Southern Lights and Wild Geese

There’s actually only one Wild Goose, and I don’t know much about it. I know more than I did, though, because their marketing director tapped me on the shoulder and said, “I appreciate what you write.”

At the time, I was leaning against a pillar at the back of a “standing room only” assembly just two miles from my home on St Simons Island. The Irish poet Padraig O’Tuama had just finished reading some of his poetry, but none of it stirred my curiosity like his self-description: “I was raised Catholic,  but now I live in an adjacent room.”

“How did you know who I am?” I asked the shoulder-tapping stranger. Turns out, he has been reading this newsletter since 2019 and has, of course, seen my picture.

“I live in Jacksonville,” he said to me later, perhaps as we shared a meal in the dining hall of Epworth by the Sea. He introduced me to his wife and the three of us plus two strangers from the upcountry of South Carolina talked about the two gatherings of progressive  Christians.

“I stumbled upon Wild Goose the first year,” he said, “and we’ve been going ever since. We have a tribe of friends who camp every year.” I began to think about who might be in my tribe, people I could convince to join me for four days of wild and riotous religious renewal.

The way he described it brought to mind the 1801 revival at the Cane Ridge meetinghouse a few miles east of Lexington, Kentucky.  Tents and campers, music and art, sunshine and rain, justice and mercy, and the widest assortment of people.

“The Meetinghouse needs to be there,” Tim said to me. 

That is his name, Tim Kerr, and he said it more than once.  Not his name, but the notion that I would feel right at home at the Wild Goose Festival. “Check out the web pages on being a Sponsor and also a Co-Creator.”

I did, and he’s right. I started formulating plans to do just what he said. That event (Wild Goose) is six months from now and happens on a farm one hour north of Charlotte.  I could bring my grandson Sam to help me, and his father Ike to do performance art, and John Owen with his RV, and a half dozen folk from the micro-church in Hendersonville where I serve as pastor. My tribe!

Southern Lights is the event here on the Island.  It used to be called January Adventure. I first came in 2019, I think, when Brian McLaren and Wil Gafney were keynote speakers. I interviewed both of them for TheMeetingHouse. Later, Brian and another MH guest—Diana Butler Bass—worked a deal to run the whole damn thing, and thus we have “Southern Lights.”

In his Saturday address on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Rev. Dr. Reggie Williams mentioned Igbo Landing, the nondescript site on Dunbar Creek where Africans destined for sale on our island opted to leap into the waters, chains and all, rather than succumb to slavery. “Have you been there?” I asked him privately at the end of the conference; and his answer predicated my offer to escort him around the Island.

Which is how he, his wife Stacy, and conference musician Solveig Leithaug piled into my SUV and, for the first time, toured the Island: village, pier, lighthouse, coast, more than one causeway, numerous churches, Harrington Schoolhouse, and of course, Igbo Landing.  We had not enough time to visit Christ Church, Fort Frederica, or the north end of the Island (let alone Jekyll Island or the site in Brunswick of the Ahmad Arbery murder).

The best part of the whole experience, though, was the improvised song composed, played, and sung by the incomparable artist Ken Medema to close the conference.  “There’s a new song rising from the island,” I think he sang. The words are nowhere recorded, but my memory has verse two as “There’s a new light shining from the Island” and then “There’s a new spirit flowing from the Island.”

I put my arms around Ken when it was all over and, fighting back tears, whispered to him, “I’m going to download the recording and send it to everybody I know on the Island.”

It won’t touch them like it did me me, I’m sure, because they didn’t hear the sermon on not giving up, or light the candles to announce communion, or dip the bread into the wine with six hundred Jesus-loving strangers.  But maybe it will help nurture this powerful movement of the Holy Spirit that is pulling many of us into a future more bright and hopeful than the religious rot that has settled into so many institutions and organizations we have known.

“Lights” in the winter and “Goose” in the summer—not a bad balance to the year of our Lord … any year!

Published On: January 16th, 2023 / Categories: Commentary /

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