Beer & Hymns: Imagining Christianity | Sojourners

Beer & Hymns: Imagining Christianity

Wild Goosers worship in the "Beer & Hymns" tent Saturday. Photo by Cathleen Falsani/Sojourners.

During a tribute session at the Wild Goose Festival in Shakori Hills, N.C., for the late Christian theologian and peace visionary, Walter Wink, panelists invited festival goers to share their own stories of how Wink's work had affected their lives.

One man stood up and said something along these lines: “I never met Walter Wink, but his work taught me an invaluable lesson. Walter Wink taught me how to have a Christian imagination — how to imagine Christianity in its fullness.”

If you haven’t heard of Wild Goose, let us draw you a quick picture: Several thousand Christian believers (and seekers of all sorts) gather together on a farm in rural North Carolina to envision a new world — a world in which peace, spirit, and community rule the day. It’s hot and humid. And the entire festival is outdoors.

Participants sleep in tents and RVs, cook food over small fire pits, bathe in makeshift shower stalls, fight off ticks and chiggers with organic bug spray, and for the most part, give up electronics (cell phone reception is poor, WiFi is almost non-existent, and aside from a few outlets tacked onto plywood sheets, there isn’t anywhere to charge your phone, ipod, etc., even if you could "connect" digitally to use them). 

In between sessions with some of the world’s best known teachers and thinkers on everything from “Women as Co-Creators” to “Gifts of Eastern Orthodoxy,” Wild Goosers of all ages listen to music, make art, mosey around informational tents, and get to know one another. 

This was our first time at Wild Goose (we're Sojourners interns) and only the second Wild Goose Festival in North America (although the festival is modeled after Greenbelt — its famed, long-time festival cousin in the United Kingdom).  

As we attended workshops and concerts, met new people, and tried to make sense of the larger impact this gathering might have beyond us, we kept coming back to that statement we heard early on about Walter Wink. What is Christian imagination? How do we imagine Christianity? Whatever it means, imagining Christianity is exactly what happened at Wild Goose.

Here's an example: Throughout the weekend, Fullsteam, a craft brewery in nearby Durham owned by an alumnus of Wheaton College (yes, that Wheaton) sold selling beer to quench the thirst of Goosers during late night sessions and performances (a la Homebrewed Christianity, etc.). And on Saturday afternoon — call it an early evening happy hour — a group of rag-tag musicians, armed with a few folk instruments, a trumpet and percussion, led a jolly crowd of more than 100 in Sunday School choruses and old-timey spirituals. They called it, “Beer and Hymns."

There, caught up in a holy wind of hops and hope, we reimagined what church might be during an ad hoc version of “He’s got the Whole World in His Hands.” We the motley worshippers alternated “He’s got the whole world” with “She’s got the whole world,” proudly singing at the top of our lungs, “She’s got the liberals and conservatives / the gays and straights / and a big ole mug of beer/ in her hands.”

As we moved through the songs, dancing and singing, meeting new people, joshing (pun intended) and laughing, all around us something palpably connective weighed heavily (and blessedly) in the air. Maybe it was singing these songs with lyrics we actually could believe that made us smile so wide, or seeing a subversive take on a traditional “ale house sing-along” in a new context that made it magical. Or maybe it was a bit of both and a whole lot more.

The Christian imagination drove us onward.

The next day, as we listened to a final talk on the main stage during what amounted to a Sunday morning worship service, Sojourners' own Lisa Sharon Harper emphasized that while times like these can take us up to the mountain, but our reality is that we live in valleys.

Times like these are healing, a coming together of people who yearn for restoration, for renewal, for peace, and a reminder that none of us is alone. At Wild Goose, we experienced a rejuvenation of our own Christian imaginations, propelling us forward to take this spirit of jubilation, inclusiveness, and transformation into our valleys — to make our Christian imagination into a self-perpetuating Christian reality.  

Last weekend, the North Carolina farmland filled with people who truly believe we can live out the Christianity we imagine. In talk after talk, we were left with the feeling that we are all visionaries of the church of tomorrow, dreamers of all ages who hope to turn things around — a tribe of the faithful, a chosen family that is open and affirming, neither separated by class or age or fame, nor bifurcated by technology or luxury, not shy of controversy but rather eager to engage with love.  

Click on any of the images below to launch a slideshow of photos from the Goose's "Beer & Hymns" session last Saturday. Photos by Cathleen Falsani/Sojourners.



Anne Marie Roderick is the editorial assistant at Sojourners. Joshua Witchger is the online assistant at Sojourners.