Friday, March 30, 2007

Ancient-Future Festival

KATHLEEN NORRIS IS A POET who has written bestsellers (like The Cloister Walk) on the correlation between the poetic way of seeing and the religious (or devotional) way of seeing. She’s quite popular among Evangelicals who seem to understand that they have blind spots in both areas. Some may already have intuited that their lack in one area may be connected to their lack in the other. I saw her speak some time ago. Her lecture was very un-Evangelical: no charts, diagrams, or proof-texts. It was mostly a recitation of poetry. The setting was itself poetry, a metaphor. A seminary chapel, blisteringly white, with zero art, no color, and no crucifix (just a smooth, blank cross). There was stained glass, but no pictures – except for one, apparently deemed safe enough for Protestants: it was the image of a book. It was into this barren space that the poet had been invited to reintroduce something that had been long absent, even forbidden.

Of course, the poet would be the first to tell us that words can make images. But images can be prosaic, literal and dead – like that stained glass, and the image-less word-privileging culture it represents. Perhaps the Reformers didn’t realize that words become idols just as easily as images. But suddenly, on just these issues, the Reformation seems to be up for renegotiation, a re-reformation. Many Protestants seem to be considering a line-item veto on their tradition(s). In some places, poetry, metaphor and image have begun to return to empty sanctuaries from which they were stripped.

There was a passage in William Dyrness’s Visual Faith that really got my attention, where he talks about how the Jesus Movement (the first TV generation) brought their whole culture into the church – not just their music, but their visual culture – to wide and profound effect. Certainly Cornerstone – magazine or festival – has always presented a very visual faith. Cornerstone’s sponsoring community, Jesus People USA, was born of the Jesus Movement, and has continued on in its own journey to some unexpected places. While the Jesus Movement was often notoriously anti-institutional, informal to a fault, and turned its nose down on liturgies and vestments, JPUSA has lately experimented with liturgical services, incorporation of iconic imagery and participatory elements in services; the pastors have even become known from time to time to wear vestments.

In the same way that JPUSA didn’t realize it was an “intentional community” until someone else pointed it out, we didn’t realize at first realize we were on the same worship journey as many others – until we started hearing about what has been sometimes called the “Ancient-Future” movement in worship. In 2008, Cornerstone will inaugurate a new worship venue at the festival aimed at embodying many of these impulses and bringing together various creative forms of worship that had already been spontaneously occurring in different locations around the grounds. For this year, our visual arts program, “Burning Brush,” will host a program that represents a deliberate marriage of worship and the visual arts, called “Ancient-Future Worship-Arts”. The keynote seminar will be given by Michael Van Horn, Associate Professor of Theology and Worship at North Park Theological Seminary. By coincidence (or perhaps not) that’s the same seminary where I once watched a poet bringing image and metaphor into a sterile, whitewashed chapel.

Semper reformanda.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Blossom by Blossom...

LET ME TRY TO DESCRIBE the four seasons of the annual Cornerstone Festival program year.

The first season really begins the week after New Years, when we come back to work and make new blank schedule grids and stare at them for what weeks on end wondering how they will ever be filled. How they do get filled is always a blur, and that’s what makes it a bit intimidating to face that blank page again. But the possibilities gather and build up and generate electricity until finally the lightning strikes.

The second season is happening right now, right this moment, as the artists lay out the finished schedule page-by-page. I go through the proof sheets marveling at how what seemed so contingent and hypothetical for the past three months is now Set in Stone (or as much as anything connected to this festival can be): it looks so REAL. Everyone will be happy to know that it looks like another genuine, classic Cornerstone Festival after all. That is to say, it looks great on paper. Now we have three more months to turn it into 3D reality.

The third season is at the festival, when I’m running around like everyone else with a printed program in my back pocket, trying to make sure my part of the festival goes as much as possible as planned. There I sometimes pause and marvel for a different reason: I feel like I’m riding the Blade of Time itself as I watch moment-by-moment as what had been so long been future events proceed to present then past.

Finally, there is the Morning After, when the Cornerstone Festival program transforms into the status of historical artifact, like the others in my file cabinet. Eventually, a new blank grid will await…

But I get ahead of myself; let’s hop back up on that Blade of Time and try to live in the moment here. As of today, this morning, the 2007 Cornerstone Festival program is nearly ready to send to the printer and mailed in April. Before then, we’ll continue to post bits online. The main seminar program and speakers are listed at cstoneXchange, and yesterday I posted the film schedule for Flickerings. Stay tuned for further blossoming of yet another Cornerstone Spring…

Friday, March 23, 2007

My First Cornerstone

A GUY I KNEW was starting a coffeehouse, in the old YMCA building downtown. I was over there, with some friends, a few weeks before the grand opening. On one of several telephone-wire spool tables (de rigueur for coffeehouses in the 1970s) there lay a few issues of what even this small-town boy could see was an underground newspaper. The countercultural scene at that point was winding up for its long slow sad fade-out – transition, rather, to the mainstream (i.e. people were still writing and recording the soundtrack of future car commercials). A very-late Boomer, I was used to arriving after the party was already over and gone. Not that the counterculture had ever been much of a presence in our Midwestern town – no sit-ins or riots, no concerts other than “C” or “D” level bands at the local college. The religious revival among the hippies, like everything else, seemed to be happening on the other side of the planet, though bits of “the Jesus Movement,” had finally been trickling in via books and music, this soon-to-be Joy of a New Dawn Coffeehouse – and the underground Jesus Freak newspaper I happened upon there.

I’m pretty sure one of the issues I paged through that day was Number 29. The faded yellowed copy I pulled from the archives the other day has a photo inside that I very much remember, of Resurrection Band in front of this huge stack of amps and speakers – something that would have really jumped out and stuck with me. The colors weren’t faded then: not by a long shot. In a few more issues, the paper would switch to full-color, but that summer they were still printed three-color “split-fountain” (as I learned when I was taught to do it myself a few years later, reprinting articles as tracts). It was a half-rainbow as blue faded into yellow into red, with loopy whimsical cover art and that logo in the now-quaint then-hip Arnold Boecklin type-font that still takes my breath away when I see it.

By the time I joined the staff, the art department had outlawed Arnold Boecklin as part of a move to drag the publication – kicking and screaming – into the Eighties. I’m not sure they came to embody the Eighties quite as well (which may not be a bad thing, after all.) But they sure nailed the Seventies. I’ve seen plenty of old underground newspapers since then and I can say with confidence that Cornerstone came to leave them all in the dust. Just by outlasting the competition – for reasons not insignificant – this particular underground newspaper was able to assimilate and perfect the best of an era. The paper became indisputably, as the slogan said, “The National Jesus Paper.”

The moment, for me when I first encountered Cornerstone didn’t seem nearly as significant as it does now, as I strain to try to remember the details. I can just barely picture myself, looking like an extra from That Seventies Show, off to the side of this under-construction coffeehouse, paging through carnival-colored papers – unaware I’d stumbled upon a personal destiny of sorts, a version of the moment when a figure appeared to brothers on a beach and shattered their routine forever with the charge: “Follow me.”

I probably didn’t even read the articles – the media was the message, as in the case of the Incarnation. The message was this: that the Incarnation had really happened. That God had, in fact, really become a human being after all. Cornerstone confirmed a suspicion that I’d nursed through long teenage years in an increasingly alienating church culture that following Christ was not a matter of hiding from the world, or waiting around doing nothing until Jesus took us out of it. Following Jesus meant engaging the culture head-on, mind, body and soul, creatively, with compassion and intelligence, and a paradoxical mix of humility, audacity, seriousness and joy.

That’s a lot to take in at a glance, but it was enough. I’ve been working out the implications of that vision of the Incarnation, and my own implementation of those implications, ever since. Not that it’s been a straight line from there to here – hardly. But through all the hairpin turns, detours and dead-ends, what has brought me back and sent me on my way was the same vision that got me started on this journey. Often the reminder comes in the form of that characteristic audacity, for example, when somebody asked that simple question “What if we turned this magazine into a music and arts festival?”

Indeed – "What if?" We’re still working on our part of the answer – as a part of that ongoing project of working out the implications of the Incarnation. And if many people who have come to know and love Cornerstone Festival have no memories of when Cornerstone was a magazine, or “The National Jesus Paper,” or that typewritten hand-out cobbled together on a magical missionary tour of a busload of Jesus Freaks thirty-five years ago this Spring, it’s all part of the same story – a still-unfolding story that still surprises us, too. Even now, all these years later, the prospect of a new issue of Cornerstone still makes me giddy as a teenager. When we get the program back from the printer, I sit and turn the pages with a very familiar sense of wonder and gratitude. The media is still the message, and the message is still the same: the Incarnation really happened. Joy to the World. The Kingdom of God is upon you. And, as always, "Follow me..."

Thursday, March 15, 2007

What If...

. . the world was bigger than advertised? What if there were more to life than consumption, conformity, and the frantic maintenance of a frightened mediocrity-including the religious sort? Even more to the point, what if God were bigger than advertised? And what if it turned out that lots of people were asking these questions?

Since 1984, Cornerstone Festival has been a rite-of-passage for generations for whom this world and the status quo faith that fits so comfortably into it has never been enough. Cornerstone is known for world-class music, seminars, camping, and outdoor activities, but those who've been there know that these things aren't even the half of it. For veteran Cornerstoners, the festival is an annual renewal of vision they can't get anywhere else, and can't imagine doing without. Cornerstone's real draw is a sense of community, diversity, creativity, and worship that shatters the usual and releases the possible. What if you had a glimpse of a bigger world and it changed you forever?

At a time when imaginative vision-that prerequisite to compassion- was never needed more, nor endangered more by values that threaten to doom the world to smallness, Cornerstone Festival turns "What If?" from a simple question into a blueprint for an unforgettable experience. What if you became a part of Cornerstone Festival in 2007?

— 2007 fest promo