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Chasing the Wild Goose


As a break from the political topics, I’d like to write about my recent trip to the Wild Goose Festival. For those that aren’t acquainted with the festival, it is a gathering of progressive, “emerging church” Christians in North Carolina every year. This year, they decided to have a west coast version in Corvallis, Oregon, so I traveled cross country to see what Wild Goose was all about and, maybe, sell a few copies of my book, Hometown Prophet.

When I arrived, I was a little disappointed to find hardly anyone there except a few volunteers who were busy setting up. It turned out I got the dates slightly off and arrived a day early. That was okay; my patient wife and I wiled away a day checking out the picturesque college town (Oregon State Beavers) around the Williamette River. After the festival, we would spend a few more days traveling along the coast and staying in Portland where my early suspicions would be confirmed – I really like Oregon!

On the actual day of the festival, I nervously set up my books on the table in the back of the auditorium, along with a couple of other independent authors I would be sharing the space with, Michael Camp (Confessions of a Bible Thumper) and Julie Ferwerda (Raising Hell). Both are more experienced than I am in promoting books and were extremely gracious with their help and advice. There was a communal spirit at our table, and it was nice knowing we would be working together rather than competing against each other.

The first session in the auditorium was Rabbi David Zaslow who administered a “Shabbat of Jesus.” He explained that the Shabbat was something every Jew (including Jesus) would have hurried home to do on Friday night. I experienced a tiny glimpse of the ‘peaceful gratefulness’ when he invited everyone down front where we took communion and received blessings. The next morning, I had the opportunity to talk with Rabbi Zaslow over coffee and (as respectfully as possible) ask him why a man who had such a deep appreciation for Jesus didn’t acknowledge him as his Messiah. His answer was unequivocal, and may be a topic for a future blog. (If you are interested, I recommend his book “Root and Branches.”)

Rachel Held Evans was the second speaker. I’d read “Evolving in Monkey Town” a couple of months ago, and could identify with growing up in a fundamentalist church in a relatively small Tennessee town. She’s just finished her new book on “A Year of Biblical Womanhood,” in which she attempted to follow all the commands for women in the Bible, often with hilarious results. While Rachel is just as entertaining as a speaker as she is as a writer, her underlying message is to encourage women to break stereotypes and find their own path to Jesus.

I’d also just finished “Everything Must Change,” so I was interested to hear what Brian McLaren had to say next. Having studied Rene Girard, Brian discussed man’s instinctual need to scapegoat certain members of society. He asserts that the Judeo Christian theology attempts to break that cycle. While violence plays a part throughout the Bible, it moves away from sacrifice (i.e. Abraham not sacrificing Isaac, Joseph’s brothers just selling him into slavery and not killing him). Of course, Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice, but, in so doing, he exposes the hypocrisy and false authority of the political and religious leaders.

And that was just the first night. Over the next two days, I listened to speakers like Bruce Reyes-Chow and Richard Rohr, with the distant sound of Christian rock bands playing on the main stage or the off-key enthusiasm of “Beer and Hymns” in the background. Putting my own book out there is tough so, at one point, I snuck away for a session on “The Power of Vulnerability” by L’Arche Portland, who works with the disabled. Hearing others open up about their own vulnerabilities reminded me it wasn’t about me or my agenda. There is also a certain power in being powerless and I came back to my table feeling centered and stronger.

I have to mention talking with reporter Greg Barrett who was trapped in Iraq with author/activist Shane Claiborne during the “shock and awe” campaign. When a member of their group was injured and they were stranded on the side of the road, the so-called Muslim “enemies” took them in and protected them in a manner worthy of the Good Samaritan. (“The Gospel of Rutba.”) I also had an interesting conversation with fellow Nashvillian, Tim Kurek, a straight man who came out as gay to his friends and family for a year. The result of this social experiment is the book “The Cross in the Closet.”

It’s hard to define Wild Goose. It’s greater than the sum of its parts, and its parts are pretty great! Among the things I learned over the weekend, I discovered a wild goose was an ancient Celtic symbol for the Holy Spirit, which, in a lot of ways, is a more apt metaphor than the gentle cooing dove. Like the Holy Spirit, the wild goose is untamed, uncontrollable and noisy. And that pretty much describes Wild Goose. It also describes what change often looks like. While it may sound loud and look wild, I believe something new and exciting was stirring in Corvallis, Oregon. I don’t know exactly what it will end up looking like, but I’m glad to have been a part of the gaggle.

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3 Responses to “Chasing the Wild Goose”

  1. wayne simmons says:

    A well-written, enjoyable, informative report.

  2. Thank you for your book and for your newsletter which I am just finding. I am a retired United Methodist minister from Southern California. I now work part time in a homeless center and as a non paid community networker for the interfaith council, human relations council, Rotary, the Democratic club, and the Chamber of Commerce in our community. I am trying to be the church in the world with as much energy as I have left. Having been born in a very segerated mid western town and then at the age of 10 being transplanted to Southern California I grew up with some very difference life and faith stories. I tried to capture them in the two books i self published. You can find examples on my wed site (poemsandprayers.us.)
    I was very pleased with the openess I found in your book and your sprong evoling faith that I find in your writings. – Jim

    • Jeff says:

      Thanks Jim and Wayne for reading and your comments.

      Jim, it sounds like you have a lot of experiences which you’re using in many, positive ways. (I lived in Southern California too, LA and San Diego). Anyway, looked at your site and liked the lines from Ocean Beach Pier. I could have used them in my post for my trip to Oregon.

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I grew up in Franklin Tennessee, just outside of Nashville, where I attended a charismatic church that sincerely tried to follow Christ's teachings and actively sought the gifts of the Holy Spirit. During the summer of 84, I interned in DC with the Reagan-Bush Re-Election campaign and was indoctrinated in the dark arts of neo-conservatism. After graduating from Pepperdine University in Malibu, I worked in the financial services industry in Atlanta; then I drifted back to Southern California for a few introspective years before eventually moving home to Tennessee. Along the way, I began to question some of my longstanding beliefs and attempted to reconcile my political and religious views. Increasingly, I became saddened and angered with how Christianity was so often misrepresented for personal and political gain. Hometown Prophet was written out of that frustration.

- Jeff Fulmer