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Colorful Blessings: Wild Goose Festival 2018 #3

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COLORFUL BLESSINGS

It would be impossible to characterize the spiritual beliefs of the thousands of people who gather at the Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, North Carolina every year. Since the wild goose is the Celtic symbol for the Holy Spirit of Christ, I would guess that most attenders are at least curious about the way of Jesus.

Some have been seriously wounded by churches and are wary of the label “Christian.” (After the 2016 presidential election, it’s kind of hard not to be!) Many LGBTQ Jesus-people have found their “tribe” at the Goose but wouldn’t be caught dead in a church, especially in the south. And you’ll find a lot of self-proclaimed “recovering evangelicals” at the festival.

Tattooed, multi-pierced millennials raise their hands in prayer alongside white-haired baby boomers with their grandkids. Newly ordained African-American Methodist women sing alongside retired white male Baptist preachers in the Beer & Hymns tent each night.

Beer & Hymns

It’s a welcoming group, open and inclusive and unafraid of people from various religious and cultural backgrounds. There were Buddhists and Hindus leading workshops, and a young Syrian-American Muslim rapper named Mona Haydar who led us in singing “Wrap my Hijab,” which has been called one of the top twenty-five feminist anthems of all time. Watch her here

The Holy

I went to a session called Blessing 101, which I found deeply moving. I have always liked the biblical concept of a “priesthood of all believers,” which holds that each of us carries “the holy” within us, and we’re called to bless one another with that Divine love.

During this session, we moved from person to person beneath a large tent, marking each other with colorful powder and offering blessings and prayers. We passed around vials of gulal, a powder used like Christian anointing oil by some Hindus and Buddhists. In Nepal and India, there’s a spring-time festival called Holi where exuberant crowds throw handfuls of the powder all over each other to celebrate the victory of good over evil.

I was surprised how after a moment of looking into a stranger’s eyes, I felt I could sense what they needed to hear. It felt intimate and beautiful and made me realize how inattentive I am towards others in my day-to-day life. 

I blessed people with courage and perseverance and peace and forgiveness, and several people blessed me with something like wisdom or “sageness,” which made me feel old, but seemed right for my journey.

For the rest of the day when people commented on my colorful self, I enthused, “Yes, I’ve been blessed!”

Blessed!

Up next: Battling Buddha

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Wild Goose 2018 #2: Resurrecting the Church of Jesus

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Every year, I intend to write multiple posts about my experiences at the Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, North Carolina, a spiritual gathering of thousands of souls thirsty for peace, justice, beauty, and creativity. And every year I get sucked in to some other reality and end up sharing only the tiniest taste of the festival.

Sunday Parade: “Down to the River to Pray”

This year my first post-Goose offering was simply about the struggle of returning to the “real world” only to find a certain someone still occupying the White House. 

Fortunately, I soon entered another alternative universe, one which, like Hot Springs, has poor internet connectivity. So except for my daily nose dive into the headlines, I have generally maintained my serenity here in New Hampshire with my nephew and his gaggle of teenagers. I am on vacation from the ugliness.

I can now take time to reflect on the 2018 Goose and begin sorting through pages and pages of notes and dozens of memories and photos of the festival.

Resurrecting the Church . . .

A few good friends and I arrived early for a pre-festival event hosted by a group called Convergence, a new program for progressive Christian leaders hoping to transform their churches and become part of “the larger multi-faith movement for peace, justice, ecological responsibility, and inclusion for all.” (If this sounds good to you, check out their website and apply for the next cohort by August 27. Apply now and get 50% off!)

Convergence leader Brian McLaren (who is also the founding pastor of my church) began by stating outright that “the old model of church is dying and salvaging the dying won’t work.” Though there was little disagreement, most of the people there were heavily invested in that old model, having attended seminary and devoted their lives to pastoring in denominational structures. All agreed that acknowledging what’s been lost is necessary before new growth is possible, but this acceptance gave the day a bittersweet mood.

One of the Convergence leaders personifies this journey of loss and new growth. Anna Galloday was a Methodist pastor in Tennessee who was relieved of her duties for marrying a gay couple earlier this year. Anna felt certain that following Jesus meant accompanying all her parishioners through every life transition, but the result was that the life she had planned crumbled around her. From the rubble she is building a new life as an outspoken leader in the social justice field and a supporter of other clergy who stand for a loving, inclusive Christian faith.

“Leadership without love is just noise,” says Brian McLaren.

The new face of Christian leadership PHOTO COURTESY RECONCILING MINISTRIES NETWORK

Creating Discomfort

Change in any institution is hard, but churches are especially tough because many pastors see their job as keeping their congregations happy, and as Brian points out, “Happy people don’t change.” He says that a pastor’s job should be to instill a desire for change, to create discomfort with the status quo; in fact to make people unhappy.

If you read the Bible, you’ll see that’s exactly what Jesus did. He constantly challenged institutions and individuals to move towards compassion and justice. He probably wasn’t a very comfortable guy to be around, especially for those invested in their egos and/or the status quo.

Just imagine what Jesus would say to the preachers on the extreme right who are supporting the current administration! And just imagine if they listened to him! Tragically, these lost souls are caught in the triple-deep pit of ego, money, and power. Barring divine intervention, I’m not expecting them to become Christ-like anytime soon. 

Change is Inevitable

I can’t begin to cover all that we discussed during the pre-festival gathering — Brian shared his ten commandments of church change, we talked about how various personality types respond to change, we covered “Moral Foundations Theory” and how liberals and conservatives view it differently.

Brian McLaren: Mastering Change

The bottom line is that change is inevitable because “today’s solutions create tomorrow’s problems,” so leaders had better get used to it.

I left the Convergence session feeling overwhelmed but grateful that our little independent church isn’t tied to any institutions or existing power structures. Unlike most churches, Cedar Ridge is entirely free to follow God’s Spirit where we feel she’s leading, which for us means a contemplative frame of mind and a movement towards social justice — racial, economic, and environmental.

I see why I have trouble capturing the Wild Goose Festival — this post is quite long enough and I haven’t even gotten to the official start of the festival! Stay tuned for random thoughts on discernment, Buddha, and the creation of new rituals . . . In the meantime, check out “Wild Goose” in the search function of this blog and read about past festivals.

Wild Goose 2018 #1: Holding on to Serenity

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After five days at the Wild Goose Festival in the mountains of North Carolina, unplugged from the internet and living in a community of four thousand smiling, creative, hopeful, “damn-givers,” as John Pavlovitz calls us, it is hard to return to . . . to . . . what shall I call this train wreck of a world?

I will not call it anything. I will not spend my precious time searching for words despairing enough to describe the darkness and brokenness. I will not let it burrow back into my soul.

I will simply allow it to parade by in all its sick ugliness and violence and pettiness, and I will hold on to the hope and courage and truth and generosity of spirit that defines Wild Goose.

This is the ultimate act of resistance. Resistance of the heart. It’s not easy.

The moment my phone reconnected me with so-called “reality” — the one where the President of the United States offers aid and comfort to the KGB-president who is working round-the-clock to undermine our nation — I lost my serenity. I drove eight hours back to Maryland, greeted my cat, unpacked my cooler, and immediately became engaged in a Facebook debate about the meaning of “treason.”

Then I perused Twitter until 1 a.m., first in disbelief, then in outrage, and finally in numb horror.

I chose this. I simply handed over my serenity and exchanged it for madness. There’s an awful lot about which I have no choice. But what I allow to rule in my mind and heart, I can choose.

So here are a few images from the Goose this year. More words and images of hope to come . . .

Blogger & pastor John Pavlovitz speaks to the “damn-givers” (If you don’t read his blog, I highly recommend it!)

A communion table where everyone is welcome

Listening to singer/songwriter Amy Grant

Sacred Soil

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SACRED SOIL

I’m doing laundry, watching the last of the silty North Carolina river soil circle the drain and disappear. I’m always low when I first return from my annual pilgrimage to the Wild Goose Festival on the banks of the French Broad river. After spending four days with two-thousand-plus “spiritual misfits” immersed in spirit, justice, music and art, it’s hard to return to the “real” world.

My friends and I have been on sacred ground, sacred meaning “holy” or “set apart for or by God.” We set ourselves apart from our busy calendars and to-do lists and the traffic and the email and even wi-fi (!!!), and we dug our roots deep into the soil of truth and love and living spirit.

Standing on sacred ground at the Wild Goose Festival

Soil is what feeds us and nourishes us. It’s what we are made of. As the Bible says, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Down by the river, we remember. We remember our true selves. We remember that we are connected to every other wounded soul on the planet – past, present, and future. And we remember that we have responsibilities to all those other souls.

We are each called to heal and to become our best, healthiest selves, now more than ever. Our very planet depends on it. 

What soil will we choose for nourishment?

We can sink our roots into the polluted soil of judgement and contempt and divisiveness, or we can choose the sacred soil of love and openness and peacemaking.

For a few precious days, my thirsty roots penetrated deep into the sacred soil by the rushing river. It will take some time to see what grows. I have pages and pages of notes, and my head is full of rainbow flags and sung psalms and the smell of campfires. I’m not quite ready to write about it. If you are curious or impatient, you can use the search function on this blog to find my posts from past festivals while you breathlessly await my 2017 Goose musings. 

Mourning into Dancing: Wild Goose Festival

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I want to tell you about the little blonde girls wearing summer dresses, dancing barefoot in the shiny mud. I want to tell you about the weeping African-American woman clutching my hand, chanting “I am, I am” to the Sabbath sky. I want to tell you about the writhing shadow figures circling the bonfire, moving rhythmically to our midnight drumming. And about the white unicorn waving his hooves, singing Holy, Holy, Holy under the Beer & Hymns tent.

I want to tell you, I want to show you, I wanted you to be there. Wild Goose Festival 2016.

But it’s all too much right now.

I arrived home last night, my heart bursting with hope and gratitude despite the darkness that’s descended on my country and around the globe. I have been reminded that we are all one. We just forget. But I know that love is stronger than hate, that love is stronger than fear, and that love will win.

It starts with me. It starts with you. So go do something loving today, and try to stop yourself if you are about to do or say or write or even think something unloving. And that will be enough for today. Once I process the amazing grace I have been living inside for the past four days, I will write more. I will try to tell you.

Peace.

A Face of Hope

One Face of Hope

Related posts:

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2015/07/16/spirit-on-the-wing-scaring-the-hell-out-of-christians/

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2015/07/22/spirit-on-the-wing-ii-the-high-cost-of-flying/

@WildGooseFest

Spirit on the Wing II — The High Cost of Flying

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I wrangled with God for decades before I decided to follow Jesus, mostly because I feared God might send me off to Africa to become a missionary. I liked being in charge of my own life, thank you very much, and Africa wasn’t part of the plan.

Now, after several decades of bumbling along after Jesus (including a brief time in Africa working with AIDS orphans and widows), I view my life and God very differently. I have given up the illusion that I’m in charge of anything and have thrown in my lot with a loving higher power who plots goodness for the world and for my life.

There is nothing that gives me more joy than hanging out with other people who embrace the adventure and freedom of searching for and surrendering to the infusing power of Love.

That’s why my annual trip to the Wild Goose Festival in North Carolina is so inspiring and refreshing. To be among thousands of truth and justice seekers, all bathed in mud or dust depending on the year, singing and praying and sharing our stories and struggles — well, that is the Kingdom Come for me.

beer and hymns

Nightly beer & hymns

Sharing stories

Sharing stories

It’s certainly not all happy hymns, there is plenty of struggle and sacrifice and pain in this faith journey. Jesus people are asked to step into the uncomfortable and the countercultural, and we don’t even get a pass from the everyday trials and losses; we just get a different perspective on them. And so it is good to come together to bear witness to the joy and sadness of the journey.

goose crowd

Kingdom Come

This year we had two surprise guests at the Goose, one a young African-American woman and the other an eighty-year-old white guy. Both received standing ovations for their courage, and both spoke of the high cost they have paid for responding to the Holy Spirit of Love.

The Courage to Change your Mind (Repent)

If you’re a Christian, you’ve probably heard of author and evangelical thought-leader Tony Campolo. Or you might have seen him on The Colbert Report. While he is viewed as a relatively progressive evangelical, he’s been outspoken in his opposition to gay marriage. In June, he completely reversed that position and said that he had been wrong.

He was immediately castigated by other evangelical leaders, and long-time friends now refuse to speak to him. His 300 speaking engagements for the year dropped to 30 as the “dis-invitations” rolled in.

Ahhh, Christianity at its judgmental best.

The good news is that because Tony’s speaking engagement for the weekend had been cancelled, he was able to come to the Goose where he was warmly welcomed. A huge tent quickly filled to capacity and hundreds stood outside in the sun, fanning themselves as they listened to him tell his story.

Tony said he had always “accepted” gay people as long as they remained celibate, but as he got to know more gay people and their families, he became increasingly uncomfortable with his position.

“We all said, ‘love the sinner but hate the sin,’ but the thing is, Jesus never said that. Jesus said, ‘Love the sinner and hate your own sin;’ I had to look at myself . . . who am I to deny gay people the same joy and fulfillment I have enjoyed with my wife all these years?” he asked. Indeed.

Tony Campolo (left) and Brian McLaren

Tony Campolo (left) and Brian McLaren

He said that he owed the gay community an apology and acknowledged that he and the church have caused gay people and their loved ones a lot of pain. Tony told stories of courageous pastors who have been standing up for their gay friends and parishioners for years and paying high costs. “I’m eighty years old, I don’t have much to lose. Those are the real heroes.”

This being a loving crowd, Tony stuck around for the whole festival and basked in the acceptance and forgiveness of the Wild Goose community, gay and straight alike.

The Courage to Risk your Life

I would have thought that our other surprise guest would need no introduction, but a lot of folks didn’t know who she was. Bree Newsome — ring a bell? She is featured in this blog I posted a few weeks ago.

Bree is the young African-American woman who scaled the flagpole outside the South Carolina statehouse and took down the confederate flag, quoting scripture all the way up and all the way down and as she was led off to jail.

In the name of God , this flag comes down!

In the name of God , this flag comes down!

Bree and her colleague James Tyson almost didn’t accept the invitation to speak at Wild Goose because they have been threatened with violent retaliation and were nervous about standing in front of a big crowd. “But we decided to come because God is a God of peace, not fear,” Bree told the crowd. Still, they were accompanied by eight low-profile security folks at all times.

The day before Bree arrived, there was a confederate flag emblazoned with a skull flying from a tree on the way into the festival. I’m ashamed to say I did not stop to take it down because I knew someone else would.

Bree spoke of her decision to climb the flagpole as a “crisis of faith moment” for her. After meeting with other activists, she went into a back room alone and prayed. “I got the peace that passes understanding, and I said, ‘OK, Lord, I gotcha — I’m supposed to climb that pole,’ but then I got home and there was my grandmother and my niece, and I thought, ‘Oh Lord, what are you asking me to do? I could die.’ I called my sister at 3 a.m. and said ‘pray for me.’ After that experience, you can’t tell me anything. Christ is real . . . Jesus Christ is one of the biggest agitators ever.”

Bree is deep in the struggle with both feet, and I’m sure she scares the pants off of those who don’t agree with her. She is well-educated, well-spoken, poised, fearless, and driven by a fierce and holy hunger for justice.

“Justice is a way of being that fully recognizes the humanity in all beings,” she told us. “The black struggle is part of the overall struggle for liberation to end oppression itself.”

When someone asked her what legacy she would like to leave, she answered, “I’m not living to leave a legacy for myself. I hope I’m remembered as someone who died doing the work of Christ.”

Bree Newsome and James Tyson: The joy of the Lord is our strength

Bree Newsome and James Tyson: The joy of the Lord is our strength

Bree’s words made me think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor who was thrown into a concentration camp and then executed by the Nazis for his work against Hitler. He wrote a classic book called The Cost of Discipleship, which was a little heavy-handed for me, but the title raises a question for all of us who call ourselves Christians. What does my faith-life cost me?

See part one: Spirit on the Wing: Scaring the Hell out of Christians

Spirit on the Wing: Scaring the Hell Out of Christians

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Imagine being in a place of profound belonging, of shared vision, of arms-open love, no matter who you are. It’s a serene place on the banks of a wide river, and the music of the river mixes with the sounds of laughter and song all day and into the night. It’s a place that fills you with powerful spiritual energy.

Guess what? It’s real, and you can come visit next summer!

Hope for Justice

I’ve just returned from my third experience of the Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, North Carolina. Wild Goose is not just a place, as lovely as it is by the French Broad River, and it’s not just an event, although with several thousand attendees, it certainly is that. Wild Goose is above all a spirit, one with strong wings that will carry me another twelve months until I can be reunited with “my tribe.”

Soul Friends

Soul Friends

Everyone I met felt that way, all remarkable God-lovers who would be official saints if I were in charge of the churches that name saints. Souls who devote their lives to racial justice, visiting prisoners on death row, ending human trafficking, promoting peace in Palestine, forging guns into garden tools, fighting coal plants and climate denial, ending the oppression of gay folks, growing food for the hungry, on and on . . . the work of God.

When these tired travelers gather together each year for four days of music, art, justice, and spirituality, something magical happens: loneliness is banished and hope is restored.

For me, this is what the Christian faith is all about: restoration. Restoring our souls, restoring our connection with creation and with our Creator, restoring our relationships with other humans — even restoring a healthy relationship with death. All reasons for hope.

The Fearful Face of Christianity

Sadly, modern Christianity often leads people away from a sense of loving restoration and into a land of judgement, contempt, and fear — fear of God, fear of hell, and fear of people who think or believe differently — which tragically results in many professed Christians working against justice because they fear empowering “the other” and must defend “their” faith from attack, as if God needs to be protected from dangerous outsiders. 

These fearful folks don’t come to the Goose — there are too many “others” there. Milling around the festival grounds are Christians who don’t believe in a place called Hell, Christians who don’t believe that Jesus had to be slaughtered by his Father so that we could go to heaven, and Christians who don’t believe that their gay loved ones are headed for eternal damnation. I suspect some may actually be gay themselves — gasp!

Aaron

Aaron

There’s meditation. And yoga. And Tai Chi. 

No doubt about it. The Christian establishment — males who base their faith on rules and theories developed by other males ever since Jesus came to teach us how to live a joy-filled life — do not care for Wild Goosers. Their religious paradigm does not allow for thinking or questioning or evolution (in any sense of the word). “God is unchanging,” they argue, which I believe is true, but this doesn’t mean that our understanding of God and the universe shouldn’t evolve: God did invent the human brain. 

The religious establishment rants and rails against progressive “Emergent Christians” and the Wild Goose Festival.

And no wonder. The Wild Goose is the Celtic symbol for the Holy Spirit, an unpredictable, uncontrollable love-power that can topple establishments and result in all kinds of rule-breaking — in the tradition of the historical Jesus, I might add.

This woman is clearly trouble.

This woman is clearly trouble

An Ongoing Story

I’m not good at doing serial blog posts; I tend to peter out after two. “Lessons from the Fall” that broke my arm and observations from my Desert Pilgrimage in April are still awaiting their third installments.

Nevertheless, you’re in for at least a couple of posts. This year’s Goose hosted several surprise guests right out of the headlines, and I have pages of notes from workshops and dialogues. The Wild Goose deserves full attention, both for what it means to me personally in my faith-walk and for what I believe it could mean for the future of Christianity and thus the world.

The Goose is on the wing!

DSCN4422Related links:

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2014/07/03/wild-goose-part-one-celebration-sexuality/

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2014/07/16/wild-goose-part-two-mud-music-and-exploding-head-syndrome/

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2015/06/29/justice-scalia-meet-spirituality/

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