Tuesday, 1 September 2015


There’s so much to Greenbelt, and yet it is over in the blink of an eye.  If you have never been, it is a Christian Arts festival, ‘where arts, faith and justice collide’.  It is a mixture of beauty and mud, of transcendence and joy rooted in the real world, and this year it was better than ever.  Last year was patchy with teething problems as the festival settled into its new home in the grounds of Boughton House.  This year it has found its way again.  It may seem strange to celebrate radical equality, freedom, justice and faith in the grounds of a top nob’s country house, but it works because the setting is so peaceful.  Towering trees are reflected in deep pools and green lawns stretch out to merge into fields and woodlands. A grass labyrinth suggests pathways to mystery and odd geometric hills take us a step beyond the simply rustic.

Photo: Jonathan Davis
Though we did not get perfect weather, this year things seemed to work smoothly.  There wasn’t so far to walk, the canopy-style venues were easy to wander into and the site was a joy to explore.  Some things are still wobbly – the Treehouse and Leaves talking venues were hopelessly small and set too close to the music venues – but the loos were cleaner, the queues were shorter and, most importantly, the content was thought-provoking, moving and full of surprises. I did not miss the old massive and overbearing mainstage.  The new covered central area was at once intimate and intense as it contained and reflected sounds back to the audience who were engaged, involved and delightfully dry.  I could do with more visual arts - the exhibitions in the Shed are always gone before there is a chance to see them - but Greenbelt still offers a rich variety of things to see, hear and do.

I have shaken the stowaway earwigs out of my bags, washed off the mud and tended my bruises (I always fall over at Greenbelt, not through alcohol but because everything is too interesting to bother watching where I’m going).  I am left with memories and a feeling of homesickness.  Greenbelt is the place when I feel I belong, the place where everyone belongs, the place where we have a sense of delighted wonder in the diversity of human beings.  It’s not heaven, but it is special.  At its best, Greenbelt gives us a peek through heaven’s veil.

Two entirely different shows woke new ideas and will stay in my heart.  Peterson Toscano and the Gender Outlaws of the Bible gave new perspectives on old stories.  Reading the bible through someone else’s eyes is startling.  I had never before been invited to consider the story behind the man carrying a pitcher of water, or the eunuchs in the court of Xerxes.  Peterson Toscano is a funny, gracious man who brings a breath of fresh air and fresh truth to all his performances.

But it was the last performance in the Playhouse that took my breath away.  Late on the Monday night, as the  festival wound down, Justin Butcher gave to a small and tired audience a shock of infernal brilliance in The Devil’s Passion, a faithful retelling of biblical story seen through a sharp new angle.  We sat spellbound as the Devil schemed to stop Jesus, fuming at the actions of this dangerous radical who threatens to upset the delicate balance of good and evil.  A captivated audience forgot cold feet and aching backs as we travelled to a terrifying cosmic battlefield.  Energy crackled in every line.  It was a privilege to see such a groundbreaking piece of drama.

I cried as I packed.  Greenbelt is my spiritual home, somewhere I am healed deep in my soul, somewhere I have met true friends.  I am awkward, geeky, socially inept and I cannot sing in tune.  At Greenbelt this just does not matter.  Nowhere else have I felt that I am loved for the person I am, not the person I try to be, and nowhere else have I been so inspired to take that love back out into the world.  It passes by so quickly, but it inspires me for a year.

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