July 19, 2019

Wild Goose Festival: An Uncomfortable, Sacred Space

As I type this, I am sitting in a Barnes and Noble in Asheville, North Carolina. In about an hour, I will head to the airport and fly back home to Kansas City, but in the meantime, I am working to process the overwhelming multisensory experience of the Wild Goose Festival I just left.

This experience will be churning in my head for months, maybe years. The sessions and workshops I attended raised questions in my bones that may never settle – challenges to my conceptions of self, being, physical presence in the world, and what it means to be in my body (and allow others to be in their bodies). They called out my lived assumptions about the importance of historical place and ancestry in my social and philosophical rootedness, and they brought me face-to-face with the reality of how meaningful it can be for formerly enslaved communities to achieve that same rootedness.

The Wild Goose Festival transported me from my day-to-day social setting, where the social fabric of my flourishing is centered on my whiteness, straightness, able-bodiedness, and maleness, to a setting where it was entirely normalized to recognize and embrace our differences. As I walked around the festival, I found that I had to abandon any assumptions about a person’s gender, sexuality, racial and ethnic identifications, or other measures of social place.

This was disconcerting at first, and challenging all the way through, but when I stopped making assumptions about a person’s identity, I became free to see their humanity. When I couldn’t assume that the person across the table from me identified as a woman, I could not put them into a box – that individual had space and power to be exactly the person God made them to be. It was like I was leaving behind shackles binding me to systems of dehumanization.

This is not the impact I expected from the festival. In the days before it began, I journaled about what I thought I would learn from the experience, and my expectations were preoccupied with examining new theological lenses, having academic or quasi-academic conversations deconstructing evangelical doctrines, and generally being pushed out of my comfort zone by having new experiences (like sleeping in a tent and neglecting to take showers for days at a time). 

While all of those things did happen to varying degrees – you don’t want to know how bad my tent smelled by the end of the week – those were not the most important parts of the festival for me.

Instead, I soaked up the energy of the festival. The atmosphere was that of a family reunion where the family members were not bound together by blood, but by a beautiful openness to one another’s very presence of being – by an enthusiastic embrace of our shared humanity. Two threads united us: we had more questions than answers (and we were all okay with that), and we cherished the story of the person sitting across the table from us.

From what I could tell, the festival attendees had no particular unifying conviction, even religiously. When I have attended other Christian conferences and seminars in the past, there has always been a baseline standard of Christian convictions, but that simply did not exist at Wild Goose. Although the festival is rooted in Christian faith (the name of the festival itself is a metaphor for the untameable nature of the Holy Spirit), people there identified as everything from atheist to pantheist, Christian to Buddhist, and orthodox to spiritual.

For me personally, the festival has more firmly rooted my personal mission in spreading the recognition of our shared humanity. We are not isolated individuals, but a global community of people, made holy and beautiful by God. When we take the posture of Christ, our differences don’t separate us – they unite us around a shared table of God’s grace.

At the festival, I was uncomfortable in just about every way. I was hot, wet, surrounded by crowds of people I didn’t know, and feeling a barrage of new ideas and experiences that I never could have prepared for. But that very uncomfortability made it, for me, a sacred space.

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