Most of my friends know that I am a closet hippie. I have small gauge wooden earrings that I wear almost every day. I have long sun dresses that are all I wear in the summertime. I have the most beautiful watercolor tattoo ever that hasn’t yet escaped the recesses of my imagination for some odd reason. And I have come this close to getting dreads about a 36 times.
Maybe I need to come out of the closet completely and just embrace my hippie-ness. I think it’s really who I am. I have to ask myself why I am scared to completely be that person….but I should save that for another post.
This alter ego has been enhanced by my many years doing ministry at a large hippie gathering called the Rainbow Gathering. I have been going to the Gathering on and off for many years, and it is one of my favorite places in the world. It is a gathering of about 20,000 people in a different national forest every year that started in the early 70s, supposedly by a group of Jesus freaks.
But the gathering is not a Christian gathering…there are people from every faith you can imagine. The whole point of the gathering is to create a place of complete acceptance for everyone. There is no money exchanged, everything is bartered or gifted.
On the forth of July, all 20,000 people attempt to be silent until noon, praying for peace. Then there is an om around the peace pole after which everyone parties like crazy. There is a lot of nudity and drugs and such, but there is an even more abundant amount of love and a sincere search for meaning and spirituality.
Beautiful Fire Dancing
I have worked for years with a Christian kitchen called Bread of Life. We were one of the biggest kitchens at the gathering and fed thousands of people. The four older hippie couples that started our kitchen became like parents to me. Slowly, believing young people joined the kitchen and became my brothers and sisters. Six married couples came out of our kitchen in just about 10 years. (I guess it’s hard to find a marriable Christian hippie in normal life, so the gathering is the best place to find one!)
Many of those couples moved to Asheville, NC together because they were so like minded and it felt silly to be spread all over the country when they loved each other so much.
Bread of Life made free food for our Rainbow friends, we had wonderful times of worship, and we also had a prayer tent where we would ask God for words and pictures for people.
Here are a few highlights from the last few years.
1) The first time I led worship for all the Christian kitchens in the main meadow. A naked guy came and spit on the cross right in the middle of worship. Instead of freaking out, everyone started saying “bless you brother” and sharing testimonies of how God changed their hearts from hating religion to loving the real Jesus. Within a few songs, naked guy was amidst all of us, singing right along. I have heard he became a Christ follower afterwards, but I’m not sure if that is true.
2) The time this woman named Mama Love asked if their group could sing the first song during our corporate worship time in main meadow. I said of course! Then my papa Jody informed me that they were the leaders of a sex cult. Whoops! I didn’t know what to do and so we prayed and all of us felt like we were to let them sing. My friend said to me “only at a Rainbow Gathering would we be praying about whether a sex cult should open a worship service!” After they opened the service, they were so blessed that we allowed them to be a part of it that it opened a door for my papa Chuck to talk to them about why their beliefs weren’t biblical. They were convicted and ended up leaving the cult after being in it since the 70’s! (Incidentally, my song Wait On the Lord which was on Enter the Worship Circle was inspired by the song that they sang at the beginning of the worship service…)
3) Another worship circle at main meadow in which Grandpa Woodstock, a very strung out rail thin loveable old man who has been coming to the gathering for decades, put a pedestal in the middle of the circle, stood on it, and held up a peace sign. Thankfully, he was not naked that day, as he usually was. He was wearing a Santa Claus coat with a painting of him naked on the back of it. I wasn’t sure what to do, but we just happened to be singing “Pour out your love oh Lord, on your people….let it rain!” and I started singing “Pour out your love oh Lord, on Grandpa Woodstock….let it rain!” Everyone sang along at the top of their lungs. He was blissed out and practically crying and told me later that was the most loved he had felt in a long time.
4) Countless times in the prayer tent in which the words we got for people were so specific that they would say “how could you POSSIBLY know that?!” Many of them crying and crying.
5)By far the most beautiful memory, my dear precious brother Will, who was a Shauman at the time, having a radical encounter with God, getting baptized in a homemade stick-and-tarp baptismal, and having his life transformed. He has been a strong believer ever since then.
6) The next most beautiful memory ever, which was when Will and his bride Marie got MARRIED at a gathering two years after Will became a Christ follower. Our kitchen gave them a wedding. They spent like $40 on a unity candle and fabric for what they wore and we did absolutely everything else; bagpipes, hand drums, irish flutes, flower arches, flower crowns, cakes, middle eastern food, songs written for the wedding,sage crosses that hung from Marie’s wrist, hoopas- all of this was our gift to them and it was the most beautiful wedding I have ever been a part of. Never mind that I had to walk my dad past naked mud wrestling in the woods and there was some random hippie going right up to them to take pictures. It was still ridiculously beautiful.
7) Having “Christmas in July” in which my papa Jody put on a Santa outfit and yelled “Merry Christmas” everywhere he went. People streamed in…we made a nice dinner, everyone sang Christmas carols, and they listened intently as a message about the incarnation and Gospel was given in non Christiany language . We lit candles and sang silent night, then we passed out Josh Garrels CDs wrapped in ribbon that Josh had sent me on a whim to be used at the gathering that year. (Thank you Josh!) Several people said it was better than their real Christmas. When asked why, they would say “I was alone on my real Christmas.”
This takes me to this year’s gathering. Bread of Life stopped going to the gathering a few years for a number of reasons, and I stopped going as well. You might have seen my post last year in which I mourned it being over. Well, this year I was singing with some friends outside on Easter morning, and I realized that I just had to go back. And I am so glad I did.
Why did I go back? Not just because I wanted to do “ministry” or have some fun times singing or get myself a hippie husband. I wanted to go back because I am a part of the Rainbow Family. Something morphed over the years, and instead of Rainbows being the target of my “ministry,” some kind of project that I had to conquer, they became my brothers and sisters. I went from being an outsider who was trying to “save” people with a very judgemental attitude, to realizing that I was a part of this beautiful family. I have a deep understanding of a Creator who deeply loves them, who gave his life for them, something I want to help them understand more than anything in the world. But I have the attitude of doing that as an insider, rather than as a missionary. They are no longer projects to me, they are my people.
I was the second act of the year at the outdoor “G-Funk” theatre. I led everyone in my song Hush Child, which I wrote while working with the Rainbow Family to help victims of Hurricane Katrina.
One of the most beautiful encounters I had this year was working with my friend who is kind of an incognito hippie missionary that ministers at lots of festivals. He speaks in the most beautiful, non Christiany language to pray with people and show them how loved they are by the Creator. Let’s call him Jordan. We had a blanket set up at trade circle with a sign that said “Spiritual Readings.” A guy named Raven came along and asked what we wanted in exchange for a reading. We told him it was free, and we asked him to open himself to God as we prayed for him. After a time of silence, I gave him the verse “Can a mother forget her baby and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See I have engraved you on the palms of my hands,” which is found in Isaiah 49:15.
I said “I think that you have some major issues with your mom. That she has really hurt you and that the Creator wants to heal that hurt.” He started weeping almost uncontrollably. “My mom is crazy,she’s bipolar.” He said “She tried to kill me when I was younger.” We talked him through God healing that place in him. Then he showed us his hands. In the lines of his hands were crosses, which is very uncommon. God had written the name Raven on his own hands, and then he had put crosses on Raven’s hands. He recognized that.
Jordan then asked Raven if it would be ok for me to stand in the place of his mother. Through tears he said yes. I took his hands, looked him in the eyes and said “will you forgive me for not treating you like a son? For trying to kill you? For not believing in you? ” I was crying, he was crying. “Yes, I forgive you.” “Can you believe that underneath it all, I really do love you? That my illness is stopping you from hearing that, but I really do love you?” “Yes.” Then I gave him a mother’s blessing.
He had said earlier in the conversation”No amount of acid can erase this pain.” So Jordan said to him “Acid can’t erase the pain, but I know someone who can…Jeshua. Religion might have messed it up for you, but underneath he is the answer.”
It was so beautiful.
Raven is not a drug using “sinner” that needs to be judged. Nor is he some kind of salvation project. Nor is he the giver of a story that would inspire people to give me money on my next ministry trip. He is a broken man who has been deeply wounded. He is a beautiful man who needs to know about a Creator Father who loves him. He is someone that can learn from me, someone that I can learn from.
He is my brother.
Every year, I love these people deeper and deeper. I want to learn from them. But I also want to share the joy of the love that I have found: the love of a Father who deeply loves the poorest, the dirtiest, the drunkest, the most strung out. By loving them, I learn how deep my Father’s love is for them, and also for me.
I want to share with them the hope found in the the deepest love story, the love story from which all the other love stories flow. The story a God that would give up everything just so he could bend down and be close to us, dirty and dreadlocked and profane and scared as we are.
Lord, help me know how to display this story every day. By loving unconditionally, with everything in me, just like you do.