Bonnaroo, the Church, and a lesson in community

I learned a lot this summer. I learned a lot about myself, and more importantly, I learned a lot about other people. I spent time with friends and family amidst a fairly relaxed work schedule. In the conversations that I had over my summer break I heard from the hearts of close friends and was able to connect in a way that was very refreshing.

One topic that continued to present itself over the course of many of these conversations was the Church and the great discontent that had accompanied many friends attempting to enter in to a church community. Many different matters arose, from preferences of worship styles to denominational grievances to relating to people within the church.

Often these exchanges ended inconclusively and without satisfaction, which many times had to do with individuals, including myself, being more than willing to point out faults in other people, not being willing to recognize their own, and in turn having great difficulty connecting as part of a church community.

And then I went to Bonnaroo.

Bonnaroo Arts and Music Festival takes place each June in the blazing sun of Manchester, Tenn., located about 50 miles south of Nashville.

I went to the event expecting to experience incredible music all day long, be a part of a vast artistic atmosphere and have an incredible time with my dear friend, but what I ended up receiving from the four-day festival was so much more than that.

One of the first things that we noticed upon arrival was an incredibly congenial attitude from people all over the festival. Within the first few minutes of setting up camp there were neighboring tents offering to assist with setup, borrowing tools, and making sure that we all had adequate protection from the intense sun. This sense of amicable relation continued throughout the weekend.

As time went on and we were part of incredible musical experiences, we began to notice that everyone was in this together. The friendliness was overwhelming: people offering water, a good laugh and a fair amount of highly psychedelic drugs.

The more time we spent with people, the more water we shared and the more drugs we refused, the more we came to learn that the way that people live here is in community. There is something very unifying about Bonnaroo. There is an element of commonality and harmony, and I believe that after the summer of questioning frustrations with the Church and with other Christians, this brought a sense of resolution to my heart.

We found over the course of these four days that we would meet people with fresh slates; they didn’t know us and we didn’t know them. As we became aquainted with people from all different walks of life, we began to realize that nothing else mattered except the music, the art and the people.

No matter how different opinions were about artists or events, it was always amicable. It was refreshing because it was real.

Bonnaroo made me understand community. It’s not about what we do wrong. I am as much of a wretch as the next person, but it’s not about that; we had music, art and film. We had each other and that was enough for everyone.

I’ve learned that instead of focusing on how irritated I am by someone, or how empty I am left by a worship style or doctrine, I can be content with what I have in common with other people who follow the same living Christ as I do.

Community is real. It happens. It’s flesh and blood, and it’s time to learn to love it.

Bonnaroo is not the Church, but it taught me a lot about what the Church has the potential to be: loving, open and caring people who have the same passion and take time to celebrate that passion.

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