Tales From The Playa are dreams and memories of events that took place at Burning Man, as told by its participants.
I try to remember this recent past the way one tries to remember an interesting knot in a log in last night’s camp fire. There are obvious parallels between Burning Man and the Bible: Desert, anti-commericialism, temple, smashing money-changers tables, man and fire, golden calf, gold burned from dross, contrition, expungement, community, take-care-of-thy-neighbor, come to it like a little child, Jesus was accused of drinking too much wine, talking to the woman at the well, etc… At Burning Man, I overheard a man in a short skirt say “Jesus was a burner” and someone else suggested a Jesus camp where everyone dresses like Jesus and talks about who Jesus was and now means. Certainly the art work at Burning Man made me think of what we might have access to if the Right Wing did not control so much of our assets and now our tax base.
Christians, like most influenced by their own human nature, try to find what is wrong or different with others in order to reflect they believe in the Bible or their place in the world. It’s a perverse type of announcing one’s faith or belonging, and I just did it myself! But, I do not go to church because when I tried, almost no one wanted to know me except those truly spirit gifted people who remain my friends for decades and through them I hold communion and confession. I still go on Church campouts, but most stay in their own family circles which is understandable in light of managing kids and resting from work. My church is on the sidewalk, it is in the hours I put into the things that represent meaning and honesty to me and I watch miracles happen all the time and sense a path laid out before me which is also a cerebral one. It is hard to prove or describe this algebra of serendipity that I have encountered my whole life. I also want to avoid the paralyzing mixture of self circumscription and inadvertent ego absorption that Christians suffer from when they have concluded they absolutely know what Christianity looks like and by-damned, they are going to tell you and exist solely in their own mental paradigms, thereby making their cognitions above God Himself. BTW, in case you dont know, that is how Satan got kicked out of heaven. The “man” burning in the desert seems to me like sacrificing a god to a god. There are definitely idolotrous aspects to the burning of the man and temple, as well as the offerings placed at both. But the counter proof is that no matter where people are in the space/time continuum (and it is also part of Primate behavior) they do two things: create community and find a venue for worship. Eternity is as old as humanity.
My Burning Man camp leader, the one who invited me and one of the most capable, clever, and community building people I have ever met, is a preaching atheist. He says “Faith is the absence of thinking.” Thought seems, to me, to be an act of faith. I think God is the greatest scientist and we can see his handwriting in creation. I think he wants us to discover whatever there is out there to discover because we will find more of Him. My friend thinks that if it were not for Faith of any kind (he refers to any religious person as an “asshat”) that for one we would have skipped the Dark Ages and would have already cured cancer and other futuristic feats and that all believers should give it up and start improving the world in which they presently live and that we are mostly born OK the first time. Hard to argue with that, except sometimes certain things happen that belong to the spiritual realm, such as I dreamt of Burning Man before I even decided to go, without seeing pictures or anything else or even knowing to identify what was in the dream as Burning Man. I.e., at the entrance gate line, there was a wooden circus wagon with the exact detailing and half door in front of me that was in my dream. Exactly. If God is not real, I was merely tapping into the collective conscious or somehow psychically reaching out for higher intelligence and manifesting that need to communicate with an object that would appear in the future. And then there are prayers answered in such specific and timely ways, that one cannot deny there is some greater organization we cannot see. Either way, at worst God is a great imaginary friend and I am not giving Him up. I declined going out to the playa for either temple or man burn and explained to an asking campmate that God will put up with alot, but He will not put up with worshipping other gods. That someone thanked me for she secretly prayed every day but was ridiculed by any one she told of her prayer.
God looks upon the earth and at any moment sees millions of people “getting it on”. He did say go forth and multiply, afterall. 19 months ago someone demanded I take Plan B. I relented due to the ramifications of getting pregnant. As a result, I have quit ovulating on a regular basis and my uterus is building cells at an unhealthy rate. I bleed profusely for weeks at a time. I am pre-cancerous and my uterus should be removed. Sex is dangerous, and I felt taken too lightly at Burning Man not for reasons of free expression but of licentiousness and lack of meaning in the generation after mine. There was a time when a man simply courting a woman was said to be “making love to her.” I grow old, yes, I wear my trousers rolled. Partially because food and wine are my major acts of hedonism and have the hobbit body to prove it. On the other end, I felt woman were self-objectified because that was the social norm at Burning Man. Regardless, it seems that most people do what they want because they do not believe in God at all anymore. And that is the major difference between any secular excercise and Christianity: the notion of eternal life.
My biggest worry about being at Burning Man was not the sex, mind altercations, or nudity. It was the fear that I would have to endure people with some cheap surface notion about revisionist pagan or earth dieties chastising me for not completely giving over to the “when humans are left free to do what they like” (which, btw, not even wild animals undergo the mating ritual every day of the year), and I did not endure this at all until we were waiting in line to get out. The lady behind me asked me what I thought and I told her that the sex and mind altercations were a bit much for me, and then she and another lady decided to burn sage at me and give me funny looks. If there were a true apocolypse, it would be these people that would revert to Lord of the Flies behavior in a heart beat. I did not want my last memory of my first burn to be of this. As I turned onto the asphalt, there was a person dressed in some kind of monastic robe with a shamanistic stick, tapping it on the ground and saying something out to the pure white playa before him. Was he apologizing? And then I remembered my preburn skepticism about 50,000 people not leaving a trace, for 23 years ago I had studied geology with just a handful of people who were willing to build a road to go around an egg filled nest before the bus. Whomever this person was, s/he reminded me of Cabeza De Vaca and all the complexities of spirituality and nature I already believe and the irritation faded.
The question is not how bad and hedonistic is Burning Man. The real question is, is my faith at least as large as my judgement against others? It is not how shocking others are, but how shockingly true I find my faith to be. Do I believe and practice that which I *think* I espouse, that I *think* exists? Do I just think I believe in Christ and that He died on the cross for our sins so we could have eternal life? Do I invest myself into the world in a way which shows I believe this, or at least seeking the answer to this, and everything that comes through it such as “love thy neighbor as thyself”? I can say my atheist camp leader friend is actually a better Christian than I in that department. Anyone can be cool, but awesome takes practice.