A strange kind of home
Every year for the last six years I have gone to Soul Survivor, a Christian ‘festival’ in Somerset. Most people who know both myself and Soul Survivor seem to find this really odd. True, its one of the more evangelical events in my year, and certainly a less than radical event, which sometimes does infuriate me. But in a way, Soul Survivor, and now its student version called Momentum, has become a home-from-home for me. To all those who have questioned why I find it so, including myself, here’s an attempt to provide an answer.
I’d had people telling me I should go to Soul Survivor for a few years before I actually went, and I have to say, I’m not sure I knew what I was letting myself in for. Going as the second youngest in a group which I didn’t know that well kind of threw me in at the deep end. This has been a recurring theme; generally, one way and another, I’ve been on my own in a large crowd who all have something in common with me, something I find strangely wonderful, but also annoying.
I think the main reason people are surprised when I say how excited I am about going to Soul Survivor is that they make this mental connection that says being a radical Christian makes you a liberal and totally uninterested in anything but politically active radical Christianity. This is a completely false dichotomy! The bible, interpreted literally, says an awful lot about justice. That isn’t to say I support literalism, just to comment on the stupidity of the argument made.
Anyhow, the other assumption which gets made all too often is that somehow because I spend all my time doing activism stuff, I still want to be doing activism when I’m on the only holiday I get most years. In a way, I enjoy Soul Survivor because I can actually get away from everything and just spend time with God. Sure, its kind of cool when a seminar speaker backs up what you believe or you suddenly realise their’s a class-debate going on amongst the questions in a seminar. Sure that’s nice, but my faith is not just about going out and getting shoved around by cops and flogging myself to destruction trying to fill demo buses.
To have some time to just relax with people who aren’t activists, in fact who are often painfully normal compared to most activists, does me a world of good. Also, being forced to confront other things that are going on in my life is pretty useful too. In order to draw strength from my faith, I need a faith in the first place and that doesn’t happen without at least some time spent praying and enjoying God’s presence.
Which brings me to the next point, which is the assumption that weird evangelicals do the miracle-stuff, sensible liberals do things practically and somehow there’s a big dividing wall between. Yes, sometimes when I’m prayed for I do weird stuff. Its not big, its not clever, its not a sign of madness and its certainly biblical, just as much as the idea that those who screw over their workers are ignoring God.
Which brings me to one of the things I love most about Soul Survivor: the fact so many conservative (big and little ‘c’) Christians have so many problems with it. Listening to most liberal Christians, you’d think that Soul Survivor were bible-obsessed crazed lunatics. We’re talking about the organisation which has been publicly and privately criticised for: not reading their bibles, not writing songs with enough doctrine in, spending too much time on the Holy Spirit, and most recently, wait for it…
Yes, Mike P (the boss) received a multi-signatory letter this year from senior evangelical church folk, asking if Soul Survivor had gone soft and liberal and no longer saw evangelism as important, seeing as how they’re now into Social Action stuff. Wow, are we talking about the same organisation/event here? Soul Survivor is pretty middle of the road on most things, and is pioneering evangelical moves into social action. I’ve also had people come out to me two years running, which I guess shows that, despite the over-riding majority view, Soul Survivor is not a completely hostile environment for LGBT people, and in fact, may even be improving with time.
One of my favorite writers and movement figures, Subcommandante Marcos, wrote a piece about how he was accused by everyone of being the opposite of themselves; seems there’s a lot of this going on with Soul Survivor. Sadly, I get it a lot myself, so maybe there’s a sense of sympathy there.
By the way, I also tend to go to Greenbelt, which is much more like a typical festival much more pro-activist and generally more liberal (though not much). I think the other problem I have is actually finding God in Greenbelt. I do lots of thinking around theology, but very little actual engagement with the God behind the words. Some of the services I find useful, the talks are generally interesting, but the music is often disconnected from God in a weird way, and I really feel like some kind of alien while I’m there.
I also tend to feel that those around me are judging me for what choices I make with the program, and often I’ll try and avoid questions to those ends. But then hey, on the bright side, Delirious are playing at Greenbelt this year, so there’ll be some decent Rock-Worship in there somewhere, and I’m kind of finding where to go in search of what I want the rest of the time but still Greenbelt doesn’t scratch the itch, and I don’t usually find what I’m looking for there.
Soul Survivor also has the distinct advantage of being fairly in your face in a way that suits me, though many people still find it chilled enough for them. I just don’t do the laid back-ness of Greenbelt very well, as I have to go through a much bigger timetable figuring out where on Earth I want to be.
So for any Christians reading this, I’d definitely challenge you to go to Soul Survivor, particularly to get over to your nearest date on their roadshow which is coming up in late October (their website can be found here), and don’t automatically assume that people who give a shit about the world are going to be docile, laid back liberals.