A Farewell, and a new Beginning
As many Jericho Books readers may know, this will be the 29th and final year of Cornerstone Music Festival, in Bushnell, IL, and for me at least, it’s a bittersweet. From early high school through college, Cornerstone served as the midpoint of my summer, the peak of the hill, the impetus for sending me back down the hill, carrying me into the new school year. The reason Cornerstone is so memorable for me, is that not only did it drive me into the new school year; it carried me in with momentum. Cornerstone, is primarily a music festival, but it was there that I was first introduced to the possibilities of Christianity as an intellectual pursuit; as a real means of social activism; as a completely different idea than I once believed, a way of going against the grain in a positive way, rather than “fitting in” in a negative way.
When I was younger I spent every Sunday, doing what most Sunday-school goers did, reading from the Bible, memorizing scripture, and putting on skits about what I learned, but eventually that began to wear on me a little bit, and honestly I wasn’t sure at the time what that was about, and then I went to Cornerstone for the first time. I went for the music, but discovered something else. Part of the day was spent attending sessions, in essence, college courses, condensed into three days, one or two sessions a day, for around an hour. Granted this isn’t much, but immediately I began to realize that there’s more than just Mere Christianity, and whatever C.S. Lewis wrote, there’s a wealth of intellectual Christian resource to mine for the pursuit of a greater understanding of what I believe. There are even ways to understanding Christianity, and the Bible through linguistics (according to one professor, Jacques Derrida, the master of deconstruction, would not refute God, because refuting the possibility of existence of God would refute atheism as well…or some complicated mess of deconstruction that I didn’t fully understand and never will. You can find the video here or at the very least listen to Derrida). The importance of these sessions for me wasn’t necessarily whether or not I agreed with what the session leaders said, but rather that there was an intellectual discussion to be pursued, and that I could decide for myself, based on my own critique of the writing of individuals ahead of me and what they believed This pursuit has helped shape me in a way that bled into my English literature degree as well as my life.
Cornerstone opened my eyes to other opportunities
For the longest time I felt like the only Christian based social activism I could contribute fell along the lines of delivering boxes to families at Christmas or missions to unknown areas of the world I had little to do with. Although I did understand the importance of it, I felt more compelled to look into the “missions” impacting the home front. Cornerstone once again opened my eyes to other opportunities. Like many other music festivals, major missionary groups like Compassion International were in attendance, but it was the smaller subset that filled a need, with an important one being, To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA), “a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide.” Although in truth my initial reaction to TWLOHA was based on their t-shirts, it did elicit in me another important response and that was a newer understanding of the kind of calling I might be pulled toward. For me, my skills seemed better suited to providing mental health support rather than help to build, clean and fix (although I can certainly do those things). By helping someone build a relationship with themselves I felt they can learn to love themselves and God, and that will in turn move to loving others, their community, which will lead to positive growth and construction in their community. In the end, this idea, combined with the intellectual pursuit mentioned before built the basic groundwork for the structure of my life.
Driving into Cornerstone Music Festival every year, the first people you see at the main gate are various picketers (non-aggressive) holding assorted signs hailing that “Tattoos, rock music, etc. are the route to Hell”. Sure enough, as the festival began, and the crowds began to fill tents, I could see that I was in a different world, long gone was my vision of the white bread church of other festivals I’d gone to, and it was a good feeling. Every person was different, some subtly different, some extremely different, but all felt like good people. Cornerstone was a place where it was okay from dusty ground to absolutely sweaty long hair to be covered in tattoos; it was okay to dig out of the trash for food (just to prevent waste); it was okay to be generally unusual, in whatever way you felt necessary, and to do so knowing God loves you anyway. And, the most important and most freeing part of Cornerstone is that once you entered the festival, the object of appearance usually didn’t come up, and when it did, it normally came up in a positive way, “Nice t-shirt. Is that a LOTR tattoo? Awesome shoes. You LARPing? etc.” In Bushnell, IL I learned that you didn’t really have to look a certain way to be considered God’s people (in fact he might prefer it) as long as the look on your face reflected God’s Love.
My reflections on Cornerstone, and what it has always meant and will always mean to me may seem slightly simple in some ways, but I think it came at the right time in my life. I’ll miss Cornerstone because it was a fundamental part of my life, a point to move forward from, and in a fitting way, at least in my life at its close, it gives way to the logical next evolution in my life as a Christian.
Wild Goose is stepping in when I need it. I’ve settled on and am happy with, who I am as a Christian, and Wild Goose and Jericho Books are places where I truly believe I can begin to nurture ongoing inner-monologues meanwhile creating new dialogues, and ultimately take those discussions with other like minded individuals and put into action what is important to my faith. To close, I’ll say it again; I’m nearly 100% positive that without Cornerstone, I wouldn’t be in the place I am, to even know where to start. So, thanks Cornerstone, I’ll miss you, and I’ll be forever grateful.