Thinking Out Loud

April 25, 2016

Camp Memories (1)

Through a variety of circumstances, and with only three years experience ever having been a camper in my teens, I found myself on senior staff at a Christian camp for three summers.

The first year of the three the camp was in somewhat of a recovery mode. A previous administration hadn’t worked out and in desperation, the general director turned to an old friend who had spent a career in foreign missions to whip the place into shape. That man in turn rounded up a dozen people from the mission agency who were also catapulted into senior staff roles.

Organization PoliticsAs it turned out, that was oil and water. The senior staff was definitely split along “us” and “them” lines. One of the staff members had a baby girl, and various members of the “them” would take turns bouncing her on their knees. Let’s say the girl’s name was Carly. I did notice that the senior staff seemed divided into Carly-bouncers and non-Carly-bouncers. That was my own appraisal.

Beyond that, I was completely blind to the politics of the organization. Although most of my Christian service orientation at that point was with parachurch organizations, it was around the same time that I was discovering local church politics. But generally speaking, I was completely oblivious to the two factions that persisted at camp. I was there to do a job, and I tried to do most of my socializing with junior staff and if context permitted, even campers.

I also joined a coffee klatch, so to speak, consisting of two or three other senior staff members. The invitation to join had been highly qualified. I was told how Lewis and Tolkien and Kierkegaard would meet regularly for drinks and that the trip to the local village bakery for coffee and butter tarts (and me to pick up the camp mail) would be the equivalent. Really, they wanted to know if I, as one of the catapultees was a “them” or an “us.” And they were being very carefully guarded about what they said to me and I was being extremely vague because I had no idea about the organizational politics. Questions included shots in the dark such as, “Have you noticed anything unusual going on at camp?” (For the record, I was equally clued out about some of the young women on staff and missed a lot of social cues. If you were a female housekeeper or dishwasher that year and you’re somehow reading this, I apologize for not responding.)

However, once they heard my Carly-bouncer analogy, I was accepted as an “us,” even though it took about three weeks to get that far.

Caught in the Middle - DivorceThe mission agency people knew very little about Christian camping or even youth ministry in general, especially in comparison the “us-es” but their third world exposure meant they had good organizational skills, an ability to adapt, and a variety of gifts. Overall, I think the kids who attended that year got their money’s worth from this diversity, even if things at the senior staff level were a constant tug of war. (Important takeaway: Parachuting people from other ministry disciplines into unfamiliar contexts is not always a great idea.) I felt that within their own missions-and-development tribe, there were probably reasons to respect some of these people, not to mention their willingness to take on the camp challenge at the last minute.

What I was not prepared for was the very low view they had of those on the other side of the great divide. I had come to this job because I at a young age, I had youth ministry experience, had already started my own business, and brought an extensive knowledge of music, particularly the modern worship genre that was still in its infancy at that point. One of my other coffee klatch club members had vast experience in Christian camping, the third was studying to be a pastor and the fourth had both camping and pastoral training. Three of the four of us returned the following year when the missions people were swiftly dispatched in a spring cleanup the following spring.

So nothing prepared me for the moment when one of the “thems” came to me one day, looked me straight in the eye and said, “Your problem is, you’re completely shallow.” Wow! There’s an insult. Try it on someone sometime. Or don’t.

Shallowness I look back on it now and imagine Lucy from Peanuts, “You know what’s wrong with you, Charlie Brown? You’re totally shallow. You have no depth.”

I suppose in comparison to the travel and education opportunities she had experienced, I may have seemed like one of the kids on the farm, even if the farm was the urban ministry environment of Canada’s largest city. On that day however, the choice of words was devastating. I think it hit me hardest because it was everything I felt I wasn’t. I was a Renaissance man. I was tech and media savvy. I was well-read. I had a attended churches in a wide swath of denominations. And I did have a little travel under my belt, four countries including 40 of the 50 U.S. states.

Still, I did allow the short exchange to have some redemptive value. I worked hard to not be a one-issue candidate. To not obsess over certain pet subjects or causes. To read outside my comfort zone. To immerse myself in contexts and conversations with persons who are different. To study articles about things that aren’t my usual interests. To try to meet different people and then get inside their heads and understand their histories.

I don’t think I’m a shallow person, but…

…I do ask myself in certain situations if I’m being shallow. Is the conversation or relationship at the point of taking a leap to the next level — sure, use the video game analogy if it helps you — but I am remaining stuck at Level One? Or is the person on the other side of the exchange really hurting and I can’t see the question behind the question? Or am I missing an opportunity to go deeper because I’ve formulated some entirely different other agenda as to where I think the discussion is going? Or do I have a simplistic view of the topic at hand because I’ve never tracked with that discipline or genre? Or are my own topical choices tending toward the superficial?

Being called shallow could have been a scarring experience, but instead, I used it to form a system of checks and balances in my life. Though the rebuke was done entirely to hurt and to wound, I think it shaped me in some positive ways.



May 10, 2010


Filed under: character, Faith, ministry — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 12:41 pm

(Quick age/culture test:  Did the title of this post remind you of the movie Napoleon Dynamite?  That’s the inflection I was going for…)

Matthew 5: 22

But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. (ESV)

But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell. (NLT)

I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill. (The Message)

But I say to you that everyone who continues to be angry with his brother or harbors malice (enmity of heart) against him shall be liable to and unable to escape the punishment imposed by the court; and whoever speaks contemptuously and insultingly to his brother shall be liable to and unable to escape the punishment imposed by the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, You cursed fool! [You empty-headed idiot!] shall be liable to and unable to escape the hell (Gehenna) of fire. (Amplified Bible)

Four translations. Four clear messages. Varying interpretations. Why am I thinking about this verse today?

We live on a corner property that is only attached to two other houses. One is a bit of a distance away. Nice family: Husband, wife, two daughters. The other is much closer. What passes for a backyard is practically touching their kitchen window.  Many other stresses.

The bigger problem is, I have no respect for these people. For twenty years I’ve wrestled with different aspects of what it means to be salt and light in this community, as well as the particular aspect of the question that bears on why God would have us live next door to these people.

So far, as hard as I’ve tried to listen to His voice and His promptings, I’ve been unsuccessful, or to put it more spiritually, I haven’t seen anything fruitful take place.

For the past few years I have found it rather sad that they have removed all the mature trees from their backyard. (My dream would be to have a house with a ravine lot. Maybe in the “new earth” I’ll get that opportunity.)

To review, trees are good because:

  • They provide shade on a summer’s day
  • They protect the house from wind
  • They create a noise barrier
  • They provide an aesthetically pleasing atmosphere
  • They attract migratory birds
  • They help oxygenate the planet
  • They provide privacy
  • Each mature tree adds a minimum of $1,000 to your house’s value at resale; perhaps much more.

So I was equally distressed a few weeks ago when they cut down a nice silver birch tree on their front lawn for no apparent reason.

Then yesterday, after enjoying an exceptionally relaxed Mother’s Day with my wife and sons, the chain saw came out around 5:30 PM and within half an hour, a beautiful, 24-foot spruce tree that was about 30 years old was felled.   Again, no reason.   It wasn’t diseased.   It wasn’t threatening the house or the road or overhead wires.   Its roots weren’t close enough to the house to be a problem.   It required no maintenance.   The track record shows no other tree will replace it.

My neighbor is an idiot. (According to some interpretations, I can say this to you here, as long as I don’t say it directly to him.)

That was the only conclusion I could come up with.

Our longtime acquaintance Lorne, who programs the Christian music channel on Canada’s national satellite service, once said to me, “You don’t suffer fools.”   Maybe.   But doesn’t Matthew 5:22 tell me that I must?

The man next door works for the nuclear power company.   Ironically, so does the man across the street who has also cut down a number of mature trees– but nothing so grand as the one yesterday — over the past few years.   Maybe it’s an environmental perspective one gains with years of handling nuclear raw materials.

I just can’t imagine waking this morning and looking out at that big empty lawn and thinking I accomplished something vital and good the day before.

All I could think of this morning was this story:

A man made an appointment for marriage counseling with his pastor.

“I just don’t love her anymore;” was all he could say.

The pastor said, “We’re commanded to love our wives.   In Ephesians 5:25 it says, ‘Husbands love your wives just as Christ loved the Church…’   Do you think you can love your wife on that basis?”

The man said; “No, I can’t love her like that.”

The pastor smiled and said; “That’s okay.  There’s a second level of love available to you.  In Matthew 22:39 scripture says to ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  Do you think at least you can love your wife as a person would love their neighbor?”

“No;” the man replied; “I can’t even love her like a neighbor.”

“Don’t worry;” the pastor continued, “There’s a third level of love.   In Luke 6:27 the Bible says, ‘Love your enemies.'”

Insert rim shot here.  Believe it or not, that’s the punchline.   Told well orally, it’s one of those preacher stories that gets a good laugh.   In the context of a marriage sermon however, I’m not sure how useful a story it is.

But nonetheless, I am commanded to love my enemies as well as my neighbor.    Even when the words I want to say are; “You moron; you stupid, stupid idiot.”   Even when I want to say those words with great passion, a la Napoleon Dynamite.

[Old Testament readers can interject here that as with Jonah, it wasn’t my tree to weep over; better to weep over the spiritual — unsaved — state of my neighbor’s soul.   You’re right.   Interjection taken.   We included him in last night’s prayer time.  It’s done now, anyway.]

So what about you? Got neighbors, relatives, co-workers, fellow-students, or even people at your church who are hard to love?    Do you ever find your command to love at odds with the reality of being in proximity who seem to define the term ‘unlovable?’

Tell ya what:  You pray for me and I’ll pray for you.   And I’ll pray for myself, also.  As George Washington (quoting Thomas Paine) might have said if he lived in suburbia:  These are the neighbors that try men’s souls.

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