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Jolly Roger Over Cornerstone 2000
By Geoff Horton 

Being a description and summary of five days in a field, surrounded by all sorts of God's people, especially the ones who think it's fun to sit under a tent and talk about Tolkien, Lewis, Star Wars, and King Kong, interspersed with the occasional pirate "Arrr." In thirteen parts.

The Setting
The Harry Potter Defense
Plato & C. S. Lewis & Doing Lunch
Pirates!
Tolkien & Subcreation
Sessions IV, V, VI & I According to George Lucas
King Kong Died for Your Sins
Etceteras
Moving Pictures
Valuable Prizes and Models
Beyond Myst
Arrrrrrrr
Band Count: 1.5

The Setting
For those of you who may not be familiar with Cornerstone Festival, here's a brief introduction. 17 years ago, a Chicago community of Jesus freaks, known as Jesus People USA (or just JPUSA = "Juh-poo-sah") decided that they wanted to put on a Christian festival of the sort that they'd like to attend themselves. They started in nearby Lake Country fairgrounds and then, thanks to a timely bequest, moving it to a permanent site on an old hog farm 250 miles away, near Bushnell, Illinois.

The sort of festival they wanted was not a mainstream Christian music festival; not the type of music generally heard on Christian radio. They wanted to explore the edges, and so they have. From folk to ska to heavy metal to Christian goth (I don't get the last, but it seems to work), they reach to the edges of Christian music while occasionally paying nodding tribute to the center (Third Day, dcTalk before they got too big, Jennifer Knapp, Newsboys). While they were at it, they added seminars during the day on various topics of Christian living: apologetics, relationships, social responsibility, visual arts (painting, modeling, and sculpting).

Seven years ago, they added seminars on works of narrative imagination (books, films), threw in a heavy dose of wackiness and playfulness (the official mascot is a rubber chicken), called the thing the Imaginarium, and waited to see who'd show up.

Since 1997, I've been showing up. I first came to Cornerstone to hear Rich Mullins not even knowing the seminars existed. But I looked through the schedule they gave me at the gate, thought this looked cool, discovered the incredible blessing of finding that many people cared about the stuff I care about, and never looked back.

The festival now attracts over 25,000 people. Some stay in hotels or college dorms in nearby towns but the vast majority of people camp. The grounds are, for one week, a vast tent city. While the festival starts more or less on Wednesday, good camping spots are at a premium. The grounds officially open on Monday. Porta-potties, showers, a convenience store in a tent, food vendors, etc. are not guaranteed to be in place until then, but people start arriving several days before that. Arriving early or having a friend save you a spot is just the first step in making this tent city home.

The seats in my car fully recline, so rather than mess with a tent this year, I set up (with the help of the above-mentioned friend) a dining shelter over my car for shade, and slept in the car. While this was not as comfortable as I had hoped, it was not any less comfortable than a tent, and a lot less hassle.

There are showers. The official hot water hours are 6 a.m. to midnight, but it doesn't always work that way. I woke up early on Wednesday and went to the showers at around 6:30, only to find the water was cold. I was just starting to decide maybe a cold shower was a little too painful when the water turned hot. The same thing happened the next day, after which I was tired enough to sleep until a more reasonable vacation hour.

On the other hand, rain had filled many of the public outdoor sinks that first day, so I didn't shave. Other sanitary needs are addressed through the beloved porta-potties. A hint: follow the service truck to find a fresh one.

It rained buckets Tuesday night, which turned the grounds into a swamp. Mud is part of C-stone, though, and people just deal with it. First-timers find out the hard way, like I did my first year, that wearing new tennis shoes is a bad idea but many, many bales of hay gave their lives to make the worst puddles tractable and things were pretty good by Thursday morning. Although I wonder if one car, mired up to the axles, is still there, even olfactory evidence that livestock once lived there was not as overwhelming unlike past muddy fests.

The Harry Potter Defense
My first seminar on Wednesday was given by Mike Hertenstein, the JPUSA guy in charge of the Imaginarium. It began as Hertenstein's attempt to defend Harry Potter against those who freak at the very mention of the word magic, but ended up dealing with such things as the nature of myth, story, telling the truth in fiction, when and why the facts matter, and so forth. As Hertenstein put it, he was out to defend poor Harry Potter and just kept opening one can of worms after another. He needed six fifty-minute sessions spread out over the four days of the festival to cover everything.

His fundamental point was a distinction made by C. S. Lewis in "Essay in a Garden Shed:" the difference between looking at a beam of light, and looking along it. Both modes of looking are necessary, but one cannot do both simultaneously. Lewis' contention, and Hertentstein's with him, is that myth is the closest approach that we have.

One paragraph can't summarize six hours, of course, but Hertenstein alluded to trying to turn his sentence-fragment notes into something more coherent and putting them on the Web sometime; you might want to check http://www.cornerstonemag.com/imaginar.htm every now and again.

I might as well digress to say that Mike Hertenstein is also a very nice guy. I was talking with him and mentioned that I came to C-stone now for the seminars more than for the music, and he said jokingly that he was glad to hear he was weaning people away from the devil's music.

Plato & C. S. Lewis & Doing Lunch
I skipped out on the sessions given by Chris Mitchell, of the Wade Center, who was talking about C. S. Lewis (referred to by some as the patron saint of the Imaginarium) and Plato's cave. I did have a few chances to chat with him; opportunities like that are another one of the many wonderful things about the Imaginarium.

During my lunch break, I browsed through the tents of the moneychangers, excuse me, the exhibition tents. There was a bookstore, various bands selling CDs, shirts, etc., and of course the usual assortment of people selling "Jesus junk." The Imaginarium has its own bookstore, featuring the works of Inklings authors, seminar speakers and seminar subjects, and used books, mostly older science fiction.

Pirates!
It was on my way back from lunch that I noticed something wonderful: the Jolly Roger was flying over the Imaginarium tent. The official reason was this year's theme, pirates, but I think it also somehow expresses something very true and important about what the Imaginarium does--not wanton theft and brutality, but rebellion against things that deserve it in an air of romance and adventure. We're definitely pirates. As Mike said in his brief opening speech the Imaginarium, either you get it and think it's great, or you start looking around for an exorcist.

Tolkien & Subcreation
After lunch, Mike Foster talked for the first of two days about J.R.R. Tolkien and the idea of subcreation ("We create because we are created"). He discussed how Tolkien's Roman Catholic Christian worldview infuses The Lord of the Rings, even though he deliberately removed all explicit references to Christianity and most of the ones to practiced religion. Note that he did this not out of embarrassment or to deceive, but to keep his world consistent and LoTR takes place in a pre-Christian time. Tolkien did not like the Chronicles of Narnia, at least in part because CSL did not care so much about the rigid internal consistency that Tolkien found so important. On the other hand, if you read the appendices to LOTR, you'll find that Frodo et al. leave Rivendell on December 25, and that the destruction of the Ring, initiating the Age of Man, occurs on March 25 (the Feast of the Annunciation. Foster says that marginalia in Tolkein's notes at Marquette indicate that he revised the internal chronology of the story several times to get these dates in place.

Sessions IV, V, VI & I According to George Lucas
50's serials, 60's rebellion, The Lord of the Rings, The Once and Future King, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, 2001, Joseph Campbell, a Lutheran upbringing: mix these ingredients and what do you get? According to Rod Bennett, you get Star Wars. His four-part series examining what Star Wars is about produced the biggest crowds of the year, although the Imaginarium tends to be fairly crowded most of the time. The sessions were numbered IV, V, VI and I, in that order. Bennett said at the beginning of the last session that, if you didn't understand why the fourth session was session I, you were in the wrong tent.

Again, a paragraph won't do this series justice. Bennett cleared Stars Wars of being a stalking-horse for eastern philosophy, discussed Lucas' avowed intent to provide a myth for our own time and his desire to help people believe in something other than flat materialism. Bennett made one of the most important statements of the week: Those who are upset because Lucas is not providing a straight Christian view in his motion pictures should remember that he's not a Christian and has no obligation to do so. That's our job. His is to tell his story as best as he can.

King Kong Died for Your Sins
Bennett's other seminar was a reprise from several years ago. The official title was "Alien Messiahs," but the real title was, "King Kong Died for Your Sins." Using King Kong, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and E. T. as examples, he looked at how Christ-images sneak into movies without any conscious intent on the part of the writers, directors, or producers.

Rod Bennett was the editor of Wonder, a highly regarded but, alas, unprofitable magazine now published online at http://www.pobox.com/~wonder. He's also a baseball fan, and we had a fun time talking baseball for a few minutes one morning, inspired by my Cardinal cap.

Etceteras
Also on the schedule, but (mostly) missed by me, were a four-part session on Charles Williams and a talk by Rand Miller, the co-inventor of Myst and Riven.

Moving Pictures
At night, the Imaginarium shows movies with discussion afterwards. Wednesday night was Darby O'Gill and the Little People(featuring a young Sean Connery, singing), Thursday was Fairy Tale: A True Story (although not entirely a factual story, which is a distinction near and dear to the heart of Imaginarium junkies), Friday was Hook and Saturday was Treasure Island.

Valuable Prizes and Models
Before the movies came the Imaginarium give-aways. We cast our entries into the treasure chest, from which they were drawn forth. Winners could get action dolls (the Lone Range, Tonto, Flash, Ming, etc.), Polar Lights models (Wolfman, Phantom of the Opera, etc. [Dave Campbell, another JPUSA fixture in the Imaginarium, loves building models and taught a session on that]), Harry Potter books and posters. Each night the grand prize was gold editions of Myst and Riven along with hint books, T-shirts, and some lesser-known titles from the same folks.

Beyond Myst
Before the Thursday movie, Rand Miller (the Myst/Riven guy) showed some of their earlier work, some of what they'd done to create M/R, and even showed a quick sneak preview, never seen before outside of their office, of their newest project.

Arrrrrrrr
Early Saturday night came the pirate party. They distributed pirate hats, eye patches, fake moustaches (which didn't stick thanks to my traces of a real one), and fake swords. We practiced the pirate alphabet ("Aye" when given an order, "Arrrrr" whenever you feel like it, "Oohhhh" when stabbed), and, in tribute to the pirate tradition, sang one of Davy Jones' greatest hits. A tent full of Imaginariumites in pirate costume singing "Daydream Believer." Only at Cornerstone.

Band Count: 1.5
But isn't Cornerstone all about music, I hear you ask? Apparently not, although I did catch one whole concert (This Train, playing the first-ever Cornerstone "Prom"), and fragments of another (Third Day, which I left early to determine if the car that was parked next to mine with smoke escaping from under the hood had set fire to anything I needed [no]). I also learned Fairy Tales and techno-house beats are not, generally speaking, a good mix thanks to inescapable fragments of whomever was playing in the dance tent while we were trying to watch and discuss movies in the Imaginarium tent next door. Only at Cornerstone.
 



 

 
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