Buskerfest 2013 was underway tonight in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Virtually any kind of street performer you could think of was represented, and people roamed the free event at will, dropping a dollar in an artist’s tip jar if they were pleased, walking on by if they were not. The audience was quite diverse, and seemed to represent a good cross section of age and ethnicity in our city. The occasional spurts of light rain kept it cool if damp; overall, people looked amused. Our granddaughter was enthralled.
But my husband and I were disappointed.
You see, it was a sadly sanitized event. Not that it was squeaky clean…there were provocatively-clad belly dancers. There was plenty of goth dress, with abundant piercings and tattoos–among the performers and the audience members.
But there were no Christian performers that I could see or hear. Also no Jewish or Muslim ones. Faith and religion apparently had no place at the festival.
The audience arrived on foot from every direction, many with children in tow, a few walking their dogs. Some pushed strollers, even wheelchairs. As we got closer to the orange-barricaded block, we could hear music coming from several different directions. Swirls of color caught the eye: a garish clown made balloon animals; white-faced mimes raised gloved hands in greeting; a silver-skinned “living statue” did a robotic dance; another in neon green would move, then stop, then move some more, drawing the crowd with him. There were jugglers, miscellaneous guitar players, a string quartet, break-dancers. Two different tables sported signs and offered literature from an organization called “Food Not Bombs.net”. There were face painters, henna tattoo painters, and vendors of jewelry.
A friend of ours had registered to perform. He is an excellent spoken-word artist whose free-style, almost rap-like, poetry is strongly Christocentric. He borrowed a crate to use as his “soap box” and had a sandwich board made. On one side it read, “Thank you for not stoning me”, which I thought was rather amusing. The other side asked simply, “What do you think about Jesus Christ?”
By the time we arrived, he wore no signs.
He’d been asked to take them off.
So much for free speech.
With no visuals to draw a crowd, and without his own portable sound system, he looked discouraged. He’d just finished a poem, and after talking with us for a moment, he moved his crate over against a nearby building. I don’t know whether he performed any more, since it started raining harder and we headed back to our car.
I’ve since looked at the registration form and combed the website for any guidelines which would have tipped our friend off that he wasn’t going to be welcome. “No performance too quirky” was one of the slogans for this year–no disclaimers were listed, e.g., “religious performers excepted…they’re beyond quirky.”
Since this event was sponsored by our city’s “Downtown Improvement District” perhaps they were squeamish about seeming to sanction an overtly Christian performer. Sounds like yet another failure to understand the difference between allowing and endorsing.
If the sign had said something really incendiary, like “Jesus is the only way to heaven” (see John 14:6)…then I might be able to understand the attitude that resulted in our friend losing his signs. But even then, he was simply expressing his opinion…and as Bill Whittle pointed out in a recent Mr. Virtual President video–see it in JTR’s post here—
“You don’t have a right not to be offended in this country.”
I know that religious persecution is going to get worse. And I know that Jesus said we should be glad when we are mistreated for His sake:
God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.
But in a culture where the powers-that-be seem bound and determined to prevent substantive conversations from even starting, where for fear of offending someone our freedom of expression is taken away…
we all lose.