Thursday, November 07, 2013

"Regular Quiet Times"

After working at Camp for a little more than two and a half weeks this past summer, I told myself I wouldn't write a blog post, because that would make it pretty official that I only write blog posts after Camp, and I would know the real reason was because I don't reflect on life except when I'm forced and Camp forces me. Therefore, by not writing a blog post, I would solve the whole proble...wait no, that would not help at all. Hiding the symptoms doesn't cure anything. Of course, however, it remains true that I do not reflect unless I am encouraged to do so, and Camp played a role in bringing this post about.

"What has God been teaching you lately?"

I don't know. That's the first thing I always say, to give me time to think of an answer, and because it's usually true. Not that I don't ever learn things that I think God is teaching me, it happens, but not frequently. Now, I should say that part of me feels weird and suspicious of this question, like it has a false expectation that God will always be teaching me things, like I know that sort of thing about Him and his Activities. That qualm aside, the question ever reminds me that I am not consistent in "having a regular quiet time", "spending time with God", or whatever you want to call it.

This brings me back to the topic of Camp. Whenever I work at Camp, I get down to the Dining Hall for the daily staff meeting each morning fairly early, sometimes as much as a half hour before the meeting actually starts, and there I find a collection of my fellow counselors, many of whom are reading the Bible, or praying. This confirms that some people really do it; the regular morning quiet time is not a just a myth that everyone says is a good idea. But if it really is possible, why not me?

I used to think that this was because I was terrible at routines, but that's completely false, as I thrive on routines, both weekly and daily, and have been really getting into some lately. I come home from work, I eat hummus while reading a book, I lay in bed, maybe I do something else, I cook dinner, I read some internet, I plan some lessons or grade some assignments, I get tired, and I go to bed. That's a very routine evening for me and this, as well as other things, demonstrate that I certainly do do routines.

So what is it? Do I not care about the Bible? I don't think that's true. I lead a weekly Bible Study group, and I believe that God teaches me stuff through that (despite my lack of articulation at times, see: first half of the post), and through the sermons at church (though I'll admit that retention of sermon points has never been great here in my head), etc. As much as there are days when I doubt, days when I think "Oh Tim you don't actually care do you!"... later, I do. I used to think that if you didn't demonstrate a belief with your actions, it meant you didn't really believe it. I now think that while that's sometimes true, sometimes we are hypocritical for other reasons. We're not consistent, perfect people, and although we might want to be, spending too much time worrying about that in a puddle of angst doesn't really get you anywhere other than a rambling blog with a great title.

Saturday, September 01, 2012


I meant to write this post almost a year ago, but never finished it. While I was at Camp (see previous post), I ended up improvising what I wanted to say all along for a cabin of 13 & 14 year old guys. Then I realized that I should probably write it down.

Almost two years ago, my friend Adam started a Bible Study group (or "Small Group" as I often call such things) consisting of people he knew from various places and people they knew. It's become a really important community for me in that time, but that's not the point of this post. Instead, I'm going to tell you about a little bit of what we studied in the Scriptures.

The Epistle to the Hebrews, or "Hebrews" for short, is an interesting part of the New Testament, partly because we don't have a listed author for it, and partly because it talks about some pretty funky stuff. We took a long time to study it, but we took the longest time on the eleventh chapter. Hebrews 11 is an oft-quoted bit of the Bible, where the author of Hebrews goes through a lot of the Old Testament and lists when various people demonstrated "faith", which he defines, to paraphrase a bit, as being sure of the things hoped for, the unseen promises of God. The author talks about Abraham moving to a country he had never seen, Joseph believing that his descendants would be leaving Egypt eventually, Moses choosing hardships over palace life, and finally goes into a long list with less specific associations about people doing great things but also being naked, hungry, stoned, and (my favorite) sawn in half.

Now this is all well and good and we can sit back and say "Well weren't they so brave and full of faith! Wow!", but that would ignore the next chapter (Hebrews 12, natch), where Paul puts in a bit of application. Since all of those people had faith and were able to endure such things and accomplish such things, we should similarly endure things and accomplish things, by faith. We, like Abraham, Joseph, Moses, etc are looking forward to "a better country", or a promised land, that we haven't seen. We don't have evidence for believing we'll get there, at least not the same way we do for most things in life - If we did, it wouldn't be faith.

None of that was really surprising to me when we studied it, but there's a difference between knowing intellectually that something makes sense (within the context of the Scriptures and Christianity) and knowing it in your gut and actions. The gut half started to happen a bit as we studied it, though, as I mulled over my own faith and how little it's tested in the ways Hebrews describes. It's not as if no one goes through that sort of thing for the sake of Christ anymore, but I've yet to be killed or be told by God to move to another country (much less one I've never heard of), and so I don't, can't, know exactly what I'll do when/if that happens. It's not as if I never have doubts - Hours, days, weeks go by sometimes when I see the other side more clearly and want to say that faith in the unseen is absurd, and I'm some of you would agree.

But then I come back to thinking, or maybe feeling, that it's true, which leaves me with the dilemma of what I'll do if that  happens. I don't think there's anything I can do but pray that, when it gets hard to have faith, he provides me with more. I was going to say that that's difficult, because it is and because I'd rather depend on my own faith than have to trust that he'll give me what I need... but I wouldn't have any faith if he didn't give it anyway.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Ligonier Camp, Summer 2012, Session 6

Quick, I better write this down before I tell anyone else and stop feeling the need to write it down.

On Saturday, August 11th, I drove up to Ligonier, PA, to be a "rover" at Camp. When it was a counselor's day off, I would take over his tribe for 24 hours, then at dinner switch to a new tribe. I stayed through helping clean up camp, because it was the end of the summer for them, and drove home after breakfast Sunday. I was so tired.

The second Saturday night, after the last batch of campers had gone home, Camp had the closing campfire for staff, including a time called "Say So", which is when people stand up and talk about things they saw God do at Camp that summer. I wasn't going to stand up, because I was only there for a week, and there were people present who had been there all summer, but then I thought about it for a long time and decided what to say. So I thought I'd first tell you the two things I said then.

I remember driving up the long driveway of Camp in 2008 with my Dad, because I didn't own a car, and being dropped off in a part of the country I had never been to, at a place where I knew no one, to do a job I really didn't know how to do. I also remember how much better Summer 2009 went, partly because I already knew people and thus felt more comfortable. Frustratingly often, my abilities and personality seem to depend greatly on how familiar I am with the people around me. And so it was that as I approached the Camp this time, driving up PA Route 711, my thoughts were greatly consumed with "What the heck are you doing?! This isn't going to go well, because you won't know anyone there. It's been too long!".

After arriving at Camp and parking, I quickly found Stef, who's now Summer Camp Director, but she was headed off to the Lake Property for a Dedication ceremony, and so I went into the dining hall full of unfamiliar faces. Except there was Geraud, the first counselor I ever talked to when I arrived in 08, and he was also there to fill-in for the coming week. And there was Amy, who had been Stef's assistant all summer, but was leaving that day. And Liz, who has no official title at camp other than that she's "around", because she lives in town and helps whenever they need. And Lauren. And others. It quickly became apparent that there were enough familiar faces, and the rest of the staff were so welcoming, that everything would be okay. I could pretty easily say that Session 6 is the week when a lot of old staff come back, so it makes sense that there'd be so many familiar faces, and Camp Staff are generally welcoming of strangers who have come to help, particularly at the end of the year when everyone's tired... or I could thank God for providing me with that.

At the Staff Say So, I said I'd pick the latter, and I still do, but not to the exclusion of the first one. I hope that makes sense.

Back to 2008. When Mike German told me that his high school friend Lori told him that the Camp she had worked at the previous summer needed more guys for their summer staff, I was a dissatisfied Comp Sci major who had vaguely considered teaching but had little basis for serious thoughts in that direction. A year later, I had been a TA for a year, just received a Comp Sci degree and was about to enter my second summer working with kids. A year after that, I started a part-time Masters program to become a teacher, and hopefully I'll be finishing that within a year. If it hadn't been for the work at Camp, as well as all the education majors who work there, I don't know if I would have pursued teaching as a career. Again, it's pretty easy to explain this all away as the logical outcome of events, but again I'd rather thank God.

That's pretty much what I said at the Say So. I could probably write a post about what went on during Session 6, the ridiculous skits featuring Hans & Franz, the kids who needed "wraparound" counselors and the kids who only sort of did, kids peeing in the woods, faceplanting chasing a ten-year-old playing Gold Rush, just volunteering for lots and lots of things because I wasn't tired like everyone else and then getting sick, hanging out with people I hadn't seen in years, telling old stories, debating and making jokes about theology, losing at chess to children, playing Camp songs on guitar, jumping up and down.... but those things don't feel as important to tell you. When I left, Sunday morning, eight days after arriving, I shook hands with the guys I had worked with that week, hugged several of the people I knew from years previous, got in my car and left. It was exactly the sequence of events I wanted to do before getting in the car, which was nice. As they said this summer, I had "no regrets" about the week.

Oh, one last thing: At the start of the week, I felt like a pretty awesome Counselor, once I realized I still knew how to do the job. By the end of the week, I had seen a lot of the ways that I am not the best at it. It was humbling, and that was good. Some of my problems there will probably be problems to some extent when I'm "in the classroom" (as they say), so in that sense it was hopefully helpful. Again I am thankful.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Taking a step back

It's pretty easy for me to get all-worked-up. You know what I'm talking about, I hope: times when I'm so worried or so afraid that I am nothing but wrapped up in those fears. Worst case scenario after worst case scenario cascade through my mind, dropping into an ever-growing hollow in my stomach while I feel my face grow taut.

One of the possibilities, then, is to hide from it, to avoid it, to ignore that I am afraid. Another option, then, is to shut down, stop functioning, stop thinking and just wait it out in terror. It depends on circumstances as to which option is more viable, but neither works. In fact, the former can lead right on to the latter. I've done both, and it's not good for me, or anyone else.

I went through a phase, in the throes of my youthful adolescence I think, where I was obsessed with the analogy of jumping off a cliff. It was, of course, all about fear. I was the jumper and my fears were the cliff. All I had to do was jump over that cliff and wait until I hit the water (it was that sort of cliff) and then I'd be fine. Fake it 'til you make it, some people would say. I think Relient K had something to do with it all.

It's really not the best way to do things, though, because you're still so, so afraid. The first year I worked at Ligonier, I got to do the zipline during staff training. I ran to the edge of the platform, fully intending to make that leap of terror, and I stopped, dead in my tracks. I backed up and paused for a moment, and I asked my facilitator if it was alright if I grabbed the rope holding the harness around my wait to the carriage on the cable. I explained rather hurriedly that I knew that my arms holding that rope wouldn't do anything, it was the harness and carabiners doing all the work, but psychologically, in my head, it would help. Just jumping off the cliff didn't work, so I needed something more, something to assure me that my fears were unfounded.

The next year at camp, I did the High-Ropes once. It was a strange session, with a new and different program involving older kids (aged 16-18), theology teachers, and both genders (yikes! No really, at camp that's sort of bizarre). After all the campers had gone through the course, it was time for Abby and me to give it a shot. I had watched all the kids go through, I had been there before, I knew just how all the things worked, and I said "Yeah, I think I'll be fine." As we progressed through the course and upward into the air, it became more and more clear that I wasn't fine - I was terrified to the point of shaking. Abby, meanwhile, was just fine, and her stability is how the second half of the course managed to go as well as it did.

I want there to be a better way. I'd like to be able to stop, take a step back, and realize that my fears are exaggerated, grown far beyond what makes sense. I'd like to be able to say "There is a sturdy steel cable holding you in the air" or "Your friends won't think less of you" or even "You don't need to worry. He takes care of birds." and press on, unafraid.

Monday, December 27, 2010

I don't have new ideas

In early-mid-July, I switched from the sort of training section of my company to being placed on a real project in a real office. You can tell, because a week or two later I wrote a post called "Change" and then, if the title of this blog is true, didn't feel like writing for a long time.

It's not entirely true, though, because I've wanted to write. I've wanted to throw some ideas out there and put them into somewhat well-formed sentences and see what you (yes, you! ...whoever you are) have to say about them, if anything. I have opened the posting page several times and written nothing, because I haven't had the words. I haven't had the words, because I haven't had time to think.

I haven't had time to think, because I haven't made time to think. I haven't made time to play the guitar. I haven't made time to pray. I haven't made time to read, and those are all things I think are important for me to do. If you feel like you've read this before, maybe you read the post I wrote just before graduating from college.

Sometime in the last year, I went through several piles of old notebooks, full of writings and drawings going back as far as 3rd grade, saving only a few highlights and throwing the rest away, because I do not need to carry a giant pile of notebooks with me through life. My descendents either won't care or won't have time to look through it all, and, even if I became famous for some ridiculous reason, it will just make me more mysterious which is probably good.

I haven't written a lot of songs as of late, because I haven't been playing guitar (see above) and those tend to correlate (whether or not I'm not writing for guitar), but I sure did write a lot more songs in high school, in the throes of adolescence - what a surprise. I'm not claiming those were very good (some were real woofs), but as I looked back at them I realized that, despite the ways in which I've grown and matured, some of the struggles and themes were the same things I deal with today. It was a little bit too much like the beginning to a Caedmon's Call song, I guess.

One of the great things about a blog is that it's super-easy for me to look back at what I wrote in the past and realize that I still have the same problems, which just confirms my observations of my 16-year-old songwriting self. I'm not saying that I haven't changed, that things haven't gotten better, but it looks to me like the root causes in the heart are the same.

I don't read the Bible much, outside of my weekly Small Group Bible Study, because I don't make time for it, but I remember that back in my adolescence I was a huge fan of the end of Romans 7. This is probably one of those things unique to certain kinds of Protestants, but the problem of feeling like I want to do the right thing and then doing the wrong thing was a major concern in my life. I can't tell you how many songs I wrote about that. Paul says this:
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
I've tried a lot of things to change myself and overcome my problems. I don't know where to draw the line on the great continuum of trying to fix yourself and just sitting around doing nothing saying "Well come on God what is taking so long" and I feel like I've done both at various times. If you feel like you've read this before, maybe that's because I have written all this before.

A year ago, I was in St. Louis at Urbana 2009, and no, I still haven't committed to intentionally serving Christ in a cross-cultural context in the near future, and that was far from the first time I thought that was a good idea. I still haven't done all kinds of things that I sometimes I think I ought to do, like learning to make time for things, and fixing one of those things would probably fix all the rest: changing myself to be a better person, whatever that means. Michael Jackson may have sang about only needing a mirror to identify and fix his problems, but I've been staring at myself for years and I think it takes more than deciding to change. If you feel like you've read this before, maybe you read the ending of the post I made last on this blog.

If I can't change myself and God is taking so long, what can I do? Try harder, try different things, or be patient. I've tried the first one, I'd do the second if I wanted to, and the third option is so difficult.