On Sunday morning I joined a parade down a dirt road in a campground, sang peace songs led by Rev. Yolanda on an acoustic guitar, and received communion from a mason jar in a grass clearing with sweat dripping down my legs and back.

That was church.

There was a sermon, too, but I didn’t hear most of it because I was watching my boys run around with their friends in the shade of the empty beer tent.

I didn’t know much about the Wild Goose Festival before this week, except that it was a festival of art and music, preaching and dance, hippies and protesters and writers, and I wanted to be there. So I loaded up my two boys, a backpack of snacks, a tent, no agenda, and a wide-open heart, and drove to the mountains of Hot Springs, North Carolina.

And this is what I learned:

 1. They don’t have wifi in the woods.

Not only do they not have wifi, they don’t even really have cell phone reception. The festival had a hashtag though, and I’m still confused as to how anyone used it. It was good to have four days away from the steady drip of the internet feed.  Without internet, our only concerns were food, water, and sleep. It made for a peaceful existence.

2. “In your imagination, you can make raindrops any color.”

I learned that from a little boy called Rain. I have no idea if that was his real name or not, but I overheard him encouraging my son to break the rules of the real world in his art. Apparently Keenan is a bit like me – prone to literalism in his art; he thought he couldn’t paint raindrops because he didn’t have blue paint. But in your imagination, that doesn’t matter.

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3. I’m a great dad.

Brian McLaren walked up to me and told me this while I was watching my boys splash barefoot in filthy puddles. I don’t know if I should believe him, though – after all, he doesn’t believe Jesus is the only way to Heaven. </sarcasm>

4. Pentecostal preaching is better with a DJ

To be perfectly honest, I was skeptical when I first heard the idea. Morgan Guyton planned to lay down a dance beat while Jonathan Martin preached. It was a bold and creative experiment, and I don’t think anyone knew how it would work.

This is difficult to put into words. There was music, and there was preaching, and I think the Spirit was there too. There was dancing, there was praying, and then there was communion.

5. You don’t need grapes for Eucharist, but somebody has to drink the leftovers.

I found communion three times at Wild Goose, but only once with wine. The first time was in the chapel tent down by the river. The boys didn’t want to sit through evening prayers, so we just hung out beside the tent and then slipped in line when it was time. Afterwards, the priest – an Episcopal woman from Atlanta – offered us the leftover pomegranate juice. I’m unclear on the theological specifics of what happens when one drinks the leftovers, but I’m always glad for a little bit extra of Jesus in my life.

An hour or two later, I was serving communion after Morgan and Jonathan’s dance-party church service. Jonathan repeated the beautiful communion liturgy from Renovatus, but I could barely hear it over the clapping and the pounding music. It was the most disorganized thing I’d ever seen, but unforgettable. I wandered through a crowd of people with a plastic cup in one hand and a filthy half-naked toddler on my hip, saying “The blood of Christ, shed for you.” . A few folks asked me “Do you know – is this wine or juice?”

“Um, I think it’s grape soda,” I told them. Later I watered some down and put it in Emmett’s bottle, and he didn’t seem to care.

6. Yoga with toddlers isn’t relaxing.

Since we were awake with the sun and didn’t have much (besides PopTarts) to entertain us in our little tent, we walked down the road to Family Yoga in the morning. Here, kids outnumbered parents on the blue mats spread out in wet grass. This was rather counterproductive when the instructor said “Clear your mind of all distractions and relax” and I was upside down looking between my legs to see if the boys had run off with the stroller. (They had, but they came back.) Or when she said “Relax all your muscles and just listen to your body” and all I could feel was Emmett bouncing up and down on my chest.

But afterwards there was coffee.

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7. “Statistically, when you say everything you think, some if it’s going to be funny.”

This is what I learned from our new friend Anna. While Keenan threw sticks and Emmett slept in his stroller for three hours, Anna said everything she thought, and it was indeed funny. Probably my favorite story she told me was this (one of her many shenigains at a conservative Christian college):

“They told me I couldn’t wear pants to chapel. So I handed them my pants. Apparently they wanted me to wear a skirt. But they just said “No Pants”.

8. There’s a beef between Homebrewed Christianity and Moonshine Jesus.

Apparently these two alcohol-and-religion themed podcasts are at war over name theft and another shenanigans, but they were able to lay aside their beef long enough to serve some pork barbecue, along with free beer. This was a good thing, because at that point in the evening it was pouring rain and we needed food and shelter. That’s where I met John and Anna Vest and passed two hours watching our boys splash in puddles and yell “Poopy butt” at each other.

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Ok, so maybe it’s not a real feud, between the two podcasts. But free food and beer!

9. In the absence of a campfire, a battery-powered lantern will work.

Somehow my boys have a completely idealized vision of camping they were eager to fulfill. The first night in the tent, Keenan made shadow puppets in front of a flashlight and told spoooooky stories. Apparently he’s learned from Netflix that this is what camping is.

But without firewood, matches, or a fire-ring (and with everything soaked by afternoon rain), we had a hard time finding the mandatory campfire/s’mores that he had his heart set on. So we crawled in the tent with our new best friends, April and Jeff Fiet and their two kids, and ate marshmallows and told spooooooky stories.

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The next night, just before bed, we crashed John Vest’s campfire, and my boys were able to fulfill all the desires of their little hearts.

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10. You can’t rain on this parade.

On day four, despite rain, sun, bugs, and tired feet, we were still in high spirits.

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At least, one of us was. My boys, not so much. Fortunately, their sadness only lasted a few minutes before they were cheered up by an actual parade.

parade[ photo by Dan Brennan ]

Rain and camping aren’t usually a good mix, but at Wild Goose it was the stuff of memories – ducking into a book tent to avoid a downpour, spending all afternoon under a cabin with the Howertons and the Wolframs, and chasing Keenan through muddy streams.

wildgoose023[ photo by Kristen Howerton ]

As it turned out, those afternoon rain showers were also the only showers me and my boys had for four days.

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