A couple weeks ago, I had my first experience at the Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, NC. Let me tell you friends-it was hot, it was humid, and it was holy.
I didn’t know what to expect and quite frankly, was a little nervous about what I would find. But these three days in the woods of the Appalachian Mountains were much more than I anticipated. Driving through the one stop sign town of Hot Springs, NC you would never know that there were 4,000 people packed into the woods just beyond the road. But we were there. And we were connecting and building meaningful relationships with one another on all topics related to spirituality, arts, and justice.
There were many highlights for me: eating my first Veggie Thing (a delicious veggie-filled crepe-like “thing” with amazing tomato based chutney), enjoying lunch with Brian McLaren and talking about the future of the church, hearing a powerful talk from Jen Hatmaker on the importance of embracing pain, and connecting with friends new and old as we waded in the river, grabbed an ice-cold lemonade, or just sat beneath a tree catching up on life.
But then there was Amy Grant, my friends. And for me, she defined the weekend.
There was lots of buzz leading up to “the Goose” (as people like to call it). People repeatedly asked me, “Is Amy Grant affirming?” and I had to admit that I honestly didn’t know. I couldn’t imagine her coming (or Wild Goose inviting her) if she was not…and yet, my heart still wondered.
Amy Grant was a staple in my household growing up. My mom was would turn on her “Heart in Motion” album when we cleaned the house, and every time a Colorado snow would fall, I’d wake up to “Tennessee Christmas” playing on the stereo.
I admit I haven’t stayed much up to date with Amy Grant in recent years. Subconsciously, I’m sure something mentally ties those memories to my “pre-coming out life.” So being unsure of Amy Grant’s current theological and political stances, I went to Wild Goose cautiously optimistic of what she would bring.
But when Grant took the stage for her concert that night and lit up the audience with songs like “It Takes a Little Time” and “Baby, Baby” it was more than just nostalgic. Something transformative happened as we heard and saw her sing those songs from the ages on the Wild Goose stage with a Pride banner hanging in the background. Battling the humid heat alongside us and inhaling bugs that flocked to the stage lights as she sang, I believe something healing was taking place for many of us that night.
My biggest regret of that evening was not staying around for beer and hymns following the concert. Gathering under a tent beneath the stars, Grant joined the “Goose Goers” in song. In those midnight hours one of the most holy moments of the weekend took place as Grant, along with others, sang “El Shaddai.” Watching it through the videorecordings of my friends, the spirit of God was obvious. The Divine entered in, redeeming and healing the hurt and pain of so many that had been cast aside from other circles in the name of religion. Love and acceptance abounded.The closest thing Grant made to an affirming statement that weekend was the following morning when she said that her family was filled with diversity, including different sexual orientations. Beyond that, no official statement was made.
At first, I was rather disappointed. I wanted a clear answer, something that made it obvious as to where she stood. But as the morning went on through worship and the receiving of the Eucharist, I came to realize that I didn’t need one after all. Her spirit, her presence, and her love spoke volumes about how she felt about every person present, and the love God had for them unconditionally.
I’m not saying that words don’t matter or that vocal alliance isn’t important, because it absolutely is. There was nothing more powerful than Jen Hatmaker publicly apologizing to the LGBTQ community for her silence and saying that, even after all the hell she’s faced since her public announcement, her only regret is that she wishes she would have become an ally earlier in her life. It was powerful.
One of the most healing moments for me came when Amy Grant served me communion. After meeting both my wife and I earlier in the morning, when it came my turn to receive the elements, Grant locked eyes with me, and the only words she spoke were, “You are loved.” And that sealed it. I no longer needed verbal validation of her acceptance of the LGBTQ community. It was just obvious…in her presence at the festival, in her willingness to tough it out in the woods with a bunch of sweaty, smelly people, in her desire to not just show up and give a concert, but to stay and interact and participate in the festival alongside us…in her showing up to beer and hymns, in her serving communion, in her smile and her eyes. She displayed such humility. It brought healing for so many, and it was truly holy.
I saw so much of Jesus in Amy Grant that weekend. It has continued to sit and stay with my soul. It is a memory I will continue to cherish and reflect on because it was so validating for me as an LGBTQ Christian.
So thank you Amy Grant. Thank you for coming and walking among us, for loving us and embracing all of us…just as Jesus would.