When I awoke, two things were immediately apparent:
1. Adrian and Jon both lost like twenty pounds at Cornerstone. If I had punched Adrian in the stomach the instant I took this picture, instead of taking this picture, my hand would have gone straight through him like The Thing, and then Kurt Russell would have blow-torched me and cursed me with profanities as we both slowly froze to death.
2. Don't take a shower for eight days and see if you can duplicate the skin fungus on Jon's right rib.
The Minnesotans decided that since they hadn't pulled any pranks on us, they would squirt water from a bottle against our tent wall to make us think they were peeing on us. Either that, or they were peeing on us, and the face I made at them when I rushed out of the tent made them so terrified, they quickly made up a lie to save themselves from the imaginary above-paragraph fate Adrian suffered from my fist through his Thing gut. Thing gut, ironically, is an Inuit phrase meaning "fish tacos with red cabbage and a parsley garnish."
Also, that jackass Brantley, probably afraid that I was about to slap my hands to the side of his head, causing his eyes to bounce out like meatballs connected to his skull with spaghetti noodle-like nerve-endings, suddenly spilled his guts. He was not a jackass college senior, but a jackass soon-to-be high school senior who was also going to take a few courses at Gopher U that fall. What a jackass.
We told the Missouri cult goodbye, and they performed a final no-shower dance that smelled so awful, it actually came back around to smelling good, like cheeseburgers and onions on the grill at Waffle House. With that said, I am never eating at Waffle House again.
Don't hold me to that.
I think Adrian had a final goodbye with his Michigan peeps, but I'm not sure, as that was for him.
Jon breathed fire.
We packed up all our stuff. Letting down the tent was sad. I mean, I hate letting anyone down, but what did our tent ever do wrong to anybody? It gave us shelter. It deserved better. Watching the other 30,000 people let down their tents was even worse. Here's the last time our tent was ever photographed. You can see the tears in Jon and Adrian's eyes.
Massive trucks began to haul away sound equipment. Main Stage was pulled down. I ate one last brat. No, I didn't, I'm lying, but I wish I would have eaten just one last brat.
We got back into the van and left.
As we took the winding road out, passed the lake for the last time, passed each rolling hill for the last time, I never once thought, I'll definitely never see this place again, but now, as I type this 12 years later, it looks like I won't.
It rained on the drive home. There were fields and houses and trees. Adrian took the wheel for the entire journey. He does that.
We stopped at some gas station in Mississippi that had every flavor of Stewart's Soda. Incredible. Also, a good way to drink away the pain while still being legally able to drive.
We made it back to Baton Rouge, stopping at Wal-Mart to develop these very pictures. I had one picture to go, so I grabbed a random lady to take a group photo of us.
Turns out she really sucked at taking pictures.
Then I suddenly realized I actually had one more picture left on my camera, so I made Adrian take a picture of me with my girlfriend at the time.
I picked up my car from Adrian's (I'm really strong) and drove home, rolled into bed, passed out. Adrian gave the tent back to Squirrely Joe or Chipmunk Mike, or whatever his name was.
The next day, I caught a ride with my mom back to Baton Rouge to pick up the pictures, but after eight days in a tent-town surrounded by lakes, hills, trees, and port-o-potties, the urban environment just didn't sit right. Cornerstone was really over, and almost nothing else that happened that year sat right: this scary chick stalked me and sat in her car in front of my house every night, two hurricanes hit Louisiana, I picked up two speeding tickets in one weekend, one of the officers who gave me a ticket propositioned me for sex, I noticed for the first time that my bottom teeth were crooked, the stupid Shakespeare class I took that fall sucked so so bad, LSU wasn't that great at football, but none of that crap really matters.
What matters is that my cousin's husband, who was placed in a position of authority over me by my uncle, and approved and backed by my own mother, told me I had demons living inside of me. I knew that what he said was manipulative horseshit, but the fact that an entire authority system, which included two of my aunts, two uncles, and multiple other family members could approve of and be complicit in subjugating me in such a destructive manner shook me to my core. At Cornerstone, I saw Jesus. I had seen him before. I have seen him since. He's almost everywhere, but he isn't in manipulating youth with fear.
He isn't in milking a congregation for every cent in their pockets.
He isn't in people crawling around the floor and barking like dogs.
He isn't in a man placing his hand on your head and pushing you to the floor.
He isn't in forcing 12 year-old kids to attempt to prophesy to easily-influenced adults.
He isn't in giving a college student a "prophecy" in front of hundreds of people that he would not meet his future spouse until he was 29...that gave my wife and I a good laugh when we celebrated our four-year anniversary the day after my 29th birthday...it didn't really give me a good laugh right after I heard it. That one wasn't even given by a family member, but but "prophet" Michael Barnett, though it was supported by the leadership...and my own mother.
He isn't in inviting false teachers like Glenn Miller when the church needs some cash, who spend "revival weeks" terrifying the congregation into giving everything they own and splitting the pot with church leadership 50/50.
He isn't in pointless "outpourings of power" that accomplish nothing but making a group of people more susceptible to all the things listed above.
He is in the words he said two thousand years ago that are still just as alive today.
He is in the hearts of those who ask him to be there. Once he's there, he doesn't share that space with the powers of darkness. How can darkness stand in the face of light?
12 years later, I can remember moments from Cornerstone as if they happened yesterday. I am bummed that none of the kids in the youth group I lead, or the kids in the Sunday School I teach will ever get to experience Cornerstone for themselves. I know one thing for damned sure--those kids' youth leader and Sunday School teacher, as long as he's me, will never take them into a room by themselves, sit them down, and tell them, without having a clue who they really are, what is in their heart. I know that sounds lame, and it isn't funny, and it doesn't have anything to do with Cornerstone. The purpose of Cornerstone, though, and any event like it, is to put young people into a position where they are experiencing life for themselves. I could have followed party lines, skipped out on Cornerstone, and stayed home to be exorcised of my interests, as
the guy who told me I had demons also told me he only listened to "worship music," and that I needed to do the same. Outside of a corporate setting (where I actually play on a "worship team"), I generally enjoy about 3% of the worship music I hear (Hillsong United's newer efforts and Vineyard's older ones). When I'm on my own, I would rather worship God by rocking out, thinking and feeling through the unique likes and interests He has placed in me. I could sing along to bland songs in words I would never feel or say, and be somebody else...or, I could be smashed between hundreds of people in a tent, screaming along to a song about a dead porn star. For whatever reason, the latter moves me, and the former does not. That's me. Everyone doesn't fit in a box. You might look at a festival like Cornerstone and not see Jesus anywhere. Fine. Like the homespun aunt I never had always said, "It takes all kinds." With all of that said, if you are young or old, and in a church where the authority figures are forcing an un-Biblical point of view down your throat, tell them they are forcing an un-Biblical point of view down your throat, and then leave. That's what I did.
Once I had time to gather my thoughts, I called my uncle and my cousin's husband, scheduled a meeting with them. In the meeting, I told them I thought they were acting in a way vastly contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For my troubles, I was told by my uncle that if I left his church, I would likely "become the next Charles Manson." I was also told that without his guidance, "I would marry the wrong person, and end up getting divorced." I was 23 by this point, tough as nails, and steeled to hear the worst things I could possibly be told. I held my head up the entire time, as my face was spit upon, and I walked out confidently. When you've read the Bible for yourself a few times, it's a lot more difficult for someone who apparently hasn't to hurt you. Still, to this day, I can't believe that any authority figure charged by the Bible to shepherd others could tell a member of the congregation, let alone a younger member, let alone a family member, the awful things that were told to me in that meeting. My own mother, after hearing the things that were told to me said only, "I'm sorry that that happened to you," while continuing (to this very day) to attend. That is also pretty unbelievable to me. It's weird how people are drawn to power.
I never lost faith, though. I'm not sure if anyone who truly experiences Christ can. I hung out at an Episcopalian church for a while. It turned out to be a great place for someone seeking a safe space, and a more intellectual discussion of The Gospel. A little while later, I married a woman who attended a small, non-denominational church. Obviously, she invited me to attend, but I had a ton of reservations going in. What crazy stuff would these people believe?
I was finally rewarded for enduring years of religious torment. My wife's church was a place where God's Word was the agenda, not a tool to push one. It was, and still is, exactly what I needed. I understand why there are so many denominations. People are different. God made us to be different from one another. The only important thing is that The Church follows the Word of God. If it does not, it is not, by definition, a Christian Church. Pretty simple, but obviously, there are powerful men who see just what religion can do for them, instead of what they can do for religion.
I always planned to ramble here at the end. Stupid to hold stuff in. It might be ancient history, but it is my history, so I have the right to share it. I hope you enjoyed the Cornerstone stuff, and the Care Bears, and that jackass, Brantley, but if you want to talk about any of the stuff I mentioned in this final post, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I guess that's about it.