June 29, 2011

Born Again (Again) At Wild Goose

I regularly waft between atheism and faith. This is nothing new. When I was younger, every year at church camp or YoungLife camp I would recommit my life to Jesus, concerned that in the past year I’d lapsed in my faith. Normally, this concern centered around my inability to maintain a daily ritual of waking up before school for 15 minutes of Bible reading and prayer. Or I was worried I had brought too few friends to church or YoungLife club (how many converts is enough?). Were my shortcomings proof that I didn’t really believe? Was I on the wide road to hell?

These days, my concerns are more about the nature of God, religion, scripture, humanity, science. Did Moses really make waters of the Red Sea part? Did Jesus ascend? Like, he floated up into heaven? Where did he go then? Did he fade away? Just disappear? Past the clouds? Past the atmosphere? Did Jesus fly over the moon?

I settled into a comfortable atheism: no, Jesus did not float up into heaven; no, God does not sit up on a throne somewhere in the sky; yes, we are eaten by worms after we die and that is all. Sure, religion provides meaning for many people. OK, sacred texts and tradition serve as motivation for people to “do good” in the world. Yes, community is a good thing.

The Wild Goose is a Celtic metaphor for the Holy Spirit. I chase the wild goose, I follow the wild goose, I feel the wild goose flapping her wings overhead. In a field outside of Pittsboro, North Carolina at Wild Goose Festival I realized something:

I cannot control what my mind intellectually believes about complicated, theoretical events situated thousands of years in the past. The parting of the Red Sea, the resurrection of Jesus. I also can only make judgements with the information I have available: it seems like our universe does not experience ruptures from the supernatural beyond. Am I supposed to trust the words men I never met; redacted, edited, modified, and translated by other men I never met over the course of thousands of years? That feels silly.

But here is what I can do, what I articulated for the first time to William and Ryan in a field while eating hot dogs and drinking punch with Mark Scandrette, Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, and Matt Beams: I can recognize in the Gospel story something powerful and profound. I can say, “Yes, this is a story that I want to participate in.” I can align myself with the Kingdom of God rather than with the powers and principalities of this world. I would love for there to be a party in heaven waiting for me when I die. But even if there isn’t, even if this world is all we have got, this Jesus story, this redemptive work, this sacred community building, this is something I still want to be part of.

“Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

Call me a born-again Christian.

Photo by Ryan Hines of Glen Retief


  1. Casey Pick

    Beautiful – and glad I am to call you born-again, and brother in Christ. I know well the feelings you articulate here, but for me, on some level I have to agree with my girl Melissa Etheridge:

    “If my choice is despair or wonder
    On the line between truth and belief
    Do I just let the tide take me under,
    Or do I let the fascination come on and rain all over me?
    Open your mind.”

    I’d always rather choose wonder over the world.

  2. Another reason why I want to go Wild Goose next year!  You think maybe I can start a fundraiser?

  3. Awesome to read this post Brian! It was great hearing what you had to say, “in a field while eating hot dogs and drinking punch.” Delicious punch, I might add. Haha! Good moments like that often happen during the least expected circumstances. I’m really glad we had the opportunity to grow together. And glad you were able to use my photo too!

  4. Very interesting. I think I am much like you…. back and forth. Though now I try not to focus on it too much. It doesnt matter one way or another. I know I dont believe in a demonic god that has a son who floats past the moon. I like that idea though. I just cant imagine a god that would let hell exist. or whatever that means.

    Good thoughts here though!

  5. Harmelink

    Well and wisely put, Brian!  Herman Harmelink

  6. You always have the perfect lyrics for every moment! Glad to call you a friend and a sibling in humanity (or Christ or whatever ;))

  7. Definitely try to make it next year. So much to learn and experience. Check out Entrepreneurship As An Act of Resistance and take my survey. I’m putting together resources to empower folks to start their own side/small businesses as a form of direct empowerment. Autonomy over time and travel is part of that, and I think Wild Goose qualifies ;)

  8. Thanks, Herman!

  9. Agreed! (obviously) I think we’re not the only ones, too. There’s a number of Christians and non-Christians who reject a lot of what modern, American/Western Christianity has become–including a lot of folks dating wayyyyy back to the early church.

    Love wins.

  10. Chase Night

    I’m an evangelical turned agnostic turned emergent turned atheist turned … who knows. I admire the person of Jesus. And I feel the gentle wondrous force of something like a Holy Spirit. It’s a God who wants to take credit for the good and blame us for the bad that I don’t like. That’s like saying I’m not responsible if a book I write is no good. So even if a God like that does exist, he’s just not someone I can get into worshiping. 

    But I’m still incredibly jealous that you got to hang out with Mark and Doug and Tony like that. I loved their writings during my emergent wannabe pastor year. They still heavily influence my outlook on life and my idea of a mission in the world. Blogging has a lot of similarities to preaching I find, and we could borrow some of the community-building skills of the church planting movement…

  11. Small world, eh. I had the same journey “evangelical turned agnostic turned emergent turned atheist turned … who knows.”

    Most of my client work is with faith-based organizations and individuals. And much of my activism is situated in that context as well. Every now and then I take a look at my life and think “Am I really doing this? Is this really my life?” I don’t think that a few years ago I would have ever imagined that Jay Bakker, Mark Scandrette, and Shane Claiborne would be friends. 

    And yes, I think the writing/blogging/online world could learn from church movements. And also, that churches and non-profits (especially the missional, social justice, activist ones) can learn something from entrepreneurs as well. The evangelical political churches certainly have church-as-business down pat. I’m convinced there is a way for folks with a heart for justice to build sustainable organizations and communities in a positive way.

  12. Wow…great post!  Thanks for your honesty of where you’ve been/are at on your journey!  Amazing!

  13. You are very welcome. Thank you for entering in to that journey with me by commenting here. Hope to see you around these parts again :)

  14. That’s rad! So glad to have connected with you (and many others) at Wild Goose. Looking forward to 2012!

Submit a Comment