Greenbelt 2009 (The Long Now)

Got back from Greenbelt last night, having shared the journey there and back with a friend which made time fly much more quickly than if I had gone on my own (especially since some thieves stole the car stereo!)

Overall impression: second time there, still love the festival, and will definitely go back next year, but am now more aware of things that can be improved, especially the worship. These are some of the things I got up to:

Friday night, a talk from Dave Tomlinson about how to believe, whereby he basically channelled Lindbeck’s understanding of religious belief. That was fine, but nothing especially new to me. Pity Dave had to go away for a long holiday straight after that night as I would have enjoyed catching up with him.

Saturday morning – tried to get in to Rob Bell but failed miserably (as did Jon, who I bumped into very briefly), as I hadn’t started to queue up an hour in advance, so wandered about before going to a talk on what to show children on TV, called “Dr Who behind the sofa”, with various luminaries from the comics industry.

This was unsatisfying, principally because it was a rambling discussion that didn’t have a particular focus – fine, but left me wanting a lot more.

I had bumped into Justin on the Friday, which was great, and we had arranged to catch up with each other in the Beer Tent prior to the Beer’n’Hymns, which was really good – and the Beer’n’Hymns was something I’d always wanted to experience, so now I can say ‘done that’. Much to reflect on from it; not sure how far it’s entirely a model for worship though 🙂

I caught a bit of Alister McGrath, but I was too familiar with his material, so I went straight back to the beer tent (where I spent most of the middle of the Saturday! very expensive – nearly £4 a pint) for a brief but good chat with several people involved in the SPCK campaign, including fellow priestly blogger Dave Keen.

Stayed on after that to catch up with some other friends and succumbed to a nice massage from one of the lovely ladies offering them around.

(Which reminds me – a very nice blog-reader gave me the t-shirt that you see me wearing there and, in a severly crap fashion, I never properly thanked them (and have now completely lost their contact details) – so if you’re reading this, a) sorry, and b) thank you very much!!!)

Main activity of the evening was watching ‘The Age of Stupid’ which I thought was a stupid film – crass, heavy handed and counter-productive, barely 3/5. Went back past the main stage, where Royksopp were performing. Didn’t stay long, but could hear the entire set quite well from my tent! (Same with Duke Special the next day)

Sunday morning was dominated by the main communal act of worship, this year geared around the struggle of the Palestinians against Zionist oppression. Evidence of my hardness of heart can be found in that I wasn’t greatly moved by this – not that I doubt that the Zionist state does horrible things, I just wonder why Western middle classes get so exercised by this example of injustice, and not so much by the (arguably greater) injustices in, eg, Zimbabwe, Darfur, Burma etc. Anyhow, the worship itself was middling-to-incompetent with all effort to generate atmosphere destroyed by an incredibly crass and insensitive distorting of some traditional hymn-tunes. It’s not good when people who are supposed to be singing a hymn end up laughing instead. This worship was redeemed by a subversive act of Holy Communion shared with good friends at the end.

After some time catching up with some more friends I went to the second Marvel Comics session, which repeated the experience of the first, and then caught Gareth Davies-Jones at the Performance Cafe. He was good, and things were starting to look up.

Then came one of the highlights of the weekend for me, with Vic Thiessen giving a talk on the book of Ecclesiastes with reference to several modern films, including my favourite Magnolia. I’m now going to subscribe to his blog on films; he was great, and my mood brightened. The mood continued to get better by catching Rob Bell at last, in a Q and A session.

I’m quite familiar with his work, so nothing ground-breaking, but it was good to get a sense of him in the flesh. After this I went to hear Mark Vernon on the ills of self-help ideologies which I thought was excellent (and hopefully he’ll release a book on this before too long), and then stayed in place for a panel discussion with, inter alia Mark, Maggi and Peter Rollins which was good, but, as a friend, said, was a bit like a trailer for a film that looked really good. Maybe one day we’ll get to see it.

Monday was brief, as I was heading home at lunchtime, but I managed to get to the Taize service in the morning, which did good things, and then I caught Nadia Bolz-Weber, the Sarcastic Lutheran, giving a great talk on the compatibility between being emergent and denominational.

Amongst many things which got me thinking, she said that we should ‘pastor our own tribe’ and ‘go where you don’t feel fractured, where you can be completely yourself in your ministry’. Hmmm…..