So, the family loaded in the van last week and headed for the hills (literally!) of North Carolina to attend the Wild Goose Festival.
What is the Wild Goose Festival? New friend Milton described it this way:
“The festival [titled after a metaphor for Celtic Christianity] is self-described as one of spirituality, justice, music, and art. People came and camped in the woods and sang and talked and ate and looked for ways to connect. To me it felt like a cross between Woodstock and church youth camp. When I looked out over the field of participants, in most any direction I saw people who didn’t look like “church folks” who were lost in wonder, love, and grace. For these four days, they got to feel understood. “Normal.” None of us was asked to do more than be ourselves and welcome one another.
And it was good.”
Someone else called it: “A Sacred and Safe Space.” I agree. We arrived in Shakori Hills with a loaded up van, drove down a dusty road under a home-made banner with a painted bird figure and the lettering for ‘Wild Goose’.
The welcome booth was a wooden shack with scenes from Where the Wild Things Are painted on it.
We set up our tent right in the center of activity – between a smaller tent venue labeled ‘Return’, and the main stage for the festival. The theme of the festival was “Exile and Return”, so speaking/music event venues were named accordingly: Shadow, Exile, Return, and so on.
We didn’t know what to expect, other than that we loved the concept, and were excited about some of the speakers and musicians slated to be there.
Let me tell you, this was a festival!
From the first talk we attended on Thursday afternoon — Tom Sine on co-living, intentional communities, and sustainability: “It is essential that we help people reimagine new ways to live. We need to discover creative, celebrative, simple ways of life that are more imaginative than the American Dream and cost less money. And we need to do it together, in community” — to the final song by Gungor, “God makes beautiful things, he makes beautiful things out of dust. God makes beautiful things, he makes beautiful things out of us,” we had an incredible time. It was a time to imagine again what God longs for us and our world.
We met people from Pittsburgh, San Francisco, New York, Texas, Atlanta, Illinois, DC, and all over the country who are hungry for a new form of faith.
We heard Phyllis Tickle review the history of the church from Constantine and the fateful Edict of Milan to today, and the impact of the birth control pill on the future of the faith. She noted that it is time to “return to the tent” — in other words, the place of the family and the home, where the stories of faith are told, shared, and lived out before the children and the next generation. We heard Jim Wallis remind us that in the Capital power is the means and power is the ends, but that God’s way is powerlessness. We heard Brian McLaren encourage us to engage those of other faiths while holding to our own with integrity (Pub Theology, anyone?). We heard Dave Andrews, a community organizer from Australia encourage us to seek centered-set communities rather than closed-set communities. He noted: “When we don’t trust the Spirit’s presence and leading, we create [unwittingly] all kinds of programs and plans and so on that actually become manipulative and oppressive.” He reminded us that wherever we are going to serve and work we have to remember that God is already there — in that people we meet already are imbued with the image of God, and the Spirit is there ahead of us. He also reminded that it is not so much we who bring Jesus, but that in fact, as we serve, we find that we are serving Jesus himself.
We heard great music from local artists as well as Over the Rhine, David Crowder, Gungor, Vince Anderson — Joey and the boys danced and played as the music filtered over us.
We wandered around and got to chat with Pete Rollins, Mark Scandrette, Phyllis Tickle, Lisa Sharon-Harper from Sojourners. Had coffee with Brian McLaren and we mused together about our new adventure in Washington DC. It really was as Frank Schaeffer noted in his own recap, Wild Goose Our Answer to Hate, in the Huffington Post:
“The names of the speakers added up to a “draw” along with the big name musical performers. But the heart of the festival wasn’t in the events but in the conversations.
For me the highlight of the festival was the fact that there was no wall of separation between us speakers and performers and everyone there. I spent 4 days talking with lots of people from all over America and other places too, about ideas but also about very personal subjects. I met Ramona who was the cook at the Indian food stand and found she is ill and has no health insurance and I was able to connect her with a friend who knew a friend at the WG fest locally to help her get the full checkup she needs. I could do that because the festival was full of the sort of people who help, love and care so for once there was someone to call.”
The list of great things we experienced is hard for me to completely recall, there were so many things:
» Watched the first public reading of Pete Rollins’ new play before it shows in New York.
» Met a guy named Michael Camp, who just wrote a book about how his own faith and life was shaped by conversations at the pub: Confessions of a Bible Thumper: My Homebrewed Quest for a Reasoned Faith. He was interested to hear about my own book on Pub Theology.
» Talked with Milton, a local UCC pastor who is teaching people about the importance of meal and eating together, and how all breaking of bread in some way embodies and reflects the meal we gather around as sacrament.
» Celebrated with friend Phil Snider, fellow Wipf and Stock author, over the publishing of our new books. By the way, check his out: Preaching After God: Derrida, Caputo, and the Language of Postmodern Homiletics.
Was it all perfect? No. It was hot! There were ticks. There were a couple of long nights getting the kids to bed. Some sessions didn’t connect like I had hoped. But in all, it did not disappoint.
Those concerns were minor as we heartily sang hymns while sipping pints of local microbrew during a “Beer and Hymns” session, voices rising with verve (out of tune) with the accompaniment of a tattooed keyboardist.
I met Sean, the owner of Fullsteam Brewery in Durham, NC, after a session entitled: “The Theology of Beer,” which noted the importance of creation, place and celebration in a community, and how a good brewery can be at the heart of community life. I shared our own experiences at Right Brain and he thought that was pretty cool.
The kids attended sessions where they made play-doh, created crafts, played games, and learned fun new songs: “I’m being eaten by a boa constrictor—and I don’t like it very much!”
We fell asleep each night, with our tent a stone’s throw from the main stage, to late night concerts and the sounds of celebration and conversation, music and singing.
In all, it was a total blast, and we imagined—as we joined the parade the final day, singing with faces painted, “When the Saints Go Marching In”—that when the Kingdom comes in its fullness, we’ve already had a taste.