A friend asked me what I expected from the Wild Goose Festival. This was my first time attending Wild goose and I didn’t really know what to expect. Inspiration, fun, ideas, encouragement, like minds; all this and more. But really, my first answer was connections. I wanted to connect.
I have always been an introvert but it seems that as my eyes grow weaker, my “I’s” (in the Myers-Briggs sense of that term) have been getting stronger. So I knew that this expectation of Wild Goose was going to be a challenge for me. But I was determined to seek out new connections.
We had decided to make a journey of this trip so we drove from Scottsdale across the country to North Carolina. All the way there I was thinking about how to approach these new people and strike up conversations. The long drive was good for my introvert introspections. We finally arrived, found our parking spot and crossed the street into the festival grounds. I was excited for the festivities and terrified by the prospect of two thousand people I didn’t know.
I was delighted to discover that besides being there to hear music and dance and to interact with experts like Phyllis Tickle and Brian McLaren, most of the participants there were also eager to meet and share the common experience of the Wild Goose Festival. Whereas striking up a random conversation in a coffee house usually proceeds rather cautiously, each making sure that the other is neither selling something nor a deranged lunatic seeking to kidnap you, interactions at Wild Goose seem to begin with the presumption that we are all friends and more or less are all there for the same reasons. In other words, just by being there we started on common ground.
I met a young man in graduate school for religious studies, another in Ph. D. program for writing, a videographer, more than one artist; people from the Carolinas, Georgia, New York, and even South Africa. Not everyone was on the same page theologically or religiously or politically but everybody was willing to engage in conversations about more than the weather (yes, it did rain a lot!). We were all there to talk about things that matter, to share where our lives offered us joy and meaning, to find far-flung friends. Somehow the story or person of Jesus brought these far-flung people together, though they tell the story in many different ways and know the person of Jesus in as rich a variety as the people themselves. It was truly a festival celebrating the joyous Spirit who was winging her way through her beloved family.
“The Interior Sun”, acrylic on canvas by Doyle Burbank-Williams
I know some artists who plan their work out in advance and the benchmark of a successful painting is the degree to which the finished product matches their initial plans. I have to confess that this approach is about as far from my process as is possible. Not that the planned-in-detail approach is wrong, it is just foreign to way I make art. My process is much more, well, process. I do generally have a vague idea in my head as to the direction I want a painting or a drawing or print or whatever to go. But when I stand over the blank canvas (or computer screen these days) I set out in that direction with little or no expectation of where I will end up. It is the conversation with the paint, the color, the composition that is exciting for me. Like a novelist who speaks of writing as a discovery where their characters will take them, I let the painting lead me. It is rare for me to finish an artwork and say to myself, “that is EXACTLY what I wanted!” More often it is “Wow! I didn’t expect this, but it is beautiful and it sure was fun!”
For those who want detailed itineraries and step-by-step business plans, I am going to drive you crazy as we create the Urban Abbey. That’s because I am approaching this creation much in the same way as I approach art. I am being lead. I am trying hard as I can to listen to the Spirit who is moving, darting here and there, and surprising all of us in the process. And it is in the process that is the heart of this. If the Urban Abbey was intended to be a structure, we’d call in an architect, request detailed schematics and measured drawings. We’d hire contractors to follow those drawings and measure their success (and ours) by their faithfulness in following them. But that’s not what we are doing.
Creating community is more squidgy that building a structure. To be healthy it has to be responsive both to those who comprise the community and to the Spirit who is the real creator of the community itself. It means that plans will change, details will shift, and the conversations will hare off down paths we hadn’t expected. If our measure of success is the arrival at a predetermined end-point, we will be frustrated indeed. If, on the other hand, we measure our success by being a part of the Spirit’s process – wherever that leads us- then hang on for a wild ride! Because this kind of process not only changes the squidgy community it embodies, it changes those of us who are individually along for the ride. The idea of the Urban Abbey’s safe and sacred community is not just create a cool group to hang out with. It is to transform ourselves into truly human beings who can live in a dangerous and angry world with love and peace and grace.
And more than any time in recent history, the canvas of ministry that we stand before is blank. We are no longer required to create stained glass windows, or academic oratory about doctrine, or even a unified interpretation of the bible. The canvas is blank and the Spirit is handing a brush and inviting us into a brand new creative process. Wanna have some fun?