I Am Pilgrim.
Most August Bank Holidays for as long as i can remember I find myself in a field at the Greenbelt Festival. It has become something of a pilgrimage to get in my car with tent, sleeping bag, wellies and sun-cream to experience four days of music, talks, performance arts and the weird and the wonderful, and often that stuff called rain too. It is the only so called ‘Christian’ run event I would even bother to venture out to now, not because of the names but because of the vibe and the ever broadening definition of the art and talks on offer. There are no boundaries of us and them; the artists on stage may be Christian, they may not, it is just that the art speaks, the talks could just as well come from an atheist or a Muslim than from a Christian, but they all have something to say, they may be straight or gay or black or white, but their contribution matters. And being there matters to me. I was first introduced to the Festival by a friend in Mattersey Bible College (thanks Craig Burrows), and other than a ten year break a few years after getting married and seeing family begin, I have found my way back. People think it is a time for offended and non-committed Christians to get together to moan about the Church, but that opinion will either come from opponents or those who have only heard the rumours. Yes Greenbelt has made mistakes but the risk is so much more in line with where Jesus would walk than most of our own bland weekly programmes. It is full of creative ideas, social action, fresh worship expressions, enough to keep the Spirit fed for the next twelve months. And the music. What other Christian event would host Sinead O’Connor, who I cannot wait to see? I am a pilgrim and I love camping out under the stars and enjoying the freshness of the open air for a few days.
Other than the first few years I seem to have journeyed to the Festival on my own. That suits me fine. Solitude is a healthy thing. The space gives me chance to breath, think, dream, ponder, deal. Why do we always need company? It may be strange to think that in a crowd I spend most of the time in silence, no conversation for four days. It is times like this I find God deep under my skin. But being on my own I still find myself in a Festival of friends. There is the conversation with a stranger, there is the discovery of the presence of a friend, coffee, chat, laughter, beer and hymns, the wonder of the beauty of humanity. Although there are friends I cannot wait to bump into the space remains important. What will I dream this year? What will kick start my thought patterns? What will provoke me along the journey? Not many people are comfortable in their own skin, but I love my own company. I feel more comfortable in the solitude of my own skin than in a company of many. Connecting with Divinity is an incredible experience. Watching people pass by, imagining their stories, hearing the sounds from within them. When was the last time you really listened to humanity?
Festivals replacing Church.
I see the concept of Festival deep in the heart of God. The weekly walk always seemed to be about family and friends, but then there was the Festivals and Feasts, times when families and tribes gathered to celebrate, remember, share lives together. They were not all about conferences and big name speakers but about food, laughter, dancing, music, sharing stories and thoughts, encouraging one another in the journey of God. Where separate tribes become the family of God. They did not go because there was a special speaker or musician, they went because they loved Festival. That is why I go to Greenbelt, I love Festival. It does not matter who or what is on the programme it is about creating a vibe in a field tinged with the Divine love of eternity and the present. One of these a year is so much more than weekly programmes of hierarchy and churchianity. Where everybody is welcome and nobody looks for flaws and wrong thinking. No one judges you or tries to shape you into being anything less than yourself. I dream of a space here in the valleys where work colleagues and neighbours who have bands can play alongside Christian friends where creativity rather than relationship with Jesus is the key of being involved. Where storytellers and prophetic provokers can share about their dreams and local social needs discussed and shared. A place where community with all it’s tribes can gather and sleep out under the stars for a few days in solitude with the crowd or chatting with friends about any and everything. A place where sharing Gospel is who we are and not a message of quick fix Jesus, the Good News is shared as we share our lives together. A place where we sit and eat and chat and drink and listen and chill and relax. A Festival of friends. Maybe my dream this year has already begun…