercialization of our passions. So, we must ask ourselves: are we really free? or is our so-called freedom the gateway for someone else to enslave us?

Our momentary pleasures and our sexual passions may not be our own. Could it be that they are being driven by others who are selling us things to make us feel fulfilled.

Enter stage right: The Holy Fool.

The 6th Century Saint Simeon is called the Holy Fool, and became the patron saint of fools and puppeteers in Catholic tradition. Through his tomfoolery and wild behavior he transformed the city of Emesa, Syria in his lifetime. He used wild clownish theater to share the Gospel.

Like fighting fire with fire, it may be time for the rising of the Holy Fool once again. We live in a season of carnivale as revolution. Our society is being transformed, and in some ways enslaved in a Roman "Bread and Circuses" style through the absurd theater of the entertainment that captivates us. Perhaps a Pauline "foolishness" is in order to counteract this wisdom of our age.

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

I am hoping for a revolution within this world's passion driven revolution. I am praying for Holy Fools to rise up even now, and call our culture to something outside these traps of "the flesh" being set for us by our television sets, and rich men making money from our addictions.

If you identify with this - please, join me in the gentle and creative revolution. We are already practicing the revolution in Salem, MA, and the Burning Man Festival. Perhaps you would like to join us, pray for us, or support this work through giving.

Our current Burning Man project: Theophony, is part of this carnivale revolution. We are raising money to complete the project and get it to Burning Man this August/September. Consider helping us as our team seeks to raise $8,000 by July 21st. Follow the link above, or click on the block below, and please let us know what you think.

Visit The Gathering at Salem online

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Life of the Holy Fool

"For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence." (1 Corinthians 1:26-29)

Last week I played the fool. Literally.

I was running closing ceremonies for the Wild Goose Festival in North Carolina. Myself and Callid Keefe-Perry played co-ringmasters to a part revival - part circus ceremony. That's Callid and I pictured above. The parts we played were two sides of a Holy Fool. Callid was the slightly legalistic revivalist styled circus ringmaster, and I was the anarchic Jesus-people hippie ringmaster, and we played a grand tension of the Christian life (law versus license) against one another.

The creation of a carnival-like atmosphere has regularly allowed me to befriend people very unlike myself. Christians with beliefs far more liberal than my own fairly conservative evangelical reading of the scriptures, the Witches living in my famous little city of Salem, Massachusetts, and the people called "Burners." (Our friends who go to Burning Man.)

More and more I find myself creating and being involved in artsy, and crazy ideas. So much so that I am wondering if my calling is to be a clown - a clown dancing and tripping between the many warring factions of our broken world - bringing peace and a gentle God revolution. I often am more comfortable in uncomfortable places than I am among people who think and act just like I do.

Last week I was at the Wild Goose in a wildly divergent Christian crowd. In a little less it that two months it will be an outreach art installation at the wildly hedonistic Burning Man, and after that back home to Haunted Happenings in Salem, MA.

Right now we are in the fundraising stage of our Burning Man art installation, and need help to get the project together and to Nevada. I guess we are looking for people who want to join the convocation of Holy Fools.

"If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God." (1 Corinthians 3:18-19)

Friday, June 08, 2012

Radical Self-reliance: Burning Man Ten Principles Devotional Series #4

"Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources."

At first glance Burning Man's 4th principle may appear to contrast negatively to the values of the Gospel we discover in Jesus Christ. The grace of God, which brings us salvation is a wildly rich and free thing given to us by a hilariously giving God, and God understands that we are incapable of self-supplying all we need for life. Yet, a second consideration of this principle might help us navigate this wild anarchic world we all struggle to successfully live within.

Radical self-reliance is designed to draw the resources and strengths out of each person. A community of giving can not survive when people do not pull their own weight and then supply beyond that to serve others. A giving society is a society of workers, and carers. We know this is at the heart of the Gospel as well.

Paul highlights the tension between carrying our own weight and taking on the burdens of others. In the 6th chapter of Galatians, these two apparently contradictory passages are only a few lines separated from one another:

"Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ."

"For every man shall bear his own burden."

It is our ability to take care of ourselves, and to carry the burden of life that makes it possible to carry the overload of others in time of need. We not only learn to carry our own weight, but for those who carry lighter burdens in this life, we become the carriers of the overload others often struggle with.

Burning Man becomes a community of people who are radically self-reliant, and yet come ready to help one another, serve one another, and anticipate that it is in this community where we find our truest riches. Sounds a bit like the goals of the Gospel doesn't it?

Decommodification: Burning Man Ten Principles Devotional Series #3

"In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience."

It is the sad case of our American culture that we have replaced having with doing as a description of our being. What we own, and spend our money entertaining ourselves upon become defining actions of our lives.

How is it that the same people who follow the Galilean Rebel whose kingdom is not of this world, whose attachment to rules of engagement with society were loose and unconcerned have not been forward thinkers in respect to revolting against the system of enslavement to pop culture and capitalistic entrapment? Burning Man leads us into a place of rethinking our attachments to this world, and hopefully loosens our grip on commodity based fulfillment.

The principle of decommodification separates us from the intravenous tube of the drug of pop culture. The question is NOT how well we will survive, it is how well we will identify and live in the values of this principle. Our participation in the second principle of gifting, in the sixth principle of communal effort, and in the ninth principle of participation will help determine how well we adapt to the playa.

Just remember to leave your brand name fashion statements at home. At Burning Man you'd be better off with nothing. Uhm, I mean owning nothing.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Gifting: Burning Man Ten Principles Devotional Series #2

Principle #2 - Gifting: "Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving. The value of a gift is unconditional. Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value."

It may not be possible to find a principle for behavior as closely attached to the ethic of Jesus as this second principle of the Burning Man community: Gifting.

It is common for Christians to reference the foremost activity and action of God as giving gifts to humanity. Particularly as we see God's gift in the face of His Son Jesus.

But, Burning Man is calling us to be more than voices about someone else's great gift. Burning Man is calling us to be gift givers ourselves. It calls us to prepare gifts for others. Our work on the Theophany art installation, and the interpreting of dreams will be our gift to the people of the playa, but as a basic principle of the festival we are called to more than playing this part in a corporate expression through art.

We are being called to be personal gifting agents.

The God Who has the gifting heart which gave us Jesus, performed miracles, and still offers the same blessings today is pulling on our own hearts to break the barriers of our selfishness. The Spirit calls us to give beyond ourselves - not considering ourselves, but others first. Only in learning to become Gifting Agents will we be able to express the heart of God among our fellow Burners.

Give. Give hilariously. Give freely. Prepare how you will give now. This is the only way you become a Burner, and not just a poser. That may be true for Burning Man, but it is true for the Kingdom of God too.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Radical Inclusion: Burning Man Ten Principles Devotional Series #1

This is being developed as a set of principles guiding the activity of our Burning Man 2012 art installation team: Theophany.

Principle #1 - Radical Inclusion: "Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community."

This is the first and probably the most important of the principles of Burning Man's ethical practice. As a team it is the most important value for us to exhibit toward others, and so we need to consider this in the light of our witness as a community of Jesus followers.

We have a model of radical inclusion in Jesus.

The Pharisees who were the religious leaders of the 1st century Jewish community, found themselves being critiqued by Jesus to a great degree for their exclusionary words and actions. Their anger over His critique became a driving motivation behind the move to have Him killed. His refusal to be exclusionary toward the oppressed, and the broken challenged the power of the status quo. He shows more powerfully than anyone in human history the revolutionary and subversive power of inclusionary love.

We may not agree with the beliefs of everyone we meet. We might even consider many of the personal practices of others to be unhealthy and insensible, but that does not mean we can ostracize them or exclude them from the love of our community of faith.

Radical inclusion is one of the places we learn to walk in the love of God.

About God the Psalmist writes, "with the merciful You will will show Yourself as merciful." If we think we are going to experience a deep sense of God's love toward ourselves without showing radical inclusionary love toward others we are only fooling ourselves.

This is our first and greatest challenge when we enter the playa, and walk into Black Rock City. But of course the challenge starts now, because if we can not act radically inclusionary in our everyday life, we will never accomplish it in the crazy community which makes up Burning Man.

Inclusion does not mean we think like another, act like another, or join another in everything they do. Radical inclusion is only radical because it embraces and includes others who are radically different than ourselves. There is nothing radical about it if we become like the other, or force the other to become like us. Radical inclusion is the heart of the Gospel's "agape," and therefore it is the one commandment we must practice.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Tale of the Great Dream

Once upon a time a small group of people left their home land, and sailed to a far away island to begin a new life. The home land had become unbearable. Greed and oppression ruled their lives. The differences between rich and poor had become excessive. Rich men were carried around upon gold gilded sedan chairs on the shoulders of slaves.

The small group of people sought a new life free from the oppressions of the rich. The first years in their new country were hard, as they scratched out their survival in the soil of their new land, but each person worked, and each person shared the extra they gained with those who lacked.

As the years passed the people prospered, and whenever someone was sick or injured the people shared what they had with those who suffered. The differences between rich and poor were never evident to visitors from other lands. The stories of oppression from the old home land reminded the people of the evils of greed, and every single person in the new land gave as they were able, and worked for the good of all.

One day the chief minister of the land had a dream. A dream of sharing this new way of life with other people in the lands of oppression. He shared his dream with the people, and they too shared his vision. So, the chief minister and his helpers began to set aside money to travel, and spread this dream. They began a campaign to raise money from the people of the new land.

The first minister traveled a returned with stories about traveling from land to land sharing the dream with the people of the world. His fame spread throughout the world, and the people of the new land were thrilled to hear the stories from distant places. Because of the first minister's success, the campaign to raise money to share the dream increased, and the money poured into the first minister's office.

After many years of this great success, the people of the land began to experience lack. When drought struck, the people began to suffer. When people were sick or injured they often went without, and the poverty struck the new land for the first time since the first hard years of sacrifice.

And so one day, a young man lost his family to sickness, and he packed his bags to sail to new land in hope of starting a new life like his forefathers had done before him. His small boat took him to an island not far from the coast of the new land. High on the hill of the island was a large castle with a gold gilded roof. He set shore, and walked up the hill to see the great castle. There at the castle servants hustled and bustled about cleaning, and preparing for some important arrival of a great king, and so the young man sat to watch the preparation and wait for the event.

As the sun rose high in the sky, people gathered at the gates of the castle, and a procession began. A gilded sedan chair could be seen coming up the hill to the castle carried on the shoulders of slaves, and as it drew close the young man saw the first minister from his home sitting in the gilded chair, and the people all cried "Hail the King of Dreams!"

Giving has a potential of being a cycle of support for all. The cyclical nature of giving is siphoned off by the greedy who hoard their treasures, and do not share with others.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Why I am Ashamed of My Fellow Americans' Response to Susan G. Komen Foundation

The media furor over the choice of Susan G. Komen Foundation to drop the Planned Parenthood donation support of the relatively minute $700,000 is something I find disheartening.

The behemoth organization of Planned Parenthood which brings in $93 million would barely even be touched by the loss this money, and they pretend this would somehow stop breast cancer screenings, but that is not why I am so disheartened.

Yes Planned Parenthood is a major contributor to the abortion industry in the US, and I am pro-life, but that is not why I am disheartened.

The Susan G. Komen Foundation is a major private philanthropic organization, and it has the right to choose where its money goes without being beholden to 26 Congressmen, and a percentage of the public who may not hold their views. But, that is not why I am disheartened.

The Susan G. Komen Foundation is about fighting breast cancer, and not funding specific popular programs, and has the responsibility to place their funds in the most effective locations. Planned Parenthood has actually proven itself to be both negligent, and incompetent in a number of situations recently. But, this too is not why I am disheartened.

Today I had a discussion with a friend about an event at a Christian gathering. It was a discussion about the Bible and sexuality. Someone asked an honest question about human sexuality from a conservative perspective, and was shouted down and booed. There were no answers given, just a gross mob response (and I use the word "gross" in every capacity here.) This highlights why I am disheartened.

There is no place for agreeable disagreement in American politics today. There is no place for someone to walk an uncommon path without being demonized today. Nancy Brinker who started the Susan G. Komen foundation 30 years ago, because her sister died from breast cancer offers her reason for the board making this decision, and clearly states that this does not change the current funding. Of course, her detractors insist she is lying, and that this is politically motivated. (That is how we prove our point in America today.) Yet, the response is political, and there is political force being exerted to change the course of their decisions as a board. Who is playing politics here?

America has become a mean nation. We are mean to our own, and there is no more discussion on any philosophical level. We live off nasty threats and lawsuits. We pretend to be civilized and find a new witch hunt around every new corner. The left is the new bully who threatens at every right turn, and demonizes conservatives who really do care, and right is the old bully who punches at every left turn and pressures every disagreeing party. We are eating one another like cannibals at a horror theme park. This is zombie politics.

If you think Planned Parenthood deserves support then do something about it and give. If you disagree with the Susan G. Komen Foundation's decision and want to say something about it - fine, but if you do it disrespectfully - shame on you. Those $700,000 once dedicated to Planned Parenthood will still help fight breast cancer somewhere else, and will still help reach the poor.

I am looking for a new political party - the Listening Party. A group of people who will actually listen to those they disagree with. I am ashamed of those who do not listen but only shout, because we have become a mean nation, and consequently, a stupid nation.

That's what I think. What do you say?

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Does God need to die again?

In 1957, Gabriel Vahanian's book The Death of God came out. Vahanian was one of a number of the Death of God Movement's theologians, and perhaps the most conservative among them.

The prime focus of his book was that our culture had moved beyond the discussion of the existence of God, and now had no concern to even deny His existence. In essence, God had died to our culture, and even where He existed in the belief systems of traditional churches, the image was so marred with a modern "religiosity," as he called it, that it did not look like the God of the scriptures.

Of course, Vahanian did not suggest that God had really died (and neither am I), but he did suggest that God (in an accurate image) had died to us, and that the image modern religiosity carried needed to die, in order to resurrect a correct, and living picture of the God of scriptures. His approach was far more conservative in its theology than that of his fellow death of God theologians in the 50's and 60's.

Looking back now over the course of these 60+ years since the release of Vahanian's The Death of God three things capture my attention:

1) It seems that the death was not complete enough. 

Churches, as many of us have experienced, still appear to hold views of God and the Christian faith which have harmed generations of people. Either the praxis of religion, or the combination of bad actions and sad theology have driven people away from church, and God has died in them (both in the harmed individuals and often in the theologies of the church).

False views of God, which have marred His public image still need to die more completely (of course, they never will completely until He returns.) Theologies of self-directed or self-serving power have merged the power of a transcendent God with the aggressive immanence of a God Who is out to bless you and crush what stands in the way of your blessing. In other cases our God of awesome power is presented as a self-service God Who appears ready to grant everyone who asks all their wishes. One image pits human against human in a falsely represented spiritual battle, and the other image has left the unblessed feeling left out of the circle of faith. These are just two examples - which come primarily from evangelical and pentecostal circles of theologies, which have re-crucified the Lord, and still need to die in order to allow for a resurrection of a true theology.

Apparently the death of God was not complete enough.

2) There was enough of a resurrection in evangelical circles over that time to foster the need for a recent counter movement of aggressive evangelistic atheism.

Vahanian's critiques and prophetic insights should have evidenced a continuing disinterest in God in the last half of the 20th century, but the wild growth of Pentecostalism worldwide, and the American revivals of the Charismatic Movement, The Jesus People Movement, the Religious Right and religion in American politics, the New Calvinists, Emergent Theology, and a number of other wildly growing Christian movements give evidence to the re-emergence of God in every sector of *American life, and even around the world to a great degree. 

As reactionary as the point 1 appears, I do not think that any of the above religious movements are entirely unhealthy. Each carry some sense of true revival of religion as it ought to be, and each carry elements in need of correction of the death of certain perspectives. As such, the rising and falling of religious concern in our culture over the last 50 years has been dramatic enough that it has spawned a reactionary movement - an aggressive evangelistic atheism. This may well be evidence for and against Vahanian's position: on the one hand the new atheism argues against the God Who ought to die (those theologies which are indeed false images presented by Christian leaders over the last 50 years), on the other hand the reactionary felt-need of the new atheists to battle fundamentalism, and the growth of faith movements is evidence of the power of religion in current culture and society.

3) His solutions would not be my own.

Vahanian called for the death of what he called "radical immanence" - a God so present as to be integrated with all the actions of humanity. I do not disagree with a critique of theologies which justify the sorry actions of humanity through radical immanence. Yet, his answer is the death of such theology in favor of a reformed theology.

The positive elements of revival which emphasized the growth of Pentecostalism in the third world, Charismatic movements in the US, evangelical church growth, the Religious Right, New Calvinism (yes, even new Calvinism), and Emergent theology often emphasize the immanence of God. The movements have come and gone, or continue to grow with a sense of God's activity in my own life, in miracles for the needy, in politics, or social justice.

Though I recognize the dramatic differences in many of the above movements, and I do not personally identify with them all, I still see the emphasis of a radical immanence being a driving focus of their growth and revival. Like Vahanian I believe that this immanence should be balanced with a sense of transcendence and the holiness of God, but for me it is not a de-emphasis of immanence, nor even a gentle balance. What is needed is a radical balance. God is both radically immanent and radically transcendent: holy and active in our lives.

This may call us to consider whether our views of God need to die and be replaced with a more radical Theology Proper.

* Of course, since the re-emergence of God has been most prominent in the US, and many "second and third world countries" it begs a certain consideration of the place of American influence over the folk religious thought, and vice-verse.