Royalties Over Revolution: The Thought Leader Industrial Complex

I went to Wild Goose.

I spoke at Wild Goose 21 and it’s because of the hard work of Alicia Crosby, a queer Black woman who gave her all to make sure that the Wild Goose community was moved forward. I received all the applause, the attention, the thank you’s, but they are all hers. She has shared her story publicly. I just want to thank her. I don't know if you know her, or follow her work.

Here is her website: https://www.aliciatcrosby.com

But I suggest you follow her on the bird app and it has been one of the better follows of my life. Alicia Crosby, I know I don’t deserve you in my torrid queer life of theological anarchy and rock and roll. 

I realized something while I was there. The only way I can even claim to have integrity is to be honest about this and not give a flying fuck if you ever buy a book, or more importantly if these so called members of our community ever invite me to one of their confereces ever again.  I don't care about that or my so-called career more than I care about revolution. I don’t care more than I care for the front line leaders I care for in PDX. I actually am starting to find I am quite singular in this. 

Fuck the Thought Leader Industrial Complex. Forever. 

Here’s my long ass story about Wild Goose. First some context:  I was first invited as a co creator as the evangelist for #decolonizelutheranism in maybe 2018 or 2019. Members of the community had been invited and I thought about going. I declined the offers.  That’s because of some hard facts about the gathering.

  1. The Brian Mclarrens and Jim Wallis’s of this ecosystem are making some money off this shit. But aint no one else. No one else gets paid. You may think that is an equalizing thread or equity but it isn’t. Black thinkers, theologians, pastors, lay leaders, activists, writers are all underpaid and under-heard. We have to fight 8 times as hard to be seen. When I first came on the scene people compared me to Nadia Bolz-Weber. I never felt like a 50 year old straight white lady, but yes we both have tattoos. I mean no offense to her work, but our beliefs, writing style, and literally what the fuck we are talking about couldn’t be more different. I’ll tell you this much too, no one will ever throw me the same check they throw these white thought leaders and writers. Ever. Because you have to play the game. The game is rigged against me at every turn if I commit the crime of being authentic. That’s why I’m divesting myself of it as a writer. So to tell a queer Black man to come give away his work for free to be garnish around the “big speakers” ( read white men) -- I aint here for that shit. 

  1. Not to mention: our work and culture is constantly stolen by the church and white culture. Things that Black culture would happily share and teach you if you just sat at our feet for once. White progressive culture is the ultimate vulture. Between the dreamcatchers, peyote eating, ancestor worshiping white people, or white people who try to give you speeches about white supremacy or their particular oppression, it’s clear white culture has not seen a thing it wouldn't steal. I am a Babá Awó now. No one there knew what that meant but a lot of folks were going to workshops about esoterica and it lead to the talk of ancestor communities and doing that deep work of cleaning that stuff up.  Oddly not one white person recognized me as an adherent in a 10,000 year old African Diaspora belief system, an experiential ancestral religion, or cosmology as my preference. I was literally wearing Opele’s and could have helped them on that journey.  People went to workshops about it, led by great leaders, but not one white person recognized it right in front of them. The dichotomy was stunning. 

  1. Location. For some Black folks the problem is just location. We know the south fam. We camp. Example: Jeff Clark had no idea he was inviting me to the valley my ancestors were enslaved in. None. He thought my reticence was about camping or the south. I love camping. I love the south. Sometimes locations don't feel safe. Or Sacred. I only go to the Asheville area to do prayer work, see a show, and go to Ancestors graves. That’s why the only liturgical piece I engaged in was a Libation’s ceremony I was able to lead at the end of my talk. I was damn lucky I found enough folks from the Diaspora there that morning to complete the Oriki, invocation, or prayer. I just trusted if I intended to do that on this land the community needed for the moment would be there. A steep bet at the time.

So that's the context I was walking in with when I agreed to speak at Wild Goose 21.

I want to be clear: Jeff Clark was an amazing host. He provided me with a suite, cost of travel, and since I discovered my ADHD 9 months ago offered to fly any support person to help me with access issues. He spent time with me beforehand on a recent trip to Nashville and was very honest about the shortcomings and growing pains since Wild Goose’s inception. This isn't at all a reflection on him. I have often said this but it’s so true. Oppressive organizations are often made up of really good people. Most organizations don't realize they have crossed over to oppression until it's too late. 

On the one hand, Wild Goose was exactly what it claimed to be, a post Christian laboratory where various people on various stages of the journey could interact with thinkers, artists, preachers, and activists in the progressive theological world. It delivered. 

On the other hand, Wild Goose was also exactly what I thought it would be. Incredibly white and therefore, no matter how progressive, complicit in white-supremacy. This isn’t anything any one person is doing, that’s how white supremacy opporates. It is because of the way white-supremacy and capitalism are in bed together to produce a thought leader industrial complex and publishing system that needs to gorge itself on emerging movements. 

Here is a good working definition for capitalism: The control of oppressed bodies for profits. Further, capitalism was founded on the control of Black Bodies after the attempted erasure of indigenous bodies. Capitalism is all about controlling the means of production for profit motive. Young queer Black thinkers and leaders like Alicia are threat to that. She makes good garnish, or as window dressing. But when she starts to cost the old boys club money well then its fuck you Alicia. 

That's why you don't see Black people at Wild Goose. It’s not a bug, it’s a feature.

We are a threat to the profits of someone in that ecosystem. Whether it's Sojourners with their well documented bullshit, or the big names that cancel if they know certain folks are going to be there, it's all about image, profit, and royalties over revolution.

So why the fuck would you share a stage with someone like me who will say that? They won't. 

Jim Wallis or Brian Mclaren didn't even come to listen to any session led by BIPOC people, except the big preachers they would have noticed if they decided to miss. That's anecdotal but it’s what I saw. In fact Jim Wallis had a big ol ego session right before a panel led by me and two BIPOC folks and he bounced. Would staying 5 minutes and at least hearing the topic be too much? I mean Sojourners paid for and sponsored the tent I was speaking in. I should be grateful right? 

Before you give me a speech on Jim Wallis Black women told me all about him. I’ll leave it at that. I know all I will ever need to know about him. 

How are they supposed to learn from us? They aren't. 

We are chess pieces in a larger game to seem like they are “with the times” and the “racial reckoning”, but really we have no real influence or are given true power in these situations.

So fuck the thought leader industrial complex and the way it uses black thinkers as it’s pawn. As always, I’m here for the people instead. There were two kinds of folks I met at Wild Goose 21. 

People who desperately wanted things to go back to the way it was in 2019 and people who were ready for the world beyond the thought leader/ church plant industrial complex.  Some people are preparing for true spiritual revolution not fueled by ideals or theology but by necessity. The republic died January 6, 2021.  We are at a critical juncture in salvation history in which we get to participate in the remaking of the world.  The only reason anyone would want things to go back to the way things were in 2019 is for profit.  Think about it.  After the year we just had, the absolute gaul and hypocrisy it would take for me or anyone to sit in front of you and pretend I have any more answers than anyone else.  The necessity of this time is that God needs all her people, not products. 

My personal spiritual walk through Wild Goose was like my walk everywhere I go. I suddenly appeared in your campsite ranting or sharing poetry. Talking about incarnational work, the wheel, the way different cultures express it. I was probably Irie and felt uncomfortable while you slammed whiskey. I probably shared my latest music obsession or encouraged you. I may have prayed for or divined for you. I may have shared a stage with you and been in awe of your power and intellect and couldn't say much because you said it all. Shout out to Jo and Robyn! 

Basically Wild Goose 21 was fun because I am fun. It was good because I am good. It was weird because I am weird. It even had a grateful dead cover band at the end down the road, shout out too Dirty Dead! In fact, I couldn't really tell the difference in my life between Phish tour this summer and Wild Goose except at least Phish doesn't hide the fact they are getting rich off of you. (Also the people are way less uptight. Way more open to Ashe or Magic or Mysticism. A little less stable for sure).

But at the end of the day, like every gathering of souls like this, I ran into some old ones.  We moved the needle forward, and we are still plotting and working for the healing of the world.  And that is why I continue to float in and out of these spaces.

Two conclusions that are connected: First, my path through Wild Goose was paved by the emotional and spiritual labor of Alicia Crosby and her allies and accomplices within Wild Goose’s volunteer and staff network.

Second, with these good people oriented toward true spiritual revolution, Wild Goose could help dismantle the Thought Leader Industrial Complex and the white supremacy within it if they just gave Alicia Crosby 10% of their profits over the next 5 years and access to a network of artists, thinkers, writers, and sponsors. Let a queer Black woman create space for us. That's what they are already doing, and they might save your damn soul in the process. 

Written in Love and Liberation

Lenny Duncan

Babá Awó Amóson