At this time of year a lot of Evangelicals and post-Evangelicals and pseudo-spiritual Jesusy types (and all and none of the above) head to a big festival in Cheltenham called Greenbelt. It usually has an audience of around 20,000 – pretty impressive. They say: “Our mission is to create spaces, like festivals, where art, faith and justice collide.” It’s a combination of food, drink, Christian teaching, discussion, drama, art, music, dance and poetry. Lots of pretty big-name bands have made an appearance over the years – usually the kinds of artists who lay claim to spirituality in some way – like Billy Bragg, U2, Moby, Sixpence None the Richer, Asian Dub Foundation, Ron Sexsmith, Bruce Cockburn and The Proclaimers. I’ve never been, as it’s my idea of hell. The husband-unit went last year and had a jolly old time drinking ale in the Arms of Jesus (really – that’s the name of one of the beer tents), but he admits himself the best bit was just being with his companions. I stayed at home, drank cheap wine, watched terrible films and generally enjoyed myself immensely, mud and noise-free.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I think Greenbelt is a great idea. It’s just not, in many, many ways, my cup of tea. I love all of the things it comprises – Christians, non-Christians, food, drink, Christian teaching, discussion, drama, art, music, dance and poetry. I just don’t like them all together in a big crowd. And I really don’t enjoy the vibe of tortured post-Evangelical that follows it around. The culture appears to have an air of “here is finally somewhere where those of us who don’t fit in to “traditional” churches can finally fit in!” Maybe that is unfair. Speaking as a perpetually disillusioned soul who has genuinely failed to fit in anywhere, I feel okay with making this comment.
In some ways it is unclear what kind of a Christian I really am. I like a bit of worship from all the traditions, really. Thankfully, as Christianity is not a product that I consume, I neither have to select and deselect the bits I do and don’t enjoy, nor do I have to craft and create the kind of community that I would find ideal and that would carefully shave off the bits of doctrine or culture with which I am uncomfortable, leaving space only for those just like me. Because that would be shite, and it would have nothing to do with the Gospel, in which I still passionately believe.
People on Twitter go crazy retweeting quotes from popular speakers at Greenbelt. These quotes are invariably pseudo-spiritual sound-bites from post-Evangelical teachers. Sorry, but it’s true. I’d give a dozen specific examples, except I don’t want to get into a war with other Christians (sadly we’re known for our notorious war-mongering and mud-slinging). These quotes more often than not make me puke with annoyance at the total lack of depth and genuine meaning. And I shudder at the term “post-Evangelical”. Why a movement would define itself in terms of what it is not breaks my brain. Reactionary beliefs are empty beliefs – that goes for both the spiritual and the unspiritual. This is coming from someone who has actually rejected the label Evangelical for myself, but gladly acknowledges its value and history and its importance to the whole Body. I think Christian Orthodox is about the only label that works for me, although lots of people of the same genre would class me as a liberal (…you just can’t win).
Anyway, what’s the point here? you ask. The point that I am slowly making is that the point of life is not to find a community into which we can fit comfortably, at least not for the person looking to follow after Jesus. Nor is it to become so open-minded that there’s no space left in the brain for actual learning and actual conclusions. Nor is it to keep hunting for that elusive thing that will finally make us feel okay or belonging or whole – people, we were not made for this world! We were told that from the beginning. If this world fails to satisfy our deepest hungers, why would that be surprising?
Forgive me if this all sounds a bit nihilistic – that’s not my intention (although Ecclesiastes has been known to have a Nietzsche-ian bent) . It’s more of a first principles issue. What do we believe, and why…and are our reasons why – good enough? And how is it lived out? Therefore, if one finds oneself mysteriously drawn and compelled by such post-Evangelical suggestions as “it’s time to start thinking with your soul,” one might pause for a moment before retweeting to acknowledge that your soul, whatever that might be, does not have a brain, and therefore simply cannot think. One’s soul certainly needs attention, but allowing it to think simply means nothing. I’m fully in favour of a holistic approach to loving Jesus, but a holistic approach means not only looking to new and progressive ways of expression, but also engaging, perhaps for the very first time in our generation, with the saints that have actually done it right in the past. Namely, not us. Sometimes when Christians of all their kinds get together, if the focus shifts away from the Triune God and the saints who have loved Him, and back to us, it all just sounds like mutual ignorance. Remember, being “true to ourselves” is a hell of a lot more Oprah Winfrey and Elizaeth Gilbert than it is Jesus Christ.
But that’s probably just me.