Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Table…

This week’s letter comes to you from secluded woods in the midst of rolling hills brimming with waiting-to-be harvested corn. I’m at summer camp, the Christian Conference Center (CCC) in Newton, Iowa to be exact. Or for those who don’t know, it’s the camping facility owned and operated by our church’s Region, and as its entrance sign declares, it is, indeed, holy ground.

The young people whom it’s my privilege this week to watch over, play foolish games with and talk to about Jesus are seven young women and three young men, ranging from seventh grade to entering college- quite a motley crew! Yet somehow, we’re developing an impromptu and hopefully meaningful community where we can share and discover our many gifts, dreams and convictions. It’s always remarkable to me how, at camp, the normal rules for living as modern young people can suspend, however tentatively or fitfully. They’ve been trained for most of their school age years to separate themselves from others; to draw clear boundaries about what’s cool and what’s embarrassing, who’s worthwhile and who’s forgettable, what’s acceptable, hip speech and what ought remain unsaid, even if it’s what’s most true to their young, exuberant souls. They’ve seen their parents or older siblings act in similar manner, but haven’t developed yet the moral elasticity to take seemingly clear-cut behavioral rules with a grain of salt. Instead, in Middle or High School, these things appear very black and white, although trends and standards shift constantly under feet. And navigating such rocky rapids cultivates constant attentiveness and frequent anxiety for many youth.

Then, they arrive at camp. They’re told, “You’ll live with unfamiliar people for six days. They’ll become friends, we hope, however you’d normally interact at school. You’ll talk of God without shame; you’ll act goofy with gusto. And at the end, you’ll want to stay a bit longer.” This crazy set of expectations we leaders foist upon them sound crazy. Still, by the miracle God’s Spirit, it often works.

This camp has two themes. One is Equestrian, i.e. unlike most CCC summer camps they spend mornings riding horses. The second is more standard as it relates to church and God. Specifically, this year we’re exploring a concept of Potluck, imagining our lives as Christians as if we’re saddling up to a table together. It’s a powerful metaphor, stuffed with multiple avenues for reflection. What are the expected table manners? What fare does each person bring to the meal? Can you learn to eat broccoli and bean sprouts, while savoring fully the sumptuous deserts? And what’s the point of eating together in the first place?

I think the reason I love summer camp is that it acts like a living parable for the most cherished idea in my belief system. As a Disciple of Christ, I believe God’s Table is open to everyone. In worship, we say weekly that all are welcome, that Christ hosts this table and he’d never turn diners away. I can’t describe adequately the power that idea holds within my soul. Having seen too many people in too many places disregarded or dismissed, having experienced myself the pains of exclusion and derision, to know our Creator’s incarnate self- the living Lord’s own Son, Jesus- has a different, more open and, well, beautiful value system keeps me proudly following his lead. We serve all because he served all by giving all so all may live life fully. And not simply as better individuals, but live life fully together, gathered around his table. If any metaphor remains timely and needed, Christ’s Table is it.

And my campers are experiencing that, incarnating that blessed truth in this makeshift community. A couple struggle with autism. Some reside in conflicted homes. All face unique challenges so have difficulty understanding others’ differences. Still, they’re bringing what they’ve got to our potluck table, making room for others, sampling what they don’t often at home and washing it down with the overflowing cup of Christ’s love. It gives me hope, witnessing this sacred dynamic unfold, that more is possible than many assume. If they can do it, we can do it. The feast is prepared and waiting.

Grace and peace,
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