They gave me a free pass. What was I to do? I stood chatting to Simon Hall, old Oxford acquaintance and now a trustee of Greenbelt, who commented that at Soul Survivor he feels like he is seen as a bit wooly & liberal, whereas at Greenbelt he's a token fundy. Context is all. And Greenbelt stll felt like it did the last time I was there 23 years ago - theologically anything goes, but preferrably a bit rebellious and although many folk seem to have some connection with the evangelical church, they are there to cut loose. A little. It walks a fine line between being naughty and provocative.
Example: the headline speaker was a guy called Richard Rohr, a Franciscan. The talk of his that I caught ("looking sideways at the church") was presented as a forward looking manifesto for the "emerging church" as it seeks to do better than the monolithic denominations that struggle to work in the post modern world- but actually it was simply a re-working of fairly standard Franciscan anarchy. Of course, there were those who lapped it up; it was the right crowd for it. And I'm not going to do an in-depth critique here, but I did feel RR was a little dishonest - dressing an ancient Christian idea in Emperor's New Clothes for an audience who would be delighted by it, without pointing out why Franciscan anarchy has so very often gone very seriously wrong - both in the falling apart of local initiatives and in the reverting to the monolith it so assiduously attempts to subvert. Ho hum. Naughty or provocative?
Speaking of which - Peter Tatchell. He paid tribute to Anglican Mainstream for giving him good publicity... (definitely naughty) and critiqued Rowan Williams very strongly (definitely provocative) but actually rather well. I am a supporter of Rowan's unity policy; but PT's critique was that Rowan has been silent on human rights (we're not talking the sideshow of gay bishops here) - human rights where 46 Commonwealth countries still criminalise homosexuality, often at the behest of the churches, and half a dozen of those have the death penalty for it. And Rowan keeps unity with those churches as a more prized goal than the rights of the people who suffer. That was a powerful critique, and one I hadn't heard in such terms before. You don't get this guy at too many Christian events, and though I think his understanding of the Scriptures is limited, I was impressed by him.
Provocative, naughty - downright weird. I spent a wonderful hour (courtesy of Andrew Powell) at the Greenbelt Folk Club. Some of these people actually were attractive human beings. And yet they were in this room that was the very definition of "sub-culture". If you have been to Greenbelt and not been in that gathering, you have not really been to Greenbelt. Until you have heard a man stand up & say seriously "I'd like to play my current favourite Morris Dancing tune" and then do so on his accordion, you haven't really experienced everything this festival has to offer.
Though most of the music is a bit different to that. Courtney Pine on mainstage was glorious - I didn't know whether I would like him; he's not really my kind of jazz. But actually - I totally loved the whole set. Fantastic. He can certainly work a crowd, and though he was a bit squeaky & lets-play-a-million-notes jazz at times, his band was extraordinary, and the whole thing worked. Big time.
Similarly, I totally loved the Dodge Brothers in the Big Top on the last evening. A skiffle band most famous, I think, for it's bass player (film critic Mark Kermode), they were high energy fun that had the whole crowd dancing from start to finish. At one point near the start the generator blew - so in the dark they shushed the crowd and played acoustically, amazingly, till power was restored. And then went full pelt for ages. Exhausting. Who needs circuits in the park to keep fit?
I was told I had to experience Beer & Hymns. The guy leading it in the on-site pub (The Jesus Arms) started off by saying "We like.." "SINGING HYMNS!" shouted the crowd; "and we like.." "DRINKING BEER!" everybody hollered. So we did both. It was a lot of fun. Especially when most of the hymns were in 3/4 time, so we had a good sway going on. There was a limit on the number of people they let in, so there was a huge crowd outside just enjoying the event as "...& Hymns". And though I'd gone alone to this, I met up with Hannah Powell from around the corner here, who introduced me to Joy & Dave & Andy, and it was great fun to get to know them & spend a good part of the weekend with them.
Oh yes. I was camping. In a tent. It's true. I am receiving counselling for this. Thanks to John & Clare for hospitality, and especially to John for helping find me when I arrived & for ferrying me back to the carpark at the end!
One last thought to finish with.
I heard theologian Stanley Hauerwas. He was reading from his memoir, and honestly, I was a bit disappointed, but then in the questions he offered a one-liner that I hope I remember always. He was speaking about intercession and the power of praying for each other when we are going through the mill. He said:
Other people praying to God for me made God present to me in a way I could not make God present to me.
I saw tons of friends, people I haven't seen for ages, and made some new ones as well this weekend. I also saw a couple of folk with whom my relationship has become tense over the years, and when we saw each other we were unable to communicate. I was deeply, deeply upset by this. I don't know how they are feeling spiritually. But I wish I could tell them I am praying for them; that I am asking God to be present for them. And I hope I can believe they are doing that for me - Lord knows I need it too. And maybe one day soon, with God answering these prayers, that truth will make enough difference to restore us again.
Provocative, naughty, weird, glorious, fun, disturbing, inspiring, sometimes very cold - but I'm glad I went.