"Blessed are the good-hearted, poets, and the dreamers. And all us crazy, holy, hungry ones who still believe in something better."
I went to the Wild Goose Festival for the community. Meeting for the first time this year in the hills of beautiful North Carolina, Wild Goose was a gathering focused on arts, justice, and faith. I went eager to reunite with old friends and to finally translate a few virtual relationships into reality. Oh, of course, I was excited to hear David Wilcox and Jennifer Knapp, and learn from respected Christian leaders, but it was the gathering of friends that drew me and my family to the fest. And while it was the community that brought me there, it was the communal experience of commitment that defined my time there. Those lines posted above from Carrie Newcomer's song "Where You Been," sum up perfectly the experience that was the Wild Goose Festival.
If anything, Wild Goose was a gathering of those who dream of a better way: a better way to be human, a better way to be the church. Not in a "we want to be better than you" sort of way, but more of a deep felt recognition that the world is not as it should be. It was that wrestling with trying to live into the lives God created us to live that became the conversation at Wild Goose. As part of that, one theme that kept resurfacing in the talks I heard was that of learning to be open to the full range of human emotions and experiences in the world.
The typical Christian impulse in our country is to dwell upon the joyful aspects of life and faith. We put on the mask of pretending all is fine to the world. We hold church services oriented around worship, praise, and the uplifting parts of scripture. While there is nothing wrong with doing those things, they don't allow the faithful to reflect the fullness of reality. As the great civil rights activist Vincent Harding pointed out in his talk, there is pain and suffering in the church. Institutional and social evils such as racism and the inequalities it produces affect the body of Christ -- harming both those who commit and who suffer those sins. To pretend that all is well when all is obviously not well is to pretend at joy -- not to experience it in reality. As Harding commented, to ever be able to truly laugh, one must also be allowed to honestly weep for all the pain and suffering. Pretending that all is well or to deny that the suffering exists harms our souls, preventing us from being whole, healthy people. In his talk Soong-Chan Rah also called for the need to remember the words of lamentations in our churches. The Western church has exorcised such biblical passages of lament from our services, lectionaries, and prayer books, and we would do well to be reminded from the global church (that knows far more about experiencing suffering) that recognizing and lamenting our sins and pain is part of what it means to follow God.
While the church, of course, has a long way to go in regards to becoming balanced and healthy in such ways, it was encouraging to get a small taste of what that might look like at the Wild Goose Festival. I can't speak for everyone there, but from the conversations I was a part of, it truly did seem to be a gathering of folks who deeply dreamed of a better way. People who desired for our faith to mean something tangible. People, who, as Richard Rohr said, don't want to settle for the easy shallow faith of merely worshiping God -- putting God on an idealized but distant pedestal to be admired, but not known. They want to follow God in ways that transform their lives and the lives of others as well. People who desire to follow God in ways that bring about justice, that seek to restore broken relationships, that always orient around caring about the needs of others. But also people who don't trust in their own strength to do such things, who know the world and the church are messy, and that we need time for lament and repentance as part of our experience of following Jesus.
It can be easy to talk about such things, and I know I've done my fair share of talking before. But what I appreciated about the Wild Goose Festival was that it forced us past the point of posturing to a place of transparent honesty. At most of our church gatherings, conferences, or cohorts we can easily erect a façade of self and allow others to see only what we desire them to see of who we are. We can talk grand ideas, look as pious/hip/committed as we desire, and then escape back into our solitary lives without anyone glimpsing our rough edges. But there is something about camping in close proximity in sweltering weather in fields crawling with ants and ticks, where the nearest water is a spigot several fields away, with stinking porta-potties, and your children sleep-deprived from the excitement of camping, and the loud bands that play into the wee small hours of the night that violently rips away any façade one might have attempted to hide behind. Everyone sees you crawling disheveled out of your tent in the morning desperate to concoct a coffee-like-substance over your tiny camp stove. Everyone hears you yelling at your kids to stop (literally) bouncing off the tent walls and go to sleep. And I'm pretty sure half the people there witnessed my tired, hot, and hungry children having a grand royal meltdown in the food area one day at lunch. It was just a few days, but it was real.
So when we came to worship together and share our passion for following God in transforming ways in this raw state of discomfort and exhaustion, it was more than just talk. We were those crazy, holy, hungry ones who believe in something better. It was a glimpse of the kingdom of God that went far beyond just friends gathering to have fun together at a festival or to posture at caring for others. It was a gathering of the most committed Christians I know -- those who long to follow God wholly. And that gave me great hope for the church. I had to laugh when I read after the festival that some opponents were deriding the festival, questioning our faith and referring to the event as Apostate-palooza (because *obviously* anything to do with art, camping, and justice can't possibly be Christian). Yet I realized that they were right, in a way. This was a gathering of apostates of the church as it has become -- a often meaningless and impotent entity beholden to civil structures of culture and politics that cares more about power and privilege and shoring up hollow rituals and traditions than it does about loving others and believing in God's kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Wild Goose was a gathering of those crazy folks who are committed to a better way. We are apostates of meaningless religion, ready to strip away the facades and get at the real work of following God.
That was my Wild Goose experience -- leaving me raw and tired and strangely full of hope.
Julie Clawson is the author of Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices (IVP 2009). She blogs at julieclawson.com and emergingwomen.us.