Top 10 Things I Learned From the Wild Goose
1) Tune in. Log off. Let go.
Darting fireflies supplied most of the light that pierced the rural darkness when I arrived at the Wild Goose Festival site on a farm in Shakori Hills, N.C., late last Wednesday night. I left my ballast — a huge duffel bag containing a pup tent and enough bug spray to cover a small village, a suitcase full of mostly tie-dyed clothing, a large computer case and a camera bag — in the 15-person van that had spirited me from the Raleigh-Durham airport to the farm about an hour away.
While I’m not exactly known for packing light when I travel, my unusually cumbersome luggage for the festival contained the various gadgets and gizmos that would allow me to work from my campsite on the farm — live blogging about the festival, complete with video, audio and photos, and the help of four Sojourners interns who were set to arrive Thursday afternoon.
I had barely stepped foot on the campground when I checked my smart phone to see if cell service and the festival’s WiFi were working. They were. Good, I thought. All set to work. It would be a hectic few days covering the festival’s numerous speakers and musical performances, but we’d get it done.
Ah, hubris. Humans make plans. God chuckles and says, “Oh, really?”
The Almighty, it would seem, had better ideas for how I should spend my time at Wild Goose, which takes its name from the Celtic metaphor for the Holy Spirit.
By sunrise Thursday, it had become glaringly obvious that, while the WiFi did in fact exist, it was unreliable at best. And that was before a few thousand festival-goers began descending on the farm and also trying to "connect" via WiFi, making its already weak bandwidth about as useful technologically as a rubber band. There was no way we were going to be able to cover the festival live. I could barely check my email (via laptop or my iPhone), never mind upload large multimedia files.
And with that revelation, I stepped off the grid. I logged off and tuned in and that made all the difference to my experience at the Goose. I actually had an experience, rather than standing on the sidelines as an observer.
Instead of running from event to event, scrambling to transcribe interviews and edit video, I was present. In the moment. Eyes and ears and heart open to the people and ideas and yes, the Spirit, that enveloped me.
Rather than “networking,” gathering a stack of business cards and contact information as proof of my triumphal connection-making abilities, I met people heart-to-heart. I made new friends and added many new brothers and sisters to my chosen tribe. I had time to reflect, to pray, to be still. And so did my Sojourners colleagues. We all emerged mightily blessed for having logged off and tuned in for a few days.
By loosening the death grip of control over my work — over my life, really —I managed to get out of my own way and let the Wild Goose take me where it wanted me to go.
It was a profoundly and powerfully sacred journey. I’m so glad I didn’t miss it.
2) Presume nothing.
The guy with the tribal piercing and dreadlocks waiting for a bottled water at the Coffee Barn might be a libertarian librarian. The older lady in line at the Port-o-Potties, the one who looks like she stepped out of Central Casting for “country school marm,” might be one of the vanguards of evangelical feminism.
At the Goose, appearances mean nothing. You cannot tell a book by its proverbial cover — nor should you — whether you’re attending an impromptu midnight drum circle or standing in the queue at the local DMV.
People are surprising and endlessly fascinating. So don’t pre-judge them. Meet them where they are and discover who they are and what they believe. Learn their story. It’s much more interesting than anything you might imagine by simply staring at them from a safe distance.
3) It is possible to be earnest without being insufferable.
One of the miracles of Wild Goose is that it manages to pull off that most tenuous of balances: being earnest without taking itself too seriously.
While many (perhaps, even, most) festival goers are involved in the very serious work of the social gospel — ending racism, building bridges between people groups, peacemaking, creation care, immigration reform, advocating for the poorest of the poor and the marginalized, reaching out to the margins and beckoning them closer — my experience of the convergence of believers/seekers/Goosers was decidedly open-minded, kind-hearted and fun-loving. I saw no judgmentalism and in five days of ludicrously hot, muggy, sweaty, buggy weather, I never witnessed a disagreement.
Laughter was in ample supply. So was dancing, singing and hugging. A remarkably peaceful and genuinely friendly gathering of what Joy Wallis, naming what so many of us also felt, called “my people ... my tribe.”
4) The kids are alright.
My 12-year-old son, Vasco, accompanied my husband and me to the festival and had an absolute ball. How refreshing to be in a very real safe space where the children could roam and explore and play without much worry.
Watching the dozens of kids, from a spectrum of cultural and social backgrounds, meet and find common ground almost immediately was akin to witnessing grace with bare feet, dancing. I met more than a few grown-ups through the fast friendships forged between our children.
The kids modeled for us adults what community should be and how it is, perhaps, best created: organically, authentically and with great joy.
And a child shall lead them...
5) Community is powerful (and essential).
We can’t wage a revolution on our own. And we can’t usher in the Kingdom of God by ourselves. It takes the talented hands of many to do that holy work.
Moreover, the life of faith cannot be a solo endeavor. It takes a village to raise (and raise up) a believer. For much of my adult life, I didn’t think I needed community. It was dangerous, fraught with emotional and spiritual peril. But being a one-woman-wolf-pack is as exhausting as it is untenable.
We need each other. We carry each other. And the journey is a hell of a lot more fun when you share it with somebody.
6) People are so much better in person than in pixels.
The first person I met when I walked from the shuttle van through the darkness to softly-lit tent teeming with artists attending a pre-festival retreat was Gareth Higgins, executive director of the Wild Goose. I’ve been talking and exchanging emails with Gareth for months, but we’d not had a chance to meet face-to-face before last week.
What joy to put a smiling face and a big bear hug to the Belfast brogue that had charmed me from our first conversation six months ago. There is something transcendently magical that happens when you look into the eyes of another. Spirit knows spirit. Soul greets soul. The Spirit makes the kind of connections in each other’s presence that we’d never make on our own (or through the flickering pixels of a computer screen.)
Over the course of the festival, I was blessed to meet in the flesh a number of “Facebook friends” and more than a few writers who’ve blogged for us here at God’s Politics whom I’d previously only known in the digital sense.
In person, they’re much more sparkly. Thanks be to God.
7) Grace makes beauty out of sweaty things.
“My people were not made for this kind of heat.” I must have said that 50 times in the first few days of the festival, when temperatures soared into the 90s with matching humidity levels. I’m half Irish and half Northern Italian. Mine is a temperate tribe, at least when it comes to weather.
By the time the festival kicked off in earnest Thursday evening, it could have been renamed The Sweaty Bird.
Oy. I was shvitzing like a warthog. And hating every second of it.
But then something shifted. I noticed that I wasn’t the only one perspiring like a pimp at a tent revival. Everybody was hot. Everybody was uncomfortable. And seemingly nobody cared. So I stopped complaining (mostly) and started laughing instead.
The heat, humidity and perspiration leveled the playing field. It reminded us of our common humanity. We stopped caring about how we looked. (I quickly gave up on attempting any semblance of cuteness.) Letting go of my preoccupation with appearance opened the door to meeting people — and letting people meet me — just as we are — body odor and all.
Hallelujah! Pass me that towel and a cold beer, would you, friend?
8) True unity is found in diversity.
More than a few times during the festival’s run, I heard a similar sentiment expressed: This is what the Kingdom of God looks like.
We were men and women. Children and adults. Young and old and middle-aged. Black, white, Asian, Hispanic, Native American, and a beautiful blend of all of the above.
We were biological family and chosen. Birthed and adopted. Parents and children and grandparents and siblings. Rich and poor and middle class. Gay and straight. Students and professors. Artists and accountants. Musicians and ministers. Activists and actors. Believers, seekers and “none of the above.”
All children of God. All welcome (and what part of “all” might you not understand?)
9) The revolution is not dead.
If I had any doubts about the future of social activism in an so-called age of disenchantment, they were banished by the time the festival drew to a close Sunday night. To a person, everyone I met, visited with or heard speak and perform was busy seeking justice, acting in mercy and walking humbly with their God. Aging hippies, progressive Millennials, the ordained and the laity (no matter their doctrinal or political leanings) — all hands are on deck.
May God continue to bless the work of their hands and hearts.
10) Don't try to tame the Wild Goose.
That sacred Goose — the Holy Spirit — knows what it’s doing.
Just get out of the way and, to paraphrase W.H. Auden, when grace shows up and begins to dance, the only thing to do is dance with it.
View more than 1,200 photos taken by Cathleen at the Wild Goose Festival HERE.
Cathleen Falsani is an award-winning religion journalist and columnist who specializes in the intersection of faith and culture. In September 2011, Cathleen joined the staff of Sojourners as its Web Editor and Director of New Media, after having been the religion writer for the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper for a decade. She is author of several critically-acclaimed, non-fiction books, The God Factor: Inside the Spiritual Lives of Public People Sin Boldly: A Field Guide for Grace, The Dude Abides: The Gospel According to the Coen Brothers, and her most recent book, BELIEBER!: Fame, Faith and the Heart of Justin Bieber. Cathleen lives in southern California with her husband and son. Follow Cathleen on Twitter @GodGrrl.