Before last year's Wild Goose Festival, I knew little about John Dear, only that he was a peace activist. By the time I left the festival, he was one of my heroes. That first year of the festival, Bill and I had decided to sit in on a few talks by speakers we weren't familiar with, Fr. John being one of them. As he walked out on stage, he looked mild, unassuming, and slightly boyish. When he began speaking, he briefly mused about what he should talk about, then he launched into one of the most powerful talks I have ever heard.
This year, we knew hearing John Dear speak was essential. We would again sample talks by speakers unknown to us but no matter who was up against him in the schedule, we would make Fr. John our choice. We were fortunate that he was speaking on two separate days and we made sure we were front and center before each talk began. Once again, he blew us away with his powerful and frank talk. He doesn't play politics as he blames both sides of the aisle for the death and destruction inflicted on the young and the innocent by war. Fr. John exudes love while speaking truth to power.
While we were waiting outside one of the tents to hear another speaker, I noticed Fr. John also standing in the margins. Since one of the benefits of the festival is the removal of the wall between speaker and attendee, I couldn't pass up an opportunity to introduce myself to him. We walked over to him and I held out my hand, introducing myself. He reciprocated, calling himself simply "John." I told him what an inspiration he has been to me. I also wanted to take the opportunity to ask him questions about his peace work and the universal church. It was not to be because he so graciously proceeded to ask questions about my family. He wanted to know if I had children, how old they were, and "are they well?" When he turned to introduce himself to Bill, he immediately congratulated him on the upcoming marriage of our son. I was amazed by his humility and genuine interest. He told us he was going to Afghanistan later in the year and asked for our prayers. He also commented that he had lost his cell phone at the festival and wanted us to pray for that as well.
Although I was disappointed that I hadn't been able to ask John one or two of my burning questions, I was thrilled when another opportunity arose. After his second talk, I was first in line to buy his new book and to get it signed. We chatted briefly and I posed one of the questions that was weighing on me. "How does one respond to churches and pastors who insist that 'war is sometimes necessary'?" I asked. He looked at me with what I can only describe as a beaming, joyful, and kind expression and replied, "Tell them that they're not following Jesus!" He continued by saying I should also remind them that in the history of the world, war has never worked. And with that, he smiled.
Oh, I did ask if he had found his phone; he had.