This week’s Preacher Woman comes to you from “on location” at Suttle Lake United Methodist Camp. How blessed we are to have this fabulous resource so close by! Today is a bit cooler than yesterday, and I have set up shop at a picnic table near the green playing field. The trees are casting just the right amount of shade, there is a fragrant breeze, and I can watch the campers playing some incomprehensible (to me, at least) game involving soccer balls and frisbees (there is a lot of running involved).
We are having a good week. The staff here is impressive, the meals awesome, and the location couldn’t be more beautiful. Most of the counselors are part of the Resident Counselor program here in the Oregon-Idaho Conference. The conference (our apportionments at work) provides youth and young adults training and support and a small stipend, and they spend their summer traveling between our camps, providing leadership, continuity and the kind of expertise only young adults have (like great energy, new and exciting games, and the ability to go without sleep for long stretches of time). They are an impressive group. I am learning some great new songs and games!
I am one of the chaplains this week, so my job is to help with worship experiences, and be a good listener to campers and staff. Not a bad way to spend a week!
Going to church camp was always the highlight of my summer. Much of who I am as an adult, was shaped during those short weeks spent in that special place. Friends. Crafts. Skits. Music.
My counselors were good listeners, who took seriously the worries of a young, sensitive girl, and provided me with space to say out loud some of the things I didn’t think it would be safe to say outside the comfort of my own head:
What if there really isn’t a God? What if the stories in the Bible are just stories? If we need God, does God need us? What is heaven like? Can you be a Christian if your parents are divorced? If your family doesn’t go to church, does that mean they won’t go to heaven? Does God realize how scared I am?
It isn’t just young kids who need safe space to ask these questions. So many folks—of all ages—with whom I speak are in considerable ambivalence about this whole faith thing. As most of us are aware, the “Nones” are the fastest growing designation of religious affiliation in the U.S. In my world, I often hear doubt, curiosity, cynicism, and lots of questions. Here are some of the questions I hear:
Are we naively holding onto a remnant of hopeful and magical thinking? Or are we settling for a simple way to make the world easier to understand or have meaning? After all, people seem to be able to experience a sense of power and belonging at a college football game or a rock concert. Do we need church for that? Do we need God to be kind, or have integrity, or hold onto a sense of obligation to make the world a better place?
Maybe you recognize some of the questions. Maybe you have them yourself. Maybe you have even more questions than this list provides.
Stepping away to a quiet place can provide the mental and spiritual space to consider the world, our place in it, and our relationship to all that is beyond our ability to categorize and fully comprehend. In the sounds of trees blowing in the wind, the rich smell of pine, wood smoke, sun-warmed grass, our defenses against uncomfortable thoughts can quiet our souls enough to hear that still small voice, or the sounds of sheer silence that the prophet Elijah is said to have experienced when he was at the tipping point of his work as a truth teller. He was tired. He was lonely. He was burned out. Not so different than what many of us experience on a daily basis.
If we get quiet enough, we may have a chance to notice a moment when there is grace where it doesn’t seem possible; where there is love when it isn’t earned or deserved, forgiveness for the unforgiveable; connection between the most unlikely souls. And, my favorite awareness of all– the moments of mystery that calls to us from a place deeper than we ever knew existed in this chaotic and seemingly meaningless universe.
Camp for me has always been about stepping away, letting the mental squirrels rest for a time, breathing deeply, listening and being listened to—and being held by a community—even if that community only existed for that one week of camp. It fed my soul. It nurtured my dreams. It gave me glimpses of Holy Mystery that I had intuited, but rarely experienced. I hope you will join us this Sunday as we worship together at home base, and then join in a time of worship, food, and fellowship up here at camp. You never know what may happen at camp.