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Go West (or a reasonable facsimile thereof)
By Geoff Horton

In which your humble correspondent, armed only with a camera, pen, and pencil, braves dust, power outages, and the wilds of Central Illinois, all with the express intention of not hearing a single band. Why would anyone do this? Wagons Ho! Errrrr . . . . Read on!

Getting There is Half the Fun (give or take 50%)

Okay, a Honda CR-V is no prairie schooner. At least I did travel west on my way to Cornerstone, so I was somewhat in the right frame of mind for this year's Imaginarium theme, the Western.

After finding the parking place/campsite which a friend had held for me (thanks!), I took a quick walk down the trail, across the bridge, and up into the main seminar area. The figures of Gort and Klaatu assured me that the Imaginarium had not moved. Alas, these symbols of the Imaginarium may be retired after this year, along with the beloved Mr. Spock cardboard figure. I can only hope the knight survives!

The "PTL Ranch" signs outside the Imaginarium might have been startling had I not already known that "PTL" in this context was not a reference to TV shows or theme parks. It refers to a famous line from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

Since I had arrived before anything except the food vendors and the Hi-Vee store had opened, there was not much to do except go back and set up the shelter to cover my wagon, excuse me, car. That took long enough that the stores had opened, and so I made my pass through the Imaginarium & Cornerstone Press bookstore.

I already had a rubber chicken and all the Harry Potter books. If you donít understand the rubber chickens, you kind of have to be there, or at least witness the rubber-chicken bonking that accompanies each door prize at the Imaginarium nightly film session. If you wonder why the bookstore at a Christian festival is selling Harry Potter stuff, (see for a better explanation than I can provide). I settled for some more mundane material and wandered off to find lunch and settle down in the Imaginarium tent. 


After all, the Imaginarium tent is where the cool seminars are. Since all but one of them extended over several days, Iíll abandon any attempt at weaving a story line and narrate them in the order in which I encountered the first session of each.

Try this exercise: Iíll give you the first phrase from a proverb, and you give me the rest. Ready? "Early to bed . . . ."

This is how Bill Romanowski introduced us to what culture is and how it works. The entire tentful of people chanted the rest of the proverb for him, as I expect all who read this could as well. A bunch of people from all over the country (and beyond), placed in a tent, all know the same proverb word for word. How is that? Because that proverb is part of our national culture.

It achieved prominence when Ben Franklin included it in his Poor Richard's Almanack for the Year 1735. (In an interesting example of "printing the legend," youíll often hear that Ben invented that proverb. It is found in a 1635 collection of proverbs by a John Clarke, and variants are found in 16th century literature.) But no matteróit is a quintessentially American proverb. Why should we go to bed and wake up early? To make us healthy, wealthy, and wise. The first two, at least, are still American dreams. But they are not Christian goals, nor is wisdom for its own sake.

Yet movies present these and other elements of the "American Dream." Bill defined the American dream as "the struggle of an individual to shake free of a limiting past in a struggling ascent to an open and gracious future." If thatís too much of a mouthful, just think of the plot of Rocky, which is a perfect example. Itís when the American Dream, whose open and gracious future generally includes beating the competition and getting rich, collides with the Christian worldview, that things get intriguing.

I canít compress three sessions into a few paragraphs, so if youíre intrigued, I recommend that you seek out Romanowskiís book Eyes Wide Open (Brazos Press, 2001) for more.

The next sessions were offered by William Spencer, who offered a look at comic books: where they came from (tracing a line back to cave paintings), how widely theyíre read (they are the most-read "books" in many non-American cultures), how they work, what religious themes have been worked into them, and the directions some of those themes are heading (some good, some . . . not so good).

As part of his presentation, he gave three sets of clues to a Bible passage. One clue of each set was contained in movie and TV clips, while the other was audio. Your correspondent was one of two people who succeeded in identifying the passage as 1 Cor 13:12: "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known." (NRSV) This, in turn, led to the title of a book written in part, but edited fully, by Spencer and his wife, entitled God Through the Looking Glass: Glimpses From the Arts (Baker Book House, 1998), which was the prize for the contest.

Due to a scheduling conflict, there was nothing I wanted to do at three, and three things I could have done at four. Dave Canfield was leading his figure modeling class (please see Daveís project at, the Flickerings offshoot of the Imaginarium (see for more on that) had a panel discussion, and Rob Bennet was presenting a seminar entitled "The Icebergs": Unpacking A Christian Masterpiece. I chose the last option.

Rod spent three sessions looking at the history of the Hudson River School of painters, particularly Thomas Cole and Frank Church. Cole was an immigrant from a squalid factory town in England who became one of Americaís foremost landscape painters. Along the way, in painting nature, he became convinced of the existence of natureís God and became a Christian.

After his conversion, his paintings took on a more obviously Christian approach, often adding outright allegorical material. But his student, Frank Church, and others who had learned from Coleís work, continued to paint in an effort to show the Divine Hand behind nature (my phrase, neither Rodís nor Coleís nor Churchís as far as I recall, but the best summary I can make). 

Add in a healthy dose of polar exploration and you get Churchís The Icebergs, which is now probably the most valuable painting by an American artist. Ironically enough, the Hudson River school had fallen so far out of favor that this painting was lost for an extended period and discovered only by accident in the back hallways of an English boyís school. Itís now worth millions.

The crack-of-dawn morning sessions (at Cornerstone, 9 a.m. feels like the crack of dawn) belonged to Terry Wandtke, whose subject was the poet T. S. Eliot. Eliot was sort of a Frederick Cole in reverseóhe started in the US (St. Louis) and moved to England. But, like Cole, he moved from a vague agnosticism to full Christian faith.

Wandtke said that most critics and schools deal with Eliotís early work, such as The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and The Waste Land. The poems Eliot wrote as a Christian have much in common with these works, but the almost despairing attitude of the earlier poems is lessened by the glimpses of hope in such works as Four Quartets and Ash Wednesday

I skipped out on John Wallís film sessions; time is a precious commodity at Cornerstone, and there was enough else that I wanted to do that something had to give.

The final session was presented by long-time Imaginarium attendee turned presenter Kathie Lundquist. She looked at superheroes and how they relate to Christian faith. I wish Iíd copied down her recast of Paulís description of the gifts of the spirit: "Can the Green Lantern say, ĎI am less important because I do not have the gift of flightí?" and so forth. Each of us has our spiritual gifts, and we need to discern them and use them, like a true superhero, in the service of others. (Ever wonder why all superheroes have a secret identity? Can you think of anyone else who told people not to tell about the good things he was doing?)

Films at night

At night, the Imaginarium shows films, gives away cool stuff (accompanied by a ceremonial bonking of winnerís heads by a rubber chicken) and shows more films. This plan was threatened the first night as the entire country lost power for several hours. Some of us passed the time in conversation, and the Imaginarium official folks were about ready to give up on the movies and head straight to the camp fire (really) when power came back on.

Hereís how a normal night at the Imaginarium goes. As it starts to get dark, a little after 7, the TV is put to use in showing shorts: an A & E biography of Daniel Boone, Disneyís Davy Crockett, fun animated shorts, or whatever strikes Dave Canfieldís fancy. After that, some time around 8, comes the drawings for cool stuff. By that time, itís usually dark enough to use the big screen and show the eveningís feature. The addition of a DVD player and TV projector made this yearís feature a great leap forward from the spotty quality of the old film reels we used to watch. 

Since the Imaginarium theme was Westerns, and more specifically John Fordís Westerns, itís little wonder thatís what we saw: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Stagecoach, Young Mr. Lincoln (perhaps not exactly a Western, but still . . . ), The Searchers (actually shown in the afternoon in conjunction with Flickerings) and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. Those who persevered to the very end of the fest were treated to the decidedly non-Ford film Evil Roy Slade.

Cornerstone without music?

You betcha! (And yee-haw!) But even if you come to Cornerstone for the music, you might give the Imaginarium a try. And in the words of the Borg:

Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated. (I know. It happened to me.)


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