Last week, the astute reader may have noticed, I was more than late, I didn’t post anything at all. Instead of writing blog posts, I went to Greenbelt. I wasn’t entirely sure, but I was offered a free ticket, and I thought: why not?
One reason I wasn’t sure is that Greenbelt is explicitly a Christian festival, and I am not explicitly a Christian. (I might be a Christian actually, I have had friends argue that I am, but I don’t choose to identify as a Christian.) There isn’t a test, Greenbelt attendees are self-selected, but people make assumptions. I didn’t in the end say directly to anyone, ‘actually, I’m not a Christian’ – I was busy enough explaining that I am a Quaker, and people can only take so much at once! It did make me reflect again on why I don’t use that label, though, and it still comes down to two things: a) not thinking Jesus is The Most Important Thing Ever (important, sure; interesting, yes; incarnation, maybe; uniquely the something-or-other, hmm, not sure at all), and b) not wanting to be associated with other people who use the Christian label very loudly. This isn’t, for the most part, Greenbelt-going Christians, who were generally lovely and even when they disagreed quite passionately were polite about it; it’s the man at Kings Cross handing out Chick Tracts, and people who think I’ll go to hell for sleeping with a woman, and – because of the time and place in which I came to political awareness – George W. Bush.
I think it does take both, quite different, reasons – if it was just A I might be Christian-in-some-sense, and if it was just B I’d probably think of myself a reclaiming the word (or using a local understanding rather than a global one, as with ‘Quaker’). When it’s both, though, it just doesn’t seem worth the effort that all the clarifications would involve.
Besides chewing over these personal things – and spending quite a lot of time working out practicalities like food and water and could I pitch the tent better, and some time helping on the stall which was why I was there at all – I also went to some really interesting talks, and some just a bit off-beat talks, and generally experienced stuff.
The Sunday morning communion for 15,000ish is a genuine triumph of logistics over logic, although I didn’t find it especially rich as a worship experience (so noisy; so many breaks in the flow when people just chatted; not much to keep children involved; a long way from my taste in worship music – it had some. That’s a joke, I like Sidney Carter). It was one of the few times in the weekend where I had extended conversations with people I just met randomly, though, something which must in the long run be an important part of the community-building at such events.
An ‘ashes to ashes’ meditation with a Forest Church group was an interesting reflection on our relationship with earth and our bodies (and not nearly as morbid as the title might sound). It was difficult to focus against the pounding beat of the main stage, but it did make me interested to look up the Forest Church movement – it’s very Christian-Druid, based on this small sample – and see if I can visit them ‘in their natural habitat’, so to speak.
I think the best talk I heard, though, was by Alistair McIntosh, a Quaker and ecological campaigner, who spoke clearly and passionately about why he is supporting the ‘Yes’ campaign for an independent Scotland. In particular, I enjoyed his answers to questions about possible economic issues and the details of currency, etc., which I would summarise as a) who cares? this is an issue of principle, and b) it’ll all look different when the result comes in because other groups will need to start being realistic instead of posturing.
Overall, Greenbelt was a very interesting, but exhausting, event.