“Do you use cannabis?” This is a question I have never been asked.
Except at Burning Man.
Burning Man has a gift-giving economy – not bartering, rather, gifts freely given and freely received. You might be riding your bike, then turn a corner and be greeted by someone in the street asking: “Do you want an omelet?” ”May I give you a massage? Even: “Hungry for a strap-on corn dog?”
The question is always part of a loving exchange, a request for connection, or communion.
As I was tearing down my camp after Burning Man 2017 a tall, thin, young white man with long blonde hair came by and asked if he could borrow my rake. We rake our campsites to make sure we aren’t leaving behind MOOP (Matter Out of Place). The rake sifts through the dusty dust and reveals tiny pieces of trash. I had forgotten my rake so I couldn’t help him, but we ended up having one of those chance conversations that make Burning Man so special.
He asked, “How will you be different when you go back to the Default World? How has this Burn impacted you?” I was moved by the depth and sincerity of his questions, and after answering them, I offered him my gift, the Burning Man Blessing.
“May I bless you?” He said yes.
I placed my hands on his shoulders, looked in his eyes and said, “The world now is too dangerous, and too beautiful, for anything but love.” Then I blessed his eyes, ears, mouth, hands and feet – kissing his feet. I placed my hand firmly on his chest and said, “And may your heart be so opened, so set on fire that your love, YOUR LOVE, changes everything.” His eyes welled with tears.
We hugged. He sobbed.
Then he asked me The Question,
“Do you use cannabis?”
“No,” I replied.
“That’s cool,” he said, “I had a gift for you, but that’s cool.”
I was taught by one of my first mentors to never refuse a gift, “If you refuse a gift, you refuse the giver.” But there are some gifts I can’t accept.
We parted ways. I tore down more of my camp and then took a break to explore more of the Playa – the dry alkalai lakebed that houses Burning Man.
Hours later when I was back at camp the man returned. He was eager to see me. He pointed to the banner on my shade structure bearing the name of my camp, Religious as Fuck, and asked,
“Is that true, are you religious?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact I am, I am a Christian.”
A big smile crossed his face as he exclaimed, “Wow, you just restored my faith in religion!”
And then he went on his way.
This man was eager to ask his question. I could tell he was hoping the answer was going to be yes . So many people have had bad experiences with religion, but haven’t given up hope—they yearn for the church to look like Jesus: loving, welcoming and compassionate. All it took was acceptance and a blessing.
Sometimes it is that simple .
— Brian Baker
After the 2017 Burn