Tag Archives: Christianity

Greenbelt and me and that book of mine

Today is the official start of a festival known very much to a those of a certain Christian ilk. It’s been running over 40 years around various parts of England, sometimes in the grounds of stately homes, sometimes on a racecourse.

In the words of something very close to me

“Greenbelt was devoid of the very things that put me off all other forms of Christian holiday. It had a firm focus on music and the experimental, was theologically liberal to the point of sometimes being shocking, and therefore attracted interesting people.”

Born at a similar time to the festival – which also began in the same county – I went to my first Greenbelt in 1990, in Northants, just as I was becoming old enough to be autonomous. It was a rebellious thing to do for someone of my background. My Dad’s response to my wish to go was “pass the vinegar”!

I came back shocked and recall writing to the festival’s chair and receiving a generic reply, including things that I hadn’t. Clearly many others had been unhappy too.

I can’t remember much about why – just that Greenbelt didn’t match my idea of Christianity. One reason that was its focus on social justice, not gospel spreading, and its toleration of issues like homosexuality. Ironies coming up.

Curiously one thing I do recall complaining about (for his a book called “Cleaning the Bog and other spiritual gifts”) was a writer I embraced later on. I was reading the late Mike Yaconelli’s book “Dangerous Wonder” just last night. His talks involved the biggest queues of the festival, yet he was moved every year, and surprised, fearing that next year, they wouldn’t come. Perhaps I find his book a little juvenile now, with its stories of waterbombing and other pranks, but I love his spirit – real, passionate living, and a God who is much more into loving us than berating us and getting it right.

It took me 6 years to try Greenbelt again – now a postgraduate, a little broader of mind and less easily shocked. This time I had a little epiphany – one I couldn’t share with my housemate and I felt that her and her church – who’d tutted at me for going to GB – weren’t right, and I made some large and sudden lifestyle decisions because of that.

As a composing musician, the music at Greenbelt was important; a highlight was seeing Iona at the only full band gig of theirs I ever attended. But the book tent, people, the ideas and new ways to worship were also of interest.

I went back the next year, but felt that the mud and the lank hair and skank feeling of no proper washing outdid the things I enjoyed. I vowed I would not camp again.

Then Greenbelt moved – further from me, but into new student halls of residences for the over 25s – happily an age I’d recently passed – and onto the tarmac of Cheltenham racecourse. I enjoyed discovering Cheltenham – my first spa town – and having a town close enough to take a break from the long weekend of festivalling, which can get quite intense and insular. Spiritually, it still felt appealed.  At last, Greenbelt and I were a best fit, although it was smaller and less atmospheric than its Northants days.

Now that Safe Space for LGB Christians felt different.

I’m not really sure why I didn’t return for a while, but in 2007, I was living close enough to attend Greenbelt for a day. I started calling my spirituality Glastonbury rather than Canterbury. I was going to an offshoot of the latter communion who didn’t approve of the former. I was no longer in the Christian music loop – and by that I mean, contemporary bands – and found most solace in a tent of contemplation, and a spiritual advisor. I listened to Yaconelli’s son and felt that whilst the voice was recognisable, finding the ghost of the father through him wasn’t going to happen. Nor did Mike’s own books work so well for me now.

I now cared very about social justice and I embraced the inclusion that Greenbelt showed, but it strangely felt that it, not I, was more conservative. It had taken steps back to towards it more evangelical roots while I’d pole vaulted from mine. We had passed each other like comets, riding together for a time, and veering into disparate directions.

I wasn’t sorry to leave and to explore Cheltenham. I felt that I’d be unlikely to go gain – especially as Greenbelt left that site and reverted to camping.

So why is Greenbelt something I’m writing about now, except that it’s now happening?

Because those Cheltenham visits inspired scenes in my new novel, all about that Safe Space, those seminars where evangelical and liberal meet, where social justice and faith come together. It’s the final chapter.

I think it may be for me and Greenbelt. I approached them to share the novel – naturally – as I’d not only given them a few thousand words of space in it at the most crucial point, but its being all about the kind of things its attendees care about, such as modern church life and those that are a bit different.

But I found that the social justice they preach wasn’t being practised. The book tent has a contract to exclusively sell books on the site and it wants 50% of the cover price to sell yours – though it excludes self published ones when they’ve little space. I pointed out that most books don’t have that cut to spare and causes the author and publisher – which are both me – who has spend perhaps years at their own expense, to make a loss. I was asked to send, at my expense, a free copy to the team for a possible social media mention. A 40 year old festival commanding £150 a ticket for tens of thousands, asking a new self published author who’s been in financial struggle to send a book for them to consider a tweet? And that they were too busy to talk more.

Hence I’m not at Boughton House near Kettering this weekend and may not be again.

But I do hope some festivallers – past and present – might enjoy relieving those Cheltenham years and joining in my fictional weekend at the pivotal point of other Elspeth’s journey.

You don’t know what I mean, and you’d like to?

Then go to http://www.parallel-spirals.webs.com.

More about the fairness of publishing will be appearing on this site.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Elspeth on Shelby Spong… again

I couldn’t decide where to place this, so in revealing that I have yet more blogs, I will put a link to my all spiritual one here, and my post about the American ex bishop and my latest brush with him. I am neither liberal in the usual sense nor evangelical in the usual sense. See what I make of him

It is unashamedly a long post, extended essay length, though much looser in style, so be prepared to scroll!

Wrong Colour, Wrong Spong

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Ilia Delio, your God is too small

A Review of “The Emergent Christ”

I was excited about obtaining this book, sorry to have missed her UK tour last year, but swiftly found it hard work. Not that I didn’t understand it, but its matter is as dense as the early Big Bang, and that’s not in a good way.

It could easily be a paper, not a full length book. I obtained two things from Ilia’s 150 pages of main text:

“Evolution is progress towards union in love because God is ever deepening love.” (minus the irritating and unneeded hyphen between the penultimate words)

That is sufficient synopsis of the whole book. She need not write more!

The second was her summary of Hildegard of Bingen who saw sin as the exile of unrelatedness, the refusal to grow.

My major issue with Ilia is that she is another theologian trying to fit God round contemporary science, which is entirely the wrong way round. She asserts that scientists know that evolution is true, not a theory – something that my reading and understanding has always queried, on a scientific and philosophical level. (I wrote an undergraduate dissertation on this subject).

She doesn’t engage with the theological issues about evolution either – a loving powerful God who uses waste and suffering, and is so slow! She suggests God could have achieved salvation in another way (not Easter) – which is surely more shocking – because God can do anything. But He can’t manage creation in any other way than Darwin’s, even though she’s the one to remind that Darwin only used evolution in the last line of his work. Nor does she justify the Big Bang, built on extrapolation and highly interpreted observations.

Instead, she uses dense stylised language with many invented and italicised words to whizz round such questions like spiral galaxies, oscillating so quickly that you’ve barely time to notice what she’s not said. Try paraphrasing her, and I realised how little real substance there is in my view. Dense, but not weighty.

It’s assumed but not truly argued or demonstrated that for God to be love – and she does have some beautiful and original phrases about that – God must evolve, and do so in a way analogous to the universe’s journey as understood by our relatively young scientific theory.

Most of her work is about Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s ideas, and quoting many Catholics and scientists along the way, I felt there was little really coming from Ilia as original thought.

That point contains another issue I have – for despite ‘catholic’ supposedly meaning universal, this is a very Catholic book. If you weren’t reared on Bonaventure or what the popes are saying, you can feel alienated. Ilia often asks what it is to be Catholic, not to be Christian, and not to have faith or spirituality more generally. Given her scientific stance, her hints that Christ is the telos of enlightenment rather than just the 2nd person of the Trinity, and her writing style, this book doesn’t feel likely to have a wide audience.

Ilia wants to re-translate catholic (more italics coming up) to whole-making which is a beautiful idea. The notion of God too growing and expanding is not new to me, and it is one I already embraced. I am glad that she accepts death and suffering as part of the process of our own parallel journeys, not something to eradicate via the science she so venerates.

But again, death as an act of creation – not a phrase she uses – is something I long knew: I found it in the film The Fountain, and watching it and thinking on its deep and similar themes was a more pleasing experience that these hours with Delio.

Heaven as a place on early was proclaimed by Belinda Carlisle in the 1980s, and the Kingdom being within is pretty obvious in the gospels. Is Ilia hinting she thinks that there is no next world?

I found myself instead wanting to explore Ms Bingen and even to have a go at Teilhard again, whose shockingly innovative insights were more pertinent when he wrote perhaps, but I felt this rehash has little to add to these times.

Ilia goes a step further than saying evolution and Christianity are compatible; she says – evolution is theology. Radical, intriguing, but appealing or true? I sense she’s touching on something there: that if we think of growth and deeper understanding as part of life and of God, then the way we understand the world scientifically does change and become more meaningful. But I refuse to make God fit science, saying, as we’re evolving we must know better now than all that came before. There’s both arrogance and naivety in this statement (if I’ve understood correctly). I know development to be spiral, twisting back and round and revisiting, not simply forward.

I am never tired of saying that my understanding of Hegel’s thesis, antithesis, synthesis is masterful on a personal and mass level. Ilia’s work seems stuck in the second stage, exonerating new science; but for me, obtaining wholeness and mastery (which I do not claim yet to have) is only achieved when we embrace and synthesise the wisdom of ancient beliefs and see that modern science is only a small part of actual knowing.

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Pride and Prejudice: Minister accused of gay hate crimes

It’s ironic that on the day I finish editing my novel about synthesising being gay and Christian, there’s a news story on just that in the city in which my story is set. The front page of the local rag has a picture of a pastor set against the recent gay Pride parade. His email to the organisers has earned him a hate crime allegation with the police.

I felt many things as I read that story.

First was the irony that this same newspaper published the faces and names of men at a homosexual gathering which got raided to shame them. It was mentioned at a Pride event – local gay people have not forgotten how their paper treated them.  Perhaps fearing hate crimes allegations directed at itself, the paper now covers the Pride celebration like any other local event. Its tone in this article seemed to be firmly with the LGBT community and against this local evangelical minister.

My second feeling is that this paper’s article is very biased and poor. We do not know what the email of “homophobic language” contained. We are only told that the minister, Alan Clifford,  went up to a stall at Pride and offered an exchange of leaflets. His were called “Good news for Gays” and “Jesus – Saviour of us All”. Too true, I thought; for God loves gay people and is here for us as much as anyone else. Further research confirms the tenor of the minster’s views – that ‘gays’ are perverts who need curing – which has become international news. His views are upsetting, angering – and make me sad.

My next thought was regret that the Pride organisers made this email into a police affair. If I had received an email of the sort I am assuming was sent from Dr C, I would have written back, explaining my views and challenging his. I’d have directed him to George Hopper’s pamphlet “The Reluctant Journey” about a Methodist who, on exploring the Biblical teaching on being gay and actually meeting some, had a complete change of heart. He is celebrated as a supporter of gay Christian people, whilst retaining his more evangelical and Bible based faith. I hope my own book might assist with this too.

I believe that challenge and heart changing is far more productive than crime making. What the latter does is reverse the oppression, so that traditional Christians and other faiths feel they’re persecuted ones, and wonder how equality and anti discrimination works when they are being silenced. You give prejudiced people more reason to feel it, and more reason to band together – Dr Clifford is already hailed as being persecuted for witnessing. Two papers copying each other ended that the minster is anti Muslim too. But saying that Jesus is greater than Mohammed is not Islamophobic  – for Christians, Jesus as God is higher than any prophet, and banning or deriding that statement is not allowing freedom of belief. There is far more genuine Islamophobia in the media and from politicians, which I abhor.

I also note the irony that complaints about Dr Clifford being offensive to lead to investigation; but he cannot call the other side offensive and register a complaint.

I would like to see an end to all such offensives.

I’ve now read Dr Clifford’s response. He makes two other valid points – that the intention was compassionate campaigning, not to harass; and that ‘homophobia’ is a misnomer, for prejudice is not fear. Perhaps there is a little fear in anti gay sentiment, of the notion that they are set to break up the order of your society, and what being open to them might mean for your faith journey. It’s something I can relate to, but I am glad of where that journey took me and to whom I now embrace, not decry.

The other concern is – we have too much police control, and that police were experienced as aggressive at this event. Like the local paper, they have turned from breaking up gay meetings to supporting gay people. This is admirable in principle.

It seems we are now in a minefield where freedom of speech as ever is being eroded – even on matters where one sympathises. Sentiments which hurt and insult others who have perhaps already been through stress should not go unchecked – they should be challenged.  But not be afraid to broadcast a view lest it leads to a police record.

I am deeply saddened when people use their freedom of speech to curtail the freedoms of others. I cannot understand why those whose central message ought to be about love see a legitimate expression of it as an aberration, something abhorrent to be campaigned against rather than celebrated. When a faith should be about a better world – more free, more loving, more understanding – I am despondent that some preach hatred and separation instead of inclusion. I refer them to the Easter sermon that was preached in the film version of Chocolat.

It’s PR like this that harms evangelical Christianity especially – you are not serving, you are doing a disservice.

But I am sad at the other team too. Subverting and reversing freedom and anger is no way to be better understood and accepted by those not yet able and willing to do so. It’ll keep those Christians with feeling they’re misunderstood victims who must stick together and fight for the cause. It means the circle might go round again, spinning between bashing gay people or Bible bashers, depending on who has the most sway on leadership.

We don’t want any bashing. We want a world where such differences are no longer divisions, and people don’t not say or do something for fear of reprisal, but because they no longer feel it.

It also seems my novel’s message is still much needed, for both sides.

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Infinitely Beloved and Rock and Roll Religion

I heard two lectures in churches last weekend, both by men eminent in their fields and their denominations.

To be fair, I shall name neither speaker.

The first was a modest affable thesis that God and us are infinitely capable of loving, infinitely lovable, and that we are infinitely beloved. He said truly grasping this would revolutionise the relationship with ourselves, God and change society.

And he tied in Julian of Norwich with Casualty! [hospital TV drama]

The second was an arrogant sounding but poorly delivered and argued piece diluting a Gospel to crude psychological archetypes that made his offering of Christianity seem pale in comparison. More annoying archetypes were in his assessment of denominations and the attributes of star birth signs. He was hypocritical, making assumptions about beliefs and showing the same generalisations that he criticised others for.

A follow up talk was on how we should be more “rock and roll” in religion, which for him meant the antisocial behaviours of pop stars of his youth. He said he preferred Ireland to New Zealand because it felt alive with drunkenness and beggars in the street! He confuses radical, full living with immaturity and lack of consideration. Smashing up hotel rooms and angry swearing and drug abuse are not signs of coolness and cultural significance. He forgot too that for many, real faith is about a radical life view, not cosiness and prohibition.

There were things I did not enjoy in the first lecture – its slow and deliberate delivery was sometimes difficult and I yearned for some passion – which the second did (if you call thumping a lectern and a bit of a shout “passion”). But it was the former who had enthusiastic applause, and I saw one audience member rush up and hug someone and say it was the best speech he’d heard – ever.

And I knew instantly which of the two made me feel so warm and I moved that I wanted to rush home and be with those thoughts. I know which speaker’s hand I’d rather shake, and to whom I shall write to thank.

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Good Friday

As we’re close to the Easter season, I’d like to share what I wrote last year on my new take on this day

http://relijournal.com/christianity/good-friday-2/

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