Once again I left the freaking hot, dry, arid, climes of my home in Boulder, CO to head into the freaking, hot humid ones of the deep south to attend the 2nd annual Wild Goose Festival at the Shakori Hills Campgrounds south of Durham, NC. And, once again, I was enlivened, enriched, inspired, and renewed.
While it’s an arts and music infused gathering of kindred spirits, it’s more than a “progressive Christian Woodstock” — it’s evidence of a great awakening.
My blog about my experience there last year focused upon how the combined forces of progressive Christianity (from the mainline Christian community) and emerging Christianity (from the evangelical community) are the contemporary Reformation that the Church is clearly ripe and ready for. I had the honor of being one of the speaker’s at this year’s WGF and had that as the topic for the talk that I presented (“The Progressive Christian Reformation”).
But aspiring reformers and change-agents need to avoid the danger of thinking that what we’re up to is something that is utterly brand new and novel. Like the evolution of the various strains of jazz, we would-be innovators do all that we do on the backs, influence, and inertia of many greats and giants who came before us.
This year’s festival was dedicated to the memories and legacies of two heroes in our Christian cloud of witnesses — Bayard Rustin and Walter Wink. If you don’t know those names — fix that, soon. We all know that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the articulate public face, spokesperson, and “drum major” for the Civil Rights movement, but Rustin was its architect. Rustin mentored the young Dr. King and was the one who helped him to understand and integrate the way of nonviolence into the cause — and to not perceive it merely as a strategy. A brilliant strategist, Rustin also coordinated and oversaw all of the details to make the march on Washington to be the high point in our nation’s history that it is. We wouldn’t know of Martin’s “Dream” if it weren’t for Rustin.
One of the prominent veterans of that movement blessed this year’s festival with his words and his presence – Dr. Vincent Harding. Harding was one of Dr. King’s speech writers and was a friend of Rustin. Rustin presented many challenges to American Christianity — including to have to deal with his being a homosexual. While victories have been made on the racial front, we still have much work to do re: straight-LGBTQ relations — as well as with inter-race relations. Millions of young Americans have been dismayed to see how slowly the Church has been to adequately respond to either. Harding, a retired professor, assigned his listeners to make a point to see the documentary about Rustin’s life, “Brother Outsider” and to show that film to as many people as possible. Harding was one of my professors during my years in seminary — and he means it. There will be a test.
Dr. Walter Wink attended last year’s fest, but went on to meet our Maker in the months leading up to this year’s festival. One of the voices in the rising progressive Christian voices within United Methodism, Wink was a top notch biblical scholar. His famed “the Powers” trilogy reminds us of the subversive radicality that is essential to the Christian faith. Chief among his gifts to the world is his pointing out how the first and primary meta-myth of human civilization is “the myth of redemptive violence” and how Jesus worked to offer a counter meta-myth to refute that earlier one with one that shows the folly, futility, and impotence of state-sanctioned violence against God’s love and truth. Dr. Wink’s wife June spoke and several other presenters discussed Wink’s contribution to the shift away from retributive justice and toward restorative justice. If you read one book by Wink, I’d encourage you to read “The Powers That Be: Theology for a New Millennium.”
Having “esteemed elders” as speakers such as Harding, Jim Wallis, John Dear, Frank Schaeffer, Phyllis Tickle, etc., at the Goose intentionally intermixed with the growing brood of young progressive and emerging voices is not only brilliant — it’s crucial.
I delight in how this brave, post-liberal, post-modern, post-orthodox, Festival takes place smack in the middle of the Bible Belt. I also relish how it’s subversively transforming that Belt — and those of us who live outside of it — to help us experience the living Christ in a new way for today.
Those who attended the fest were strikingly diverse in many ways. I met people who identify as Eastern Orthodox, Messianic Jews, a Salvationist (member of the Salvation Army), Mennonites, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Catholics, Episcopalians, Anglicans, Evangelicals, Independents, Baptists (of various stripes), United Church of Christ, Quakers, house churchers, as well as those who identify as “seekers,” pagans, and agnostics. I also met many people from across the sexual orientation spectrum. What was missing was racial diversity. It may have something to do with camping for 4 days in heat and humidity, it may be a cultural thing, or it may be a matter of geography/location… or timing in that location. I suspect it may be a combination of those things — plus an ironic need for the leaders and planners to integrate and assimilate even more of Bayard Rustin’s insights and lessons. I believe in the Wild Goose Festival and have become a Wild Goose “wing” (a monthly donor). Other kindred spirits may want to too. The good folks at the Goose will be open to any advice and love that you can pass along.
Young geese are referred to as goslings and all told, the fledgling Wild Goose Festival gosling is on its way to becoming a grand bird worthy of gander. Jesus suggested that God’s eye is on sparrows, it’s on the geese too.
Note: There will be another Wild Goose Fest taking place later this summer; i.e., a “Wild Goose West.” Flap your wings and fly!