Monday, June 17, 2013

Goodbye, Phyo (A message for my Camp Christian friends)

Goodbye, Phyo. See you later, Hiram, Wilmington, & Lakeside. Your days are numbered, Portahoga, Maumee, Hocking, & Miami. Get ready to join up with the retired names of camps past: Portage, Cuyahoga, Mahoning, Olentangy, Philadelphia, Oyo; Chi Rho Camps #1, #2, #3, and so on. And I am sure there were others whose names I do not recall. (Was there a junior camp called “Camp Roadkill?” I can never remember). As you may know, this is the last summer for our current camp names at Camp Christian. Just as old class photos in the movie “Dead Poets Society” bore witness to students long gone, one day in the future the plaques and banners in the old dining hall – which was once the new dining hall in the 1960’s – will be silent reminders of what once was. And what of the grand traditions that accompany these names – poking people in the back with a fork as a primitive and crass method of acceptance; the candle holding boys singing obscure and vaguely suggestive songs (“I’ll taste your strawberries, I’ll drink your sweet wine) to the candle holding girls who sing back; the Alma Maters (“neath the elms” upon the campus – what elms? I thought all the elms died); (kerosene soaked cheesecloth’s bursting into flame back in the woods (no comment necessary); the Chi Rho shower (jumping in the pool instead of taking a shower with soap); those fellowship times in the Adirondack (used to be green) chairs – “one person to a chair please;” the Monday Night Hoedown – a sweat fest that brings the whole camp closer together every single week; Quest truths – “God the Holy Spirit shines through me;” Vespers – one of the greatest spots to worship in the whole world – wait, we moved it somewhere else, didn’t we?; the evening rituals surrounding closing circles and closing Chi Rho’s – “Good night, campers;” torches, candles, somewhat eternal flames; Morning Watch and Morning Prayers; CYF Officers; leaving room for the Holy Spirit; deep camp romances which can last part of a day or a lifetime; that “C” word – Consecration. I haven’t been around Magnetic Springs all that long – only since 1968 when I first arrived at Camp Christian for Chi Rho Camp #3 – I still miss old Camp #3, that number was so meaningful to me. Not having been there in the 1950’s and early 1960’s, there are a whole bunch of things I don’t know about Camp. But one thing I am sure of is this: The true value of the Camp Christian experience has never been contained in that “T” word “Tradition.” What does it matter if the camps we attend are numbered, named after Ohio rivers, or even named after the places where they used to meet before Camp Christian was purchased? Is it Advance Conference or Advanced Conference? Does it really matter - although we need to clear up that confusing combination: “Advance Retreat” - are we going forward or falling back? As all church folks know, traditions can assist us in passing on and sharing the truly valuable stuff like love, acceptance, devotion, and joy. But no tradition – no matter how sacred it may seem to us – contains or controls any of those eternal and essential things. It is as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 7: “we have this treasure in clay jars; so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” The tradition is not the treasure. The programs at Camp Christian have always had the same goal – the creation of Christian community where everyone can experience the transforming love of Jesus Christ. If our traditions help us in creating that community, then we should think seriously about keeping them. If they don’t, then we should have given them up already. The current class of students in “Dead Poets Society” were encouraged to “Carpe Diem” – to seize the day, to live in the now rather than in the past or even in the future. As the song “Today” suggests, “Today while the blossoms still cling to the vine, I’ll taste your strawberries, I’ll drink your sweet wine, A million tomorrows will all pass away, ‘Ere I forget all the joy that is mine, Today.” So, campers and counselors and staffers in all weeks of the summer of 2013, find the joy, experience God, and please don’t stick anyone with a fork. Even if it is tradition.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Please Hold On. Sudden Stops are Sometimes Necessary

“Please Hold On, Sudden Stops are Sometimes Necessary” cautioned the sign on the San Francisco Transit System bus. “I should take a picture of that,” I thought. “Good sermon illustration.” Two days later it would prove not to be a sermon illustration but a prophetic warning. Two days later I was back in Ohio driving south on Rt. 91 in Stow. It was raining. I was jet lagged. I was travelling about 40 miles an hour – a speed consistent with the flow of traffic. I turned my head to the right to see if the windows I had opened were letting too much water into the car. When I turned my head back, I was stunned to see that the car in front of me had come to a complete and sudden stop. Maybe the driver decided at the last minute to turn and had to stop for oncoming traffic. If I had not turned my head when I did, my Civic would have plowed into his back end regardless of whether or not I had braked. It was way too late to brake. Instead I whipped my steering wheel to the right to swerve around him – I don’t recall checking to see whether or not there was a car to the right of me. But there wasn’t. I am not sure if all four wheels stayed on the road, but as I veered to the right I began to lose control of the vehicle. It probably would have been fun if I was playing Grand Theft Auto or Super Mario Cart. I regained control and wrenched the steering wheel back to the left after I passed by the stopped car. The entire incident was over in just a few seconds of “real time,” but it still isn’t really over for me. I looked back in my rearview mirror to see that the cars behind me had slowed way down – they were giving this stunt driving man all the room I needed. I pulled into the post office parking lot and turned off the ignition. As I sat there I realized just how close I was to killing someone. How close I was to killing myself. Or at least significantly injuring myself or others. How close I was to the hospital, to the jail, to the morgue. To a complete shift in the direction of my life or the life of someone else. Life does come at you fast, sometimes, doesn’t it? Please hold on, sudden stops are sometimes necessary. I regained enough of a grip to start the car and continue on my travels to the church and later up to the Cleveland Clinic to see a church member. Another crisis averted, another return to life as normal, another list of things to check off my Kindle “To Do” list. When I finally got home later in the day, I opened some bottles and toasted with Holly – a toast to life. It was almost like a thanksgiving offering brought to an altar. I knew that I was blessed to be at my home that night with my wife. Earlier in my trip south on Rt. 91 before the sudden stop, I was sitting at a red light and examining a cross that nine year old Bella Curet has made for me and given to me a few days before Easter. Bella was the sole member of my pastor’s class and was baptized on Easter morning. The cross had been hanging from my mirror along with some Russian prayer beads. The cross had fallen and when I picked it up I noticed words I hadn’t seen before written on the blue material of the sewn cross. “He Still Lives,” the words proclaimed. An appropriate enough Easter message. But after my near death experience, I realized that Jesus was not the only one who still lives. At least for another day, “He Still Lives” described me. I am thankful.