I saw a lot of peeps and boobs at Burning Man this past week. After a 10-hour drive in an RV Saturday night after the man burned, a 4-connection flight on Sunday, and a 5 hour drive home on Monday to Cleveland after picking up Reuben in Ithaca, I’ve had a lot of time to begin processing my experiences at the Burning Man arts festival. Even now I’m in a hazy-tired-ear-plugged up from changes in elevation but I wanted to begin writing before I forgot all the cool stuff.
So- back to the peeps and boobs. Burning Man is a quintessential post-modern experience in community- “whatever works for you” is truly the mantra of the tribe there- in regards to everything. One of the reasons Dave and I wanted to go together was that we knew we’d see a lot of nudity and sexual stuff and wanted to be together as a couple to pray and process together when we encountered weirdness. We also wanted to be able to honor our marriage covenant together and celebrate by getting bizzay with no one else except each other!
I was curious how I would deal with the nudity (would I want to cheat? go lesbian? go native & rock the birthday suit?) and also how Dave as a red-blooded visual dude would deal with seeing boobs, thong-clad butts and all manner of beautiful women walking around that weren’t his wife. Surprisingly my view on nudity and why people went nude at the festival changed mid-week. The first time I saw people nude it was shocking. By the end of the trip when I was in the airport I commented to my friend/professor Rick, “boy it’s weird seeing people with clothes on!”
As an evangelical Christian I believe God created the body to be a beautiful, joyous thing to be used to serve others, enjoy and honor God. I asked the questions above not because I feel especially tempted to cheat on my husband with a man or woman or join a nudist colony, but because I know that though Jesus has saved me from the selfish darkness that so easily consumes, it still can rear it’s ugly head and try to convince me to do things that would break promises to God, my husband, and to the community I’ve committed myself to and dishonor who God has created me to be.
At some points the nudity was amusing- seeing a dude ride a bicycle naked was perhaps one of the most disgusting and seemingly uncomfortable things I’ve ever seen. Guys- I must say, I am impressed that any of you ride bicycles and can still have children. There were lots of old hippie women that my new friend Alex & I joked about that they could have a saggy boob contest and that the prize would be a support bra. There were people who offered to do body paint to decorate the body and there was actually some amazing art covering men and women though they were nude.
At other times nudity seemed like a radical statement in self-acceptance. The only thing you can buy at Burning Man is coffee, ice, water & other caffeinated drinks. One one of the days I wanted an iced chai & as I sat to enjoy it, an entirely nude woman walked past me. Most of the women went topless (I still can’t believe I’m writing this and am a Christian minister- wow, Jesus is funny!) so to see her entirely naked seemed to be such a statement of the lack of self-judgement and societal judgement to in some ways echo what God always intended for us- to be naked and unashamed of how we were made. At one point Rick asked a person in his son’s camp why she went naked during the week after she shared that had he arrived earlier she would have been entirely naked. “would you have wanted to be admired?” he asked “well” she replied, “I suppose if someone wanted to admire me, I would have received it as a compliment, but really going naked is more for me- to accept who I am and be comfortable with that, to challenge the fear I have of what others think of me” It was like a lightbulb that went off for us uptight evangelicals who assume that if you see the bank-tellers cleavage you’re going to become addicted to porn, if a man is handsome, looks like James Franco and is wearing a pair of skinny jeans you’ll leave your husband to jump his bones. Please don’t construe this as minimizing the horrific statistics of divorce, infidelity in and outside of the Christian community, but I think a big part of it is that sexuality, honoring our bodies and lust isn’t talked about so people resort to secrecy, which results in sin and brokenness when they can no longer feel “naked and unashamed” emotionally, relationally or spiritually with their spouse, friends or community. I feel like that’s pretty messed up.
Being in a semi-nude community for a week made me feel surprisingly un-selfconscious about my own body though I was fully clothed the entire time. The soundtrack that usually plays in my head- “do my thighs look too big? Did I really gain 10 lbs this summer, is she prettier than me?” was amazingly silent. (that’s right- eff you negative self-talk!) I became more thankful for the unique gift that only I can offer to this world- myself, as God created me- body mind and spirit. It has challenged me to be more thankful for my body and to stop being such a judgmental jerk of other peoples bodies.
I’m going to be blogging about Burning Man all week & I’d love to answer any questions you have about my experience, about what I’ve written, to encourage or challenge my thoughts on this. I know there is a wide variety of people who read my blog; some who are likely uncomfortable or offended that I went to burning man in the first place to people think it’s super awesome and wish they could have gone. I want my blog to be an interactive, respectful place where people can voice their thoughts and opinions- so if you don’t agree with something I’ve written or someone else has commented on, please take a deep breath before typing out something reactionary in your comments and know that this is a public place to share thoughts and ideas.