Thinking Out Loud

July 17, 2020

Cliff Jumping and Exotic Food

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:20 am

While working at one of the two summer camps I served at in my 20s, a few weeks in to one season I felt that the ten of us who comprised the senior staff were somewhat detached from the cabin life experienced by the counselors. Several of these cabins had extra seats in the dining room and I suggested we pick a cabin for the week and join in them for lunch — at breakfast key leaders were planning as they ate, and at supper we were debriefing — and maybe drop in to their devotional time once or twice or join them on a cabin activity.

I quickly learned that you don’t introduce structures like this when the summer is already in progress, but of the ten of us, three people bought in to some degree. The counselors were always happy to have an extra adult at the table, and the kids could ask questions about the camp.

The cabin activity I chose for one cabin involved taking the kids on two boats to an island where we would park the boats on the west side and then jump into the lake off a 45-foot cliff on the other side. I was a decent enough swimmer that this didn’t concern me in the least.

This is more or less what it looked like, though we didn’t allow the kids to dive. If you ever find yourself doing this, make sure you take a good step or jump forward to avoid the rock outcrop you can’t always see under the water.

Until I went to the ledge of the cliff and looked down.

I’ve known people much younger than myself who were jumping 65-feet off a bridge into a river, but for some reason I was gripped by fear with this shorter plunge mostly because I had simply never done anything like this before.

It was then it occurred to me that if these kids were going to have any respect for the camp leadership — and especially respect us as we shared Jesus with them — I needed to push back the fear and take a running leap.

I ended up jumping in at least four more times that day. I will confess it is exhilarating, but I also need to state for the record that this whole ‘leaping’ genre is something that still fills me with great fear. Anything on a screen where someone dives out of an airplane causes me to close my eyes until the story is over, or change the channel. I think the cliff jumping precipitated a few bad dreams in the years which immediately followed.

But I stand by my decision to do it. The kids weren’t going to have faith in a camp leadership made up of wusses. (Hoping that word still means the same thing as it did.) And for the remaining days of that week, those kids and I had enjoyed a shared experience…

…Fast forward a few decades and my mind goes to people I’ve met who are in a similar leadership position. They’re standing on the edge of the cliff, so to speak, and people are watching them to see if they’re willing to jump or are afraid.

The cliff they’re perched on may have to do with any one of a number of everyday activities, and if there are enough of these, their life become characterized by things they are afraid to try, places they are afraid to go, food they are afraid to taste.

And again, I find myself asking the question I asked decades earlier: How can people respect our Christian testimony and ministry if our lives are marked by such apprehension over so many things? But don’t stop reading here, because maybe it’s not 100% about him, but also about me…

…As I thought about writing this at various points over the past few years — I did a search this morning to see if the phrase “cliff jumping” was contained here — something dawned on me which had never occurred to me previously: This type of fear nag at me because it can partially reflect my own.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll try the activity (though physical ones not so much as the years advance), I’ll enter the place in the city that is foreign to my comfort zone, I’ll eat the Middle Eastern or central Asian food, I’ll fly to the vacation destination.

But we all have anxiety issues over all manner of things. With some people they’re buried deep and with others they appear on the surface; yet each of us has things which produce a mental or even physiological reaction when seen, named or proposed.

…I can’t help notice the preponderance of books about fear and anxiety in the Christian market over the past ten years or so. With Max Lucado — the top selling Christian author — it’s the major of theme of at least four of his works.

Christians are not exempt or immune from anxiety, and we need those reminders to trust, cling, rely on our Lord. Further to that, we also need to realize that seeing the fears others experience might exist front of mind because they are reflecting are own nervous apprehension over other, completely unrelated things.

We don’t necessarily identify with the particular object of the other person’s anxiety, but we certainly identify with the emotion.

March 6, 2016

Preparing Your 10-Year-Old for College

Filed under: children, Christianity, education, parenting — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 2:41 pm

Christian Camp

Christian CampingToday we were treated to lunch, and the subject of college and university experiences (both our own, and that of our children) was the main topic for about 15 minutes. One thing we agreed on strongly was this: The kids who have a summer camp background have a huge advantage over the kids who don’t have camping experience.

They are better equipped to deal with independent living (in the sense of living away from home) but also in the sense of communal living (in the sense of being in a dorm or student apartment). They also have a confidence that comes from wider and deeper living experiences.

Parents… send your kids to camp! My advice: Make it a Christian camp. In the U.S. click the link in the graphic at right for the CCI (Christian Camping International) directory to find a camp near — but not too near — you. (Just enter your zip code in the field at the right of their page; a similar site exists for Canada.) Will your child get homesick? Ask yourself which is easier to deal with: A homesick 10-year old or an 18-year old homesick college freshman? Choose the former to avoid the later.

If your kids are Jr. High or High School youth, start right away with a weekend spring camp experience. Contact a local church that has a vibrant youth ministry, or a branch of a parachurch organization like Youth For Christ or Young Life.

Bonus: It is said you can accomplish as much or more in the spiritual life of a child with one week of camp than with 52 weeks of Sunday School.

summer camp campfire

March 4, 2013

Teens With Idle Hands

clock spiral

This weekend I accidentally stumbled on the mother of all teen forums. The discussion boards actually generated a fair bit of traffic both from the UK and the US. Adding it all up, I probably spent more than 90 minutes listening to what the kids were saying.

At this point, you should have all sorts of warning lights going off in your brain, so let me assure you that I wasn’t stalking anyone, didn’t create a login where I pretended to be a teenage girl, didn’t chat or leave any comments, and didn’t set up a time to meet anyone in a public park on Tuesday after school.  Actually, the site seemed to be heavily moderated, and additionally, I got the impression that some teens are selected to act as prefects to find problems the moderators miss.

As I considered what I was reading, I realized there is a root issue about life for the modern teenager in western Europe and North America that we might miss.

Parents, generally speaking, worry about what their sons are watching online, who their daughters are texting at 12:30 in the morning, and generally what activities go on in the school lunchroom, on the school bus or at weekend parties. They worry with good reason. Much of your child’s worldview is being shaped by the internet. Television is no longer a big factor. Magazines are no longer an influence. And radio is… what is radio again?

Some of the online discussions were healthy interaction on concerns teens worry about as they face the uncertainties of growing up. I’m not saying we don’t need this type of website. But peer-to-peer advice is a kind of wild frontier where subject matter is often reduced to the lowest common denominator. No one truly speaks with authority, and everything is opinion; nothing is footnoted or referenced.

Your pre-teens’ and/or teens’ worlds are being shaped by social media platforms arriving so quickly that if I were to name any here, it would immediately render this article dated.  Unless the world experiences considerable alteration, kids growing up today will spend a full 25% of their lives (minimum) sitting in front of a screen. That’s not waking hours. That’s hours, period. Whatever happened to playing road hockey and hoops and yelling “car” every time a vehicle wanted to drive through? Card games and board games? It’s hard to generate interest in a plodding game of Scrabble with kids who grew up playing first person shooters. And most teens would rather debate the merits of keeping suburban lawns trimmed than actually help cut the lawn.

The family agenda and the family core values are set by screens and what the screens transmit. These kids have grown up in a screen culture; have never known a world without screens. So how to pull the kids away? Some people say the kids simply have too much unstructured time. But why do they have this free time?

Simple. In our move from rural to urban life, kids have no chores.

Once upon a time, there were cows to milk, eggs to gather, tomatoes to pick, manure to shovel and firewood to chop.  But now that is not the case.

Once upon a more recent time, there were part time jobs for teenagers. But the reality of the new economy is that those entry level jobs at fast food restaurants and departments stores are now scooped up by desperate people in their thirties, forties and fifties who lost great career opportunities and now fill two or three part time positions that in a previous era would have gone to students.

So… no chores, no jobs.  Social media fills they void and they can stay up until 12:30 texting because they haven’t done anything physically exhausting all day.

What is the solution to this? Soccer, swimming and baseball are good, but many families cannot afford to get their kids into sports; though as space permits in local parks and schools, some informal competitive sports  can happen for those who can’t afford the equipment and uniforms.

If you have the luxury of relocating to what is at least a hobby farm, you would be doing your kids a big favor.  Seriously.  Or at least plant as big a garden as you can in whatever space you have.

Youth groups: Can’t say enough good about this option. Get your older teens into one (or two) high school groups and then get them helping out in junior high groups.

Music lessons: You can reduce costs by finding teachers who do group music lessons. You can reduce musical instrument costs by starting the kids off with ukeleles or budget-priced guitars or starter electronic keyboards.

My wife and I are big believers in summer camp ministry. If you can get the kids in for several years as campers, and then let them grow into leadership training and finally staff positions, your initial investment will pay for itself, and in some cases provide the teens with income at a time in economic history when summer jobs otherwise don’t exist.

Urban chores: Get your teens to step up and do things that you or your spouse might normally have done. If their rooms need painting, get them to do it themselves with a trip to the building store for paint and supplies. Do they need some shelving in their rooms? Get them to build it themselves. Set up a pizza garden where they grow some of their favorite toppings. Allow older teens to help with any home renovation you’re doing, or a minor car repair.

Finally, volunteering: At the seniors home, at the local library, at the community center. It’s not only a great place to meet other teens committed to not vegetating in front of screens, but the volunteer hours can be logged and possibly translate to scholarships in their senior year of high school. Furthermore, you can put volunteer positions on a resumé, which means better prospects for part time jobs that do come available.

The teens in the discussion groups I saw this weekend — especially in the areas drawing the greatest number of views — were fixated on things that are not going to improve their character, their prospects, or their sense of self-worth. The discussion forum itself is a glaring example of teens with too much time on their hands.  They often feed off encouragement toward negative behaviors that can only be described as self-destructive.

They need something else — anything else — to occupy their waking hours.

February 5, 2010

The Camp Monk Meal: Variant

At a couple of the Christian summer camps I’ve worked at we often did a variant on the classic monk meal.   In the original version, you’re trying to replicate a monastery where the monks have taken a vow of silence.   At about day four of a residential camp experience, there isn’t a single counselor who isn’t glad to see the monk meal on the schedule.

The variant doesn’t require silence.   You simply aren’t allowed to ask for anything.  You can’t say, “Pass the ketchup;” or anything like that, though with some camps’ food, the ketchup is exactly what you’d be asking for.

Instead, you’re supposed to see that someone across the table has a need.

Most people today are too selfish to be considerate.   It’s not taught.   In fact, I’d argue it’s at the heart of our spiritual condition; many of the verses containing the word “sin” continue to work if you substitute “selfishness.”

Today we were at a grocery store checkout where the groceries are scanned and then placed in one of two conveyor belts for customers to pack their own bags.   They alternate between the two, except that the guy ahead of us didn’t care to operate from the end of the belt, and was blocking everyone’s only means of exit.   With my wife staying at the cash register to pay, I wanted to start packing, but I couldn’t get by him.

The order just kept filling up the other belt, and still he didn’t move.  The cashier saw the problem and did nothing.    Normally I would say something, but I wanted to see exactly how inconsiderate this guy was.

When the cashier started scanning the groceries for the people after us, there was nowhere to put them.   She switched back to the belt that was, by now, clearing a little, but even as those groceries started appearing on his belt, he still didn’t move.   He didn’t care.    Didn’t give a

Later on, as we drove away, we found ourselves in traffic where two lanes merge into one.    Despite being ahead of another car, I realized that there was absolutely no way he was going let me in first.    He simply roared his engine and squeezed in ahead of us almost causing me to hit the curb.  It’s a me-first proposition when you’re driving; you almost have to adopt the mentality if you want to survive.

Somebody needs to find ways to adapt the monk meal to other areas of life.   Maybe people will get it.   Maybe they won’t.

Now if I could just get somebody to realize I’d like some more juice.

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