June 26, 2011

Wild Goose Festival: Spiritual Renewal Takes Flight!

I participated in the first annual “Wild Goose Festival” this past week and I am REVIVED!

Modeled after the successful “Greenbelt” Festival in England, the Wild Goose Fest was 4 days of terrific speakers by veteran and cutting edge leaders of the “emerging” and “progressive” Christian faith. It was held at the Shakori Hills campground near Chapel Hill, NC.  It’s named after an Irish metaphor used to refer to the Holy Spirit that depicts Her wild, untameablilty.

The fest brought in some 1700 people from across the nation – most of whom camped on the site.  It was like a mash-up of an old fashioned camp-meeting revival and one of the “palooza” music fests.


I was invigorated, renewed, and inspired but apparently, the Wild Goose ruffled the feathers of some on the religious right.  Here’s a statement put forth by the Institute of Religion and Democracy:

“Evangelical Left Flocks to Carolina Field to Tout Big Government, Pacifism, Vapid Theology

…“Much of what ‘Wild Goose’ features is not new or novel but old-fashioned liberal causes, freshly repackaged for young evangelicals.

“Most Religious Left groups that advocated leftist policies in past generations are now in severe decline, and their activists are now targeting evangelical youth.

“Influenced by gnostic beliefs that Christianity has repeatedly rejected, many ‘Wild Goose’ voices flatter themselves with fanciful dreams of sophistication and praise from secular elites. Their 1960s-style hoopla is supposedly updated for the 21st century. But ultimately this featherless old Wild Goose won’t fly.”…..


The IRD is a private organization that seeks to undermine the peace and justice wings of the mainline Protestant churches.  They’re led by Mark Tooley, a former CIA analyst.  And yes, some of those secret ops tactics are employed by them (but mostly, via propaganda and attempts to divide and conquer).

There’s also quite a lot of feathers flying in the air in the comments section of the USA Today article about the fest.

First of all, I rather doubt that Mr. Tooley was actually present at the event as the IRD piece seems to imply  There weren’t that many of us and I’ve met him before and didn’t see him.  Perhaps he was wearing a camouflagued Ghillie suit.

At any rate, I take issue with his description of the event.  His words are utterly uncharitable and entirely dismissive.  Moreover, they’re mistaken.  Big Government was not promoted. And there was nothing “vapid” about the power of the Spirit moving there.

While it’s true that some of the speakers did say that “national budgets are moral documents” and they affirmed the need to maintain needed social safety nets for the poorest among us, if anything, many of them were calling for smaller government; e.g. reducing the size of our military and closing some of the many bases we have around the world.

The participants weren’t of one mind on various matters, including whether or not homosexuality or food supply are “social justice” issues.  I saw many light bulbs switch on in people’s heads as they engaged in lively, heart-felt conversations and personal story sharing.  I saw people hugging, praying, reconciling, sharing meals together, and … well,

acting like Christians.

It is true that certain speakers promoted a more contemplative and mystical approach to Christianity, but those are historic parts of our tradition.  They aren’t gnosticism.  It seems the religious right uses that term as a catch-all term to lump all sorts of things together — namely, things they fear, don’t like, or understand.

I’m not exactly sure which seminary Mr. Tooley attended to get his information.  Or, perhaps he didn’t, and I simply wasn’t aware that the CIA taught courses in Gnosticsm, apologetics, and Christian orthodoxy.

It was a blessing to hear veterans like Dr. Vincent Harding (former speech writer for Martin Luther King, Jr,), Rev. Jim Lawson, Dr. Tony Campolo, Fr. Richard Rohr, and Rev. Jim Wallis remind this fledgling movement of its historical roots and to give us the kind of perspective and patient wisdom that comes with maturity and having gone around the block a few times.  An added blessing was the intentionality in having no distance or gap between the official speakers and the rest of the participants.  We were all equally wild geese. : )

It was also riveting to hear people like Dr. Phyllis Tickle share about the historic pattern of Christian re-formings every 500 years (we’re in one now) and Doug Pagitt helping us dream about the “inventive age” that we’re entering.

And it was simply DELIGHTFUL to hear the youngest crop of leaders that God has called share the truth (and more importantly, the love) as they know it. People like Shane Claiborne, Jay Bakker, Nadia Bolz-Weber, and more!  God is doing a new thing among us… just as She always has.

It was inspiring to hear musical artists like Michelle Shocked, Billy Jonas, Derek Webb, and Jennifer Knapp sing their hearts out and hear some of their powerful stories.  The musicians and speakers all performed and spoke for free.

My prediction?

Next year’s Wild Goose Fest will be twice the size of this year’s.  And there’ll be twice the amount of ruffled feathers in certain quarters — among those who don’t do well with change and depend upon doctrinal Metamucil to keep them regular.

There’s no doubt about it, a fresh wind is blowing among us.  I find it’s always better to let the Spirit’s winds move us like a kite than it is to try to claw into the grass and hold on to what was.  It’s more faithful. And way more fun.


Roger Wolsey is the author of the newly released book Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity (he got to speak at the microphone twice and sold and gave away a lot of books)

Here’s his blog about the “New Reformation” that is taking place  on the Huffington Post.

to repost/Tweet:  http://www.elephantjournal.com/2011/06/wild-goose-festival-spiritual-renewal-takes-flight/   #wildgoosefestival #WGF11 #wildgoosefest

Read 7 Comments and Reply

Read 7 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Roger Wolsey  |  Contribution: 12,700