Tuesday, July 1, 2014

We are here!...Wild Goose 2014

The Main Stage
We left the Wild Goose Festival  on Sunday, a three day festival of “justice, spirituality, and music,” to which I would add mud, tattoos, and progressive evangelicals.  I’m not sure how many hundreds of people were there, but it’s kind of a pop-up Christian community of campers, speakers, and musicians for a weekend. We went last year, too, when there were bigger names; Krista Tippett from NPR interviewed a bunch of the presenters, and it felt like there was a certain imperative to listen to people who had written Big Books—James Alison, Brian McLaren, Phyllis Tickle—on the big stage when I had the chance.  Vincent Hardingwho died in May, was there last year, too, and I do feel grateful to have heard him.  But the best talks we went to were the smaller-tent ones, where you actually had more of a conversation, and not someone far away giving a faster, less nuanced version of their latest book.  So I went in with that in mind, as well as with a considerably better frame of mind, given that our last foray into the mountains and wild woods of Western North Carolina left us with a long trip with a tow truck and some pretty scary driving (including the falling-off of our tent trailer in a lovely clearing at Wolf Creek Falls in the Cherokee National Forest).

The Big Top
So this time, I spent a lot of time in the “Carnival” tent. It was hosted by the Carnival de Resistance,  a crew of poets, dancers, artists, and activists. Also academics, but they had their prophetic hats on, so it was never abstract in the way that academic thought can be (abstraction I love, but still).  Jim Perkinson talked about American white supremacism and how living in inner city Detroit and learning from the African-American community there had saved his soul.  Ched Myers,   whose work I’ve long been interested in, talked about the Christian invitation to love our watershed, not just change our light bulbs because we ought to. Dee Dee Risher, former editor of  The Other Side Magazine   (and author of the article about Vincent Harding I linked above) not un-gently pointed out to my query about bringing liberative Bible Study back to my parish that I had to nurture my own education as well.

I remember reading in college about the post medieval French charivari in Natalie Zemon-Davis’ 

work, the intentional upside-down celebration where the poor became rich and the rich became poor, if only for a day. It served as an escape valve; if you let those on the bottom feel like they’re on top for just a day or two, how much easier it is to keep them on the bottom for the rest of the year (There is certainly some good economic analysis to be done here when it comes to contemporary American politics, too—but that is for another time).
This carnival was more in line with what has long attracted me about poetry, and what I was longing after in my writing sabbatical in 2012. Poetry isn’t for anything, in the same way that the guy wearing a fake nose and horns on his forehead and a skirt wasn’t dressed up in that way to accomplish anything.  Instead, carnival is about hope and imagination; to shock us out of the compulsion of the ordinary, even if just for a minute.

From their welcome sign (see below for full text):
We wish with our bodies to contradict claims that civilization has made about how necessary its gifts are to a life well lived and again to playfully produce, if not proof, some early evidence that a life of another stripe might be realistic, even necessary.

Life of another stripe might be realistic, even necessary.
So under the carnival tent were wonder- workers of knowledge and activism—working repentance and newness and thought in oppressed communities of inner city Detroit, First Nations people of Canada, and all over the globe, in and through our earth as it suffers as well.  The carnival space felt liturgical.  At the end of one session we wandered into, we were invited to greet each other with this: “We are here! We are here!” which would not have been out of place (maybe without the puppets and face paint) in my own parish community as we pass the peace on Sunday mornings.

We are here! This is the human interaction that says, “I see you, and yes, we are here. We have been created for more than buying and selling. We have been created to see each other.” We are here!  We see each other!  We remember!  We remember, not just each other, but everyone.  Poor people in Detroit whose water is getting shut off. New immigrants, whether or not they have the correct paperwork.  People you disagree with. Women who have lost their right to their full health care benefits (thanks, Hobby Lobby and Supremes). We are all here. God made me. God made you. Before we’re supposed to “witness” God’s love to each other, God invites us to witness the Other in the first place, see each other at all.  Jim Perkinson pointed out that the beginning of the Gospel—the beginning of the Gospel, that we so often remind ourselves is “good news”—is the voice of one crying out in the wilderness. The cry is the beginning.

Carnival is unsettling in all the right ways—there are more questions than I can name. How am I living Christian values of giving up power—having economic power as part of the middle class, having white privilege in this bruised, bruising, and racist country, having the privilege of a position of, if not power, at least comfort in the (institutional) Episcopal Church. One of the Big Names of the weekend was Jim Wallis, talking about racism as America’s original sin—I did leave the carnival tent for that.

I love so much about my life, but my life is, objectively, not that hard.  I love parish ministry, I love sharing sacraments, I love being a parent.  But it’s also true that I’m a parish minister in a place with an endowment.  My kids always have enough to eat. There are certain comforts that make it easier for me to love what I do. What was great about the Carnival tent, though, was the shimmering, holy joy of finding a way to live differently: the bean bag toss game “Cleanse the Temple” to remind us of Jesus’ invitation to faith without commerce, the puppets, the parades, the anti-clock tower. As Ghandi used to say, “Renounce and enjoy!” 

I imagine—I hope!—I will spend some more time thinking about this.  One of the talks I went to was called “Slow Church,”   about how freaking long it takes to establish yourself in a community and to listen to what the community needs, to respond authentically to those who are there and where God might be leading. Heading into my tenth year as rector of Christ Church Waltham, I look forward to some slow reflection, and pray for the patience to sit still for it as well as in thanksgiving for the conversation partners traveling there.

...[more great Goose times were had learning music with Ana Hernandez, a rousing altar-call to social justice sermon by the Rev. William Barber, catching up with friends, and splashing in all the mud puddles (it rained all weekend)... but I have to stop writing at some point.]