Charismatic conservative evangelical Tony Cummings reviews the 39th GREENBELT arts festival

Continued from page 2

The Canopy venue was conceived as a venue, unlike The Underground, that could draw in listeners casually passing. It certainly works with Listener and the crowd builds to catch this thrilling collective from Fayetteville, Arkansas. They play "talk music" which is neither screamed or just spoken. Bits of metal, country, grunge and folk blur in a vortex of sound over which MC Dan Smith holds forth. As their biog says, "The lyrics are more like ranting poetry."

As any Cross Rhythms reviewer will tell you, worship music of any type is difficult to review - there being the potential of a "spiritual" dynamic within worship music, even sung and played badly. And such a situation is exacerbated when endeavouring to review a worship event so that in past years when Cross Rhythms sent six or seven volunteer reviewers to Greenbelt to cover as many music performances as they could, they tended to keep away from the "new expressions of worship" events, save for the truly wonderful Aradhna. With friend Paul I am walking towards the InSense venue to attend the Molten Meditation & Soul Circus presentation Sacramental Charismania. "Charismatic" is a word seldom if ever appearing in a Greenbelt programme so, as a believer who was filled with the Holy Spirit shortly after my conversion in 1980 and who continues to be a happy (and occasionally clappy) member of a charismatic church, I trudge on. After my traumatic experiences in tents, my mood changes to actual enthusiasm as I see that this will be my first (and for Greenbelt '12 my only) musical performance to be played in a building. The rain can't get me here!

(Jonathon Watkins / Greenbelt Festival)
(Jonathon Watkins / Greenbelt Festival)

What a strange mish mash is Molten Meditation & Soul Circus' Sacramental Charismania. One part testimony confessional where a post evangelical churchgoer offers a dialogue interspersed with occasional questions from a ghostly (godly?) female head-and-shoulders talking to the dejected looking chap via TV screens dotted around the InSense venue; one part alt worship service where Tomlin and Redman songs are given a rather limp pop techno makeover interspersed with clips from grinning TV presenter Brian Cox; and one part expose of what some post evangelical film clip editors consider to be charismania. This turns out to be a random selection of all the excesses - ranting Todd Bentley; Nine O Clock Service's Chris Brain; white-suited Benny Hinn and numerous shots of people falling down and occasionally writhing, interspersed with clips of the Blues Brothers' notorious movie spoof on Black Pentecostalism and the admittedly funny South Park cartoon potshot at OTT religion. In all this blur of clips the activity of the Holy Spirit and the operation of biblical gifts is never explained or portrayed nor is it pointed out that Chris Brain's theology didn't emanate from American Pentecostalism and is as post modern as it is possible to get. The most indelible clip of all though isn't people falling in the Spirit but a pompous American conservative evangelical denouncing charismatics as the greatest danger in today's Christian Church. It's richly ironic that the very same minister could as easily deliver a similar attack on some brands of emerging church/post evangelical theological mushiness. Like most Bible-believing charismatics I am grieved by the OTT theatrics of TV ministries who sometimes turn something holy and mysterious and supernatural into surreal religious entertainment. But I am also grieved by the smug name-calling of some conservative evangelicals and some post evangelical leaders. But worst of all is that this confused and confusing jumble of clips makes absolutely no attempt to differentiate between charismania and charismatic. There are a couple of clips of OTT Pentecostalists pushing over congregation members but there are others of people simply falling down in the power of the Holy Spirit. There are, tragically, dishonest manipulative practices in some outposts of the charismatic Church. But the same can be said for Catholicism. Or the emerging churches. To portray charismatics with film fragments showing a huckster preacher using spurious words of knowledge from the Hollywood film Leap Of Faith starring Steve Martin isn't comment, isn't truth, it's propaganda. Scarily, Charismania Sacramentalism's cobbled together clips get dangerously close to the kind of fact-and-fiction blur the Nazis once used in their film efforts to turn a nation against the Jews.

I'm still digesting Charismania Sacramentalism's video farrago when we finally get to the "sacramental" part of the presentation. It turns out to be the organisers passing out bits of string and suggesting we tie them onto the wrist of someone standing or sitting close to us and saying or praying a blessing over them. A punk poet I know shares a fragment of testimony and a prayer with me while tying on the string. I do the same to him. Both of us, charismatics that we are, feel a surge of Holy Spirit joy. Suddenly stewards are ushering everyone out the door. It seems the rain storms have even affected the race course buildings. Falling ceiling tiles are causing a Health & Safety danger. Ho hum.

MONDAY, 27th August
I lie in my tent facing a conundrum. I need to go to the toilet. Yet my mud saturated trainers are all but incapable of taking me to the nearest portaloo without danger of me slipping into the slough of despond.

I eat my way-too-expensive cheese canapé sitting on the stalls bench and discuss HP Lovecraft, literary criticism, opinions (they're like backsides - everybody has one), post modernism and more with an English teacher/poet and a steward. We are joined by Ned, an Anglican youth worker in a poncho who turns out to be a charismatic evangelical. So there are some here! Ned tells me that each year he goes to Soul Survivor for the worship, Keswick for the Bible teaching and Greenbelt as a mission field. "It's easy to engage people in conversations about God," Ned tells me, then goes on to sound off about yesterday's Communion Service. He had understandably been bemused by the preacher referring to Jesus as being "made by the elements" rather than Jesus making the elements.

In the queue waiting for the Press Office to open a lady Methodist vicar tells me that the appalling weather will hopefully draw the Church's attention to the Global Warming issue. She could well have a point.

George Luke tells me that Simon Parke has just given "a very good seminar on solitude." "Was anybody there?" I quip.

Tony Cummings and Steve Taylor
Tony Cummings and Steve Taylor

A golden Greenbelt moment. As I stand and watch from the Grandstand balcony 60 or so couples show scant regard for the drizzle, jiving and jitterbugging as the Swing Dance Class is conducted from The Canopy. Young and old, mackintoshed and t-shirted, they happily dance.

Gentry Morris is a charming young man from the US now living in Belfast. It's a shame that I won't be able to catch the singer/songwriter's set at the Performance Café tonight. "Awake Oh Sleeper" is one of my favourite songs in the iPod always running in my head. Anyway, he gives a good interview.

After their Greenbelt appearance last year Cross Rhythms were predicting Folk On, those zany practitioners of folk comedy, were "becoming a Festival institution." Now they have. Thousands of people, teens, children, mums, dads and stewards are milking imaginary cows, chortling over the latest songs on Folk On's new album 'Men Of Folk' and genuinely having the time of their lives, casting aside all irrelevancies like bad weather and immanent departures. Folk On are the big hit of Greenbelt '12. After their uproarious set on Mainstage the G-Music manager tellis me the flat-capped threesome are the biggest selling CD act G-Music has seen for years. The signing session becomes a marathon for Donald Cornfoot, Derek Tinkleberry and Edmund Sidebottom. Folk On will be back at next year's Greenbelt or there will be combine harvester riots.

Ad-Apt is in the house - well, the Press Office at least. This charming young evangelistic rapper is excited about his first solo release, the EP 'Broken Bones'.

Greenbelt chairman Andy Turner and director Paul Northup are facing a line of journalists/broadcasters, all with spectacularly mud-caked footwear. Unsurprisingly, many of the questions are about the emerging procedures introduced to get campers and their belongings away from the quagmire and into their cars. Personally, I think the Greenbelt organisers are doing a magnificent job in responding to the situation. Even the most informed meteorologist or the most anointed prophet wouldn't have predicted a flash flood. And the happy spirit of the sodden and sticky Greenbelters is amazing to behold.

I've missed the wonderful Austin Francis Connection. Blow! So I sip a tea and listen at The Canopy's compere bigging up the new venue. He tells his listeners that at last year's Greenbelt Mobo-winning rappers Judah & Secret attracted an audience of five (one of them being a Cross Rhythms reviewer!) to their gig in the Underground. So maybe it was a wise move to do away with a venue locked away in the bowels of a building, unheard and unnoticed by many Greenbelters in favour of this outside venue.