I was woken this morning by the rattle of the recycling bins being upended. This served as a late reminder that our overflowing recycling bins were sat in our yard and not on the road where they should be. I managed to drag myself out of bed and into the grey drizzle to heave the bins into position, just in time to catch the fortnightly passing of the lorries. Now that I’m up, the lingering warmth of my bed has gone. While the kettle boils I ponder the lack of glamour in these ordinary sacrifices we make for a better world. It’s nearly a year since I went to Greenbelt, but I’ve had many similar moments where I ruminate on ideas from talks, songs or poems from the festival.
I still remember as a child the first time someone compared thinking to the way a cow eats. Apparently, a cow regularly regurgitates its food and continues to chew the cud to aid digestion. This has been happening in my head over the last few weeks. I ate a lot of metaphorical things at Greenbelt and I’ve been bringing them up over my morning cuppa or in conversation with friends. I find it’s easier to understand ideas and my feelings about them if I’ve chewed them over with others.
The stubbornest idea I’ve found repeating on me is the idea that we are complicit in a system that worships money. Marika Rose painted such a vivid picture of our cyborg world where our technological enhancement facilitates the ever-faster flowing of money through the economy as our worship to Mammon. There are so many ethical decisions that are made for us under the guise of an amoral free market. It feels a bit like the moment in The Matrix when Neo starts seeing the code behind the virtual reality. The moral and ethical decisions click constantly behind the fabric of our society. The myriad of ethical considerations are everywhere; from the carbon each product has put into the atmosphere, or the working conditions of the manufacturers, to local government decisions on fortnightly collections, reduced social care or the living wage.
The burden of responsibility for these ethical choices that leak out of everything we buy and who we vote for is overwhelming. It is impossible to purchase a completely ethical product when components have been made in half the countries of the world with differing ethical codes. That is why it is so tempting to slip back into the cyborg collective where we can robotise our decisions and trust the free market to deliver a fair market price.
Jesus didn’t invite us to a passive life of conformity, but rather showed us a way of living that challenged the powers and authorities. He was overtly political and called for acts of love that challenged the status quo. This isn’t a simple binary decision of right and wrong, but a call to be more conscious, to acknowledge the complexity and work in it. I’m reminded of the story of the woman pouring expensive perfume over Jesus’ head. The ethical dilemma is not lost on his disciples who see the potential hungry mouths that could be fed in the costly perfume dripping onto the floor.
The encouragement of Greenbelt when it feels too much is that this is not a lonely way of life, but a communal way. Martin Joseph encouraged us all from the stage that we were not alone. We are a community trying to work it out together, whether at Greenbelt or in our churches and we’re not expected to get it right all of the time. I was encouraged by Pádraig Ó Tuama that sometimes we stumble on and into the kingdom of God by being real, listening to someone’s hurt and acknowledging it. The poem The Bright Field that inspired the theme of Greenbelt last year by R.S. Thomas also gives me the encouragement that this way of life can be returned to when we forget, through a myriad of ways, some of which might be as small as putting your recycling out in the rain.
Chris Ware went to Greenbelt last year to report for threads. Do you want to be our rep this year? We’re giving two of our writers behind-the-scenes tickets for the whole festival to say thank you for all you do. Find out how to enter here.