05 September 2005

Greenbelt Post-Mortem

So... just to return one more time to the subject of Greenbelt. The blog entries at surefish cover most of what I actually did, and much of what I thought: what they don't say is that I spent the whole time stressed out and knackered, having taken on way too much this year.

My talk itself wasn't too bad in terms of stress -- it was written and polished by the time I arrived, and really it only necessitating taking an hour out that morning to practise, and caffeining and sugaring myself up immediately beforehand (and really, coffee and donuts aren't a very grave hardship). Certainly the buzz which came from realising I'd delivered it well, and kept the audience entertained and interested for an hour, more than made up for the work I put in.

The panel discussion was even less hassle, although I didn't feel it was terribly successful. (No reflection on my fellow panellists, Annie and Conrad, nor indeed to host Nick: there were half a dozen blogging-related events at this year's festival, and I don't think there was a great deal of interest or energy left to spare for ours. Nick's comment that "I think we just about got away" with it pretty much sums it up.)

The journalism, however, was exhausting. It wasn't just the couple of hours each day it took away from my time at the festival (that being about how long it took me to compose 600 well-crafted words in the inevitable non-optimum conditions), it was the way I felt obliged to do stuff all the time rather than relaxing, just so that I'd have something to blog about -- and, when I was doing said stuff, to take notes about the stuff I was doing rather than just enjoying it.

Apologies to anyone reading this who enjoyed the blogs, but I don't think I'll be doing that again. Greenbelt is pretty much the only opportunity I get to relax and be calm in spiritually nourishing surroundings, and sadly I had precious little of that this year.

Another thing I didn't mention (and it it turns out I could have done, as surefish themselves have a fairly ambivalent review of the event here) were my reservations about the Sunday morning communion. While I do find the diversity (and the sheer number) of those present thoroughly inspiring, one result of it is that the service is always very awkwardly pitched, aiming to appeal to adults of a wide variety of worship backgrounds as well as children and teenagers (an important consideration, since the service generally lasts an hour and a half at least).

This year in particular, the worship group running the thing seemed to be hopelessly out of their depth, inviting the congregation to join them in responses which many present found deeply bizarre. (Much of this was sexual politics, which I'm aware Greenbelt is more keen on than most christian congregations... but still, you don't need to have a particularly dirty mind to be disturbed by someone asking all the children present to shout "Taste our fruits".)

Moreover, their centrepiece, a story written as a myth / parable around this year's festival theme of "Tree of Life", was awful. Badly-written, confusing drivel where overblown metaphors contended in a Darwinian battle for dominance, and -- quite absurdly, given the fantastical nature of the framing narrative -- a ploddingly literal version of Jesus's institution of the tradition of the Holy Communion had been bolted on as crassly as if Tolkien had decided to sample the crucifixion accounts in The Lord of the Rings. I'm no liturgist, but I've written fantasy, and I'm certain I could have come up with something considerably better.

The service also commenced with an unusually beautiful poem by Stewart Henderson, which was thoroughly ruined by being read in the style of an illiterate rap-artist. Argh. As I say, I was in a critical rather than a spiritual state of mind at the time, but even so, I do hope Greenbelt don't use Revive again.

Still, the service as a whole did what it was supposed to do, and I did enjoy the hymns. The fact that I have some negative opinions (that Paul Cornell's unique position in relation to the new series of Doctor Who was under-used in his session, for instance, much of which could have been delivered by any clued-up fan) doesn't mean that the positive stuff wasn't true as well (and Cornell's session was certainly highly entertaining). Despite not being able to relax, I did enjoy the whole experience -- except during the actual writing of the blogs, when I was just frustrated not to be elsewhere doing something else.

My highlights: Karen Armstrong, an intelligent and lucid speaker; Cole Morton and Gareth Higgins on separating faith and church by erasing the secular / spiritual divide; The Proclaimers; the visual art, oustanding, as ever; the beer and food, which really were heavenly. And, obviously, the intangible atmosphere of the whole place.

And next year I'll get time to appreciate it all properly, so hurrah.

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