I'm finally getting around to writing my Wild Goose Festival post. Wild Goose, held this year in early July at Hot Springs Campground, in North Carolina, is a 4 day festival of music, theology, social justice, spirituality, and joy. This was my fourth year attending and my third year as a volunteer chaplain for the festival.
I haven't been blogging regularly this year, and both my professional and personal life have been in need of earnest prayer, difficult work, and deliberate sabbath. This all meant that it's been a month since I got home from Wild Goose, and this is the first time I've felt like writing about it.
It was a strange year for me. I spent most of the weekend volunteering at the cell phone charging station for the Desanka Spirit Café. I didn't really intend to spend my weekend playing nursemaid to cell phones and tablets, but the joy of the work came over me on Friday, and I really couldn't leave it alone. There were other folks working this table as well, but I hovered over it like a hen laying an egg.
We had somewhere around 35 plugs available, and during the busy times it took quite a bit of nurturing to keep the station from turning to chaos. People would leave their phones for hours, and other folks would need to plug in. But nobody likes strangers messing with their phones, so I took responsibility for checking the charge levels. During the slow times we'd let phones charge to 100%. If it got busy, we were unplugging them at 95% or better. And during rush hour, if your phone was over 90% we set it to the side..
Exciting stuff, right?
We didn't have any trouble with phones, but people's chargers went missing a time or two. We provided a few chargers, and they were all marked. But some folks brought their own. And they'd come back to the table and say, "I had my charger here. It was a black cord and a white box." Well,just so you know, they are almost ALL a black cord and a white box. So we made a system of marking cords and boxes and that worked.
Sometimes folks got thrown off by the fact that I wrapped the cords around the phones in an attempt to manage the chaos. 35 cables tangled up on a table gets messy fast.
The vape people charged up at the table too. Some of them would hover until the vape had accumulated enough charge to get a puff or two out of it. A few emboldened souls left their tablets in our care. One group of 4 brothers charged up their laptop, upon which they were playing Civilization. They were cute. And somewhat unimpressed with camping.
The most interesting thing about the charging station is that only a very few people could get reception at the campground. For almost all of us, Hot Springs was a
barren wasteland of cell reception welcome respite from technology. Those little phones were working so hard to try and find a tower or satellite or smoke signal ANYTHING that they were burning through power faster than the phones could charge almost. Most of our phones were useful as cameras and alarm clocks. And after a day of not being able to check the time, a lot of our phones were wrong on the time too.
And yet people came to charge.
It was a ministry by itself, this charging table, but I still haven't quite decided what it was a ministry for. It was a ministry tending to the anxiety of not having your phone charged. But mostly, you couldn't use it for anything, so what did it matter? But it did matter, and people came. And I spent the weekend chit chatting with those who came, joking about the uselessness of cell phones in the mountains, and monotonously checking through 35 phones to see which ones were fully charged and could be unplugged.
The worst problem we had was a missing charger or two. So we gave them a lost and found one that fit the description. Do you know how many people don't know that chargers are interchangeable? It's a sizable number of people.
I spent a little bit of time reassuring the owners of flip phones that they needn't be ashamed. The possession of a flip phone does not make one irrelevant in this life. They still had something to give to the world, their children's mockery notwithstanding.
It was sweet and tender and gentle, this ministry of cell phones.
It was part of a larger ministry called the Desanka Café. I have affectionately referred to them in the past as Papy's Merry Band of Footwashers. This year I stepped into community with them and declared myself Desanka. And they swept me up in their community as they have always done--involving me to the limit of what I am willing to offer. My camp chair, which I left behind at the charging table, says "Katie Mulligan--Desanka." So there you go.
Desanka and I have a history from the first year I went to Wild Goose, and you can read about it in my blog posts from 2012, 2013. Every year I've connected with them somehow. Every year I've tested that connection. And every year they have welcomed me deeper into who they are.
I've tried all kinds of ways to test the patience of Papy and the Desanka community. I'm queer and out. I'm a woman pastor. I'm divorced and a single parent. None of that fazed them. I invited strangers to eat at Desanka without asking first (tell Papy I sent you). So they started a food ministry. I let someone camp in our little tent/hammock community. So they created a village mayor who could be asked about space to camp. I brought a van full of anxious, crying, frustrated people into camp at 9:30pm in the pouring rain and invited the Desanka people to help us put up tents. And they hummed little tunes and laughed and hugged us strangers while they got the tents up. Then they invited us back to stay again the next year.
I told Papy this year I might try running naked through camp to see if that got me kicked out. He said, "Please don't encourage my people. There's a fair number that might follow suit."
Well this year, I thought it might be it. I arrived at camp on Thursday and heard from a couple of people that the senior pastor came to the festival this year. I'd never met the senior pastor. But I think it's a fair guess that most senior pastors of Evangelical Presbyterian Churches might not be too thrilled with my package of identity.
"Don't worry," said Papy, "he's heard all about you."
"Oh, dear," I thought.
He was kind enough to me when we met.
But sometime on Saturday, David pulled me aside and said, "I've been meaning to talk to you."
"Here it comes," I thought. And aloud I said, "Oh yeah?"
"Yeah. You know, when I first saw you, sitting under that canopy, before we met, the first thing I thought was, 'This is a woman who is loved by God.'"
What is it with these people?
The other day, a student asked me what my greatest spiritual struggle is. I thought for a minute and then I said, "Loneliness. I have a deep thirst and longing for spiritual companionship. I've come to understand that loneliness as a holy longing, and that at the deepest, most desperate point of that well is where I find the divine. I struggle to find companionship that fills that longing. I struggle not to overwhelm those who meet me there with my need."
There is a way in which Desanka, in the midst of this Wild Goose Festival, touches on that longing and brings refreshment and healing. They don't even do it on purpose, it is just part of who they are.
To hear in a moment when one fears rejection, "This is a woman who is loved by God."
That is a tenderness, a kindness, that I will never forget.
And it came about because Sue Ellen washed my surly feet with the sparsest of gratitude in return.
I am blessed and grateful.