Selective Hearing at Wild Goose

Catherine Caimano has a post at Faith & Leadership which offers a critical look at the Wild Goose Festival.  Her bottom-line critique: Not Enough Jesus.  She got this impression, it seems, from attending a few sessions and overhearing people talk in private conversations.

Among the elements to which she refers is the “Sexuality and Justice” panel that I moderated.  What’s interesting is that I used an extended biblical illustration connecting Jesus’ healing of the man lowered through the roof with Peter’s healing of the cripple by the Temple gate in Acts 3.  After that session, several people stopped me to thank me for talking about Jesus and the Bible.  One young couple said, “We love it here, but we’re youth pastors in a conservative church and it’s tough for us to bring what we’re hearing back.  Thanks for using the Bible — we haven’t heard much Bible here.”

My session on prayer was similarly obsessed with the Bible and Jesus’ teaching on prayer, to the vocal consternation of some in the crowd.

Jay Bakker’s talk was explicitly about Jesus’ welcoming of people in his ministry.

And Nadia Bolz-Weber’s homily at the Bluegrass Liturgy was vintage Nadia: Lutheran, biblical, and christocentric.

I could go on, but I’d start sounding defensive. 🙂

What do you think?  Was Wild Goose not Jesusy enough, as Caimano reports? (Faith & Leadership does not allow comments, so maybe this can serve as a forum to discuss her article.)

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  • leanne mcginney

    Perhaps what she really means is that she didn’t hear enough about “Christ crucified.” For those centered in Pauling theology little else matters. (or so it seems).

  • While an event like Wild Goose can draw the type of people who are questioning and wrestling with nearly every aspect of theology and faith, I found that Jesus is the one figure everyone I encountered was inescapably drawn to, enamored with, and desperate to follow faithfully. I felt like nearly every talk and conversation happening around the campfires revolved around how best to live the way of Christ, to love God and love neighbor.

  • Carla Jo

    I suppose I’ll sounds defensive here, but what bugs me about Caimano’s argument is that there’s this assumption that unless someone says the magic words “Jesus” “sin” “evil” they aren’t talking about those things. Isn’t a conversation about justice really a conversation about evil? Isn’t talking about forgiveness and grace really a conversation about sin? Aren’t all of these conversations really conversations about Jesus?

    Let me try an analogy: When my husband and I talk about paying bills or help our children solve a problem or make a decision about where to go on vacation, we don’t start with “You know, we are married people and therefore we believe that we are committed to love and honor and respect each other.” We just talk about whatever comes up knowing full well that the conversation–no matter how deep or mundane–is really about the life we are building together. We don’t have to restate our commitment every time we live it out.

    So I don’t understand why there’s this expectation that Christians have to lay out the groundwork of their faith every time the speak to each other (or to anyone else).

    • CJ, great comment (as always).

    • Emily

      Thank you!

      • Deborah Arca

        those were my thoughts, too, after reading her Caimano’s article. well-said!

    • So true, Carlo Jo. Thanks!

    • Jeff Straka

      Perfectly said, Carla Jo! In fact, it was the OVERUSE (and improper use) of these words – often to intentionally draw dividing lines against the “non-Christians” or the “secular” – that was driving me away from Christianity. Love, peace, justice, forgiveness are words on which people from OTHER faiths (or no faith) can find common ground and connectivity. I don’t call that “watering down”, I call it ESSENTIAL.

  • I wasn’t at Wild Goose, so I can’t say how Christocentric it was/was not. I do know that in my own personal experience, I get so wrapped up with doing stuff for the Kingdom that I forget whose kingdom it is. Does that make sense?

  • Like I tweeted, I think this is about discursive expectations. She didn’t hear what she wanted to hear but that doesn’t necessarily mean she wasn’t listening. It means she had different expectations, a different template for what Jesus sounds like.

    If we’re really postmodernists, then shouldn’t be interpret this in terms of perceptual differences? She listens with different ears? Rather than becoming defensive about how she’s got it wrong–presumably because *my* perception is “right”?

    • Good point, Annie. I have no doubt that I, too, am a “selective hearer”!

  • I saw Jesus everywhere at Goose. Particularly at the Patheos RV passing out punch.

    • Deborah Arca

      and how the hot dogs & punch just keep multiplying…

      • Deborah Arca

        i mean, KEPT multiplying !

  • elizabeth

    I generally get annoyed when people count the number of times the name Jesus or the Bible is mentioned in a sermon, conference, etc. and, on the basis of that enumeration, make a judgment about how Christ-centered it was. However, I have to agree to a certain extent with Caimano’s experience. I was only at Wild Goose for one day, and therefore my experience is limited. Yet, I left after the one day feeling disappointed at the lack of what I pereived to be focus on Jesus. Perhaps it was just the talks I chose, but what I heard a whole lot of was bitterness, anger, talk about the books written by the speakers, and anti-Republicanism. I am theologically and politically liberal leaning, and therefore was not put off by what I heard. I was simply disappointed that these colored the overall tenor of the festival, at least the one day I was there.

  • I think her critique is fair. I also didn’t hear very much specifically or explicitly Christocentric conversation at Wild Goose.

    At the same time, Carla Jo’s reflections are insightful. Though there’s wasn’t much that I heard that was specifically Jesus-y, I certainly experienced the presence of the risen Christ at the festival.

    And your own reflections are accurate, too. I heard Jesus invoked and Christ proclaimed by you and one or two other speakers at the festival.

    Wild Goose, especially this year, is an immature festival with an immature ethos and culture. This is not condemnation or criticism ~ it’s just the way it is the first time a festival happens. Because it was billed as (and succeeded in being) a festival any angle on the conversation around Christianity would permitted and encouraged, the speakers tended toward the universalist and academic, rather than the orthodox Christian (you and Nadia being the exceptions). I would hope that, at future festivals as the Wild Goose culture and ethos matures, a greater variety of faithful voices would be included in respectful dialogue.


  • It appears that for some folks, “not enough Jesus” or “not enough Bible” really means “not enough penal-substitutionary atonement” or “not enough attention to maintaining/defending traditional dogma. I found the festival to be soaked in Jesus, with the main emphasis being on how to follow him. Indeed, the festival was about following Jesus, not just talking about him.

    Perhaps this critic should have spent more time in the beer tent.

    At the same time, I think it would be cool for next year to have a venue where different people grapple with some issue/passage of Scripture.

  • I was not in attendance at Wild Goose (and I hated that I couldn’t attend). But I did read her post after having heard detailed reports from friends who were in attendance. Without reading too much into it, I really felt like she expressed feelings she either came with or anticipated having while there.

    For example, her term “liberal fundamentalism” was a great term that describes a particular breed of American religious liberals. While many who would exemplify such characteristics were there, that was NOT the totality of the people my friends met there. It was almost as though she was looking for a particular “type” of attendee and when she found them, it just verified her assumptions.

    I also find it curious why she felt such a need for direct communication of Christianity in terms of Jesus. A good mix of direct and indirect communication methods have the ability to both talk about Jesus specifically, and also exemplify Jesus in speech and action. It provides an existential foundation of the life of following Jesus in addition to simply talking directly about Jesus. Such a foundation surely would be fertile ground for ongoing transformation in the life of a disciple. At least that’s the sum of the dispatches I recieved after the weekend

  • Holly Stauffer

    I wasn’t at WG either but I have to agree with the comments above. From the people I talked to and what I have read about the festival the sheer act of ya’ll getting together was Jesus. Jesus is in the action!

  • Jason H

    I was at Wild Goose. I think Bart Campolo’s talk offered a fine distinction. He spoke of those who follow religion _of_ Jesus and others that follow religion _about_ Jesus.
    Religion _of_ Jesus is concerned with the words in red in the Bible and with Jesus’s ministry in the gospels. Religion _about_ Jesus deals with the crucifixion, atonement, sanctification, etc. What I saw at Goose was a lot of religion _of_ Jesus, people talking about how we can embody Jesus’s message, Jesus’s way. What Caimono was looking for was religion _about_ Jesus. She stated this in detail at one point in her article.
    Tony, your discussions involving Jesus just were not the kind of Jesus talk that would register with Caimono and is probably why she didn’t notice it.

  • Cathie Caimano

    Thank you, Tony, for reading and commenting on my article and thank you all for the insightful comments. I do think we are all on the same team, I was just reflecting on the experience I had vs. the expectations I came with (which were very high and I was very excited to be there!). I think this is an important conversation and I am so happy it is happening and grateful to be part of it. Peace.

    • Cathie, I’m glad you caught wind of this and took time to comment here!

      I don’t want to discount your impressions as a self-described “left-leaning” Episcopal priest, because it was your experience and it’s certainly valid. I can certainly see why the absence of “Jesus talk” was frustrating — there were no scheduled “spiritual growth” activities (besides morning yoga), no meditation practices, no prayer times, no “Bible studies” (per se). (There were a number of worship times, however, including Eucharist.)

      And that is, in part, due to the fact that I think Wild Goose is trying to be a different kind of “Christian festival.” You might expect Christian leaders to “show you how it’s done” at other Christian conferences and gatherings. Wild Goose was not a “how to” training seminar; it was not a spiritual retreat. It was a celebration (in my estimation) of our freedom (in Christ) to explore new ideas, make new friends, find new refreshment and encouragement for the admittedly hard and “long obedience in the same direction” (to borrow Eugene Peterson’s language). And just have fun! And it was gloriously fun.

      I guess a few other thoughts I had while reading your article:

      1) That’s great that all of this “left-leaning” spiritual and political stuff is “old news” to you, but for a LOT of us it is *brand new*, I mean, we’ve *never* heard this stuff before (having grown up evangelical or conservative fundamentalist or whatever)! So for “old school” liberals to poo-poo Wild Goose (not that you were poo-pooing everything, there were a smattering of affirmations in your article as well) it just seems a little too dismissive to me, personally. I want to scream, “Get over yourself!” a little bit, but then I calm myself down again and acknowledge again there is wisdom in your critique that the festival will hopefully learn from. And yes we are all on the same team! 😉

      2) Your call at the end for a “liberal fundamentalist” evangelist to stir things up with “Jesus” talk seems like the opposite of what many of us were craving at Wild Goose, which was actually the dissolution of liberal/conservative polarities, a disavowing of those dualities, an exploration of who we are (in Christ!) as one body — not many different factions, but just people of faith (faith in Jesus!) doing our best to be faithful in this world.

      3) Barring a “liberal fundamentalist” evangelist appearing on the scene to do some kind of altar call, preaching some kind of “heavenfire” (?) message, you say you wish there were “at least some charismatics.” Hmmm, I met a number of folks who come from charismatic/Pentecostal traditions who were at Wild Goose. My good friend Anthony Smith gave a talk on black Pentecostalism and how it relates to Celtic spirituality, declaring the Wild Goose Festival, in his own words, a modern-day “hush harbor” for spiritual refugees (of all races). He was basically preaching a fiery Pentecostal sermon on race and religion, and his talk ended with an impromptu sing-along of “Come By Here” – led by Michelle Shocked (filled with the Holy Spirit)! It was amazing, and it was deeply spiritual and deeply moving — and charismatic 😉

      I can only guess that you also missed out on interacting with the number of Quaker folks who were there, sharing themselves and their expressions of Spirit-led faith. My Quaker friend Callid Keefe-Perry shared a critique of the festival afterward that it was too busy and did not allow enough space for reflection and contemplation. (Lots of talk about contemplation – from Father Rohr and others – not enough actual space and practicing of prayer and contemplation.)

      The cynical part of me feels like you had a particular mindset going into Wild Goose (i.e., “This festival is not going to be liberal/spiritual enough for me”) and it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. You seemed to indicate as much in your comment here about your high expectations. And here’s what I think is interesting: Your criticism sounds very similar to the criticism of the ultra-conservative folks who were there (or rather who heard about it and criticized it without coming) – namely, that there wasn’t enough “Jesus” in the festival. Maybe you’re both right, and maybe the rest of us (myself included) are just fine with it that way. We’ve heard a lot of (empty?) “Jesus” talk in our lives. We don’t want more platitudes about Jesus or “the Christian life,” we are hungry for the message of Jesus that compels us to live different kinds of lives in our communities around the country, wherever we came from.

      As you admit in the article, “Maybe our common discipleship was a given. Or maybe I was just at the wrong events or talking to the wrong people.” And to both of those points, I would simply say, “Yes!” and “Yes!”

      Having said all that, I may sound really harsh and judgmental, and I don’t want to be. I know there are important lessons to be learned from reading a critique such as your’s. I also know there are many other amazing stories being shared by others who were at the festival, and I hope you (and others) will read some of those as well!

      48+ posts in the July Synchroblog and counting:

      Here are a few of my favorite posts about Wild Goose Festival so far:

      Thanks again for your article and for taking the time to engage in the conversation here. As you can probably tell, it struck a nerve 😉

      • Thanks, Steve, for your typically thoughtful reply. I will recommend it to our AzFCT friends.

    • Glad you are here! I made my comment (below) before seeing your comment on here, but I think your message is an important one.

      I love the idea of (as you put it) the liberal equivalent of fire-and-brimstone preaching. Well, maybe not quite that extreme, but at least some progressive evangelicals who preach like evangelicals. I’d put myself in that box, if I have to go in a box, and I know others I’d classify that way too. Perhaps we need to be more vocal!

      Justin Lee
      Executive Director
      The Gay Christian Network

  • I’m the executive director of The Gay Christian Network. While we’re obviously “progressive” in the sense that we put the words “gay” and “Christian” in the same sentence, we’re also a pretty “Jesusy” group with many evangelical members and a lot of Bible discussion on our website and at our gatherings.

    We had a booth at Wild Goose. I spent much of the time having one-on-one conversations with individuals there, so I didn’t get to hear most of the talks, but I know that there were a number of people there whose work and ministries would contradict the image Ms. Caimano came away with.

    Still, I understand the sort of thing she’s getting at. In my work, I’ve found that many of the progressive Christians who support, say, a more welcoming approach to LGBT issues, are also often reluctant to spend much time quoting Scripture or or even talking too much about Jesus for fear that it might sound too “evangelical.” Too often, our rationales for progressive stances are based on social or emotional arguments rather than Scriptural ones. The result, then, is that those who oppose us and quote the Bible as their support come across as “more Christian” and thus become the representatives of Christianity in our culture.

    On LGBT issues at least, it’s often true that Christians on the progressive side often come across as conceding that the Bible is really anti-gay after all. I’d argue that it most definitely isn’t, and that those of us who want to change the church’s homophobic reputation in our culture should be quoting the Bible at every opportunity to support our case. The same, I think, applies to any of the issues being discussed at Wild Goose and throughout the church.

    Justin Lee
    Executive Director
    The Gay Christian Network

  • John Edmond

    She’s hitting the head of the nail with the EM. A lot of Left politics with a splash of Christian veneer. She might as well have been at an Earth Day celebration. Have you become so anti-Evangelical that Jesus is a marginal figure other than when used to push a Left political agenda. You have gone so far left that a lib is having to nail you for what you are doing.

    • Charles

      Having a bad day, John?

  • Kate Snyder

    How can anyone with an ounce of genuine discernment be surprised by Caimano’s piece? And she just barely scratched the surface.

    From the scripturally entitled article, “A Broader Church” in The Economist, the Cooked Goose Festival sounds like a wild celebration of carnality, like “Let’s see how far we can indulge the sins of the flesh and still call ourselves Christians.”

    No message of repentance was heard at Vanity Fair either. John the Baptist lost his head for speaking out against sexual immorality (remarriage) but emergents probably think his life and message was a waste of time. Locusts and wild honey? C’mon, John, where’s the beer with that?

    “God is changing the church through the bodies of gay men,” Mr Fromberg told a packed session on human sexuality.

    What a sick, vile delusion.

    As Ravenhill said, Sodom had no Bible. Judgment is coming. Flee from the wrath to come.

    • John Edmond

      You must be having a bad day like me, Kate.

    • Charles

      “What a sick, vile delusion.” “Flee from the wrath to come.”

      Let’s see, punitive G-d vs loving G-d…. ummm, I think I’ll embrace the loving G-d model – thanks!

      • Kate Snyder

        Let’s see, I don’t think you, Charles, or any of us has that choice. There’s only one God, and He is who He is. You’d have to toss out a lot of what Jesus said, most of the book of Revelation, and about half of the rest of Scripture to come up with a God of no wrath or judgment. Just one example: Jesus actually threatens to kill those in Thyatira who refuse to repent of false doctrine (Rev. 2:20-24). One can only tremble at what He thinks of McLaren’s foul teaching.

  • Pingback: Jesus Reinged at Wild Goose | Dancing on Saturday()

  • Tony,
    Hope you don’t mind me plugging how Jesus reigned at Goose:

    Thanks for this inspiration.

  • It was apparent to me at Wild Goose that there is a huge need for people to air their grievances about “conservative” Christianity. I get that. But I left that tribe 25 years ago and am now in a place of making the constructive move. I’ve deconstructed and criticized and been angry and that may be a necessary part of the process, but I am done. Now I am looking for others who can unapologetically and with humility embrace a second naiveté. This thing is real. Jesus is real. The Gospel is real. Amen?

    • Charles

      I’m with you, Nadia. I left the conservative and even the evangelical tribe many years ago. Once you force the lid open and look out at the big, big, huge, unfathomable realm of G-d you realize how small your previous concept was/is. Yes, there is a angry, grieving process for time lost – but I too am done with that. The new quantum theology construct that I’m currently exploring is very stimulating.

    • Amen, Nadia.

    • I’m with you on this Nadia. At the same time, I hope mainliners and other long-time progressives will take Steve K’s advice and still remember to be patient and not condescending towards those who are more recently post-evangelical and are coming to all of this for the first time. Let’s not begrudge them the right to be as angry and deconstructive as many of us once were ourselves, and not look down our noses if where they are at still seems hopelessly naive or still too conservative compared to where we ourselves have come by now.

      And let’s not assume the recently-evangelicals don’t have something to teach progressive mainliners as well. I won’t get into details here, but I will say that spending a number of years among progressive mainliners soon had me unexpectedly longing some of the passion and even freedom I had formerly experienced in the evangelical world. And I talked with more than one person at the Wild Goose who shared similar sentiments – wanting to combine the best of both worlds without having to wholly embrace or wholly reject either.

      Just sayin’… 🙂

  • As I just commented over on Chad’s blog, I don’t see how anyone could have missed Jesus at Wild Goose. In addition to the sessions Chad mentioned, I sat through Jesus-filled stemwinders from Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo.

    From my experience there a more valid observation would have been that there was a lot more Jesus than Paul, notwithstanding Brian McLaren’s excellent sermon on Acts 16.

  • The Misfit Toy

    “To me, Wild Goose seemed more a place to talk about what Christianity is not than a place to talk about what it is and what it will be.”

    This quote from the article is, I think, a better summary of her response to the festival than “not enough Jesus.” It is a fair statement.

    However her complaint that this is so ten years ago is where I think she misses the point. There is a continual stream of people who need to know that despite everything they have heard up until now, it doesn’t have to be the way it is, and that you are not alone in your feeling that something has to change.

    We also need the people who are long past complaining, and who are living into the hope that they can see in front of them. There were some of those people at the wild goose festival, and with luck, there will be more of them next time.

  • Richard


    I just heard a comment (2nd time in a year from the same family) that I don’t talk enough about Jesus from the pulpit. I’m in my second year of preaching through the gospel of Matthew…

    Keep up the good work.

    Grace and peace,

  • Terry

    I wasn’t there, but I just read Caimano’s piece and thought about Sara Miles and Ann Lamott. Two very Jesus-y Christians who are hardly fundamentalists. And both of them talk about how out of step they sometimes feel among other liberal Christians.

    Maybe we can return to that old truism — that none of us has the whole truth, so we need each other. We need those who are doing the social critiques and we need those spiritually sensitive souls who pray hard, and who speak easily and confidently about the saving work of God in their own lives.

  • Sounds like she was more interested in hearing about the jesus of religion than the meek and quiet spirit of Jesus within. She likes tradition and perhaps Wild Goose wasn’t traditional enough? Wish I could have gone to see for myself.