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.

God on the A Line

I’m visiting Long Beach, CA. I lived here for two years recently, and occasionally had to take the A line from Long Beach to Union Station in LA. Last night, I had to take it again. Previous times taking the A Line, I usually boarded the train early in the morning. The train was fairly crowded at 5:30 am. It was filled with homeless people in the seats with their heads on their knees, and their hoodies pulled over their heads. I saw this half a dozen times on my travels from Long Beach to LA.

Last night, I traveled from Union Station southward just before midnight. People who previously had their heads in their laps in the morning were now boarding the train and taking their seats. They’ll stay on the train until it’s last stop. Late in the night people board and take a nap. First ride in the morning, people board and quickly assume the curled-up position for the hour-long ride. 

A thin middle-aged black man talked and screamed and cackled like a cartoon villain to his reflection in the train window. An older Latino gentleman took a swig from a bottle wrapped in a brown paper bag. He smiled and chatted briefly with me. A younger woman and the man with paper bag night cap chatted in comfortable familiarity. A young man had a loud conversation on his cell phone with a girl he loved. He desperately begged for her to give him a chance. Bikes started coming aboard with their current owners. They were dropped on the floor or leaned against the exit doors. Something about the careless treatment of the bikes suggested that the current owners might have picked up these bikes for free recently. The bikes appeared to carry no intrinsic value to the riders.

Across the world, the homeless catch a snooze wherever they can. They sit long hours in late night coffee shops to stay warm. They curl up in the inset store-front foyer cubby-holes. They bundle up on sidewalks over the steaming grates to stay warm in freezing northern cities. They once covered up with newspapers on park benches, but the world of online news has chopped the newspaper industry back. Finding a thick Boston Globe or New York Times isn’t as easy as it used to be.

I wondered how many pastors and concerned Christians make time for the population living on the trains. It’s far sexier to create an outreach to surfers, and far more profitable for the church to reach the middle-class and upper-middle-class neighborhoods. It’s more acceptable when our new congregants don’t smell so bad that your eyes burn, and there are fewer interruptions when the man in the third row isn’t screaming and cackling at his demons.

The next day, I met a small group of friends at Fat Stogies––a cigar shop in Long Beach. A homeless man walked up to the railing of the outdoor patio and asked if he could do a job to get a bite to eat. Ru, part of a circle of friends at Fat Stogies spoke up. “I got you. Don’t worry about it.” 

Ru walked down the street and bought the guy ribs and corn on the cob. He sat on the curb and waited for Ru to return. I walked out to meet the guy. I sat down on the curb next to him. 

“Hi. I’m Phil. What’s your name?”
“Hi. I’m Daniel.”

We talked. Daniel told me about getting robbed recently. He told me his history, and said he’s had money and good jobs in the past and spoke about places he’s traveled. He complained about the difficulty of his situation, and how dehumanizing it felt to be in such desperate need. He vacillated between questioning why God put him in this situation and saying there must be a lesson in it all. Daniel cried. I told him that I couldn’t completely understand, but that my recent years on the road in Priscilla the Winnebago taught me about the struggle for dignity when you’re getting chased out of neighborhoods and parking lots. He told me about the loneliness, and how it was difficult to look people in the eyes because of the shame. He bemoaned the fact that others didn’t want to look into his eyes either.

The space between the haves and the have-nots is a shame-based gap. The poor feel like their dignity has been stripped and they have nothing to offer. The better-off, at every level, from stable lower class to rich, feel like they don’t know how to help. I would suggest that if we don’t struggle with that shame, then we don’t have a heart, and something is wrong with us. But I would also suggest that the relief from that shame is not discovered in evading the problem. It is discovered by looking it in the face. I sat down with Daniel to hold a conversation and learn his story. Ru bought him dinner. He cried at both acts of kindness. Ru and I both faced our internal desire to be a solution head on. We did it in different ways, but we did it. Daniel profusely thanked Ru for his generosity. He profusely thanked me for sitting and talking to him like he was a regular guy, because “nobody does that with me anymore”.

Perhaps the deepest desperation of poverty is not the actual lack of money, but the invisibility. The have-nots can’t look into the eyes of the haves because they are ashamed. The rich don’t look into the eyes of the poor. I hope the rich are also ashamed because they are not sure how to help, but it could be that some are simply judgmental.

I rode the A line the other night. God was on the A line for the last trip south. And I wondered how many people recognized him when he talked to his own reflection in the train window. (Matthew 25:37-40)

See article from LA Times about the homeless on the Metro system.

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. 

 

 

Appleby Horse Fair and podcasts with friends: UK 2019 – Part One

Since the last blog post about three weeks ago, I have added three more festival outreach events to the frenetic place, and have stayed with friends in Pontypridd, Cheltenham and Plaisley. I created a few podcasts. One about the travels and two of them interviewing Matt and Jo Arnold, who I stayed with in Plaisley near Sherwood Forest.

I moved on from the three festivals in Wales (Focus Wales, How The Light Gets In, and the Hay Festival). I stayed with my friends Andrew and Dawn in Pontypridd and spent a day seeing the site of the festival they are running in August – Between the Trees. It was a gorgeous location and festival worth considering. The gathering is a mashup of folk music, science and philosophy near Bridgend in a hidden little gem of a forest.

From Pontypridd I traveled up to the Appleby Horse Fair in northern England. Due to a series of weird circumstances it took me 24 hours to get there by train and bus, when it is only a five hour drive. I missed the last train to Appleby from Leeds, and had to spend the night in the late night eateries, or at the train station. The following morning the ticket machine ate my money, and I missed the first train out, and then the second train broke down, and I had to wait two hours for the next train.

I eventually arrived in Appleby, and the first person I met turned out to be a pioneer vicar in a neighboring town, and she and her pioneer vicar husband invited me to stay with them for the weekend of the festival.

Appleby 4

The Appleby Horse Fair is the largest gathering of Gypsies and Travellers in Europe. I did a podcast specifically talking about my experience at the Appleby Horse Fair, and you can find it on my Patreon page. I am hoping to return to Appleby in the future. It offers an opportunity to learn about one of the most misunderstood people groups in the UK. One of the great duties of life, and particularly of mission, is to understand the other we disagree with.

Matt Arnold at Sherwood

Following my time in Appleby, I traveled back south and stayed with Matt and Jo Arnold and their three boys. They live near Sherwood Forest and Matt took me on a Sherwood Forest tour while I was there, and we did a couple podcasts together. Matt is one of the few people who regularly works with the same demographic of people I do, and it made the podcast with Matt fun to do. Jo works for the Christian Fellowship for Psychical and Spiritual Studies, and this made the podcast with Jo a unique experience, as we talked about Christians who have experiences they cannot put into the typical Christian theology box.

Part 2 comes up next with stories from the Fairy Festival and the famous Glastonbury Festival.

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. 

UK Mission 2019 – three weeks in

I have now been as many festivals in the UK this year as weeks I have been on the ground. These first three weeks have been in North East and Mid-East Wales. First in Wrecsam, which I outlined in the last post, and then two weeks at the book town of Hay-on-Wye.

One of the boards I created for the events at the Hay Festival.

I created a podcast from the philosophy festival at Hay, and this is my update after leaving HowTheLightGetsIn and moving across town to the Hay Literary Festival. I worked as a volunteer steward at the BBC stage. I have done this over the last three years, and this group has become a family away from home. I ended up writing signs for the events, and this year we were able to move the sign making up a notch. It became a bit of friendly competition between three of the many stages who were trying to art up their upcoming event signage. I posted  boards I created, and the reason for wanting to help the festival become a better event on another of my blog pages. You can see the chalk boards I created on that page. I saw the work as a way of being a good witness in my desire to help the event be a better experience for all who attended.

I spent much of time with new and old friends talking about life, which typically includes my personal testimony about meeting God, my theological work in Wild Theology (the belief that God, the world and people are all wilder than we’ve been told), and discussions about the growing number of people who identify as “none” on religious polling and census data. I also spent a good deal of time speaking Welsh. Surprisingly, I found fluent Welsh speakers living at Hay-on-Wye. Although it is in Wales, it is on the border, and there are few Welsh speakers in the small town, and I think I have met most of them over the last five years.

This is the area I set my hammock tent at Hay-on-Wye.

I camped in the trees above the Wye river in my hammock. Each morning a young Dunnock full of peach fuzz, but able to fly flitted among the branches around my tent, and I would talk to it. On the last morning, I took down my tent and as I untied it from one of the trees, the young bird jumped on a branch as close as he could get, and stared twittering at me frantically. It was as though he was upset that I was leaving him. I wish I had taken a picture of the cute little guy for you, but Dunnocks are quite nervous and jumpy little characters that flit among the branches. So here is a Youtube video of an older Dunnock singing.

I am now in Pontypridd with Andrew and Dawn, and preparing to leave for the North of England for the Appleby Horse Fair, which is Europe’s largest gathering of Gypsies and Travelers. More news to come soon.

If you are interested being a part of these travels and outreach in festival and destination locations, please contact me. You can also support this ministry through donations at the link below.