A crummy Greenbelt

Ah, have I made it in time for the post-Greenbelt post deadline? Excuses for tardiness include: finishing up at my last stint of gainful employment before throwing myself whole-hog into studenting en route to vicaring*, working on Ye Olde Dissertation, getting ready to move house (tomorrow!), and The Great British Bake Off having begun on telly.

Now those excuses are out of the way: Greenbelt.

I’ve kind of got ‘It feels like the first time’ going ’round in my head when I think about this Greenbelt, my second. Does it, though? Feel like last year, my first time in attendance? Last year will go down in Greenbelt history as the Muddy 2012 of Doom, on account of which the festival had completely reconfigured where all the tents and stalls and stages were, having been forbidden to put any of them on Cheltenham Racecourse itself. It actually worked much better and made camping a significantly quieter experience. I for one was glad that Saturday night I could drift off to sleep to stray laughs and child-squeals rather than oh-so-passionate late-night worship led by Graham Kendrick.

Graham Kendrick, you say? What ho, Greenbelt? Isn’t he a little Evangelical for Greenbelt, bastion of fringey Christians, hippies and heretics? Which brings me to my first reflection about Greenbelt. In answer to that question: No. Graham Kendrick isn’t too Evangelical for Greenbelt, though many of us in attendance //cough cough// might have chosen not to attend worship of his style (though it’s admittedly of the highest quality). The point of Greenbelt is that it encourages you, Madame Punter, to engage with those drastically different to yourself. That includes people who are off circle-dancing and praying to Holy Wisdom (or other names for the divine feminine) in ‘the grove’, blisteringly literalistic conservatives (theologically and/or politically), the so-called ‘radical’ theologians, artists and poets of varying stripes (and hairdos), collared priests, priests who wouldn’t be caught dead in collars (or caught dead being referred to as ‘priests’ because PRIESTHOOD OF ALL BELIEVERS, YO!), yoga instructors (no one’s favorite person at 8am), passionate activists, and, lest we forget, the hapless, hopeful lot running all the incredibly overpriced food vans and info stands and merch stalls.

Am I waxing overly Anglican with all this ‘everyone’s different and everyone’s here’ fluff? Maybe. But let us not forget Anglicanism’s sleight-of-hand trick, you know, the one where it purports to know all about containing different viewpoints and encouraging diversity and then BLAM before you know it, everyone’s ghettoised into cliques of people identical to themselves.  Anglicanism, and more to the point, Christianity in Britain and all over the world needs Greenbelt just because it can be so uncomfortable. As one speaker reminded us  (over and over and over): confronting otherness is of astounding importance, both because it forces us to engage on an immediate level with that person/group, and also because we can begin to acknowledge something of  the lack and otherness and fear that we have within ourselves.

So yes, Greenbelt may be peopled with discontented Christians, post-Christians and non-Christians. But, if the looseness with which the term ‘evangelical’ was bandied around is any indication, it’s also peopled with plenty of people for whom Christianity is the water in which they have always been swimming – including plenty o’ evangelicals.

Next excellent thing about Greenbelt: camping. Yes, I am one of those people who loves a good four-days-without-a-proper-shower, cooking-on-campstove, village-of-tents, oh-look-at-the-stars-and-breathe-the-country-air sort of thing. Yes, there are plenty of ways for this to go wrong. Yes, I was obsessively checking my Blackberry at times (I have a good excuse**). Yes, camping at a festival is nowhere near as pleasant (or as tough) as camping somewhere more remote. But as I am resisting the Glamperisation Tendency within myself with all my might, I feel it is important to be reminded regularly what a good few days camping is actually like. And turns out, it’s lovely. Always. Even when the tent floods. Feel free to argue with me on that last point.

As Greenbelt has changed somewhat into a festival that is not ‘heavily musical’, it was never going to be a place where I discovered the Five New Bands I Shall Listen To Obsessively Until Christmas. I did thoroughly enjoy sets by Sam Lee, Grace Petrie and Hot Feet, and I wouldn’t want to begrudge festivalgoers their folksy-singer-songwriter ‘stream’ or their hip-hop/R&B ‘stream’ of musicians that seems to be present each year. I did attend a number of poetry, drama and storytelling events this year that I managed to miss last year (shame!).

As for the alt worship – ah yes. I will admit that the alt worship hasn’t lost its shine for me yet. I just love the weirdness. I think it comes back to what I was saying earlier about being uncomfortable – so many of these alt worshippy things are just awkward, time consuming, and obstructive to a nice, soothing worship experience. I almost wrote ‘normal’ after ‘nice, soothing’ just now – and then stopped and realise that that is precisely the point! When Christians start thinking of worship as something that has to be done all ‘hush-hush, presence of God, fall to our knees and/or raise our hands’, I think we’ve completely missed the point. Worship, in my completely not-humble opinion, is as much about laughter and oddness as it is about symbolism and familiarity. Worship is not a time in which I come to have my self groomed by the great Barber God who gives me the same haircut every time (trim away some sin there, dye a bit of heresy there back to the orthodox color, dry and straighten to the same safe length and style). Those of you with anything longer than a buzz cut will know that immediately upon leaving Supercuts*** one’s hair will go absolutely crazy and will never look like what it did in the stylist’s chair.

Nope: if anything, I think, worship is that blast of frustration that you have when you walk out of Supercuts and immediately the hair goes wrong. Why, God? Or it’s the pleasure in getting it to do something like that original style – but never quite the same. Thank you Jesus. Or it’s the desire to meet and speak with the stylist again, because hey, she’s always got some hilarious (if slightly off-colour) jokes and always makes you feel like pouring our your deepest self to her.

Have I worked that illustration too hard? Deal with it.

That’s another great thing about Greenbelt – I come back from it ‘Spunky! Erin’. Meeting others there who are trying to juggle the same things I’m trying to juggle – this Christian thing, this love-your-neighbour thing, this priest thing, this some kind of normalcy thing – it’s just incredibly affirming. Catching up with co-workers who are there with non-work hats on felt a validation of both our roles at work. Sharing hot chocolate with friends I only ever see at Greenbelt and showing my ignorance about Russian literature but giving as good as I got on theology – it’s delightful and a reminder that though I try, I’m not as socially or academically inept as my inner voice whispers, in darker moments, that I am.

But the best thing about Greenbelt this year, better than the sheer breadth of different types of people, the camping, the music, the alt worship or the affirmation, was a tiny little moment on Sunday. I went to the Sunday service despite knowing it was going to be twee and I’d have enjoyed a serious lie-in****. Besides the awesome fact that all the bread for the communion had been baked over the past 48 hours in the Christian Aid stall, the wine was (as it usually is) of the sort you find in single servings in grocery stores. Praise thee, O Lord, for bread and wine that are actually bread and wine, not wafers and grapey water.

The tiny moment came after we had passed the bread and the wine around and were waiting for the music to start up. We had some wine left and I was staring it at in the plastic cup on the ground, wondering what would be different church traditions’ approaches to disposing of all that extra wine (NERD! – see, I knew you wanted to say it). As I stared, I noticed that lots of people in our group had not quite gotten all of the bits of bread into their mouths. Baked as it had been the day before, it was crumbly and poor quality. (My inner baker rose up a bit in indignation til I told her to settle down or go read Sunshine.)

crummy breadThe ground in our circle – the whole field of people had formed circles of a dozen or so – was flecked with tiny white bits of bread. Again – the wondering. Oh dear! How to dispose of this? It’s the body of ChristOn the floor. The very dirty floor. Wait a second. On the very dirty floor. Being trod on, returned to the dust from whence it came? Yes.  And.

I couldn’t help but mull over the layers of imagery. Even when Christians fail to grasp all of who Jesus  is – maybe it’s too much for us all to chew on all at once – do we realise that he’s and stranger and crumblier and harder to box up than we’d like? In a place like Greenbelt, where a significant number of the punters probably struggle with that ‘who Jesus is’ thing, the spreading of the crumbs of his body all around the field, seeping into the midst of us, lying on the battered earth (which we’d battered, btw) – well, I can’t think of a better way to sum up what seems to me a perfectly good theology of the incarnation. Crumb-y-ness. Actually, that looks a little too much like a Welsh place name. Crummy-ness, perhaps? 

Either way, when I get it published, I’ll make sure to credit Greenbelt with demonstrating it first.


* Interesting note: spell check corrects this as “stunting en route to vacating”


***I’m poor! Suck it!

**** NB:  The Jesus Arms tent serves a dozen types of ale. To Bearded Hipster Christian Dudes. It’s like a thing. They serve women, too, bearded or otherwise. The tent I and my friends shared, hereafter known as ‘The Spital & Fields Lot’, served whiskey, with or without hot water to dilute it.


p.s. American friends: brought to you by the same minds, hearts and bodies as Greenbelt: Wild Goose Festival! Check it out, now.


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