Sunday, July 12, 2009

What I learned this year at summer camp: God is love, and grits are good

in the Bluffton Packet, Wed. July 1:

"Guess what's in my mouth?"

This morning, instead of my normal routine of coffee in my living room while checking news and Facebook, I had the pleasure of dining with the future of the Church -- the high school counselors at summer camp. This involved me picking at my eggs and toast and trying to pry my eyelids open while the boy across from me turned to his friend and began a new game.

"Dude, guess what's in my mouth?"






Ooh, we had a winner. And the boy rewarded his friend with the proof, displayed in all its half-chewed glory on his stuck-out tongue.

We're only on day one here at camp, but it gets better. Another counselor has been sneaking up on people while wearing a gorilla suit, while others engage in soda-chugging contests. Also I ended the first night elbow-deep in a broken toilet, fixing an archaic flushing mechanism.

I've written about mission trips before, but summer Bible camps are another time-honored (if not more conventional) summer youth ministry staple. Sure, they've gotten bad press from documentaries like "Jesus Camp" and various "SNL" sketches, but in reality, minus the thrilling conclusion of the mouth-guessing game, there's something about spending a week away from home, eating too many carbs and sharing a toilet and shower with eight others that brings you closer to God.

Why? It's freeing to break away from our daily routine to be in a new and unfamiliar environment. As we told the campers at their first meeting, forget what you think you know about each other. This week, see as God sees. You're meeting people for the first time, and just because you don't like to hang out with people who shop at Hollister or listen to Linkin Park doesn't mean you can't be friends with the guy in your cabin who appears to do both.

The funny thing is, while I was giving this advice to the charges in front of me, at some point I began lecturing myself.This lesson that the campers were learning for the first time was one that I had been taught over and over, yet still fail to put into practice. How often do I meet someone and, based on a first impression, think I know everything about him or her? I may be older, but at that moment am I any more mature than the teenage girl in all black who dramatically tells me that she cannot be friends with a cheerleader in pink and gingham hair ribbons? Just like our middle school campers need to be reminded not to judge their peers, I need to be reminded that God doesn't look at my neighbor and judge him based on their age, race or education. It's become cliché, but if we are truly attempting to follow Christ, avoiding judgment based on first impressions is advice we cannot hear often enough.

The Gospel of Matthew reminds us "as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you" (Matthew 7:1-2). That's not saying that we need to tolerate everything, but that we need to remember that Christ didn't ask us for a list of our skills or accomplishments before he lovingly gave His life for us on the cross. Unconditional love is just that, and if that's the way we've been loved, it's what we're to pass along to others. The ways we love change as we get older, but the lessons we learn from summer camp stay the same-- don't judge by first impressions, but pray for the grace to see those around us as God does.

When Alison Griswold is not at summer camp she can be found as the Director of Youth Ministry at St. Francis by the Sea Catholic Church.

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