To be honest, I was looking forward to Wild Goose East with eager anticipation accompanied with a small dose of nervousness. My small dosage was due in part to that fact that I'm a white male who has written a book on heterosexual love within marriage and beyond, between the sexes, Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions.
I don't neatly fit into any conservative, moderate, or progressive paradigms. Progressives would probably call me too conservative while conservatives would call me too progressive. My book is one of those subjects though, that reaches out to all three paradigms for different reasons so I find myself talking to people situated in all three.
What is more important to me than being shoe-horned into one of the paradigms is Jesus' call to love. To love others who challenge me, who are different than me, who see the world different than I do. I may do it imperfectly; I may express it inadequately, but I am more convinced than ever that love is what God's reign looks like on earth.
I probably startled Mike Morrell when I first saw him because suddenly he was in front of me and I made a beeline to him and hugged him! Mike has been in my corner (highlighting my blog and then my book) for several years. It was so great to meet him face-to-face. Then, I met others, too. It was a pleasure to meet Gareth Higgins, Steve Knight, Frank Schaeffer, Justin Lee, Cathleen Falsani, and Ian Cron.
It was also special meeting Heather Goodman for the first time face-to-face as well as Jimmy Chalmers. It was such a delight to meet Heather and the conversations with Jimmy were a combination of a good old boy schtick from the South and heart-to-heart talk.
I also got to see Spencer Burke, too. We reconnected for a few minutes. The last time we saw each other my book was on the verge of being published.
Spiritual Community Outside of Church
Mark Sandlin beat me to the punch today on Huffington Post. This was one of the biggest surprises to me. My nervousness quickly disappeared Wednesday night when I heard Gareth talk and welcome us. Then, as the Festival began and we immersed ourselves into it, I felt like I was in the presence of gathered Christians--and a spiritual community arising out of private owned farm land in the hills of North Carolina.
I was caught off guard as I wasn't anticipating this.
I was so hungry for this. I am a white male; the subject of my book is quite controversial. We live in a sexualized culture and claiming that deep friendship is one path out of that is a contested message in both conservative and progressive communities. Sure, there are some progressives who easily support my thesis. But When Harry Met Sally is a film that finds resonance beyond conservatives. I know plenty of progressives who stay clear of my book.
I was also hungry because I was longing for a spiritual community (even if only temporary) where I felt safe, respected, and welcomed as a whole person (which includes respecting me as an author of a controversial book). I've never experienced this in a gathering of Christians until the Sacred Friendship Gathering I hosted in April.
But that was for a brief 36 hours.
I didn't expect this at Wild Goose so it was a surprise when I began to experience such a deep spiritual refresment. I felt like even if there were people present who disagreed with my thesis, I felt welcomed, respected, and safe.
This was so refreshing. By Saturday morning, I had met people from all of the above three paradigms I started talking about at the beginning of this post. It was clear that all these people shared a deep love and respect for others present. Yes, progressives probably outnumbered the others. But there was this deep sense of love to the other, a deep emphasis of loving the other who was different than you.
What many of us (including me) shared in common was a sense of rejection by institutional churches--evangelical churches. There were people there wounded by their churches. Pastors who were wounded by their churches. People hurting. People bitter over how they were treated by their communities. The leaders of Wild Goose welcomed us with open arms.
For me, this is what made the beer and hymns tent experience so powerful. Here were many people who could sing traditional hymns word by word by heart. Here were many people who were wounded by their conservative communities in their past. Yet, we all sung these hymns with great enthusisam, great joy. Here, the Lord was powerfully present in our singing.
Having a "strong religious identity" and love the other (Brian McLaren's message) was something that deeply resonated within me--even more so with my experience of publishing my book.
Saints Go Marching In
Some of us gathered together on Sunday morning to walk in the Wild Goose parade. We marched around the grounds singing "When the Saints Go Marching In." This was wild. It was beautiful. Flags, bubbles, face paint, and banners.
Jennifer and I gave a talk on freedom and friendship between men and women. We had a great turnout--over 100. In his Wednesday night talk, Gareth said several times that Wild Goose is about collapsing hierarchies. I think cross-gender friendship defuses power and is a path that collaspses hierarchies.
I was blessed by the number of people who came up to me afterwards (not just immediately after but also the rest of the Festival) who said they were so glad I published this book and thanked me for my leadership.
Love the Other
I came away with this deep impression: Love the other. Of course, progressives see the importance and necessity of the State expressing empathy and love (not excluding personal or immediate communal empathy). But it was still an important message which I experienced at the Festival: love the other.