By Lenora Rand
One word you won’t see mentioned a lot on the Wild Goose Festival schedule this year is “worship.” That’s not because we won’t be having times in which the Goose community is invited to come together to sing and pray and speak and move and open ourselves up to God, and to each other, and to another way of seeing the world, another way of being in the world, a way that’s true and empowering, that promotes justice and makes a difference…which is an activity which you might refer to as “worship.”
We will be doing that a lot. It’s just that we won’t be calling it “worship.” Intentionally.
Why not? Not just to be different. Or difficult. It’s because we are honestly not sure it’s a word that really works anymore. It may be too weighted with history and hurt, like a broken piece of stained glass…it may still be pretty, but watch out…it cuts deep.
For many of us who find ourselves at the Goose, the word “worship” doesn’t feel right because it conjures up images of rooms full of people who all look very much alike in the color of their skin, in their socio-economic status, in their politics and world-views, where people talk about how God loves them and no one not like them, so that it seems like, when they sing words like “how great is our God,” what they really mean is “how great is our tribe and the God of our tribe.” In these rooms what goes on is meant to make everyone feel better, reinforce a particular insular worldview, call people to personal piety, and not challenge assumptions about race, or inequality or gender or power or privilege.
It also often brings to mind gatherings where people remain silent about their unbelief, about all their doubts and questions and sadness and shame, where God is offered up as the ultimate escape, a way to avoid whatever is too painful to look at, whether that’s the NOT-miraculously-fixed-by-the-love-of-Jesus shit inside us, or the deep systemic issues of our society.
Also there’s the fact that the word “worship” actually comes out of a time of kings and rulers and gods who demanded subservience and adulation in order to let their subjects continue living…in order not to slay them on the spot. It is a word born of violence and oppression, perhaps first adopted by Christians as a way of subverting the belief that the kings and rulers of the day had any ultimate power over them, any power to harm them or to save them. It was, perhaps, a way for the fledgling, rag-tag group of Jesus-followers to thumb their noses at the whole world order. Much like many in the LGBTQIA community have reclaimed the word Queer, taking a word that was once hurtful and subverting it into a proclamation of pride, this was a way for the early church to basically say “we won’t bow down to the ruling class’s view of people, of what’s important, of what’s acceptable and good and just.”
Unfortunately the word “worship” seems to have shaped and interpreted our gatherings through the years, more than our gatherings have reinterpreted and reshaped it. Too often in our Sunday morning worship times we sing songs of praise to God as if our lives depended on it. As if God needed it. We often seem to miss the point that our coming together is not something we do to appease the gods. Or to celebrate our power and might to win the war for our tribe, our point of view, our exclusive hold on the truth.
So, at the Goose, we have been making space throughout the weekend when we can come together as a whole community, not to appease a kingly God of wrath, and fall down at God’s feet in submission and fear, but rather to join in praise that our God doesn’t need appeasing. We have a team of people, the TOGETHERINGS Guild, who have been imagining and creating these gatherings as celebrations of the God who loves us desperately, and loves this whole wide world. Gatherings meant to disrupt the status quo and help us stop worshipping the gods of violence and greed and division and exclusion and scarcity that surround us. Gatherings meant to build our courage to live our lives under a different kind of rule – the rule of love.
You will find these Goose-wide Togetherings happening every day on the main stage – Gathering the Goose with Nadia Bolz-Weber on Thursday night; Waking the Goose with William Barber on Friday morning; Waking the Goose with Otis Moss III and the Trinity UCC Choir on Saturday morning: and Sending the Goose with Sister Simone, Trinity Choir, a full Community Parade, Jeff Clark, and more on Sunday morning. (If you want to sing in the choir for these gatherings, by the way, you can come to a rehearsal at the main stage Friday and Saturday afternoons at 4:30.)
You’ll also find many other opportunities to come together throughout the weekend to sing and dance and pray and lament, to offer praise and confession, share bread and wine and hopes and fears, to welcome Spirit…in all kinds of different ways, everything from a Catholic Mass to a Christo-Shamanic Transfiguration Ceremony, to, late Friday night, a Wild & Holy Rite of Resistance with Claudio Carvalhaes (a participatory performance art meets liturgy meets music experience, culminating in communion) — and so many more it would take too long to list them all here.
We hope you will find time to join in some of these scheduled gatherings… though who knows where and when and how many other unplanned ones will happen in tents and around campfires, over a beer or an ice cream.
Oh, and if you want to call any of these times “worship” you’re more than welcome to. No judgment. Plus, if you’d like to join in some conversations about worship and justice and inclusion, you’ll find several workshops on that topic at the Goose this year too.
Finally, if you have any brilliant ideas for a word (or symbol) to replace the experience formerly known as “worship,” (“Togetherings”? “Openings”? “Love Feast”? “Disruptions”?) we’re all ears.