The second Wild Goose Festival has just ended. I left a piece of my heart in the hills of North Carolina. Ahead is the third WG fest at the end of August in Portland OR. And then there will be next year and the next... The White House sent the Rev. Derrick Harkins (faith outreach director for the Democratic National Committee) to observe and talk with some of us this year. So I guess WG got noticed.
Last year's WG was the first and there were about 1,300 of us there. This year we were closing in on 2000-plus. And now WG is West Coast bound too. The names of the speakers Jim Wallis and all the rest (I spoke 3 times) added up to a "draw" along with the big name musical performers. But the heart of the festival wasn't in the events but in the conversations.
For me the highlight of the festival was the fact that there was no wall of separation between us speakers and performers and everyone there. I spent 4 days talking with lots of people from all over America and other places too, about ideas but also about very personal subjects. I met Ramona who was the cook at the Indian food stand and found she is ill and has no health insurance and I was able to connect her with a friend who knew a friend at the WG fest locally to help her get the full checkup she needs. I could do that because the festival was full of the sort of people who help, love and care so for once there was someone to call.
And I watched the sneak preview of the movie Hellbound that will be released this fall. It happens that I'm one of the people interviewed in the movie but that's not why I say it is one of the best films I've ever seen. We watched it at 11 PM and talked until 2 AM. People were just stunned.
Hellbound is my answer to the question I get so often, "But how can we change minds?" It's asked by people who hear me talk about my journey from religious right leader to progressive Christian that the New York Times described as perceived by members of the religious right as treasonous. People know that you're either a "Fox News" watcher or an "MSNBC" watcher and the twain shall never meet. "Hellbound" confronts the great national ideological divide over religion (and thus politics too) as never before. And I'm betting that 5 years from now you'll meet former evangelicals and other former fundamentalist religious folks who trace their departure from the religious right to seeing this movie. I've never seen the argument made better against the angry retributive aspects of far right "religion."
I made a new friend, Chris Stedman from the Humanist Community Project and heard him talk about his new book and his reasons for being an atheist and how he is networking to do interfaith projects with atheists and religious people. I shared a coffee with Sojourners CEO the Rev. Jim Wallis and heard the wonderful news about how he has bridged the gap between left and right... at least in one area as he has been working with some major evangelical right wing leaders who have — at last — decided to back real immigration reform.
Then there were the families, and the children throwing balls to topple me into the dunk tank. We were raising money for the festival and all the speakers — Wallis, Brian McLaren and me included — took one-hour turns sitting on a slippery wet plank over a tank filled with murky water so that kids could get their parents to make donations then pitch baseballs at a target that then dumped us into the tank. I went in 22 times mostly due to a little blond 7-year-old with a winning smile and killer arm.
I'm writing this on the morning I'll leave town and fly home. The last concert by Gungor was wonderful. Wow! Genie and I sat holding hands while the happy throng of thousands danced. We'd just celebrated our 42nd wedding anniversary with paper cups full of beer in the "beer and hymns" tent.
I still had face paint on from the parade to the main stage we all marched in that afternoon. I'd marched next to children and we waved flags and sang and pounded on drums and belted out "When the Saints go Marching In."
I'm so sad it's all over (for now) and I usually dislike festivals, crowds and fairs — but not this one. Heaven is a place called Wild Goose.
Frank Schaeffer is a writer and author of Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back. Frank writes for the Huffington Post where this column originally appeared.