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A South African Emergent Conversation

A group of friends met on the 4th and 5th December 2009 in Cape Town, around growing these friendships and working towards a common vision for emergence Christianity in South Africa. These included Jackson Khosa, Muzi Cindi, Marius Brand, Cobus van Wyngaard, Theresa and Andrew Hendrikse, Ann and Nic Paton, and Amahoro Africa’s Claude Nikondeha. In addition to socialising and relaxing, we shared meals, drummed, and talked.

One focus was the book by Muzi Cindi, whose unorthodox journey has sparked both indignation and amazement especially in his own African community, dividing established patterns of church authority with a host of radical questions about God and Atheism. Continue reading “A South African Emergent Conversation”

“Wild man wise man” session 6

Initiation

In almost all cultures the world over, young people undergo rites of initiation. It normally marks the passage into adulthood. However in the recent west this has become less and less a feature of our culture, such that we live in what Sergio refers to as a “partly initiated society”.

We need to rediscover and reconnect with these ancient practices. These rituals are in essence an emotional and spiritual phenomenon, meant to be felt and internalised. While women encounter this naturally through the overt changes of puberty, this has become highly problematic for the modern male. What remains of these rituals – confirmation, or boy scouts, lack the visceral power of traditional initiations. It is left to gang membership and the military, which hardly transform us in the right direction.

According to Rohr, “men must be tried, limited, challenged, punished, hazed, circumcised, isolated, starved, stripped and goaded into maturity”.  This separates him forcefully from the feminine energy, and this experience wounds him ritually and “prepares the young man to deal with life in ways other than logic, managing, controlling and problem solving.” [P 31] Without this wounding, paradoxically, we shall never heal.

In small groups, a story was shared by a participant in which at 13 years old, he was told by his wise mother to get on his bicycle, and not to return home until he had a job. He was faced with the terror of the fact that he did not know when he would sleep at home again. He went from restaurant to restaurant adding his name to long waiting lists. But eventually he was offered a kitchen job and a beginner’s wage. He went home a changed person, and for 8 months, proudly made enough money to comfortably cover his weekend dream activities.

Initiation needs to be rediscovered in our society, Rohr : “Initiation always taught the young man to die before he died … a constant truth taught by Jesus, baptism, the prophets, Mohammed, the mystics… as St Francis put it , ‘if you have once faced the great death, the second death can do you no harm.'” [P 36]

Note, I have explored in some depth the topic of “The Shamanic Shadow” which inlcudes the biblical basis for a more feral spirituality including the sort of initiation proposed by Richard Rohr.

This post is part 6 in the series Richard Rohr “From wild man to wise man” with Sergio Milandri of relating.com. The session was held on the 30th November 2009 at Sans Pareil, Hout Bay, South Africa.

Interview: Brendan Smithers

Brendan Smithers is the prime mover and “Drill Sergeant” for the Upsetters, who created The Turbine for Africa Burns 2007 and The Wish for 2008, as well as being involved in the creation of the San Clan (Man) itself. As much as anyone else he has made his mark on the Festival, predominantly in his large scale work. So what thoughts lead to such powerful, iconic pieces?

Night
The Wish : Night

It started with The Turbine in 2007… Continue reading “Interview: Brendan Smithers”

An Economy of Grace

I have been reflecting on Afrika Burn 2008, with 2 articles, a general synopsis called “AB08 scorecard” and a cheeky cultural crit called “Soop – Sound (Waves) Out Of Place“. But now I want to get to the heart of the experience, from the point of view of the theme camp that our community set up, Sanctuary. Continue reading “An Economy of Grace”

AB 08 scorecard / Syncroblog

Update:

Afrika Burn 2008 Syncroblog:

Also see

We are back from the burn! Just thinking that causes the dust to rise.

Next Monday 27th October 2008, we are inviting anyone to Syncroblog with us; to participate see this post.

But to get the ball rolling, here is my initial scorecard for AB 08. Bear in mind this view is personal, and I did not visit all the camps and attractions I would have liked: Continue reading “AB 08 scorecard / Syncroblog”

Moving towards worship: Homo Festivus; Man the Celebrant

“I praise the dance, for it frees people from the heaviness of matter and binds the isolated to community” [Augustine]
“Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” [Deuteronomy 6:5]
“Theres joy, joy, joy in repetition” [Prince, Graffiti Bridge]

This post forms part of the synchroblog “Moving towards worship”, and is part 1 in my series “Myths for our time.”

Rio CarnivalFor some time I have been asking about the shape of things to come. I have wondered about models of community as well as of worship. And in the last month, myself and other venturers have been engaged in various activities, firstly the Afrika Burns festival in the Tankwa Karoo, South Africa, and secondly two NIA (Neuromuscular Integrative Action) movement sessions.

So, in the wake of some exciting, practical experimentation, (and to a lesser extent as the “season” of Christmas looms), I would like to offer a reflection on Festivity.

Celebration, are you quite mad?

Having been immersed in creativity, freedom of expression, dance and music, almost might we say, baptised anew into Celebration, I am compelled to consider the role of this in my and our life. Naturally, I also reflect up the nature of life and of G-d. So I have some questions:

  • Is celebration an aberation from serious life, something to do once, twice a year, at prescribed times like Christmas, on a holiday, or on a birthday?
  • With tragedy and despair all around us, and suffering an ever present reality, is it appropriate to celebrate at all?
  • In Anglocatholic culture, it is said that the Eucharist (Body and blood of Christ) is “celebrated”. I have always liked the sound of that, but sorry Father, I’m afraid your church services just don’t feel very celebratory.
  • Kids get so excited about things, ice cream, horses, swimming, TV, but from adolescence onwards we loose this – is this the proper way to grow up?
  • Is celebration equal to hedonism – for those who simply want to escape reality, or blot it out through indulgence, escape, sex, drugs, and partying?
  • Even if I do intellectually believe in celebrating, why don’t my attempts to do so seem very authentic or powerful?
  • What is the essential nature of the afterlife: solomn, pious and peaceful? Mao Tse Tung-era massed movement? The euphoria of a purple haze? Having all our messy earthy theologies nicely put into order, with a Mr-Bean-style smugness? Having all our needs finally met in the ultimate consumer experience?

I offer these questions from the POV of one who was raised in a Modern, Western, Eurocentric culture in South Africa, and one who has been on a lifelong journey to seek out the truth, a 15 year soujourn through the conventional church, a 10 year period on the via negativa, and in the last year, a freedom to ask and live whatever the hell question I wanted to of anyone, the cosmos, and G-d him-herself.

More importantly perhaps is the fact that I am not a natural party animal, nor am I that hedonistic. I have inherited my mothers Apollonic spirit, preferring the mountaintop, simplicity and asceticism to the ways of my father: he was an arch-Dionysian given to self-gratification, joviality and revelry. But it is his spirit that now calls me down into the valley, towards the sounds of mirth, partying and sheer enjoyment. 

So I am happy to say that I have some ideas, I have some vision about all this. But I wanted to frame these questions to give a context for where I am coming from now.

A Festive G-d

I’ll get to the point: We serve a Festive G-d, and as made in G-ds image, we are “Homo festivus”. It is part of our nature to celebrate, indeed we are called, coaxed and wooed to do so. I am indebted to John Morehead for introducing me to the term Homo Festivus, as well as many of these notions, and he and others have long been involved in this debate.

Now I am not going to say “Thou shalt celebrate”, because that undermines the free hearted giving that is part and parcel of loving response. Only a loving, thankful response can be sustained, and provide the fuel for authentic festivity.

In reality, we don’t always feel like celebrating. We may NEVER feel like it. We may be so caught in despair that we cannot see any reason for joy. I have felt despair. I have lived in loss for many years. I will live in loss in the future, and will feel despair again. But while, by grace, I glimpse the glory of this freedom, I want to live it, share it, write it, and move it, for THIS is a my foretaste of eternity … being one with the Creator, one with each other, one with creation.

Dancing and VJing at Camp Vuvuzela at Afrika Burns was a new experience for me. There was no sense in which “I, performer”, or even “I, reveller”, was present. “I” performed, sure, putting visuals to the DJ’s psytrance/electro offerings; but I never saw that DJ, nothing was announced, and everything just happened … this was the Anarchy of Love. It was for me a confirmation of Advaita – radical non-duality – or put another way, its was the joy of the ego being lost in Oneness. There was no me-you, or us-them. Those that lose their soul shall find it, reports the Gospel.

I’ve been brought up with a view that “Oneness” is an exclusive concept, defined by the orthodoxy of Christendom. This is based on the dualistic view of a future separation of the saved and the unsaved. So, Oneness is OK if it’s Orthodox Christian Oneness, otherwise it’s a pantheistic eastern notion incompatible with the bible, Christ, and salvation.

In case you misunderstand my embrace of Festive Culture, it is not without its dangers. To be consumed by the offerings of the ego – hedonistic self gratification, sexual conquest, shame at ourselves, or debilitating introspection – means that we are imprisoned slaves and, not true members of the Festive Race. I still can’t quite get my head around how this man said this, given his role in the propogation of many of the destructive dualisms that haunt us to this day, but … to further quote Augustine,

“Dancing demands a whole person, one who is firmly anchored in the center of his life, who is not obsessed by lust for people and things and the demon of isolation in his own ego.”

Are we having a good time, yet?

Homo Sapiens, “Knowing” Man, has an inkling that he should rejoice, but is confounded by ego, sin, and systems of injustice that oppress this instinct. How he expresses this instinct to celebrate has in many cases, been substantially reduced.

  • Instead of Holiness of all Being, we have intermittent “Holidays” where what we “celebrate” bears little or no relationship to our lives. What exactly is “Family Day”, or “Heritage Day”?
  • Instead of deep, authentic humour we have jokes – little pills of laughter.
  • Instead of sumptuous, inventive expression through our garments, we have the tyranny of fashion and occasional Fancy Dress opportunities.

Our institutions have let us down. I’m not asking for a Cultural Revolution, I am saying wherever meaning has been lost, we need to refind and reinvent it. For example, primally, we know that the drum calls us to enter in. But layer upon layer of manners, sophistications, domestications, civilisations and barriers have rendered our sense of the Festive quite inane.

  • If a holiday is redundant, then dump it. If an important day is not noted, note it – who celebrates Beltane besides a few neopagans? And yet our connection to the seasons is far more important than artifical notions of nationality.
  • Stop filling up deep sadness with alcohol-fuelled jokes. I like good jokes, but often the “life and soul of the party” is actually a penguin-suited cadaver out of contact with real irony or deep authentic joy.
  • Instead of religeously branding ourselves with Nike, Gucci, or Calvin Klein, assemble your own outfit, one which IS you and comes FROM you. Authenticity is so much more powerful than cloned coolness.

The Isness

There is nothing that inspires me to dance, move and create, like the idea that G-d is present, present in all of creation. This panentheist vision – All is IN G-d, and G-d is IN all – is what drives me to give my body, energetically and wholeheartedly, to the moment, the community, to the Ground of Being. No E’s, no acid, no grass, no mushrooms, no drunken stupor, just a deep appreciation for being alive. No ulterior motive, no one to conquer, to impress, to rebel against, to convert, a simple isness, is a pround act of worship.

  • I am inspired by the the Sweedish movie “As it is in heaven”, reviewed here, in which a dour, fearful Reformed community is transformed by dance and celebration.
  • I am inspired by the River in Tolkein’s Third Earth called the “Celebrant”.
  • I am inspired by Brasilian, African and other cultures who host wild, spectacular carnivals, a celebration of carne (that’s flesh, brothers and sisters), the aroma of which MUST be more pleasing to G-d than all the incense floating up from 10,000 aescetic alters.
  • I am inspired by the trend to expressed, overt rhythm in music over the last decades. Long live Elvis, and his holy, gyrating hips. It’s largely a matter of taste, but I do love trance and other musics which until recently sounded boring to me. I have discovered a profound truth in rhythm, simplicity and repetition.

And in my brief introduction to NIA, I am inspired to combine robust bodily expression, an exploration of the healing arts, moving in community, freedom to express any kind of gesture my imagination might produce, and a profound sense of Festive worship as G-d intented it to be.

Other participants

a baptism of joyful fire : Afrika Burns synchroblog

Part of the Afrika Burns synchroblog, (for all participants see below).

Triple BypassA friend of mine who lives between San Francisco and Durban first told me about Burning Man in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert about 10 years ago. It sounded fascinating, but a little beyond my mien. Too dirty, too hedonistic, too hot, too freaky, too fiery; maybe these were my thoughts. But Steve’s recommendations have on a number of occasions proved to be significant dwell points on my journey (big up for Matthew Fox, Jay Bakker and Easy Star All Stars for starters).

When I first heard that BM was incarnating as Afrika Burns, I sensed an opportunity. Together with a few others, I started to investigate the culture. We went to a planning session for one of the “themed camps” and met several decidedly alternative people who were ecologically aware, spiritually seeking, largely vegetarian, and holistically creative.

All this has gone hand in hand with my own exploration of various aspects of spiritual life, largely reflected on this blog, see for example Ecclesia as Sacred Tribe, in which I have come to my own thoughts about what constitutes being a Jesus-follower and a human in this time of change. Read it if you want, for background.

So when I studied the Core principles(communal effort, participation, civic responsibility, immediacy, decommodification, gifting, leave no trace, radical inclusion, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression), I thought, Hmm – I can embrace that. The Liturgist in me went into overdrive; I saw all sorts of possibilities. Long story short; I dumped the plans and went with the flow. A wise move.

Because the flow was dusty, hot, festive and loud. Anything too contemplative was bound to be drowned. Besides, my greatest desire was to connect and build trust. Opportunities for expressed worship would come in their time. This was a time to celebrate.

Friday
5 dusty hours out of Cape Town, we rolled off the R355 into Stonehenge “Farm”, a lunar landscape of rock and sand, pans and bults(rocky hills) and a huge sky. We were greeted by a hostess with a clipboard and a pamphleteer festooned with nowt but a scarf. We headed into the “temporary autonomous zone” Tankwa Town and found a spot near “4ish street” at the edge of the scrub. A howling gale and 6 inches of sand before bedrock made tent erection a major challenge. In the end we tied the guy ropes to the wheels of our vehicle.

Tribute to John GongAt sunset we attended a Mayan Sundown Ritual. Besides the incessant wind, a wine bottle clutching, howling/growling participant all but drowned out the subtleties of the offerings. Inclusion was being put to the test. But we did manage to dance to djembe rhythms for about 10 minutes.

That evening we mosied on down to “partycipation”, hosted by the friends we had met 3 weeks earlier. A Bedouin-style community tent gave some shelter against the elements, and the resident DJ battled with dust but managed to put out some fine trance tracks. I did an AVJ Twinstar VJ set against a VW combi, and the sheer volume of dust was apparent for all to see in the projectors glare. We filmed and projected the full moon and energetic dancing; people loved it. But after an hour I was beat back by the elements, gills stuffed full with sand, (not to mention my new Sony Vaio).

Afterwards we went across the plain to “Camp Vuvuzela” (Vuvuzela– soccer trumpet) who were doing a balkan-mediteranean set. There were hundreds stomping up dust to the beats and the most incredible atmosphere. Burners spewed flame into the night sky; a 3M high “white man” danced with lasers in front and moon behind. Bedtime: between 2 and 4.

Saturday am
Maybe it’s in the genes: my brother, my brother-in-law and I decided to do a skyclad saunter around the binnekring (inside circle). That’s a slo-mo “streak” of about 20-25 minutes, with hats and shoes on of course. It was unashamed promenading, pre-fall Adam style; and we were met with nothing but admiration and support, and many a comment about having used enough sunblock. Half way along we heard a yell behind saying “Wait, wait, wait for moi” and were joined by a REAL (and female) nudist, our Eve, for the rest of the walk. She seemed to think we were the real thing, little did she suspect how much the imposter we were playing.

Flock of BalloonsSo having reclothed we took in the sites : a flock of balloons tethered to the ground, major construction on 4 story high burn works, a scorpion sculpture made of old car tyres, a blender powered by a bicycle for make-your-own smoothies, a fully functional snailmail post office. A series of dust devils started passing through, some sucking the contents of entire villages high into the sky. I just had to; and successfully got into the path of 2 and lived to tell the dusty tale.

At the hot point of the day, 3 pm, we had a sweat lodge in our tent, a blank canvas for meditation and cleansing. We received a word, too: “Freely give and you will be clean on the inside and the outside.” This was followed by the luxury of a shower gifted us by our highly evolved neighbours (4 families with about 12 kids). Later afternoon was spent chilling at partycipation and playing djembes and once more being gifted with icepacks to the face and neck.

Sunset was one of the most amazing co-incidences I have witnessed, and for which I praise the Creator. A group of dancers and drummers gathered around the fine “Sand pendulum” installation to watch the sundown. Not 5 minutes later, directly behind and due east, a huge full moon rose. People turned and fell to their knees. We all had a good howl, and saw one of the most beautiful moons I have even witnessed. We blessed babes in arms and a profound sense of Awe prevailed.

Saturday ce soir
Hoola hooping at Camp VuvuzelasFinally, it was time to give my new portable VJ screen a run. We headed for Camp Vuvuzela, and got set up. The vibe was quite electro/psytrance this time, but still the feeling of goodwill and celebration predominated. But as we got the projections going, the highpoint of festivity was upon us: partytime with luminous hoola hoops and sumptuous dancers. The whirling, the riot of colour, the primal energy, was palpable.

The only announcement of the entire weekend, (such was the sheer positive anarchy of the event), was that the main burn was postponed due to high winds, but a less dangerous immolation was going to happen at 12 midnight. So we packed up a mess of metal, plastic and dust and headed out west across the vlaktes (flat ground) to “Temple”. About 200 people stood expectantly around while “officials” kept order.

In a somewhat South African way, there were chants of “burn! burn! burn!” which I found distasteful – it seemed like sheer reactionary pyromania rather than reflective spirituality. The organisers had asked us to be reverent, but some people didn’t seem to take this admonition seriously. You can take the rugby nation into the wilderness but you can’t take the rugby spirit of bliksem-ming (vigorously deconstructing whatever comes to hand) out of the nation, it seems.

Fire PitThe temple burn was far slower than I had imagined it – it was not an instant fireworks-like thrill, but an opportunity to collectively gaze at the flames over about an hour. We missed the other burns, and the one I would have loved to see in addition to the man, was the “Turbine” by the Upsetters, possibly the most impressive work on display.

I reflected upon Christendom’s use of fire in times past, and felt a deep revulsion at its cruelty, its fear of the primal, its repression of festivity and creativity, and its arrogance. A time of repentance, for me, as a part of the ecclesia.

Sunday

The desert bloomsSunday morning we packed up but not before doing a lot of gifting. I placed my “Middle of it All” CD on sleeper’s pillows, and handed it out to those I had connected with over the previous days while my brother handed out postcards of his art … commerce-free, unmediated transactions of giving.

As we drove back towards civilisation, we listened to the Shamen’s “Axis Mutatis” and Stephen Micus’ “Desert Poems”, and began to reflect on how we had been transformed in our various ways, by the inaugural Afrika Burns.

Afrika Burns Synchroblog participants:

Other writings of note:

Get Down Tankwa Town

Psychedelic Apocalypse – Terence McKenna’s Re:Evolution revisited

[Note : This is transcribed verbatim from The Shamen’s “Boss Drum” album (1994), and does not necessarily reflect my actual beliefs. However, it contains significant alternative prophetic content and is well worth noting. Emphases mine.]

Terence McKenna by Robert Venosa (www.venosa.com/terence_mckenna.jpg)If the truth can be told so as to be understood, it will be believed. Human history represents such a radical break with the natural systems of biological organization that preceded it, that it must be the response to a kind of attractor, or dwell point that lies ahead in the temporal dimension. Persistently, western religions have integrated into their theologies the notion of a kind of end of the world, and I think that a lot of psychedelic experimentation sort of confirms this intuition, I mean, it isn’t going to happen according to any of the scenarios of orthodox religion,

but the basic intuition, that the universe seeks closure in a kind of omega point of transcendence, is confirmed, it’s almost as though this object in hyperspace, glittering in hyperspace, throws off reflections of itself, which actually ricochet into the past, illuminating this mystic, inspiring that saint or visionary,

and that out of these fragmentary glimpses of eternity we can build a kind of map, of not only the past of the universe, and the evolutionary progression into novelty, but a kind of map of the future, this is what shamanism is always been about, a shaman is someone who has been to the end, it’s someone who knows how the world really works,

and knowing how the world really works means to have risen outside, above, beyond the dimensions of ordinary space, time, and [sic] causality, and actually seen the wiring under the board, stepped outside the confines of learned culture and learned and embedded language, into the domain of what Wittgenstein called “the unspeakable”,

the transcendental presence of the other, which can be absanctioned, in various ways, to yield systems of knowledge which can be brought back into ordinary social space for the good of the community, so in the context of ninety percent of human culture, the shaman has been the agent of evolution, because the shaman learns the techniques to go between ordinary reality and the domain of the ideas,

this higher dimensional continuum that is somehow parallel to us, available to us, and yet ordinarily occluded by cultural convention out of fear of the mystery I believe, and what shamans are, are people who have been able to de-condition themselves from the community’s instinctual distrust of the mystery,

and to go into it, to go into this bewildering higher dimension, and gain knowledge, recover the jewel lost at the beginning of time, to save souls, cure, commune with the ancestors and so forth and so on.

Shamanism is not a religion, it’s a set of techniques, and the principal technique is the use of psychedelic plants. What psychedelics do is they dissolve boundaries, and in the presence of dissolved boundaries, one cannot continue to close one’s eyes to the ruination of the earth, the poisoning of the seas, and the consequences of two thousand years of unchallenged dominator culture, based on monotheism, hatred of nature, suppression of the female, and so forth and so on.

So, what shamans have to do is act as exemplars, by … making this cosmic journey to the domain of the Gaian ideas, and then bringing them back in the form of art to the struggle to save the world. The planet has a kind of intelligence, that it can actually open a channel of communication with an individual human being.

The message that nature sends is, transform your language through a synergy between electronic culture and the psychedelic imagination, a synergy between dance and idea, a synergy between understanding and intuition, and dissolve the boundaries that your culture has sanctioned between you, to become part of this Gaian supermind, I mean I think

it’s fairly profound, it’s fairly apocalyptic. History is ending. I mean, we are to be the generation that witnesses the revelation of the purpose of the cosmos. History is the shock wave of the eschaton. History is the shock wave of eschatology, and what this means for those of us who will live through this transition into hyperspace, is that we will be privileged to see the greatest release of compressed change probably since the birth of the universe.

The twentieth century is the shudder that announces the approaching cataracts of time over which our species and the destiny of this planet is about to be swept.

If the truth can be told so as to be understood, it will be believed.

The emphasis in house music and rave culture on physiologically compatible rhythms and this sort of thing is really the rediscovery of the art of natural magic with sound, that sound, properly understood, especially percussive sound, can actually change neurological states, and

large groups of people getting together in the presence of this kind of music are creating a telepathic community of bonding that hopefully will be strong enough that it can carry the vision out into the mainstream of society. I think that the youth culture that is emerging in the nineties is an end of the millennium culture that is actually summing up Western civilization and pointing us in an entirely different direction, that

we’re going to arrive in the third millennium, in the middle of an archaic revival, which will mean a revival of these physiologically empowering rhythm signatures, a new art, a new social vision, a new relationship to nature, to feminism, to ego.

All of these things are taking hold, and not a moment too soon.

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