Between the Trees and Back to Caernarfon 

Quick Overview Update:

It’s not quite a week that I’ve been back from my six days at the Music and Science Festival in Merthyr Mawr Reserve in Pen-Y-Bont in south Wales. I moderated a discussion on Welsh Independence put on by YES Cymru, and I was responsible for a small space called “The Cwtch”, which basically means a nice little cuddle type of hug. The Cwtch was the space for outdoor open mics. Later the open mic performers took a late night stage of the best of the open mic musicians. In all there were 6 open mics over Saturday and Sunday of the Festival.

On my return to Caernarfon, I had to immediately move out of the apartment I was in, and am now in a temporary residence once again. A super special thank you to Rhys Davies, who’s [lace at Tŷ Glyndwr in Caernarfon is fun temoporary space.

Now, I am trying to once again immerse myself in the Welsh language experience in preparation for next year’s year-long walk around the country without speaking anything but Welsh for a year.

Cerdded â fi yn 2023!

If you are a Welsh language learner, and would like to join me for a day, perhaps longer, walking and talking, stopping for a pint, participating in pub gigs, learning Welsh history and Welsh stories and myths…all in Welsh; then mark August 2023 on your Calendar. That is the starting date for my year-long walk and talk. Details of the schedule and events to start coming together soon.

Details from Life in the Festival and Life in the Town

Before Between the Trees, Stephen Simmonds and I set up The Cwtch, the area which would become home to the Open Mics and the Festival Choir, along with other assorted set up duties. 

Once the festival began, I had two main duties. On the Friday evening, I moderated a discussion on Annibyniaeth (Welsh Independence from the UK), which was organized by YES Cymru (a pro-Independence Movement). I jokingly commented that it was rather strange to have an American moderating a discussion on independence from England. It was a robust discussion with people agreeing and disagreeing openly, and getting along despite the differences.

Saturday and Sunday, I ran six Open Mics. The first four were in the beautiful outdoor unamplified setting of The Cwtch. On Sunday afternoon/evening, we held two sessions on the small stage. The level of skill coming from the open mic was remarkable, and included some of the performers from the large stage testing out their new material. Each session ended with me leading all the musicians together in playing the song from the Waterboys, Fisherman’s Blues. I’ve translated the song into Welsh, and so I would do a verse or two yn Gymraeg. Elv Saw sent a video of us singing Fisherman’s Blues with a bit of Welsh to the Waterboys a couple days ago, and they responded back noting that it was “awesome.” Some of us are currently considering how to keep the Between the Trees Open Mic Sessions going throught the year.

Throughout the festival, I had many discussions on spirituality, which included the use of the number of old churches closing, and how those buildings might be used for both social action and spiritual renewal.

Upon returning to Caernarfon, I had to move house immediately. The place I’ve been renting was sold, and they wanted to close on the sale. I had a contract that allowed me to stay through November, but I felt that it was best to accommodate the previous owner as much as possible. “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,” the proverbist tell us. (Proverbs 22:1) So thanks to my good friend Rhys Davies, I am currently staying at Tŷ Glyndwr inside the old town walls of Caernarfon. If you ever come to stay, and are looking for an affordable place, this is a really nicely run bunkhouse in a beautiful old market/pirate town which locals often call the Welshest of Welsh towns.

Since being back, I’ve been spending my time getting to know the local musicians and the “Cofis” (Caernarfon townies). I’ve been playing music in the Market Hall, and spending time with some of the native Welsh speakers, soe of whom drink and curse like sailors, and we end up talking about spirituality and God. Much like living in Salem, Massachusetts, I feel like I have moved into a festival town where people are open in both mind and heart. This is why I am here, because I find this place to be one that has hard shell on the outside at first impression, but is incredibly soft of heart. God has his hand on Caernarfon in a remarkable way––that is, if we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear. Please keep us––this town and myself in your prayers.

Life at the local church, Caersalem feels full of vibrant life and grace, and the church at its pastors (Rhys and Menna) can use your prayers as well.

Bedydd efo Capel Caersalem – Baptism with Caersalem Chapel shortly after this they go down into the river just beyond the trees.

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). 

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.

Defending Befriending with John W. Morehead from MultiFaith Matters

John Morehead and I are partners in the crimes of trying to do good works that are not always perceived as good works in Evangelical circles. We've taken some hits for befriending the "radical other" - those who think and live differently than ourselves. We think that's what Jesus would do, but not everyone appears to agree.

Wild Theology Poetry Shorts #1 – From the RS Thomas Literary Festival Wild Theology

The Following poems were read at the RS Thomas Literary Festival as part of a competition and open reading on September 18, 2022: The Learner’s Eisteddfod   Siarad Cymraeg? Ydw, I say. But, it’s barely true   One clumsy American. 100,000 Celtic warriors…faces painted blue. Or so I imagined. But it’s only Taid a Nain and snotty Johnny Bach crying in the rain.   Dewi lifts his cup. Baptize the night in Bitters. Rhiannon dons the holy national garb… Wellies and short–shorts. A squabble of pubescent poets whistle and squawk around Rhiannon as she floats on mud and plastic pavements.   Despite the chiming of her birds, no one living slept that night.   The rains came hard. Sanctified our canvas homes, and everything we owned was dipped in wind and water. This is my immersion, a festival of song and strange tongues, far from my home of sun and surf.   In the Pavilion, a domesticated rebellion, a dream of crowns and thrones. We clap the sword of peace. Does Bakhtin observe bemused from heaven as we inaugurate this formal carnival with robed and solemn clowns?   Back at the old Welsh capel, their prayers break upon me, not just for these few hours, nor for the days, but for the years…for eternity.* This is my home now…my Jerusalem.   Yet I will wake tomorrow, still that other, a stranger in this land of song and hwyl and soft sorrows framed in yr hen iaith hir.   Siarad Cymraeg? Ydw, I say. Leaning in.   * paraphrased from RS Thomas ‘The Other’, t. 457   Sonnet #5   In response to R.S. Thomas ‘The Lesson': “Return migrant, so your listeners arising on some May morning of the spirit may hear you whistling again softly…”    This God unseen, He hides beneath the robes
 of cloud and sky and cracking thunderous nights
 Behind the starry skies and sun’s stiff light
 and winds that blow toward edge of curve of globe   He ever moving hides and then disrobes
 a ghost who moves from in to out of sight
 He hides I seek. I hide He seeks each night
 and then upon hope’s door I pierce my lobe   I slave my ear to hear, my eye to see,
 my mouth to cry in supplicating groans
 I go to search, but stay to find my way
 in paradox: in slavery I am free
 to see, to hear, to cry these baleful moans
 which celebrate the loss, the find, each day
  1. Wild Theology Poetry Shorts #1 – From the RS Thomas Literary Festival
  2. Wild Theology Podcast: The One Who Names Himself Part 1
  3. Love Big or Go Home with John W. Morehead
  4. Wild Theology Podcast – The Tattered Robes of Life: a song, a pre-Easter meditation
  5. Wild Theology Podcast -The Beginnings of Love Big or Go Home

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.