Greenbelt 2010

I first heard about the Greenbelt festival when I was 16, through a friend I met via an online community (don’t worry, she wasn’t a serial killer). I’m not usually one for Christian festivals, admittedly, and for years I was either working or broke around the August Bank Holiday so I never managed to go, but it’s the only festival other than Glastonbury (for which I am consistently too broke!) that really appeals.

 
The appeal initially lay in the fact that Greenbelt began to get a reputation for being pretty liberal. By the time my friend mentioned it to me, there was already the beginnings of an LGBT presence there (it now exists formally as OuterSpace). So I finally made it along last year with some friends, and I really enjoyed it. So much that I spent most of the last 12 months wanting to go back!
 
Friday – the journey
Greenbelt encourage all of the 21,000 festival-goers to make their way by public transport. As I don’t drive, anyway, this was never really in any doubt, so The Wife and I were standing at Paddington station by midday on Friday. I should say that this was no mean feat, because I’d been working overnight on the biennial stocktake at work and was pretty tired. Oh, and we had a four-man tent between us. It was a pretty easy journey once we were on the train, thankfully, even having negotiated some space in the luggage racks from the people going to Reading Festival, and with a crowded shuttle bus to contend with once we made it to Cheltenham.
 
It was well worth having arrived early, because I was really excited about seeing thebandwithnoname. I’m probably showing my age, but when I was a baby evangelical at the turn of the century they were on my list of favourite Christian bands. Sadly, they have gone the way of Delirious?, and are performing their last concert at the end of this week. I did feel I was a little too old to be jumping around at the front of the stage with the terrifyingly young fans, so I stood at the side trying not to look like anyone’s mother. 
 
The highlight of Friday night for me was OuterSpace’s opening event, More T, Vicar?, at which a panel of three trans women at varying stages in their journeys spoke frankly about their treatment by both the church and the wider world. It was incredibly moving, and a privilege to be there with them. 
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The great I AM

People are fond of seeing contradictions in the Bible, particularly in the ways that God is depicted. We see one God in the Old Testament – vengeful, demanding, jealous, quick to smite people who cause problems – and another in the New – loving, gracious, quick to reconcile to humanity. We put Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, automatically into this second category of aspects of God, we believe in Jesus as ‘meek and mild’, a lover not a fighter.

That’s why the gospel reading we heard on Sunday (Luke 12:49-56) is so challenging; it puts Old Testament imagery into a New Testament context. In other words, this week’s reading challenges the tendency we have to anthropomorphise God. People are generally pretty limited. We are contradictory, that’s undoubted, but we are a mere ‘image’ of God, a reflection or a shadow, incapable of being as God is.

It is precisely because we are so limited that it is hard for us to comprehend how much more God is than we are. We try to use human language to describe the divine. We use words like ‘loving’, and understand them in the same way we would if we were to talk about other humans. We cannot ever comprehend how much love God has for the created world. So, too, when we talk about God as ‘angry’. We can only understand so much anger at one time, before our perception is weakened and limited. And how much harder is it to truly understand the fact that God not only has the capacity for all the emotion we do, but can experience several at once in a way that the human mind finds contradictory?

And yet, to me, it seems that this is the very essence of God, one of the things that makes God divine and not human. St. Augustine of Hippo, as ever, had a lot to say on the subject. The core of his thinking, though is this; if the Trinity is indeed composed of three beings who are interdependent but also distinct, then it is possible for each of them to have attributes that are not part of the other. However, for the human mind to truly comprehend the depth and breadth of God as Trinity is impossible, we can but pray for enough understanding to get a glimpse of the truly awesome power and nature of God.

“We believe that Parent, Son and Holy Spirit are one God, maker and ruler of every creature, and that “Parent” is not “son”, nor “Holy Spirit” “Parent” or “son”; but a trinity of mutually related persons, and a unity of equal essence. So let us attempt to understand this truth, praying that he who we wish to understand would help us in doing so, so that we can set out whatever we thus understand with such careful reverence so that nothing unworthy is said.”

What he is saying here is that we should not be surprised to see what look like contradictions in the nature of God, because all things come from God and are of one of the beings of the Trinity. When we find a passage in the gospels that challenges our understanding of what Jesus the son is, we should draw near to God in prayer and ask for true understanding to allow us to speak of God’s infinite nature.

Of all the names we use for God, the one I like the best is simply “I AM”, because it reminds us that sometimes there is no need to describe God with human attributes, but simply to acknowledge that God is.

Rev.

I totally love Rev. I have spent 6 weeks been somewhat hooked on it. It seems to tap into all the anxieties and stresses of being a Christian (never mind trying to be ordained).

There are so many things that just tap into the ordinariness of trying to be nice to people and wondering how on earth it’s possible to be good at all when the odds are stacked against you. How do you manage to keep working for God when there’s no money (to make the world go around) and no one else is interested.

But more than anything else, they’ve created a real person who just happens to be a vicar. Full of prayers, insights, inappropriate thoughts, a slightly irrational need for friends and a nicotine habit. Oh, and some very fetching green and gold vestments…

I have always loved the Vicar of Dibley, but it is outclassed by miles by Rev. My only slight fear is that I might turn out to be more like Nigel than Adam. I quite like the idea of the commandment to keep the sabbath as the most radical. Maybe that’s my years of retail work talking, rather than a theological imperative.

Incidentally, this week’s episode reminded me I haven’t looked at Ship of Fools for a while, and whilst I was on there I came across this, which made me giggle.