Important Disclaimer

Since I currently have several employers/supervisors/churches/etc., please know that none of the words on my blog represent them or their beliefs. This blog is my own creation.

It also does not represent my children's perspective, nor my mother's; they think I am funny, but misguided.
(Quick update: only my mother thinks I'm funny now.)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Goose Sanctuary

"You shall also love the stranger, 
for you were strangers in the land of Egypt." ~Deuteronomy 10:19

I got back last night after a 15 hour road trip, returning home to New Jersey from the Wild Goose Festival in North Carolina.

ICYMI (in case you missed it), here is my blog post from last year's adventure, "Wild Goosed." And also, ICYMI, the essay I wrote about belly dancing and ministry while attending last year's Goose can be found in this book: From Each Brave Eye.

Wild Goose is a 3 day outdoor festival of music, speakers, and an eclectic mix of emergent-ish, evangelical-ish, main-line-ish people. It pulls heavily from the southeast, particularly the Carolinas, Virginia, Tennessee, and Georgia. We drew about 2,000 people to the town of Hot Springs, NC. We had about 250 volunteers who helped pull this off.

Wild Goose is not my usual fare. But I seem to have slipped into it just fine. I have to say thank you to my friend, Hugh Hollowell. He runs an organization called Love Wins, a ministry and congregation with homeless and housing vulnerable folks in Raleigh. This is a shameless plug for his organization, and for their campaign: StopHobophobia

The music was great, with Run River North opening for the Indigo Girls on Saturday night. I was going to list out the speakers who moved me in particular, but the list got too long. Check out the website for the list of speakers and their topics. There was a wide variety, the likes of which most Christian conferences do not see.

My favorite moment of the entire festival may have been Sunday morning when most people were busily packing up their belongings, and I discovered four children who had taken over the open mic.
For most of the weekend the open mic had been occupied by singers and spoken word artists earnestly plying small audiences. The children seized their chance now that the adults were busy with logistics. One preteen girl was gleefully belting out something I think I heard on the radio. Two other children along the road were playing with abandon in the mud. The girl picked up a rock as big as her head and heaved it into the mud.

There's so much more--I packed a lot of experience into the last five days.

After my experience at Wild Goose last year, I decided I would volunteer with the festival, and that I would bring a group of people with me. At first there were two of us. Then my friend brought a friend, and a colleague jumped in. It still seemed to me that four people wasn't enough in a 12 passenger van, so I poked around the volunteer facebook page and found a few others coming from our direction. Two women who lived near my colleague in Pottstown. A guy in Camden. Another guy in Harrisburg, PA. So then we were eight. Two presbyterians, two methodists, two baptists, one post-presbyterian-who-preferred-not-to-state, and one non-denim. Five actual young adults in their 20s and three middle-aged curmudgeons the church likes to call young adults. 

We left at 4:45am from Trenton, NJ and made it to Hot Springs at 7:30pm on Thursday. We got in with about a half hour of daylight left, and about 35 minutes before the rain poured down. A kind soul scooped up the stuff and people from our van and drove us to our campsite. We got the tents up two minutes before the rain started, found the beer tent, and settled in, and fell apart exhausted a bit. It rained every day. It was muddy. It was like when the ark landed.

And here's where it got fascinating. The guy who scooped us up with his pick-up truck was Papy Fisher. Papy Fisher is the pastor guy for the Milelle Spirit Village folks. They're the people who washed my feet last year, when the festival was at Shikori hills near Raleigh, and my feet were so dry and dusty I felt like I had been wandering the desert for 40 years. These were the people who brought a bit of healing to my soul in their charismatic, foot-washing, not-my-usual-fare sort of way. (The story is at the end of last year's post, Wild Goosed)

Papy, it turns out, was the lead chaplain. I, it turns out, was assigned as a volunteer chaplain. Papy had invited me and mine to camp with his group, which meant I didn't have to run around in the dark and rain to find a campsite. But it wasn't until I got to the Goose that I realized he was the pastor for the charismatic band of merry foot-washers that I had politely dismissed as "kind of out there," even as I enjoyed their prayer. I was pretty sure last year that this group was more conservative than my queer story could fit. I wasn't sure I'd visit them again. And here I was, camping with them.

A funny thing about when a festival like Wild Goose makes a deliberate move to invite a queer chaplain to work alongside an evangelical, charismatic chaplain: space is created for reconciliation. And so it went as it does, and Papy Fisher and I enjoyed very much the deep conversation and laughter that came from our work together. And man, listen. I didn't have to find a campsite in the rain and the dark.

A person asked me this weekend if I thought there were fewer lgbtq people present at the festival. It seemed to him that he had noticed less visible markers of queerness. A few things in response:
     --There were probably more lgbtq people this year
     --The rain made visible markers of anything rather challenging. Fairy wings get soggy in the rain.
     --Wild Goose seems to have created a rare space where lgbtq people can simply exist as they are without a lot of fanfare. No need to shove my queer identity down anyone's throat when nobody's freaked out about it anyway. Queer people of faith no longer even raise an eyebrow around here.

This is such an interesting space to me. 

I felt a bit cracked open at the hospitality around me. People who hadn't brought tents were given space with those who had them. There was extra food. There were lots of hugs and free conversations to be had. About halfway through, it came to my attention that there were folks who didn't have a ride home.

So there were these biker folks who had ridden their bicycles from Harrisonburg, VA. It had taken them two weeks to get to Wild Goose, and they had plans to get a ride home on a bus powered by vegetable oil. But something happened to the Veggie Bus, and the 13 bikers were stranded.

We had four extra seatbelts on our van. By extra, I mean that no humans were strapped into the seats. Adding extra people to our van meant we would be crowded heading home. But three of the biker guys couldn't find other rides, and someone said something about hitch hiking. I looked at these 20-something guys and pictured my son in a few years. I'm pretty sure they all have parents who don't want them to hitch hike. I offered up the van.

On Monday we packed up the van and rode out. It was a tight squeeze indeed, made even more aromatic by the North Carolina mud that clung to every article of clothing and every scrap of tent. We squeezed the three biker guys in the back with the guy from Camden and plopped their possessions  onto their laps. They borrowed a Bible, and someone started preaching. A few miles up the road we discovered they were minstrels, and they offered us sweet melodies in lieu of gas money until they fell asleep, piled one on another like my cats do when it's cold.

At Harrisonburg, we were introduced to their communities. The bikers originated from Our Community Place, a center of care and concern among neighbors (both housed and not housed) in Harrisonburg. They were connected as well to an intentional living community called The New Community Project. And there was another called the Downstream Project, named for a line from Wendell Berry: "Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you." 

The Downstream folks were working on living without fossil fuels (and they are looking for an intern if anyone is interested). The New Community Project seemed focused on sustainable living and gardening/farming. The grounds around both houses abounded with gardens, bicycles, and alternative fuel options. It was a delight to see their home. I think I'll be back to visit.

As we worked our way back to Trenton, dropping off our friends one by one, I was struck by what an adventure it had all been. The Goose was an entirely different experience this year. But as the Wild Goose is a symbol for the Holy Spirit, change seems inevitable. I'll be back to the festival next year, for sure, probably with more people in tow. We're going to need a bigger van.

Sunday morning, I attended a talk by Gareth Higgins, director of the Wild Goose Festival. He spoke on stories and memory, and he touched my heart with this: "If you don't build your memory into a sanctuary, it'll leak when it rains, it'll collapse when there's an earthquake." 

I don't entirely understand why the festival has caught my imagination the way it has. Somehow it is providing structure to my own sanctuary. It is a good and holy thing to have a place to keep the stories, and I am grateful for the kindness and mercy of strangers.


  1. Thank you for this. Being friends with Papy and his FOC crew here in Raleigh, and also an ally, your post brought tears to my eyes. Maybe the New Creation ecology we all seek will be planted, one relationship at a time.

  2. This is a great story! I chuckled at the idea that there might be less lgbt people here this year and how the mud in a way made us all equal. I had that same sense. People who came on Thursday afternoon dressed cute for the occasion soon were covered in mid like the rest of us there. I was there with my partner and daughter and I doubt that anyone would have particularly picked us out as gay. I don't think anyone cared. That is Tue beauty of the goose! And in the end. We were all covered in mud and the glory of the holy spirit.

  3. you mean there were straight people there?


  4. I love this post! The Goose is a wonderful experience and you've captured here some of the reasons why. :)


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