For the past week, I have been sleeping 5.5 hours a night in the middle of the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. I have been looking forward to this week for quite some time. There is not much that beats a vacation where you work alongside quality people for the benefit of high schoolers.
Camp ministry is something I have been a part of for over a decade. In a very real sense, it was camp ministry that cemented my resolve in the Christian faith and showed to me that there were, in fact, other people my age who were passionate about it and willing to dive deep into questions of doubt, meaning and purpose.
Of important note is the fact that I asked a dear friend a question on the last day… “Why is it that things like this feel more like church than church does?”
This was a week where we talked and spoke openly about many things. In a very real sense, many of our conversations were filled with “naked speech.” It is a term I heard used three weeks ago when I was in New Mexico. “Naked speech” is speech that is free from fear of judgment or need to impress. Honest speech like this is necessary and good for our holistic health. Have you ever been present as someone shares their story? But more than that, does it in such a way that it is balanced due to including both that person’s glories and failures? It brings tears to the eyes how vulnerable we can be with one another when there is the virtue of unconditional love present.
I had the opportunity throughout the week to teach on some concepts that I have been reading about and musing over for the past year and a half. I hosted a class called “Don’t Sign Up for This.” In reality, I knew that title would be provocative, that it would make people want to sign up for it. Kudos to the High Schoolers for signing up for it, because they had no idea what the content was going to be!
My class was presented in two parts. The first half would have more aptly been called “The Ceiling of Christian Theology” and it sought to answer the questions of “How big is God?” and “How much can we really comprehend about the Divine?” The second half would have more aptly been called “The Soil of Christian Spirituality” and it sought to answer the questions of “Where does this God come close?” and “Can we learn to drop the commercials of ourselves we sell to one another and God?” The first class was abstract and theoretical while the second was honest and vulnerable. I surprised even myself that I was able to maintain the attention of youth for 40 min straight and completely fill a 4′ by 8′ whiteboard. As a teacher and preacher, I have learned to look at the eyes of the audience to gauge their involvement. Fortunately, I was gifted some students who were smart and inquisitive. Regardless, the two part class ended with the comment that we are free to present our positive and negative sides to one another and the Divine, our mistakes and glories, our shames as well as our honors.
Throughout the week, those of us on staff were given the opportunity to encourage the youth to be honest and present about their struggles. I don’t think I can say that youth have a more difficult time than I did when I grew up, but their stories are simply just heartbreaking sometimes. Divorce, alcoholism, child services, serial dating, cutting, substance abuse, verbal abuse, cyber bullying, you name it. It is all staggering that anyone should have to experience these things, let alone during one’s most formative years. Youth ministry is important because it strives to be a purposeful counteraction to these impacting forcing and hopefully set the youth on a more positive trajectory.
It was a tiring week, but a wonderful one. Every so often, the reality hits that I have had the opportunity and the gift to be a part of such a project. Whether while working at churches, helping at organizations, being a camp counselor, jobs as youth pastors, speaking engagements at retreats, and at such things as this past week, I am humbled by the fact that anyone would consider me capable of being one of those positive voices. I know I make mistakes, but the grace has been extended to me by a wonderful family to be exactly who I am, so why not pay that same sentiment forward to the next generation.
The Divine is present. Whether we comprehend it or not. So why not live in it? Why not encourage those we meet to live lives of grace, justice, mercy and truth just as Jesus exemplified? It honestly just may save the world to do so.