back from Greenbelt

I’ve been at the Greenbelt festival this weekend, which has been an inspiring and refreshing few days. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s an annual festival at Cheltenham racecourse. It is ostensibly a Christian festival, but it has a broad programme of events, a focus on social justice and a slightly subversive edge.

Among the highlights for me were the talks by Alastair Mcintosh, a Hebridean activist, poet, and author of ‘Soil and Soul’ and ‘Hell and High Water: Climate change, hope, and the human condition’. His is a passionate voice of protest against the violence of modern society, against each other and against the earth, but he speaks with gentle wisdom rather than a megaphone – a compelling and powerful speaker.

Christian Aid have a significant presence at the festival. This year they hosted art collective Stan’s Cafe in their tent, who presented The Rice Show, a series of piles of rice representing statistics, one grain per person. The carefully measured heaps were laid out on pieces of paper on the floor, and were amusing, whimsical, and often shocking. The rice is constantly swept up and re-weighed and laid down as something else, so the show evolves constantly. It’s a simple and engaging concept, and if you can catch the rice show at a gallery near you, it’s worth seeing.

Perhaps the richest food for thought was from a session I only caught half of – Bruce Stanley‘s intriguingly titled ‘permaculture inspired spirituality’. The title alone was enough to make a connection I hadn’t made before, and while I tend not to separate my faith from anything else I’m thinking about, that’s a door I hadn’t noticed before. I will probably be thinking about that for a few months.

My own contribution to the festival was a session on slow living called Decelerate, which I worked on with Church on the Corner. It was a reflection on busyness, impatience and the underlying disatisfactions and insecurities that drive it, and I will post some links to that when we get round to sticking our material online.

I sadly missed all the daily foraging walks, as they were too early in the morning, but I did have time to catch screenings of The Age of Stupid and Waltz With Bashir, two fine and very different films. There was a great little exhibition of art created by Luton teenagers about life in care, which made me very proud. I heard some great music, notably Royksopp and Sway, attended a poetry reading, caught up with some old friends, and recorded a video message for Christian Aid’s Mass Visual Trespass. I also had a nice little chat with development minister Douglas Alexander, who is more approachable and down to earth than you might imagine cabinet members to be. He told me about his trip to Bangladesh and India this week, which I shall write more about in due course.

That was my Greenbelt. If you want to come along next year, let me know and we’ll form a posse.

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