I just got back a few days ago from a campsite outside of Asheville, N.C., the site of the third annual Wild Goose Festival. For those who are unfamiliar with the event, imagine and old-fashioned days-long outdoor revival, combined with Bonaroo and a traveling circus. For several days, authors, activists, artisans, musicians, and seekers converge to engage in spontaneous community, share ideas and to inspire one another.
It's not every day that you can walk by a makeshift tent and listen to Phyllis Tickle succinctly summarize the history of Christendom in 45 minutes, and then wander over and pick up a vegetarian pita sandwich while on your way to hear the Indigo Girls perform. Impassioned conversations emerge all on your walk about everything from child trafficking to the state of the institutional church in the 21st century. And you're only momentarily distracted by the guy on stilts, wearing a hat covered in goose feathers who wanders by for no apparent reason.
Welcome to Wild Goose.
But for all of its eccentricities, generative community, and creative energy, there is much more going on here. Lining the fields and dirt pathways throughout the campsite are tables and booths occupied by people fully committed to living on their understanding of what it means to be Jesus in a hurting world. They were establishing intentional communities, entirely off the energy grid, that are experimenting with more sustainable ways of living together with the earth. They are working with people living outside on the streets of our cities to help them navigate the many systemic barriers to health and well-being that they encounter every day. They are digging wells in Haiti, building schools in Somalia, and teaching the children of Chicago gang bangers how to read.
One of the most common criticisms I hear of Christianity these days is that we spend an awful lot of time talking about justice, but very little time doing anything about it. The people I meet at Wild Goose, however, are living out this Gospel call daily. Some are doing it with the blessing of a church or denomination; others are doing it without any support at all, simply because they feel God’s call upon their heart. What's more, they don't come to the festival to judge or to lord their sacrificial lifestyles over those of us who spend much more time in the world of ideas. They long to tell their stories, and to have others experience the inspiration that compels them to do what they do, over and over again.
I saw so many young people walking away from a table, whispering to themselves, "I just had no idea." I saw pastors of 25 years get re-inspired by the spirit to return to the mission fields within and around their congregations and to engage them in new and creative ways. And I saw those humble servants who spend their days reaching those listed by Jesus in the Beatitudes rejuvenated and encouraged by those of us who see Christ in the fruit of their labor.
Wild Goose Festival will not save the church. For many there, the fate of institutional Christianity or religion as a whole is fairly immaterial to their ministries. Though most of them welcome partnerships to expand their reach, none of them is waiting for board approval for a line item in the budget to be passed before they do the next right thing.
They are just going out and doing what needs to be done, right now. They have taken up their mats and they are walking the path. The invitation to join them is an open one provided that the world is wrong about us, and that we really do need to live out what we say we believe.
Christian Piatt is a Sojourners Featured Writer and an author, editor, speaker, musician, and spoken word artist. He is director of church growth and development at First Christian Church in Portland, Ore. Christian is the creator and editor of Banned Questions About The Bible and Banned Questions About Jesus. His new memoir on faith, family and parenting is called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.