Along with some of my friends, I recently attended the Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, NC. For several days we camped out, ate protein bars, and didn’t shower, but we also participated in some really important conversations on everything from interfaith dialogue to an exploration of why Fifty Shades of Grey is so popular in our culture. And on top of all of that, there was some great music—David Wimbish and the Collection, Phil Madeira, Indigo Girls, and more.
It was like nothing I’ve ever experienced, but not because of the presentations or music; no, I was most struck by the level of vulnerability and honesty displayed by everyone I encountered. I quickly discovered the Wild Goose Festival, if nothing else, is a gathering of frail humans who have discovered that the Good News of Jesus is powerful enough to put broken people and a broken world back together.
And then I came home, and I was sitting with some of my youth at Wednesday night dinner. We were goofing off and just catching up when a mother of one of the girls sat down with us. There was nothing weird about that, but things did get a bit awkward when mom said to me (and by default, everyone else at the table), “Can you believe (so and so) thinks she’s not pretty?! Don’t you think she’s the most beautiful girl in the world? I can’t believe she thinks she’s ugly!”
Immediately her daughter turned red and buried her face in her arms. She was clearly flustered and was about to start crying when she looked up and said, “Mom, you’re not supposed to say that. That’s a secret! And we’re at church.”
Later, I caught up with her, and we talked briefly about the whole incident. Although she trusted me, she admitted that, for her and many others, church wasn’t a place where you could share your secrets.
I wanted to disagree with her, but I couldn’t. My experience has led me to the same conclusion. Not much truth telling goes on in churches, individually or collectively. And we wonder why we’re more likely to run into Millennials at the pub on Saturday night than we are to find them in our churches on Sunday morning. Of course, we must be careful not to turn religion into the enemy, but sometimes it can feel like we’re just playing religion—acting as if our faith in Jesus has inoculated us to the human condition.
But let’s be honest, regardless of how much we love Jesus, we still struggle with anxiety, fear, and guilt, and there are days when emptiness, isolation, and alienation are all too real. And yet most of our energy is spent trying to cover it all up. Like Adam and Eve in the garden, we’re ashamed. We don’t want people to know we’re wounded and broken, but we are.
Somewhere along the way, many of us decided it was easier to posture and pontificate while we were at church, rather than hold the hand of our neighbor and admit we need their help on this journey of faith. At the Wild Goose Festival, however, honesty was honored. I was able to take a deep breath and say out loud, “Life is heavy!” And others said, “I know.”
Hot Springs was holy ground. People tired from constantly projecting a persona were finally able to admit life feels a lot more like Friday than Sunday. All week we celebrated the resurrection and gloried in the hope of Christ, but we did so as people well acquainted with pain, suffering, and death. Platitudes were replaced with presence, and we were all better for it.
It was worship for the wounded.
As believers in and followers of Jesus, we can’t afford to act like everything is okay. It’s not. Pain, suffering, and affliction are real, and they can’t be repressed or ignored. Instead, we must walk into the dark places of our self and the world; if we refuse to do so, we run the risk of talking about resurrection without ever experiencing it.
As far as I can tell, you can’t have resurrection without death, which means the path of transformation and further conversion is one of honest evaluation and courageous conversation with trusted others who are willing to receive you and your story with grace—all of you and all of your story.
What Good News it is that God is putting everything back together, but we also know it’s a work in progress. Instead of exhausting ourselves trying to maintain a façade and hide behind a false self, we must learn how to be honest with one another. This means intentionally taking the time to share our stories and at all times, learning how to be human together.
The Wild Goose Festival succeeded at creating such a space. Surely our churches can as well.