Burning Man

Recently, I read about the postmodern festival called the ‘Burning Man.’ This takes place every year in the Nevada desert and lasts for over a month. People, mostly young, from all over, risk the 107 degree heat to experience art and radical community. The website describes it 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.

The article goes on to describe it in almost religious terms: a place of ‘radical inclusion,’ ‘an epiphany,’ a place where you are ‘reborn.’ One of the mission statements of the Burning Man festival is to ‘bring positive spiritual change.’ A book I saw recently has said that Burning Man is the new church and it in fact has superceded the church because it is more spiritually effective, more authentic, and has a higher degree of community. Who out there has been to one of these? What is your assessment?

15 thoughts on “Burning Man

  1. It must be the old school residual Calvinism in me, but this is what you get–AND DESERVE–when you start looking everywhere for the mystical in life. Tron atop the Epcot Center.

  2. I don’t always (or even often perhaps) agree with Constantine, but I do agree with him on this. This is the result of mystical experience and thirst for the spiritual gone to seed.

    My advice to these and all people looking for genuine spiritual reality – look to Jesus Christ and He will give you all you can handle.

    By the way, Padre, are you thinking of going? 😉

  3. Have you seen the photos of these hippietronic extravaganzas? It involves much nudity, near-nudity (often of chubby old dudes), sexually suggestive art and general weirdness.

    In other words, right up my alley.

    Just kidding, looks fun, interesting, perhaps spiritual but definitely in the freakish realm. Not for traditionalists.

    I’ve never been, though, so what do I know?

  4. I’ve been. We called it the sixties. It was ABC (Anything But Christianity) spirituality. It is bunk. It is evil.

    Yes, learn from it. It is vital that we raise the bar waaaaay up for men to come to Christ with fascination and awe. We presented the sweet, gentle, inclusive Jesus and drove most of them out of the church. They went looking for “authentic” spirituality, if all they were going to get was kumbaya. It’s the same stuff Moses bumped into when he came down the first time. Aaron, I thought I knew you. Who are all these naked people?

    So, we reap what we sow. Make Christianity accessible enough and warm and fuzzy enough and open enough and it is sweetened pablum. It feeds neither body or soul.

    Help us find the fire, Lord. Flash out like shining from shook foil! Consume our foolishness and replace it with proper fear and awe at your glory and your righteousness. Let us feel the flames fly from your sacred heart!

  5. Long time no see padre…we do this kind of crud in my church all the time!
    I call it “experiential worship”

  6. I am a ‘Burner’ (“we should’ve known!” you say) and have been to Burning Man the past two years and will keep going back to the Playa and to the regional Burns til the wheels on my wheelchair bog in the sand. I recommend Burning Man to everyone: Christians, recovering Christians like me, and anyone else who thinks doing unto others as you would have them do unto you is a good rule to live by and who appreciates what is easily the best art happening in America.

    Burning Man is “spiritual” in about the same sense that a scenic overlook is “spiritual.” For some, its a party in the desert. For others its a way to get in touch with the joy of creativity and giving to others without expectation of reward that we had as a child and lost somewhere between mortgage payments. For some, this weeklong experiment in a monetary-free radically inclusive environment is, indeed, spiritual, but Burning Man is simply what one makes of it.

    Burning Man’s website mentions spirituality very rarely and only in passing. The main thrust is on Art and community. http://www.burningman.com. Personally, Im allergic to new-ageisms and I do not care to truck in self-help-aisle spirituality. But I do love the spirit of Burning Man.

    This year, I camped in a camp that included an architect, a nurse, an engineer, a school teacher, and a couple of computer geeks, a Swiss national and two Germans. Unless espresso in the mornings and mojitos and cigarettes at night are considered drugs, I did not feel the need nor any pressure to do drugs. Many of my camp mates were similarly inclined. Some, of course, did drugs and perhaps had sex in the privacy of their own tents.

    There is a sexual vibe about, but the vast majority of the people I met were fully cloathed and were between, say, 35 and 55. Average age for the event is a little younger than that. (See the 2004 census at burningman.com.)

    Morpheus, I really respect your prior messages, but I have to say that equating Burning Man with the 60’s (which I am old enough to remember) is 180 degrees from the reality. Similarities exist, sure, but the essence of the 60’s was a selfish drop-out mentality while Burning Man accepts everyone and is based on giving to others. Its not about smoking pot, but making a connection with a total stranger whether it be through a simple smile and “hello” or snow cones passed out from the back of a three-story moving Spanish galleon.

    If I were still a Christian, I would be faced with a dilemna. On one hand I totally respect my mother for telling her Baptist church congregation that she “refused to drink the Kool-aid” and walking out when they voted to replace the hymnals, organ and piano for some cheesy guitarist and synthesizer in an effort to be more user-friendly. On the other hand, I do see the middle-east inflected trappings and rote recitations of the traditional services very much alien and out of touch with modern society.

    Im not so sure that the “setting the bar higher” for Christ comment is something that wouldn’t cause Jesus to wince. He sorta hung out with prostitutes when others urged him to party with the Pharisees. The rites and rituals of the early Christian Church were not designed to be antiquated and divorced from the geographical region in which they took place. To the contrary, they were probably thoroughly modern in their time. These same practices nowadays, however, are not.

    I could go on and on about how Burning Man has made a positive difference in my life and in so many others I know who have been. Like it or not, its spreading and sending roots. You see its art everywhere from Lexus commercials to articles in Art in America. You see hundreds of us volunteering in New Orleans through Burners without Borders. You live right next door to us. We mean you no harm. We simply want people to focus on community, cooperation, Art and forgetting for one darn week the almighty dollar.

    Thanks Fr. Neo for bringing up the topic in an open-minded and respectful manner. I highly recommend that you attend, at least once, and I will be more than happy to do everything I can to make your stay nothing short of wonderful. You must have the ability, however, to tolerate on occasion (without condoning, of course) a wide range of free spirits doing things some would consider down right pagan. I think Jesus would, but hey, he was the original hippie: long hair, beard, no job.

    Live and Burn

  7. Hey Fearth,

    This must be an important post. First, it came to the blog late in the conversation and was ignored as people moved on. Next, you put a lot of your heart into it. Then as a little “bird” told me about your post, you referred to it in another place. I spent twenty minutes writing a response, which got lost in cyber space. So, pay attention. This might be important.

    I wasn’t trying to dismiss the sixties, though my post sounded pretty dismissive. I just found them wanting. They promised so much, and delivered a lot of experience, but not the real thing. That took some seeking.

    C. S. Lewis, one of my heroes, talks about his dawning realization of the fact of Him, after trying to avoid God intellectually for years. He had to grieve his loss of intellectual atheism. The things you love about Burning Man are a clue. We are made for authentic, genuine experience of nature, of community and of each other. That is why if feels so good, why it rings so true. But, and this is insidious, these things are red herrings. The real deal is God, and worse, God happens to be Jesus Christ in the unity of the Holy Spirit. I spent thirty years not seeing this clearly. I shouldn’t devalue the sixties. I had fun. But in retrospect, I was following one red herring after the other.

    You are here on this blog for a purpose, Fearth. Spooky, I know. I think you might have a little intuition about it or you wouldn’t be hanging around. Here’s the deal. The Holy Spirit runs this blog. Father Neo is his shill. And, not surprisingly, you now know… the matrix has you.

    I live near you, as you know. I can do cigars and Stout some evening or breakfast as early as possible. Some of us occasionally meet on my deck in Park Hill, though it is getting chilly. Generally, stag. I’m overdue for a little conversation.

    Follow the white rabbit. It might just lead somewhere.


  8. Hi Morpheus:

    Well thought-out response. Sorry for being a tad snide last few posts. Normally, I try to be very civil and respectful. I’ll adjust me meds! 😉

    To be clear, I have no problem with folks dismissing the 60’s. I dismiss the 60’s, or at least the Timothy Leary version of it. The 60’s were no glory days.

    We all seem to have a need to connect with something larger, whether it be a community, a political party, a cause, a religion. I think Burning Man fulfills that basic need in a lot of people. My main point was that BM is not by design a substitute for a religion or a competitor to Christianity. It can be, and to the extent Christianity is being perceived by some to be less relevant with each generation, people may find in it the type of fulfillment once reserved for religions. Whether it is the ultimate “real deal” is a question each participant has to answer on their own, but I see it simply as another invention of mankind and not in contention for real deal status.

    One can certainly be a Christian and a “Burner” as I do not think your religion requires that you participate in no other community outside the Church. The spirit unerlying both are similar, though the translation is dissimilar.

    I suppose I visit this corner of the Web not because God is trying to round me back into the flock, but because I love meeting intellectuals and discussing the bigger things in life and do not get enough stimulation in those areas from my real-world acquaintenances. Im going to back away from the keyboard now, as I am much displeased with the tone of my two prior posts and do not want to be yet another knee-jerk rabble rouser. I’ll be lurking however! 😉

  9. Just one rejoinder before you disappear, Fearthy. Your said,
    “Whether it is the ultimate “real deal” is a question each participant has to answer on their own, but I see it simply as another invention of mankind and not in contention for real deal status.”

    The statement implies that there is no such thing as God, except that “I” make it so, since I invent Him. That’s the post-modern costume in plain clothes. To wit, “What’s true for me may not be true for you.” Forget for a minute that this is an absurd statement. Maybe more to the point, “What if you’re wrong”?

    Too bad you’re taking off. You actually dropped your mask and were authentic there for a couple of posts. My invitation is still open. Talks like this are much better eyeball to eyeball, smile to smile. If you are fearful, bring a de-programmer. But you have to buy his breakfast.

  10. Hi Morpheus:

    Well, this is why I suppose I visit here, because you and others force me to sort through the attic of my thoughts. For that, I thank you and appreciate your intellect. You and the others here are the visiting guests who force me to clean out from under the bed and sort through all the stuff I’ve chucked into the guest bedroom.

    We are struggling with the same issues poets and philosophers have wrestled with for centuries. Is there indeed only one objective reality or truth and only some see it, or is reality perspective-bound?

    Perhaps I see now why you used the adjective “narcissistic” because I do not care what other people believe, or whether they have the One Objective Truth in their sights, I just care about living my life in harmony with my surroundings. I care only to the extent their beliefs cause suffering in others.

    If someone wants to walk in circles around a huge meterorite in the desert and bow in its direction five times a day and call that the real deal, that doesn’t mean that the hunk of space rock or ensuing relgion IS the real deal. If someone wants to go to Burning Man and find spirituality through drugs, sleep deprivation and Goa-trance music, that doesn’t mean Burning Man IS the real deal. You and I agree there.

    I don’t know that MY real deal is THE real deal. I believe it is, but only for me. I could be wrong. What if I am? I simply cannot care. If there is a God, and he rejects me because I do not accept Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior, despite me being a very honorable, loving and kind person, and he sends me to Hell where I do not just die, but after excruciating pain am given new life simply to burn and writhe in pain all over again, well, that’s one twisted God who stacked the deck against us, and any form of worship is just “appeasment.”

    Right, I am disappearing for a bit or else I will become unemployed. Philosophical musings on religion and Burning Man may jst be my form of crack!

    Take care, and please say Hi to our really cool mutual friend!

  11. You said,

    I don’t know that MY real deal is THE real deal. I believe it is, but only for me. I could be wrong. What if I am?

    The sentences after this are cliches. There are about a dozen other ways to complete your paragraph and there are a lot of issues that you raised that can be discussed in the future. Go make some money and get bored again and come back. We’ll deconstruct the rest.

    Thanks for the invitation to the dance, Tanya.


  12. I really like where this thread has been going. I’d like to read more of what you two have to say. I’m a first time burner, speaking to you from the future. 2008 to be precise. Burning Man is this August, and I’m inclined to go, but my hard-nosed Christian pal feels that I shouldn’t. Based on what you two have to say, I’m inclined to follow my original intuition and attend this year. I’m looking for self examination with an edge of spiritual realization.

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