Wednesday, August 30, 2006


So... my weekend began on Wednesday night in Northampton where Naomi cooked dinner for me and Emma. A very pleasant way to start a long weekend.

On Thursday morning, a number of us from hOME (Matt, Suzie, Pippa, Chris, Juliet, Jim) plus some hangers on in Muzz and John set off to the exotic site that is Cheltenham Racecourse for the Greenbelt Arts and Music festival. I've heard a lot about GB over the years, and Mark Pierson swears it is the best of them all, although he would say that...

Greenbelt at night. Stolen from Johnny Baker's flickr site.

In the five days I spent at GB I had an extraordinary time. The blend of community, the lovely blonde at the American Cookie Caravan, the teachings of John Bell from Iona, Dave Andrews, and Dave Tomlinson, the folk from Moot, the hedge inspections, the bizzare and thought provoking heresy of Ikon, the Organic Beer Tent, and the Tiny Tea Tent meant I was never short of mental or physical stimulation. The weekend also managed to include people from pretty much every circle of friends I've had over the past 15 years. There were the homies (or homos as some now call us), Muzz from Auckland, Wendy and Phil from Edinburgh, a chance meeting with Nay who now works with Muzz in Servants and with whom I spent my best summer of the nineties (number 5 in the link) in Roxburgh (strangely I got an email from Kirsty Evitt this weekend, whom I also haven't seen since about then either and was on the same expedition), as well as some other folk from Oxford.

For me the four defining moments of the festival were:
  • Dave Andrews discussion on being the change we want to see
  • Vic Theason on the myth of redemptive violence
  • Ikon's worship service (although anybody who was there will tell you that it was a piece of performance art rather than a service) and the challenge of defining belief
  • John Bell's definition of blessing
Dave Andrews was simply astonishing. He told three outrageous stories about individuals or very small groups of people can bring about change. The title of his talk is taken from a quote from Gandhi, and to Dave's line of thinking, it is simply not possible to change other people, the only person you can change is yourself. The three stories, one where a local church offered their church to the local Islamic community after their mosque was burnt down, one where a group of Indonesian Christians sought funding for advocating for the human rights of imprisoned fundamentalist muslims who had been persecuting the Christians, and one where an Australian attempted to do a citizen's arrest on his MP in response to Australia's complicity in the war on terror were retold over the weekend. As Dave said in response to the stories, it was not very Christian, but very Christ-like. More about Dave's plans can be found here. I'm still trying to work through the impact he had on me but usefully he's a very good friend of Muzz's so I'm sure I'll be seeing him again.

Vic Theason's talk on the myth of redemptive violence used the example of films to illustrate that by using violence as a source of redemption, we perpetuate the myth that it is the only solution. Listening to his talk and watching the clips was a bit like someone had removed the scales from in front of my eyes. When Joyeux Noel comes out on DVD next month I'll be getting a hold of it. And it made for an interesting perspective on the stunning V for Vendetta.

Ikon's performance on Sunday night (on at the same time as My Morning Jacket, damnit...) ran me close. It was useful service in that it challenged some of the things I hold, but came close to calling me a liar. As part of the performance we got a list of 50 things that one of them believed, then we had someone declare their atheism, before we each got given a piece of rice paper with I believe written on it. We were instructed to think of something we believed, then to give the paper to our neighbour, take theirs, and then eat it. We were not to tell our neighbour what we believed, nor we were to ask what they believed. It was tough enough for me to simply come up with something I absolutely believed, as paradoixical as it might sound, for me beliefs come and they go. Having battled through that, I then realised that 'I believe' was spelt I beLIEve. Yeah, thanks for that.

Lastly, I've been pondering the meaning of the word blessing all year. This was in response to my first visit to Mexico this year. I still don't know what the word means, although it was suggested over the weekend that the word derives from having a camel underneath you. Alternative answers on a postcard please. During John Bell's discussion on God Bless Adam and Steve, where he attempted to set aside any biblical justification for condemning homosexual relationships (something I would like to get to the bottom of more, as it were - insert your own innuendo here). He made the observation that blessing something doesn't add sacredness to it, rather it acknowledges the sacredness that already exists in that thing. The context here was whether or not the church should be a host for the blessing of same-sex relationships (something I'm comfortable with it doing, and something I'm sure that Ma and Pa would probably disagree with). I'm still unsure of my definition here but John's definition seemed a useful point to work from.

So all in all, a useful weekend. And you can be sure I'll be at GB next year.

And the fact that Wallingford's seconds got bowled out for 33 on Saturday doesn't bother me at all...


Jacque said...

Great write-up, Rich. Makes me want to go next year...

Rhys Lewis said...

I find the 'Myth of Redemptive Violence' stuff fascinating. For me Rambo - First Blood is the definitive example. Once you hear the theory, it's like so much of modern media is simply a way of revving up the crowds in the Colleseum.