Sunday, August 1, 2010

Hard Rock Baptisms

Tim Kanelos was baptized at Union Reservoir with the roar of a hardcore band in the background.
During Saturday's Heaven Fest, a Christian music festival in Longmont, almost 40,000 people visited to hear pop, rock, indie hip hop and metal bands on 7 stages.
Kanelos came for the music, too. Then he saw the tent at the edge of the reservoir with one word stenciled on the side: "Baptism."
"I always wanted to get baptized in water. I already got baptized in the spirit, but it didn't affect me the way I wanted," he told me, still dripping from his dunk in the cold water. A line five people deep waited for their turn. "I feel like a more complete Christian, and Jesus was baptized this way."
Northern Hills Christian Church in Brighton, CO, started offering baptisms during the first Heaven Fest three years ago. Last year, baptism organizer Darlene Nelson said 59 people took up the church's offer. By the middle of the day Saturday, just halfway through the festival, 125 people had already taken the plunge.
Participants with piercings, tattoos and band t-shirts waited in line, nodding their heads in revenrence as they stepped into the water. After a pastor murmured a prayer and dunked them, most returned to shore with beaming smiles.
The loud music and huge crowds didn't bother Kanelos, who said the baptism was the important part, not the location.
"I was just trying to focus on the moment," he said.
While Kanelos toweled off, 12-year-old Mike McBridd stood in line for his turn. His mother, Erin McBridd, told me the family had talked about the possibility of him getting baptized, but it was Mike's idea to follow through at Heaven Fest.
"I just thought I'd get it over with, and today was a good day," he shrugged. "It's my first baptism."

The idea of getting baptized in a reservoir during a rock concert might sound weird, but I remember earning extra money as a lifeguard in high school by staying after hours so churches could baptize newly converted members in our community pool. There had to be a lifeguard on duty at all times while the pool was open, so my only job was to sit on the bench with a guard tube and watch the ceremony. It was awkward, but strangely touching.

Any readers out there have unique baptism stories? I'd love to hear it!

Image via Chicaco International Christian Church

My last 6 months? Mountain towns, meditation and Christian rock

I've been pretty busy these past few months! There has been tons to explore in the deeply weird and wonderful cross-sections of religion and pop culture.
In May, I visited Crestone, CO, a remote town in the Sangre de Cristo mountain range known for its ashrams, meditation retreats, convents and new age communities. In June, I tried out mindfulness meditation with some great folks in Boulder's Jewish Renewal community. In July, I even went to the Lady Gaga concert, where I got to see her controversial use of religious imagery firsthand. (More on that in a few.)
This past weekend, I spent time at Heaven Fest, a giant Christian music festival in Longmont, CO. Almost 40,000 people braved the 98 degree heat and rock out with Christian rock, hip hop, hardcore, folk and indie bands. You can see my preview on the festival here.
I'm back to blogging and I have plenty to share from my travels, so stop by again soon! You can always reach me at or follow me on Twitter.