Saturday, December 6, 2008

Burning Man Chapel Talk for Monday, Dec. 8

A while back we teachers went to teacher school for a couple of hours.

In addition to learning that I should walk around the classroom and more effectively engage and assess you students, I learned that everything has to be put into a context in order to be understood.

Well, first, I don’t expect you to understand any of the following since I don’t understand it myself.

And second, keep this context in mind regarding my Chapel presentation this morning:

1. This is performance art.

2. I’m crazy. Sometimes more crazy than others.

3. I’m not going to do anything any crazier that I have already done on this stage at some point.

As some may know, I was given the opportunity to attend Burning Man earlier this year.

This opportunity was made possible by a grant called the NETS Fund, which is available to all faculty members who have been here at Webb at least 4 years.

The grant is given by members of the Class of 1967. The description provided by Marion Marks said:

“…No limit shall be placed on a non-traditional application by the school, and scholarships shall be awarded based upon merit of tenure and the creativeness of the program to be funded, if such a program is deemed potentially rewarding for future instruction.

Be it "under-water basket weaving," deep-sea diving, aerial photography, or documentary production, applied programs must show creativity and potential.”

So I wrote up a little proposal that started out saying that I would like to experience Burning Man, and part of it stated:

“I have wanted to attend this event for many years, but it is consistently scheduled during the beginning of school.

In the past I thought it would be too selfish to ask for leave time to attend, but would allow me to somehow “officialize” the opportunity…

I don’t think anyone else applied, and this was the first year of the grant. I think that helped my odds quite a bit.

Mr. Marks said that a number of his friends and business associates had been to Burning Man, and that he thought it was an excellent experience.

My proposal was approved, and I am very grateful.

The effects and creative activities surrounding the Burning Man opportunity and experience have been nearly continual since last January.

That’s when Mr. Rupley very quietly told me I that my proposal was approved, and in that same breath he asked me if I planned to “go naked”.

Now if you think that’s weird, then keep in mind that when I returned from Burning Man, one of the first things Mr. Cauz asked me was if I “went naked”.

Well friends, they were joking, (I think) but I will tell you all right now that I didn’t get any more naked at Burning Man than I plan on getting later this morning.

But the thing is, we’re ALL naked, right now, underneath our clothes.

Keep that in mind when you step up here for your next declamation.

Now you may be thinking, what in the world is going on here? What is this Burning Man thing?

And yes, this presents me with quite a dilemma.

How can I attempt to even begin to explain, within the very limited time allotted this morning, or ever, an experience that has actually been personally evolving for over 30 years?

Well, I can’t.

I have a hard time limiting my focus in all of my Chapel presentations, and just tend to cram them full of incoherence.

And Burning Man? Listen, I was there for 12 days around Labor Day. I worked on projects for it all summer. I’ve been thinking about it ever since, and I still haven’t been able to crystallize my thoughts into an understandable narrative.

So I’m just going to do what I do this morning, and if you want more details please ask me or e-mail me or go to my website,

I hope to have a spiffy slide show/video soon, but it is taking forever to edit.

I do have a whole lot of unorganized pictures and videos and a long audio talk posted though.

But I don’t have the time that I need to somehow relate how I think we are all Creative and Creating Manifestations and to tell you of my eternal quest for Truth and my feelings of betrayal by my religious upbringing and my neurotransmitters and how my ego always gets in the way and how I want to somehow balance my need for attention with humility and how I think we should all be open and honest as painful it may be and recognize and appreciate each other for exactly who we are but it’s impossible because most of us don’t even know who we are and if we do we may be afraid that we will be rejected if we express it and how it just seems so strange to me that human goodness so often goes unrecognized because it is blocked by some kind of cultural, religious, social or moral filter…

But for now I am going to just feed you some information, and do a performance, and not expect you to understand a thing, but you can think about it if you want too.

First I want to remind us of Webb’s Enduring Understandings. We faculty talked about these things last year and adopted them as a whole.

They read as follows:

Integrity is a cornerstone of a flourishing life and community.

Learning is an enjoyable and on-going process.

Respect for self and others is essential to a harmonious society.

Self-discipline and autonomy are essential to success.

Each person has unique gifts and capacities and a responsibility to develop them.

Each person shares the responsibility and honor of serving others.

While Webb has evolved from a Judeo-Christian heritage and affirms and expects students to uphold the common values of our traditions, Webb embraces and respects differences in religious backgrounds.

I want you to keep that in mind as give you some brief information about Burning Man, which I have taken and edited from the official Burning Man website :

“Trying to explain what Burning Man is to someone who has never been to the event is a bit like trying to explain what a particular color looks like to someone who is blind…

…Once a year, tens of thousands of participants gather to create Black Rock City in Nevada's Black Rock Desert, dedicated to community, art, self-expression, and self-reliance. They depart one week later, having left no trace whatsoever.”

…Our intention is to generate society that connects each individual to his or her creative powers, to participation in community, to the larger realm of civic life, and to the even greater world of nature that exists beyond society.

…We believe that the experience of Burning Man can produce positive spiritual change in the world.

…We will always burn the Man.

The people who live in the temporary community of Black Rock City are expected to be committed to the following Ten Principles:

1. Radical Inclusion
Anyone may be a part of Burning Man.

2. Gifting
Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving.

3. Decommodification
In order to preserve the spirit of gifting…we resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience. (This means absolutely NO vending).

4. Radical Self-reliance
Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources.

5. Radical Self-expression
Radical self-expression arises from the unique gifts of the individual…the giver should respect the rights and liberties of the recipient.

6. Communal Effort
Our community values creative cooperation and collaboration.

7. Civic Responsibility
We value civil society.

8. Leaving No Trace
Our community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather.

9. Participation
Our community is committed to a radically participatory ethic.

We believe that transformative change, whether in the individual or in society, can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation.

We achieve being through doing.

Everyone is invited to work.

Everyone is invited to play.

We make the world real through actions that open the heart.

(In other words, take a hand in the game!)

10. Immediacy
Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture.

We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers.

No idea can substitute for this experience.

Keeping the above in mind, I am about to be joined by some students in a very short performance.

In creating this performance I was thinking of a way to somehow relate the Burning Man experience to the Webb community.

I was also thinking of the beauty of the sounds of chaos as well as the organized sound of music, such as birds singing, leaves rustling, ocean waves and the spontaneous roars of stadium crowds and concert goers.

I was also thinking of how many of our Christmas traditions are based on Pagan celebrations, and how transcendent the concept of giving really is.

Please try to be quiet while the performance is underway, even though I know it might be hard, but there is no need for shushing. It’s all good.

And lastly, please come up and pick up a flute after Chapel if you would like one. I made them myself, and they come with instructions but it may take a lot of practice to play it right. Be careful not to step on them.

The performance is over when we exit through the curtain. Thank you.

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