|Ichthys atop an SUV at |
the Creation 2012 campgrounds
The drive to Agape Farm Center took me across southern Pennsylvania's lush landscape of rolling hills, forests, and farmland. When I arrived at the Creation 2012 entrance, I was asked to fill out a waiver form with my name, address, and telephone number, the first time I've ever had to do so to attend a festival. Once inside, the first things I saw were thousands of tents, RVs and buses surrounding the festival grounds. Thousands of people had camped out on-site to enjoy the three-day festival, and visitors had to navigate around the tent city to reach the festivities. Teens were splashing in one of Agape's streams, while families were grilling their lunches and trying to stay cool.
|Baptisms in the Agape Farm pond|
Housed within several barns were merchants and nonprofit groups. To escape the oppressive heat, I walked through the shady barns, where vendors, Christian colleges, and nonprofits drew attendees to their tables. The vendors were a cross-section of Christian life, representing both conservative and progressive Christians.
On one hand, Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation manned a table, displaying plastic fetus models, anti-abortion buttons, stickers, and other wares. A bookstore sold inspirational and ministry-related books alongside works such as Ray Comfort's Intelligent Design Vs. Evolution and Ravi Zacharias' The Lamb and the Fuhrer. A button merchant sold buttons with anime characters, kittens, pro-Christian slogans, and messages such as "Even Darwin Believes Now" and "Don't put a question mark where God put a period." An honor-system table shared bumper stickers with slogans such as "When schools had prayer & Bibles, they had no drugs," "Evolution: when "scientists" made monkeys of themselves," "Stay-at-home moms rule the world," and "Abstinence pays: who wants genital warts?". Yikes.
On the other hand, I was relieved to see many organizations at Creation 2012 devoted to social justice and global aid. Among the tables were organizations such as CURE (a medical aid organization that provides surgery to disabled children), Abolition International (an anti-trafficking organization), USA Cares (a nonprofit that assists returning veterans), Back to the Roots (a fair trade company with anti-trafficking and anti-poverty initiatives), and many more. Fortunately, such social justice organizations far outnumbered right-wing groups in the barns, to my surprise and relief.
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|Trailer on Agape Farm campgrounds|
One of the many speakers at Creation 2012 was Tony Nolan. Nolan, the founder of TNT Ministries, shared his life story with SBC Life in 2006. He is the author of several inspirational books, including Hurt Healer and Faith Fuel. While wandering around the TNT Ministries website, I was amused by the opening lines of his recent book, GASP!: "Tragically, most of our loved ones are going to hell. GASP! is a book that can help change their eternity." (See www[dot]tonynolan[dot]org)
I attended a 2 p.m. talk by Tony Nolan entitled "God >Satan" in one of the forest clearings. Under the forest canopy, Nolan spoke from a small wooden platform to hundreds of listeners. Nolan used many of the preaching techniques I've observed with other evangelical preachers, such as using a booming voice, exuding energy, and encouraging the audience to repeat certain words. For example, Nolan stressed that God is greater than Satan, and to drive the point home, he asked the audience to shout "DUH" in unison.
Nolan's talk centered on how people's fixation on prior mistakes can blind them to God's power. He recounted the story of Isaiah's face-to-face encounter with God in Isaiah 6, in which Isaiah felt unworthy to behold God because he had "unclean lips." One of the seraphim cleaned Isaiah's lips with a hot coal, and Isaiah later received a commission from God himself. Nolan used the story as a metaphor for how some people obsess over past mistakes and forget that God wants to deliver them. Just as Isaiah did not run from his awesome and terrifying vision of the divine, so too must Christians not run from what God wants to do in their lives, Nolan insisted. Christians must not run from God's plan, he said, even if it appears strange or potentially harmful. God is "shrouded" in life events that seem mysterious, painful, or ready to hurt us, he explained.
While I agreed with Nolan's main premise -- that we should not let the past paralyze us -- I took issue with his claim that the divine plan may manifest in events that appear harmful or painful. I worry that this kind of attitude may prevent some people from withdrawing from unhealthy or dangerous situations in their lives. Sometimes, pain and alarm are our mind's way of urging us to exit a bad situation, and should not necessarily be ignored.
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I attended Creation 2012 to see what, if any, Religious Right themes might be apparent at a Christian music festival. Although the barns featured tables from two anti-abortion groups, and some of the vendors sold right-wing wares, I did not detect a strong Religious Right presence at the event. The organizations and speakers at Creation did not focus on hot-button social issues or politics, at least not during my time there. Rather, the event seemed to focus on bringing Christians together, strengthening their faith, and alerting them to a wide variety of social justice issues (i.e., poverty, trafficking, HIV). Because I only spent a few hours at Creation, I did not have a chance to take in many talks or musical performances, so I may have missed other content. Still, Creation did not strike me as sinister, but rather as welcoming and pleasant.
For more information on the Creation festivals, visit www[dot]creationfest[dot]com/
To read additional commentary, visit the following links. (Hat tip to Buffy.)
Buzzfeed: 56 Things I Learned at the Biggest Christian Music Festival in the World
Buzzfeed: The Ultimate Creation Fest Fashion Guide (I saw the lady with the vertical ponytail with my own eyes!)