In the summer of 2003, Charlotte and I decided to take a trip across the country by rental car (why a rental? Don't ask--it's complicated, dull, and annoying.), stopping at various friends along the way, seeing the sights, and culminating in our annual visit to the Burningman festival in Nevada. This is the diary we kept along the way.
|25-26||Hot Springs AR|
|?||Oklahoma City OK|
|31||Mesa Verde CO|
|?||Grand Canyon AZ|
|11-13||Los Angeles CA|
|16-24||San Francisco CA|
|24-Sept 1||Black Rock City NV|
|2||Salt Lake City UT|
we just passed Deeth Starr Valley...
Burning Man was great as usual. Afterwards we stayed overnight in the Peppermill Casino Hotel, which is almost as over the top as Burning Man: lights, constant music, and animatronic beasts around the swimming pool.
The theme of Burning Man this year was "Beyond Belief." The streets were related: certainty, dogma, creed, revealed, karmic circle, doubt, real, imagined, absurd plaza, and vision. My favorite was the intersection of dubious and dogma. Some camps had religious themes. There were temples and prayer wheels, and sculptures. One sculpture was the 'get a cleu'. It was circles within circles. The get a cleu folks were on the perimeter, on vision. They gave out beautiful necklaces which came attached to a card encouraging ecumeniscism. The folks at Get a Cleu camp also passed out cards, reading things like "The clearest way to the universe is through a forest wilderness" (John Muir) or "Live joyfully without desire" (Buddha).
On Sunday at Burning Man we went to the Church of Wow. We sang some lovely songs about wow, everyone walked around saying "wow" to each other. James Wanless, famous for the Voyager tarot deck, gave a sermonette on wow. He said, some people go through life saying "woe", and others say "waah!", still other say "woo-woo" not being impressed with anything. Another category of folks just say "why, why, why?" He encouraged everyone to see "wow" in life and try to be good wowists and attain the state of wow. Then everyone said "wow-a-lleuia" and we sang a gospel song about wow. There was much singing and clapping and shouting of wow. It was almost as good as the service I went to in LA, at the Agape Church.
The Agape church is a transdenominational church. There were waiting lines to get into the meditation preceeding the service. The meditation begins with soft, quiet music and a woman encouraged everyone to enter into this sacred space. Shortly before the meditation ended the acoustic guitar began again and people were encouraged to slowly bring their focus back to this space to engage in the service. The doors to the sanctuary opened and others joined us for the service.
The church is clearly welcoming. It has a niche for almost anyone, any race, and sexual orientation. It felt really good to be in a sacred space, where the teachings of love and not just tolerance but acceptance were being obviously practiced. I saw no lip service to the idea of "love thy brother." I loved the diversity of the church members.
One aspect of the service really impressed me and that was the prayer vigils. During the service there are people keeping the space sacred and safe by engaging in prayer. I thought this was quite beautiful and made the word "sanctuary" seem more appropriate for this space.
Agape continued... At Agape they referred to God as 'it' not he or she and repeatedly called it the energy that moves through the universe. Some of the activities involve directing energy at people: they would ask everyone to send their love to some people, and everyone would face both palms at the person and repeat a chant. It was really amazing. The chi in that place was out of this world. They also did an energy thing with a new born baby. They held the baby up and introduced it to the congregants, and repeated a chant about love, and positive energy. Everyone held up their hands and 'sent the baby some love' Sending people love is what they call it--but it made the skin on my hands feel taught and completely electrified. The church is called Agape--unconditional love. They talked a bit about getting out of God's way so that the energy can work for you in a positive, beautiful, loving way. They talked about being immersed in the energy of the divine, which is the energy of the universe--no guilt, no sin, no finger pointing. It was about the energy of the universe being a gift so great, that you couldn't receive it--but let it kind of wash over you. The educational programs offered sacred dance, tai chi, and drumming and various workshops. The service is preceeded by meditation, in which people were led into with the idea of getting grounded and centered in this energy, and then followed by a very positive message about about prosperity, joy and pleasure basking in the energy, which is the universe. I think in some ways, it was very LA. In some ways very ecumenical and diverse--The congregation was truly open, and there was no overwhelming majority-- a real cross-section of society. Instead of teaching fear or loathing of the other, perhaps joy, love, delight in creation, and acceptance is something every church-goer could strive towards and every church could/should promote. I walked out of Agape feeling unconditonally loved, and on top of the world. If life is a magnificent gift, isn't that how worship and sanctuary should make a person feel?