The Greenbelt Festival, to be held on 28th-31st August, has raised eyebrows because of its invitation to Bishop Gene Robinson to speak.
According to its mission statement, ‘Greenbelt is an independent Christian charity working to express love, creativity and justice in the arts and contemporary culture in the light of the Christian gospel.’
As a distant observer, I am scarcely qualified to comment on Greenbelt’s faithfulness to ‘the Christian gospel’. After all, we are reminded: ‘you’ll never really ‘get it’ until you come along.’ Nevertheless, I have to say that I looked in vain on Greenbelt’s website for any apprehension of what the Christian gospel even is, let alone how it might be faithfully proclaimed and applied.
I did find the following self-advertisement. The actual words are no longer on Greenbelt’s website, but I don’t see any evidence that the attitude they represent has changed.
‘Quest, not formula; journey, not destination; dance, not doctrine.’
We come from ordinary Christian communities and from none, from being joined to worshipping families where the presence of God is regularly obscured, from places where artistic appreciation is confined to hymnody and flower arranging. We have a hunch there is more to it than this, that where two or three are gathered we can become more than the sum of our parts, maybe even a sign of another kingdom. For many of us, Greenbelt has been a kind of epiphany – an earthy sacrament, a rocking religion, an unruly faith in an untamed God, Spirit of wonder and compassion, celebrated with noise and passion, argument and laughter.
In a materialistic, anti-institutional era, where the church is marginalised and mocked, and religious icons of substance and charisma are hard to find, at its best Greenbelt remains singular in its faith-affirming, politically engaged, life-transforming experience. With many understandings of Christian community dying, one way people anticipate a new way of being church is through alternative meeting places and movements like Greenbelt. As the Canadian singer Bruce Cockburn put it, “The festival and the people involved in it are the closest thing I’ve got to a church. There is a sense of community built around a worshipful intent and a shared understanding of the need to question in the context of faith.”
There is something rather sad about this glorying in uncertainty, this cheerful anti-intellectualism, this rejection of all things doctrinal. It may well be that some of us have much to learn about alternative cultural expressions of the Christian faith. But, surely, the gospel we have been entrusted with consists of more than, and other than, ‘quest, journey, and dance.’