Wild Goose Communion

August 15, 2013

As I noted earlier this week, I attended and spoke at the Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, North Carolina (see posts here and here, and photos here). Although it had some well-known speakers, I did not realize the Festival was considered big enough for fundamentalist Christians to pay to send people to develop opposition research/reporting. Apparently the Institute on Religion & Democracy (IRD), a group devoted to critiquing liberals, moderates, and conservatives who are not considered conservative enough, sent a couple of people to the event. One of them wrote an American Spectator piece critiquing some of the speakers to broadly paint an attack on the whole weekend, even though no one likely agrees with all the speakers since the speakers do not even all agree with each other. After all, one of the key points of the Festival is to create a space where people can dialogue about controversial topics in a civil manner. But the IRD often is against both dialogue and civility as they favor blind and mute conformity (as I have noted in previous posts here, here, here, here, and here). However, the real shock of the American Spectator piece by an IRD staffer is that the biggest critique of the Wild Goose Festival is for a ... wait for it ... communion service! I actually attended the communion service that fired up the IRD's Barton Gingerich, and found it to be a wonderful way to close a day of listening to speakers and musicians dealing with important spiritual topics (the photo is one I took of Todd Wynward, who made the communion bread, talking about it). What upset Gingerich is that the bread used for the communion was green chili cornbread (which, by the way, was delicious!). Gingerich wrote that "[p]erhaps the perfect encapsulation of Wild Goose was its chili cornbread Eucharist." Yet, he means that as an insult. If communion is "the perfect encapsulation" of an event, then that sounds like a pretty good event! Perhaps more Christian gatherings should include a communion service that so incorporates the ideals of the gathering

Apparently Gingerich did not care for the description about how the the bread had been made (with Wynward personally growing the corn on land in New Mexico, grinding it by hand, and then using rainwater in North Carolina to create the batter). Gingerich dismissed this as "a feel-good narrative of healthy eating and locally-grown ingredients." What is so horrible about healthy - and tasty - communion bread? Would he rather have those fake feeling and tasting white squares that many churches call "bread"? Gingerich then dismissed the talk about how the bread was made as if it was the only reason for the communion:
Apparently, the most important questions surrounding the sacrament aren't about Christ's presence and substance, but instead whether or not the ingredients are certified fair trade organic.
Gingerich's argument is silly because the whole point of communion is to remember Christ. And Wynward's comments about the bread's creation and taste were framed to explain how this bread was to help us better remember Christ's body. Besides showing someone desperately grasping for straws to write an attack piece, Gingerich's comments likely also match a general lack of consideration about what we use for communion. The form impacts the meaning (or Marshall McLuhan put it more strongly, the medium is the message). What we use for the communion elements impacts how we experience communion and therefore how we think of that sacred rite, Christ, and his sacrifice. This is why some Baptists want a return to wine. What does it tell us about faith and Christ's sacrifice if we remember by drinking super-sweet juice instead of bitter wine? What does it tell us about faith and Christ's sacrifice if we remember by eating processed, mass-produced bread cubes instead of real, fresh bread? What we use as our symbols does matter. It impacts how we think, how we remember, and how we live.

5 comments

  1. Anonymous12:33 PM

    While I don't think Wild Goose--which I didn't attend and have never attended--committed a huge faux-pas, I can also understand why Mr. Gingerich, as well as any orthodox Christian in tune with the historical meaning of the sacrament, might be a bit cranky about the whole thing (aside from the fact that he might be generally cranky).

    You yourself explain why:

    "What does it tell us about faith and Christ's sacrifice if we remember by drinking super-sweet juice instead of bitter wine?"

    Exactly. So what does it tell us about faith Christ's sacrifice if we remember/participate by devouring a home-cooked delicacy with an elaborate subsidiary narrative rather than simple, anonymous, unleavened (even stale) bread?

    For the historical, premodern church this fact was very important. It seems to me that Wild Goose may have been so caught up in its social narratives--fair trade! organic! local!--that they lost sight of what the sacrament is actually about. In other words, there's nothing wrong with fair trade, organic, and local per se but it seems to me that prefacing the sacrament with an extensive, feel-good story about the economic origin of the bread--i.e., the body of Christ--is, at best, a tad crass.

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  2. Anonymous5:49 AM

    This response is much simpler than it looks. I think the guy who made the homemade cornbread put him up to this 'cause the IRD article hurt his feelings.

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  3. Great response, Brian! Thanks for all you brought to Wild Goose this year.

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  4. Thanks for your insightful comments, Brian. I was trying to offer a communion that was like the Christ I follow--raw, vital, nourishing, and undomesticated. Growing and grinding the corn, I prayed that it would deepen the sacrament of communion for those who partook at the Wild Goose--from my hands, to their hands, to be Christ's hands in the world.
    --Todd Wynward

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  5. Ah - you got stuck in that silly spectator article, too! I spent 20 minutes writing a comment to him. Was he really there do you think? It sounded rather second-hand to me. A lot of what he said was a stretch. I kind of feel sorry for those guys. Must be scary to them. Thanks, Brian

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