Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Getting Upset About 'Rev'

After yesterday's edition of Rev, there was a flurry of tweets, expressing sadness and disappointment about it. Avoiding spoilers, suffice it to say the episode highlighted many of Adam's weaknesses, both in personal relationships and in misjudging a situation. My question is why did people (especially fans thus far) get so upset?

Rev has acquired quite a following amongst clergy, and I suspect it's because the series breaks out of the mould of depicting the type of vicar character you get in Dad's Army, or played by Derek Nimmo. Adam seems a lot closer to reality and seems to share a lot of the dilemmas modern clergy face. The series is also devastatingly well-observed in its depiction of 'types' one encounters in the ministry. One flaw I am aware of is that all the female clergy have not been very positive examples (but then no-one comes out that well!)

Despite his mistakes, I think a lot of people developed a lot of empathy for Adam, and to some extent placed their hopes in him to convey a more positive and contemporary image of the ministry. This has clearly extended well beyond clergy who share Adam's style or churchmanship. I can only presume, therefore,  that the sadness and disappointment that came through from some on social networks was because people felt let down. Adam had failed them, or maybe the series had betrayed them. The empathy was strong enough for people to feel got at, threatened, or let down because of Adam.

I think we need a bit of a reality check:

  1. Rev is a TV comedy. By its nature, comedy exaggerates and accentuates foibles, flaws and idiosyncrasies of the people it depicts. Miranda isn't a 'real' shopkeeper, many Home Guard were much more conscientious, capable and competent than Dad's Army, and so on. Just because the comic versions mess things up doesn't necessarily mean that 'real' ones do or did. It's comedy and it's fiction, but it draws on reality and stretches and distorts it to bring out the humour.
  2. The show isn't a piece of Church of England PR; it's a TV show on the BBC. We can't expect the BBC to do our publicity for us - if we're worried people might get the 'wrong idea' of clergy from Rev, we need to get on with living out our vocations as well as we can.
  3. A sitcom isn't a theology essay. I've seen people discussing Adam's prayers and the lack of references to God in the ecclesiastical conversations. As I have said, it's a comedy, so why should it be accurate. Of course there is an implied theology in the writing, but to be fair all too many 'real' meetings that I have been to about church policy, strategy and finance have made little or no reference to God, so that seemed quite realistic
  4. The reality for clergy is that we will let people down. We can't do everything, or meet all of the expectations people have of us. Adam does this in what are sometimes spectacular and larger-than-life ways, but the experience is real enough. It's not always easy to watch, but we know the feeling, albeit on a smaller scale (usually).
  5. Having said all of this, I suspect that Rev has made one TV clerge more accessible and easier to relate to than many fictional versions. Part of the reaction last night resulted from the fact that it's closer to reality than many, to the point that emotionally people felt it as real, even if rationally they knew it wasn't.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Women Priests

It was twenty years ago today that the first women were ordained priests - the first service being in Bristol. A few weeks later during 1994, I had the privilege of sharing in that 'first batch' of ordinations both at Southwell Minster and especially at Debbie's in Coventry Diocese. For many of the women in that first cohort it was the end of a long wait. Some had been deacons since 1987, most had been deacons for more than a year (generally male deacons are ordained priest after a year). A significant number had been deaconesses for quite a period before that (deaconess was an authorised and licensed lay ministry for women before ordination was open to them.)

Despite having been a strong proponent of the change (I was a member of the Movement for the Ordination of Women at theological college) the prospect of celebrating it brings mixed feelings. First of all, the logical consequence of women priests was women bishops. We have yet to get there, although the indications from General Synod are that the new fast-tracked legislation should go through to permit women to be ordained and appointed as bishops in the Church of England from sometime in 2015. 

Second, the settlement that came out of the key vote in 1992 left the church with an mess. In order to get the vote through and keep everyone on board, it allowed parishes to refuse to accept the ministry of a woman as their incumbent or to preside at holy communion. In effect that made their ordination as priests a matter of opinion. Yet at the same time the Church of England was saying that they were legally and canonically ordained. We even have the strange scenario of traditionalist bishops licensing women priests to serve in parishes and administer sacraments that they [the bishop] themselves would not receive. The unavoidable conclusion is that institutionally the church failed to make ordained women truly equal to their male counterparts. 

So you can see it's a mess. Whatever side of the debate you sit, I think we can all agree on that, and I'm not sure I feel ready to celebrate when there seems to be so much unfinished business around.

The awkward question now is whether this mess will be further complicated when women become bishops. The wording of motions and legislation is tedious, but if a [woman] Diocesan bishop is not genuinely the bishop of a Diocese, then that immediately undermines her office. However, if some arrangements are not made for those who object, the legislation may fail, and there will certainly be an almighty row. 

I don't have an answer. I'm just not ready for a party.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Coastal

A lot of older people in Morecambe come from Yorkshire. In its heyday, it was the resort of choice for Bradford, and the only direct train service to anywhere other than Lancaster still goes to Leeds. However, I meet a lot of people who have lived in this area all their lives, known round here as sandgrown'uns. [Not sure about spelling and punctuation, but you get the idea.]

What these people don't realise is just how weird it is for a Midlander like me to live here. It's not the people, or the accent, or the dialect; it's the sea. Every time I walk for 5 mins to the end of my road I find a small beach, and everything in me says that's wrong. Allow me to explain.

When you live in the Midlands, the sea is a day trip away. From Nottingham, the coast of choice is usually Lincolnshire - Skegness, Mablethorpe, Sutton-on-Sea, Ingoldmells, etc. It's about 80-90 miles and even with modern road improvements it's a good couple of hours. My family liked trying other options, so long drives to Caister, Bude and even Pembrokeshire filled the late 60s and early 70s for me. Wherever we went, the first glimpse of the sea was a competition in the car, and that was the only sea I usually saw - on a couple of holidays each year.

So each day when I go up to the promenade, even after nearly 5 years here, I'm still excited and surprised to see Morecambe Bay. As sea views go, it's one of the best with its tides, its fantastic sunsets and the views of the Lake District in the distance. Every time I see it, something in me wonders if it will soon be time to 'go home', followed by the very happy thought that home is only a few minutes' walk away.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Clergy, poverty and moral authority

I was initially quite surprised by the tone of a recent article in the Independent. As a newspaper which is politically critical of the government, you'd expect it to be positive about others offering criticism. But no. There is a moderate defence of welfare cuts, coupled with a dismissal of the recent intervention by the Archbishop of Westminster and the recent letter signed by Anglican Bishops, Methodist chairs of district and URC and Quaker leaders recently published in the Daily Mirror.

One of the weaker arguments of the editorial is that the church leaders represent a "tiny fraction of the population", this coming from a paper with a circulation of a little over 70,000, when there are rather more than 1,000,000 attending the Church of England (not to mention our ecumenical allies).

However, this misses the point. The article also implies that the welfare cuts and austerity agenda are moral because they are endorsed by the majority:

"Is the pursuit of policies that are supported by the majority of the electorate of no value, for example? And would it be a more moral course to fail to tackle our dysfunctional welfare system and even more dysfunctional public finances, risking not only the standard of living of all but also the taxes out of which benefits are paid?" full article

Whether the majority of the UK population endorse current austerity policy is an interesting question in itself. Even if they did, this wouldn't automatically mean that such policies were beyond moral questioning. There have been times in our history when the prevailing view needed to be challenged. When those campaigning against the slave trade started, they were a small minority, but that didn't make their moral case invalid. Neither would it address the very real question of whether this government's austerity policy was the best way out of the financial crisis, but that's for another blog post!

I'd like to suggest that many clergy are actually remarkably well placed to comment on the effects of current policy on the poor. Many of us have people knocking on our vicarage doors asking for help with food, energy bills or clothing. It's hard to know what to do, and it leaves us all with a feeling of not doing enough. That's because clergy, unlike many other professionals, live in contact with people in need and live in the middle of the communities they serve. We meet people on the street, outside the school, in the pub and in the paper shop. That doesn't make us special - it just comes with the role. People come to the church with their needs, and we hear a lot about them, simply because we're here. Quite a few church leaders have been vicars and ministers in similar circumstances, and even if they haven't, the ministers they lead have plenty of opportunities to share and to show what is going on in their patch.

Perhaps the most instructive thing about the Independent editorial is that it indicates a shift in credibility and reputation for the Church, and especially for its senior leaders. When the Faith In The City report was published by the Church of England in 1985, it stung the government, and was welcomed well beyond the active membership of the Church. In the period when the Labour party was in turmoil, the Church was seen as providing genuine alternative critique and even opposition to some of the policies having a detrimental impact on the poorest areas of England, and by implication the whole of the UK.

I doubt that could happen now. Perhaps the decrease in church affiliation is part of it, but I suspect it's the public perception of the church's leaders that is a bigger problem. Some the scandals in churches over the neglect of child protection, the public statements on gay issues and equal marriage, and the endless Synod debates over women as bishops haven't commended us to the population as a source of moral leadership worth listening to.

This is a loss, as I think the contents of the church leaders' letter and the capacity of the churches to refer to real hands-on experience in communities across the nation would be well-worth listening to.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sermon on Genesis Chapter 1

Sermon for February 23, 2014 on Genesis 1:1 – 2:3

On December 24 1968, Apollo 8 came round the moon and for the first time, human beings saw the earth rise over a horizon. On that mission they read over the radio from orbit above the moon Genesis chapter 1. We’ve just heard that story of Creation from Genesis Chapter 1. What did you think when your heard it? Was it as you picture how it must have happened, or is it so far removed from what you understand that it’s completely irrelevant?

Science tells us that the universe is about 13.2 thousand million years old, and the earth is about 4.5 thousand million years old. This is based on many different scientific observations and calculations, and on the assumption that the scientific processes that enable our complex world to function are consistent. The same scientific laws that mean the lights come on, and I weigh 11 stone 6 have applied and worked throughout the life of the universe and give us that evidence. 

On the other hand, if we go with the Bible’s timescale, it’s all much more recent than that. Bishop Ussher of Armagh once calculated from the Bible that the world began in 4004 BC. Some have calculated it as a bit further back than that, but the point remains that a literal reading of the Bible means the world could only be a few thousand years old at most.

How widely is the Bible’s timescale believed? In 2012 a Gallup poll recorded that 46% of Americans believed that God created humans in their present form sometime in the last 10,000 years. Many also believe the earth to be only a few thousand years old. There are now schools in the UK, where creationism, as it is known, is taught on the curriculum alongside scientific analysis as an equal theory. You can even go to a zoo and animal park in Somerset called Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm, which is run by people who believe that the earth is recently created. It gets 130,000 visitors a year.

Meanwhile, there is an increasingly vocal humanist and atheist voice in the media who not only accept the scientific data, but see the discoveries and insights of science as final proof that religion is nonsense. Richard Dawkins, the author of The God Delusion won’t even bother debating with people who take Genesis literally.

"Just as I wouldn't expect a gynaecologist to have a debate with somebody who believes in the Stork-theory of reproduction, I won't do debates with Young Earth creationists," he said.

So where does that leave us? Does thinking about these things worry or disturb us? Perhaps we would prefer not to think about it, in case it unsettles the faith we have. The problem is that both extremes – the atheists and the creationists end up arguing with each other as if their views are the only two you can hold. And we end up squeezed between people who are downright hostile to our faith, and people whose beliefs defy all the scientific evidence, but say we should believe them to be proper Christians.

None of this is new, of course. Once scientists started making discoveries that challenged the Bible’s account of things the debate started, and we see it most sharply with Charles Darwin and his theory of natural selection, or evolution as we usually refer to it. As Christians, we know that without the Bible, our faith makes no sense. It gives us the big story that helps us understand why we are here. Are the only choices to discard the Bible because of science or to discard science by putting blind faith in the Bible? Do you have to be an atheist to be a good scientist?

Speaking as someone with a degree in chemistry, I want to say an emphatic 'no'! Many eminent scientists in a range of expertise have a deeply held Christian faith. The two don't have to be seen as contradicting each other.

So here’s 3 starting points to answer the atheists on one side and the fundamentalists on the other about Genesis 1.

1. Genesis 1 wasn’t written as a scientific text book.

Scientific thinking and method as we know it didn’t exist until fairly recently. At the time Genesis was written, possibly up to 3000 years ago, people understood the world very differently. The world was in a dome, with water above that sometime came through as rain, or rose as floods. So Genesis wasn’t written to answer modern science’s questions. That means that if we go to the Bible looking for things it never set out to tell us, we get funny answers.

Genesis 1 addresses questions about God and about the world, and about human beings and their place within it. It isn’t about the modern disciplines of physics, chemistry or astronomy - it never intended to be. People who know about these things say it’s written in the form of a poem. It’s painting a picture, not recording a documentary.

The Great War - World War 1 - is in the news a lot at the moment. If you want history, you read history books about the war (and some are busy re-writing those at the moment). But if you want to know what it felt like, or the how it impacted the big questions of belief or faith, you need to read Wilfred Owen or the other war poets. Don't read poetry for science, or science for poetry.

2. Genesis 1 is about God.

Other cultures at the time had stories that look like Genesis. There are other creation and flood stories - one was in the news recently, describing the ark like a huge coracle. But the other cultures had gods who got in a mess, who didn’t always have control. Some of them essentially lived inside creation, and struggled within it. But Genesis 1 speaks of a God who is involved in the universe but beyond it. Look at the text: "In the beginning, God… God said…, God said..., God made... etc. 

The God described here isn’t tangled up and held captive by the chaos, He turns it into created order. This is about one God, a supreme God, and a creative God who shares his creativity with creatures he can have a relationship with. This is new stuff in the ancient world, but the author of Genesis tells about the God of Israel in a form familiar to the people of his day.

3. Genesis 1 is about us.

This passage contains one of the most dangerous ideas for the Western world. It could bring down capitalism, and revolutionise the way the world works. Know what it is? It is that we are stewards, not owners. God is generous here – he gives food, skills and abilities, the beauty of the earth and its wonder, the amazing possibilities of being human. But when he places human beings in dominion over creation it’s not “here’s the keys, do what you like”. This earth is somebody else’s property, and the people are accountable.

Our world works on a different basis. Economies are based on people earning, buying, owning and consuming. It relies on people acting as if the only criterion is whether they can afford it, or at least can they find the money from somewhere. But stewardship asks different questions. How would I explain my decisions to spend? Would I share? Do I understand the earth’s resources as on trust? Do I see myself as accountable to God? That’s called stewardship. Ironically the Greek word for stewardship is 'oikonomia' – the word we get economics from. 

If we get obsessed with proving things literally in Genesis that defy science and logic, it’s a dead end. Worse, if we get bogged down in that, we forget what it is really trying to say to us.

In Genesis 1 the writer is saying that we need to understand our God, our place in the world, in the order of things, and the wonderful privilege and responsibilities of living within that world. If we could only appreciate that more, perhaps the world would be a safer, more just and more equal place for all to enjoy.


Wednesday, February 05, 2014

World War 1 anniversaries

There have been some interesting things around about the Great War, or WW1. The first two programmes by Jeremy Paxman have been interesting in documenting in greater detail the social impact of the war, and the changes it brought, as well as documenting the horror of the front line. There are also some debates around about just how badly the war was conducted. 

Lions led by donkeys is the phrase often used to describe the leaders of the war. Dan Snow has attempted a defence of those who led the British army during the conflict, and so has Michael Gove (not a great ally there, Dan). Others have documented the terrible losses and their impact, including the excellent set of programmes Not Forgotten by Ian Hislop on Channel 4. We can't reduce the war to simple stereotypes for anyone involved, but the overwhelming sense I always have looking at any of the material is one of tragedy.

This year we are going to be faced with some difficult choices about the tone of how the war is remembered and marked. It seems clear to me that anything hinting at a celebration would be deeply distasteful, including when we get to 11/11/2018. Millions of lives were lost in a war that exhausted the resources of all the great nations of Europe, and can only be looked back on with sorrow and sadness. 

Commemoration is very appropriate, or we never learn the lessons of history. Just don't ask me to celebrate anything.

Friday, December 20, 2013

What became of compassion?

This ought to start with a political disclaimer. All my political inclinations are to the left of centre, so I start with a bias. I consistently (and to no avail) voted against Mrs Thatcher through the 80s, and have never voted Conservative in a general election.

Having said that, I have met and know people who are generous, good-spirited, charitable and hospitable people who support all the mainstream political parties. Just because someone holds a particular political viewpoint doesn't automatically make them a nice or nasty person.

But Wednesday's debate in the Commons on foodbanks left me feeling very angry. Several agencies reported that Ian Duncan-Smith quietly left the debate early, the Daily Mirror even posting the footage on its website. What was even more depressing was to read of MPs on the government side laughing and jeering as opposition MPs described situations that their constituents had been through. It's one thing to have a good old political jousting match about policy and even whose fault the recession actually is, but it's quite another to treat real people's distress and pain with derision. What does it say about our politics that such serious issues end up being treated this way? What has it done to people to make them behave in that way?

And that's not all. Esther McVey (IDS's deputy) claimed "The UK has a population of 63 million and 60,000 people are visiting food banks according to the Trussell Trust." (Hansard) The Trussell Trust reported a figure of 346,992 as being helped by foodbanks for their reporting period 2012/13 and that it was rising. Oxfam and Church Action on Poverty estimate the current figure to be over 500,000. None of that takes into account the additional help being given out at community centres, homelessness projects, churches etc. In Morecambe we have a Trussell trust foodbank, but several other centres (including West End Impact, Morecambe Homeless Action, and the Salvation Army) are giving assistance through the week as well.

Surely it's not too much to ask for a minister to get her facts right about the need and usage in a debate that has had some build-up and preparation? Her best defence was that foodbanks started under the last Labour administration. That's true, but it hardly addresses the issue in the present. The recent massive growth in demand should be a major concern for anyone with her portfolio.

"Hardworking families" is the catchphrase of this government - just listen to the next TV/radio interview. They get it into debates on benefits, immigration, tax and anything else they possibly can. What this misses is that many visiting foodbanks are in work - they just can't make ends meet, and those out of work are often struggling to find jobs. You can't just make the simplistic assumption that a job is the solution..

The final issue is that I sense a rise in the view of the 'deserving' and 'undeserving' poor. There is a view around that people use foodbanks and other support to 'subsidise' addictions to drugs or alcohol or to enable them to maintain 'luxuries' like a mobile phone. I am sure that may be true in a small minority of cases. But even if were justifiable to talk about deserving poor, how would a voluntary agency staffed mainly by volunteers start to make that assessment. Doing so would also fundamentally change the nature of the relationship between the agency and the client to one of suspicion and investigation, rather than support and reassurance.

Let's imagine for a minute a very successful young business man. He has a big salary, a top car to keep up with his mates, a maxed-out credit card to keep up with the fashions and trends and a lovely house, using a mortgage at the very limits of what he can afford. One day it all goes wrong, the job ends, the car is repossessed, the house is sold etc. If he turns up at a foodbank, it would be very easy to say that he doesn't deserve the help. After all, he should have been more prudent, saved for a rainy day, been less materialistic, etc. We can think of all kinds of criticisms to offer - no doubt in addition to the ones that he is already heaping upon himself.

But rest assured that if he does turn up, a good support agency won't judge, won't condemn and the humiliation he has already had to accept won't be rubbed in his face. He should find a welcome, some food to get by, hopefully some advice on what he is entitled to and maybe an offer of help on budgeting and also support in trying to find a job.

In other words, he'll find some people with compassion. That's a quality our world is desperately short of, and one which shames those who laughed and jeered at tales of pain and need.


Saturday, December 14, 2013

How Much Do Things Actually Cost?

It's a bit complicated.

You see, I went to the garage to fill up our little car. Sainsbury's for unleaded are charging £1.27.9 a litre, so it should be easy to know what it costs. I filled up and it came to 33.02 litres, so using my 10p a litre voucher from a £60 supermarket shop earlier in the week, I got £3.30 off. That gets us to £42.23 - £3.30 = £38.93.

Ah, but there are Nectar points earned on the petrol - 33 of them. If I save them and use them, they're effectively worth 0.5p each and I got a double Nectar points due to a special coupon from my last purchase in the supermarket. So I now have a potential 33p to spend in the future. Get excited!

But that's still not it, because I paid on my Nationwide credit card, which gives me 0.5% cash back on purchases each month, redeemable at the end of the year. So that's, er, about 19.5 pence.

So if I claim my Nectar points and allow for what gets docked off my december credit card bill, my petrol actually cost £38.93 - £0.33 - £0.19½. I make that £38.40½.

That's great, but am I the only one thinking it could be simpler?


Monday, September 16, 2013

Is Everything a Western now?

Catching up with TV the other day, we watched the first episode of the new series, Peaky Blinders. I have to say at the start that I enjoyed it, and it looks like a bit of escapism, complete with anachronistic music and one or two suspect Brummie accents (although not being a native I may be wrong).

What did strike me after a few minutes was that I was basically watching a Western. Not the ones which are about fighting Native Americans, but the version where there's a bad bunch terrorising the town, and a new marshall/sheriff (never did work out the respective role descriptions) comes into town and fights to create law and order, sometimes at the request of the governor or some other higher authority.

In Peaky Blinders, we're not in the Wild West, but industrial Birmingham. Most of the men are veterans of the great war and nearly all men seem to have, not surprisingly, undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder. Worryingly, many of them appear to be armed.

Just like the West, there are gangs and families who operate outside the law with a blind eye being turned to their activities. In place of the saloon, there's a pub. And every Western has a barmaid, and she soon arrives. The gang is, on the face of it, run by a patriarch, but a son is working on taking power and a matriarch doesn't trust him.

In place of the settlement with wooden buildings in the middle of a dusty nowhere, one of the main streets goes through a stylised industrial site, complete with coal, ash, and lots of flames so you know we're in industrial England. In place of stealing weapons from a wagon or railroad, they've been nicked from BSA, and the preferred mode of escaping trouble is by canal. 

But make those substitutions, and we might as well be in the wild west. The Western's moralistic marshal is replaced by a police chief imported from Ulster, who has terrifying religious zeal in his pursuit of righteousness, and he's sent, not by a state governor, but a young(er) Winston Churchill, who fears Irish Republicans and Communists in equal measure.

There'll be no shoot-out by some rocks and a couple of cacti, but otherwise it's all there. You can do the same sort of analysis with Ripper Street - that series even includes the classic 'house of ill repute' run by a powerful woman and includes an American doctor of dubious moral character. Ideal Wild West material in the middle of Whitechapel.

Not sure why TV has taken this turn, but both series give us a stylised look at life in periods of British history which often only get portrayed in aristocratic circles and big country houses. Personally I enjoy them both.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Greenbelt 2013

Greenbelt reached it 40th edition this year. If you're not familiar with Greenbelt, it's an arts festival at Cheltenham race course, with a Christian background, but by no means limited to Christian input. Music, drama, literature, and talks addressing matters of faith and justice all feature, along with a good dose of silliness and fun. There are always several venues functioning, so there is plenty of choice as to how to spend the time. There are also plenty of stalls, (organic/fair trade/responsibly sourced) catering vans and displays to browse if you want to take a bit of time out. So what were my picks for 2013?

Jazz Church
Andy Flannagan and friends
There is usually some opening worship so we went along to Jazz Church in the Big Top. Some classic hymns to new arrangements mixed with a jazz take on more contemporary ones, including "Heaven" by Gungor. Not something you could sustain very often, but a great idea and a fresh take on some familiar tunes. I also got along to Ben Cantelon on Sunday doing set of contemporary worship songs in a (dare I say) more conventional way. Andy Flannagan closed things off on Monday with an interesting mix of him, a DJ and a man on a trombone. Somehow it worked.

Other options over the weekend, apart from the main worship on Sunday morning included eucharists from Blessed, an alt-worship sacramental community, another used music from Les Miserables, there was a U2charist and a goth mass. You could get close to nature with Forest Church, of you prefer it quiet, Quakers and Franciscans offer alternatives!

The range of music on offer is always a highlight for me. You can usually find a good selection of singer-songwriters around the place at the Performance Cafe (this year changed to a venue not a cafe!), the CD tent, the Christian Aid tent and the Shed - the youth venue. Martyn Joseph is usually on the list and he also hosts a session (The Rising) with musicians each day to talk about their work and share songs. We caught him talking to old-timer Garth Hewitt and two newer artists, Carrie Rodriguez and Blair Dunlop. The latter 2 were so good we spent 2 hours sitting on the floor of the Performance cafe for their afternoon sets. Blair Dunlop is a great guitarist and writes interesting songs; Carrie Rodriguez is more country influenced but avoids the country cliches. Ably assisted by Luke Jacobs on guitar and sometimes singing and playing the violin at the same time, she had real quality. Also caught Stylusboy from Coventry and Andy Howie from Scotland, but missed plenty more.

The Boxettes at The Performance Cafe
The word 'box' seemed to dominate music on Saturday. Boxes is a solo project by Carey Willetts of the band Athlete (who headlined our first Greenbelt in 2009). Playing solo with a variety of backing effects he did a good set. Later The Boxettes appeared. 4 singers and world champion beat boxer Bellatrix with no instrumentation or backing track, they delivered a great energetic set. More followed at the Performance Cafe, including an improvisation using three words from the audience. They're still unsigned and have far more talent than most 'girl groups', so somebody get them a contract! Also caught Black Rebel Motorcycle Club for some serious rock.

Panel discussion featuring Jim Wallis
and Richard Coles
The talks programme is always interesting, usually challenging, often inspiring and rarely without something controversial in there somewhere. Caught a nice little session with Martyn Joseph speaking about songwriting. Graham Cray spoke about what kind of church seems to be emerging for the future. Maybe I've been to too many sessions and read too many books on this, but I didn't find this very inspiring. However, Jim Wallis gave a very challenging, inspiring and yet very accessible address on 10 personal decisions you can make for the common good. I missed most of Steve Chalke, but I gather he was very good, but I did catch Rachel Mann on being a trans lesbian priest in the church today. that's not a talk I'd heard before, and it had a lot of insights.

Comedy from Paul Kerensa
The Christian Aid tent had a comprehensive programme. regular live music from Harry Bird and the Rubber Wellies, Paul Field and others. Interviews and panel discussions took place throughout and we also got some poetry from Harry Baker and comedy from Paul Kerensa, who writes for Miranda and other radio and TV shows. Meanwhile the cafe team made it a place to take a break and get some refreshment.

What else? Well there's always something going on. Giant puppets, a stage where anyone can have a go at a song, art installations, book launches, a beer tent (The Jesus Arms) and bumping into people you haven't seen for years.

This year there was little rain, no mud, and a new layout to avoid the quagmire of 2012. They did well, given the constraints, and we're sure to be back in future years.