Like those giant dead American Chestnuts I saw in that forest so long ago, there is much that is blighted and dead in the Christianity I know. And like that tiny sapling that stretched up to the light, I think there must be something else that is alive, that is striving towards life. I’m tired of talking about how dead the church is—about how we’re dying and shrinking and dying and becoming irrelevant and dying and declining and dying and dying and dying. I’m sick of it. I’ve seen the trunks littering the forest floor. Let them rot into the soil. I’m interested in the new life. What grows? What shoots upward towards the sun, blight be damned, to see how far it can go? That’s what I want to know about. — Eric Smith





The Wild Goose is, I am told, a festival about the Spirit—or, at least, spirit-like things. It is a place where the impish spirit of God roams free, playing at the intersection of people and ideas and communities seeking to be faithful to whatever they seek to be faithful to. This is all very vague. I don’t know, honestly, what the Wild Goose Festival is, because no one gets very specific about it. It is about music, I am told, and prayer, and camping out, and the exchange of ideas and food, and relationships, and the pursuit of peace. It is awesome, they say. People have told me this for a couple of years now, these vague, non-descriptive, “awesome”-punctuated descriptions, and I don’t know what to make of it, but it all sounds very promising to me.


The American Chestnut is not dead. Most American Chestnuts are dead, but the American Chestnut is not. There are a few surviving trees that seem to be unaffected by the blight, and there are people breeding those in the hopes of producing a resistant strain. There are those cross-breeding the American Chestnut with its blight-resistant cousin the Chinese Chestnut. And there are those working at the genetic level, isolating and modifying genes controlling the blight and its resistance. Every so often I see a news article full of hopeful scientists and forest-goers, optimistic that some new sapling will be the one that makes it. The American Chestnut is not dead—not so long as it has such people on its team.

I don’t know what the Wild Goose Festival is all about. I’ll find out soon enough; my flight leaves in about 24 hours. But I know this: I’ll be glad to return to my native range among the hardwoods of the southern Appalachians, and I’ll be on the lookout for thin saplings straining towards the light. Somewhere in all that music and spirit and food and community, I hope someone has the cure for what ails the church. I’ll be on the watch for it. If you see it let me know. Because nothing that is well-loved goes easily into oblivion, and the American Chestnut and the church alike are too beloved by too many to pass out of memory just yet. The day is coming, and soon, when we can talk about what’s living, instead of what’s dying.

See you at the Wild Goose.

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