Over the course of 30+ years in a variety if ministry settings, I discovered a simple truth, which ought to come as common sense to most of us: People are much more likely to feel comfortable talking about spiritual things when they have a chance to relax.
I don’t mean that everything in their life is fine – that all the loose ends are tied up and neatly packed away, because for most of us, there is always something in the background of our lives scratching away and making scary little noises. I mean, that we have been able to place our daily tensions aside, and make ourselves available to more than the schedules, and to do lists that haunt us. Many people who have been raised in church settings, find the weekly attendance with musical interludes, and common sense advice proffered from pulpits to be one of those places. Some of us find it in a ten minute cup of coffee in the morning, or in my case in the pot of tea. Every week we set up shop in Salem at a local pub, sit around microbrews, and shoot the breeze about a variety of fun and crazy subjects. People relax, people open up and share their hopes, their dreams, and their misgivings about life in the process. It is a place where spirituality is safe to talk about, to have doubts and misgivings about, and where the other person who disagrees with you is safe to talk to. It’s as if we all took a short vacation for a couple hours of our day, and relaxed into the deeper meanings of life. Somehow Christians and Pagans and Atheists are all hanging out together peacefully, and drawing life off each other.
This observation has been most evident away from home – not just away from my home, but away from your home too. When people get away for a few days, a week, or even longer; the pressing issues of life begin to fade into a deeper distance, and the values begin to readjust. The list of to dos become less important in the face of the whole of life, and relationships with friends, relationships with family, and yes, even relationship with God take on a larger form.
This phenomenon, which is obvious and simple common sense has birthed a renewal of interest in things like vacation pilgrimages. People are investing their free time in spiritual pursuits with the goal of reaching something deep inside themselves, instead of simply reaching out for someplace famous for the sights and sounds of entertainment. It has also birthed the growth of transformational festivals. Places like EDM (Electronic Dance Music) Festivals, Burning Man, and similar places of temporary retreat from the every day grind of life have become the places of renewal and retreat for millions of people. Those who have not found this deeper life in church experience, or whose cup of coffee in the morning was simply a teaser calling them out in to the wilderness, are making their yearly pilgrimages to Burning Man.
And because they are seeking something deeper, I go to places like Burning Man. This is where God meets the native soil of the deeper heart. It is unconventional. At times, it is audacious. It is counterintuitive to the staid buildings of stain glass and hard pews, but it is a place of extreme openness nonetheless. All one has to do is hang out a shingle, and wait for the lines of interested people to form. They come with their questions, they come with their hopes, fears, dreams, failures, resolutions, and doubts. I know that they come, because they have been forming lines, sometimes extremely long lines, for the last 20 years I have been doing this. Every honest and open Christian who sees this for the first time is forever changed, and never thinks about Christian ministry as a pushy – in your face – cold-calling – name-calling activity ever again.
And this is why I think we need to be in the crazy places we have been told to avoid. The natives may seem restless in these places, but that is because their hearts are searching for rest. Like every other person on the planet, they are restless for authenticity, truth, and many cases – their hearts are restless for God.
“Our heart is restless until it rests in You.” Saint Augustine
This year, we are upping the game, and traveling to more festivals to share our wild and insensibly generous faith. 😉 Please keep us in your prayers, and consider supporting this work. You can help financially through our secure paypal link at salemgathering.org/donate.