I just got home from the 4-day Wild Goose Festival held in Shakori Hills, N.C. Peeing in the woods at night was better than using the porta potties and when the breeze died down it was hot and humid. But with a beer tent, old friends from the UK to drink with and a three-hour lunch with Jim Wallis and his stunningly wonderful wife Joy plying us with paper cups full of wine as we talked -- what's not to love?
Gareth Higgins (who invited me and was a founding organizer of the festival), Tony Jones, Jim Wallis, Fr. Richard Rohr, Brian McLaren, Scott Teems, Anna Clark, Vincent Harding, Diana, Butler Bass, Samir Selmanovic, Paul F. Knitter and 30 or so other progressive religious (or sort of religious, or mostly religious, or almost religious) writers, authors, whatever, spoke. Richard Rohr gave a fantastic talk on human character development. Jim Wallis called us movingly, sanely well to organize, march and provide the wind behind Obama's sails in order to change his priorities from war to education, compassion and justice. I did my bit introducing my new book, "Sex, Mom, and God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics -- and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway," and people seemed to like what I said, so that was nice.
The promo material said Wild Goose would be "transformational" and it was. I discovered my new favorite singer songwriter there -- the sublime Lydia Ruffin and her album The Feast of Life. Many if not most of the 1,200 or so of us were/are renegades, rejects and runaways from one or another sort evangelical background. The rest of us were between the ages of newborn to 12, so for every "grownup" there were two kids, a happy mix that provided a blur of painted faces, balloons and laughter. Music was the soundtrack echoing through the woods, past horse barns and farms.
We understood each other, understood why it was a big deal that some of us were gay, open and happy in spite of everything, understood why some of us still wanted to follow Jesus, even though the world we came from -- far right, hate-and-fear-driven wacko religion -- had done its best to turn Jesus into Attila the Hun and/or Michele Bachmann.
There was something new going on at Wild Goose: no separation of the "famous" speakers and authors, we "stars" and performers and the "ordinary" people who'd come to hear us. We all just milled around under the stars and giant oaks in the same space. McLaren slept in a tent. Tony Jones invited everyone to his RV. Sure, Jim Wallis and Brian McLaren were followed by their readers/groupies. But so what? There was no "green room" or other places to be hustled off to while people waited in line, because there were no lines, just us. We all stood in the same lines buying a slice or singing hymns in the beer tent. For four days we lived on a level playing field.
I did my two talks, but spent most of each day -- from 8 a.m. to past midnight -- talking to old friends, and new acquaintances, from all over the U.S. (and places like New Zeeland, too) about why I still believe in God, even though I don't most of the time. And the odd thing is that that nonsensical paradoxical phrase -- belief through doubt -- made sense to them, because you have to have been there, done that escaping from a religious background to "get" it, and they did.
Wild Goose Festival is going to grow into the largest, best run, most dynamic religious happening in the U.S. There are lots of smart spiritually hungry people with their eyes open.
Next year, be there. And if you're an atheist, agnostic, whatever, you'll like it too because you'll be amongst those rare sort of religious people who will admit that we're all in the same boat and that certainty is a killer and humility is all that works, if, that is, you want to live and let live instead of using ideas as weapons.
Frank Schaeffer is a writer and his new book is "Sex, Mom, and God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics--and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway."