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.