Saturday, August 16, 2014

Immediacy: Burning Man Ten Principles Devotional Post #10


Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture. We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience.

The last and tenth principle does not speak to anything specifically spiritual, ad in some ways almost begs to remain materialist. Although inner self, social participation, and contact with something exceeding human powers  are listed, they are couched in the natural world, and do not necessitate God, or anything we might loosely define as a higher power. Nonetheless there is a sense of the transcendent being brought down, or at least something otherly trying to effect us. 

In the world of Christianity, we often fight to maintain a sense of the immediate presence or experience of God. The Transcendent One becomes the Immanent One through that experience, and this is our hope - to touch God. Touching God, knowing God, seeing God, hearing God - all have references in scriptures calling us to an experience of God, and there is nothing to be substituted for that experience of knowing God. Burning Man reminds me to press into life now, and not to wait. In the deepest sense it reminds me to press into Life now, and that Life is found in Christ.

"I have heard you in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I helped you: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation." (2 Corinthians 6:2)

Help make our outreach a reality. This will be the fourth Burning Man outreach for the Gathering in Salem, MA. Keep us in your prayers. You can donate here

Friday, August 15, 2014

Participation: Burning Man Ten Principles Devotional #9


Our community is committed to a radically participatory ethic. We believe that transformative change, whether in the individual or in society, can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation. We achieve being through doing. Everyone is invited to work. Everyone is invited to play. We make the world real through actions that open the heart.

I was born on Martin Luther's birthday. November 10th. This figurehead of the Protestant Reformation championed some values, which are at the heart of the ancient Christian message. Participation is one of them. In actuality, Martin Luther might have called it radical participation, because it was more than the idea that we all should work, play, and transform together. It included the idea that we all should work in a kind of co-leadership. In the Protestant Reformation, this was called "the priesthood of all believers." I can not tell you how valuable this truth is to me. I might not be alive today if it were not for this core value of the Christian Church being practiced in the small church I pastor.

Burning Man embodies this value. People bring things to share. People come up with crazy ideas, and perform them. People respect crazy ideas, and celebrate those who have them. This is something the Christian Church should master in. We have been called by God to be participative radical agents of change.

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

Monday, August 11, 2014

Leaving No Trace: Burning Man Ten Principles Devotional #8

Leaving No Trace

Our community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.

I have had to teach so-called missionaries this simple principle, which comes as a natural post-script to most anyone who has been to Burning Man until the completion of the event, and takes pride in being a part of the community. Some of those missionaries have learned the lessons, and others have not. Those who have not, have left a trail of frustrated people behind them.

Burning Man does not stomach sloppiness well. If you leave a mess in the space you've been given, you will get red-marked on the map, and it will be remembered the following year. Most Burners are serious about their MOOP patrol. MOOP is "Matter Out Of Place" - the stuff that should not be on the ground after we leave the barren playa. It is the desire of the event to leave the desert floor as clean as possible after To ensure that we do not leave a mess behind, we get in a line walk the ground we've been inhabiting for the week plus, and scour the space like police looking for crime clues.

The picture to the right was a 30ft circular yurt just a the day before. Then it was burnt to the ground, just the night before this picture was taken. We raked up the little pieces, and used our magnetic rake to get all the nails off the ground. There is a 4" base of decomposed granite on the ground which then is scooped up and taken away. All we left was a burn scar in the gravel, and that would disappear when the tractor came to scoop it up off the alkali lake bed. Where we camped, of course, looked much cleaner than this. We even picked up pieces of MOOP as small as a hair to make sure we left no trace.

I know missionaries, who have stayed in someone's home and left a mess behind. The people who put them up, do not want to have them return. I know other missionaries, who not only "leave no [messy] trace," but like this principle suggests leave things better than when they arrived. Those people are the kind of people other's want to have return to their home.

Yet, in the lesson of leave no trace we have more than a reminder to clean up our messes after us. Even in the preaching of the Gospel, there should be the introduction of Jesus, without the decimation of culture. Jesus did not come to blow up culture. He came to give hope, love and life in the midst of it. The Gospel is something that transcends culture. If I walk into someone else's world, and expect them to become an American Neo-Evangelical life myself, I have probably upset their world, and I may not be invited back. Jesus did not arrive on earth, and expect everyone to act like the angels in Heaven. Rather, He Himself became human, and while offering hope, love, and life was content to allow the culture to remain intact. This is what we call an incarnational model. Sure, there are always unhealthy aspects of culture that demand change, but changing the unhealthy things is like going the step further, doing that touch more than leaving no trace. It is leaving things better than the way you found them. Burning Man has something to teach Christianity. May we learn those lessons. 

Friday, August 08, 2014

Civic Responsibility: Burning Man Ten Principles Devotional Series #7

Civic Responsibility

We value civil society. Community members who organize events should assume responsibility for public welfare and endeavor to communicate civic responsibilities to participants. They must also assume responsibility for conducting events in accordance with local, state and federal laws.

Yes. It's true. Burning Man asks its participants to keep the law - not break it. It's not as anarchic as you thought, is it? And beyond that, Burning Man is asking those of us who organize events to consider the safety of those who will be attending our events.

Our team has had people eat grasshoppers, watch movies, stay up till 3am debating about a plethora of philosophical subjects (including the existence of God, and the legitimacy of Christianity), sit on pillars waiting for the voice of the Spirit to speak to them, and help us burn our exhibits to the ground, and in all these things we were expected to make sure safety measures were in place.

I camp with a group of people who jokingly (or, half jokingly, or maybe not so jokingly at all) say, "Safety third." But, when it comes down to it, Burning Man is trying to let the government know that they are trying to help people keep the law. When you have almost 70,000 people gathered out in the brutal climate of the Black Rock Playa for a week, you have to consider that keeping the law is something necessary for survival of the event. Yet, at the same time, there is something rebellious about the festival. This reminds me of a wild prophet from the first century AD who spoke of a better way of life, and simultaneously challenged the status quo. 

"Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience." (Romans 13:1-5)

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Thursday, August 07, 2014

Communal Effort: Burning Man 10 Principles Devotional #6

Communal Effort

    Our community values creative cooperation and collaboration. We strive to produce, promote and protect social networks, public spaces, works of art, and methods of communication that support such interaction.

One might be forgiven for thinking that this principle was birthed out of any number of sources other than Burning Man. On one hand, it appears to come from radical socialism or communism, on the other hand, it could be found at the heart of a religious community. It has the call to participation and co-creativity found in any healthy, supportive group.

I believe that humanity cannot create anything without at least some small smudge from the fingerprints of God. Imago Dei (the image of God) is imprinted upon all people. This imago dei is infused throughout our personalities, passions, desires, dreams, feelings, thoughts, and creative processes. Whenever a new cultural movement occurs, this imago dei has, by default, infused itself into the development of the culture, and its social fabric. This is not to say that everything we do is purely infused with the nectar of divine perfection, rather, it is to say that despite the foibles, the greed, the empty expressions of rebellion (Note: not all rebellion is empty, in fact, much of it is divine), the selfishness, and the stupidity of men and women 'God stuff' is inherent to our activities.

The sixth principle of Burning Man hints at these all invasive fingerprints of God: "We strive to produce, promote and protect social networks, public spaces, works of art, and methods of communication that support such interaction." In every place of human interaction, the Burning Man community seeks to be a support, and a protective force for each person, and for their productivity and and creativity. It is as though the all invasive omni-present love of God is the modus operandi of Burning Man. Like a church, it seeks to be a benefit to every member, and makes the effort to be there in all social interactions, leaving no social stone un-turned in the protection of peaceful cooperation.

"There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us." (1 Corinthians 12:4-6)

If you would like to help this ongoing missional effort, you can donate at to The Gathering as a tax-deductible donation to our ministry. Please mark your donation "Burning Man."

Friday, August 01, 2014

Radical Self-Expression: Burning Man Devotional Series #5

photo by Kevin Rolly
This fifth principle is perhaps the dearest to my heart (or at least runs head to head with principle #2). Radical self-expression is what most people think of when they think of Burning Man, and this is typically thought of in its most hedonistic variations: crazy drunkenness, drugs, public nudity, raves pounding loud music through the night, and wild sex parties. Yes, it true that these things happen at Burning Man, and this is one of the reasons that being a pastor going to Burning Man seems so out of place. It is like the Apostle Paul going to Corinth or Rome - oh wait, I think maybe he did that.

This radical self-expression is more than partying, and uninhibited sexuality. It is expressed in art, drama, music, dance, and simple interactions of gifted kindness. The circus arts with spinners, hoopers, jugglers, and tumblers are everywhere. Artists build amazing, and beautifully interactive installations all around the desert floor, which has become a blank canvas for their creativity. People wander from camp to camp giving away Otter Pops, or stickers and buttons, or poetic compliments. The sun rises and dancers dance in the first glow of the day. Meditation groups gather, and people interpret your dreams. Musical entertainment occurs in small stages all across the temporary city of over 60,000. People paint faces, wander around in colorful costumes, bling your bike, and fix broken things, because that's what they like to do.

Can you imagine if Christianity exhibited the wonderful creativity of Burning Man? Some year's ago, a group of people returned from Burning Man to LA, and asked that same question. They started a church called Tribe LA. They are some of my favorite people, and I feel at home at Tribe LA, almost as much as I do at The Gathering. I met them at Burning Man for the first time four year's ago.

This fifth principle is at the heart of the Protestant Reformation, or at least at the heart of the best of it. It calls to consider the Priesthood of All Believers. It also is at the heart of these strange and wonderful Pentecostal expressions we call the gifts of the Spirit. We are all being called to a radical self-expression that is uninhibited in its passion to benefit the people around us.

"Pursue love and desire spiritual gifts..." (1 Corinthians 14:1)

Help make this fourth outreach to Burning Man from The Gathering a reality. You can donate through our website.