Two day ago I enjoyed a coffeehouse chat with Gareth Higgins, founder and producer of the Wild Goose Festival. He asked to meet with me by way of extending to me an invitation to speak at Wild Goose 2012.
In the two weeks since our meeting, I have not heard from Gareth. I can’t say that I expected to (though do let me hasten to add that I found him a positively charming fellow).
I’m pretty sure Gareth found me, however, as … well, primarily as someone who wouldn’t, after all, be such a great fit with Wild Goose.
Which is true. I’d fit in at the Wild Goose Festival like Bernie Madoff would fit in at an Occupy Wall Street protest.
Anyone in the coffee shop eavesdropping on my conversation with Gareth might have heard me say to him these things:
There are three topics that really matter in Christianity right now: hell, universalism, and LGBT equality. You should make a big point, Gareth, of how Wild Goose will be about tackling those specific topics. People would love that. They want that substance. Distinguish Wild Goose from all the other similar Christian ‘gatherings’ out there by being clear, right up front, that you’re going to actually talk about the only real things Christians are talking about anyway. If people thought honest, real, concentrated, in-depth conversations about those three topics was going to happen there, you’d triple your ticket sales. People would flock to Wild Goose.
You know what’s happened, Gareth, is that hipster, Christian lefty leaders have adapted a language and model for engagement that perfectly protects them from ever having to actually say anything at all real about anything at all real. They keep it all about, as they so carefully put it, ‘exploring’, ‘questioning,’ ‘seeking,’ ‘dialoguing,’ ‘relating,’ ‘broadening boundaries,’ ‘opening spaces,’ ‘creating narratives,’ and on and on and on, until you know you’re going to croak waiting for any of them to actually say anything. Because they’re all safely ensconced behind their new mantra: ‘Doubting is divine.’ But how is doubting divine? What could be more human than doubting? I read [new book by major hipster Christian pastor], and it made me doubt whether the author had ever in his whole freakin’ life had one clear thought. Making Doubting and Questioning the go-to position on difficult issues is a great way for Christian authors and speakers to avoid saying anything that might offend anyone, yes. But it also keeps them from saying anything that might actually interest anyone. How many times are people going to follow those guys on the same trip around the same merry-go-round? Make Wild Goose the place where people can come to participate in the stopping of that merry-go-round, Gareth: where they can finally take the mofo apart, and figure out why it just keeps spinning around and around and around.
The idea of theology working from the top down thing is extremely old-school. Theology no longer trickles down from seminaries, to churches, to pews. Now, thanks to the Internet, it swells up from the people. Theology now happens at the speed of the Internet. Shifts in theology that used to happen over decades now happen in a year. In months. It’s happening that fast. The Internet has made it so that the future of theology has already happened. If you want to lead anymore, you have to run. Four months ago, Wild Goose could claim the status of Leader. But if this year you guys don’t get bold about explicitly exploring the issues of hell, universalism, and LGBT rights—which Christians are already deeply discussing, which they already care about—then, by this time next year, Wild Goose will be looking like some mullet-wearing, middle-aged stoner droning on about how Journey and Styx still totally rock. You’re an ‘Outlaw Preacher’ guy, Gareith. So really be that guy. Do something at least a little dangerous. If you don’t, your wild goose will be cooked anyway.
Today, the quickest way to lose is to play it safe. The churches still resisting full LGBT equality, for instance, are like tortoises on the highway: they’re gonna get sideswiped, spin a while, helplessly flop their stunted limbs in the air, and then get flattened. You watch: in very short order, more and more churches and denominations are going to look up to the heavens, and there behold the brilliant rainbow Jesus has put there. And you know what they’re going to love about that rainbow? The pot of gold at the end of it! There’s money in inviting LGBT people into your church. Theology always follows sociology, Gareth, and sociology always bends toward equality and inclusiveness. Get Wild Goose out ahead of that curve. Catch that wave! Now’s the time! You can do it! You’ll be huge if you do!
And so on.
Anyway, I’m pretty sure I won’t be invited to Wild Goose: Gareth was definitely having none of what I was selling. (Though I did appreciate seeing, in such short order, on the WG web page, so much of the specific language that I had recommended Gareth use to market the New and Improved WG: clearly, soon after our meeting, Gareth had gotten very busy typing. Within two days, eighty percent of what I’d said to him during our coffee chat appeared on the “About” page of the WB website. Eighty percent! So close!) But, on the off-off-off-off chance that an invitation to WG is forthcoming, I will be assiduously perfecting my killer imitation of Jim Wallis, which I’m sure would be a huge hit.
After Gareth left the coffee shop, I thought about how much I really do yearn to attend the sort of event I had encouraged him to produce: a gathering, the entire purpose of which is to get down in the mud, and really wrestle around with the issues that are currently tearing Christianity apart. A place where thoughtful, intelligent people come together not to argue, or bitch, or hurl Bibles at one another, but to talk. To start, wherever they’re at, and through the process of conversing, thinking, and praying with others, move to actual and real resolution on the issues of hell, Christian universalism, and full LGBT equality.
That’s a festival in which I’d like to participate in. That’s a group I’d love to hang out with. That’s a purpose and process I could get behind.
But where would I ever find such a group?
Nowhere, is where. It doesn’t exist. No one’s putting on festivals like that.
But if anyone ever did, I’d be totally down with it.
Get it? Down?