Some of my readers may be aware that, once upon a time, there was an amazing yearly event on a remote farm in Illinois called Cornerstone Christian Arts Festival. During that week, every form of music imaginable from all over the world would be showcased–Christian music one never gets to hear on “Christian radio”. But it was so much more than music. Every art form known to man was displayed, discussed, celebrated: painting, sculpture, writing, film-making–from every culture of the world. Seminars concerning outreach and ministry to every part of culture were held. And two years ago, the very last week of this singular event was held. Once attended by over 25,000 enthusiastic Christians in past years, the numbers dwindled to a mere 5,000 that last year. Unable to continue such a costly event, the sponsors (Jesus People USA) decided to end it. The farm has now been sold, and a special part of our lives is now over. This is an essay I wrote two years ago to commemorate this wonderful once-annual event which was such an important part of us. Of course, every day of Cornerstone is unique, but here are some of the things that struck me as especially poignant as I pondered our last experience there.
We wake up each morning about 7:30 and clean up as best we can to begin our day. Things begin to happen at 9:00 and we don’t want to miss a moment. Walking through the campsites of our neighbors to the footpath is always an adventure as we skirt tents and air mattresses, hammocks and pavilions, and sometimes people just lying on the ground on blankets. The Asylum tent is close at hand, but it’s quiet in the morning. Those who man that venue have been up all night dispensing free coffee and tea and talking with whomever came to hang out in spectacularly gothic surroundings. Later in the day, speakers will conduct seminars and discussion groups about ministering to minority sub-cultures and Christian Goth bands will play. My teenagers loved this tent.
Past the footbridge, the path towards the main venue area is lined with poles with artwork displayed on them. Paintings, sculptures and montages depict Christ and the Christian life in beautiful and unique ways that help me focus my mind on why I am here as I trudged up the hill in the blazing sun. The campers in this area are especially gregarious and generous. Rather than ensconcing themselves up in the woods as we did, they deliberately placed themselves on the main path without a speck of shade to comfort them, and many spend the day offering to pray for passers-by or dishing up free bowls of Ramen noodles to the hungry who miscalculated the amount of spending money they needed for the week.
Passing by the Sacrosanct tent, I can overhear some heavy metal artists tuning up like a migraine head-ache for a noon concert. The lead singer, in leather, chains, and tattoos, stops to lead his band-mates in prayer: “Jesus, if I don’t do everything for You, I don’t wanta do anything!” he exclaims. Amen, brother!
The band in the Gallery tent is playing contemporary worship music while people sip coffee and cold Thai around the tables in the back. Someone is playing a hurdy-gurdy in the Art tent as people line up to take part in various art projects such as needle-felting, bead-making, and collage techniques. Glen Kaiser, an amazing blues guitarist, is showing some kids how to make instruments out of cookie tins and cigar boxes.
Across the way, Creation Station is filling up with children eager to watch puppet shows, learn songs and dances from other countries in other languages, and squirt each other with bubble guns. The Artrageous tent has as many adults as children playing with modeling clay, finger paints, and bins full of flour and buckets full of water.
In one of the seminar tents, I can see an orthodox priest conducting morning matins. In another, I can hear a Catholic priest leading mass. At the farthest end of the grounds, I reach the Imaginarium, where I will spend the next seven hours in geek heaven discussing literature, film-making, cultural icons, and comic-book heroes. At night, I will be back in my home away from home watching movies with my people: one night it’s Blue Like Jazz; one night it’s Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog– and how fun it was to sing along with a hundred people who all knew the words!
I did also spend time in other venues listening to bands. It’s lovely to sit in the Gallery as the sun goes down and the air slowly cools from the oppressive 109 it’s been all day to a cool, crisp 80 or so, listening to Aradhna’s soothing Indian music or The Crossing’s rousing Irish folk tunes. All over the farm, others are scattered about listening to heavy metal or screamo or ska or blue grass or whatever; or, they are playing volleyball, skateboarding, or swimming in the lake; or in other seminar tents they are discussing philosophy or ministry or relationship-building.
But Saturday morning, everyone is together in one place, worshiping together and taking the Lord’s Supper in humility and reverence. Two little boys walk through the crowd carrying a jug of water, a dish pan, and a towel, offering to wash people’s feet. Dozens go up the microphones to testify to God’s goodness and the power of Jesus in their lives. Old and young; conservative and liberal; goths, hippies, hipsters and geeks; long hair, short hair, spiked hair and dreadlocks; all colors, shapes, and sizes; all together because of the love of Christ; all worshiping as one body and sincerely loving and serving one another without reservation. This is what heaven will be like.
So now it’s over. Where else on this earth can we find such unrestricted, unbridled passion for Christ that is willing to look past all differences and focus on what all Christians have in common? Knowing this love for Christ and His body existed somewhere made a great difference in my life. Is it gone because Cornerstone is gone? Or will this message of unity spread? I would that this entire nation be Cornerstone; that everywhere a Christian goes, he or she will find other Christians as loving and as willing to reach out and serve others as those who used to gather once a year on a hot, dusty, smelly farm in the dullest state in the union.