The 2012 Wild Goose Festival East wrapped up just under a week ago and I am still trying to process my experience there. As I tweeted as I drove away from the fest, I left feeling exhausted, hopeful, and blessed – that strange combination that reflected the emotional impact of my time there. And it was a truly blessed time.
I was honored with the opportunity to speak on The Hunger Games and the Gospel as well as do a Q&A on everyday justice issues at the Likewise tent. I also was able to join Brett Webb-Mitchell on a panel discussion about living with disabilities in religious communities.
But beyond those conversations I was able to help initiate, I also found a generous and safe space to connect with friends, wrestle with difficult questions, and dream of a better world. Such spaces are so rare in my life these days, that finding such at Wild Goose was a precious gift.
There are, of course, the expected complaints about the festival. It was brutally hot (and that is coming from a Texan). I never ceased to be sticky, sweaty, and stinky and there were bugs everywhere. Camping in a field where every action (and parenting attempt) is on constant display is stressful and uncomfortable. And, as with many religious gatherings, there could have been greater diversity.
For the first hour I was there as I nearly passed out trying to set up a tent in the sweltering heat, I was in a panic mode wondering why I was stupid enough to subject myself to the discomfort and imperfection of it all again this year. Yet as I entered into the experience of being a part of this crazy wonderful gathering, those issues (although ever-present) faded in significance as I found myself fitting into a place where I felt I belonged.
It would be hard to give an all-encompassing report of the Wild Goose since all I have is my particular experience of it, so all I can initially do here is describe a few of those points that provided that resonance of belonging.
- I saw people moving past the trivial distractions of the Church to attempt to live authentically in the way of Christ. Last year Wild Goose was a new thing in search of its identity. It was edgy, it was controversial, it was hip. None of that mattered this year.
The point wasn’t to have debates over controversial issues, but to do the real work of the church. So collectively it seemed like the festival grew up, got over its fears and struggles to define its identity and decided to stop feeding the infighting within the body of Christ and start being Christ instead.
I’m sure there were some people upset by that act of maturing, but I doubt many of them came back this year. There also were far fewer people there who just came to be seen in their own sessions but who refused to attend and learn from other sessions. Being in conversation and humbly letting others speak into our lives was more the norm this year.
Wild Goose grew up. I personally found it refreshing to be a part of something that didn’t direct all its energy at defending the rightness of one particular theological ghetto. It was also nice to be amidst people who spent more time living in the ways of the kingdom of God than they do making theological excuses for why the church needn’t bother following the way of Christ.
There was also no need to grow any particular church or hold tight to a denominational allegiance. This was a truly ecumenical gathering of Catholics, Mainliners, Evangelicals, and Emergents coming together beyond their tribal boundaries. This is not to say that hard questions weren’t wrestled with at Wild Goose or challenges to privilege issued, but it was done (as far as I could tell) from a respectful and welcoming attitude. I needed to see that to regain some faith in the structure of church itself.
- I got to see my children thriving in community. Last year at Wild Goose we were the hovering parents. Our kids had to be in eyesight at all times which severely limited their ability to make friends as well as our ability to attend sessions and have conversations.
This year we, for the first time in their lives, let our kids roam free. Like children from past generations who roamed the neighborhood finding friends and adventures alike, the safe space of the Wild Goose gave our kids the opportunity to be a part of community on their own. I saw them come alive as they made the experience their own.
From my son donning his Batman cape and finding a wooden stake somewhere so he could roam as “Vampire Slayer Batman” as we sipped boxed wine and made fair trade s’mores at our tent with friends to my daughter finding quartz rocks on the path and trying to get the food vendors to accept her "diamonds" as payment for ice cream and lemonade – they had the time of their lives.
Yes, we got a few disapproving reactions from other parents there and I heard a family was asked to leave the supposedly “open-table” Eucharist because their kids were playing nearby, but I am grateful for this opportunity my kids had to be children in a way kids these days rarely do – and that there is a space for that within a community of faith.
- I was able to be moved by a worship experience for the first time in a very long time. While there were opportunities to enter into worship provided throughout the festival – ranging from contemplative prayer times, to interactive creative worship, to liturgies, and even a good old-fashioned hymn-sing (appropriately held at the beer tent), it was the final Sunday morning worship processional that had me literally choked up with the beauty of being a part of the community of the body of Christ.
Proclaiming that every worship processional should in fact be a parade of celebration this call to worship consisted of a ringleader and band leading a parade through the festival grounds as the people of God with painted faces and waving banners danced and sang out “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
There was a blessed relief in being amidst a group of people who weren’t worshiping just to be fed or to consume a religious good or who don’t see the rituals as church as the limit of worship. There also was a deeper joy in having been through the festival and hearing of the passion of this sliver of the church to truly live in the ways of Christ by seeking justice for all and loving the whole world sacrificially that made me actually want to sing “Oh how I want to be in their number when the saints go marching in.”
In the back of my head I heard all the critics’ voices telling me in that moment that worship must be solemn, that we had sacrificed tradition for novelty, that we were simply being foolish. But the sense of utter rightness and overwhelming hope I saw as I danced along with those committed to marching against injustice in the name of love drowned out the toxicity of those messages I am usually surrounded with and I was able to experience God again.
I agree with Bono that the right to be ridiculous is something I hold dear – sometimes it takes foolishly resisting the trappings of church in order to find the strength to resist the injustices of culture. It set my soul free and dismantled the box we so often force God to dwell within.
I could ramble on and on about the wonderful people and conversations I had at Wild Goose. It was a place that revived hope in me for the body of Christ in our world today. And I find myself infinitely grateful to have spent a few sweltering and uncomfortable days amidst these saints in order to catch this glimpse of the Kingdom manifest in this world.
Julie Clawson is the author of Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices (IVP 2009). She blogs at julieclawson.com (where this post originally appeared) and emergingwomen.us.