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Yesterday I spent time with Yousef, Hamid, Richard and Brenda: the team at the Persian Rug Village in Edinburgh. The Village will be setting up in the courtyards of St John's Episcopal Church for August once more, forming a key part of the hospitality and ambience of the 400-event Festival of Spirituality and Peace 2012.
Oriental and decorative rugs and carpets, lanterns and colourful symbols create a magical atmosphere in Yousef's tents. They invite us into what is, for many, a different culture and world, linking past and present in a space which is both tranquil and stimulating.
The Persian Rug Village will be a cafe, performance area and reflection zone for the whole of the Festival. But tents per se have become a much larger part of our conscious social, political and imaginative landscape in recent times - and that raises some important issues about human being and becoming in an often turbulent world.
Think of the Occupy tents at St Paul's Cathedral and elsewhere across Britain and the world, inviting people to move away from corporate greed and towards a different, more humane way of living.
Think of the permanent tent area at St Ethelburga's Centre for Reconciliation and Peace in central London (itself created out of the previous destruction of an IRA bomb), where people take their shoes off, sit together as equals in a circle, and explore how differences and divergences can be made to work for cooperation rather than conflict, often out situations of seemingly intractible confrontation.
Or think of the Anglican Archbishop of York fasteing for international peace for a week in 2006, camping in a tent at York Minster, in response to the televised pictures of the war in Lebanon.
Tents are places of cultural exchange, hospitality, sharing, reflection and new possibility. They are a very different way of being together - with a different architecture, a different atmosphere and a different psychological geography to offices, tower blocks, castles and palaces: the places of accumulated power.
I was going to say 'traditional power', but of course the lifestyles of Western opulence, consumption and centralised authority we think of as normative in the world today are actually only the way a minority live. For far more people, not least refugees and displaced people, tents are the daily reality.
There is an important distinction to be made, therefore, between renewed "tents of hope" (what people will enter and experience as part of the Persian Rug Village Nomadic Tent Experience from Saturday 3 August to Saturday 27 August at the Edinburgh Festival of Spirituality and Peace) and tents of imposed destitution.
The 'change issue', then, is how we move from the architecture of dominance and the abandonment that generates, for both rich and poor, to the kind of "shared space" that will be not just symbolised but actualised in the Persian Rug Village in Edinburgh.
Yousef and his team are inviting us to taste a different reality.
* The Festival of Spirituality and Peace 2012: http://www.festivalofspirituality.org.uk/
* The Persian Rug Village shop can be found at 34 Morningside Rad, Edinburgh EH10 4DS, and at www.persianrugvillage.com
© Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia. Through to the end of August 2012 he is also Media Coordinator for the Festival of Spirituality and Peace (FoSP), for which Ekklesia is a strategic partner along with other civic, civil, church and faith organisations. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
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