Greenbelt Blog - day 2
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Date: August 2007


'Greenbelt’s been making an admirable effort this year to establish a relationship with Jewish and particularly Islamic theologians.'


Philip Purser-Hallard, surefish's Greenbelt blogger, has had a nice day at the festival

Since yesterday’s blog I’ve mainly been: a) eating and drinking, b) worshipping and c) listening to Christian-Muslim dialogue. Which is nice.

Greenbelt’s been making an admirable effort this year to establish a relationship with Jewish and particularly Islamic theologians.

Immediately after finishing yesterday’s article, I went to a panel on the question ‘Can Christians, Muslims and Jews share a theology of liberation and justice?’, at which the consensus was ‘Er, possibly.

But it’s going to be tricky.’ And just now I was listening to the (intelligent and persuasive) Islamic theologian and Thought for the Day regular Mona Siddiqui asking ‘Does theology matter for peaceful coexistence?’, and concluding that it does provided you do it properly.

I paraphrase, of course.

This kind of interfaith engagement is obviously of vital importance in the current political climate, although – wishy-washy liberal that I am – I can’t help worrying slightly that the first thing the three Abrahamic religions will do on eventually rediscovering our common ground will be to find someone else to gang up on, like those nasty polytheists and humanists. It’s the kind of thing we do.


Greenbelt’s always been fairly good about recruiting atheist and humanist voices, but next year (if anyone was asking me, which so far they haven’t been) I’d be keen on seeing this inclusiveness extended to representatives of the Hindu, Buddist and Sikh faiths, and possibly others.

Personally I’d also have liked to see the interfaith strand carried over into this morning’s communion service – after all, if people of different faiths can’t join together to worship God, what can we expect to agree on? – but there again I’m probably just being a wishy-washy liberal heretic. Ah well.

In other respects, though, the service was exceptionally good this year, with the festival’s theme of ‘Heaven in Ordinary’ evidently inspiring the liturgists. It probably helped that I was at the more ‘alternative’ of the two venues, with the events on the Mainstage being piped to the Arena through closed-circuit TV.

This is an innovation I thoroughly approve of, as it allowed what was essentially the same service to be experienced differently according to taste.

For the sizeable minority of Greenbelters who can find corporate worship rather troubling, it provided invaluable ironic distance as the nice, but essentially mainstream, communion service at the Mainstage was overlaid for the Arena audience with an additional veneer of musical and video meditation, and the gospel music (well-done though it was) replaced with mellower ambient bleepiness during the more contemplative moments.

And speaking of heretics… last night’s Ikon worship was another highly impressive ‘experiment in theodrama’, continuing the Belfast ‘emerging church’ group’s evolution in response to their ever-ascending popularity with the Greenbelt audiences.

This time round the audience was in the thousands, and the session was a theatrical spectacular involving film loops (I’m fairly sure I recognised Un Chien Andalou), origami, puppetry, a screen displaying a creed being edited in real time and a woman in an unfeasibly long dress up a pole.

Confronting Greenbelters with the news that the God they believe in (whichever particular God that may be) does not exist, is an important job, and I’m grateful we have Ikon to do it for us – unorthodox though their methods, like their theology, may be.

Later this afternoon I’m intending to visit the Miller’s Ark mobile farm, and possibly stroke some guinea pigs. Then I’ll be drinking beer and singing hymns, before – if queues allow – taking in some comedy.

Which will be nice, too.

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