Wild Goosebumps

We are living liberation…
We are building up a new world…
                                                 Walking hand in hand.

These words echoed throughout the Pisgah National Forest last weekend, coming from the Hot Springs Resort and Campground where the Wild Goose Festival was bringing people together from all walks of life. My dear friend John and I were able to meet a whole bunch of progressive Christians: a pastor from rural Tennessee who shared a Frito and chili pie with me one night; a group of Mennonites who shared meals with us; some mystics and psychics who were dedicated to feeding one hundred people a day; a theologian who knew our senior seminar professors; some folks traveling with the Carnival de Resistance who could breathe fire, dance capoeira, and quote the prophet Jeremiah; numerous children who loved singing, dancing, and making crafts; Methodist and Pentecostal preachers who put on a “Rave Sermon”; a young activist seeking to live simply and ride his bike across country, carrying a heart full of Rumi and St. Francis; and so many other interesting people dedicated to loving Jesus by loving the world as themselves.

It was such a joy to be welcomed by several people ready to give directions and offer help as we pulled into the campground, my little old car (the USS Prius, as it is known to some) packed with a tent, a couple camp chairs, and numerous baked goods to share at some potlucks. We picked out a campsite after much deliberation (John: “Any of them are fine!” Me: “Are you sure? Is this a good location? How about we keep looking…”) and set up next to a nice couple and some young men who had become friends on an online forum. As people walked by, they said hi and stopped by to get to know us a little bit. I went down to the banks of the French Broad River, on which this campground was situated, and shared an impromptu beer with Bob and Kathy as we waded in the water to our ankles. The next day I got to hang out with the kids’ team, doing crafts ranging from facepaint to beading to making sock puppets for several hours…at the end, I was exhausted, but not too much to keep from staying up late dancing to the drumming after a great “Water Show” from the Carnival.

I didn’t know what to expect at the Wild Goose Festival, and in this I found I was not alone: I met many first-timers, and even more people who were eager to share how they got to the festival. And everyone had a story about how they got there…here’s mine:

I got on a plane from Chicago to D.C. in late February, heading to the Mennonite Women in Leadership Project’s “All We Need is Love” conference in Virginia (I’m not Mennonite, but I’ve met so many wonderful Mennonites, I feel like I’m being adopted!) A woman sat down next to me carrying a bag from a religion conference I had attended a few years previously. It was a Southwest flight—she could have sat down anywhere. And she sat next me. I began a conversation about her bag and discovered that she was a pastor…we spent the next two and a half hours chatting about feminist theology, women in ministry, and the issue of homosexuality in the church. She told me about this festival, “like Woodstock for progressive Christians” (a phrase I heard repeated many times throughout the weekend). I then continued to hear about this festival for the next few weeks and decided to listen to this urging…obviously I was meant to go for some reason.

That leaning was confirmed throughout the weekend, as I witnessed many people coming together to discuss issues near and dear to their own hearts, as well as the church’s. The questions we were all confronting were “What does it mean to live simply and walk gently on the Earth?” “How do we help the church as a whole (and as individual congregations) live the inclusive vision of radical acceptance and love Jesus taught?” “What are the characteristics of living well?” “How do we best love each other through trauma, differences, and divisions?” “How do we live in community?”

Living liberation. That was our theme for the weekend. Liberation came in many ways for me during those few days: liberation from my electronic devices as I turned off my cell phone for the first time in a long time; liberation from worrying about how I looked as I didn’t shower for four days and thoroughly enjoyed getting sweaty and muddy; the liberation of my physical being during the many dance parties with complete strangers; the liberation of my emotions as I gave myself completely over to listening to William Barber’s closing sermon and the beauty of a Christian anti-capitalist anarchist parade carrying a vibrant pink cloth over people’s heads; the liberation of my spirit as I raised my voice to be one among many lifting up the hope of the world as our collective hope.

That hope is the liberation of our LGBTQ siblings in Christ; the liberation of our siblings of color; the liberation of our siblings living less affluent lives; the liberation of our siblings experiencing sexualized and domestic violence; the liberation of our siblings living in countries torn apart by violence, corruption, and war; the liberation of our religion from being perverted to supporting divisiveness and violence to the “other”; the liberation of our planet from becoming uninhabitable; the liberation of us all from hate towards love. 

The most important thing I learned about liberation was that it must be a collective effort. As Frances Ellen Watkins Harper said in an 1866 speech to the Eleventh National Women’s Rights Convention, “We are all bound up together in one great bundle of humanity, and society cannot trample on the weakest and feeblest of its members without receiving the curse in its own soul.” Though uttered in a context of post-abolition discussion of women’s suffrage, her words reveal a universal truth. Jesus himself said “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (NRSV). We must search out liberation together. We must fight for liberation together. We must make peace for the cause of our collective liberation. As Desmond Tutu said, “My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.”

We are building up a new world…
We are living liberation…
                                   Walking hand in hand.

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