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Monday, December 15, 2014

Cornerstone 2002, Prologue: A Travelogue, A Memoir, and Some Jokes About Wieners

(An important note on this travelogue: This travelogue prologue is just a bunch of serious, not funny stuff. The next post begins the manic, stupid insanity you've come to love or hate or both about The Nicsperiment's travelogues. However, this particular travelogue needs some joke-free background first...well maybe I'll toss in a couple...)

Just shy of my ninth birthday, my uncle started a cult.* My mom joined, and like most cult members, brought her kids along for the ride. Like most reasonable people dragged into unreasonable situations, I kept my head down, stayed out of trouble, and learned to somehow still live the life I wanted to lead, except I was eight. This strategy worked for twelve years, as I somehow miraculously avoided the ire of the powers that be. That streak came to a fiery end. At a certain point, my uncle appointed his son-in-law as both youth and young adult pastor. The son-in-law protested the appointment, perhaps because he knew deep down he would abuse the position, but he eventually took it. The rest is history. My history.
On May 5, 2002, I had a simple, happy plan for the day. Finish moving the rest of my stuff from my sophomore apartment to my parents' house across the bridge, unpack, work on my Apocalypse Now paper for my Literature of Modern War class, and watch Alias season one's penultimate episode.  Those plans would not come to fruition. When attempting to leave church for the day, I was pulled aside by my first cousin's husband, the youth and young adults pastor. As he is Canadian, I figured he wanted to discuss a handful of things: maple-leaf flavored chewing gum, maple-leaf milkshakes, whether or not maple-leaf is supposed to have a hyphen or not, and the obstructionist policies of Canadian Prime Minister, Jean Chr├ętien. However, he did not want to discuss any of those things. Instead, he wanted to discuss the sure facts that everything I liked and enjoyed was evil, and that I was possessed by demons. You know, the usual things you tell your wife's 20-year old non-drinking, non-smoking, non-drug-taking, twice-a-week churchgoing, virgin cousin.
We sat in his Canadian-themed office for hours as he countered any argument I tried to make with the word "demons." I checked my watch again and again, sighing as I realized I would be getting home after Alias had already started, sighing again an hour later when I realized I would miss the entire episode, and sighing yet again when I knew the episode was already over, and here I was in this damned room, wondering if I was about to be exorcised. Millions of Americans with normal lives who were not about to be exorcised all now knew Sydney Bristow's fate, while I did not know if Sydney was alive or dead, if her father was okay, and if her friend Will had bit the dust or not. Thank God for DVD.
Anyway, if my story of involvement with that particular establishment contains a nadir, it is the brief second of self-doubt I felt in that awful, awful meeting (which also forced me to go into the following week's Alias season one finale blind. I can forgive a lot, but I'm still working on that one). If I have a regret (and really, being forced to attend a cult as a child should not be a regret--you did not choose to attend, therefore, someone else should be regretting making you go there), it is that I let those rat-bastards get me to doubt myself for that one second and briefly toy with the notion that they knew me better than Jesus. Serious prologue, you guys.
But, hey, everything worked out--the first chance I had to break free, I did, and the only scars I have are neuroses and stigmas I'll likely carry for the rest of my life. No problem, you guys, it's all cool.
With that said, as I had finally tasted the harm I had seen unleashed on others for so long, I began to formulate an escape. While many things crossed my mind, the best option ended up being to schedule an appointment with the Pastors, tell them their ministry was false, and walk out with my head not down, but high. I was vaguely hinting at that upcoming meeting way back here(it happend that very week). And I did.
Anyway, while working on my escape route, I wanted to get as far away from anyone who would misconstrue my facial expressions as Beelzebulb attempting to jump out of my eyeballs as possible. I planned as many summer getaways as my paltry college student funds could allow.
I needed to go somewhere where there were like-minded, normal people. I needed to go where the people are, and I needed to see, needed to see them dancing. I needed to go to Bushnell, Illinois.
The Cornerstone Festival, featuring hundreds of live bands, foreign film showcases, lectures, and loads of intellectual stimulation, got its start far before my visit, but by all accounts of those who have been to many, 2002 was quite a good one. The festival, founded in 1984, and typically running for a week every year near July the 4th, reached its end exactly ten years after my visit. It is most likely never coming back. The burgeoning Christian music scene from the turn of the century that fed Cornerstone 2002's rosters is all but dead. The intellectual and spiritual conversations of the time have de-evolved into Youtube arguments that can usually be boiled down to:

Dont b rediculus, god isnt reel.
You are ignant and soood dum, he iz.


Meanwhile, I am getting older every day, with Cornerstone growing smaller and smaller in my rearview.
It is time to recount when two of my lifelong friends and I hopped in a van, drove 835 miles, and altered our consciousness forever.
Oh yeah, and jokes about wieners.

*If anyone would like to counter that that particular organization was not a cult, I counter with the following evidence, which I won't even bother to number:
The words from the pulpit came not from the Bible, but from the minds of the leadership. The Bible itself was held secondary to their words. The exact statement, "I know the Bible says this, but..." was even said in regard to the church's position on corporate speaking of tongues. The church collected a monthly "building fund" from members under the threat of the pastor calling those members who did not contribute. I was included in these threats.
Most members of mainstream Christianity would call the basic practices of my Uncle's church deviant (which is the basic identifier for a Christian cult), including the multiple tithe and offering collections per service, as well as the building fund listed above, which were administered under threat of a curse and negative church communication from leaders, children were asked to "prophesy" the future of adults on a regular basis, leaving for any other church was extremely discouraged, and the reputation of the church itself against all others was generally bolstered by all those in authority, people were routinely "slain in the spirit," invisible swords were swung, people acted literally like animals on the floor before the stage, one prayer service (which I literally (two literally's in the same sentence!) ran out of) featured women having loud orgasms as they lied on the floor, and blah blah blah you see where this is going. I think the basic thing here is that the church milked its followers financially to extreme degrees: one message encouraged members to tithe even if the check would make them overdrawn, some members created credit cards just to tithe from, people sold houses and property to give the church the money, while at the same time being discouraged to never leave church membership under any circumstance, all the while having their fear and emotions stirred so that they would indeed fear to leave, being further isolated in an environment that was harmful, yet feeling an attachment to that environment because of the emotional manipulation. I mean, it was a cult, come on.


Anonymous said...


I'm very excited about reading this travelogue!

Thank you for sharing part of your story here.


Nicholas said...

Appreciate it, man!