Wednesday, August 14, 2013

the wild goose after party

"now, what kind of festival are you going to?  and what is this wild goose thing, anyway?"

i must confess that rather than to try to explain exactly what the wild goose was to friends and family of a different theological expression, i sent them to the festival website.  i'm not to afraid to have theological discussions with those whom i do not see eye to eye, i'm just tired of having them.  on the wild goose website there are catchy tag-lines about the intersection of spirituality and justice, however this does not translate to the folk at home who think spirituality is new age, or that justice is something that is done by a judge with a gavel.

i'm not alone in my quandary regarding how to explain my alternative religious lifestyle and related experiences. i had conversations with many people within the wild goose community who are struggling about how to explain this movement, and, even more, wondering how they can carry the spirit to their people at home and proclaim it. 97.24% of the individuals i met at wild goose 13 have some sort of denominational affiliation, and happily so.  i did not meet anyone who was like," yeah, i'm here this weekend to decide whether or not i'm leaving my church." what i did encounter were lots of people asking  how questions  in those woods by the french broad river.  "how do i share this with my family and friends? how do i engage in this kind of work when i'm back home? how do i use this brand of theology to reconcile my relationships? how come i have to pee every five minutes?" (actually, this last one was my question and the answer came to me at 3am one morning when i awoke in my soggy tent to the sound of the river and realized i had never spent so much time in the presence of running water and RAIN.)

seriously though, so many questions that began with this how...

now, i am a "why" person.  i remember reading in a a book by donald miller a few years ago about how it was easier to be a how person than it was to be a why person.  being a how person is easy.  they spend their happy existences wondering things like "how am i going to get paid?" or the equally important  "how am i going to get laid?"  to be a why person is much more complicated.  why people question the purpose of the universe, themselves, and related intrinsic processes.  but what happens when why people get around to being how people? and eventually, i would like to posit, it happens to the best of us why-ers.  especially when we want to know how to share something as profound as the wild goose movement with with those we love as well as those who, theologically, annoy the hell out of us.

one of the more intriguing how conversations i had last weekend was with a guy named j.  j is a 2nd year divinity student who studies at a university far north of north carolina.  he and some of his traveling companions were part of the supper group that formed in my camping location next to the river.  j and i talked about great seminary-esque topics like kathryn tanner, and atonement theories, but the most constructive conversation had more to do with the aspect of what next, a variation of  this how thing.  as this was my first time at the wild goose festival, i am not privy to things that have happened at past events beyond videos and writings by various speakers.  but now, having attended a goose, i have to say that while the speakers and the music are incredible they are not the most generative aspect of this gathering.  the most generative aspect of this gathering are the hundreds of conversations that happen around campfires, in the sharing of group meals with people who were strangers less than 24 hours before, and ideas exchanged between volunteers as they serve the children of the festival in the kid's tent. back to the how do i carry this home and my conversation with j...j wondered, "as this movement grows, when will it become appropriate to become self-critiquing?"

wait. what? we're all having such a good time and you want to self-critique?

* * *

i was a participant in several conversations where i learned in some way, or another, about how people had been wounded by the denominations of their childhood, and for some, denominations of which they were still members.  they were critical, and rightfully so.  a few times during the festival i told my own stories about how when i was 16 years old one of the ministers of the fundamentalist church where my family were members tried to cast a demon out of me (um, it didn't work), and about how i was "asked to leave" the private bible college of the same denomination for certain sins that were committed with a partner of the opposite sex who was allowed to stay and finish his degree.  i did my share of eye rolling, face palming, and #SMH-ing in reaction to stories i heard about infractions committed by conservatives, fundamentalists, and crazies. i heard myself offer words like "wow, i hope you can find some healing and experience reconciliation." now, maybe this makes me sound like i am wise and super jesus-y, but now that i am at home and i have had time to reflect upon my experiences at the goose, i realize my words are hypocritical.  you see, i am guilty of making people, those who so differ from myself, politically and theologically, the other.  even though i treasure the wild goose festival for the beautiful, safe space that it is, and  my spirit was soaring even though my tent was flooded and i was slogging everywhere through the mud, it took coming home to figure out what j meant when he talked about self-critiquing. and for me, it means that i have to examine myself and decide whether or not i want to keep cloistering myself behind books by progressive theologians or make attempts at conversation and communion with the other side.

so, my personal how is not just about sharing with my people back home what the wild goose festival is all about. my how question is how do i keep this same brand of wild goose freedom when i enter into those spaces where i share air and break bread with the people who think my following this particular path toward god is akin to a trick of the devil? how do i share the spirit of the goose with those that have made themselves the "other" to me, and with those whom i have made the "other"? participating in marches and protests for equality and social justice in the name of christ is the easy part. harder to do is figuring out how to engage in reconciliation with those, who because we see the mission of the church and the person of jesus very differently, there have been harsh words, separation, and alienation?

i need to find some sort of balance.  there has to be some middle ground that can be found that honors the prophetic words spoken at the wild goose festival by the rev. dr. william barber who said, "speak so the haters will know they hate" and the civil, interfaith dialogue that i witnessed between brian mclaren, ani zonneveld, and stuart davis; a christian, a progressive muslim, and a zen buddhist.  for me this will take place by becoming, once again, engaged with individuals from whom i have removed myself, with boundaries of course.  the most fantastic thing about the wild goose festival, like i said, is not the planned venue events, but the spontaneous community that comes in shared food, drink, and conversation. but, similar to the frequent critiques i have made of my theologically other brothers and sister regarding their tendency to cloister themselves inside gated, conservative communities, i know that i am just as guilty.  i do not actively seek out communion with those that i do not share the same set of beliefs.

as i looked around the campground, the festival attendees, and the crunchy little town that is hot springs, nc, i was thinking that this is what the kingdom of god looks like.  but, unless i, and maybe i can even say "we", are willing to go off the proverbial reservation, we are in danger of becoming nothing more than a community hiding behind that proverbial gate, hanging out in our own country club, with our own set of rules for membership. this thing, this movement, is too good not to be shared.  just like the communal meals and spontaneous dance parties that happened at wild goose, we need to actively invite the theological other to eat and drink and pick up glow sticks and dance.