I recently enjoyed a coffeehouse get-together with Gareth Higgins, founder and putter-onner of the Wild Goose Festival. He had been kind enough to ask to meet with me by way of extending to me an invitation to speak at Wild Goose 2012.
In the days since our chat I have not heard from Gareth. I can't say I'm expecting to, though do let me hasten to add that I found him a positively charming fellow. I'm pretty sure he found me, well, primarily as someone who wouldn't, after all, be such a great fit with Wild Goose.
Which is true. I know I'd fit in at the Wild Goose Festival like Bernie Madoff at an Occupy Wall Street protest.
During the last half-hour or so of our visit, I pretty much just talked at Gareth. If you had been sitting at a nearby table, here is some of what you might have overheard me say, especially since I think at times I was sort of almost maniacally not entirely whispering:
- "There are three topics that really matter in Christianity right now: hell, universalism and LGBT equality. You should make a big point of how Wild Goose will be about tackling those topics. People would love that. They want that substance. Distinguish Wild Goose from all the other similar Christian 'gatherings' out there by being clear, right up front, that you're going to actually talk about the only real things Christians are talking about anyway. If people thought honest, real, concentrated, in-depth conversations about those three topics was going to happen there, you'd triple your ticket sales. People would flock to Wild Goose. Get it? Flock? They'd flock? You gonna' finish that cookie?"
"You know what's happened, is that hipster Christian-lefty leaders have adapted a language and model for engagement that perfectly protects them from ever having to say anything real about anything real. They keep it all about exploring, questioning, seeking, dialoguing, relating, broadening boundaries, opening spaces, creating narratives, until you know you're going to croak waiting for any of them to actually say anything. But they're safely ensconced behind their new mantra, 'Doubting is divine.' But how is doubting divine? What could be more human than doubting? I read [major hipster Christian book just out]; it made me doubt whether the author had ever, in his life, had one clear thought. Making Doubting and Questioning the go-to position on difficult issues is a great way for Christian authors and speakers to avoid saying anything that might offend anyone -- but it also keeps them from saying anything that might actually interest anyone. How many times are people going to follow those guys on the same trip around the same merry-go-round? Make Wild Goose the place where you stop that merry-go-round: where you finally take it apart, and figure out why it just keeps spinning." "The idea of theology working from the top-down thing is extremely old-school. Theology no longer trickles down from seminaries, to churches, to pews. Now it swells up from the people. Theology now happens at the speed of the Internet. Shifts in theology that used to happen over decades now happen in a year. In months. It's happening that fast. The Internet has made it so that the future of theology has already happened. If you want to lead anymore, you have to run. Four months ago, Wild Goose could claim the status of leader. If this year you guys don't get bold about explicitly exploring the issues of hell, universalism and LGBT rights -- which Christians are already deeply discussing, which they already care about -- then this time next year Wild Goose will be looking like some mullet-wearing, middle-aged stoner droning on about how Journey and Styx still rock the universe. You're an 'Outlaw Preacher' guy. Be that guy. Do something at least a little dangerous. If you don't, your wild goose will be cooked anyway. Har! Get it? Cooked? Goose? Cooked? You gonna' finish that latte?""Today, the quickest way to lose is to play it safe. The churches still resisting full LGBT equality, for instance, are like tortoises on the highway: They're gonna get sideswiped, spin awhile and then get flattened. You watch: In very short order more and more churches and denominations are going to look up to the heavens, and there behold the brilliant rainbow. And you know what they're going to love about that rainbow? The pot of gold at the end of it! There's money in inviting LGBT people into your church. Theology always follows sociology, and sociology always bends toward equality and inclusiveness. Get Wild Goose out ahead of that curve. Catch that wave! Now's the time! You can do it! You'll be huge if you do!"
Anyway, I'm pretty sure I won't be invited to Wild Goose 2012. Maybe 2013. We'll see. In the meantime, in case I do get invited, I'll be perfecting my killer imitation of Jim Wallis, which I'm sure would be a huge hit. (Kidding! Dear Mr. Wallis: please don't have me killed. My wife is short, and all the food on our top shelves would go bad.)
After Gareth left the coffee shop, I thought about how much I really do yearn to attend the sort of event I had encouraged him to produce. A gathering, the entire purpose of which is to get down in the mud, and really wrestle around with the issues that are currently tearing Christianity apart. A place where thoughtful, intelligent people come together not to argue or bitch or hurl Bibles at one another, but to talk. To start, wherever they're at, and through the process of conversing, thinking and praying with others, move to actual and real resolution on the issues of hell, Christian universalism and full LGBT equality.
That's what I want to participate in. That's a group I'd love to hang out with. That's a purpose and process I could get behind.
But where would I ever find such a group?
It doesn't exist. No one's putting on festivals like that.
But if anyone ever did, I'd be totally down with it.
Get it? Down? Goose down?
You gonna' finish that scone?