The turning point in my Wild Goose experience happened Saturday at about 5:30 pm or so. The band in the photo above, called Ears to the Ground, was on stage at the performance cafe. I had been grumbling in my head that the schedule seemed to be a lot more flexible on Saturday than it had been on Friday when I played. But then this band started a song with the most amazing vocal harmony I have heard in a long time. And I had to close my eyes, because all my internal acrimony had been interrupted by beauty. And when I sat down with members of the band at dinner an hour later, I realized they were the ones God had brought me to Wild Goose to meet.
Ears to the Ground is a minimalist bluegrass-ish folk group from Harrisonburg, VA. They were part of an intentional community entourage that traveled by bicycle from Harrisonburg to Wild Goose over the course of two weeks. They call it the Petrol-free Jubilee Tour. They’ve actually been doing this bicycle music tour each summer since 2009. They travel 20 miles or so a day and then play in towns on the sidewalks for donations. Sometimes churches set up shows for them and offer them shelter. Other times they camp out. Sometimes they don’t make it to an actual town before dark so they have to pitch tents on the side of the highway.
This year added a new wrinkle as one of the ringleaders of the group named Nicholas and his wife had a 10 month old baby traveling with them who was in the process of teething. They would stop every couple of hours to breast-feed. They’re actually raising him diaper free; he was butt naked waist down at the festival (not sure how that worked on a bike). They have him on a potty schedule and they’re using sign language to help him learn how to communicate when he needs to go. It mostly works with a few accidents.
Nichole, one of the other ringleaders of the group, is a public school teacher in Harrisonburg who lives in an intentional community house with a bunch of women. She shared that the band emerged out of a house church that was called the Early Church because they met early in the morning. They were started independently of any denomination but have since affiliated with the Mennonites. This original house church has spawned a number of communities and projects in Harrisonburg like a house for people in recovery, a community farm that grows produce for the local food pantry, a house where people intentionally live without electricity, and several others.
Nichole said that on their bike tour, in each town they come to, they pray for God to provide for them and random people have come to help them. They chose this year not to bring credit cards but to keep all of their money in cash in a common purse as a way of trusting God and each other. Several times they have adopted homeless people in the towns where they visit who are allowed to join the tour if they’re able to procure a bike. A couple of formerly homeless people from other towns in Virginia are now part of their community in Harrisonburg.
I asked Nichole how they pay the bills as a community. She said that some people have regular jobs while others work as full-time volunteers for the community development organization they have created. A lot of the folks who are working regular jobs do so on a part-time basis strictly to earn the money that they need to pay their share of the bills so that as much time as possible can be devoted to ministry and fellowship.
I told Nichole that I wanted to figure out a way to set up a show for their band at our church and create a time for them to share what they do in their community in order to expand our imaginations about what we could be doing. So Nichole said she thought it would be best if my family and I paid their community a visit on a weekend in September when they’re having a big festival. That way we could see all their ministries on the ground. She said that she was sure one of their houses would be able to host us for the weekend. So I think that really is something we’re going to do.
As I was talking to Nichole, it was pouring down rain and my son Matthew was playing out in the rain with some of the kids from their community. When the banjo player from the band saw the kids playing out in the rain, he ran out to join them and slid face first into a giant puddle. Then two other guys and a girl from their community went out and sloshed into the same puddle with them. And before long there were about ten or more soaking wet Christian anarchists laughing with the kids in the rain.
In an activity earlier in the day, I had been captivated by a verse from the Song of Songs, 2:8: “The voice of my beloved! Behold, he comes leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills.” That was how my heart felt looking at that group of muddy Christians laughing in the rain. And it hit me that this was what was supposed to happen at Wild Goose. It was actually working! It just took me a couple of days to get there. Once I got out of my diva desperate power networking mode, I was able to live in the kingdom reality that I had been supposedly singing about where the “wind blows where it chooses and you hear the sound of it but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going” (John 3:8).
The way I had gotten connected with the Harrisonburg crew was that two of them Ari and Lanie had come to hear me sing the day before and sat in the front supporting me the whole time after so many other people had left. When I saw Lanie at the potluck lunch yesterday, I went over to thank her and then ended up eating lunch with about half a dozen of their community. That’s how I learned when their band would be playing, which was how God took me out of my neurotic performance mode and put me in a state of worship.
So it really illustrated to me how we can walk around in a spirit-soaked reality and be completely oblivious to it as long as we’re distracted by an underlying need and agenda. It was a weekend that had both cross and resurrection for me. I don’t think I could have experienced the beauty of the latter without experiencing some of the anguish of the former. And in the end, I got to breathe the kingdom air that God wanted me to breathe so that I could go back to suburbia with new dreams and a restored hope.