Friday, July 20, 2012

Reaching for the Unloved, but Touching Everyone

            After 29 years of touching hundreds—no, thousands—of families, it has come to an emotional end.  Yet, many people have never even heard of the Cornerstone Music Festival.  It was not just a music event.  It was not just an outreach.  It was not just a place for deep conversations.  It was a community.  A community of Christian believers that gave attendees a little glimpse of what heaven will be like when people of all nations, tribes, and tongues will bow down and worship the One and Only Triune God.

            Of course, the festival did not have someone from every group of people in the world at the same time, but the variety sure stimulated a vision of what is to come.  Over the years people from every state—yes, every state—and every continent (except Antarctica) has come to Cornerstone.  Two of the many people I found interesting were a Native American 70-something couple.  They had lived all their lives on a reservation in the western U.S., but they had to bring an interpreter with them since their English was inadequate.  Fortunately, their stories and their love for Christ were far from inadequate.

Portion of the Festival grounds 2001 photo by Andrew Winiger, 
posted on Facebook Cornerstone Memories
            I began writing this blog entry many times and got off on various tangents, primarily because Cornerstone has touched my family—and the lives of others—in so many ways.  I couldn't decide whether to try to explain the different components of Cornerstone, to tell you of its origins, to talk about what we did at the festival (including our volunteer work), or to share stories of the 50 to 100 different festival goers who stayed at our house over the years.  Yet, each topic seemed inadequate.  Nothing captured the essence of what made this event truly unique.

            Hearing in May that 2012 would be the last Cornerstone struck my family in the heart.  We were not alone.  In fact two different Facebook pages were started as response by fans:  Occupy Cornerstone and Save Cornerstone Farm.  The festival happened during the week of July 4, before the Wetzel Hall implosion, but I could not really write about it until after I wrote about the implosion.  I guess my emotional response to Cornerstone's ending hampered my ability to speak.  Ironically, sometimes my being emotional makes words flow out of my mouth like a waterfall.

            Cornerstone was often hot and dirty with lots of walking.  There never seemed to be enough shade or breeze. We carried jugs of water with us, which was bulky and awkward, but we always seemed to run out.  When it wasn't hot and dry, it was raining and extremely muddy.  Camping on the festival grounds did not usually work for us.  Not counting the inconveniences that come with camping and sleeping on uneven ground, the nights would be long and loud.  Even so, I camped out with some of my daughters for 3 of the nights this year.  Mind you, this year the day time temperatures ranged from 97 to 103 with no air conditioning available anywhere except for the few people who had reserved camper spaces and had it in their campers.  The night time temperatures were generally warm, too, except one night I think it might have gotten down to the 70's and felt "cool."  Why did I do it?  I don't even like sitting in my own yard if it is not quite the "right" temperature.  Why?  It was Cornerstone.

Crowd at Main Stage when attendance was about 25,000;
at the same time, bands were playing in
 tents in other parts of the Festival
(from Facebook Save Cornerstone Farm)
            I would like to say, "You had to be there to understand," but it is more than that.  It had to get under your skin.  Then you would understand.  Interestingly, the only common denominator for many festival attendees was a love of Jesus—or seeking to know him.  That's it.

            At Cornerstone I met "professionals" (including a professor that had to leave the festival one day early one year to be a speaker at a conference at Oxford University in the United Kingdom).   Of course, I also met families that fall into the "middle class" just as my family does.  However, a great number of those at the festival live on the fringe of society.  This last group was the original intended audience 29 years ago.  Often overlooked by mainline denominations, those that felt unloved and unwanted could find hope, direction, and love in the ministries of Jesus People, USA (JPUSA for short).  JPUSA purposely chose bands for the Cornerstone Festival that could deliver the good news of Jesus Christ in a style that spoke to this last group.  It worked.  Fortunately for my ears, JPUSA also included bands with other styles of music.  As a result, Cornerstone grew into something more than an event that targeted a particular listening audience, but one that became corporate worship--many individuals coming together as "one church" and a speaking of many tongues through native languages and varied music styles with one purpose—to praise and worship our Lord.  Truly, Cornerstone has touched my family—and countless others—and will have an influence over the years that I cannot begin to fathom.

If you would like more on the history of the Cornerstone Music Festival, you might want to read this article from Christianity Today.

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