When it comes to religion, I choose to let the mystery be. But that doesn’t mean I’m soulless, and developing a rich inner life is a key component to living that simpler, more creative life we advocate.
Each faith is responsible for its own share of atrocities, but for every Pat Robertson spewing hatred and intolerance, there’s a Thomas Merton, Mahatma Gandhi or Thich Nhat Hanh showing a better way. We consider our homesteading and environmental activism small acts of peacemaking that reflect the lessons of such great teachers, so this year’s theme at the Wild Goose Festival resonated, and I didn’t hesitate to register when invited by a good friend from college.
(The name comes from Wendell Berry’s poem, “The Wild Geese“. Read it if you could use a moment of clarity.)
After four days of intense discussion, my brain feels like a shaken snow globe, and the many voices are still slowly settling into place. Some brought us to our feet with inspired calls to action. Some evoked a sense of calm we hope to recreate at home. One elicited such an unexpected, visceral response that we spent hours evaluating our beliefs on the subject — and acknowledging how our life experiences influence those views.
I could never adequately cover every topic touched on this weekend, but three points stand out above all others:
1. It’s time for a necessary interruption. The Rev. Dr. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP and organizer of Forward Together, rallied the crowd to fight for social justice with a reading of Isaiah 58 — the Haftarah for Yom Kippur, as interpreted by his rabbinical colleague and study partner. An excerpt:
Cry with full throat, without restraint;
Raise your voice like a ram’s horn!
Declare to My people their transgression….
“Why, when we fasted, did You not see?
When we starved our bodies, did You pay no heed?”
Because on your fast day
You see to your business
And oppress all your laborers!
No, this is the fast I desire:
To unlock the fetters of wickedness,
And untie the cords of the yoke
To let the oppressed go free;
To break off every yoke.
His point? It has become necessary for peacemakers of all faiths (or no faith) to join together and demand better of our politicians. To interrupt the status quo, “with full throat, without restraint.” To name names. To demand that all humans are treated with dignity, that all are worthy of basic rights like decent healthcare, and that it’s time to stop trashing the environment upon which we all depend.
Not only was I compelled to become more vocal, but the lesson had a bigger impact coming from men of two different orders willing to see the value in one another’s ideology.
2. Money is a moral and ethical extension of who we are. True words, uttered by Rosa Lee Harden, executive producer of SOCAP, an annual conference that brings together social entrepreneurs and investors. I challenge you to graph every recipient of your money for a month and decide how that data reflects your core values.
3. Get on with the hard work of hope. Nobel Peace Prize nominee John Dear cited this as one of Thomas Merton’s main teachings, meaning it’s easy to give up when you lose battle after battle in a seemingly unwinnable war. It’s much harder to stand up again, knowing you’ll probably get kicked in the teeth, but with full hope that one day, your work will not be in vain.
I couldn’t help but think of the annual river cleanup we take part in year after year. Every year, without fail, organizers pick up about 180,000 pounds of trash. That number never goes down. But you know what I’ll be doing this October? Putting my arse back in that river and cleaning her up again, joyfully and with hope — because one day people will understand and care.
Thanks to all the Wild Geese who shared their knowledge and opinions, and who accepted us freely, without judgment. Despair has become too automatic a reaction lately, facing environmental apathy and the egregious civil rights attacks that won’t stop coming. But standing side by side with hundreds of kind, intelligent justice-seekers has renewed my faith in humanity.
Helen Keller once said that faith is the strength by which a shattered world shall emerge into the light. After this weekend, the world feels a little brighter.
Check out our photo gallery of the Wild Goose Festival on Instagram.