We loaded the kids, our mammoth tent, and some food (and beer!) into the van last Thursday and headed off to the hills of North Carolina. We were ready to hit the third annual Wild Goose Festival.
We arrived at Hot Springs, NC to discover puddles, mud and —smiles. Hundreds of people setting up camp, giving directions, prepping stages and venues, setting up craft booths, plucking guitar strings, and more. Despite the deluge of rain the night before, and the forecasted rain (which did come), the Goose would go on.
After setting up camp, the kids discovered some friends they had met at the event last year, and my wife Christy and I headed off to our first event: A Darkwood Brew Unplugged conversation between the Darkwood Brewmaster himself, Eric Elnes, and writer and speaker Frank Schaeffer. The open conversation about the mysteries of faith, and the urgency of getting real about issues that affect our world reminded me that I was in the right place. “Certainty gets in the way of truth,” Frank would say more than once, to my internal amen. “When we’re certain about God, certain about what it means to be spiritual, certain about our theological and doctrinal systems, we close ourselves off from the larger spiritual truths that there are to be gained.”
He would go on to note that we grow by discovery, by being wrong, by re-thinking – and that this is true in nearly every facet of life. Can it be so different when it comes to God? About halfway through the session, Frank shared his own keys to living a meaningful life: “Create beauty, give love, and find peace.” Those gathered under the tent murmured and smiled in agreement. “If you do these three things — and I mean anyone, regardless of their religious affiliation or commitments— if you do these three things, you’ll look back and be content with how you lived your life. If you ignore these things, you’ll regret it.”
Create beauty. Give love. Find peace.
Before the session ended, my two youngest kids were growing restless and were ready for bed. We walked back to the tent as the sky darkened and rain threatened, passing many other festival-goers on the way. I rounded up our two oldest boys, who had been speeding through mud puddles on their bikes, and we all got ready for bed. The rain hit right after we all snuggled in our sleeping bags, which was exactly the time that the main musical act for the evening got started. Our tent was about thirty or forty yards from the main stage, and when Speech from Arrested Development began his show, the speakers were booming and the show was on. My three youngest passed out (thank you, God!) to the hip-hop beat, while my oldest son Henry and I enjoyed the show from the dryness of the tent, mildly envying those jumping up and down in the rain in the front row.
The show reached a fever pitch when he performed Arrested Development’s most well-known song, Tennessee:
Lord I’ve really been real stressed
Down and out, losin ground
Although I am black and proud
Problems got me pessimistic
Brothers and sisters keep messin up
Why does it have to be so damn tuff?
I don’t know where I can go
To let these ghosts out of my skull
My grandmas past, my brothers gone
I never at once felt so alone
I know you’re supposed to be my steering wheel
Not just my spare tire (home)
But Lord I ask you (home)
To be my guiding force and truth (home)
For some strange reason it had to be (home)
He guided me to Tennessee (home)
Take me to another place
Take me to another land
Make me forget all that hurts me
Let me understand your plan
The themes of this song and another hit, Mr. Wendal, about a homeless man, touched many of us as we saw the spiritual side of Speech, who would articulate more of his spiritual background and inspiration in an interview with Krista Tippett the next day.
Even as I went to bed early that night, the days to follow would include catching up with a number of friends, making plenty of new ones, and attending sessions on non-violence, the environment, racism, the arts, and much more. I’d get to hug and embrace former friends and congregants of the church I led for nearly seven years in Michigan.
We’d delight in the poetry (and grilling!) of Mike Stavlund, Michael Toy, and Troy Bronsink, I’d share with contemplative-minded folks the resources of the Shalem Institute, reconnect with Mark and Lisa Scandrette (who are as delightful as ever!), have a beer with Frank Schaeffer and Richard Cizik, a conversation with Brian McLaren in the rain, a walk in the sunshine with Phyllis Tickle, and—a definite highlight—I’d get to meet Krista Tippett and share just how much her show Speaking of Faith and now onBeing have meant to my own journey. Perhaps best of all would be seeing the smiles on my kids’ faces each day as they ran, biked, splashed, played and laughed, even—or perhaps especially—when covered in mud and rain.
Late nights would follow as I would run into Rich McCullen, Tripp Fuller, and Trey Pearson of Everyday Sunday late Friday night – and we’d laugh about music, sermons, and having one too many beers (in theory). Saturday night seemed to never end after the delightful experience of the Indigo Girls performing up close (this deserves a whole ‘nother post!), deep conversation (and a few hymns) over beers later with fellow pub theologians Kirk Berlenbach and Michael Camp, and I would even manage to sell a few copies of my book Pub Theology at the beer pavilion (somehow easier to sell the later the night went).
On this first early night, however, as I fell asleep to the sounds of Speech lighting up the crowd and filling up the night with his rhythm and rhymes, all this was yet to come—nearly two thousand of us gathered in the Carolina hills—ready to create beauty, find love, and give peace.
Now I see the importance of history
Why people be in the mess that they be
Many journeys to freedom made in vain
By brothers on the corner playin ghetto games
I ask you Lord why you enlightened me
Without the enlightenment of all my folks
He said cuz I set myself on a quest for truth
And he was there to quench my thirst
But I am still thirsty…
The rain continued to land softly on the tent, rolling off the rainfly like so much water off a goose’s back.
Bryan Berghoef writes and tweets from the nation’s capital, and is the author of Pub Theology: Beer, Conversation, and God. He insists that good things happen when we sit around the table together and talk about things that matter.