A Month of Festivals – Appleby, 3 Wishes, Glastonbury

The last time I was able to post an update, I had just returned from ten days at Hay-on-Wye in two festivals: the Hay Literary Festival and How the Light Gets In. I received a ride home from Dafydd who lives near Caernarfon, and after only two short days back at home in Caernarfon, I left again for three more festivals across the UK.

My first stop was Stockport. I met Dee Cunniffe and Hope Deifell, and together the three of us traveled to Appleby-in-Westmorland to visit the Appleby Horse Fair. This was my second year at what is described as Europe’s largest gathering of Gypsies. More than anything this was a learning event. I am deeply concerned that Christians go on mission without understanding the cultures they attempt to reach. Roma, Gypsies, and Travelers are among some of the most misunderstood and abused peoples in history, and if we think that that we can share the life and love of Christ with them without understanding their culture, we are desperately deceived. The fact is that many of them are deeply devoted to God and are lovely people we need to get to know better. 

Three Days in Appleby

The Shera Rom – Billy Welch

We stayed with the Pattimores. This was the second time I have stayed with Dan and Kristy just outside Appleby. After three years, the kids are all grown up, and beginning to tower over me. Hope, Dee, Kristy, and I were able to spend over an hour with Billy Welch (the Shera Rom, and organizer of the Horse Fair), which amazed us, because he is such a busy man. Billy spoke about new legislation coming into effect concerning travel trailers and other campers stopping near neighborhoods, and how new restrictions will make traveler life more difficult than it already is. The US has these similar restrictions in many states. Having lived as a traveler for almost three years, I know the struggle of living nomadically and being able to remain within the confines of the law. The Gypsy and Traveler way of life is being attacked by government legislation and, Billy Welsh shared his concerns. He believes that such strict governmental legislation has not been seen since the Nazi regime, and he is concerned for the lives and the culture of his people. We talked about ways that Christian churches might be able to alleviate the growing suppression against the nomadic lifestyle. This is something that will be on my radar for many years to come. Please pray with me for the safety of full and part time travelers, and for blessings upon them. 

During the Horse Fair, Hope and I talked with Fred, an atheist Gypsy in his fifties, who talked about how the Horse Fair was when he was younger. Today, many of the shops in the little village close during the fair. In fact, there are more closed shops than open ones during the influx of thousands of Gypsies, Travelers, and the accompanying visitors like us who come to experience the Horse Fair. Fred told us how the Village was welcoming when he was young, and how over time the town became less welcoming, and shops began to close. It saddened me to hear that the village is less welcoming than it once was, and I find myself praying that there might be a change in this attitude at Appleby.

Photos from Appleby

3 Wishes Fairy Festival

Following Appleby, Hope and I made our way down to Cornwall––barely. I say barely, because just across the harbor from Plymouth, which is in Devon, is Torpoint, which is the first edge of Cornwall. We had initially arrived in Bristol, and Diana the “Goth Vicar of Glastonbury” picked us up. We spent two days preparing decorations for the soon coming Glastonbury Festival, and then arrived at Torpoint to help with the set-up of the 3 Wishes Fairy Festival. I was tasked with managing the smooth running of the Main Stage, which was a circus Big Top. From mid-morning until after midnight, I made sure the bands, the sound team, and the Swamp Circus team from Cornwall all got along and that the schedule remained relatively on-time. On Friday and Saturday night of the festival we ran a silent disco from midnight until almost 2am (okay, it was closer to 3am on Saturday). Things went well, and it looks like this might be something I might be doing again next year. 

This was my third time helping at the Fairy Festival, and like many other festivals, it felt like I was coming home to serve alongside old friends. After a three-year hiatus from the festivals, many of us remarked that it seemed as though there was never a break, and never the isolation of the COVID season. Things were almost back to normal. There were discussions about spirituality with musicians, and people who self-identify as “Fairies”, “Pixies”, and even “Unicorns”. The Fairy Festival is a gathering of individuals and families who generally identify as Neo-Pagans of one tribe or another and come dressed in the regalia of a fairy world. In the future, I am hoping to connect more with the Swamp Circus and to visit the alternative community they have in Cornwall. 

Rushing to Glasto

On Monday morning after the Fairy Festival, we had to make haste and head to Glastonbury town to pick up the decorations Hope, Diana, and I had prepared for the Iona Community space at the Glastonbury Festival. We got a quick shower, licked up our gear, repacked for Glasto, and grabbed a pizza for the road. When we arrived at the festival, we were told that the gate for early arrivals was closing in ten minutes. We were about 12-minutes’ walk away, and so with all our gear, Hope and I set off in haste to get to the gate. We arrived huffing and puffing to discover that it was still open for another 4 hours. Upon entering the gate, I pointed to a distant location of the festival, and told Hope, “We are somewhere in a copse of trees––way over there.” Sometime late in the night, after the setting sun of the second longest day of the year, we arrived in the dark at the Iona Community.

We helped set up camp, we decorated the little area with shiny apples made from bags like ones I had once bagged tea in. Diana had created a series of seven framed art pieces representing the seven last words of Jesus, and there were hula-hoops with ribbons resembling dreamcatchers hanging in the trees. With Christmas lights strung in the trees it was all quite dreamy, and when the festival started on Thursday, people came into our little Iona Community (link) copse to relax from the heat of the midday sun or sit by a warm fire in the cold of the late night. The Iona Community space sits on the edges of day and night-time events, and at the edges of the live music stages and Green Futures field. It perfectly represents the spaces in-between the worlds of high-technology and ecologically minded concern, between the light and darkness, and between wild abandon and thoughtful meditation. Friday and Saturday nights rolled into Saturday and Sunday morning, and we finally said goodbye to the last of our visitors at 4am on Saturday morning, and 5am on Sunday morning. As the sun rose, we went to sleep grateful for the deep discussions about spirituality and life with the hundreds of people who came to visit us. Debbie Chaloner is the Iona Community leader who oversees this event, and among the eight of us there were three vicars a pastor and loads of experience in festival outreach settings. Hope was new to this event, but as I knew would be the case, she became an indispensable part of the team.

Like the Fairy Festival, Glastonbury was a reunion of friends, and a reconnection with people who remembered us from previous years. I cannot over-emphasize the power of connecting with people in the places they visit for their inspiration. The festivals of our world have become the expressions of “church” for the unchurched. And this should be no surprise to us. Like the Feasts of Israel that were established by God as a gathering space for the Jewish people, the festivals of our world are becoming yearly gatherings where people reignite their zest for life in a community of like-minded people. It is my contention that these places are under-represented by Christianity, and it is now our responsibility to change that. But as we change that, if we do it in the classical manner of 20th Century Christian evangelistic outreach, we will only prove to the world that we do not care to understand them. In fact, it will be evidence to them (whether true or not) that we do not care for them at all. Our responsibility includes developing an anthropology for the subcultures of our changing world. May we learn to learn once again.

Pics from Glasto and Iona Community

I Can Never Surprise You: the story of my life outside the church walls

I’ve spent a good deal of time with people who are not Christians, and in fact don’t have any interest in appearing to live by biblical standards. But most Christian pastors I know have limited contact with the wild world of subcultures I frequent. 

I know only a few pastors who have been to Burning Man. The Christian connection with the world of Burners is slim, and typically, it is a negative experience for the Burner. 

The preponderance of church leaders I know have no idea what today’s Pagan is (or ‘Neo-Pagan’, to use an anthropological identification). When they use the word ‘pagan’ or ‘heathen’, they typically mean godless hedonistic people. It’s a negative identifier for someone who drinks and parties a lot and should be avoided because they are a bad influence.

My friend Jim Henderson used to arrange discussions with atheists in churches. He would ask the pastor to find a few atheists to discuss their view of Christianity and the Christian church in front of the congregation. Jim came to our church in Salem about 12 years ago. He asked me to find three atheists for the panel––no problem. I found a few friends and acquaintances, and they were ready to be part of this public discussion. Jim was surprised that I found the atheists he needed. Apparently other pastors he had dealt with didn’t know any atheists, and Jim would have to visit coffee shops or pubs prior to the event to fill those slots. I was as surprised as Jim. He was surprised that I knew three atheists in Salem. I was surprised that other pastors couldn’t find anyone to join the discussion.

The other night, I was hanging out with one of my Witch friends in Salem. This Witch friend enjoys a rather hedonistic alternative sexual lifestyle. This is not necessarily standard in Pagan circles, but neither is it uncommon. After being told a few tales of sexual exploits, my friend remarked, “I just can’t freak you out. You never get surprised.” My friend occasionally tries to freak me out, and tests me with these stories.

My Witch friend was not the first person to make the comment that I was not easily surprised. I’ve heard that several times over the years from people who are trying to push my little Christian pastor buttons. It is almost as if I am being tested to see whether I can practice what I preach about loving people unconditionally.

From Burners, to Witches, to Atheists, to general non-believers, and occasionally from Christians who practice such alternative things as open-marriage, I have heard some variation of these words: “You never get surprised.” Typically, what they mean beneath that comment is that I do not reject them, and that I can accept them as friends.

It is true that I am not easily surprised by the weird things people do. I am also not easily offended. I do not need people to agree with me for them to be my friends. Perhaps being surprised easily and being offended easily are closely related. Even if they are not, the world around us that does not follow Jesus appears to think that they are related.

Perhaps our little Christian world is too little. Perhaps it is too narrow. Perhaps that is why we are surprised when we hear things that are part of the world of alternative sexuality, alternative religious beliefs, hedonistic partying, radically differing politics, violence, or criminality. I may walk a narrow way to Christ. In fact, it is narrower than most people think. But this way intersects the broad road in many places, and my lack of surprise and offence is just one more evidence to the non-Christian that I truly love the wide-road walkers I know. We are good friends because I am not surprised by what they believe and how they live. 

Perhaps my lack of surprise is simply a shadow of grace in the storms of judgment and bias raging in our world. Sometimes I wonder why I am so calm in the face of hedonism and heresy, but mostly I am thankful. That calmness allows me to go places that many other Christians can’t imagine.

Interested in more stories from outside the church walls and a theology of wild mission? Check out Love Big or Go Home.

Traveling Toward Cymru (Wales)

Since my last email update there is much to report. I spent time in Texas. I am now in North Carolina, Salem is coming up, and my first trip in the transition to Wales has been booked.

Let’s walk backwards through this story:

Leaving for Wales – Part 1

Yesterday, I booked a flight to Wales for arrival on August 19th. I will spend my first two weeks in South Wales helping my friends Andrew Thomas and Dawn Wood prepare for Between the Trees festival, which is a mixture of music, science, philosophy, and spirituality. It doesn’t get any better than that for a festival focus, does it? 

After Between the Trees, I plan on spending the rest of my time in and around Caernarfon, North Wales. The focus of this part of the trip is to prepare for my move, which I am hoping will happen at the beginning of this coming year, and to set up plans for all the crazy ideas that fill my head with how to be a positive influence in this town that has captured my heart so deeply.

It is my goal to hit the ground running wherever I go, and of course, this means much of the preparation for ministry must happen long before one lands on the ground. Before moving to Salem, Massachusetts, I sent some years traveling there, and bringing my friends with me, before we all moved. Fortunately, I have made friends and acquaintances throughout Wales over many journeys to the land of my heart, and I have been preparing the way to be able to start working in ministry as quickly as possible. 

North Carolina

Right now, I am in Greensboro, NC with my dear friends Gail and Charles Bretan. I so deeply appreciate their kindness to host me in their home as I jaunt about the state. I have spent long hours with Charles talking about life, religion, philosophy, politics and just about every bunny trail of thought. His Jewish/English professor’s views on the world are always a challenge and encouragement to whatever I happen to be studying and writing. During this time, I have hung out with his podcast partners, Chris Henson, and Rev. Helena––the ampersand of reason. We even did a podcast together, which is a good thing since my own podcasts have come to a halt during this traveling season. This will be posted on their podcast page: A Jew and a Gentile Walk into a Bar…Mitzvah. ––> https://charlesandchris.net

Papy has graciously loaned me the use of his car, and I have been able to spend a couple days with him. I was able to hang out with his parents who are wonderful and dong well, and then we’ve twice now with Robert and Kelly Williams. It was like old home time with one of the Salem outreach teams.

I spoke on Sunday morning at Fellowship of Christ in Cary, NC. I am grateful to have spent time with this wonderful church. You can access the message online at their website ––> https://www.fellowshipofchrist.org/sermons. On the sermon page, you can find the morning I spoke on the 2021/07/25 video in the right column of the page, and I begin at about the 30-minute mark. Spending time with Pastor David MacLean, John Craichy, and other friends from Fellowship of Christ was the real highlight of my time with them. I always feel as though I receive more edification from others than I give, and I am so grateful for all the good people I know around the world.

Before going to Cary, I spent some of my first days in Asheville. Asheville has been a home away from home for a long time. My son, Elijah, used to live here. I have Burner friends, Emergent friends from the Wild Goose Festival, Rainbow Gathering friends, and assorted others. Most of my time was spent with the Deifell family. There was a memorial service for Jey, the patriarch of the family, and fortunately, I was able to be there for this event. It was great to spend time with the whole family. My initial contact with them was Burning Man, where I first met Hope and her brother Tony. Since then, I have done several mission activities in which Hope has been a vital part of the organization and outreach. My time in Asheville is often at Heather and Richmond’s house, which is just too fun.  I am quite sure that Richmond and I start laughing as soon as we see each other, and we don’t stop laughing until I leave. It’s scary how close his humor mirrors my own…hmm, perhaps I should feel bad for the poor guy.

While in Asheville/Black Mountain, I met with a variety of other people. Hope Deifell introduced me the Dean of Spiritual Formation at Montreat College where she works, and it turns out that Rachel Toone and I had several friends in common. I spent time with fellow hippie ministers: Joshua and Shallyn Hanson, of the Rainbow Gathering Jesus Kitchen, at their new Nomads Land property outside Asheville; and then it was tacos and ice cream with Cate, who has worked in places like Rainbow Gatherings, Haight Ashbury, and the Goa. I also saw my Wild Goose festival friends Mike and Jasmin Morrell, and Steve Knight (for a second time). To top of a great time in Asheville, I got to see one of my Salem peeps who moved to Asheville a couple years ago––yes, the famous Glenn French! 

Texas

My first landing place after leaving California was Texas, and quickly I was swept away from the airport by David Brown, and we made our way to College Station. I caught the 4th of July fireworks at Texas A&M on that first night. Over the next 10 days I would also travel to Brownwood and Austin. I spent time with Chai, Shalom, and Zoe, and David, but Chris Gaston who is usually in Brownwood had already left for the Pacific Coast Trail which he is walking in full this summer.

I was headed toward Houston to see Paul and Joy Burwell, but Joy called and said they were in contact with someone exposed to COVID. Although, I am not concerned for myself, I needed to be wary for those I was visiting, because it included families and elders across the country. So, I missed the opportunity to see and pray with my good friends, the Burwells. At the end of the Texas trip I spent the days in Austin. I stayed with Robert, Kimberly, and Ian Watson-Hemphill. I was treated to some of the notable places of Austin, and Robert and I visited the Immersive Van Gogh exhibit, which is traveling around the country.

I spent a couple days with Cathryn Camisa as she in process of leaving one place for another, which was wonderful to see since it represented a season of deliverance for Cathryn. Cathryn and I met with Mike Clawson and Steve Knight, who flew in from Asheville and I would see once again in North Carolina.

Defending Befriending with John W. Morehead from MultiFaith Matters

John Morehead and I are partners in the crimes of trying to do good works that are not always perceived as good works in Evangelical circles. We've taken some hits for befriending the "radical other" - those who think and live differently than ourselves. We think that's what Jesus would do, but not everyone appears to agree.

Wild Theology Podcast: The One Who Names Himself Part 1 Wild Theology

In this episode entitled "The One Who Names Himself", I look at the frantic search for a meaning and fulfillment. Kanye West's declaration at Glastonbury that he was the greatest rock star on the planet and the Self-Help Movement are discussed as examples of this phenomenon.   You can support this podcast at https://Patreon.com/PhilWyman You can find the video version at https://youtu.be/oAZH34Zh4os  Also connect with me at: https://Facebook.com/PhilWyman https://Twitter.com/PhilWyman https://BurningReligion.com
  1. Wild Theology Podcast: The One Who Names Himself Part 1
  2. Love Big or Go Home with John W. Morehead
  3. Wild Theology Podcast – The Tattered Robes of Life: a song, a pre-Easter meditation
  4. Wild Theology Podcast -The Beginnings of Love Big or Go Home
  5. Wild Theology Podcast – Moving to Wales. The Story of this Dream.

Halloween for Christians: How to Respond to It

Reposting this article from 5 years ago. Yes, we still need to remind ourselve to stop freaking out, and start redeeming the time. 😉 For more information about rethinking Halloween see my book The Reformation of Halloween available on Amazon

Halloween has become one of the largest, most influential holidays in America, and is gaining ground in other countries as well. It is a day filled with costuming, horror images, candy, and community openness. That combination seems strangely out of synch with sensibility at first glance, but those issues may not be as far apart as we might assume.

If you come from the conservative to fundamentalist spectrum of Evangelical Christianity, you may have been raised with a fear of Halloween. You have heard stories of its supposed Pagan beginnings, and the dark sinister things occurring on Samhain (pronounced Sow-en). The Fundamentalist mind runs rampant with human and kitten sacrifices on October 31st. Churches hold Harvest Fairs, or 24-hour prayer vigils to combat the dark intentions of the Evil One on this night.

Meanwhile, families are getting dressed up in costumes ranging from bloody zombies to Disney Princesses, and they are traveling the neighborhood knocking door-to-door like vacuum cleaner salesman looking for candy for their children. The neighbors open their doors, cheerily accept a “Trick-or-Treat!” shout, give out candy, and close the doors to declare how cute the kids look. To these neighbors, your concern about keeping your kitty indoor on Halloween, or avoiding a demonic intrusion into your child’s soul seems as distant as Pluto.

Now, I will be so bold as to declare, that I know a bit more about Halloween and its intersection with Christianity than just about anybody reading this blog post. You see, I am a Christian Pastor. But not only that, I am a Christian Pastor who lives and pastors in Salem, Massachusetts, and in our little city, Halloween is a one-month-long experience. But, not only that, I have been running an outreach on the streets of Salem for nearly an entire month each year during our month-long Halloween season. And not only that, our city has real live practicing Witches, and I know many of them well. So, here goes my take on Halloween. I will not give you the supposed history of the event. You can find that elsewhere on the internet, and some of it is sensationalist (stay away from that stuff – it’s just dumb and wrong), and some of it is honest enough to say that we do not really know the origins or activities on this night back in early Pagan history.

Here are some suggestions I have for you:

1) Don’t get freaked out by the gory aspects of Halloween. Yes, some people go overboard, but then again so did Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and so did some of the descriptions of war, sickness, depravity and suicide in the Bible. There is a strong connection between death and apocalyptic scenarios in literature and film, and these connections carry spiritual meaning. From stories of zombies to vampires to monsters to antichrists we find interesting correlations to finding safety in God during apocalyptic crisis in literature and film, and social commentary is ripe in story lines like The Walking Dead.

2) Take advantage of the community openness. What other day of the year will people happily open their doors to a knock from a strangely dressed stranger saying funny things to them? In fact, they will be so happy to see you, they will give you a gift of candy. How often does that happen? You couldn’t get that to happen on Christmas Day while everyone is excitedly opening packages under the decorated piney tree.

3) Don’t get all caught up in the supposed dark intentions of the night. How many Witches do you actually know? My guess is that most people reading this will answer “none.” I know hundreds – literally hundreds. That is because I live in Salem Massachusetts, and have friends from the Neo-Pagan Witchcraft community from around the world. I have yet to encounter any dead kitty cats, or sacrificed babies. I have found very few examples of curses upon churches or individual Christians. I am not saying that there are not any examples of curses by Witches, but the Witches I know are generally kind people who want the world to be a better, more peaceful place. For this reason, I do not have to hide on Halloween to pray the darkness away.

4) Join someone doing something both fun and redemptive, if you can. Because I am in Salem, and 500,000 to a million people will visit our city in October, we will provide live music on the streets, give away free hot cocoa, free hugs, and will set up booths to offer a variety of spiritual counseling. This is our way of connecting to a searching world during a searching season.

I believe that Halloween is the most open and community oriented holiday in our culture. It is filled with wild creativity, and offers Christianity the best moment in the year to shine with its own creativity, love and giving. Don’t let that moment pass you by, because you are afraid of some bogey man of urban myth in fundamentalist garb.

To Long Beach, California, and a Season of Caring for Mom

Hey Gang, It has been a crazy time, and after a different kind of October with some fruitful outreach in Salem, I am now in Long Beach, California.

I am staying with my mom, and for a season, I am becoming her full-time caretaker. She has come to the point that she cannot take care of herself on most days, and consequently, she needs some regular care. My brother and sister have done their best to try and hold it together, but are unable to devote full time to it, so they have done it on evenings after work and weekends.

She had a season of falling with some regularity, but somehow has been able to do so without hurting herself. On the flip side of that, she also could not get up afterwards, and the place she lives is a retirement community, but it is not licensed for elder care. So, if she falls they have to call 911, even if she is not hurt. She had fallen enough over the course of a couple months to make it questionable whether she can stay there on her own. So, enter stage left – me. I will be taking care of her full-time for a season. I have had to register with the state of California as her In Home Social Services Caretaker. This morning, I went to an orientation as the last official part of this preparation. Now, this is a good thing that I am able to do this at this time, but there is no question that it will be a difficult season. I’ve had two days off in the last month-and-a-half, and caring for mom is a pretty much a 24/7 on-call type of job right now.

It looks like I will be here until early May at the least. At that time, I need to travel to Austin for the MultiFaith Matters gathering, where I hope to see some of you. At this point, my schedule after that is still up in the air, so in a very real way, my commitment here is an indefinite affair.

Help with dressing, bathing, cooking, cleaning, and other assorted duties are all a part of this season. One day, mom can seem limitedly independent, and the next day requires that all the basic care items are in need of help: dressing, toileting…. My life is filled with cleaning, walking her little Miniature Dobie – Charlie, cooking, bathing mom, administering meds, and being there enough hours to make sure she does not get herself into trouble. I am also staying at her place, which is quite small. Consequently, if she gets up so do I. And yes, she gets up a couple times a night.

Prayer is welcome. It has been an exhausting month-and-a-half as I adjust to the new schedule, which, as it turns out, can only be semi-scheduled, and is full-time in the truest sense.

I am trying to keep my writing and podcasting going, and am hoping to have an occasional free weekend to develop a speaking and outreach schedule. I have posted most of my Wild Theology Podcasts on YouTube and you can follow me there at this link.

I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to be here now, and hope to get to a point where study and writing can continue, and preparation for the next season of outreach can begin. An example of how busy this has been, I’ve wanted to get this email out for at least a month, but by the time I have a few free moments they are either interrupted, or my brain has turned to mush. So, belated Happy Guy Fawkes Day, Thanksgiving, and Merry Christmas to you all!