Why Some People of Color Might Not Have Come to the Wild Goose

Posted by Melvin Bray on July 9th, 2011 filed in Useful Perhaps

I have a confession to make. I didn’t do all I could to get Black folks out to the inaugural Wild Goose Festival. Even as one who had some small say in decisions being made, I was ambivalent about spending what little social capital I may have (my street cred is suspect to say the least) on an experience that could have easily turned out to be culturally inaccessible. You see, not many will try dry goose twice, no matter how good the recipe.

I had a hard enough time convincing my own wife, Leslie, that though we might end up being the diversity (which is a tough row to always have to hoe) we wouldn’t be outsiders (prop or addendum). I’d like to attribute my initial reservations to a pastoral sensibility, but it could have just as easily been cowardice. God only knows. It seems one thing to have a personal calling to transgress boundaries and to hold space, but that’s not a mission you just throw others—folks you love—into haphazardly. My new friend David LaMotte rightly noted that those people of color who do often risk being agents of future are wearied by the exercise because over time so little changes. The supposed gains seldom seem worth the cost.

Still, despite the minimal representation of people of color, as my brotha Anthony Smith noted afterward, the Wild Goose turned out to be the most soulful new kind of faith (is that the right descriptor?) gathering I’d ever been a part of. That assessment may not rate as much for some, but it’s hUGe. For the first time, we (notice I’ve numbered myself with you) approached an ethos that is perhaps culturally accessible to more than folks who dig white-folk stuff. (I know, I know. There are those squirming in their seats thinking, “He’s always talking about race. That’s his problem.” No, the problem is you have no earthly or heavenly idea how difficult it is to seek a more hopeful future with folks who even the most enlightened of whom sometimes think they can quietly hold onto power and privilege, ultimately tell others to get over it and then somehow deny that as an exercise of power and privilege. And please don’t go misappropriating King to me. Need I remind you that King wasn’t a hero to the vast majority of Americans until someone killed him, giving you the opportunity to twist his words to justify leaving things substantially the way they’ve always been. Could anything be more convenient?) I made a joke in my talk at the Geo-Dome Sunday morning that over the weekend I heard songs of my heritage offered up in ways that were totally foreign to me (you might have had to be there: we had a great laugh about it). In retrospect, I must admit, I also heard versions of those songs and songs from other traditions as well that deeply resonated with me. To use some uber-heady, emergenty language (’cause that’s my tribe, one of many represented at the festival), it was quite the liminal moment.

Nonetheless, the people of color who did show up weren’t enough to fill the Psalters‘ bus, which may not be a bad thing, because in the mist of all we got right we also got some significant things wrong: things that if given a more diversified audience may have cooked our Goose, labeling it as a white-, liberal-, privileged-, Christian-only affair for years to come. Of course, none of this would have been true, but once you’re branded as such, what can you do? There are a lot of ways to frame our shortcomings. To put it in a nutshell, we were thoughtless about a few things—particularly our iconography and our optics. The problem with nutshells, however, is that they don’t acknowledge valiant efforts made to the contrary. So I shall.

Gareth, Jacob, Laurel, Michael, Topher (staff), Mike, Karla, Ian, Joy (board)—all of whom I’ve grown to love and appreciate—as well as all the volunteers and all the contributors could not have done more to create hospitable space. If there is anyone at fault, it is I for not finding a way to communicate what I now realize to be truer than I knew before: Hospitality suggests ownership, and no matter how hospitable we are, we can’t invite people to our attempt at a new kind of justice, spirituality, music and art and expect them to be equally excited about it. As long as it’s ours, it falls pray to the same cultural captivity that Professor Soong-Chan Rah so poignantly argues is the persistent state of the church at large even in a post-colonial era. There’s nothing “new” about it. So when my Asian, Hispanic and First Nation kin see a promo touting that “Americans from all over” are coming but none pictured look like them, or when my Jewish, Muslim and atheist kin are told they should bless each other with the sign of the cross or the Eucharist, or when the most prominent pictures my children see of people that look like them are kids starving in Africa, or when recovering fundamentalists feel inhibited to confess their honest reservations about sometimes frightening new freedoms, or when the showers aren’t configured in a way accessible to the disabled, or when we reach pass the iconic, inclusively-colored, most familiar representation of geese to find an image of the Holy Spirit as pure as the driven snow…

it all seems too familiar—not very new at all. Simon Levin, a Jewish brotha attending with his interfaith family, put it to me this way, “You have to move beyond extending invitations to extending ownership.” That shouldn’t be too hard, but hard or not, with the grace of God and you, our fellow flockers, we will.

Like my brotha Richard Twiss said, “At least now we have a frame of reference.” When you know better, you do better. By confessing where we’ve missed the mark, not rationalizing it, we free ourselves from the captivity of ignorance (we also obligate ourselves to responsibility). The mere fact that Leslie enjoyed herself and our kids are already planning for next year tells me this bird will fly. (I love that Celtic metaphor, by the way.)

The thing about a wild goose is that you don’t have to start with a bird in hand to know that if you persist… in doing justly, loving mercy and walking humbly… one day you’ll catch her, and it will have been well worth the chase.

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