I Am No Bird, Not Even a Wild Goose.
by Nicole Plyler Fisk
In Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, one of the many memorial moments occurs when Jane asserts to the too-often-exasperating Rochester: “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will.”
The quote plays in my mind whenever I’m criticized for thinking differently from those in the rural conservative town in which I grew up. But I started to think that if I had to be a bird, I’d choose to be a wild goose, because a couple of years ago, I was super-excited to discover the annual Wild Goose Festival. Wild Goose, to be held this year in Hot Springs, NC, calls itself “a community gathered at the intersection of justice, spirituality, music and art.”
I attended the 2012 Wild Goose Festival, but I won’t be attending this year. There were things I liked about it: (1) As a rule, I enjoy festivals focused on social justice and activism for many reasons, not the least of which is the fun of imagining Glenn Beck’s (and his ilk’s) reaction to them in the form of exploding heads; (2) I can say that I’ve heard and — in some cases — met, religious leaders like John Dear (one of Desmond Tutu’s bffs), Frank Schaeffer (who took a particular liking to Arina) and Jim Wallis (a recurring Daily Show guest), all of whom are deemed important enough to have their own Wikipedia pages; and (3) I met dear friend Dr. Roger Ray (who should have his own Wikipedia page) in person for the first time at the Festival! Roger was no doubt the only person there as progressive in his theology as Scott and I are, so we were able to sit on the proverbial back pew together and roll our eyes at the evangelical undercurrent that the organizers of the Festival seemed unable or even unwilling to avoid.
Example: Scott, who was raised Southern Baptist, started visibly twitching at the last performance, because of its similarity to the alter calls he experienced every Sunday growing up. The only difference? Rather than asking the congregants to come forward and pledge or rededicate their lives to Jesus, the Wild Goose speaker asked his audience members to come forward with a slip of paper pledging to make the world better in some tangible way. We’re all for making the world better, of course. I certainly prefer the revised version. But Scott couldn’t take the conspicuous (even showy) nature of a ritual steeped in evangelical conservatism, so Roger and I found ourselves following him to the beer tent instead.
In response to his experience at Wild Goose, Roger is hosting his own conference in Springfield, Missouri, featuring Bishop John Shelby Spong as keynote speaker. We’ll be attending the Spong conference, which will be academic in nature, instead of the Festival. Out of curiosity, though, I perused the lineup of speakers for Wild Goose 2013, and I think I’m beginning to understand what irks me about many of the self-proclaimed progressive voices in popular Christian culture:
Voice #1: Frank Schaeffer, Wild Goose speaker 2012: Schaeffer is a brilliant, dynamic speaker, and his personal history, particularly his move from evangelical fundamentalism of the . . . well . . . Francis Shaeffer variety to liberal Christianity, is fascinating.
Roger and I were very much on board with Schaeffer after his first presentation (Scott arrived late), but we had abandoned ship by the end of the second. The offense? In Schaeffer’s second presentation, he attempted to justify his support of the Eastern Orthodox Church despite the fact that it, as a denomination, discriminates against gays and women. He admitted that he would be proud if, one day, his granddaughter Lucy effects much needed change in the church regarding gender equality, but he asserted that it’s not his battle and that he accepts this imperfection in the denomination.
Roger was furiously scribbling in his notebook and muttering expletives, and he spent the rest of the conference trying to position himself and us so that Schaeffer could read the back of our matching t-shirts, which read: “If your church says that you have to be male to preach, that church has a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of genitalia in the writing and delivery of sermons” — a Roger Ray original quote.
In his Letter from Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King says that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Not your battle? That’s not good enough, Schaeffer.
Voice #2: Glennon Melton, Wild Goose Speaker 2013: I like Glennon Melton’s style. She’s like a younger, hipper Anne Lamott. (Note: I take great comfort in the fact that this is a relatively unknown blog, but in case that changes I reserve the right to delete the previous sentence and deny ever suggesting that Anne Lamott is not, in fact, young and hip.)
Here’s how Glennon describes herself: “I love Jesus, gay people, adoption, and rearranging furniture. In the interest of combining all my loves, I have asked Jesus to help me adopt Nate Berkus.” See? A younger, hipper Anne Lamott.
I liked the first post I read by her, “A Mountain I’m Willing To Die On” (a letter to her son), so much that I linked to it on my Facebook page, even though this part really annoyed me: “Recently there was some talk in my Bible study about homosexuality being sinful. I quoted Mother Teresa and said, ‘When we judge people we have no time to love them.’ I was immediately reprimanded for my blasphemy by a woman who reminded me of 1 Corinthians 6:9–10. But I was confused because this woman was speaking. In church. And she was also wearing a necklace. And I could see her hair, baby. She had no head covering. All of which are sooooo totally against the New Testament Bible Rules. And so I assumed that she had decided not to follow the parts of the Bible that limited her particular freedoms, but to hold fast to the parts that limit the freedoms of others. I didn’t point this out at the time, because she wasn’t a bad person. People are doing the best they can, mostly. It’s best not to embarrass anyone.”
Everything is awesome and funny and refreshing . . . but the last three sentences. I’m of the Elie Wiesel mindset — that we do *not* stand idly by, especially when someone is being mean to someone else.
And, yes: the person who Melton was hesitant to embarrass *was* being mean to the LGBTQ community. Perhaps there was a member of that community in the audience, and the very fact that there could have been requires us to call out hypocrisy and insist on justice everywhere.
You’re afraid of embarrassing someone who is being hurtful to others? That’s not good enough, Melton.
I agree with Roger, who, in response to anti-gay remarks, says: “I am no longer willing to pretend that there is anyone who needs more information or a chance to process all of this. Any remaining prejudice is, in my eyes, just that, prejudice . . . It is not respectable, it is not understandable, it is not a matter of opinion any more than we would, in the 21st century, afford such issues as slavery and child labor the luxury of being just a matter of personal opinion. There may have been a time when we needed to be patient with those who needed some time to catch up with reality but that time is surely past. You can choose to remain in ignorant prejudice, that is your individual right, but we don’t have to pretend that ignorant prejudice is not ignorant prejudice.”
And then — SIGH — Melton does it AGAIN. Currently, Huff Po Religion is featuring Melton’s “I Love Gay People and I Love Christians. I Choose All,” in which she insists that everyone, both gay people and anti-gay Christians, are invited to her table — because she’s a peacemaker.
Two things: (1) anti-gay Christians aren’t necessarily going to want to be at your table, across from the LGBTQ section; and what if one of the anti-gay Christians at your table is that woman from your Bible Study, and she starts insulting your LGBTQ guests?
(2) you can’t “make peace” by trying to find common ground when one group’s argument is built upon asserting the inequality of another group. Rather than taking the “I’ll just invite everyone over for dinner, and it’ll be fun” approach, a true peacemaker is willing to take a stand and say “no” to injustice, and the person promoting it, in the hope of ushering in a more just and equitable society.
Or, as Roger says: “Lord deliver us from shallow religion . . . From using the language of friendship and love too easily . . . Save us from a self-protecting and facile society that acquiesces to silence in the face of prejudice and violence.”