Our preparations for Greenbelt festival are skipping over into the inevitable last minute panics.
We have to spray some fabric and Gazebos with fire retardant solution- which would be fine if we could get hold of some! We ordered it, but it did not arrive. We now wait to see if it will come tomorrow, and then hope we can get it sprayed and dried in time.
I am driving down with my friend Nick on Thursday, so we can pitch our tent in a good place and get started in setting up some poetry banners around the site. We set up a little competition- The first 10 people who collect the titles of all 10 poems and brings them to our worship event will get a free book.
We hope to get along to the Tautoko network pre-Greenbelt gathering in the Gloucester Cathedral on Thursday evening- along with a lot of other Greenbelt contributors, and the weird and wonderful worship of Agents of the Future.
Michaela, and 5 others will be joining us on Friday. It will be great to meet up with old friends who will be there- Simon McGoo and Mark and Dee from Wales…
Aoradh are responsible for a worship slot in the New Forms Cafe at 1.00 PM on Saturday- please come along!
We are also putting up 10 banners with poetry based on the Ecclesiastes 3 passage on seasons/time. Some of them are from my last book.
I am also doing some reading from this book, and an interview at the Proost Unususal Suspects event, also in New forms, 10PM, Friday. Proost have produced some really cool publicity cards for the book, so if anyone fancies spreading a few around, let me know!
I was also asked to be part of a panel on the use of new liturgy, something which I declined as I felt very under qualified, and we will miss most of Monday, as we will need to be on the road back up to Scotland.
I came across some short clips of films made by The Work of the People who are a collection of artists, poets, theologians and film makers in the US. They have loads of great resources that you can buy from their site if you are looking for loops or visuals…
I have picked one of their pieces as it resonated with thoughts about our relationship with the simpler parts of what we are as humans- based around relationships-
Relationships with one another.
Relationships with the land that sustains us.
And perhaps particularly, relationships with those who have been, or would be, our enemies.
This morning I have been surprised by the furore triggered by the release of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi- the Libyan convicted of being the mastermind behind the terrorist bombing that brought down Pan Am flight 103 in 1988- Scotland’s worst ever air disaster.
The Scottish minister of Justice, Kenny MacAskill (who had ever heard of him before all this?) made a speech that I thought was rather wonderful (check out earlier post with video footage here.) He managed to be ponderous, prosaic and yet marvelous all at the same time in a way that only certain kinds of Scottish establishment figures can.
His actions have divided opinions across the world- and perhaps particularly across the Atlantic, with key figures from the Obama government expressing their disgust. As Megrahi walked off the plane back onto Libyan soil, the ecstatic hero’s welcome was difficult for all of us to stomach- particularly the waving of Scottish Saltires.
I heard Scottish first minister Alec Salmond being interviewed on radio 4 this morning- the interviewer fatuously asked him how he was going to repair the reputation and standing of Scotland in the world. Salmond replied that the Scottish reputation for the upholding of the rule of law had been enhanced. I think he was right.
But then I am a supporter. I support the release of this man, at the end of his life, who may or may not have been a scapegoat for a particularly shameful stain on the way countries carry out diplomacy in the wake of not one but two planes falling burning from the sky… As superpowers rattled sabres and played out oil driven power games vicariously, with one side backing Iran, and the other (led oh-s0 ironically by the USA) backing Iraq.
Some good friends of mine disagree- and do so for good, reasoned and considered reasons. One of them was a young policeman in 1988 sent to Lockerbie to be part of the clear up operation.
Some people who lost friends and family over Lockerbie also disagree. These voices seem the most important
American Susan Cohen, whose only child, 20-year-old Theodora, was one of 35 students from Syracuse University in New York on the flight, said any suggestion that Megrahi should be freed on compassionate grounds was “vile”.
Speaking from her home in New Jersey, she said: “Any letting out of Megrahi would be a disgrace. It makes me sick, and if there is a compassionate release then I think that is vile.
“It just shows that the power of oil money counts for more than justice. There have been so many attempts to let him off. It has to do with money and power and giving [Libyan ruler Colonel Muammar] Gaddafi what he wants. My feelings, as a victim, apparently count for nothing.”
She added: “This is just horrible. Compassion for him? How about compassion for my beautiful daughter? She deserves compassion, not a mass murderer.”
However, the view from victims relatives this side of the Atlantic seems more mixed…
Dr Jim Swire, who lost his 23-year-old daughter Flora, said it would be to Scotland‘s credit if the Libyan was released. “I am someone who does not believe he is guilty,” he said. “The sooner he is back with his family the better.
“On reasonable human grounds it is the right thing to do and if it’s true that he is to be returned on compassionate grounds then that would be more to Scotland’s credit than returning him under the prisoner transfer agreement.
“It would mean that he can go to his family who he adores and live the last of his days on this planet with them.”
Martin Cadman, who lost his son Bill, aged 32, in the disaster, agreed.
“I hope it is true as it’s something we’ve been wanting for a long time,” he said.
“I think he is innocent and even if he were not innocent I still think it’s certainly the right thing to do on compassionate grounds.”
The issue that I still find myself chewing on is this one- JUSTICE.
What is it, who delivers it, and in cases like this, is it ever entirely credible?
In the UK, we have been seeking after a fair judicial system for a long time. Scotland has perhaps the oldest and most developed system of justice in the western world. It is founded on the premise that Justice should be administered according to the law- separate from the influence of politicians, victims, or other societal interest groups. We might question whether this is possible, but the principle is one worth defending.
As a Christian, I have been very aware that there are two broad ways to understand what the Bible says about justice. One draws heavily on passages from the Old Testament, with its rigid unyielding laws, policed by the threat of judgment and death on those who offend a vengeful and jealous God. This kind of Justice seems to fit well a certain kind of right wing fundamentalist Christianity that has dominated American Politics.
Then there is the Jesus way. The impractical, impossible, even unjust kind of justice- that is based on compassion and love. The kind of justice that came not to destroy the rule of law, but to fulfill its original purpose- to transcend it and outstrip it with something more beautiful. We Agents of the Kingdom of God should be listening for the grace notes of the Spirit that echo at the edges of justice, because that is way that Jesus showed us.
But then, I hear you say, you can not base a criminal justice system on Matthew chapter 5. Turning the other cheek to terrorists? How ridiculous!
But somewhere, the lines of justice seeking and retribution- for chains of violence and oppression that stretch back for generations- somewhere there must me someone who is prepared to turn again from retribution and seek peace and healing. Otherwise we will all be blind and toothless.
It seems to be a surprise to even himself, but perhaps one of these people is Kenny MacAskill.
Faced with a situation like this you can’t go both ways. He (Kenny MacAskill) made the harder decision, and I hope that even those who disagree with it will admire his courage. The whole area of punishment in human life is fraught with difficulty, which is why I’ve always wanted to listen to something the great poet and philosopher Geothe said: “beware of people in whom the sheer urge to punish is strong”. While we do need to punish there is something else in the human heart that should be as strong and that is mercy.
The discussions linger on- was this man really responsible for the deaths of the hundreds who died when the Pan Am plane crashed in Lockerbie? If so, should he die in prison, or be allowed to return home to say goodbye to his family? These are not easy decisions, particularly when we listen to the voices of people who lost loved ones in the tragedy.
But we are a country who have partnered the USA to wage war in the name of peace in Afghanistan and Iraq. How refreshing to see compassion overcoming the desire for retribution and revenge.
If there is to be a mistake, let us err on the side of Grace…
As part of our worship installation for Greenbelt festival I have been working on a station called ‘history’ which uses tree rings to bring to us a sense of being part of a larger historical context. I mentioned this before- here, and the sense of worshiping God with my hands as I have worked the wood has been deep and powerful.
I obtained a slice of Scots Pine from Benmore Botanical Gardens– it had been cut with a chainsaw as part of the ongoing maintenance programme, and the slice I chose was a rough quarter of a larger tree section. It was heavy, rough and dirty, and was intended to be split for the fireplace.
I then spent many hours planing the surface as smooth as I could, then sanding it with different sandpapers in order to reveal the grain and rings of the wood. Later I oiled the surface with teak oil.
The more I worked, the more beautiful the wood became.
In counting the tree rings, the tree was planted around 1920. At that time, Benmore was owned by the famous music hall star Harry Lauder who planted and landscaped much of the land in the wake of personal tragedy- losing his only son in the first world war, then later his wife.
Walking below big old trees can be a wonderful peaceful experience- the shelter of their branches is almost parental. But they can also bring to us a sense of our own emphemeral mortality…
Following on from my rather negative piece, reflecting on my reaction to Rollins’ book, I have been doing some more thinking about the process of change…
Deconstructing the institution of Church (particularly evangelical church) has been perhaps the primary preoccupation of the debate that has been described as ’emerging church’. For me, this was absolutely necessary- and part of the inevitable process of change. However, it may be necessary, but it can never be sufficient for the formation of a movement- let along a movement of the living, recreating God…
What has been nagging at me (and many others) is this simple question- what next?
This is a theological question- the need to examine again what assumptions and core values drive (or sometimes OBSCURE) the mission of the church.
It is also and organisational question- what is church- what does it look like? How is it resourced/led/networked/held accountable?
It is a personal question– in terms of the call to be transformed by our encounter with Jesus, but it is also a collective question, in the sense that we (the church) are the collective agents of the New Kingdom. We ought then to be the best hope for our communities, our towns, our planet. How will we seek to become this?
McLaren describes institutions (see clip below) as ‘preservers of the advances made by previous generations.’ in seeking to CHALLENGE and deconstruct, we have to accept that we are also PART of this institution- to a lesser or greater degree. There is still so much to celebrate, so much to preserve. For many, the issue is not the need to destroy (although I confess that I have longed for a few well lit fires in my time!) but rather then need to find new EMPHASIS.
Just in case this sounds too tame, too conformist for you- I should make clear that my small ‘church’ community is right outside any formal institution of church- and could be (perhaps is) regarded as dangerous and heretical by some of my more reformed colleagues. However, when we reflect on what we are, and what we do- our preoccupations, our core values, our practices- they are not new.
So what will our (perhaps pivotal) generation pass on to our successors? What values will they need to either protect, or deconstruct and reform?
What is the mission of God for this our time- the personal one, the local one, and the global one? These are the voices I look for now- the Apostolic ones…
I think this was what was behind my disapointment with Rollins’ book. It was clever, well written, well developed, full of lovely little parables, but despite this, did not connect me with a hope for the future- what might be being built, not just broken down.
I watched the following clip this morning- not because McLaren is always right, but I genuinely think that this man has an Apostolic voice. Listen friends, and let hope rise to action!
It has some great stuff in it, but to honest, I have struggled a bit more than I thought I would to get through it. This surprised me, as I devoured his last book- ‘How (not) to speak of God’.
Perhaps I did not give it a fair crack of the whip, as I read it in something of a piecemeal fashion.
But I think too I may have seen a bit too much of his gig. It goes something like this-
The life of faith is a life of contradiction. Therefore all things we think we know about God, when we really stop and think- we do not really know after all.
All the tenets of faith we were given as absolutes are (not) true.
Faith is formed as we learn to become faithful betrayers of our inherited traditions.
Faith is formed as we learn our status as (A)theists.
Now I kind of see where he is going with this, and I think the commentary on faith is important and thought provoking. But I can not help feeling just a little weary with the ‘let’s turn this upside down and then see how it looks from the other side’ kind of style. I find myself kind of seeing it coming, then chuckling to myself when it surely arrives.
But then again, I do think this man is an important contributor to the theological and philosophical debate in our time. Let me quote a passage for you to kind of illustrate my dilemma with this book…
In a chapter called ‘forging faith communities with/out God’ (there he goes again- get it?) he has this to say-
…once this is understood, and people are invited to begin to deconstruct their religious systems, individuals will either be brought to a deeper understanding and appreciation of their faith, or they may find they never really had faith in the first place. In the former case the deconstruction will enable the individual to delve deeper into an appreciation of his or her faith, while in the latter the individual will leave such things behind. Both of these are preferable to either mistaking the true miracle of faith for a system of thought or of using that system as a way of hiding from oneself a lack of faith.
Well I guess… I certainly have found myself to be in the former case most of the time, although I have to acknowledge that some of the time I perhaps slipped towards the latter.
Rollins goes on to give some consideration to the creation of spaces that allow people to explore and deconstruct.
Following on from this there is a need to continue the long Christian tradition of forming spaces in which we collectively invite, affirm and celebrate the miracle that lies behind the miraculous, beyond magic, beyond the sacred, and beyond the secular. We need to continue forming places that can render these ideas accessible at an immediate level- a level that does not depend on the contingencies of one’s education or the ability to think in abstract ways (this from Rollins?!)
The question here is not “how do we make these ideas intelligible”, for the miracle itself can be rendered intelligible only as unintelligible. What this means is that the miracle of faith is a happening, an event, that defines reduction to the realm of rational dissection…
…In contrast to forming space that will make sense only to people who are highly educated, we must endeavour to form spaces that make sense to NOBODY, regardless of the level of education- spaces that rupture everyone and cause us all to rethink
Again- I get it. Faith discovered/encountered/inspired/agitated through performance art. Or as Rollins calls it- Transformance art.
And then I think of my own community, and our experiments with worship curation. The process that Rollins describes seems so far beyond us. It is too hip, too serious, too absorbed in it’s own rhythm somehow… and I find myself slightly and surprisingly alienated.
And I find myself longing for something much simpler- where deconstruction is not the only language we use, but we also construct things that are small, but beautiful.
But I still think we need Rollins- and I am looking forward to what Ikon have to offer at Greenbelt festival this year…
Our family have very mixed feelings. Michaela does not particularly enjoy crowds, or festival camping. Emily is just dying to get there, and me, I feel both a tingle of anticipation and a pang of dread. (William is not going this year- he was too young last year, and decided that he would rather spend the weekend with his best friend, up here in Dunoon.)
My own slight ambivalence is related to a few things…
There are so many things/people that I am looking forward to seeing/hearing. But I know that I will miss many because I will be busy, and there will also be the dreaded anticlimax in the light of the day…
Aoradh are putting together a worship installation, around the theme of TIME- geological time, historical time, lifetime, NOW then future. A few of my best friends are traveling down to the festival together to put together the installation, and this makes me very happy. (If you are at GB- this will be in the New Forms Cafe, Saturday @ 1.00. Come and say hello!)
We tried out some of the ideas a couple of weeks ago- it was lovely…
I know from experience that doing things like this is a mixture of great fun, along with quite a lot of tension and stress. The POINT of doing it is to make a creative worship offering, in which people can engage in a journey of their own with God.
But there is also another driver- and to be honest, I think this might be a more important one as far as I am concerned. The creation of such spaces involves lots of planning and discussion and sharing within our small community. It is at this point that the life of the Spirit is visible within us. The event itself- with it’s pressure and it moments of triumph- these are a celebration of community, but not the point of it. The point of it is that we should learn to live lives of live and service, and that we should be open and real with one another.
And that is not always an easy thing to do.
Creativity can put more pressure on this too, as ego’s are involved even more fully- ‘my own little slice of expansion’ becomes very precious!
Going to Greenbelt is no small undertaking and there is a real question as to whether it is worth the time, expense and energy- as it is so far from the town and context within which we live and work here in Dunoon. However, I hope that it will offer adventure- a road trip- to those of us that go, and a chance to connect with others doing similar things- exchanging ideas and building supportive contacts.
But it will not be plain sailing- these things never are. Grace and peace be with us, Lord knows we always need it…