Eight Days of Welsh Language Immersion

Eight days of intensified Welsh. This was not an organized class, or structured language learning. This was the yearly cultural event called The Welsh National Eisteddfod. 100,000+ people come to participate in, and experience this most vibrant of Celtic languages and the culture that undergirds it.

This was a place where I was forced to stick to speaking Welsh most of the time, and I struggled like a fool to understand the presentations, performances, and conversations around me.

In this event, people from all over Cymru (Wales) travel to spend anywhere from one day to the full eight days in competition, music, theater, dance, and language-based experiences. I had an extremely wet beginning, and started the event with a deluge, and the post my hammock tent was tied to began leaning in the softening soil of the dark wet night. If you know anything about hammock tents, you will know that that whatever you are tied to needs to be solid or heavy rains will certainly visit your sleeping space…and well the heavy Welsh rain did visit me as the pole slowly leaned over through the night.

The following day, everything I brought with me spent the afternoon in the drying barn at the dairy farm. This was a good test for ‘Trixie’, the carbon fiber travel guitar. Yes, I can confidently declare that she can withstand Welsh rain!

After this soggy start, I settled into spending my days immersing myself in Welsh. I spoke with other learners. Sometimes was called upon to do a bit of Welsh language teaching in the Learners Tent. Two of those learners (Miguel and Maisy) were students in Bristol. Maisy from Hong Kong drew a picture of me in about fifteen minutes and made my day. I spent the days and evenings in discussion with Christian groups working on the Maes (the festival field). I spoke with bards and musicians. I bumped into friends from across Wales and struggled to keep up with the conversations and presentations at the Eisteddfod.

One morning Pastor Rhys Llwyd, from the church I am helping in Caernarfon, spoke and I followed up with a couple songs I’ve written in Welsh. The picture of the moment, taken by my friend Faith Owen, is in the photos below. Great connections were developed, and I look forward to developing the map and plan for my Walk across Cymru (Wales), which I plan to begin at next year’s Eisteddfod. There would be far too many people to thank for the moments at the Eisteddfod, but Alun the farmer, Twm the Bard, Andrew the pastor from London, and Carwyn and Simeon from the Baptist Union get a special nod for now.

The benefits of this week will show themselves for months to come, and I anticipate that the connections I have made will benefit my plans to walk around Wales speaking nothing but Welsh next year.

After the Festivals – Back Home in Caernarfon

I arrived in Wales, caught COVID on the first night. After a short quarantine, I got better. It was a bit like being turned into a newt. Then I spent the next six weeks traveling to five different festivals, which my previous emails outlined. Well, now I am back in Caernarfon, and it’s time for a little rest––okay that last bit is a bit of a lie. So, here’s the update of what has happened, and not happened, since arriving back in Caernarfon.

  1. I’ve received notice that the place I am renting is being sold, and that I will need to move out by November 10th. Now that’s rather hilarious because it’s also my birthday. I’m not really worried about it, but it is a strange coincidence. Prayers will be appreciated, because finding a place to live in Caernarfon is not an easy task at the moment.
  2. There was a March for Welsh Independence in the recently designated “city” of Wrecsam. I went with Gwyn Williams to the event, and accompanied a few thousand people in the happy celebration
  3. Capel Caersalem, the Baptist Church that has sponsored my visa, had a weekend camping festival. I spent the whole of the last week preparing for the event by leading a team of girls from America, who are here with the Greater Europe Mission, to help Iwan and Delyth organize their lovely piece of property, just outside Caernarfon, for the the little festival. There were about 50 of us from the Chapel, and I was the speaker on Saturday night. We met around the fire. I spoke partly in Welsh, and partly in that foreign tongue––English, because that’s about the best I could do with my limited Welsh. I sang a few songs I’ve written, and two of those were in Welsh as well. I think it went well––at least that’s what people told me. I told a short story about my personal connection to Wales, and more specifically to Caernarfon, which I will need to put onto podcast soon, and then I spoke about the subject of love. Love is such a common theme in Biblical sermonizing, and today it is popular to make love the primary basis of our Christian lives. I challenged that thinking a bit by suggesting that we become like what we love, and that it is possible to have love go astray and in all wrong directions.
  4. Well now it’s time for a bit of a rest from a month and a half of solid festival work – I wish! Now the really hard work begins. During our little Capel Caersalem festival, and now in the town of Caernarfon, I’ve been spending time working on my Welsh language skills. I walk downtown and sit with the locals on a bench in the town square. We talk, I barely understand a word they say, and squeeze out the words I know between their thick accents and what sounds like mumbling. I stop at the local pubs and hang out with people I know. Those who are involved in Welsh TV, radio, and music are typically easier to understand than most of the other natives. Performers and actors and radio personalities work on their diction and are less likely to mumble or use strange local colloquialisms, of which there are many in Caernarfon. Most of the time, my brain feels like it is on overload. I suppose I am improving bit by bit, but every now and then, the little spinning color wheel of death that happens to your old Mac happens to my brain.
  5. The basic things are taking forever! I have only been in Caernarfon a little more than two weeks out of the last 2 months due to my travels, and I am having a heck of a time getting my personal banking and the details of my health care in the UK set up. Every time I try to get something accomplished there is another little detail that someone hasn’t told me. Hopefully I will have a bank account and be fully connected to the Health Services in the next couple days.

So the next couple months are all about working toward fluency in Welsh, and establishing the connections in Caernarfon to be able to bring blessing to this town, which has been called the heart of Cymry Cymraeg (Welsh speaking Welsh). 

Eleven Days in the Hay

Phil the Board, as Frank Skinner named me

You haven’t heard from me for a couple weeks because I was volunteering and sharing work, life, art, and philosophy at Hay-on-Wye in the Welsh Marches. This is a place I have been going each May (with a COVID break, of course) for the last eight years. 

The first week, I was volunteering as a Steward at the Hay Literary Festival. This is a place authors and thinkers come to share their stories and present their provocative ideas. The team I work with at the Hay Festival feels like a family, and I am grateful for the leadership of our BBC and Sky Arts tent crew, which comes in gentle encouragement from Paul, and Steve. Along with Gerald, I have somehow become a sign artist for the group. Black wooden boards stand at the entrance to events, and the stewards hand draw titles of events and names of participants. A few of the festival teams go a step further and turn the board into a work of art. I am certainly no artist, but I am decent with fonts, and a bit of doodling. Somehow my doodles caught the eye of comedian and Sky Arts presenter Frank Skinner. My event board and I ended up on stage at the end of the third day of Sky Arts Big Hay Weekend. Frank gave me the nickname Phil the Board, and apparently the interview will end up on the show on the weekend of June 18-19.

After a week at the Hay Festival, I walked across town with my hammock tent (yes, a tent that swings between two trees!), and just barely over the border in England, How The Lights Gets In, a philosophy festival happens. This was my first experience of volunteering as a Steward at Hay-on-Wye, and this festival is a different kind of family. It’s a little wilder in the evening, with dance parties, DJs, and significantly more drinking. It’s also a place where discussions regularly pop up about spirituality, theology, life philosophy, and assorted God and human experience topics. Like each year before, the festival and my network of friends did not disappoint. We talked life, spirituality, God, the devil, definitions of authenticity, and assorted other life and intellectual values.

I am now back in Caernarfon for a couple days. Tomorrow, I hit the road again with Hope Deifell (who is visiting the UK from Black Mountain, North Carolina) and Dee Cunniffe. Both talented ladies have been part of Burning Man teams, and other festival events I have been a part of. Dee will come with us, or I should say, take us, up to the Appleby Horse Fair in Appleby-in-Westmoreland. Here we will spend some time with the English and Welsh Gypsies, and Irish Travelers. Dan and Kristy Pattimore are once again offering a place for wayfarers to stay. Like everything else over the last two years, friends will be united, and ministry will reach the festivals and events once again.

Following Appleby, Hope and I will head toward Cornwall and the 3 Wishes Fairy Festival where we will be helping with the stage, and stewarding and following the lead of my talented and crazy friend from Glastonbury, “Diana the Goth Vicar”. After the Fairy Festival, Hope and I will be headed to the humungous Glastonbury Music Festival. We will arrange the decorating of the Iona Community space in Glastonbury, and through the four days of the festival, we will help provide a quiet and safe space for festival goers, with a warm fire under trees.

I will send updates about the festival experiences as I am able. It is not always easy to find dependable internet service, or even the time during the festival weeks.

Some people might ask, “Would Jesus go to a festival?” I would answer, “Isn’t that what he did during Passover, Pentecost, and the other Jewish festivals?” They may have been different kinds of events, but they were the places the people of Israel gathered. These festivals are the places the people in our world are gathering today, and I believe that Jesus is already there. He is just waiting for some of us to join him.

Slavoj Žižek at HTLGI
A gig at HTLGI
Frank Skinner at Hay

I Can Never Surprise You: the story of my life outside the church walls

I’ve spent a good deal of time with people who are not Christians, and in fact don’t have any interest in appearing to live by biblical standards. But most Christian pastors I know have limited contact with the wild world of subcultures I frequent. 

I know only a few pastors who have been to Burning Man. The Christian connection with the world of Burners is slim, and typically, it is a negative experience for the Burner. 

The preponderance of church leaders I know have no idea what today’s Pagan is (or ‘Neo-Pagan’, to use an anthropological identification). When they use the word ‘pagan’ or ‘heathen’, they typically mean godless hedonistic people. It’s a negative identifier for someone who drinks and parties a lot and should be avoided because they are a bad influence.

My friend Jim Henderson used to arrange discussions with atheists in churches. He would ask the pastor to find a few atheists to discuss their view of Christianity and the Christian church in front of the congregation. Jim came to our church in Salem about 12 years ago. He asked me to find three atheists for the panel––no problem. I found a few friends and acquaintances, and they were ready to be part of this public discussion. Jim was surprised that I found the atheists he needed. Apparently other pastors he had dealt with didn’t know any atheists, and Jim would have to visit coffee shops or pubs prior to the event to fill those slots. I was as surprised as Jim. He was surprised that I knew three atheists in Salem. I was surprised that other pastors couldn’t find anyone to join the discussion.

The other night, I was hanging out with one of my Witch friends in Salem. This Witch friend enjoys a rather hedonistic alternative sexual lifestyle. This is not necessarily standard in Pagan circles, but neither is it uncommon. After being told a few tales of sexual exploits, my friend remarked, “I just can’t freak you out. You never get surprised.” My friend occasionally tries to freak me out, and tests me with these stories.

My Witch friend was not the first person to make the comment that I was not easily surprised. I’ve heard that several times over the years from people who are trying to push my little Christian pastor buttons. It is almost as if I am being tested to see whether I can practice what I preach about loving people unconditionally.

From Burners, to Witches, to Atheists, to general non-believers, and occasionally from Christians who practice such alternative things as open-marriage, I have heard some variation of these words: “You never get surprised.” Typically, what they mean beneath that comment is that I do not reject them, and that I can accept them as friends.

It is true that I am not easily surprised by the weird things people do. I am also not easily offended. I do not need people to agree with me for them to be my friends. Perhaps being surprised easily and being offended easily are closely related. Even if they are not, the world around us that does not follow Jesus appears to think that they are related.

Perhaps our little Christian world is too little. Perhaps it is too narrow. Perhaps that is why we are surprised when we hear things that are part of the world of alternative sexuality, alternative religious beliefs, hedonistic partying, radically differing politics, violence, or criminality. I may walk a narrow way to Christ. In fact, it is narrower than most people think. But this way intersects the broad road in many places, and my lack of surprise and offence is just one more evidence to the non-Christian that I truly love the wide-road walkers I know. We are good friends because I am not surprised by what they believe and how they live. 

Perhaps my lack of surprise is simply a shadow of grace in the storms of judgment and bias raging in our world. Sometimes I wonder why I am so calm in the face of hedonism and heresy, but mostly I am thankful. That calmness allows me to go places that many other Christians can’t imagine.

Interested in more stories from outside the church walls and a theology of wild mission? Check out Love Big or Go Home.

The World of Festivals Slowly Pops its Head Above Ground

Photo by Matthew Bornehorst at Unsplash

Since early 2020, large gatherings have been curtailed. COVID stopped our social lives in a time warp, and there are many people who feel that we might not be able to return to the way things were. Others are excited for the possibilities that lie ahead.

Burning Man will return, but it will have an attendance at 2012 levels, and that is intentional. Things had slowly been feeling like they were going astray, and this is an attempt to draw back to the core values. Glastonbury is going to return after a two fallow years in a row.

Do you feel like the cicada coming out of its 17 years in larval nymph form? Are you ready to stop burrowing beneath the soil, and break out into the world to sing?

Many of us feel this way, but we’ve come out into a new wild, and seemingly, more dangerous world. Some of us greet the new day with zeal, but remember, not everyone is popping out of the ground to sing. Many of us will peek out of our holes slowly like the groundhog coming out of hibernation.

Monthly Update from Mom’s in Long Beach

I am still in Long Beach, California taking care of mom. I have been here since November, and will be here through May (at least – perhaps longer). Mom still needs lots of care, and that is not likely to change. Meanwhile, Charlie – her begging little Miniature Doberman is a senior citizen as well, and his health is not the best. So, I am taking care of two little old persons.

Charlie would eat himself to death, if we were to allow it. He begs for food all day long. When I am in the kitchen, he dances around my feet, making it difficult to cook and not step on him.

Meanwhile, I am beginning to get back to a somewhat regular rhythm of writing, podcasting and playing music. I have been reunited with my acoustic guitars, as well as now having a beautiful (and beautiful sounding) graphite travel-sized guitar which I shall be able to use during backpacking, train and bus travel, and working in festivals in the UK. This graphite Cargo guitar was given to me by a friend, and I can not be more thankful for the generosity. It solves the problem I’ve had over the last few years needing a guitar I could travel with that was impervious to the extreme elements I am often found in.

I have completed a couple podcasts recently. The first podcast  is with Edmundo Santiago, and follows his ideas on politics and the Christian life. His thoughts fall between, or perhaps more accurately – outside the parameters of our polarized two-party system. The second podcast is my first video-podcast, and it is a discussion with my good friend Jim Hogue on developments in the Burning Man Gathering, and how that relates to the struggle Christianity has with the incursion of consumerist culture upon the church.

I am looking at talking to Trump supporting Christians, and Christians who are planning on voting Democrat in the next election, in my future podcasts. I am looking for people who can talk about difficult issues in a friendly manner. This is meant to be part of series that breaks down the polarization between extreme positions. Does this describe you? Contact me, if so.

Wild Theology Podcast with Diana Greenfield

A new episode of the Wild Theology Podcast comes from the George and Pilgrim Pub in Glastonbury, England. This is a discussion with Diana Dingles Greenfield aka The Goth Vicar of Glastonbury. We both have just returned from the 3 Wishes Fairy Festival followed by the Glastonbury Festival, and I am staying with Diana and her husband Sedge in the village of Street next door to Glastonbury.

Link to Podcast: https://www.patreon.com/posts/wild-theology-39-28150190

Cornish Fairy Festival and Glastonbury: UK Mission 2019 – Part 2

This is the second part of a previous blogpost at the end of six weeks and six festivals in the UK this year.

Hanging with the Searle Family

After spending time at the Appleby Horse Fair, and three days with Matt and Jo Arnold, I made my way to Cheltenham, and stayed with the amazing Marc and Anthea Searle. They are like a home away from home. It is an important part of our faith that we learn to take all that we have and place it into service for God. The Searles model this as well as anyone I know.

 

From Cheltenham, I headed to the town of Glastonbury and met Diana Greenfield. She and I and Stu headed south to Mt. Edgecomb Park in Cornwall, just over the harbor from Plymouth, Devon, England.

Diana and I at 3 Wishes

I spent the next five days helping Diana and Stu as they managed the main tent and stage for the Fairy Festival. It was a second year for me to be there, and conversations about life and faith were now common with people I had come to know through the festival.

I was there right until the end helping Vicky take down the circus tent that the main stage was held in.

A crowd gathers in our little vale in the trees at Glastonbury 2019

On Monday, after 3 Wishes, I caught a ride with Sedge, Diana’s husband, and he dropped me off at Worthy Farm, the site of the Glastonbury Festival. I found my way to the site of of the Iona Community and there I spent the next full week hosting people in our little campsite in the trees. You can read more about the experience at Glasto on my travel and bucket list blog page. This year’s Glastonbury Festival was filled with discussions about faith and the person of Jesus, and in some ways had a more fruitful sense of mission than 2017 (the year of the last Glastonbury Festival). I cannot thank the Iona Community and Debbie (who organizes this group) enough for providing a space to make Christian Spirituality an accessible worldview to the festival goers at Glasto.

If you would like to support my podcasts, you can become a patron on my Patreon Page. You can also find a link on this website to donate to the mission of reaching the subcultures of this world through festival outreach, and mission to places where our world’s nomads live.