Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Re-Wilding the Goose

Beer and hymns can be a rowdy time. Correction: beer and hymns should be a rowdy time. My first experience of beer and hymns was at the Wild Goose Festival in 2012. A handwritten note simply stating “Beer and Hymns, 5:00” was scrawled on a napkin and hung on the post of the beer tent. Intrigued (how could I not be?), I showed up at the appointed time to find a large crowd, a long line for beer, and a musical ensemble clearly cobbled together from instruments on hand: keyboards, guitar, trumpet, and if I recall correctly an accordion (but that may be a hop-influenced memory). I remember singing old chestnuts with a gusto that never rears its head in my mainline traditional worship and even was different from the charismatic worship I had experienced during college. People called out hymns and we sang the verses we could remember, or someone would line out the verse as we went. It was rogue, it was raw, it was edgy and even a bit outlaw.

Fast forward to Wild Goose 2015; beer and hymns is now not only a staple, with regularly scheduled times in the schedule but there are bound hymnals and emerging rituals. On Saturday night I had missed the memo that the impromptu guided meditation being led by my friend Kimberly Knight at her campsite had been moved to another site, so with time on my hands I wandered into Beer and Hymns. The crowd was larger than the one I experienced three years earlier and it was continuing to grow, so I was glad to find a “comfortable back pew.” I started out rogue by going BYOB, pouring a cup from the growler I had brought with me. Then I joined in the outlaw fun starting up by my neighbors who were joking that when they forget words to a hymn they simply sing like the Swedish Chef from the Muppets. Since none of us had picked up a hymnal, we enjoyed our best impersonations, one person coming in as Beaker and even a feeble attempt at Animal. Smiles and laughter opened the door to running commentary during the following hymns. After expressing my need for more beer to fully appreciate the thinly veiled substitutionary atonement theology of the next hymn, I was glad to hear the strains of “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” start up. I mentioned that this seems to have become the theme song of Beer and Hymns. My fellow shenanigators agreed and on cue with the rest of the crowd raised their cups when the verse began “here I raise my Ebeneezer.” And why not raise your beer, since who really knows what an Ebeneezer is? Well, it is a rock, or a pile of them as it were. So I couldn't resist commenting that perhaps the beer raised needs to be Rolling Rock (which would keep me from ever raising an Ebeneezer I'm sorry to say). At this point, a latecomer now seated in the back pew tapped me on the shoulder. I turned to see him make that palm down that gesture that cops use to tell you slow down. I couldn't believe it, I had become the fidgety kid kicking the pew and I had successfully upset the status quo. The status quo at the WILD Goose?!?!?! Anger kept me from an appropriate engagement so I packed my things and left to ruminate.

How could the Wild Goose Festival at the tender age of five already have become so pinched up and buttoned down that singing hymns “like you've never done it before” has been replaced by the seven last words of the church: “we've never done it that way before”? OK Ian, breathe. (Funny how breath both calms and is also the very thing used to represent the Holy Agitator.) Yes, this was one person, expressing one opinion, I get that. It is the symptom to contain the uncontainable that worries me. I am not unaware of the irony that I am an ordained minister who is authorized by a mainline institution, which by definition is resistant to change, particularly the sort of change that may lead to the demise of the institution. But let's face facts, the Convergence that we are seeing at events like the Wild Goose is what most of us would agree is what we think the resurrection of the church is looking like. If we are truly to be believers in resurrection then we must fully embrace the one prerequisite, death. We have to let go of the expectation that our old ways are sufficient to carry us into the new paths before us. And heaven help us if our imagination is so limited that all we can create to replace old institutions are new ones.

But I am far from being without hope. In fact, this shoulder-tapping incident was little more than a road sign urging caution on the Wild Goose chase of the Holy Spirit leading me into places where we may not go on our own. It was a reminder that wild truly equals wild, there can be no taming in the name of God. It was a reminder that if you find God in a box that you can rest assured that you put God there. While my mellow was indeed harshed in that moment, there were far too many other moments that stirred my goose spirit.

  • There was the upside-downing of Communion in the Midnight Moonshine Mass with the hint of the outlaw, unsafe feel that the first Jesus followers experienced having to hide to worship and feel the fire burn in their bellies. The “lucky” few who got a tug of the second jar of moonshine can attest to fire of the spirit(s).
  • There was the call from Brother John to help him raise an Ebeneezer in the river. Wanting to build an arch from the river stones, he required a partner. We learned to lean, we learned to listen to the stones, we learned to fail...and finally we bridged the gap and enjoyed that special, though fleeting cairn that stood for just a day, hopefully to be resurrected in our Wild Goose spirits.
  • There was the Lectio Hoedown that drew me in as I walked down the dusty road. I didn't have a destination that I recall, though it could have been Damascus or Emaus. Regardless, the destination the Goose had in mind was behind a guitar sharing an unnamed melody I have noodled with for a long time that now, apparently is called Psalm 77.

  • And there was the parting gift of failure when one Gooser took a turn a tad too wide, perching her car on a rock in a ditch. While a good number of us responded right away with good intentions to help, the one who brought the gift that mattered was the guy who assured us all that in years of off-roading he had put many a car in similarly difficult positions. It was the gift he gained from those failures that birthed the wisdom to solve this problem.

And there were far, far more moments that soothed or stirred my spirit in those four festival days. I pray that they are eggs that will hatch many wild goslings for me in the days to come. Most of all, since the Way is through the wild places, I pray that I won't seek to tame, nor accept when others tame, the Way. We must all accept that in the re-wilding that is required we may get goosed along the way!

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