I woke up this morning in a damp sleeping bag to the sound of a rushing river. I heard the laughter of children and could smell bacon being fried in a tent not far from mine. I opened the tent flap and walked outside. As I looked around, I saw dozens of men and women who had also just rolled out of their sleeping bags and RVs to welcome the new day. I saw rainbow flags flying next to signs that read “Who would Jesus Torture?” and “Pro-Peace, Pro-Life, Be Consistent.”
As I began the short trek from my tent to the shower-house, I was greeted by dozens of people who I had never personally met but felt like I knew intimately. All of us had gathered to encourage and provoke one another to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. Over the course of this weekend, dozens of presenters spoke to crowds who listened intently to their dynamic messages of reformation, renewal, redemption, and action. From the testimony of a tattooed Lutheran pastor to the ground-breaking theological theories on non-violence from a highly regarded gay Catholic priest, from the wisdom of one of the founding fathers of the Civil Rights Movement to a quirky live radio show hosted by one of the founders of the Emergent Church movement, hundreds of people from across the country and indeed around the world had converged for this little slice of heaven on earth known as the Wild Goose Festival, which took place in Hot Springs, N.C.
The Wild Goose Festival is a "progressive" Christian gathering centering on spirituality, justice, and art. Inspired by the famous Greenbelt festival, it has a very hipster/Woodstock feel and often feels like a 60s love revival more than a post-modern, intellectual Christian gathering that it actually is. Returning this year to the festival for me was like a spiritual pilgrimage and a family reunion all in one. As a progressive evangelical blogger, I stay connected to a wide network of speakers, authors, bloggers, and laymen and women throughout the year who are doing amazing things around the world for the kingdom of God.
The people the Wild Goose Festival attracts are from a very diverse range of spiritual heritages — many of us recovering fundamentalists, along with a mix of mainliners, evangelicals, agnostics, neo-pagan-christians, "nones," spiritual-but-not-religious, confused, and everything in between. This year we actually welcomed a progressive Muslim presenter, Ani Zonnaveld, who fit right in with this rag-tag group of Christiany-type people. Each year at the festival, The Revangelical Podcast conducts a number of interviews with different progressive leaders on a variety of issues. This year I had the honor of sitting down with old friends like Brian McLaren, Frank Schaeffer, and Phyllis Tickle, along with some really great new friends like Nadia Bolz-Weber, Jana Riess (a progressive Mormon ... awesome,right?!), Mark Scanderatte, and James Allison. These men and women are on the forefront of a radical re-imagining of Christianity and are involved with amazing works of political and social justice around the world. But even more amazing than these "celebrity" Christians was the interactions that the "nobodies" who live quiet, faithful lives in small communities around the world and all have come together not to hear great theologians speak but to find a family that finally understands their frustrations and desires with Christianity and be refueled for another year of faithful service and reformation in their own communities.
As cliche as it sounds, the festival community is truly a family. For this five-day festival we laugh, we cry, we share our deepest hurts and deepest struggles, and we give of ourselves to one another in a way that is rarely experienced any other time in our lives.
But I think the biggest hope that the festival magnifies is that the future of our world is bright. There is a growing spirit among Christians (and people of all faith and no faith) that is allowing us to gather together and celebrate our common hopes and aspirations despite all of our theological, sociological, or political differences. At Wild Goose I hung out with Mormons, liberals, conservatives, Muslims, Buddhists, Neo-Pagans, and agnostics of varying degrees, people who had both conservative and liberal political leanings and were from all different races, ages, sexualities, and ethnicities, and despite all of things we fundamentally disagree on, we didn't let those things keep us from loving one another. From talking to each other. From dancing with each other.
If the Wild Goose Festival is anything, it's a prophetic beacon of hope for the future. Hope that our best days as Christians — as human beings — are ahead. Hope that maybe we all can get along. Hope that maybe, just maybe, we can reach across the ideologies that divide us and stand hand in hand with one another for the good of our world and the expansion of the Kingdom of God.
Brandan Robertson is an aspiring writer, activist, public theologian and the dreamer behind theRevangelical Blog. He is a student at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago finishing up a B.A. in Pastoral Ministry and Theology. He is a frequent blogger and podcaster at The Revangelical Blog and Podcast. To find out more, visit BrandanRobertson.com.