Friday, 10 March 2017

greenbelt - reflections

In broad summary, I'd say going to Greenbelt last year, my first actual camping festival, was a pleasant surprise in terms of the practicalities (as covered in the previous post, and not least due to having Susannah there to help make it a good experience for us), was rather disappointing and unremarkable on the whole as a music festival (as also covered in the previous post), and was depressing as a Christian festival.

It's a festival that I think it's fair to say prides itself on its 'openness' and 'non-judgemental' attitude, but that openness and non-judgementalism seems all solidly in one direction. I don't think any stallholders or speakers, if they came, taking the wrong views on things (such as women in ministry, sexuality, Palestine; I even wonder about abortion) would be feeling the love.

As I said in the Events post, 'I heard two 'talks'. The interview with Justin Welby was interesting; I have always found him interesting. Particularly telling, I thought, was that the questioner who asked about 'equal marriage' in the church got applause, and Justin got applause when the crowd thought he was saying something about it that they agreed with, but when he said that inclusivity cut both ways and you had to recognise that there were many people in the Anglican church around the world who thought it was deeply, deeply wrong - not a sausage. Greenbelt is definitely not as non-judgmental and open as it thinks it is.'

The last thing we did at Greenbelt was see a comedy set by James Acaster. I've always liked his comedy when I've seen him - not surreal, exactly, but pulling at threads of logic. He said near the start of his set that he used to be a Christian and was now an agnostic, but that he wasn't one of those who were angry, bitter or dismissive in relation to their past faith; he was happy to have been a happy Christian boy. He had been at Greenbelt as a festivalgoer, and later as a performer.

He said the most interesting thing that I heard at Greenbelt (which was well-received by the audience, along what I'd say were 'it's funny because it's true' lines, and which I will recount to the best of my memory).

He said that when he told other comedians he was doing Greenbelt, they would ask him if he had to watch what he said. No, he would say: they're Bad Christians. They're the ones that pick and choose. But, he said, he liked that, and that was how it should be. He said a bit more along those lines, and then said that he also liked that the Greenbelt audience took it - 'Yeah, we're the Bad Christians' - but that inside we were thinking, 'But actually, we're the Good Christians'.

I thought that was an interesting perspective.

I also thought this quite detailed review in The Church Times was interesting. This para recounts the only lively debate seen by the reviewers, and is quite telling I think: 'The Daily Mirror was supposed to be a discussion on the day’s newspapers and headlines, but quickly degenerated into impassioned debate of flashpoint issues: Brexit and immigration. The host, Andy Turner, standing in for an unwell Cole Moreton, manfully attempted to find dissenting voices who could break the Pagoda’s cosy Lefty consensus. A few brave souls stood up to explain why they voted Leave, but the loudest cheers were for more predictable stances. The newspapers were largely forgotten as speaker after speaker claimed the microphone to pontificate. More “reflection” and less grandstanding would have ensured a more fruitful, if perhaps less lively, afternoon’s discussion.'

I was struck while at the Wild Goose led Big Sing one morning, that the chorus of the songs we sang, Canticle of the Turning, had the lines 'My heart shall sing of the day you bring./ Let the fires of your justice burn.' The lyrics were clearly referencing a day of judgment, as written about and taught in the Bible, but also clearly, in this context, only in relation to the injustice in the world (of the kinds perpetrated or allowed by corporations, governments and religions). How this was going to work without there also being some kind of judgement of individual, personal morality against which God's fires of justice would not also burn wasn't clear.

My overall feeling about the particular Christian ethos of Greenbelt was that it reflected what I think has been a wider move in Christian and church circles away from seeing or emphasising Jesus as someone who was countercultural to someone who challenged the religion of the day. People use the latter Jesus as a weapon/example to move away from the teachings of the Bible which Jesus himself believed in, as they 'follow his example' in overturning the religion of the day - which of course today in our culture is Christianity. This also requires the setting aside of most of the rest of the New Testament, most of which relates directly to inconvenient application of Jesus' teaching to the church and the religon which he founded. This I think is part of the danger of the current emphasis on saying that one is a Christian but not religious, because Christianity is definitely a religion.

Conversely, mainstream evangelical Christianity moves further and further away from being countercultural, and less and less socially awkward. So many of the key theological 'breakthroughs' and developments of recent years - whether relating to the role of women or the atonement or hell or sexuality - have done this. The church has always had an emphasis on social justice - though that is often unacknowledged when disposing of the church of the past.

I do wonder if some Christians believe anything at all which makes them different from the non-Christians they move among (rather than all those beyond their friends and the other people like themselves who they are united in disagreeing with, whether Tories or conservative evangelicals), anything which causes social awkwardness and is counter-cultural (not counter what they might consider mainstream culture, but their own bubble of culture)?

I do ask myself a very similar question, not about what I actually believe, but whether it is obvious from the outside, since I almost never take any opportunity to indicate what I really believe (or 'stand up for what I believe', you might say) about any controversial subject (whether with friends or colleagues, Christians or non-Christians). I sometimes wonder what some people think I believe about certain things, even knowing I am a Christian (because Christians, even evangelical Christians, range so widely in what they believe), and what they would think of me if they did know. I can easily rationalise not saying things; is that wise, or cowardly? Am I really doing my bit by showing that fairly good and decent people can believe thing x, not just horrible monsters, or do people around me not realise that I believe thing x? It is easy to rationalise saying nothing, not least when you see how badly things can go when you do say something, which you can see very easily on social media in particular.

While we were wondering about whether to go to Greenbelt or not - Bethan and I really weren't very keen - I sent an email to some of my colleagues seeking views, which said, among other things:

'From what I think I know about Greenbelt (and I have topped up my knowledge in recent weeks), I’m pretty sure that I don't want to attend a Christian festival that would seem to view a Christian like me as - and teach my daughter that I am - a narrow-minded, legalistic, judgemental, traditionalist, sexist, homophobic bigot. Of course the more we say we don’t want to go, the more she wants to go, and the bigger a deal it gets. Go? Don’t go? (Send her with aunties/cousins, but without us, to have unfettered fun and learning with all those lovely Christians so different from horrible narrow-minded etc old mum and dad? No.) Perhaps Greenbelt’s not as I imagine?
'Every move the church makes - the church in general, but the evangelical church in particular - that makes it look more like society in general serves to further marginalise Christians like me. Society points to the wider evangelical church and says ‘look, those are your guys and *they’ve* changed their mind about that thing, and that is now our standard of expectation of what evangelical Christians believe; the only possible reasons you’re sticking with that old position are bad, unacceptable reasons, which we will not allow.’ And it feels like an increasing part of the evangelical church looks at us and is thinking the same (and sometimes putting those thoughts into words and actions). And I don’t know who my daughter’s going to believe, but I am fearful. It makes me very unhappy.
'(If you do think that I am in fact a narrow-minded, legalistic, judgemental, traditionalist, sexist, homophobic bigot, it’s probably best if you don’t say so on this occasion, please.)'

We went, in the end, obviously (I got a range of helpful advice with a variety of views; the most helpful was just not to think of it as a Christian festival, and just think of it as a music festival with a particularly pleasant atmosphere; though, as I said, in the end it wasn't great as a music festival either; another was to go, and talk through and about everything, during and after; this was more or less what we did, although of course our daughter didn't have anything she wanted to talk about anyway, which may be good or bad or neither).

As with all ideas, Christian or non-Christian, we take the general approach that it's best to acknowledge and let be seen what other people, perhaps even what most other people, believe, to say we don't believe it, and why we don't, and that there is nothing to be ashamed of or afraid of in being different from other people, and that in society's terms we have the same right to hold that view as anyone else does to hold theirs, and that in intellectual terms what we believe is no less plausible or more ridiculous or less logical than what other people believe about any given thing.

But I hope I don't have to go to Greenbelt again. I'd readily do a family-friendly folk festival, but I'm not sure my family would.