april 20th at university of colorado (boulder)

I wasn’t sure I should blog about Tuesday’s afternoon exploration. I’m cognizant of the fact that on any given day, it could be someone’s first day here at the blog… and this may be an interesting first impression.

But my attempts to learn the field of college ministry mean that sometimes it’s right and good for me to observe the darkness on our world’s campuses. That darkness is not the only or even the main reason for college ministry (and plenty of Christians need to realize that). But it is ONE reason for missions to the campus tribes.

Early on my yearlong road trip, I learned about a particularly pungent campus celebration of debauchery, Brown University’s “Sex. Power. God.” on-campus semi-orgy (that links to my post about it). Blue Like Jazz filled the world in on another, Reed College’s Renn Fayre (that links to Wikipedia). And yesterday, I saw another: CU Boulder’s 4/20 pro-marijuana gathering.

And lest there be any doubt: I did not partake.

the crowd on the outskirts of the field near where I was standing

As you may know, “420” is code within the Pot Culture for marijuana. So the ideal of smoking pot each year on 4/20 at 4:20pm is a sort of liturgy, you might say, for devotees. At the University of Colorado, a tradition has grown of doing just that, and many thousands gather to participate. Though the Buffalo tribe isn’t the only location to hold such an event (and get away with it), it seems to be one of the better-known pro-marijuana gatherings, which are (perhaps rather loosely) connected to the drive to legalize marijuana.

Please understand: I am in no way celebrating this crazy event. But since I can be your eyes and ears among the campus tribes, I’m glad to share what I experienced Tuesday (in brief; you can ask questions if you want to know more).

While I had assumed the gathering at CU would mostly organize around the 4:20pm moment, people were already gathering at the site by 2pm (and perhaps much earlier). That site is Norlin Quad, the largest “green space” at CU. (It does provide a great “center of campus” spot; I really appreciate such spaces in my campus visits.)

I had heard – but perhaps I misunderstood – that police line the edges of the field, but that certainly wasn’t the case. What appeared to be a mixed force of several dozen police and hired Event Staff instead dotted the campus. Mostly they were concentrated around the field, but I saw others at different locations – including some seeming to sweep a building near the field, perhaps making sure that the pot smoking was limited to external areas.

I forgot to note that as I drove to campus, I met my only obstacle. A staffperson was dialoguing with each of us as we drove onto campus. However, I was only asked for the purpose of my visit to campus; when I replied that I was visiting campus, that seemed to suffice. (It’s possible they were there simply to emphasize that “someone is watching” – potentially quite psychologically effective as people descended on campus. It might also provide some sort of legal defense.)

I expected a similar consultation on the way out, since driving under the influence would be hazardous to both CU’s students and their legal fund. But no such luck.

my view at 4:20pm

The gathering was certainly not only collegiate. Many of the participants appeared to be high school age. Many others… have probably been smoking marijuana longer than the CU students have been alive. Another segment of the rally population that’s important to mention are the countless bystanders, who seemed (like me) simply there to observe. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if for many locals and students this is the one day of the year in which they do partake in the drug. There was much sharing; the adult cameraman next to me certainly offered me some product.

That leads me to an interesting turn in my observations. My cameraman buddy made an interesting comment while we were observing from the edge of the field. He reflected that the environment before us was wonderfully “chill,” that “this is the way it should be.”  He clearly saw in this event a reflection of the peace, fun, fellowship, relaxation, and unity that he envisions in a “perfect world.”

I saw plenty of creativity, too, which is notable and important even when directed toward darkness.

What do I occasionally hear from people wiser than me? That sin is fulfilling legitimate desires in illegitimate ways? I don’t think it’s unwise for us to notice the capability, the genius, the hopes, and the passion of the campus tribes – even when we have to observe those things through the haze (figuratively or literally).

In any case, I certainly learned more in those few hours about Pot Culture (and pot odor) than this sheltered fellow had ever learned before. And I prayed. I cringed. I watched. I hoped. I wondered how we reach into this version of the darkness.

And then I Febrezed, scrubbed, shampooed, and stuck my poor Dartmouth T-shirt in an ice chest.

Road Trip 14 recap, Days 6 & 7 (click here to see all explorations so far)
new campuses:
Front Range Community College – Westminster Campus (#9)
last 2 days:
including the weird exploration described in this post, Tuesday was one of the “largest” days I’ve had in my many explorations – with a phenomenal time with the Cru Regional Team and experiencing The Annex church-based ministry. Wednesday was finally a day for some (very much needed) rest, as well as a couple of more cool encounters.
Chapel at Colorado Christian University, and more!


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  1. We had our own shindig here in SF right around the corner from my house … not on a college campus though. And when I say “we,” I mean the community. I didn’t partake either :p

    Good observations.

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