Wild Goose or Mild Goose?

This past weekend I got to participate in one of best and most interesting experiences of my christian life – Wild Goose West. This was the festival’s first venture to the left coast and it did not disappoint!   Billed as an intersection of ‘Art, Justice, Music and Spirituality’, the Goose brought its unique blend of expression and conversation over the Mississippi River and across the Rocky Mountains to County Fairground near Corvallis, Oregon. Folks from all over the western states migrated – and some dedicated veterans of Wild Goose East (held in NC) flew in.  It was quite a mix of people.

I was delighted by this first Wild Goose West. I had a hundred great conversations, listened to amazing speakers and interesting musical acts, as well met dozens of new friends. I was also challenged in areas of artistic expression, racial reconciliation and both sexual and gender justice.

 If I didn’t know better, I would say that this was the best spend of a Labor Day weekend in my adult life.

But alas I have a wrinkle that some others may not have had. I used to live in the Pacific North West and while I was there I both went to an evangelical school and ministered at an evangelical church. I have since migrated geographically south and theologically left. As a progressive-emergent type who continues to passionately hang onto my evangelical roots, I have plenty of friends who still live in the PNW and who are still solidly evangelical.  And no-one will tell ya the behind the scenes scoop like good friends.

Apparently not everyone was as thrilled with the Wild Goose experience as I was! Here were the four complaints that I heard:

  • “I thought it would be wilder.”
  • “I thought this would be more progressive. This is just a bunch of evangelicals with dreadlocks or hipster glasses.”
  • “The LGBTQ emphasis seems to be presumed that we are all coming from the same perspective. There is no room for disagreement.”
  • “I thought this was an open conversation but I don’t hear any conservative voices”

 Here are my four actual responses: 

  • Wilder? Short of LSD and nudity I’m not sure what more you were looking for. This is about as wild as a christian festival can get and still be christian. I mean, this isn’t Burning Man! Did you camp here last night? (It turned out that they had not)
  • Evangelicals with dreadlocks or hipster glasses? Really? I’m not sure how widely you are circulating or how big your sample size is but I am bumped into people of every stripe, color, economic background, family configuration, age and persuasion. I’m not sure what you were expecting but there is a fairly progressive tinge here – sure there are lots of emerging evangelicals … but I don’t think your characterization is fair.
  • The LGBTQ emphasis is part of the stated justice platform. In order for this to be a safe place for everyone there has to be some assurance that those who have been injured by the church before – and many have – that they are not re-injured here. So no, it is not an ‘open ended’ conversation where we start with a blank slate and see what everyone thinks about the issue. It is an aspect of the justice concern to have a stated inclusion policy from which to launch the conversation. But I think that people are allowed to disagree.
  • Having a conversation does not imply that every perspective will be represented in every exchange. It is not the host’s responsibility the make sure that every position of the spectrum is present. Here is how I look at it: the established church is like the city. It is institutionalized and has all the media (like Christian radio). The city is like a stream with a definite current – it predominately flows one way.  So we come out of the city to camp together in the country for a weekend. We are not responsible to bring the city with us and make sure that it gets a fair shake in all conversations. That city have the privilege of being the establishment and the benefits that come with that. The city can fend for itself. We came out of the city to engage justice, art and spirituality.

As I was flying home I got thinking “How could we make the Goose wilder?” I came up with three suggestions. The first two go together, the third is just for fun: 

 1. Move from the printed schedule being celebrity centered to question centered. 

So instead of it saying “Richard Rohr: contemplative practice”, Rohr would be given a question to answer “Does prayer get us there in the 21st century ?”

2. Move from solo presentations to conversations.

I don’t want to hear Richard Rohr. I want hear Richard Rohr in conversation with Nadia-Bolz Weber.  So the schedule would say “Does Prayer do anything in the 21st century? : Richard Rohr and Nadia Boltz-Weber.”

All of these marquee speakers has a schtick. We could still provide a time for the likes of Brian McLaren, Rachel Held Evans and Bruce Reyes-Chow to do their amazing (and polished) one hour presentations on the main stage if we wanted. But every other venue would be a conversation built around a question.

We did this with our Homebrewed Christianity Podcast each of the two nights and it was incredible!  As much as I love listening to Rachel Held Evans’ talk (and she could still do her solo thing) It was so interesting to hear her in conversation with J. Daniel Kirk the evangelical biblical scholar on the question “What does it mean for something to be ‘biblical’ ? ”

The night before we had Melissa Marley Bonnichsen (a Lutheran) in conversation with Eliacin Rosario-Cruz (an Episcopalian) on the question “How does liturgy, sacrament communal practice get us our of the rhythm of Hallmark holidays and the consumer calendar.

We also Brian McLaren, author of Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?: Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World in dialogue with Philip Clayton – provost at the new Claremont Lincoln University – the first inter-religious university in the world.

I loved Bruce Reyes-Chow’s session built around the question “Are we still talking about Race?”  But I would have loved it more if he was in conversation with Randy Woodley or  Richard Twiss.

3. Have the Hymns & Beer Tent every day (instead of just one) and don’t have anything else going at the same time.

At some point each day (one in the afternoon, one evening) folks will only have three options  sing at The Tent, take a nap, or have a side conversation with a friend.

I loved Wild Goose West. I can’t wait for next year. Those who organized and planned the gathering did an incredible job and I could not be more impressed. I know that normally a 96% approval rating would be enough … but those four comments really got me thinking and so I just wanted throw this out there in case anyone wanted to make the Goose a little wilder.

Let me know your thoughts on my suggestions or offer some of your own! 

-Bo Sanders 

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25 comments
Asaph
Asaph

It looks like I might be about 7 months late, but hit on this while searching for Wildgoose West 2013 (apparently gone missing). Your ideas are very exciting, I hope the organizers heard you, even if they don't do more than create a few examples off the conversations you suggest. We have moved to Seattle, so probably won't make it to NC this summer. BTW, the Beer and Hymn sing at WG1 grabbed me so hard that I dragged our Brethren pastor to WG2, just to experience it. He loved it!

Gus Kroll
Gus Kroll

 @BoSanders I love where you are going with this! I can think of at least two other things that, I think (key words there), would make for a Wild[er] Goose:

 

1) Bring back the Open Questions series (held in the Geodesic Dome at the first Wild Goose). I think a few of the sessions managed to sit in the really uncomfortable space of allowing the speakers to share an uncomfortable space where they didn't have an answer and encouraging the community as a whole to wrestle with the "experts" not having the "answers" is a great way to start breaking down the dualisms that were such a wonderful theme throughout the fest.

 

2) Avoid the stacked decks: I went to the "Denominations: Dead or Alive" and all of the panelists were in a denomination. How about someone who is not, and like the title hints at, there is someone making that case?! After the panel I chatted with Nadia Bolz-Weber and Brian McLaren and asked them the same thing "I'm in a church I really love and while I see all the great things you are saying that denominations have to bring to the table, I'm not sure what this panel is asking of me. Are no suggesting I go church shopping for a denomination?" The answer from both was "No...but that's a great question" Dwight Friesen and I then had a conversation about why he left his denomination and isn't going back and how he thinks non-denominational churches can live without the baggage. Totally should have been on the panel

 

3) I'd like to see a Bible study done right. Where better than something like Wild Goose should there be a place for people to see imaginative ways to handle our text? Ched Myers (Mark - See here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C4Gqvek6cyI&list=UUkrsYnwYLVKkqHNP-iNK4nQ&index=5&feature=plcp ) and Wes Howard-Brook (John) do some amazing work in reanimating the text that I think could be invaluable at a place like Wild Goose

 

Thanks Again for this Bo

MattHamilton1
MattHamilton1

What would make Wild Goose more wild?  Incorporate LSD and nudity.  Dont speak of those two categories as if that 's what would make something not christian.  I'm a Christian (or at least I believe reality was best described by Jesus the Christ), I've been naked, I've had a few experiences "tripping" --- all three at the same time or at least I believe so (your comment makes me feel like I was less of a Christian because LSD has been incorporated in my experience).  Some of the most rewarding times and lessons of my life came from exulting my subconscious through chemical reactions.  I grew up in a fundamentalist, male dominated, beat your child to get him to understand "the way" religion.  Those drug experiences have shown me a reality that loves and that gives......everything if it needs to.......in order to produce or create the hope of grace.  I still have the hope of grace for those involved in the religion of my past, but I dont think that hope would be there unless I had some of the experiences I have had.  And yes they did include nudity and LSD.

 

angiefadel
angiefadel

 @BoSanders , I'm not sure I have ever said this to you, but I completely agree! The beauty of this thing the Goose is it's room to grow. There is nothing that can't be discussed and also added or cut. The other beauty is anyone can be involved. There is room for everyone at the table, you just have to get yourself to the table and be open to the conversations that are happening there. 

Thanks for your thoughts!

Ang

willhouk
willhouk

I've been thinking a bit about this discussion of people of color being represented at the Goose. While there was a diversity of people represented I think it's fair to say it was a largely a white gathering. My friend who lives in South Central said he was in culture shock because he was surrounded by white people (not that he was mad or this was bad, it just is what it is). But I don't think this is something we should be overly upset about. I think it reflects a larger cultural phenomenon. And this is what needs discussion. Churches and ministries are largely segregated in the US. It is "de facto" segregation but nonetheless it exists. I don't think this is something that can be fixed overnight, but it is an area that I think could use further discussion, and contemplation. CCDA and the New Monastic movements ask Christians to "relocate" to the abandoned places of Empire, or the hood. In my Northern Nevada community this is happening in a ministry called Youth First. It's simmilar to what Claiborne is doing in Philly. It's happening in other places as well all across the country, and I think this is the direction that we need to go in if we want more racial unity. That's my 2 cents on the issue. I wanted to add that I am from Nevada, and there are very few like minded Christians around here. The Wild Goose Festival was the first time I've felt at home with a gathering of Christians on a large scale. It was such a breath of fresh air. Oh, and the more I think about it the more I like your idea of more panel discussions and more time for said discussions. That would be great.

hollyrsf
hollyrsf

@ Cody, I agree with your comment that it would be nice to see people of color leading conversations beyond the realm of anti-oppression. To be fair this did occur to some extent.  But I think that we should feel blessed that we have allies of color sharing their work with us white folks. If they think it's important enough to put their voices behind the issue, then we should probably be listening. I'm sure they'd like to talking about other cool stuff themselves. Great post Bo!

CodyStauffer
CodyStauffer

I like these suggestions. I also wish that next time people like Brian Ammons, Richard Twiss, Randy Woodley, Yvette Flunder, Alexia, and a few more can simply talk about any topic in general-- so, for example, including them in on conversations like what was had between McLaren and Clayton about religious pluralism-- than just relegating them to discuss issues concerning their labels and identities. Kind of creates theological ghettos, in a way. I definitely think they should still be invited to discuss those issues, because that will always be needed in order to introduce newcomers to a broader way of thinking and emphasizing the need to pay attention to those issues. But perhaps also give them spaces and conversation partners to engage issues beyond those identity issues. As an illustration to this that might strike a little close to the homebrewed home was the live podcasts-- one night, it was all minority voices (Eliacin talking with Melissa, and then followed it all up with Randy Woodley), and it was like, now that that's taken care of, tomorrow night the white men can talk (Clayton and McLaren). But it would have been awesome to hear Twiss in on that conversation, too! Not because he's a minority, but because he's an awesome thinker. However, giving credit where it is due, it was great to hear Rachel and Daniel, so there's hope! :-)

perrodin
perrodin

@leadfromfringe great suggestions; I hope @WildGooseFest is listening.

Rob Robinson
Rob Robinson

Bo, I agree with your suggestions, particularly involving more conversation.  I intentionally did not attend any of the presentations, focusing completely on meeting with old friends and in the process finding some new friends.  The opportunity to interact with others was a personal highpoint.  I missed the two Homebrewed presentations simply because I was caught up in conversations with others.  As a side note it was great to have an opportunity to connect with you and Tripp Sunday afternoon.  Keep up the good work.

willhouk
willhouk

Hey Bo. I met you guys this weekend, it was a fantastic time. I agree with pretty much everything you said, and your responses. I'd like more of the "Beer and Hymns" thing next year. On Sunday morning there was a singalong/bring your own instrument deal in the Pavillion that was awesome too.

 

The Homebrewed Podcasts were a highlight for me. I loved the conversations, loved the humor. Tripp and the other musicians were fantastic (I had one of his songs in my head the whole way home). I thought it would be cool to use the music stage where you guys were and "smaller/less well-known" bands could play. Kind of an middle ground between the open mic and the main stage. Maybe even just a time for a jam session, where everyone could get their Phish on.

 

It was a great weekend. I left with all kinds of new things to ponder, and a new podcast to listen to. Good times.

Russ Jennings
Russ Jennings

These are good suggestions, Bo. Actually, the one I like best is Beer & Hymns. It's a great community-building thing, even if you're a little hoarse afterwards. The McLaren/Clayton TNT was a real highlight for me. It's important for "us" (whaterver that is) to moddle actually wresling with the issues, be they political or theological. I like your responses to the four objections. I really hope that WildGoose becomes more populated by people of color. Actually, from what I could see, West was stronger here than East. I hope (and predict) that I never recover from that weekend.

castaway5555
castaway5555

I wasn't in attendance, so really appreciate your view of it. I'm particularly heartened by your comments on making this a safe place for all. I fear that some will want to talk about LGBTQ concerns for ever - always going back to the same old sixes and nines about "the Bible," "tradition," etc.. It's like folks wanting to reconsider questions of slavery and the ordination of women. Wanting to "revisit" these questions isn't about seeking more light, but a subtle way of simply bogging down the wagon. That's how I see it, and if I go to a conference, I want my LGBTQ sisters and brothers there in full and without question. That's the great divide for many, but a divide it is. No sense pretending. Thanks for this piece; I think your other suggestions are right on the money. Any chance of Wild Goose West down here in SoCal?

danhauge
danhauge

Interesting that two out of the four main complaints were "it's not progressive enough" and "it's not conservative enough". There you go.

 

I really like the idea of having more 'conversation' panels--where two or three at most get to really talk to each other. While there were many great things about the panels, the usual panel format--letting each person give their own spiel and then take a few general questions from the audience--doesn't really allow for the kind of give-and-take interaction that we could see more of.

 

And, we still need to deal with the fact that, while the speaking slate is getting better with diversity, and while people of color were definitely present, the overall population and culture of the festival is very predominantly white. More genuine diversity would mean, in my opinion, engaging more with communities of color at the stage of envisioning and planning the festival, so that other cultures are more represented in the culture of the festival itself. The opening blessing ceremony that opened the weekend was a good step--but I'd like to see more.

CaedmonMichael
CaedmonMichael

Great suggestions, Bo, especially #2 & 3. I would have loved to have an hour somewhere in the day (and not 7am) where the only options were rest or recreation.

 

EagerDan: I couldn't afford the conference, so I volunteered. As a volunteer, everything but food was covered and I think I had a fuller experience because of it.

EagerDan
EagerDan

@leadfromfringe @HomebrewedXnty #WildGoose lower the cost so not to alienate the poor but wise and caring. #brokeasschristianconf

Gus Kroll
Gus Kroll

 PS Myers and Howard-Brook should totally be on the Podcast

hollyrsf
hollyrsf

 @willhouk Love this conversation. I agree we could use further conversation and focus on anti oppression.  I just wrote a blog post about this in response to Randy's Woodley's call to action for white speakers to boycott emergent conferences that feature all white speakers. 

This a wonderful challenge to many of us to look at how we are organizing our events and gatherings and get more intentional around inclusivity. I would love to get more info about the community in Nevada as I'm in neighboring New Mexico and often feel isolated.  Here's the link to my blog post.  I'm hoping it can instigate further and wider spread dialogue on this issue.

 

http://emergingsantafe.blogspot.com

CodyStauffer
CodyStauffer

 @hollyrsf Your right-- for example, I believe Bruce Reyes-Chow did lead a discussion about politics, but unfortunately I didn't make that one! Again, I wasn't trying to be too critical, because I loved everything about WGW, and I had never heard ANY of the presenters before save McLaren and Rohr, so I was definitely blessed to hear their perspectives! I was just trying to make a comment about something that would be cool to see. And Bo is right, these are conviction areas for the presenters, otherwise they would not be speaking to those issues. I just think it would be cool to hear great thinkers present on all sorts of issues, and if the WGF can provide that space, yay for all of us!

BoSanders
BoSanders moderator

 @CodyStauffer  I have good news and bad news:

- The good news is that you win an award.

- The bad news it is for being the first person that I disagree with today !!

[so overall not the worst thing in the world]

 

If you have ever organized a conference, you have to be careful to make sure what voices WANT to speak on.  The reason that we came up with the pairing that we did was because we organized it thematically. 

 

What you are talking about as 'silos' might actually be conviction. In fact, the greater danger of what you are talking about is token-ism.  Sticking Richard Twiss up there to 'mix it up' ... we would have to check with him first and ask "is the topic of any interest to you? Do you have anything to say?"   because - and I can tell you this off the record - we have invited MANY people to participate in the four conferences we have done and the many live events and been turned down by really cool people because they "have nothing to say about that" or it is "outside their deal".  

 

So while I like the IDEA of what you said, the reality of the behind the scenes stuff is way more complicated.  Just my 2 cents  -Bo

 

p.s. I'm sad for you that you used the phrase that they were "taken care of" instead of  that they "set the tone" by going first ... and just to be clear Rachel Held Evans headlined night two and she is definitely not a white man.  You get the 'close but no cigar'  award on this one. 

HomebrewedXnty
HomebrewedXnty

@EagerDan @leadfromfringe anyone can volunteer and get in free. Just be ready to sign up fast!

CodyStauffer
CodyStauffer

 @BoSanders  @CodyStauffer Great point, I wasn't behind the scenes! So thanks for sharing that. I was just sharing an idea that I think could enrich the overall conference, and if it's already always under consideration, that's cool. I think my point is still valid, though, as you mention you like the idea-- so don't give up on asking people who aren't normally included in those discussions! As to your p.s., the phrase I used was selected without much thought, and definitely not reflective of my own opinion, as I also think they set the tone-- you'll note I was trying to characterize what it could possibly be seen or felt like for some. In fact, I actually was motivated to express this thought after hearing from a Native person in the crowd who voiced a similar thought right after the first night of the podcast (not to me, I confess, I was sitting next to the person who made the statement to another person). I wouldn't have even thought of it otherwise, to be completely honest!

EagerDan
EagerDan

@HomebrewedXnty @leadfromfringe can't do to much, 'handicapped', so I have to be indentured to enjoy? Make it reasonable for all. Simple

CodyStauffer
CodyStauffer

 @BoSanders AND I should also say I think ALL of it was terrific, and the live podcast's were all amazing, I wasn't trying to be overly critical. You and Tripp and Christian and Jordan put on fantastic shows. I just think it would be awesome to hear these great thinkers expound on a plethora of topics, and not just on the live podcast, but in the conversations you mention in the OP all over the Festival. Sorry I came across that way!

CodyStauffer
CodyStauffer

 @BoSanders I should say Twiss was just a name I picked, too-- it would have been awesome to hear ANY of the other speakers in the conference up there. It was just the name that came to mind. 

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