Tag Archives: Greenbelt

Breaking out of the Bubble

This year at Greenbelt there were a few things that happened which made me smile about how much I have moved on from the evangelical bubble and also about how some of that still comes into my mind as “natural thinking”.

One of the things that had me thinking about this the subject of mission. The situation was I had just finished my stint on the OuterSpace stall and went wandering to find the relatives who were exploring the resources centre whilst they waited for me. They were at a stall where one of them, an agnostic, was finding out about mission opportunities. Being me I engaged confused mouth before brain and blurted out, “but don’t you have to be a Christian to go on mission?”. Both relative and stall holder decided to answer the question. Relative said that as long as agencies weren’t trying to sell God and were going out to do some good then they were interested in what they were doing. The bloke from the “missionary organisation” explained how whilst they are a faith based organisation they are happy to have involvement from non-believers and those of other faiths. Made me realise that these days in many ways mission, particularly short term mission, means something v. different to what I would automatically think. My evo influenced mind still sees it in many senses through the mid 20th century paradigm which is only….if we’re honest….a few steps away from the colonial model of the 19th century. In reality we now live in a secular world where missionary orgs are essentially just another set of NGO’s, but with an explanation for why they are engaging in this work.

The second thing which got me reflecting on the bubble and how far I had or hadn’t come from the evo bubble was thinking about my experiences of worship at GB this year. I actually ended up in a wider range of worship situations than usual, and several of them had a clear mainstream Anglican litergical influence. This year this didn’t seem like some exotic excursion rather it was like, ok this is what these guys are doing that’s cool. There wasn’t the same sense of relief and yet fear of “soundness” I had had in past years when going to stuff that was “different”. This year I was able to relate it to my ordinary experiences of worship much more and so appreciate it more for what it was. Admittedly the Ikon stuff did challenge because of the way they very quietly punched you in the face with some stuff about what faith does and should mean. The rest of the time I was pretty much just worshipping.

The third thing that struck me was about how those outside church experience us and what we have to offer. I admit I, in a tongue in cheek way, figured that taking my ickle bro to GB might help “convert him”. Um, I was the one who the joke ended up being on. I saw whilst I see GB as another way to encounter Christianity it is much more than that. What impressed my bro was the way that GB was based around anarchism and was engaging loads of people under the age of 50 in activism. Now, I’m not sure about the level of anarchism he could apparently see, but I am aware of the activist element. As someone who sees that type of social justice emphasis as “normal” I didn’t realise the appeal it has to others. He didn’t engage in the way I would have “hoped” as an ickle evo, but he did experience and appreciate a range of things that GB had to offer. He understood the meaning of Tomlinson’s church without boundaries in a way I couldn’t.

The final thing that got me was the way that GB was rationally talking about issues of sexuality in a way which has gotten past alot of the nonsense. Yes there had been a ridiculous amount of nonsense about Gene Robinson coming to the festival, and apparently division about it, according to Christian Today, (although as Richard Hall says this article is slightly questionable if you were there). They have moved on from going on about the rights and wrongs in many ways and into looking at the practical implications of engaging with spirituality in a faithful way whatever your sexuality. That is not to say they don’t recognise the realities of life today for some gay Christians, rather it is to say that they are reflecting the situation that for many of us in our churches it is kind of a non-issue much of the time, in terms of it is not our sexual orientation that is the issue but rather how we all approach relationships and live our lives generally which matters whatever our orientation. This is a subtle change which I became aware of over the weekend as I thought about it. One of the things that reflected this was the OuterSpace programme this year. Rather than just focusing on the politics they were looking at the practicalities of life for LGBT people. They had Jeff Heskins talking about the practical issues involved in civil partnership blessings and in trying to keep integrity if you happened to be LGBT and going through the discernment process, (mainly related to the CofE). Whilst it is interesting that The Changing Attitude Blog uses the language of politics and rights in relation to these sessions what I liked in the OuterSpace session I attended was the way the discussion was about the practicalities rather than the shouting. Similarly their Sunday night worship session was focused on honestly and simply bringing our lives as Christians, (some of whom happen to be LGBT), to God in worship rather than being an attempt to do inclusive worship. Can’t quite explain but I really witnessed a subtle but encouraging change this year. Also for reasons I’m not going into I realised that, at GB and in many other places, your sexuality makes absolutely no difference to anything…the world has moved on and so, I think, has more of the church than we might realise if we only believe the media headlines.

Finally, on the sexuality thing, what I liked about Gene Robinsons session was the way he didn’t seek to points score, rather he sought to point to people back to God and to love for the bible. Also totally unrelated he was v. lovely when faced with a bunch of slightly mad Durham (& ex Durham) students and a camera at his book signing.

Think that in another post The Changing Attitude Blog summed it up totally in their post “On Being Unremarkable“. Personally I am discovering that in the evo bubble people would like us to think there is something different or remarkable about being x, y or z….in reality all of it is far more unremarkable and simply ordinary than we would like to admit. We often talk about wanting to find God in the ordinary, well perhaps the secret is first for us to appreciate what the ordinary is.

Greenbelt – Caught in the Storm

It appears that Greenbelt and CMS are the latest organisations to be caught up in the storm which is engulfing the Anglican church at the moment. This article in Ekklesia alerted me to the way that CMS are the latest organisation to be caught in the current Anglican storm which appears to have blown the fence away.

The blog post on the Anglican Mainstream site which caused all this to blow up was “Greenbelt, “Gay evangelicalism” and CMS: Summer 2009″ by L S Nolland. Besides outlining the different ways in which Greenbelt has become a queer friendly Christian festival and highlighting those on the speaking line up this year it regards as heretics it specifically questions CMS’s involvement in the festival. CMS in turn have replied with this statement which outlines their position as an evangelical organisation which is are “associates” of the event and therefore not involved in planning decisions, beyond their own venue in the marketplace.

Whilst not wishing to get embroiled in the politics within a denomination of which I am not a part as this ickle part of the debate relates to a festival close to my heart I am going to give my own opinion on this one.

The Anglican Mainstream writer appears to have two issues regarding Greenbelt, (i) CMS involvement and (ii) the fact that the Greenbelt programme is not balanced out by speakers from the ex/post gay movement.

With regards to CMS involvement, they are one of several explicitly evangelical organisations who seek to engage with people at Greenbelt, within the marketplace. A large part of what CMS has done over recent years has been, particularly through the emerging church stuff it has been involved in, is to help keep connection with and give a positive picture of established Christianity to church leavers aswell as seekers. Due to it’s focus on being an arts festival, rather than a “Christian conference” type thing, it becomes a space for many people who feel alienated by established church and the politics within them. It has also been a place where Christians who might have been cynical about the word “mission” have been encouraged to think again about mission in the contemporary society and how to engage in it with sensitivity and authenticity.

In terms of the 2nd point made by the AM writer I want to share my own opinion on this, not just as a regular Greenbelter but as a queer Christian who is not Anglican but does care about the whole church.

Over the years Greenbelt has been somewhere where LGBT Christians have been welcome in someway. It has also been somewhere where their views have been challenged. In the past there have been events where debate of the type described has occurred, I remember Elaine Storkey defending the traditional biblical position and promoting the True Freedom Trust at one point. Over recent years the LGBT presence at Greenbelt has changed. Rather than just being a fringe meeting of Safety Net in a back room, if you could find it, there have been more openly LGBT speakers and performers and their straight friends on the main programme. In recent years significant contributors have included James Alison and Peterson Toscano. The fringe type meetings still occur, now hosted by Outer Space , operating as a place for LGBT Christians and others to network. This does not mean that Greenbelt has become a pink festival or has begun to consciously descriminate against those who hold alternative views but it does mean that Greenbelt has become a clearly safe space for LGBT and most importantly questioning Christians. It has become a space where the carefully rehersed arguments given by both sides have been swapped for people sitting down sharing stories and worship. It is a place where articulate speakers have been able to express to those who may be unsure of what to think what the position of ordinary LGBT Christians is.

In my own experience Greenbelt is where my own coming out journey really started. In the days when I was trying to work out about how to handle my sexuality, and had questions I wanted to ask about how it related to my faith going to Greenbelt and slipping off to Safetynet was my first step forward. I will never forget slipping in and thankfully seeing one face I knew via mutual friends and then sharing communion with people like me….people who were wrestling with what it meant to be gay and a follower of Jesus. It was the first time I think that I realised I might be able to be all that I am.

Moving forward to a couple of years ago I remember what it felt like not having to slip off but sitting with a friend I had recently come out to, whose views I knew followed the more traditional line, in a performance by Peterson. Through his drama he explained far more about it all than I could in awkward words.

Then there was the time I sat with a group of people from my church listening to John Bell talking on the subject of human sexuality. There was a view given that I knew you wouldn’t get from the pulpit back home, but we were all able to sit together listening. It meant alot to know my straight friends were considering all the issues involved, even if they didn’t come to the same conclusions as me. This is something which couldn’t / wouldn’t have happened at any other Christian conference / festival.

So has all this meant that Greenbelt has, as is argued, become discrimatory against those who hold alternative views? I don’t think so…what it has meant is that Greenbelt has become somewhere that stories are told rather than arguments and debates held on these issues. Should the stories of those who have positive stories of the ex-gay movement be told? It’s difficult, having heard from far too many people about what the effects of the ex / post gay movement on their lives have been I would worry that vunerable, young, questioning Christians might get sucked into well meaning movements that would actually cause them more harm than good. It might also stop Greenbelt being a safe space.

So where do we go? Well, I would argue that perhaps rather than the ex / post gay movement there might be speakers – space given to those taking a side B approach. For those not aware side B is the position which advocates celibacy for gay Christians. Perhaps there should be a storytelling session with a variety of Christians, taking the different positions, could just tell their stories. No debate or questions….just a storytelling session and then a cake and coffee session afterwards if people wanted to chat on a more informal basis.

As for the decision for Gene Robinson to be invited to speak at Greenbelt this year….well, he is a good speaker. This is the post I wrote after hearing him in Kent last summer. However, I am not convinced by the timing. Had the FCA not just been formed and the American decision not be taken, that Tom Wright has written about in the Times today, it would have been wonderful. As it is it seems that Greenbelt are finding themselves embroiled in more politics than they need to be and rather than supporting the moves that have been going on in recent years this may actually end up meaning that Greenbelt becomes either (i) a ghetto for those who are affirming or (ii) somewhere where the aftermath means that the programming reverts back to where it was back about ten years ago. Perhaps they should have spent the money on a few less high profile LGBT speakers….like getting Peterson back to do his Transfigurations show.

Anyway it appears that my thoughts on this are a bit behind the times….Dave Walker has already talked about this on the Church Times blog site and Auntie Doris was talking about this on Monday.

However, in terms of why it is important for Greenbelt to carry on having LGBT people as part of the main programme I finish with this You Tube clip related to Through My Eyes, the GCN DVD I mentioned a couple of days ago. On the site for this DVD it says “The church is at war over homosexuality. Will our youth be the casualties?” This is the question that I think those on all sides of this debate have to ask themselves.