There was a moment during the Wild Goose Festival, at Shakori Hills, NC, just a couple of weeks ago, when it seemed like all the metaphysical cogs of our own small universe clicked together and sounded a unique kind of music.
It wasn’t just when speakers like Alexia Slavatierra, Brian McLaren, Leroy Barber and Phyllis Tickle provoked us to reimagine the way of Jesus in the world, through explorations of how to integrate body and soul, honor and serve the marginalized, and live from a core of thoughtful courage and compassion …. although these conversations were transformative and helped us conceive of a new way of being Christian, even a new way of being human. It wasn’t just when musicians like Over the Rhine, Naomi Shelton and the Gospel Queens, David Crowder, Gungor and Jennifer Knapp elevated the mainstage audience into auditory transcendence … although that made us sing, dance, and sometimes weep with joy. It wasn’t just when the Beer ‘n’ Hymns participants mined the rich seam of Christian song tradition, or when Phil Madeira and his distinguished band brought us new hymns in the form of ‘Mercyland’, although those moments felt like church the way it was meant to be.
It wasn’t just when we screened contemplative films or performed philosophical and political plays or shared in sacred space from a wide range of traditions or workshopped our way into new practices of restorative justice, dealing positively with difference, and transforming our cultures of vengeance and retribution into active peacemaking, although these, of course, are the substance of what God requires of us. And it wasn’t just the glorious Indian food, the DJ dance tent, the perfect natural surroundings, or the sense of safety and community that emerged, although these were all so real that it took a while to adjust when we got home.
No, from my vantage point at least, the moment when everything clicked came at around 9.45pm, on Saturday night the 23rd June, on the Wild Goose mainstage when the microphone was occupied by one man speaking for a generation yearning for hope. Rev William Barber, pastor, preacher, poet of the soul, justice activist and President of the North Carolina NAACP, synthesized a critique of the shadow side of religion with a declaration of its best practices, a passionate call to embody justice, even when it hurts, and a gentle invitation to a deepening inner life. His was a prophetic plea for respect across ideological boundaries with a mountaintop vision of what it might mean to be truly followers of Jesus, loving God, loving neighbor, loving ourselves. It was a journey of exile and return, as Rev Barber asked us to imagine transcending the culture war, and taught us to recognize that the line between people of faith should not divide ‘conservatives’ from ‘liberals’, but that authentic theological conservatives and liberals alike passionately express mercy, do justice,and walk humbly. Such authenticity always allows for the chance that someone else may have something to teach us, and that the possibilities of truth and love are never exhausted. Rev Barber reaches back to a noble tradition of black civil rights leaders who put their faith into practice for the common good, incarnate creativity, and call us to something better than we feel capable. It was a moment of political provocation, theological complexity, and community inspiration.
Along with all the stories of what happened on stages are the quiet tales of individual experience: the guy who woke his dad up at 4 in the morning to tell him how much he loves him, the parents who reconnected with their previously alienated kids, the woman healing from exploitative religion in the light of invitational sacred space, the new friends made and old ones reconciled. The person who said he saw the future of Christianity and cried tears of joy. The impact of Wild Goose is not for us alone to judge: but we hope you’ll join us in Oregon to be part of shaping what happens next.
You can find out more about the Portland festival here; for the next few days you can buy tickets for only $99 ; and if you’d like to support the festival financially, you can join our Wild Goose Wings community here.
Something is happening. It’s a privilege to be a part of it. It’s also dramatic, and a lot of fun. We’d love you to be part of it.
So . . . will we see you in Portland?