Thursday, August 9, 2012

The power of intimacy…

I’m spending this week directing a week-long summer camp in Iowa. Again. You’ll remember that I’ve done this work, on our Region’s behalf, each of the past three years. Driving four hours south and east, sleeping amongst the trees, giving talks to and leading activities for young men and women in both Middle and High Schools, singing, running, guffawing, praying, and otherwise seeking God throughout this out-of-the-way Holy Ground.

This year’s a bit different, however, in that we’ve got only six campers. The previous years weren’t much bigger- 9 and 10, respectively. Ours is a specialty camp, Equestrian Camp, where the youth ride and care for horses every morning. And the ranch at which this equine activity occurs has capacity for only 10. Thus, we’ll always be small fish in the much larger pond of our Regional Camping Ministry. Still, being but six has an appreciably more minute feel. And I’ll be honest, when I first heard that numbers, my enthusiasm plunged.

I mean, sure, these kids deserve an enthusiastic, meaningful camp experience, and they can’t control how many others sign up. But I worried that it wouldn’t be worth my time this year. That this small group would have no energy. That we’d bore ourselves by too much contact with too few people. That the critical mass needed for transformative ministry wasn’t achieved, and we’d hate it.

But here I sit, late at night on the third day of camp, and I’m reminded of a theme I’ve preached to you over and over- God’s most transformative power expresses itself in intimacy. And know that by intimacy, I don’t mean anything sensually suggestive. Rather, I’m talking the closeness created by sharing more than superficial conversations, getting to know more than what makes others politely chuckle, but what makes them laugh hysterically. Or cry. What quirky comments your neighbor always repeats, and why that matters to him. What foibles your neighbor will commit, and how you’ve learned to appreciate her regardless. Intimacy’s entangled with humility, patience and forgiveness. And it’s only achievable in small enough groups, where two or three are gathered, like Scripture says.

Or even six. Well, eight, if you count me and my co-counselor. And what do you know? This group’s grown close quickly, and joyfully. These young people don’t see their cadre’s size as a failure, but a blessing. They’re more able to be the best self they want to be, without cowing to the socially acceptable behavioral straightjackets of typical school life. Having no cliques to navigate, they’ve made the only friends available. Each other. And they seem to find the company quite fine.

As does their director. Fact is, I’m enjoying myself much more than I expected. They’re asking interesting questions, sharing personal stories, listening to each other. Many of those things that, in my planning, I hope may occur, seem to work in this intimate setting. My campers really ‘get it.’ And sure, we haven’t enough for some usual camp activities. An epic Capture the Flag Adventure isn’t in the cards for us, alas! But that stuff, while fun, isn’t nearly as important as these youth striving to grow together, become more faithful young adults. Truly, they believe that a week at this camp can help them become better people, better Christians. And halfway through, I will say, I believe it too.

Pop Quiz: What did Jesus call the two most important commandments? Answer: Love
God fully, and love your neighbor as yourself. Now imagine loving anyone fully, imagine truly loving yourself, but doing so without nurturing a deeply intimate relationship. It doesn’t work, does it? Love requires intimacy. More than nice feelings, warm fuzzies, sentimentality, love’s a full-bodied, full-souled, full-mind-engaged undertaking. At least, at its most transformative, love demands we open ourselves to others as much as we’re able. And you just can’t do that if you’re unwilling to think small. To get involved in intimate relationships, to share life with a precious, delightful few. But Jesus suggests, as I’m re-learning this week, that kind of work contains the very power of God, who knows us, and loves us each more intimately than any.

Grace and Peace,

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