Between Friday 23rd August and Tuesday 27th August, I with thousands of other people, attended the Greenbelt Festival in the fields surrounding Boughton House just outside of Kettering. For those of you that have never heard of it, Greenbelt is an arts, faith and justice festival with a Christian perspective that began in 1974 that has been held at seven different locations in the UK within its lifetime; it’s been at Boughton House for the last six. It is also a registered charity with a board of trustees.
I and the family have been going to the festival on and off since 2005 – the years I did not attend were 2015 and 2018. Although rooted in being ‘an open generous community re-imagining the Christian narrative for the pre-sent moment’, it has ‘a belief that embraces instead of excludes’ (Greenbelt official website’s About page). The festival is for Christians of all denominations as well as people of all other faiths and those who have no religious identity at all.
The theme, an annual tradition that began in 1984 and in which artists are encouraged to draw on however pos-sible, of this year’s Greenbelt was ‘Wit and Wisdom’. There were definitely shades of this throughout the week-end, from the hilarious to the thoughtful. Yet, there was also some calmer moments – for me these came both during talks and when either walking around the festival site or sitting/laying on the grass in the shade.
Two major themes that I took away from the festival were grace and humility. The distortion of imagery, wheth-er that of God, Jesus, our own human bodies or the issue of white ‘saviours’ in charitable organisations, should be understood but also challenged. We should not feel shame about who we are or what we believe in and we must view all of these images as both similar AND other. We must have the grace to be vulnerable and know that there is a gift in difference yet remember that the way a story is told is just as important as the story that is being told.
There is however a danger of accidentally furthering the stereotypes or not being holistic enough in regard to gender, sexuality, ethnicity or ability. Though it may be empowering in some sense to see God, Jesus or/and the Spirit as feminine or female or non-gendered in place of masculine or male or that the untraditional family is superior to the nuclear is not helpful to everyone – image-ry is amphigoric and beliefs are different for all Christians. We must have the humility to see and hear all these differ-ent views side by side rather than challenging for one over another.
I wish to end with two quotes; the first comes from Green-belt themselves, the second from Nadia Bolz-Weber from her sermon during the Communion service at the festival. They are what I find shows the calmness of being different, having grace and living with humility.
“The only thing you need to have faith in is the difference we can all make together.”
“What qualifies us for God’s grace is only our need for God’s grace. End of list.”