Tuesday, 29 March 2011

The cards you’re dealt

There’s been a bit of a kerfuffle in the last few days about a Spirit of Life festival taking place in Manchester Cathedral at the beginning of May. The usual suspects were in full cry, led by the Daily Mail with its ‘Church of England row as cathedral opens doors to tarot card readers and crystal healers in 'new age' festival’ headline. When you read what the festival is about then it is a lot less controversial than desperate journalists in search of a story would suggest.
Contrary to media reports, the Spirit of Life is a Christian festival offering a balanced programme of different spiritual traditions including Taize, choral evensong and contemporary spiritualities. There are workshops which will discuss spiritualities outside the Christian tradition. There will be no tarot card reading or fortune telling at the event. All contributors are Christians and have undergone a rigorous application process.
Doug Chaplin has raised an interesting question on his blog: Would St  Paul read Tarot cards? and he goes on to discuss the merits and concerns about the use of Tarot cards and The Jesus Deck in Christian outreach. I’m interested to know what others think of the Jesus Deck as a colleague of mine, Penny Horseman, is seeking to get it produced in this country. Penny has set up a website and Facebook page and describes what the deck is about:
The Jesus Deck is a set of 52 + 2 (the Jokers) cards originally designed as a Christian education tool in the 1970’s. It has been published by a US games manufacturer, and was available on the internet.
In the 1990’s some Christians realised that for many people outside the church the reading of tarot cards has enormous interest. While they could not in any way condone the use of tarot cards as future telling , they did see opportunity for talking to people and using them  as a starting point.   Using regular tarot cards they began to engage with people to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.
As an alternative to using the regular tarot cards some of us started to use the Jesus Deck cards. They provided a useful tool for speaking to people about Jesus Christ in a flexible and accessible way in one to one situation. People who were seeking to find out more about Jesus  could have a conversation based around the cards.
I confess to a certain ambivalence about the enterprise and I am not sure how big the market is, however, I do know that Penny and others have found The Jesus Deck to be an effective outreach resource in their work at exhibitions and festivals.

It is amazing to see some of the things people will engage with when it comes to matters of spirituality. At last year’s Greenbelt festival my favourite stall was The Gong Shower. This comprised of a large gong (didn’t get the make) in front of which the punter sits while a chap bangs the gong. His partner sits cross legged by the gong and seems to be chanting during the process. I was most impressed with the way that this couple managed to get people to part with £20 for the ‘shower’. Simon Parke describes his experience of The Gong Shower at Greenbelt in 2008:
For the Gong Shower, I sit upright with my eyes closed behind a large shiny gong, which Colin beats repeatedly and in different styles. He says it is a pioneering work which cuts out the head. This is my experience, as the noise passes wonderfully though me. I have the sensation of walking around the vast hallways of my inner self – caverns of possibility.
I don’t have a gong but I do have a drum kit with some glorious sounding cymbals. Is there still time to book a stall at Greenbelt for this year? Must be worth £50 a go to sit in front of my bass drum as I deliver a version of Cozy Powell’s Dance with the Devil.


Doug Chaplin said...

It looks like we share the same ambivalence here.

Will said...

I can't really comment on the Jesus Deck as I haven't used them. But Sally Coleman, a Methodist Minister in York, blogs about her experience with them at spirituality gatherings where she uses them. One of her posts can be found here:


She has others and would be more than happy to talk about them.