Thursday, January 19, 2006

Burning Man

This is a rather long post and may seem off topic, but stick with me.

One of the biggest pagan festivals is Burning Man. Held annually in the Black Rock Desert, 120 miles north of Reno, Nevada, up to 25,000 gather for the week long festival. The Mission of Burning Man...
is to generate society that connects each individual to his or her creative powers, to participation in community, to the larger realm of civic life, and to the even greater world of nature that exists beyond society. We believe that the experience of Burning Man can produce positive spiritual change in the world. To this end, it is equally important that we communicate with one another, with the citizens of Black Rock City and with the community of Burning Man wherever it may arise. Burning Man is radically inclusive, and its meaning is potentially accessible to anyone. The touchstone of value in our culture will always be immediacy: experience before theory, moral relationships before politics, survival before services, roles before jobs, embodied ritual before symbolism, work before vested interest, participant support before sponsorship.

Burning Man is built around 10 Principles
Radical Inclusion
Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.
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.
Decommodification
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.
Radical Self-reliance
Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources.
Radical Self-expression
Radical self-expression arises from the unique gifts of the individual. No one other than the individual or a collaborating group can determine its content. It is offered as a gift to others. In this spirit, the giver should respect the rights and liberties of the recipient.
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.
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.
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.
Participation
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.
Immediacy
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.
One participant describes the Burning Man experience this way
You belong here and you participate. You're not the weirdest kid in the classroom — there's always somebody there who's thought up something you never even considered. You're there to breathe art. Imagine an ice sculpture emitting glacial music — in the desert. Imagine the man, greeting you, neon and benevolence, watching over the community. You're here to build a community that needs you and relies on you.

You're here to survive. What happens to your brain and body when exposed to 107 degree heat, moisture wicking off your body and dehydrating you within minutes? You know and watch yourself. You drink water constantly and piss clear. You'll want to reconsider drinking that alcohol (or taking those other substances) you brought with you — the mind-altering experience of Burning Man is its own drug. You slather yourself in sunblock before the sun's rays turn up full blast. You bring enough food, water, and shelter because the elements of the new planet are harsh, and you will find no vending.

You're here to create. Since nobody at Burning Man is a spectator, you're here to build your own new world. You've built an egg for shelter, a suit made of light sticks, a car that looks like a shark's fin. You've covered yourself in silver, you're wearing a straw hat and a string of pearls, or maybe a skirt for the first time. You're broadcasting Radio Free Burning Man — or another radio station.

You're here to experience. Ride your bike in the expanse of nothingness with your eyes closed. Meet the theme camp — enjoy Irrational Geographic, relax at Bianca's Smut Shack and eat a grilled cheese sandwich. Find your love and understand each other as you walk slowly under a parasol. Wander under the veils of dust at night on the playa.

You're here to celebrate. On Saturday night, we'll burn the Man. As the procession starts, the circle forms, and the man ignites, you experience something personal, something new to yourself, something you've never felt before. It's an epiphany, it's primal, it's newborn. And it's completely individual.

You'll leave as you came. When you depart from Burning Man, you leave no trace. Everything you built, you dismantle. The waste you make and the objects you consume leave with you. Volunteers will stay for weeks to return the Black Rock Desert to its pristine condition.

But you'll take the world you built with you. When you drive back down the dusty roads toward home, you slowly reintegrate to the world you came from. You feel in tune with the other dust-covered vehicles that shared the same community. Over time, vivid images still dance in your brain, floating back to you when the weather changes. The Burning Man community, whether your friends, your new acquaintances, or the Burning Man project, embraces you. At the end, though your journey to and from Burning Man are finished, you embark on a different journey — forever.

It's weird. It's pagan. It's like nothing else. And we wonder why what we do in church buildings doesn't connect with our world.

So much of church life is the opposite of Burning Man - I'm not talking about giving into pagan ideology, or selling out - but do we know how to be and celebrate being people created in the image of God, or have we reduced ourselves to something less than who God has called us to be.
Rather than community, we value individuality.
Rather than participation, we promote spiritual spectators.
Rather than celebrating creativity, we prefer vanilla.
Rather than seeing what we can give, we look for what we can recieve.
Rather than including others, we want people to be like us in order to be included
Rather than self-reliance and self-expression, we struggle with diversity and prefer conformity.
Rather than community, we look out for ourselves.
Rather than experience, we prefer dogma.

As I read the Gospels, one of the things that stikes me is how often Jesus got in trouble (with the religious leaders) for hanging out with the "wrong type of people." More than once he was accused of being a drunkard and a glutton - I don't think Jesus was either, but he must have been hanging out at parties often enough to be accused.

Remember the hymn: This Is My Father's World, by Maltbie D. Babcock? One of the things that is lacking in the hymn is people - it's all about creation. But the Father's World includes the people created in his image. I think that often the church, us, we, you and I, get so concerned about being right, being pure, that we end up being so self-protecting that we are being the salt and light in the world that we are to be.

I'm not sure I'm ready for Burning Man, but I think there are some things we can learn from Burning Man.

4 comments:

The Righteousness of God said...

This is old. Keep your eyes open...occassionally they play an hour segment on burning man (PBS). It is extremely interesting to watch. It is indeed very pagan and beats with a primal artistic heartbeat. It is definitely not my Father's world. It is quite something to observe.

It would be neat to secure a tape of this and play it in one of your evangelism/outreach classes.

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