Church, Festivals, Music, “New Normals”

In a recent online thread various views on Cornerstone Festival and other fests, discussion of the “Christian Music” industry, worship bands, and issues that relate to the title of this blog all entered into the mix.

Anthropologists and others in various fields have long documented humans are creatures of habit -so much that change is often seen as an enemy. Certainly there are both good and bad changes to navigate in life.

Coming from addiction myself I truly understand (as most of my readers will) habits, ritual, even addictions to food, or sex, shopping, drugs or as simple as getting our daily coffee “fix”. Whether good or horrible, righteous and life-giving or tragically destroying, Bible-based right or sinful, rituals aren’t always so easy to quit.

Note that what I say now is merely -my own- perspective, but for what it is or ain’t worth, here it comes:

I don’t expect capitali$m will ever just fade away -not until Jesus returns and folds things up when the new heavens and earth take shape. At that point zippo, gone, poof! Until then folks have to eat, obtain clothing, need a place out of the weather (all that Jesus spoke about in Matthew chapter 25). Common sense, reality, truth.

C’stone Fest was many things and not everybody’s cup of tea but several elements of it stand out massively in my mind that were all part of what so endeared the annual experience and 28 year run to literally thousands who attended. I have heard and read their statements over and over again, so…

For many (not all…) the Presence of God… generator stages which meant pretty much anyone was given a platform for new, fresh, different music… wide and varied worship styles (and I mean WIDE and VARIED)… goths, punks, bikers, mellow and crazy church youth groups, un-following, pre-following or truly-following Jesus -people of every age, culture and subculture gathered. A very broad spectrum of speakers most of whom were willing to sit in the grass and discuss the issues with believers, non-believers, whomever each year -we were a Fest culture who welcomed all sorts of folks to Cornerstone annually. Name the stream of Christians/church and they were nearly all there.

Ok, very rarely a few were outside the front gate with bullhorns talking about rockers going to hell… but I digress… and note we brought them kindness and cold water.

For me the most telling comment about it all was when an interviewer asked an attendee what they though of Cornerstone Festival: “It’s the one place I don’t have to apologize for being myself.”

Oh there were most certainly calls for repentance, for commitment to truly follow Jesus Christ, to take Him and The Bible seriously and apply it’s words to our faith with action. Yet our focus, our attitude that of most who began to attend regularly was building bridges rather than walls. Our concern was inclusion over exclusion, extending the table rather than glaring and demanding only “those like US” come to dinner, invitation rather than castigation.

The staff of JPUSA (Chicago inner-city intentional Christian community and church) and volunteer staff consisting of people with all the variables I just listed above worked to make it such an event and place.

That vibe cannot be purchased with money nor enforced with authority -it happened and happens by sacrifice.

People must have an open heart to be genuinely open to folks they may have little in common with, whom they’ll surely find spiritual and practical issues to disagree and even separate over. But in those years for close to one full week each summer, that crazy, risky and amazing experience happened. It took a massive group of people to make it happen.

The 9/11 attack, desire to stick close to family and home, fear, major upset in fuel and travel prices all conspired to affect the bottom line for the Fest. My understanding is that we only -made- money about 3 of those festivals and we could not recover the financial losses in the last years as attendance shrunk and so forth. Many fests went down that next year, and for us as it was for them, sad to see it all go away. Why? There are plenty of other valid reasons but the core for me and many? Because it was about Jesus and the people.

It was never about the money, but the opportunity -really, opportuniTIES offered. They came for music, perhaps camping, sports and other fun activities, family and circus atmosphere but in the end huge numbers of folks within a year or two came back for the relationships. What a concept! Koinonia, a deeper level of fellowship where you don’t have to freak out because someone else is focused on making a buck, getting you to agree with them “or. else.” They could or could not dance in the rain, join in the mud-slides and enjoy both Jesus and people all around them.

Indeed, that atmosphere doesn’t sound much like “church as normal” nor any music style or worship “indu$try” does it? Yet it was church. We worshiped -sometimes at an all-night rave where a leader on stage dressed in a gorilla suit with cranking music, smoke, lights, and blasting p.a. said things like “PRAY!” and most of the place hit their knees and did so. Only God knows how sincere, how deep each person was, but that’s God’s judgment to make not ours.

Not all who are involved in today’s so-called Christian music scene, the worship areas (“vertical” lyrics, thanksgiving, praise) are in it for the money or fame. A workman is still worthy of their hire, gotta pay the bills, I get that, we still live in a sort of “land of Caesar”. Yet motivation and even good desire to create, observe and participate with excellent art and to reflect Jesus and our faith, a biblical perspective outside the “normal” Christian camp is all not only understandable but fraught with areas of compromise, openness but also judgment from other believers whether that judgment is correct or false re. the artists, managers, record, etc. company biz people and so on. As in any relationship, “it’s complicated” may be the best description. As always, it isn’t and never was clean and neat.

Seems to me the Spirit is or isn’t at center in what we do or don’t do. Our motive is love and service to God and people or it isn’t. Form alone cannot assure such happens, it’s a matter of the heart, calling, gifts and yep: sacrifice. It’s beyond a consumer mentality and ethos and this is what we professing Christians had better watch out for, first in we ourselves!

Church-going where the following was THE NORM is worth considering even now, today, in Covid-19 time and beyond if “beyond” ever happens:

“44 And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; 45 and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. 46 Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

To experience what the above Book of Acts chapter two states costs. It costs a lot. One week per year with a lot of fun may cost but it’s not a daily thing.

Yet we see they met “in the temple AND from house to house”, not merely one or the other. Consider the struggle for the young followers of Jesus who were then considered somewhat of a quirky threat by the occupying Romans and a flat-out cult by the Jews, the one where it’s own Jewish leader had been arrested and crucified because the corrupt religious leaders were jealous of Him and considered Him a full-on false prophet.

Profit vs. prophet seems a norm in the entire Word of God (The Bible). “Normal” means “safe” and “in -my/our- control” to many and it’s often no different whether one professes to love Jesus, claims agnosticism or a fully atheistic position. Love, authentic fellowship and a continuum of these brings people close and closer to Father, Son, Spirit as well as the people of God -to one another.

One English translation gives us approximately 45 “one-another” phrases in the New Testament alone.

So what about the future, post (or somewhat post??) Covid and such? What about the massive polarization and racial realities of the U.S.? If you’re reading this now you’re likely doing so online.

An old Jesus Movement line was “Sheep go where they’re fed.” It’s still true… and also true about goats. My friend John J. Thompson (a longtime Cornerstone Fest goer who ended up on staff and a gifted communicator, curator of Christian discipleship, musician and author uses the term “consumer” often when discussing trends among Christian people. That term is massively important and relevant for our consideration -and also repentance.

In every generation change happens, it comes and sometimes goes as the next change and series of them take place. “All change is perceived as loss” is largely true but if your focus is Jesus and people and you really care with agape love and are willing to sacrifice for Him and others… the waves of change are not the monster some seem to continually fight against.

My entire walk with Jesus and experience in broad relationships, world travel among a wide spectrum of Christ-followers and certainly living in an intentional Christian community (joined at 18 years of age) has brought me to believe this: in the end folks want a home, a people they can belong with and to. Then they want work to do that builds up and draws like-minded people together.

I’m wondering how natural introverts (and others) may choose to stick with a far less “face-to-face” rather than online connectivity as the Rona is at least somewhat dispelled and the crisis passes. The real sense of genuine care as well as solidarity re. the things of Jesus as well as racial and political issues are certainly core as to where the Christian brick and mortar gatherings will end up, at least in the short term but likely longer, that’s my guess.

Current crosses always look horrific in comparison to “the good old days” which were perhaps cool for us but horrid and brutal for others. Some fear balance and lean hard to the old or only embrace the new, not always based on content, but the Spirit of God works in and for everyone who seeks and follows Jesus in truth. He is not married to old or new! “And Jesus said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a head of a household, who brings out of his treasure things new and old.” -Matthew 13.52

I find in The Comforter enough help to walk closely with a group of the people of God no matter how flawed I, they and all of us are. The issue is whether we individually and gathered will continue to walk or simply sit and shrivel. Which brings me to this conclusion from Psalm 92:

“12 The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. 13 Planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the courts of our God. 14 In old age they will still bear fruit; healthy and green they will remain, 15 to proclaim, “The LORD is upright; He is my Rock, and in Him there is no unrighteousness.”

Regardless of how the earth shakes, viruses stalk and individuals and sometimes whole churches surf or drown, there is but One Constant and He is the Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Festival or no, however the future shakes out He is the only consistent ROCK I know.

May you depend on Him and move as the Spirit and His Word encourage you in growth and fruitfulness!

As always, thanks for stopping by. -Glenn

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