I came last minute to the Wild Goose festival as a consumer of the events, I had no dog in the fight and so it’s only right that I tip my hat to what was a pretty well organized festival with a sense of purpose. I can’t imagine the months of work to pull it off so as a consumer of the product, let me say thanks for the hospitality.
First the areas of good fun and learning:
- Shared community – you don’t get this at a typical evangelical or denominational conference. This was a given, we camped together, ate together and endured heat and incredible bug bites together. It was obvious that community was a high value for the large majority of the participants and they practice it regularly. Seemingly all space was shared. You ate meals with new friends and started swapping stories quite naturally. It was downright unamerican, in all the right ways.
- The food vendors – this is a big thanks for those of us who didn’t want to lug in the extra gear for camp cooking. In particular, the Ostrich burger and the Indian cuisine was fantastic. As well, $1 bottled water kept me hydrated in the heat without the price hike many music festivals do, much appreciated.
- The best talk that I heard was by Christine Sine on Garden Spirituality with God. That the nature of God is revealed in the Garden. Her closing point was that in the garden, there are no failures. Anything that doesn’t work becomes compost for the next planting. Failure is compost and compost is God’s black-gold, what a brilliant metaphor. She made her points out of a reflection of the Garden of Eden in Genesis 1-3. And I kid you not, while discussing the Genesis account, a black snake crawled out from under a woman and began meandering it’s way up the tree next to where Christine was speaking. You couldn’t ask for a better Garden serpent analogy, I almost wanted to accuse her of the set-up. (photo below)
- Over the Rhine – Cincinnati’s finest, Karin and Linford were right in their element at the evening mainstage. Their underproduced and genuine character just oozed like butter from the stage. All the while behind them in the distance you could see a heat lightning storm as a backdrop. It was an added bonus to meet up with them at a Starbucks in the middle of nowhere West Virginia on our way back to the Nati to relax and swap stories of the weekend’s event. Longtime friends of Rains, I had the right tavel companion. I don’t own enough of their music, this is shameful as a Cincinnatian and needs to be rectified.
Now my concerns:
The irony of ironies is that for the first time in at least a decade, I found myself in at least a publicized Christian event where I was perhaps the most conservative in attendance. This was at least a head-shaker for me.
- ‘Ressentiment‘ was thick and heavy in the air. Ressentiment is a term that originates with Nietzsche from the French word where we get the English root of resentment. But it is more than that. James Hunter in To Change the World says: “Ressentiment is grounded in a narrative of injury or, at least, perceived injury; a strong belief that one has been or is being wronged. The root of this is the sense of entitlement a group holds.” (p. 107) and further: “The sense of injury is the key. Over time, the perceived injustice becomes central to the person’s and the group’s identity . . . Cultivating the fear of further injury becomes a strategy for generating solidarity within the group and mobilizing the group to action.” (p. 107-108) I am deeply guilty of this same kind of victim narrative that is a part of emotional and spiritual deconstruction, but you can’t land there long-term. At some point you have to quite literally get over it and lead on. What do you want to create? If the emerging church is going to be something productive moving forward, something creative and beautiful, it will need to be defined by what it is for not by what it is against. Rebellion is easy, creative production quite another. When Frank Schaeffer makes the statement: ‘screw St. Paul’ and the crowd erupts in applause based upon it’s perceived injury from the New Testament author, that is heavy ressentiment. Some of it is just human reaction, we all do it to some extent. However, building on it for momentum to organize your movement would be a fatal flaw. Christian anarchy isn’t new, it’s self-serving and it doesn’t work if lasting change is what you are attempting.
- The suggestion to embrace and pursue other forms of spirituality in order to better understand your own faith is susceptible to a kind of idol worship. It was suggested that faiths, like languages, can be understood more clearly by the learning of second. That my pursuit of “fil in the blank” spirituality would help me understand Christ following that much more. Inherent in this premise is that Christ is not sufficient, that he is one of many moral teachers in the buffet of religious leaders. If I have found the superiority and sufficiency of Christ, as the author of Hebrews alludes to, why would I run back to something else?
- Love the focus on social justice, poverty and the plight of the orhans and helpless. Can’t get enough of that in any Christian movement whether it be left, right or indifferent. But how is it different from the religious right being in bed with the Republican party when I am sent emails and youtube videos pre-election of Obama that real Christians put their hope in the democratic candidate? Where was the critique of the Obama administration for its lack of delivery? Why the focus on political parties at all? Is there room for being a-political in terms of party affiliations and power centers while working towards the justice issues of the poor?
- Is there room for any form of objective truths, or is everything to be deconstructed within the postmodern hermeneutic? Are we smarter than the Apostles? Have we evolved past the creeds of tradition? Must everything change? Can we not trust the findings and writings of the 2,000 years of church history? Doubts were celebrated and announced during the Festival, what I didn’t hear was anything objectively held to as true, with the exception of “acceptance”. Deconstructing church models for cultural relevance or missional praxis is negotiable, is there any part of Chrisitan theology that is not to be deconstructed?
- Bart Campolo is someone I can relate to in being from Philly and now living in Cincinnati. I respect his keen mind and witty disposition. The theological liberalism that he dispersed was a bit shocking to me, I must admitt. Due to an experience with a woman horribly scarred from a gang-rape, he no longer “felt what he believed”. Postmodernism deconstructs truths to personal experience where truth is matter of individual perception. If God could not or would not save that woman from that experience of unspeakable suffering, can I decide what about him I want to believe? He stated that after this experience the “Bible lost its unchallenged authority” for him. God did not need to kill Jesus to forgive our sins, in fact Jesus is not who he claimed to be. Jesus is just a man, just a teacher. Bart continues his Christian affiliation in terms of its the tradition from which he came from to embrace his new spirituality where universalism is the only intelligent conclusion. These are not small tweaks to historic Christianity, they are the whole deal.
- Where is the source of authority for which we (the church) submit to keep us in bounds into the movement of God’s restoration of his creation? I still hold to Wesley’s quadrilateral of at least a balance of Scripture, tradition, rational thinking and experience. Take away Scripture and tradition and you are left with a kind of spiritual humanism. Is this the hope for the coming generations? Is this why Israel left Egypt? Is this why the martyrs died? So that when it all came down to it I could deconstruct truth to my personal preference and experience? It makes no sense to me and I have no need for it. I find it a hollow construct and one that has already been played out in history and found wanting.
- I make it no secret that I’m interested in a kind of reformation of American evangelicalism, and have been working towards that end for years and have found incredible beauty even in the midst of suffering. I am not at all interested in a pursuit of a new spirituality in which we become untethered from the authority of Scripture and deny the ancient creeds announcing Jesus as Lord. Postmodern humanism does not end in hope, it ends in a kind of empty and chaotic nihilism. It is not hopeful and constructive, ultimately it is destructive and dangerous.
I think Fight Club illustrated the end game of deconstructed postmodernity best in it’s final scene:
So I walked away from the Wild Goose festival ironically with a renewed comittment to theological conservatism (high view of Christ and high view of the Scriptures) and with a sense of intentionally not wanting an association with anything in emerging church circles that wasn’t similar. I feel I’m somewhat parting company with a tribe I’ve long resonated with, but do so no longer. I do wish them peace for their spiritual searchings but it’s a search I won’t be pursuing alongside. The areas that I feel strong about are not for me to project on others, but to embrace about my own calling and get about the business of doing it.
I go public with my sentiments if only to be a form of constructive and hopefully gracious enough critique to be heard. Hope to see you all at the Resurrection.