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The Assless Chapel Newsletter #2: Radical Inclusion Edition

THE CHAPLAIN'S WEEKLY SCREED


The Man burns in 115 days for the 36th time in 37 years (I think.) My first burn was 2005, the 20th burn. It was the year Burners without Borders was formed, to deal with Hurricane Katrina. The city’s population was a mere 35,600 strong. Other than some brutal dust storms that made set-up nearly impossible for us on Monday, the weather was perfect.


Back then, Burning Man was still a mystery to most of the world.


Yes, especially in the Bay Area, it was well-known among certain groups and to well-informed people. But it still mostly attracted weirdos. Not just the quirky, dorky types, but bona fide fucking weirdos with motorcycles, fake decapitated heads, briefcases full of drugs or open carry sex toys. Some guy named Dicky lived in a transparent box out on the Playa the whole time. A group of furries dressed as giant rabbits protested the existence of humanity. There were a few documentarians here and there, but no one took pictures of other people without permission.

You could still go to a record store and buy a ticket a couple days before the event started. Yes, there were roads and infrastructure, but the DPW folks who built them were always severely drunk and angry and their pitbulls were even worse.


There were the 10 Principles, but no one really knew many of them. It was definitely Leave No Trace. The three principles that were most readily apparent were Radical Self-Reliance, Radical Inclusion and Radical Self-Expression. Stiffy Lube would fly a flag showing someone being fisted and gifted coffee enemas. And in the words of one of the first people I met out there, “Every bar here is a gay bar.”


Decommodification and gifting you say? Sort of… the Playa was still transitioning away from a barter economy to a gifting economy. You did not expect to be served at most of the bars. Bartenders would often ask you, “Why?” Hopefully, you could trade a gift, a talent, a good story or a willingness to be paddled for someone else’s amusement.

While you certainly felt the love, you were more likely to be mocked than praised – though, in the end, people were laughing with you, not at you. And with less infrastructure, no outside services and far fewer theme camps, you were more vulnerable to the godforsaken and hostile moonscape of the Playa. If you were new, you made your mistakes, you listened to deliberately poor advice and sometimes you were hazed a little bit, but you learned. And old-timers could take comfort that you either learned how to Burn or learned to not come back.


Since then, fashions shifted and changed. The subjects of controversy and complaint, too. Everyone has gotten better and better at building camps, giving back, communicating and generally taking care of the logistics. One constant, however, is that among the anarchy, irreverence, hilarity, and beauty, there has always been some old-timer bitching about how it used to be, just like you all are being subjected to in these words right here. Of course, these old-timers had more time for bitching because after a decade or so of partying hard – and the partying was also more hardcore back then – they had realized they were made of flesh and blood: that their mind and body, in addition to needing to survive, was learning to enjoy the Burn in a calmer way.

Coming away from the event, I had no idea how to explain it to other people and I actually didn’t want to tell too many people about it – to avoid the damage of popularity and gentrification. But it was something. Something different. Something really out there, literally and metaphorically. It used to be a mystery.


Like I said, the three things that stuck out to me were the radical inclusion, self-reliance and self-expression. This week, I’d like to ruminate a little bit on the radical inclusion. One of the reasons I wanted to marry people on the Playa is that not everyone is included in the institution of marriage everywhere. Because they’re gay, or a non-binary gender, or in love with someone of the wrong religion, or want to marry multiple people, or want to be married just for the night, or want to marry themselves or whatever. To those people, I say: welcome to the Assless Chapel.


GROUP NEWS


I recently had two new people reach out to me. They both have tickets already. Both currently live in Vancouver, though one is Moroccan and the other Ukrainian. They’re both Burning Man virgins and would like to join the Assless Chapel. I’ve spoken to them and sent them information on the camp and made clear that we need people to man the theme camp. I’ll let you know if things start to get traction.


If we bring them on, then I will stop accepting new camp members until we have tickets, so that we can use those tickets to bring in some folks who can commit to build and break.


BLACK ROCK CITY NEWS


I attended another theme camp meeting this Saturday. There was a preview of the art. Be prepared for a really great art year!


Also, they will not be selling coffee this year. Apparently, there are plenty of theme camps that give it away. I know Tzvika will also insist on being equipped and supplied to make lots of Turkish coffee and I’ll bring an electric kettle and some instant coffee, too. I’ve always been opposed to them selling coffee. But I’m also opposed to most things.


Center Camp will look different without coffee. I was thinking maybe we can bring back Bums for Beer, which Tzvika, Yosi and I did one year. Basically, we stamp peoples’ asses and serve them good beer from a keg. We did it in our own neighborhood, which was cool, but it might be fun to do it in Center Camp where there used to be coffee.


PLACEMENT / TICKET NEWS


In addition to attending the meeting, I posted to a bunch of Facebook groups to generate buzz. I got a lot of responses and have meetings planned with potential newlyweds and potential musicians that may be willing to volunteer.


The placement team is putting a huge emphasis on diversity and sustainability. I will continue to make the diversity argument for our camp. It may not fit into the social justice prism of American conceptions of diversity, but it sure is diverse! In addition, I’m making our sustainability argument, including a commitment to purchase carbon offsets, which would be about $15 per person for our camp.


Please take the time to post about our camp to your regional Burning Man groups and, if you’re up for it, join the Hive. They have a feature called ‘This Is How We Hive’ that you can use to orient yourselves.


UPCOMING TASKS


I know you’re all itching to start planning. I’d ask that you focus on your individual planning for now. I promise that I am working on a master plan to get everything done in an organized way and hope to get it to you next week. Then the real work begins.


CLOSING THOUGHTS


I was thinking about the international nature of our camp a lot this week. Even more than that I’ve been thinking about the Temple Burn and what I plan to burn this year. It’s interesting how much meaning we humans find in burning things to ashes for ceremonial purposes. In a week or so, I’ll be lighting a fire for the obscure Jewish holiday of Lag Ba’Omer. It’ll be a small fire this year, but in years past I’ve, as I say “won Lag Ba’Omer.” I’m talking burning down trees worth of agricultural waste material, mostly branches. It’s gotten to the point that the local fire department knows that (a) there is, apparently, a Jewish holiday that requires setting giant fires in your front yard and (b) that I have a makeshift fire truck and am really good at making and controlling large fires.


Of course, there are other ways to go with this. Easter is not that far in the rear-view mirror and, in Jerusalem, there’s a really cool tradition among the Orthodox Christians of waiting for the Holy Fire to appear and then spreading it to thousands of candles and even flying with the descendant fires around the world to the great Orthodox churches. A week or two after Burning Man ends, the Maronites in Lebanon, not far from Jerusalem, will have bonfires for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. And pretty much every nation has their day they do some fire-type thing to celebrate.


But I’ve heard little about fire playing a role at weddings. So, how do we square that circle? Well, I was thinking – and I’d love to hear your thoughts – that a Playa wedding involves leaving something big behind. You have to leave behind any care for the things that keep you from including everything you want in a wedding in the default world. On the Playa your wedding is yours in every way. For those of you getting married, I hope we can put together the Playa wedding of your dreams and anything that doesn’t belong there can go into the fire – metaphorically or physically – to burn up and fly back into an endless sky to join back with the Default World.


On the subject of fire, I’ll leave you with this quote from Plutarch: “The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled.”


Remind yourself of that next time you can’t take your eyes off of your phone!



The Man burns in 115 days, 23 hours and 30 minutes or so.

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