Why I Burn Art and Still Go to Church. “Faith For Reasons”

 This is another entry in the Faith for Reasons series, more entries can be found here:  Faith for Reasons.  

The burning man, from the Burning Man Festival
The burning man, from the Burning Man Festival (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am back from another Regional Burn in central Texas (FreezerBurn!) and boy is my art tired.   My bedroom is clobbered with explosions of shiny red costumery and camp-stuffs, my laundry pile smells of smoke and sunscreen lotion, and there is, of course, glitter.

Even for this short winter burn, for which I had made no particular elaborate plans, the hours I spend going, coming, and restoring order once I am home will far outweigh the hours I actually spent on the land.  If you know at all what you are getting yourself into at these things, no matter how hard one tries not to try, these things take work.  (Sparkle Ponies Excluded).

To be honest, when I left the house Saturday morning, there were still small stacks of dishes and laundry already wanting my attention.   In that moment I did not feel like going.

Effigy Burn @ Flipside 2010
Effigy Burn @ Flipside 2010 (Photo credit: Our HoliDaze)

What kept me moving, however, was not the promise that this would be the best burn ever, or that I would get “something new” out of it (though that sort of thing does happen).  What kept me in gear is the fact that a dozen or so friends had already made their way out there just to set up a warm tent and a service area to share time and goods with others.  Beautiful.

My friends, this community of believers, has enough faith in each other that if we keep showing up and doing this, it will be worth it for all of us.   The whole will be more than the sum of its parts.

I want to live like that.   I want to be that kind of guy.

To be that kind of guy, means that I make decisions on participating in things that go beyond my own immediate personal reward or experience.   To embody the character or quality of a community means to make ways to participate in it constantly even when the buzz wears off.

The other members of my particular theme camp, RedCamp, get this entirely.   Clearly, this can be seen throughout the burn community of central Texas who never cease to amaze me (even when I am not in the mood to be amazed.)

This is born out of a small constellation of convictions that a burn event is full of all kinds of win.    All kinds of people get together to make big beauty, or just things small-and-clever, or even just human-made-and-interesting, and to adorn each other with unexpected treats.   This is how the world can be for as long as we are willing to make it that way. 

These are the kind of people who move beyond their own immediate experience are ones who believe that what we fashion together says something truthful about humans, while also saying something beautiful and good as well.    I agree, so I keep coming.

I find it interesting then when some of these very friends ask my why I still feel the need to go to Church, to be religious and not just spiritual.  It is not a ridiculous questions given that, in many ways, I have struggled at times to find a place within parts of the church.

But my response is not too different than why I chose to make it to the burn this weekend.

I do not go to Church to have an sustained mystical experience, to have my mind blown or to always “get” something, though those things may all also occasionally be involved for some people.

I am part of a tradition that, when read well, says something beautiful, good, ,and I believe true, about the nature of things.   I gather with a group of people whose lives tell a story about reality,  humans, and how we can best live this all business together.

We are building something that is greater than the sum of its parts.

When it comes to faith I am can no more be an effective consumer than one can sustainably remain merely a spectator at a Burn event.   That isn’t how it works.

I go to Church and participate in that community because I want to be the kind  of person who not only I believe in attributes of God but because I am working alongside others to build a world full of grace beauty and truth that shares those attributes.

We are building a world that looks more like God. Beautiful.

Not all the work is full of ecstasy, a lot of it is just like sewing, nailing, welding, crafting, praying, forgiving, feasting, fasting, refraining, embracing, letting go, et cetera…

And the people at my church get this like the people at RedCamp get them importance of putting in a little extra effort for our weekly weekend excursions.

Some days I get back from Church, or retreat, or volunteer work and I see the stacks of dishes, piles of laundry and stacks of bills.

But I never really think to myself that I should have stayed home and done more “useful things” because not everything that is “useful” turns out to be true, beautiful and good.

Again, I have no interest in really trying to compare Church to the Burn community.    The differences are important.    But the reason I carry on in both worlds is  similar.

There are a constellation of convictions about how we are getting at something true, beautiful and good.

English: Tesla Coil Sparks. Português: Faíscas...
Tesla Coil Sparks. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Through most of life I am responding to a great gift, a living story only passed on by those willing to build and embody it.  One of those stories of my life says art exists and Tesla coils, booshers,  and  effigies are good for the world.   Another story, the main narrative of my life says God set the world spinning from love and put enough here for all of us and meant for us to feast together.

Living both stories takes faith, by which I mean, ya have to show up,  play along, and clean up your mess when you are done.

Do I need this? That is a good question.

My best answer is that I don’t stay here from a sense of duty. I stay because of my sense of hope.

I suppose I could choose to live in a universe that only ever wants to be useful, but yes, I do indeed believe in a world full of what is true, beautiful and good.

Such beauty comes to us by grace, and then asks us to be that grace for others.



Those are stories I want my life to tell.  That is the world in which I live.    One that, in any case, is ours to build.

Peaceable Kingdom, John August Swanson.
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One Comment

  • Karissa Knox Sorrell

    I love this. I don’t know much about Burning Man or such burn events, but I love how you liken that community to the church. “This community of believers has enough faith in each other that if we keep showing up and doing this, it will be worth it for all of us. The whole will be more than the sum of its parts.” – Lovely, lovely thoughts. And “To embody the character or quality of a community means to make ways to participate in it constantly even when the buzz wears off.” It’s not about showing up out of duty, but it’s about being a part of a group of people that share something with you. And when the buzz wears off, it’s that community that carries you until you can feel something meaningful again. Great post.