Black Rock City is big enough to accomodate everyone, and Pagans aren’t the only ones out there. You might be surprised to find a devout Christian contingent, who see “Gifting” as one of the Lord’s principles (even before BMOrg!-gasp!)
Christianity Today, perhaps the Good Lord’s answer to Burners.Me, has just published a story from one of their flock, Phil Wyman (why, man?), who experienced Burning Man before.
The three of us started walking across the desert toward Jesus, but he turned away, walking further into the nothingness. I hastened my pace and left my friends behind.
When I finally caught up to him, I said, “Hi, my name is Simon, and the Romans sent me to carry your cross.” I hoped he’d get the reference. He did. Relieved, he handed me his cross, saying, “Oh, thank you. It’s not too heavy, is it?”
I walked and talked with Jesus, and I told him my real name. “My friends and I created an art installation in honor of one of your saints, Simeon Stylites. We’d love to show it to you.”
Jesus stopped. He looked me in the eyes and said, “Are you Phil Wyman?”
Jesus teared up. He said, “I’ve been looking for you. I was lost and couldn’t find you.”
Okay, that’s weird, I thought. Jesus was lost, and now he’s found. How often does that happen?
But this was Burning Man. And anything can happen at Burning Man.
Jesus was lost in the desert, until he found Phil Wyman. Interesting take on things, we wonder if Phil drank some Thomason’s Tea beforehand.
What brings a Christian missionary to Burning Man? Why, to convert the heathens, of course!
We wanted to see if Jesus was there. Like missionaries to an aboriginal culture, we were hunting for hints of the witness of God’s Spirit in the midst of it all. If it is true that “where sin abounds, grace does much more abound,” it seemed that Burning Man would be on fire with great grace. Opportunities for sharing the gospel could be limitless.
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. Certainly God is wildly creative—enough to find his way into human hearts in other cultures around the world. But at these festivals, and in the newly developing cultures of postmodernity, there seem to be so few people of Jesus. Yet, as the five of us would discover, we were not alone. We camped with about 40 Christians from all over the country, with the common goal of outreach. And at least two other Christian-themed camps were under way at the festival.
Wyman sees Burning Man as an extension of god’s time-honored cultural tradition:
I see Burning Man as a developing festival culture in American society. Like the children of Israel, who gathered for holy days like Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles, millions of people throng to festivals such as Burning Man, the Rainbow Gatherings, and Mind Body Spirit. Such events are imbued with a hedonistic party culture, but they often foster a search for deeper spirituality. That spirituality is typically not Christian—it’s not specifically or predominantly anything. Rather, it’s at root the search for meaning. Like the Jews running out to the desert to see John the Baptist, these spiritual seekers run to festivals and find new crazed prophets.
And what is God doing out there, in the desert amongst the godless Pagans?
I found the grace of God in Burning Man’s “gifting” principle. I found the heart of Martin Luther’s “priesthood of all believers” in its emphasis on interactivity and encouragement for every person to create. I saw my Creator God in the innovative art being erected on the playa. I saw a call to a primitive simplicity in the location of the event: the barren desert, a wilderness.
Like a missionary among unreached people groups, I trusted that God was already at work. The Jesus who has adeptly embedded his presence into the myths and histories of cultures around the world is also at work in newly developing ones. He is not surprised to find 50,000 people running around the desert acting crazy, burning massive art installations. He was there 25 years ago, when they first burned a small wooden man on the beach in San Francisco.
And he preceded us to Burning Man last year. It was as if he had been walking the playa for years, lost and invisible to the eyes of the church, yet hoping we would find him. In finding him, it seemed that all we needed to do was offer people an opportunity to search for Christ themselves—to hear his voice, to sense his gentle urgings, and to see his handiwork laid out on the desert canvas.
We commend Phil for being an open minded Christian, able to c0-exist in an environment with nudity, drugs, and loud electronic music; for finding the presence of a higher power at Burning Man, and for wanting to share it with others. Maybe we’ll get the Pope out to the Playa one of these days.