Tuesday, September 04, 2007

My Waaaaaaay Late Cornerstone Festival 2007 Report

If you peruse the Cornerstone Festival site, and especially coverage from most other folks (either of the faith community or the secular community), it quickly becomes apparent that most coverage is of Cornerstone's formidable music line-up. Most folks do attend mainly for the music, and that's fine.

My fest world, however, is deeply rooted in the Cornerstone Seminar world. And in particular, I find myself over the past few years more and more involved with the "CBE Tent," which is co-sponsored by Christians for Biblical Equality) and my home church / intentional community, Jesus People USA Evangelical Covenant Church.

So, without frills or photos (except the horrendously lovely photo of myself snapped by someone who obviously wants to humble me)... da report.

Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen was, as the Brits might say, "a fair knock-out." That is, stunning. Her seminars on C. S. Lewis and Gender offered a gentle but rigorous critique of Lewis and his contemporaries that may change the intellectual landscape for thinking Jesus followers. Unsurprisingly, she will soon release much of the material offered at Cstone as a book. If you love Lewis, or love women, this will make a very important addition to your library. (As an aside, discovering via Stewart Van Leeuwen the gentle feminism of mystery writer and believer Dorothy Sayers, and her likely role as someone who at least partially moved Lewis forward from his Edwardian views on women and hierarchy, got me reading Sayers seriously for the first time in my long Christian life. Wimsey and Vane live!) It should be noted that as one of our Seminar Program committee, I had "booked" Mary -- not for the CBE Tent, though she spoke there, too, but for JPUSA's Project12 Tent, where she did her Lewis presentation.

Particularly meaningful to me was Stewart Van Leeuwen's own story, and the fact, quoting her verbatim, that "C. S. Lewis kept me from becoming a Christian for ten years." Yep, that's what she said. Why? Because to Mary (as to me) feminism's core message was undeniable, all the moreso in her case as a highly gifted thinker who agonized over the limits a male-dominated society placed on her. (The latter might not be the way she'd put it, however.) Christians, of which she yearned to be among, steered her to their intellectual superstar, C. S. Lewis. But in his writings she found appalling gender stereotyping of a nature so hierarchical that she could not embrace the faith he said insisted upon such things. She did, of course, find her way to faith by other less patriarchal routes, and forgave Lewis. For more, I suppose you'll have to get her book.

I also got some good one to one time with Mary S. V. L. and that was deficient only because there wasn't enough time to delve into all the fascinating sub-topics we opened up. For instance, both Mary and another good and long-time friend of mine, Ruth Tucker, are self-described Calvinists. That frankly amazes me, as in my experience and intellectual understanding, Calvinism is about as nastily anti-woman as any segment of the theological spectrum. That, and the fact that Calvinism (as I understand it, anyway) is basically theological determinism and therefore turns the Lord of Love into a Perverse Deity any loving human could only hate, leaves me still anxious to talk more with Mary and maybe Ruth as well on that topic. I got the feeling that Mary has indeed sorted out things that I haven't at all grasped, so because of her I am -- in principle only -- open to Calvinism possibly being salvagable. She immediately seemed to guess my main reservation besides the rabid anti-woman stuff I've seen from Calvinists, namely, predestination and other elements of the infamous TULIP theology.

My wife Carol Elaine laughed at me about how much I mentioned Van Leeuwen for the next three weeks or so... but we both felt we'd made yet another close friend via CBE and the wonderful network of intelligent-hearted Christian women and men CBE's ministry gathers.

Steven Sizer showed up at last from England to offer a so-needed antidote to the rabid political misuse of Christ's Second Coming. I was, frankly, very nervous for Sizer, all the more when I realized how gentle and "British" in that reserved, humorous sense he was. I envisioned for him what had happened to me some years earlier at Cornerstone -- the ugliest moment of the fest for me ever. I'd dared, in a seminar meant by us sponsors of the fest to be a dialogue, to voice the opinion regarding Israel and Palestine that it was bad theology to use Old Testament verses about the Nation of Israel to justify the modern Secular State of Israel. Further, I said, the terrible use of depersonalizing language agaisnt the Palestinians ("them" "the usurpers" and so on) was in fact anti-christian. At that point, a number of very pro-Israel attendees began yelling and screaming in a way that reminded me... well, of a fascist riot about to occur. So, as I say, I was nervous for Mr. Sizer.

But... unlike me, Steven Sizer was not only gentle as a dove, he was also wise as a serpent. For one thing, he relentlessly went to the Scriptures themselves. And for another thing, he dismantled noxious elements of "rapture theology" and uncovered the political underpinnings of the "new right" / Christian Right edifice. All with that winsome British accent, quietly studious demeanor, and Bible Scholar presentation. It worked. Needless to say, I realized once again that I'm not much of a diplomat. Sigh...

Other cool seminar moments that I witnessed... Sarah Sullivan told her horrific story of rape and its equally horrific aftermath in the courts (including a judge who indicated he didn't think rapes actually happened). But her story this time bore evidence of her own continuing journey in trying to understand its meaning from a Christian faith perspective. The questions of good and evil are for many of us academic to one degree or another, but for her they are absolutely at the heart of her own search for meaning. It was very moving to hear her talk about a God of Love, among fellow believers who share feminist (or mutualist if you will) understandings of what love is. She at times seemed to echo Job.

Mimi Haddad, president of CBE, was also present again this year after missing last year because of some little European CBE meeting. She must have discovered that Cstone is far more fun. A friend living at JPUSA told me later that her classes had been ever so helpful to him in banishing the last threads of anti-woman theology from his mind, though he'd rejected that theology years earlier. The little free time he had at the fest (since our fellowship's members are the ones helping run the crazy thing) was spent listening to Mimi's seminars on women in the Church through the ages. His report on her and her words glowed.

Shane Claiborne's presence at the fest this year was nearly derailed by the factory-caused fire that burned down the Simple Way's (and its neighbors) homes. For more on that fire, see the Simple Way website, Irresistible Revolution. So, while his intentional community's buildings were still smoking, Shane did manage to come to Cornerstone. His seminars were massively popular, and for the best of reasons. The calling to community that some of us feel -- whether that community be more high-intensity along the lines of JPUSA or Simple Way -- or one more like JPUSA's neighbors at Reba Place, is a strange, beautiful, painful calling. And it is one that an increasing number of younger people, tired of being consumerized, merchandised, and Empirised, feel an intense affinity toward. Shane's presence was one we all were glad for, as God continues to uphold and create models of community which, if nothing else, offer a different life than that offered by Empire...

Hey, back to the CBE Tent again...

In response to some really silly (and mean) posting done about CBE and the Festival last year regarding our alleged worship of goddesses and encouragement of paganism (Let's have a witch-burning, people!), CBE's own Julia Butcher turned that discussion on its head. In her seminars, "Desperate Measures: How the Church is Driving Women to Wicca…and What it Can Do to Draw Them Back" she explored some of the reasons women would be drawn to Wicca rather than the truncated, anti-feminine faith often offered by Christians. Her missiological approach seemed entirely sound to this camper, and if only folks would use that same approach in dialogues with other beliefs and persons holding said beliefs, it sure would be a lot more like Jesus...

The entire CBE Tent's speakers schedule from Cstone 2007 can be found here, with futher links to each speaker also provided.

I also spoke, as usual, and from my perspective it probably wasn't my best outing. I did two CBE Tent seminars, "Men and Mutuality" and "Mutuality in Bed." But I have this terrible habit of getting into such a convoluted philosophically abstract state of mind that the result can often leave folks either sleeping or completely confused. It might not have been that bad, but particularly during my sex talk (the "Mutuality in Bed" bit) I felt I'd goofed it. I'll probably post the written versions of both talks fairly soon here, as I do write / type them out long-hand. That will give you the chance to see how badly I botched it.

There was much more, but I have other things I must attend to at present. I do hope to see many of you (are there many of you?! What presumption on my part!) next year for Cornerstone 2008. We're sellin' tickets already, I believe... but to be sure, go to CornerstoneFestival.com where info is more reliable than anything I provide.


Ruth Tucker said...

I am enthralled by your review of Cornerston Fest---have some wonderful memories of years gone by! Your reference to me as a Calvinist makes me want to interact with you further. Maybe someday soon we'll sit down together and you'll lead me away from old John Calvin!! Blessings, dear friend.

Ruth Tucker

Jon Trott said...

Ruth, I have so many warm memories of you both at the festival and visiting us here in Chicago. Funny we never got into the Calvinism discussion before, as far ranging as some of our free-association type conversations went. Hehehe... I still remember sitting there with Norm Geisler and all three of us having individual takes on Eve's vs. Adam's role in the fall of humankind. It was delightful.

Re Calvin... and perhaps even Augustine from whom many Calvinist folk seem to also draw heavily... there seems a wierd mix of anti-female, ultra-modernist (in today's reformed / Calvinist theology), and God as harsh patriarchal "Other", that clangs against my sensibilities, experience in Christ, and understanding of Scripture.

I say that, though, admitting that unlike yourself and Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen, I am mostly a self-educated theological mutt, likely unreliable for a balanced take on John Calvin. I've also been bruised by fundamentalisms rooted (they say) in Calvinism, and currently don't know how to separate the two (if in fact they can be, which at present I'm dubious about).

If you feel like it, it would be interesting to have a dialogue on this here. But if it seems an odd place for such a discussion, we can wait for our next in-person meeting.

Dear friend, blessings on you, your husband, and your family. And I hope our next conversation is sooner rather than later!

Lainie Petersen said...

It was an amazing time, wasn't it? It seemed like this Cornerstone was special in some way: Not sure why that was, but it seemed like the Spirit was really moving this year.

It was great getting to meet you and Carol, of course, and even though it was sparsely attended, I thought the Talking Stage was fantastic!

Whisky Prajer said...

Thanks for the Cstone coverage. You've already introduced me to Ruth Tucker; now we have Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen. Throw in novelist/essayist Marilynne Robinson and I'm wondering if you couldn't host a panel discussion on the merits of Calvinism as perceived by three feminists? I might even muster the wherewithall to finally drive south of the border for that fab fest of yours.

Lainie Petersen said...

Wow, that would be a great panel! Jon...what do you think?