Thursday, 20 September 2012

Summer 2012 - Greenbelt

So, where've I been?  Well when you see the amount of summer events I want to blog, you may understand why I've been away so long!

Firstly, after last year's successful experiment as a volunteer at the Greenbelt Festival, I decided to return as a regular camper.  Volunteering was a great intro to Greenbelt, but my hours meant I couldn't see everything I wanted to.  This year I saw A LOT.  In Case of FireAradnhaWeapons of SoundThe ProclaimersSpeech DebelleHope and SocialShlomoNitin SawhneyFolk OnSeth LakemanThe Imagined VillageBellowhead, and that was just the music!

I went to talks that stretched my brain, split my sides over comedians, was challenged and awestruck by drama...  but if I'm giving you the highlights there's one thing I should mention first.

1. The MUD

The festival lasts from Friday to Tuesday, but on the Saturday it Rained.  Thunderous, solid walls of water battered the campsite for hours on end, with some extreme results.  The main marquees had  2inch deep rivers running through them within minutes, the Big Top began sinking into the ground.  Tents were flooded out, the main exit became an impassable lake, areas of the site dissolved into clayish brown slop that got everywhere and on everything... I quite enjoyed myself once I'd switched to Weather-Mode (full waterproof gear, and wellingtons supplemented by a pair of chunky woollen socks I found- my best buy of the week).  Dancing a ceilidh when you're ankle deep in bog that's trying to rip your boots off is a really special experience.

After the rain.  Sunset over the Helicopter Field campsite

2.  How to treat your nature deficit

There's simply no way you can see everything  on offer, and even no way you can see all the things you really want to.  I'll be buying a lot of the talks I missed from the Greenbelt website, but one that I did hear and will be buying anyway was the first one I went to, by Hugo Whately.  As someone with a steadily growing love of the outdoors but also an equally expanding awareness of environmental issues that are tricky and often contradictory to navigate -  e.g. Is it better to leave a place as a wilderness and continue to rely on fossil fuels, or 'spoil' it by putting a wind turbine there and cutting down our pollution? - this caught my ear.   This was a talk that taxed my imagination and stretched my perceptions, which are the kind I love best.  I'm very big on self-awareness plus I'm interested in human motivation, and Hugo's talk wasn't so much about fixing the 'lack of nature' we feel we might have but instead set about deconstructing our assumptions about it.  What did we define as 'Nature' in the first place?  Did we see it as a 'good' force in and of itself with almost magical properties, or as a neutral element?  What pluralisms were we operating under (nature vs technology)?  How do these affect how we interact with our surroundings?  We looked at different ways a person might relate to nature and were then asked to examine what where we fit with each of these, and then how we might like to change that.  Like I said, it was a real heavy topic and a real brain-stretcher.  It's this dual nature of fun and deep thought that I really appreciate about Greenbelt, so this was a great talk to dive in with.

Having photo conversations with kids in the Congo about our Kimbilio ('Safe space')

The Tiny Tea Tent

3.  Transfigurations - Petersom Toscano

I didn't see any plays last year, but this one caught my attention.  Peterson Toscano is a one-man theatre, a Christian Quaker American homosexual man (quite a list there!), and an incredibly talented performer.  Transfigurations was half lecture, half drama, and looked at Biblical characters who stepped outside the traditional gender roles of their time.  With all the squabbling among the church about homosexuality etc it's a loaded topic, but one I'm very interested in.  Gender is something I've been thinking about a lot over the last few years (see my post on 'Why I don't want to be a Princess') and he touched on a few of the women I'd looked at such as military leader Deborah and assassinating housewife Jael, but also the men, which I hadn't considered.  Jacob and Joseph were in there, neither of them particular butch, especially compared to their siblings, and also a large number of eunuchs that get significant mentions in the Bible.  As well as being interesting on an academic level, Toscano added his own interpretation and personal insight to explore angles that never occurred to me before.  He held us all captive for the entire performance, switching characters so effortlessly but so completely I genuinely forgot I was watching the same man each time.  The message that came through for me, of God's attention for his children regardless of how they fit into their own societies, was put across in such a moving way that I left the hall seriously choked up.

I don't even remember what this sculpture was called, only that it was Awesome!

4.  Personal performance!

This place is big on interactivity.  I joined the Greenbelt Scratch Wind Band for the second year, and this time round was stunned/mildly petrified to find they'd made me the principal clarinetist (I get all the solos)!  Fortunately none of them were too taxing, and once again this ragtag little band, brought together out of nothing, turned in a great concert performance on the final day.  And I didn't squeak once.  This is one the movements from my favourite piece from our set, the English Folk Song Suite by Vaughan Williams.

I also went along to the Folk Session, which is essentially on open-mic hour for anyone to perform.  Naturally when faced with a chance to sing in public I forgot every song I knew, and had to choose between 'The Parting Glass' - a song about goodbyes and death, or 'The Burning Babe' - about disturbing hallucinations at Christmas.  I went with the latter!  It was fine in the end, but since then I've been brushing up on some happier tunes in case the chance should ever come again.

My friends Matt and Ben busking away.
Tiny steam-boats, a la Ponyo!

5.  Reconnecting

Half the reason you never see everything you want to at Greenbelt is because while you're on your way to it you accidentally come across something else.  Writing up my notes after a talk, I suddenly found myself in the middle of a Worship Pageant that I hadn't even known about.  The sitar music caught my ear, courtesy of Aradhna, I stuck around and within minutes found myself caught up in the midst of this colossal and amazing thing.  Dancers, movers, singers, inflatables and spoken word all came together in what they referred to as a "Worship Experiment".
Now it's been a funny old summer, and I've been distant from God for a month or two.  Although I like my space, I'm a people person at heart and part of how I understand God is through worshipping alongside others (I can't explain it exactly, but it has something to do with looking beyond myself and seeing God as a greater underlying connector).  I find it very difficult to structure 'God time' alone and, due to the holidays, upheavals, moving and general tiredness/laziness I've not made it to a lot of gatherings.  Not heard a lot of stories about what God's been doing.  Not had any particular 'journey with God'.  Life's been ordinary, God's been quiet (or I've not been paying attention), and I'd been unable to see how he fits into that.  In a church that could definitely be described as charismatic (i.e. people like to put their arms in the air, and miraculous occurrences are a regular expectation) if nothing special is happening, where's God?  It's easy to get the idea that if he's not doing those things, he's not doing anything.

In this pageant, somewhere, something shifted and clicked.  The Lord's Prayer, which I've heard a million times, suddenly developed a fresh relevance and moved me to helplessness and tears.  Signs and wonders are not proof of God's participation in the universe.  Healings are not required.  Answers to prayer are not required.  Amazing conversions are not required.  Not that God doesn't do these things, but in a way they aren't the point of it.  Yes God is the God of the Miraculous, and we should expect this, but also there are tax return forms, and drizzle, and boredom, and alarm clocks, and uncomfortable shoes, and Meh.  These things are part of life, and so God is Lord of them also.  This doesn't make them any more special or magical, but God is God of them nonetheless.

During my depression I became familiar with God in the Silence, but this is something new - God in the Ordinary.  To me this is a bigger comfort than the miracles, because I see far more of the everyday than I do the miraculous.  Even when God does nothing visible, he is still there - the wise and familiar friend with whom you could dance or yell or cry if you wanted to, or you could simply sit in comfortable silence and get on with what you're doing, content to know that they're somewhere nearby.

At Greenbelt no one got healed (that I heard about), I don't believe there were any exciting miracles, no one I know of was converted, I didn't attend any worship events (except that one, by accident), I was not very holy and made no effort to improve on this, half the campers had their festival spoilt when they got rained out of their tents by the torrential downpour and many had to leave early, at no point did I receive a word or picture. God was still there, and still present, as he is in all things.

Central campsite and the racetrack, seen from the grandstand

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