Two weeks ago, my little family of three, traveled up to Hot Springs, North Carolina, from Lake Norman (Charlotte), NC, for our first Wild Goose Festival, where we joined close friends from our “church”, Inclusion Community . (Our spiritual community doesn’t exactly always know what to call ourselves, so church generally suffices.)
When I joined Inclusion Community in 2015, there was a lot of talk about this Summer camping festival that everyone was looking forward to that was about progressive Christianity, spirituality, social justice, music & the arts. Plus, The Indigo Girls were playing. Well, I’ve got an old love affair with The Indigo Girls, whom I caught on the Lilith Fair Tour back in the mid-90’s, so I was kind of sold on that detail alone.
People said, “It’s like Leaf Festival in Black Mountain, NC, but smaller, and focused on spirituality and religion.” Leaf is a well-loved hippie fest, 25 years in the running, that focuses on preserving international culture/awareness through the arts, community, and wellness practices. So, I got that. And then I thought, Spirituality, huh? Okay, that I can do. Spirituality is what takes up the bulk of my thoughts on any given day anyway – it’s just how I’m made. But the religion part? I wasn’t sure.
I didn’t come to Progressive Christianity on purpose. One day I was driving through Main Street in the town above mine, Cornelius, and saw a sign that said Inclusion Community in front of an older, two story, yellow house with a long front porch. You don’t see those words together often – inclusion and community. Curiosity sent me to their website, which sent me to their service on Sunday morning, which actually occurs across the street from the Inclusion house in a rustic, industrial looking studio space called Kadi Fit.
When I walked in the door of Inclusion Community at Kadi Fit, what I found was the absence of pretentiousness and the presence of genuine kindness. There was a real spirit of inclusion, not just a stated one. And the service, as it turned out, was more of a dialogue, an inquiry; I could find none of the dangers of Christian fundamentalism that had hurt me and others in the past, or Evangicalism, which often left me feeling suspicious and overwhelmed with the over-use of the word sin. I had found a home, and after years in Lake Norman, I’d finally found “my people”. It took me a year to figure out that our church was a missionary arm (might not be the best way to describe it) of Davidson United Methodist Church, a fact which means little to me.
So, I had begun to make peace with Christianity in the late 90’s, while attending Appalachian State and Caldwell Community College. That’s a different blog post all together, but ultimately university studies in theology – religions of the world and say, courses on the New & Old Testaments (approached from a historical/political/King James you were a jerk perspective) – helped me to feel less insane with the holes I saw in Christianity, mostly by confirming there were, in fact, major problems. Studying world religions lead me to these conclusions: Everyone is saying the same thing, differently. No one is going to a fiery Hell. People are very confused about the devil, sin, and salvation. Women and Pagans have really gotten screwed over the years. I don’t think this is what Jesus had in mind. Most importantly, I was able to put my teenage rage and rejection of Christianity to rest, and become a spiritual student again. No doubt, student mind is the wisest path of discovery.
I was assured that that The Wild Goose Festival was also more of a dialogue, an inquiry, a scholarly look at what has been, what is, and what could be regarding faith. There would also be a focus on healing and story, two subjects that I think are hallmarks of our human experience and the faith experience, and are certainly central to my own DNA.
This was the journey for me to The Goose.
Now that I’ve been to Wild Goose, what I know is that it’s too big for one person to write about in great detail. You’re given a 100+ page program that includes a daily schedule of educational and entertainment offerings that sprawl the grounds in over a dozen tents and stages. So, I’ll do my best to say here where I focused and how I was impacted.
I focused on healing. Healing work is what I’ve been up to for decades, sometimes more intentionally than other times, but very intentionally in the last year or so, as my spiritual vocabulary has expanded to have greater understandings of trauma, grief, abuse, and their connection to personal story and faith. The workshop that resonated with me the most was Survivor Stories – hosted by Laura Parrot-Perry of SIS (say it, survivor) and Rachael Ann Clinton. While my phone is loaded with notes, three statements jump out:
“You have to give people truth experiences that give them the opportunity to say, ‘Me too!’.”
“All abuse is spiritual abuse.”
“It’s time for the church to do better work on trauma and to stop traumatizing people.”
(You should see the exclamation marks in my phone notes.)
I had the opportunity to talk to Laura elsewhere in the festival about emotional abuse, and I have to say it here: I plan to be talking about this subject at The Goose one year. Mark my words! Anyway, I instantly connected with Laura and Rachaels’ platform.
I also attended Journey to Healing – hosted by Lyndon Harris, Co-Director of Tigg’s Pond Retreat Center and The Journey to Forgiveness Institute; and Black Mountain Grief Facilitator, Sheridan Hill. It was a powerful hour of sitting by the French Broad River with people in grief, and we participated in a stone ritual that offered just the smallest pebble of empowerment. Notes abound, but the four teachings that spoke loudest to me were:
“You can’t blame someone else or take up war with them when you are in touch with your own grieving heart.”
“Grieving and depression are not the same. Depression is NOT feeling your feelings. Grieving has action and vitality in it. How much energy are you spending trying not to feel your feelings?”
“There is so much anger in grieving well! Depression is anger turned inwards. You have a right to be angry, including at The Divine. Love the part of you that is angry. Say YES to the part of you that is angry.”
“Alienation is the worst for grief.”
I also wandered upon Pastor, Joshua Scott’s workshop, Can Anything Good Come from Nazaerth?. He preaches at Morgantown Community Church in Kentucky. He looked like so many conservative, well-meaning, Southern boys I grew up with in South Carolina, and I saw the potential for them in his personal story of growing from righteous, fundamental Christian understandings as a “good, faithful Christian boy” to more open, less judgemental, reformed beliefs about what faith is and the more progressive responsibilities of Christianity.
He talked about pushback and adversity he’s faced in Christian leadership circles, especially in rural areas or clergy groups that are not open, and are in fact, apt to manipulate congregations with fear and certainty. He said, “The last thing they want you to do is think.”
But I was struck most by his vulnerability and the way he’s suffered through sleepless nights trying to figure out if he’s got it right, if he’s leading right. I also noticed the contrast in him – someone with a very Earth sign sort of grounded energy, drenching with both a watery and cerebral passion for Truth.
I have a feeling that Joshua Scott will grow above and beyond Progressive Christianity as he ages, but only if he allows himself to go there. I hope he does, as I experienced him to have great power stirring within him, which people like me, who suspect that Christianity alone is not the final stopping place on the spiritual journey, but an enormous, golden rung on the Universal ladder, could benefit from.
And then there was The Spaces Between Stories – hosted by Author, Charles Eisenstein,from Asheville, NC. This one got mixed reviews by my Inclusion peers, but I was right there with Philosopher Charles.
He had me at this opening statement, “The formulas we live in are not working.”
And then this question, “Is it useful to keep adding words to formulas that all basically say, ‘I know’?”
I’ve often asked myself that very question. I took more notes in Charles’ workshop than any other, mainly because he’s a heady guy with a lot of sciencey (Type 5 Investigator) things going on in his brain. Coincidentally, with just 4 hours of sleep due to campsite chatter into the early morning hours and the Northfolk Southern train blowing past our campsite at 4 AM, I fell into the most luxurious nap I’ve taken in years right in the middle of his talk. I’m still laughing about that – seems ironic. Even crazier is, I was still lucidly listening to him in my sleep! It was pretty great.
Some quotes from Charles, before my body put the breaks on:
“Formulas come from a methodology that comes from deep stories. Those formulas break down and are breaking down.”
“What about sacred unknowing?”
I think this concept was difficult for some attendees. I thought it was brilliant, but I think some people felt hopeless, confused, kind of like “Well, what do I do with unknowing?” To me, this confusion over taking definitive action or a solid stance was precisely why the question had to asked.
I think some listeners also had a hard time with his theories on the formula of the oppressed and oppressors – that maybe there is no evil, no separateness, and that the judgements that are normal in discourse are misguided. In a time of great political and socio-cultural upheaval, I don’t think people wanted to let go of their anger and consider this idea too far.
I loved this idea: “A step into the unknowing is to inquire about were you have been demonized or have demonized, and then found out the reality.”
His study of the breakdown of institutions and how stories disrupt them was phenom! Basically, I think he’s ahead of his time, even in the progressive culture of Wild Goose. *I’d actually love to hear from people who highly resonated with Charles’ talk (and his long pauses).
There was also the beloved Pastor, Sarah Heath, who was a old crowd favorite with my crew. I had to go to her talk, Leading From Who You Are: Your Unique Path to Unmistakable Presence, just in case we’re related. If we are, she must be a cuter cousin, but I could see the resemblance. *wink wink* Sarah leads Shepherd of the Hills UMC in Southern California. Sarah’s topic of living and leading authentically brought some of my friends to tears. Last year was my breakthrough year of reclaiming myself and living authentically, so the message wasn’t as critical for me as say, it would have been in 2014, but it also never gets old. Authenticity remains a practice.
Rev. Heath said, “I want a Pastor who can cry with me. They don’t become your pastor until they get vulnerable and authentic and stop playing a role.”
BAM! That’s what I’m talkin’ about, Sarah! It made me think about how wonderful, spiritual, insightful, humble, progressive pastors are afraid, too. Some do better with congregations than they do one-on-one, because…vulnerability.
She also imparted a lesson that she once received, “Stop telling people who you’re not. Tell them who you are. People want to follow what you’re about.”
I envied her bubbly personality, as bubbly is not a way I would describe myself.
But she reminded me of Psalm 139:13 – 17, “13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. 17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! “
I cried little silent buckets of tears then. I think what Sarah gave me at The Goose was the understanding that I, too, could be a Pastor. It might have never occurred to me that I was allowed until I saw her, somewhat in my likeness, and realized that I’ve been knit perfectly, too. (More on that in a minute.)
One experience of The Goose for me this year has to be mentioned here, as it was unmistakably tender and unforgettable. One of our Inclusion families is mixed race. (That term mixed race kind of drive me nuts, but is useful here.) The father and children from this family, who are African American, were invited to a private meeting in one of the tents on the afternoon of The Indigo Girls show. Given all the horrors of recent racism and police brutality against Blacks in our country, a space was made for Black participants exclusively to come together safely in private dialogue.
Our friend was so impacted by this experience that he did not make it to The Indigo Girls stage (though for all I know, maybe he had not planned to, anyway.) Regardless, when the show was over and we returned to the campsite as a group, it was clear that support and conversation were needed. His family is one of just a couple Black families in our progressive, small church. We could feel our friend’s heavy heart and his words about living in two different worlds. His oldest daughter also had much to articulate from the experience. The pain was quite palpable, not just for him, but all of us on different levels, in different ways. We listened, asked questions, and expressed both our empathy and personal grief. Really, we just swirled together in the complexity of it all. There is so much personal and collective history as White people, Black people, Southerners, Northerners, Liberals, hurt children, flawed humans – we could have talked about it over many moons. I was so touched by this experience, as the only hope I could see was a willingness to dialogue about hard things and hold hurting people in Love.
I kept thinking about Artist/Advocate Julian “J.Kwest” Deshazier’s prolific words, “The most important story you tell is the story you tell about yourself. Reset your narrative to change your life…let stories struggle you…(but/and) you need to get your story from brokenness to wholeness.”
(J.Kwest’s music is a new love of mine for his truth-telling.)
Then there was the French Broad River, where I spent my favorite moments watching my child and his father play in the current, and later I “went down to the water” to wade with my women-friends. It was truly cleansing – bathing with my sisters. I had to train my eyes to absorb the sheer volume of beauty happening in that moment as the river rushed around my body and bubbled over the river rocks around us. Women wading in the water has a healing power all its own, and I felt it. The French Broad is its own spiritual gift.
So, in closing, here’s what I’ve learned happens when you go to The Goose and open yourself to its offerings – The Goose works on you long after you’ve left! You’re exposed to the lightwork of many people who are new to you, or at least who are continuing to put out new work. In follow up, there are books to read, blogs to find, new definitions to explore, people to get to know, and parts of your own longing to discover.
One of the notes I put in my phone while at the festival, is just a prayer that simply says this, “Dear Angels, I want to know what you want me to teach. I need you to show me how. Light my spark, now.”
Here’s how that prayer was answered: I was given permissions I did not know (in my heart) that I had through the stories of speakers at The Wild Goose Festival. The 2016 theme was Story: Receive/Respond/Reshape. It was through story that my spark was lit.
In the Survivor Stories workshop, with Rachael Clinton, she mentioned her school, The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology and The Allender Center. As has happened to me just a few critical times in my life, I felt like a beam of light descended on me when she said those words – The Seattle School…I turned to my husband, “Oh my God, I’m supposed to go there!” (We are headed to Seattle within the next couple years, so this made undeniable sense to me.)
You see, what Sarah Heath and The Goose unlocked in me was this: You get to do this, too. You can Master, too. You can Doctorate, too. You can Pastor, too. You’re allowed. You’re good enough. Seminary does not exclude you. There is no box. YOU are the church, Dear One, because the church is more questions than answers. Progressive Christianity is a living, evolving definition, and you are a part of that.
So, I’m moving forward with my education, because I deserve to be a student (and teacher) of spiritual stories. The Goose reminded me of this, and the paperwork has started!
I had a dream in early 2016 where God spoke to me and said, “You know, you can just be student.” As in, you don’t have to have all the answers. You can just learn – receive, respond, reshape. And then through the Goose that evolved into, No, you can an actual student, as in enrolled.
I’m good with that – I’m so good with that I can’t even how express how good I am!
Thank you, Wild Goose! I’ve been emboldened and I’ll be back.