Burning Religion is about seeing church, secular society, ourselves and others differently. This developing book project is concerned with both how we see others, and how we are perceived by others. The missional impetus is a passion with this concern at its heart.
Last week I returned from my yearly trip to The Wild Goose Festival. I have been involved with the Goose since before its first year. I was there in discussions leading to the forming of the festival, when it was already diving headlong into its first year. I’ve been there for organizational meetings, led the closing ceremonies, organized morning prayer in the river, lectured on the intersection of theology and sexuality, led “Beer and Hymns”, brought in artists to create art installations in the woods, snuck around in the dark leading a midnight communion service, and been there for set up and take down. So, I understand the Goose.
Now, the Wild Goose Festival is primarily run by the progressive left of Christianity. LGBT rights is a prominent theme during the festival, though by no means the only theme, nor the only position held by the attenders of this event. In this sense, I am the Other in the Wild Goose. My theology is a conservative Christian theology, and so is my sexual life. That’s just who I am, what I believe, and how I roll. But, my interaction with people who disagree with me is intensely inclusive, because I think God is drawing everyone into His beautiful family, and His love is excessive. And when it comes to change, I don’t want to be the morality police – I’ll let God do God’s work. So, I have to model that in my behavior. Rev. Yolanda (a large cross-dressing preacher from New York) sang at the closing ceremonies, and needed a guitar. Not too many people touch my little old Martin these days, but Rev. Yolanda used it to sing Gospel songs. I know people who would get all superstitiously weird, and have a problem with that. Enter stage right, a “journalist” writing at a blog called The Federalist.
Alexander visited the Wild Goose Festival, and responded with a post about one short carnival drama at Carnival de Resistance, a troupe led by Tevyn East. Alexander’s post tells us that the festival is a place where Christianity is nothing more than “Earth Worship.” After hearing and meeting Cheryl Bear, and reading her doctoral thesis on missions to the First Nations, and spending every morning at 7am leading a group of people to stand in the river and pray through the Lord’s Prayer, seeing hundreds of people sing hymns at the top of their lungs at “Beer and Hymns”, and after dozens of discussions with radically missionally minded people, I am not sure Alexander actually experienced much of the festival – at least not with open heartedness of love found in the Gospel. His post refers to the event as a Pagan, earth worshipping event.
This is where my missional hackles rise. My goal in this life is to spend my time with the Other. The Other who believes very differently than myself. It is my goal to build the bridges we have burnt. I is my goal to invest myself in navigating the impossible spaces between us. This does not mean that critique is never warranted, but it does mean that I must be as willing to critique myself as would the Other, in an obvious and practical inversion of the golden rule, and that I should be as willing to extend the grace and acceptance to the Other that I would expect to be extended to me. If I would be heard, I must hear. If I would be accepted, I must accept. If I would be loved, I must love.
Next month I head to Burning Man for my fourth missional outreach to one of the world’s weirdest and most hedonistic, and sometimes strangely – most wonderful festivals. I go there because of Jesus, and it is the weirdest places I love the most. I suppose my life is for the Other. This is what drives me. So, I do not understand visiting the Other, and simply identifying the great divide between us in a critical and condemning fashion instead of offering the Gospel branch of peace. The Goose is one form of the Other for me, and Burning Man is another. People who are very different from me are the people I passionately want to be with. Strangely, (and this is not something everyone can understand) I am changed even as I share my life and faith with the radically different Other. This does not mean I am compromised in my theology or lifestyle. It means I grow in love and understanding. And THIS is my life with the Other.
In a very real sense, we are all the Other to one anOther, and that is exciting for me.
Next radical encounter with the Other: Burning Man. You can help make these missional encounters happen by helping us with your donations at Salemgathering.org.