The last two weeks since leaving the fields of HowTheLightGetsIn have been a wonderful adventure in Wales, and in Welsh. After traveling back with Andrew Thomas (who supplied the fantastic canopy tent, which became the late night/early morning Steward’s hangout location at Hay-on-Wye) to Cardiff, I stayed with our Burning Nest friend Charlie Upton for a couple days. Some of the time was devoted to editing doctoral work (a side job that travels with me and my computer), and one evening I helped Charlie work on a travel van belonging to his artist friends who are moving to Germany. Charlie was the electrician/lighting expert. I did the grunt work of things like stripping wires, pulling the dashboard off, and putting it back in. I also joined Charlie at his Laughing Yoga class in Llandaff. We spent an hour laughing, and telling stories that made everyone laugh. There wasn’t any official “yoga” involved really, but there was lots of laughing and some extremely fun people.
After the short stay, I left for Caernarfon in the far North of Wales. Knowing by experience that traveling around the craggy mountains, wild seaside, and remote villages and towns of North Wales is far more difficult than navigating the south, I rented a car. My route to the North of Wales was nearly a circumnagivation. I followed the coastal route west along the south. I stopped at the Gower peninsula, because I had never been there, and people told me I simply needed to see it. I sat in a little crag in the side of the high cliffs and ate lunch perched above the sea.
From there, I went on to Saint David’s Cathedral at the tip of Pembrokeshire in far west Wales. I have visited many cathedrals in the UK, but this immediately became my favorite Cathedral, simply upon its nearly magical location alone. That evening I made my way as far as Machynlleth, where Owain Glyndwr, the last great rebel leader in Wales, held his Parliament in 1404.
The next day, I traveled to Blaenau Ffestiniog, a wild wonderful former slate mining town. I spent an afternoon with Welsh language musician/artist Gai Toms, one of my favorite creatives in Wales. We ate lunch a Mari’s Caffi on the reservoir at Trawsfynydd. Everyone in the café knew Gai, and everyone spoke Welsh. My Welsh is conversational, but understanding the Blaenau dialect proved extremely difficult for my learner’s ear. We talked festivals, and music, and Gai’s dreams for creating a vibrant Welsh cultural expression of art and music in his hometown. It is always dangerous to get together with Gai, because like myself he is a crazy idea a minute.
When I arrived in Caernarfon the next day, Gwyn and Mary Jones had prepared an old empty Schoolhouse – Ty’r Ysgol in Llanrug – which had belonged to Mary’s parents, and they hope to fix up and move into in the next year. That was where I hung my hat for the 5 days in Caernarfon.I was able to spend a little time with Maria Sarnacki as Sera performed on the Caernarfon Maes. I got together with Sera Owen and Roger Uges, and we talked about creating an October festival in the wonderful, magical walled town of Caernarfon. The two are incredibly talented and creative musicians and event promoters in North Wales.
I traveled to Pwllheli, and spent a few hours with Aran Jones from Say Something in Welsh, and we spoke Welsh over a brew for over an hour, and Catrin Jones and the kids came into the Whitehall Pub to join us. We talked October festival ideas in Caernarfon again, and Catrin and Aran got quite animated and excited about the idea, and then Aran and I talked pilgrimages to Wales, and he gave me an excited and exciting description of the pre-Roman Caer (fort-site) at Tre’r Ceiri.
As quick as I could make it back toward Caernarfon, I headed off to Felinheli, and spent long hours into the night with my friend Aled Llion Jones. Aled is one of the most intelligent people I know. He is a crazy polyglot, and a navigator of deep philosophy. We spent the night speaking Welsh sporadically, talking philosophy, theology, and music (Aled can spin glorious tales about well written lyrics, and make you love a song), and dreams for the future. I sang some songs – oh, how I have been Jonesing (to take our American slang and attach it to the homeland) for my guitar, and returned back to Ty’r Ysgol around 3:00am.
On the Sunday, I spent in the North, I visited Caersalem Baptist Church, a Welsh Language Chapel in Caernarfon pastored by my Rhys Llwyd and his wife Menna Machreth. I spoke during the evening service, and talked about our ministry in Salem, about the need to befriend those who are perceived as the radical other (in Salem, of course, it is the Witches, and that is a huge part of our story). I love Caernarfon, perhaps more than any place in the world, and holds a special place in my heart. As I shared that information, mostly in English, because my North Walian is not good enough to get theological, some of the people were surprised by my deep love for their town. Caernarfon reminds me of Salem some years ago. It is a place that feels like a diamond in the rough: beautiful, magical, a center of tourism, but needing renewal. Salem has gone through a good degree of renewal – still has a way to go to reach its full potential, but is a place people are proud of. I remember visiting years before I moved to Salem, and many locals had a love/hate relationship with their own city. Caernarfon carries that same tension for many people who live there. They love it, and yet there is a sense of being outsiders in their own land. Perhaps, there something about being a 85% minority-language speaking people in their own country. Perhaps, there is something about the level of poverty in the little city. Whatever it is, to me it is undeserved, because here in a northwest corner of Wales resides a resilient, and passionately stubborn people who have hung on to their culture and language for centuries, in one of the most dominant – sometimes oppressive cultures in world history. Only hours away from London, the Welsh have held onto their Celtic language better than any of the other Celtic “tribes”, and Caernarfon is one of the cultural hearts of this stubborn rebellion and revival. My love is deep for this place. Like the city where I now live, Caernarfon feels like a town that punches far above its weight – it is a place from which you could touch the entire nation of Wales, and to some degree the world that travels to its doorstep.
Trey and Amelia understand this love for North Wales, the people, the language and the culture, and have recently moved to the area. I love them pieces and we spent an afternoon together. They are settling near Caernarfon, and are growing in Welsh culture and their language skills.
I have now been back in Cardiff for a few days. I have been doing editing work once again, and I ran into some American girls at my favorite hangout, Waterloo Tea House. Melissa and Hannah were talking God stuff in a familiar accent. It turns out that Melissa and her husband are living here in Wales and planting a church in Aberdare. She recognized me from the movie Furious Love, and we talked festival church planting and outreach to the subcultures of the “Western world”. I am staying with Charlie again, and we’ve been talking God, spiritual experiences, and sharing good brews and ciders (Charlie is a cider maker). Shortly, I will jump in the car, pick up a tent, and head to Berwick St. James in England, where I will meet Dennis, and the Texans (The Brown Family and Christopher) where we will camp together for the next four days, and be there for Solstice at Stonehenge.
This is the second year of outreach at Stonehenge. I expect to see a few people I met last year, and make new friends while there. Once again I will hope to set up on a rock at the Henge, and create philosophy/theology discussions in that wonderfully ancient and mystical place.
So many of the interactions in these 5 weeks in Wales and England have been with old friends, and new. Talks about God, religion, spirituality, and the goodness of Jesus in comparison to many of the contemporary expectations of Christianity have been at the heart of the discussions. These places of festival are somehow simultaneously at the edges and at the heart of today’s culture, and this is where God seems to have planted His own heart. Please keep us in your prayers as we make our way to the last outreach before we head home.