Why Wild Goose Festival Was So Magical

July 3, 2011

by — Posted in Blog, Music, Non-Profit/Faith-Based, Parties, Spiritual Practices, Stories

I’m sitting here listening to the song “Magic” by my friend Tyler Burkum’s new band, Leagues, and I’m trying to put into words the experience of the first annual Wild Goose Festival that took place a week ago at Shakori Hills farm in North Carolina. And that’s the word that I keep coming back around to describe the first flight of the Wild Goose — magic.

Leagues didn’t play at the festival (maybe they will next year? here’s hoping!), but the music was exquisite. Some of my all-time favorites performed there, like David Wilcox, Over The Rhine, and Jennifer Knapp.

Brian McLaren and Frank SchaefferThe speakers were interesting, compelling, provocative, and accessible. Some of my favorite people — like Brian McLaren, Father Richard Rohr, Phyllis Tickle, and Nadia Bolz-Weber — spoke multiple times in different venues on a range of topics. And they were just there, hanging out with the rest of us, open to having a myriad of side conversations and, yes, occasionally sign a book or two. The “celebrity speaker” thing did still exist at Wild Goose, on one level, but on another level, great progress was made toward flattening that hierarchy and leveling the playing field. Kudos to festival director Gareth Higgins and the other organizers for creating that kind of space and environment!

Leading up to the festival, I shared that I was perhaps most excited about “the opportunity to develop and grow in spirituality” both for me and for my family. Becky and I attended the festival with our three kids (Olyvia, 10; Hayden, 8; and Elliot, 5), and we were really glad for all the effort put into creating space for kids and youth there. Jamie Rye organized the Kids Tent activities, and Kevin Alton was the youth tent maestro. We are deeply grateful to both of them for there contributions to the festival, making it the amazing experience that it was for our kids!

Shane Claiborne speaking to the youth

On Friday night, Shane Claiborne spoke to the youth, and on Saturday night, Brian McLaren led them through a self-evaluation of their own personality types and interests. Where else could our kids have these kinds of experiences? It’s not that Shane and Brian are “Christian celebrities” to ooh and ahhh over, but that they are both humble, authentic practitioners of a way of being Christian in the world that I want my kids to see and to emulate.

When the festival was over, our kids were unanimously adamant that they didn’t want to leave! They had had so much fun — making new friends, playing and running wild with other kids, etc. — that they didn’t want to leave, but knowing they had to, they said with 100% certainty they wanted to come back to Wild Goose Festival again next year.

Jubilee Morrell and Elliot Knight at WGF11

And that’s what makes my heart swell with joy at the magical, Spirit-filled, spiritual experience of Wild Goose. I found myself breaking down in tears as I talked to people at the festival about the fact that my kids can grow up in a time when this thing exists, where they can be exposed to these conversations about faith and spirituality and practice, where they can bump into other kids from all over the country who are growing up in homes with parents who are seeking this way of following God in the way of Jesus — that this could be “normal” for them. I know this didn’t exist when I was growing up as a conservative evangelical kid. I’m so happy, so overwhelmed with deep deep joy that my kids have this.

I wish more and more of our churches and faith communities embodied that Wild Goose spirit. I have faith that more and more of them will. And that more and more of us will gather again next year at Shakori Hills to be inspired and filled again.

This blog post is part of the July 2011 Synchroblog – Stories of The Wild Goose. Go read more posts inspired by the festival and the Wild Goose (Holy Spirit) that was present there.


Here are some highlights that I’ve gathered from other Wild Goose Festival reflections from around the Web:

“The Wild Goose Festival could easily become one of the most important annual gatherings of Christians in the United States.” —Carl McColman, Day1.org

“The lone commonality among participants is likely their universal search for a spiritual reality more creative and gripping than what they’ve found in a local congregation.” —Norman Jameson, Associated Baptist Press

“At least 25 Christian music festivals are held each summer in America, but they have never catered for theological liberals. Until this year, that is, when the Wild Goose Festival—named after a Celtic symbol for the Holy Spirit—kicked off on June 23rd on 72 wooded acres in eastern North Carolina, not so far from the intellectual hub of Raleigh-Durham.” —The Economist

“Emergence is not what I’ve hoped for — at least not if it means that one side wakes up to the possibilities and fallacies of its own tradition and becomes the New Big Christian Thing. What I’ve been waiting for is Convergence. Thus far, I have found only anecdotal evidence that Convergence is taking place in any significant, broad-based way. But the Wild Goose Festival this year made it clear that this is precisely what is happening among many.” —Eric Elnes, Darkwood Brew

“My prediction? Next year’s Wild Goose Fest will be twice the size of this year’s. And there’ll be twice the amount of ruffled feathers in certain quarters — among those who don’t do well with change and depend upon doctrinal Metamucil to keep them regular.” —Roger Wolsey, Elephant Journal

“While Christianity tears itself apart, another group (that has always existed) is gathering among the fringes of the flock. The fringe likely consists of greater numbers than the core, because many if not most of the members of the community of doubt have come from the church-proper to now stand slightly outside the fire. The simple conclusion that I have drawn is this: the circumference is greater than the center. We need to understand that exclusion is a dangerous game, and that we are called to love; not judge. When we reach the stars, we will learn that only when we touched the unlovable with compassion, did we truly meet Jesus face-to-face. In my opinion, the movement that is the Wild Goose is touching that vein, and feeling the pulse of The Christ in the Earth and approximately 1,700 of us participated in this life-changing moment that might become known as the Woodstock of the next generation and the new order of ministry.” —Lee Smith, Word of Balance <– this is the best post-Wild Goose reflection I’ve read so far!

“I cannot control what my mind intellectually believes about complicated, theoretical events situated thousands of years in the past. … But here is what I can do, what I articulated for the first time to William and Ryan in a field while eating hot dogs and drinking punch with Mark Scandrette, Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, and Matt Beams: I can recognize in the Gospel story something powerful and profound. I can say, ‘Yes, this is a story that I want to participate in.’ I can align myself with the Kingdom of God rather than with the powers and principalities of this world. I would love for there to be a party in heaven waiting for me when I die. But even if there isn’t, even if this world is all we have got, this Jesus story, this redemptive work, this sacred community building, this is something I still want to be part of.” —Brian Gerald Murphy, Lessons In Movement Making

Related Links:

Here’s my playlist of videos from Wild Goose Festival 2011 on YouTube.

Here’s a collection of videos from Wild Goose Festival 2011 on Vimeo.

Wild Goose publicity coordinator Mike Morrell (a.k.a., Oh Captain My Captain!) is curating a growing list of links to Wild Goose Festival articles online.

Travis Reed of The Work of the People shot a series of videos with Brian McLaren and David Wilcox in conversation at Wild Goose Festival 2011. They are all worth watching!

Many photos from Wild Goose Festival have been posted online: Wild Goose on Facebook, Courtney Perry, Geoff Maddock on Flickr, and a whole bunch gathered by Adam Moore.

What do you think? Were you at Wild Goose? Will you be going to Wild Goose Festival in 2012? Why or why not?

UPDATE 7/7/2011: Here are the links to all 50+ July Synchroblog posts!