Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Love, #1

Jesus says I should love God with everything in me, with everything I have. People have told me, many times, that if I fully love God, I will love the things he loves. Thankfully I am not Jewish, or I would have to love not eating bacon. Jesus then goes on to say that I should love everyone else as much as I love myself. It's a good thing that's the second command, or I might have to hate God, because maybe some people love hating God. I'm supposed to treat others how I treat myself, or maybe how I want them to treat me (though not with the actual expectation of reciprocation).

I think it's interesting to think about the fact that I might be wrong about what is the best way to treat others, but loving them only obligates me to love as I think I ought to, not as I actually should. I mean, there's no other way to do it, really, but it's still interesting. The other interesting bit is that if loving God fully means loving the things he loves, then maybe loving God more fully than I do now will cause me to love others more in the right way, instead of however I presently believe I should love them. So learning to love God more fully helps me love both God and others more fully.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Ligonier Camp, Summer of 2009

I have two posts unfinished, I confess, and I might never finish them. But I recently realized that I have not written much at all about my second summer as a Camp Counselor at Ligonier Camp & Conference Center, in Ligonier, Pennsylvania. For those of you who missed it, I wrote a few posts about my first summer there, and reading them will tell you what Camp is like, generally, which might help you understand the rest of this. On the other hand, I can not guarantee that they are the most interesting posts. Also, if I don't write soon, I may forget.

Near the end of May, I graduated with a B.S. in Computer Science from UMBC (University of Maryland Baltimore County). A few days later, I went off to camp with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and studied the first few chapters of Genesis for a week. It was excellent. A little before this, I had to fill out some paperwork for a job I was offered and accepted, and when I got back from camp with IV, this still had to be finished. Also, I needed time to recuperate from a fairly awful semester (My GPA went down a bit more than I wanted) and camp. So I called up Camp and told them that I needed a few days, I would be getting to training two days late. I didn't like doing that, but I didn't feel too awful about; I'd been through counselor training before.

The first person I met this year who I hadn't known before, was Allan Edwards. He was this year's Men's Director, he's been around Camp for years (but not much last year), and the first thing he did was say "Tim Milligan's here!" (which is how Lauren and Dana introduced me) and gave me a big hug. Later he actually said "So, I'm Allan" and we did the actual meeting each other thing. My Dad said "From the hug, I thought you knew him.." I soon went off to put my stuff in one of the cabins where guys were staying during training, and almost immediately ran into a pack of Counselors, our paths colliding as they went from some training session up to belay training, where I was to follow them shortly. This wasn't really something I was looking forward to, as I failed my belay test last year, and so started a trend. A few days later, I passed the belay test, something I had to do only twice all summer; I can't say I enjoyed any of it.

Camp was not the same this year as last year. There was a new dining hall, a new zipline, new activities sometimes, etc. We had bulldozers and dumptrucks all summer, and the dining hall didn't get approved by the State until a few days before Campers arrived. There was a Target Sports co-counselor, and yet I got to teach Archery a lot; it was later revealed that Steve was good at archery and knew little aobut guns before taking the job, yet there he was at the riflery range every day. Some of the people I got along best with last year weren't there this year. Many people from last year were there this year. Many people there this year weren't there last year, many of them having never been to Ligonier before at all. I confess, I had my misgivings about some of the folks on staff; I thought "Really? That person is going to work here at a counselor? I am not too sure." but, what a surprise, I was wrong to think that way. It was a quality group of people serving God by loving kids at Camp this summer. Or maybe it was a group of terrible people depending on God. That, I think, is a lot more true.

My first year at Camp, I often felt a bit on the outside, never quite connecting as well as I wanted to with others, never quite understanding how things worked because I was new, etc. I still didn't connect as well as I wanted to, because I am not really the best at being open and honest and loving, etc, but this year did feel different. I distinctly remember being told by folks that they were really glad I came back this year, and that took me by surprise; I didn't really know why and I don't think I do now. One day, I was told that although this was supposedly only my second summer at Ligonier, they felt "like that isn't true" and I had been there for a long time. As much as this was certainly confusing and strange to me, it was also plenty encouraging.

Camp Staff is divided into Units, which sort of roughly corresponds to the ages of the kids you work with, maybe. I was once again in Unit 2, right where I wanted to be, which meant ages 10-13 again, which was fine by me, though that didn't quite work out; more on that later. Unit 2 Guys this year had, if I do say so myself, a rather distinct personality. We'd meet together twice a week to hang out and do some Bible study with Allan, and one day we got to talking about the Pixar film "The Incredibles." From that point on, "The Incredibles" was discussed at every Discount (Discipleship/Accountability) in exactly the same fashion every time:
  • "You mean like that family of Superheroes?"
  • "Yeah! The Incredibles! They're just like the Brady Bunch, but with superpowers!"
  • "Yeah! Except the incredible part is that they manage to stay together as a nuclear family in a modern world of high divorce rates!"
  • "And then Syndrome is all like 'I'm Syndrome!' and Frozone's like 'Where is my supa-suit!?' and then"
  • "And the baby, he's like 'I'm a baby, I can't decide what power I have' so he has ALL of them"
  • "And then that kid is like "Wooooow, that was INCREDIBLE!"
Every time. At the end of the summer, Allan fulfilled our dreams and we watched "The Incredibles" and oh it was good. There is nothing like anticipation to make a good thing even better.

I admit that a lot of the rest of this will end up being about the 2nd half of Camp. I loved the first half, really I did, but it was mostly uneventful. Except that one week I had a kid with Autism in my cabin, and an extra counselor was assigned to take care of Charles. It was difficult to know what to do sometimes, like when we turned around and found Charles naked, but it was also really Good. And Peter was back in my cabin for the 2nd year in a row, and this time he cried a lot less when not-winning, and he and I had a really interesting and I hope Good talk about all the trouble he's been having in school this year, and how Jesus wants him to react to that, and how that's not easy at all. And Riley and I combined our tribes into a super-tribe and had a really good campout.

When I was in first grade, I went on a canoe trip with my father and a bunch of others guys from church (well, Christian Service Brigade, technically), and our canoe flipped in rapids and I held on and ended up trapped underneath it briefly. This discouraged me from much participating in boating activities for years, and my aversion continues to this day. But this summer, I had to go White-Water Rafting, because I actually had campers old enough. I did not wear my glasses, because otherwise you lose them, and I was in a boat with Riley, another counselor and also half-blind, a kid who was half-blind, a raft captain kid who couldn't give correct directions on time, a kid who started out by not paddling hard enough, and a kid who alternated by not paddling hard enough and paddling two hard just to mess with us. I fell in once and it was terrifying. Then, we ate lunch on land, we started to get our act together as a raft, and I had fun. But two weeks later when I had the chance to go again, I let Steve, my co-counselor for the week, go instead.

Last year, I was glad that my oldest camper was 13; I always found myself a bit more awkward with older kids, not as good as being their counselor. Session 4 of Camp, I had a cabin full of 13 and 14 year olds, the kind that want life to be a wrestling match. This why I went rafting, this is why I did the Vomit Comet, my kids were old enough, and this is also why I went paintballing this year. Paintballing hurts like crazy, and is not fun until you figure out how to aim well, which didn't happen until the 2nd time I went. I still didn't like it a whole, whole lot. The week after I had those kids for two weeks, there was a program at Camp called The Next Step, where 16-18 year olds came and had lectures and discussions about Christianity and philosophy in the morning, and did all manner of things in the afternoon. Tyler got sick the day they were to arrive, and suddenly I found myself with even older campers, ones who were going paintballing, rafting, and even on the zipline. I didn't go rafting again, but I did the others. Also, I found myself, along with Abby, in the position of helping run a program that had never happened before, dealing with outside staff (that is to say, those not as familiar with Ligonier), and that was incredibly difficult.

The week after I had the really old kids, I got sick for a few days, and then I was a rover for a few days. Rovers take over counselors' tribes on their days off, just for a day, and then the rover is off to a different tribe. I thought this would be awful and hard, but it turned out to be a whole lot of fun. Then, after that, I had what are called "Lil Ligs", kids ages 6-8 who come to Camp for two nights. I was pretty afraid of this idea, and other than one kid throwing up at 2am on the 2nd night, and two brothers being homesick the first night, it went really well. The other counselor in the cabin that week, a guy named Chris, was great with the homesick kids, while I took other kids to the toilet. The next night, I was great at cleaning up barf while Chris took the kid to the nurse. I discovered that little kids are lots of fun to throw around in the pool, but I still don't think I'm all that good with little kids.

During Session 5, a plague swept through Camp. It was some sort of flu or something, and it generally caused you to barf and feel awful for 12 to 36 hours. I caught it just as my really old kids were leaving, and so instead of having a day off, I had a night of puking for 5 hours. Thankfully, though, I wasn't alone. That night, we had two cabins full of sick kids and counselors, with two CITs (Counselors In Training, high schoolers who love camp and do the dirty work for not enough money) who had already had the illness working most of the night exchanging trashbags of vomit for empty ones. I gave up on sleeping in a dark room full of puke-smell and sick campers and sat out on deck all night with Brian and Jeff, even sleeping a little bit, but also puking, as I said, for 5 hours. I don't know if I've ever puked so much before, and I hope I never do again; I wasn't even in the worst group of patients. In the morning, Ben and Josh read Bible stories to the kids, and then later I read the first quarter of "The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe" to everyone. After the few remaining sick kids were moved out, we scrubbed those cabins with bleach. A few days later, before Lil Ligs, we did it again. And one Lil Lig still got sick!

It might seem like I did a lot of things that I didn't like this summer. It's true! But it was Good for me. God showed me that serving him isn't doing what I like. He also showed me that the the things I think will be terrible, sometimes, are not all that bad. I am thankful. By the end of it, I was exhausted, and it was good. I learned that remembering that Christ is your master is pretty important. He also showed his mercy in that I never once had to do any silly dances all summer long. Other highlights of the summer include walking through fields for part of the journey to Town, something I did several times, singing "The Mariner's Revenge (abridged/cleanedup)" with Ben at Dessert Theater, and seeing all the cool animals that Ben, our Nature Co-Counselor found. I corresponded regularly with my friend Matthew all summer and I also sent letters to several other people, including one hand-written copy of the Book of James. I suspect that my letter writing took the place of journaling in many instances, but I'm okay with that. It was a good summer. I think I learned that hard work can be very fulfilling. I think I've written enough about Camp for now.

Here are some photos

And one more, taken during a walk back from Town, this time with friends

Friday, October 23, 2009

What makes sense

I can't control what I believe is true. If you walked up to me and paid me a large sum of money to believe that the sky is red, I might say "Okay, the sky is red", but inside I would be believing the sky is blue and lying to you for the money. Now, perhaps you have lots of photographs showing the sky to be red, and some sort of spectroscopy device or whatever scientific instrument you want to use (I am not a real scientist, just a computer one) saying that the sky is red. These would be some fascinating things to show me, I assure you, but then I would look up at the sky and see the color blue and I would go on believing that the sky is blue. I would also believe that you have rudimentary photo-editing skills, and your scientific instruments need recalibration.

The problem with all this is that the same story is applicable to my saying the sky is red and you saying the sky is blue. None of this has really helped us agree on the truth about the color of the sky. Additionally, if someone thinks the sky is red, I might suggest they also think that water and the two Gs in the Google logo are red. So it is really not the best example. One thing, though, that I get out of the little story I just made up, is that I am probably going to believe what I think is true, regardless of what you say is true. Could you convince me that I'm wrong? I wonder, sometimes. If everyone told me the sky was red, would I decide my eyeballs were broken? But if a doctor said my eyeballs were broken, I bet I'd believe him. But I still don't think I'd be choosing to believe something, I would be choosing to trust someone who I trust to know what they're talking about, and that choice would change my beliefs. Maybe you could give me a very convincing argument that the sky was red. You could say that the argument changed my beliefs, because it made so much sense to my mind, but I still don't think there's a lot of choice involved in that. If you claim to be actively choosing to believe something, that sounds like you're choosing that which doesn't make as much sense to you as some alternative. Maybe this is what my friend Alex calls "Intellectual Dishonesty".

At the same time, however, I can choose how much of what voices I listen to, and maybe that's related to what influences my beliefs. I think I already know this, though. Unsurprisingly, I tend to choose things which reinforce some of my views, but I also make an effort to hear the opposition too, albeit in a lesser amount. I think this is a good plan. Of course I do; it makes sense to me!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Doing Nothing

For the past two months, I have had the opportunity to do absolutely nothing. I came into this experience after being a Summer Camp Counselor for two and a half months, so I certainly needed rest. Secondly, I needed a space in which to live. As I have not yet started my post-college, "real" job, I am still residing in my parents' house. After four years of moving in and out of college dorms, two of those without any real residency in this house, my room had become a complete mess of boxes, clothes and other unsorted items. This was more than just a cleaning effort; I had to reorganize and reevaluate my possessions, throwing some away. I did this at what can probably be best described as a snail's pace, my unfortunately natural laziness no longer motivated by any known timetable. After I finally put everything in its proper place and vacuumed the long-unseen floor, I began to move into other parts of the house.

My family is just as naturally lazy as I am, my family falls into the terrible pit of the internet just as easily as I do, my grandmother died, my sister started college and my other sister started High School. So I began to move through the house, cleaning and reorganizing various areas as the impulses took me. I believed I was doing a good thing, and I still do, but I am also an arrogant jerk. Can you tell someone they need to be more conscious of how they take care of their living space, when you suck at it too? Can you tell someone that you "fixed" a mess without believing terrible things about yourself? Probably not. The garage is still a mess, but I am not sure I have the power and authority to fix that.

There are many, many ways a man can distract himself. I feel like the internet has increased these ways tenfold. I have played with Desktop Tower Defense Pro more times than I know, but I still can't beat the last two Scenarios nor most of the Sprint Modes. Thankfully, eventually the vast void of entertainment and idle distraction proves fruitless, its pleasures and flashing lights no longer enjoyable but instead feeling hollow, the truth. I'm not saying that recreation doesn't have its place in life, but such things should serve as an enjoyable rest from work, and I have not been doing a whole lot of work.

When I was at Camp this summer, Allan, the Men's Director, sometimes talked about how we're meant to work six days a week and rest on a seventh, the model outlined in the very beginning of Genesis. Camp works you hard, for the most part, because kids are a handful, loving them can be very tiring, and Camp is designed to challenge the Staff as well as the kids. When your day off comes around each week (whatever day that turns out to be), you love it, you enjoy it, because you need it. You don't do nothing, either, because there are things you want to do that you haven't had time to do the rest of the week. You rest by doing things, just not the same things, not the work things. Rest is good, so good, when it is preceded by work.

There's been some progress on the whole "starting that real job" thing, lately, although I still don't actually know when that's all doing down. Until then, though, I need to work. I tried to get hired as a substitute teacher, but it seems like the nearby school districts are pretty full up on those, probably thanks to the recent events in our economy. My recently deceased grandmother's house needs a lot of work done to it, but I don't know what to do and I get a crazy headache when I go there because she smoked like crazy and it reeks. The garage isn't finished, but I already mentioned how I may be at impasse there. I don't know what to do. But I sure can't do nothing; it's neither right nor healthy.

Monday, September 21, 2009


I want to do the right things for the right reasons. It's not enough for me to just do the right thing, it's gotta have the right reasons. I want to give the homeless man money because I love him, not because I feel guilty or ashamed of having wealth when he does not. Does feeling bad about my money and his lack and the disparity between the two count as love?

It gets worse. I don't want to not do wrong things for the wrong reasons. I don't want to not have sex because I am afraid of getting the girl pregnant, but I want to not have sex because I love God, want to obey his commands, and love this hypothetical woman enough to wait 'til we're married. Does being afraid of the consequences count as love?

The Bible says we're supposed to fear God, most famously when the Psalms tell us that the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. Everyone today is hasty to point out that it does not mean the sort of cowering fear that we think of, but instead a healthy awe and respect. On the other hand, I would be afraid to meet a tiger in the wild, because that thing can tear your face off, and God can do much the same.

Jesus says that all the Law can be summed up in "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." and "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." I've often been taught and taken this to mean, probably after a lot of theological inferences, that we should obey God because we love him. If you love him as your God, you will do what he says. He knows best, and you love him and his ways and his attributes, so you want to do what is best according to his instruction. Okay, so far, so good, I think. But what if I am obeying him because I am afraid he will bite my face off? Is that love?

Jesus tells us that being angry at someone is the same as murder, and lusting after someone is the same as adultery. So not having angry thoughts is a good thing. But he doesn't say we have to not have angry thoughts because we love God; he does make sure we're aware that insulting people could land us in hell. Does it matter why you do something?

Monday, September 07, 2009

Homosexuality, Gay Marriage, Christianity, etc

A friend of mine recently asked me for my thoughts on "homosexuality, gay marriage, etc". This is what I wrote in reply.

No matter where one stands on the factuality of the first few chapters of the Book of Genesis in the Bible, and I am pretty sure dinosaurs and people were never around at the same time, the intention and meaning of the story is fascinating. God makes the first man out of dirt, and the first man is lonely, and needs a "helper-partner" (I've been told that the Hebrew is "ezer-konegdo" and that's what it means, but I don't speak Ancient Hebrew myself), and so God goes and makes his wife, thus completing the species. Now things get messed up a little bit later on when they start disobeying God, but that's besides the point for this discussion. My point is that I'm pretty sure one of the first things that the Bible talks about (after it makes some statements about which kinds of creatures have dominion over which parts of the planet) is that men and women are meant to be equal partners in marriage, and that's the intention for us, as humans. Lots of other things in the Scriptures agree with this, and so we have homosexuality as sin.

I have no idea why men fall in love with men and want to marry them, and likewise with women, but apparently they do it. They then raise the objection that they did not choose to be the way they are, etc, and I see no better choice but to believe them. But there are two thoughts I have about that: First off, it's not genetic, as far as I know. Second off, there are lots of things that people didn't consciously choose that aren't genetic. Furthermore, they say that because they didn't choose it, they can't change it. I, frankly, have no idea if this is true or not, but I do know that there are things about people which they didn't choose but can change, and there are things which they can't change. So that's about all I've got on that one; it is not a settled matter in the least.

Concerning "Gay Marriage", that hot political debate of our day:
First, it's going to happen. Second, I don't really care, with one exception. This is not "A Christian Nation", as if such a thing could even exist, and the majority of people in America are okay with it, so it ought to happen. That's how Democracy, or whatever our system of government is, works. The one exception is the administering of marriage or whatever you want to call it. If there comes a day when churches are not allowed to refuse performing a marriage ceremony for a homosexual couple, on the grounds that such a thing is discrimination, then we've obviously got a problem. I mean, honestly, I am not sure the government should be involved in deciding who can and can't get married at all in the first place, but that's not a very likely situation.

The other thing I've got on my mind is the way that Christians treat homosexuals. Far, far too often, we do a really horrible job of loving them, which is lousy, because Jesus tells us to love everybody. Now, if homosexuality is a sin (is it just the gay sex? is it the attraction? this gets complicated and I'm not sure anyone has the answers), then God wants to save people from that too. How the heck God does that, I don't know. How we (and by we I mean Christians) are supposed to tell people that without their thinking we hate them, I don't know if people have figured it out. But it's a big problem, you know?
A guy who makes music and is also a Christian (but don't tell him he makes Christian music; he gets angry) named Derek Webb, whose music I really like, came out with a song recently called What Matters More, and it's been on my mind a lot recently. You'll find the video below.

Friday, September 04, 2009

One of the many problems of things

In my closet, on the top shelf, there is a trebuchet. It is made of wood, metal, twine and denim, and it can fling a tennis ball at least a meter, maybe even two, if memory serves me right. My father and I built it, though I think my mother cut the denim sling, for my 11th grade Physics class. It is not miniscule, and it takes up quite a lot of shelf space in my closet. It would probably be helpful to not have it taking up so much closet space, so I could put other things there. But on the other hand, I don't want to throw it away. It's not very useful; I never need to throw tennis balls with anything other than my arm. It's not very good looking; it's just a bunch of quickly cut wood attached to each other in a very sturdy fashion. It's not very impressive; any one could build it if they wanted to, although most of classmates chose simpler designs that lacked hook-release slings and swinging counterweights. But on the other hand, I don't want to throw it away.

This is not the only object of its sort which I have, of course. Somewhere in the garage is a cardboard farm, and a cardboard Verrazano Narrows Bridge, and a wood and felt Yurt. In one of my drawers you can find two wooden racing cars, one designed distinctly to resemble a Space Shuttle. There's a t-shirt covered in the signatures of Bulgarians, and a deer print cast in plaster-of-paris, and a stack of comics I drew during the 3rd, 4th and 5th grades. They're not doing anything. They will never do anything. But on the other hand, I don't want throw them away.

This wouldn't be much of an issue, except that I have more things now, things which need to be somewhere other than the middle of my floor. I can not put them on the top shelf of my closet, because there is a trebuchet and a stack of notebooks full of drawings taking up most of the space. I am not going to throw away my pots, pans, silverware and plates, because someday I hope to have a kitchen in which to use these things. But on the other hand, I don't want to throw the trebuchet away.

Monday, August 31, 2009


Jesus says he didn't come to bring peace to the Earth, but that instead, of all the things you might not expect, he came to bring a sword, because swords violently divide things. Have you ever read Matthew 10, verses 34 through 39? He says that my enemies will, or at least could be my own family! I don't want to be divided from my family, but there's Jesus, threatening to chop us up. When his family shows up to see him, he says they're not his family, people who do the will of God are his family. That makes sense, because then we all have one Father, but it still sucks for families. But on the other hand, if your family is more important to you than doing the will of the Father, then you're not following Jesus (he says so). So much for Jesus valuing the nuclear family! Now, for me, a good thing to keep in mind is that my family are Christians. At the same time, however, Jesus says that being a Christian redefines who my family is. So although my family may still be family, my family is not longer restricted to them.

I often wonder what it means to be family, since both the existence of adoption and the teachings of Jesus tell me it means something other than blood relation. Personal experience suggests it means the people you love best. People say you don't have to like your family, but you do have to love them; I've never been clear on how to love someone without at least not disliking them, but personal experience may help here too. At Camp, there are plenty of people who, if not for Camp, I probably would never be friends with. To be more precise, I would not consider them a friend, if not for Jesus. This, I think, is significant. Here are people I would not love except for the fact that we follow Jesus, and, indeed, I consider them my brothers and sisters, despite that we enjoy different things, think different ways, come from different places, etc. If we weren't brothers, I'd probably dislike some of them even, but instead I want to love them, despite our differences. Maybe family means that you hold in common your most important bond. For many, this is blood, DNA, relation. For Christians, this is our Father.

I'm supposed to love my neighbors, which means people who help me when I'm beat up, and I'm supposed to love my enemies too. So how do I treat my family any different? If there's no difference in how I treat them, why does it matter their family? Laying aside that complicated issue, what would it look like if I treated all Christians like family?

If all Christians are my family, and we're supposed to be a family that loves each other, not some kind of dysfunctional mess, then we can't just move away and stop talking if we disagree about stuff. If all Christians are my family, then I need to eat with them, I need to talk with them, I need to live with them, and I need to take care of them.

If I treated all Christians like family, I'd let them live in my house whenever they needed to (presuming I own a house, I guess). Of course, Jesus tells us to do that for people, because when we do, we're actually giving Jesus a home, somehow. I'd give them food when they needed it, and much the same comments apply here. I'd love and trust them above all, because ... well, because they're family. Trusting everyone who loves Jesus?

That really is the problem, I suppose: loving people.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Time keeps on slipping into the Future

I ought to write another post, a followup to the Trash one, about how the Trash one was pretty silly, but that won't happen right now.

Some Christians often talk about being good stewards with their money, because God gave them their money. This is very Biblical; Jesus tells us the parable of the Talents to tell us to use our money wisely, and the parable of the Shrewd Manager to tell us to use our money for the Kingdom,. I will refrain from utilizing the Talents-talents homonym found in English, but I will say that God gives us Spiritual Gifts as well as not-spiritual gifts (Don't ask me what those mean!), and we should use those the same way that we use our money: for the Kingdom. Money is a material possession, even if people forget that sometimes, and the best use of it is the same. But recently I have realized that God also gave us Time, and the best use of it is the same. This may sound like I am saying that God gave us our lives and therefore we should use our lives for the Kingdom, for the glory of God, but I don't use "My Life" as a unit of Time, whereas I think about how I am spending my time pretty frequently.

Several times, people have told me that if I used a planner, I would be able to manage my time better, spend my time better, and generally make myself a better person as well as a better Christian. I won't even bother explaining that, but I can tell you unequivocally that it did not work. I never remembered to look in the thing, even if I remembered to write things down. The idea of planning out how I would spend each minute of the day was incredibly difficult for me, and I would not have stuck to such a schedule even if I had succeeded in creating one. Instead, where the pro-tight-schedule people would have had me block in time for homework, time for this thing, time for that thing, I have free-form whatever time.

This freedom is so easily abused, and so my free-time all too often becomes my lay-around time, or my read-blogs time, or my play-computer-games time. None of those things are wrong, in and of themselves, but they cease to be relaxing activities of respite and become holes in which to laze away my day, depriving me of both the joy of accomplishment after hard work and the joy of a well-earned break after hard work. The transformation of what was meant to be joyful into meaningless boredom is a good sign of sin, I think.

This makes a lot of sense, to me. The best way we can use the time God has given us is for his glory and his Kingdom, which are really one and the same, I suspect. The question, then, is whether or not I can use my free-form time properly.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Nate the Snake

The deserts of New Mexico, 1953! Now, do you know what was going on in America back then? We were fighting the Cold War. Our military-industrial complex was hard at work fighting the Soviets, constantly researching new and better weapons.
Now, in the desert there lived a snake, named Nate, Nate the snake, and Nate was no ordinary snake. No, he was a talking snake! That's right, a talking snake. Nate spent most of his time doing snake things, mostly slithering around and eating small animals, but he also liked to scare strangers. If ever some unfortunate man was walking through the desert, perhaps to get gasoline for an inoperative car, Nate would pop up and say "Hello!" and scare the crap out of the guy. Then he'd slither away, laughing quietly to himself in a way that only snakes can.

Well one day, Nate slithered out of his hole and saw, coming closer, a Jeep. "Well now this is strange," thought Nate, "Jeeps usually pass by my hole, not drive towards it..." and with that he dove into his hole, so as to avoid being run over. The ground shook and his hole nearly collapsed as the Jeep came to a stop, and out stepped two men in boots. Nate couldn't see anything but their boots, because he was still under the Jeep. "Still," he thought, "I might be able to have some fun..." and he quickly slithered out from under the Jeep, dove between the two men in Army uniforms (He could see them now), and quickly turned around to face them. He smirked as they stared in shock and he said "Hello!". Before he could dart away, however, he saw the General (for one of them was a General!) break into a grin. No one had ever grinned after Nate had tried to scare them, and the shock of it made Nate come to a halt.
The general looked down at the frozen snake and said "Are you Nate the talking snake?" Nate nodded and said "Yes, I am." The lieutenant with the General said "Well sir, I guess he must be; he just talked!" and the General crouched down and looked Nate in the eye. He said "Son, your country needs you. I don't know if you're aware of this sort of thing, being a snake, but you live in the United States of America, a grand and glorious country stretching fro..." Nate interrupted "Sir, I know where I am. I voted for Eisenhower." The General chuckled "Well, well, good" He paused, confused, then continued. "Well anyway, as I was saying, we need you. See, we're in a state of conflict with the Soviet Union, constantly building bigger and better weapons with which to wipe those damn Commies off the face of the earth, if we should ever need to. Problem is, our engineers and scientists have really outdone themselves this time, and they've built us a weapon that would obliterate the entire Earth if ever activated. We told them to disarm it, but they said there was no way, without obliterating the Earth anyway. Construction on its final casing is nearly complete and the control lever is going to go... right about... here." and with this he pointed to the ground beside Nate's hole. "Right here, beside my hole?!" gasped Nate. "That's right, right here beside your hole."
"Well if it's going to be built, what do you need me for?" The General chuckled again "Well you see Nate, we're a little short on funds. We don't really expect the lever to ever be pulled, because even the Soviets, in all their villainy, don't want to destroy the entire planet, so we were thinking it would be a lot more cost effective to just hire you to guard the lever. What do you say? You'd just have to kill anyone that tried to pull it." Nate thought about this briefly and said "Well...I could still slither around in the area and eat small animals?" "Oh absolutely!" replied the General, "Just so long as the lever doesn't get pulled." Nate smiled and replied "Well then, I'd be happy to serve my country in this way" and with that, the General extended his hand to shake, then quickly found himsef embarrassed and confused again, for Nate had no hands. The snake smiled knowingly and said "It's traditional to shake the tail." and extended his tail into the General's waiting palm. They shook on it, and a few days later Nate dipped his tail in ink and signed a contract.

Well, time passed, and after the lever had been installed, life went back to normal for Nate. He still slithered around and ate small animals, he still scared the occasional passerby by saying "Hello!", and the only change was he had to look around to make sure no one was attempting to pull that lever. Life went on as normal, that is, until one day he saw another car driving towards him, not past him. At first he thought it might be the General, but then he realized that it was an expensive sedan, not an U.S. Army Jeep, and so it was with some puzzlement that Nate observed a man in a suit and sunglasses step out, look directly at Nate, and grin. "Hi there, are you Nate the talking snake!" "Yes, I am" replied our serpentine hero. "Well you guess you must be; you just talked! Nate, my name is Guy Smiley, and I'm a fabulously rich and successful Hollywood agent! I've come all this way out here, and believe me, this is way out here, to tell you that you'd like to be in pictures! Motion pictures!" Nate was taken aback "I would? I didn't know... How come?" Smiley grinned, flashing his pearly whites in the hot New Mexican sun "Well Nate, being in movies is a chance to become rich and famous, after which you can live a life of comfort, ease and pleasure. We figure that although movies starring a talking snake are a little gimmicky, we can get four or five films out before the fad dies down, and we'll all be left rich and famous, yourself included. What'd'yah say? Huh?"
Well this was quite the conundrum for Nate. The idea of becoming rich and famous was immensely appealing to a snake who had never left this particular patch of desert in New Mexico, but he still had his duty to protect the lever. He began to reply. "Well you see, Mr. Smiley, I'd like to, I really would..." "So you're coming with me!" exclaimed the exuberant agent. "No, no, no! I can't can't!" cried Nate. "You see, I have to guard this lever." "What, you mean this one?" asked Guy, and he reached for the long metal shaft protruding from the sands. Nate's instincts and Army training kicked in, and he reared up and lunged for the agent's hand. Guy drew back in fear, and Nate continued, after collecting himself. "Yes, that lever. Don't touch it." "Well, what's it do?" asked the frightened agent. "I can't tell you, Top Secret, and I can't come with you either." For the first time in his life, Guy Smiley didn't know what to say. This condition did not last long, however, and soon Guy's usual overpowering demeanor returned, albeit in a sly, subdued form "Well..Has anyone ever tried to pull the lever?" Nate nodded "You did, just now." Guy paused, rolled his eyes behind his dark sunglasses, and moved along "But before me? Anyone in all these years?" Now Nate paused, and pondered. ", I guess not... Umm..." Guy began to smile broadly again "Well then they're not likely to ever pull it in the future! So, what'd'yah say?" Nate was flummoxed in the face of this logical assault and could hardly think before the words "Yes, I'd like to come with you and be rich and famous" slid off his tongue and into the air. Guy Smiley grinned, and reached out his hand to shake, but was once again rebuffed. Nate smiled knowingly and said "It's traditional to shake the tail." and extended his tail into Guy's waiting palm. They shook on it, and a few days later, now in Hollywood, Nate dipped his tail in ink and signed a contract.

Well, life in Hollywood was pretty great for Nate the snake, even if he couldn't tap-dance, and pretty soon his face was plastered on ever theater, his name on all the marquees. His first film, "Nate the Snake!" was a smash hit, with "Nate the Snake Talks Back" following close on its heels. Nate had surprisingly little trouble fitting into the Hollywood culture, surrounding himself with beautiful women and everything else you might expect from the rich and famous. "Nate the Snake and the Tiger of Antioch" was rousing, well-received adventure, but things began to go downhill with "Nate the Snake goes to the Moon". His career, based solely on the gimmick of a talking snake, was fizzling out, just as Mr. Smiley predicted, and, after "Nate the Snake meets Grover Cleveland", he couldn't get cast anymore. What's more, life in Hollywood was beginning to bore him, and Nate found himself longing for hot sand beneath his belly and small animals in his jaws. He thought fondly of the little hole in the ground he had once lived, and remembered the lever, clearly never pulled, for the Earth still existed. The life of the rich and famous is an attractive thing, and Nate still lived a life of luxury, but his duty towards the U.S. Army began to call his heart back to the desert, and soon he returned to New Mexico, leaving the glamor and pleasure of Hollywood far behind.
Now, do you know what else was going on in our country around that time, besides the Cold War? The Dwight D. Eisenhower Interstate Highway System, that's what! Miles and miles of limited access highways being built from city to city, from coast to coast, to aid in the evacuation of cities and the movement of troops, should ever the Red Army choose to invade our fair shores. Lo and behold, Route 40 had been built in Nate's absence, right through his little patch of desert. Nate saw the snake of asphalt laying firm upon his beloved sands from a distance and began to worry, but it was not until he got closer that he saw his deepest fears confirmed. The control lever was still there, untouched all these years, but it now stood in the median of a great divided highway, cars and trucks rushing past in opposite directions on either side. Still, there was nothing to do but return to the lever, at least to see if his old hole was till there, and then maybe later Nate would take up guarding it from a safe distance.
He approached the highway cautiously, trying to find an appropriate gap in the traffic through which to slither across, when something caught his eye. Just down the road, a truck had blown a tire, and was now careening, out of control, towards the lever. Nate, it would seem, had returned just in the nick of time, just in time to witness the obliteration of the Earth. But he was not helpless, for Nate had become quite the muscular snake, after being assigned a personal trainer for his more action-packed adventures. Coiling every muscle in his long, slender body, Nate threw himself at the semi's fender, knocking the 18-wheeler just slightly to the side, and the world was saved! The lever still stood, ever untouched, and the Earth was not obliterated. Nate, however, was killed in the act.

The U.S. Army, of course, heard about the collision, and soon the General found himself standing before a familiar rod, capped with a well-crafted handle, and that age-old temptation to perform what is forbidden, just to see if it works, filled his hand. He began to reach for it, wondering if maybe it wouldn't hurt to give it just a little tug...but he was interrupted before it was too late by his Colonel, the same man who had been a Lieutenant some fifteen years before. The Colonel spoke first "You know, it's amazing he was even here; I thought he had abandoned his duty long ago. Ever seen those films of his?" The General nodded "I particularly enjoyed the one with the Tiger of Antioch, saw it with my grandson. I guess he must have still felt some desire to uphold his word." The Colonel nodded now "It's a real shame though, his life ending like this. Still, he got here just in time, it seems." The General nodded again and looked at the body of the dead snake, then the metal rod before him, then the corpse again. "Still," he said, "better Nate than lever."

Monday, April 20, 2009


Over the summer, I saw "WALL-E", the latest from Pixar, about two robots who fall in love. The titular character is a robot left on Earth to clean-up after all of humanity has abandoned the planet because they have made too much trash. He falls in love with a space-probe-robot which the humans have sent to check up on the clean-up, hijinks ensue, and humanity returns to Earth has recovered enough to be livable, apparently. The credits roll, and we are treated to a really good montage of images showing both the progression of art in the new post-exodux society as well as the utopian world they create where robots work side-by-side with humans to create an earthly paradise.

There is a problem with all this, though. The solution to trash on Earth was to have little robots called WALL-Es (Waste Allocation Load-Lifter, Earth Class) drive around and compact the trash into little cubes, because at least this way the trash is stored more efficiently as opposed to strewn about all over the place. While aboard The Axiom, the big space-ark presented in the film, Wall-E (the particular character) encounters a few WALL-As (presumably Waste Allocation Load-Lifter, Axiom Class) in the bowels of the ship, where they compact the humans' waste into big cubes and throw them out the airlock in to the void of space. There is nothing different about this solution to the waste problem other than scale. Admittedly, you won't run out of space when getting rid of trash when using the universe as your dump, unless you're somehow creating matter (in which case you will eventually become very cold and die), but I don't see this as much of a solution to the problem. If anything it's worse, because now you've no hope of ever finding all that matter and somehow using it, because it is floating away into the void.

When the humans return to Earth, however, they are able to create a utopian society full of fresh air and healthy animals. The film conveniently skips any explanation of what the people did with all that trash which Wall-E and his deceased cohorts had failed to finish cleaning up, nor does it explain what they did to change their ways and not produce so much trash. Did they just launch all trash into space? If so, given the way their waste-production-levels are portrayed, Earth's gravitational pull is going to have problems in the future, and Doc Brown's suspicions will have been right. It's either that or they took to dumping all their trash into a plot hole, which I guess is what happened.

The movie can be called, obviously, a great bit of environmentalist propoganda disguised as a children's film, though the producers and writers deny that the message came before the love story, never mind if kids even enjoy a love story. It got me thinking about trash. Let's say that I play with a ping-pong-paddle for a while, one of those cheap toys where the ball is on a piece of elastic, and then I throw it out or something. It sits in a dump. Hundreds of years later, Wall-E finds it and puts it into a cube which then sits around some more.That's where all those end up, because no one really wants to play with one of those things. For those of you in-the-know, it's like Jimmy Merritt's auto-return football belt.

Now I could think that I am alright, because I disdain silly trifles like elastic-ping-pong-paddles, but that is akin to the rich young ruler saying "I have kept all these commandments from my youth", because I throw lots of things out even still. What happens to the potato-chip bag when it no longer contains potoato chips? What happens to all the paper towels and paper napkins that I use? What happens to my shampoo bottle when it is empty? What about the battery in my wireless mouse when it is all out of power? I generate a lot of waste, and most of it will sit around for a long time, a waste of atoms and a waste of space.

This is not a simple problem with a simple problem with a simple solution. I would like to eat a chocolate bar, but I don't think I can get one without throwing out the wrapper. I would like to wash my hair, but I don't know if shampoo comes in bottles which are recyclable. The shampoo is a good example, I guess. I could try to buy shampoo in recyclable bottles and then actually recycle them. I could buy ingredients in recyclable containers and then make my own shampoo. I could shave my head. Shampoo companies and stores could convert their distribution model to one in which I bring a bottle to the store and pay to have it filled with shampoo from a big shampoo vat. I like this last one the most, but that's because I don't know about the costs involved in changing to that way of doing things, and it seems more old-fashioned somehow (and I like old things).

This is going to take some effort.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Summer of 2008, Ligonier, PA - Part 5

I grew up in a Presbyterian Church, going to Sunday School every week, with a pastor practicing good, exegetical preaching. I think, in terms of theology, I had a pretty good education, although theology isn't everything. In high school, NavYouth taught me a lot, but the Christian Fellowship that met weekly at my High School is what forced me to quickly learn how to lead Bible Studies. Looking back, I can see that Joy, who led the fellowship until I was in 11th grade, would pick topics and then find related verses, and attempted to teach me to do the same, but when John, Ariell and I took over, we consciously. yet with stated reasons, switched to picking a book of the Bible and going through it, learning what it had to say. Then I went to college, and InterVarsity taught me more about how to lead a Small Group Bible Study, again by examining a passage and seeing what it has to say, though IV calls it the Inductive method. But how much of this taught me how to lead kids, ages 9-12, in Bible Study?

I started out the summer with a core belief: Kids are stupid. This isn't true, and I knew it then, though less than I do now, but it was sort of a useful thing to start out with, in terms of expectations and view of discipline. On the other hand, it was also a discouraging thought; how could kids do any sort of Bible Study that I don't think is a dumb waste of time? We can talk about how that's arrogant later. I was wrong about kids, and I was wrong about the Bible Studies.

During training, the Executive Director's wife, Sandy Meyers, came in and talked us through the Bible Studies that they'd already written for us to do with the kids: A series of various stories and passages illustrating the life of the apostle Peter, tying his redemption to the redemption of the world. They did a really good job writing them, but my previous experience inclined me to not follow their questions exactly, which worked out pretty well. But being able to rephrase questions isn't everything, and Bible Study was not without its challenges.

Most kids don't like sitting down and reading and listening and thinking and talking. This isn't really all that bad, I can't fault them for wanting to run around or throw pinecones or stare into the distance, but it can be a little frustrating. This is what I expected kids to be like, really, yet there were plenty of surprises.

One time, in discussing the fact that we all sin, I said "Nobody's perfect". As soon as I did, several of the boys launched into a Hannah Montana song featuring that line. Another time, one of the kids asked "What if God hadn't made Eve?" and another said "Then being gay would be okay!" Some of the higher-ups at Camp had definitely suggested that sometimes it helps if kids act out a Bible story. This did not go well.

I feel like this is a very undirected and messy post that doesn't communicate quite what I want. Let me give it one more shot:

There is something absolutely incredible in hearing 12 year old guys make the connection between Luke 5 and John 21, or to hear them try and dig through the layers of meaning in Peter's epistles. There is something incredibly frustrating in telling kids about Jesus only to realize they're not paying attention. Even more so is watching a kid go through his week at Camp only caring about himself, hurting those around him in a struggle for dominance, or watching a kid stop and think about how his place as de facto leader of his friends impacts some of them. I say witnessing those is a better experience because you haven't lost the connection of the Gospel, but instead of words, it's deeds. One week, after we were given the job of explicitly preaching the gospel to our cabins instead of the Camp Executive Director doing it, because the threat of a tornado had messed up the entire evening's schedule, and after it seemed like they didn't listen at all, one of the Wilderness Staff, Matt, said that all we could do was pray that they heard something true about Jesus tonight and that someday it helps. Frankly, that's how it is with all of Camp.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Summer of 2008, Ligonier, PA - Part 4

One of the best ways to entertain a whole lot of kids is to play a game.

Chubba Chubba Can Can - Form a circle around a trashcan, linking arms in some fashion. If you touch the trashcan, you are out. If you are the last person not-out, you win.
The Stick Game - Form a circle around whoever's turn it is to be "It". This person then takes a stick, of a foot or a foot and a half in length, holds it high above their head, fixes their eyes upon the tip, and spins around for a prescribed amount of time, perhaps 30 seconds, perhaps more. After spinning, they place the stick flat on the ground and jump over it. Those in the circle should do their best to safeguard the spinner from death, leaving the circle, etc. Note: It is not recommended that you play this anywhere dangerous.
HPC Roof Ball - I never figured how this worked, but it involved hitting a large ball with a foam bat onto the roof of the HPC, a small building in the center of Camp. Maybe it is like Wall Ball?
Prison Dodge Ball - Played just like regular two-team Dodgeball, except that when you get out, you go behind the other team, into the end-zone-like jail. Balls can then be thrown to you by members of your team who are still in. If you catch one of these balls, you can then use it to hit a member of the opposing team from behind, at which point you and everyone else on your team currently in the jail are back in. Note: I played this at least twice, if not three or four times, each week.

The Wide Games
Played every night after dinner on The Wide Game Field, way down the hill from the rest of camp, these may have been my favorite part of camp.

Medic - Divide the playing field into two equal parts, and place a big bucket of water in the middle. Each team has a certain number of "medics", each wearing a red pinnie and holding a plastic cup. Play just like Dodgeball, with two exceptions. First, you can not move when you have the ball. Second, when you are hit out, you sti down where you were struck. Medics get water from the bucket and the pour a cup upon someone is out, to get them back in. If a medic is struck out, they are no longer a medic when brough back into play. The last team with medics still in wins. Note: We never played this with the whole camp; we divided into Units to play this.
Gold Rush - Divide the playing field into two equal parts, with "Safe Zones" behind each area, like the end zones of a football field. In each Safe Zone there should be an empty crate in one corner, and a pile of tennis balls in the other corner. The goal of the game is to get as many tennis balls, the titular "gold," from the opposing team's pile back into your team's crate before time runs out. While in the opposing team's half of the field, you may be tagged out, at which point you sit down where you were tagged, until an untagged member of your own team tags you back into play, at which point you get a free walk back to your side. You may not be tagged while in a Safe Zone, but you can not wait in the Safe Zone forever; a time limit is set on this waiting period. You can not throw gold, it is too heavy. You can not hand off gold; it is too heavy? When you tag someone carrying gold, you must take their gold back to your team's pile, but you can only carry one piece at a time; it is too heavy.
Ninja Warfare - The most popular Wide Game. Teams are divided into four roles: Ninjas, Bombers, Blockers and Medics. Each team also has a Monarch, a role filled by a Counselor, and an Armory with Armory Attendants, again Counselors, a station whose role will become apparent. Points are scored by Bombers striking the opposing King or Queen with water balloons, tossed strictly in an underhand fashion. Blockers surround their King or Queen and attempt to stop water balloons from scoring points. Ninjas run around with Ninja Sticks, flattened plastic golf tubes, and lightly strike opposing Bombers and Ninjas below the knees. When thusly struck, Bombers must place their water balloon, if they have one, upon the ground, and Ninjas must do likewise with their Ninja Stick, then go to their Armory and be re-armed. Medics run around collecting dropped Bombs and Sticks, and taking them back to their Armory. Note: Medics are often the smallest children, but never forget that having good medics is key to any successful team. It is best to start the game with an epic charge of the two lines.
Predator - Campers are given one of three roles: Herbivore, Omnivore and Carnivore. Counselors are spread around the playing area, which in this case is the Camp area, not a wide open field, and serve various roles, such as food-stations, water-stations, humans, natural disasters and disease. Each of the three kinds of animal has some amount of food or water or whatever that they need to collect. Having always been a food-station, and only actually playing twice, I am not sure how all the details work.
Spy vs. Spy - I have no idea how to play this. It was canceled every Session except Session 6, when I was no longer at Camp. It is similar to Capture The Flag, but with frisbees, I think.
Siege - I would call this the mother of all wide games, but it is really more like the child of several, and it was brand new during Session 4 this year. It bears a lot of resemblance to Ninja Warfare, so I will start with the Armories, which are placed in the center of the field, not on the edges as in Ninja Warfare. Armories dispense Bombs as before, and also Swords, which are suspiciously identical to Ninja Sticks. Points are scored by collecting tennis balls, now called Treasure, from a crate surrounded by a rope in a circle on the ground, called the Castle, and taking them back to your Castle. Armories and Castles are both Safe Zones. The team with the most Treasures in their Castle at the end of the allotted game-time wins. Teams are divided into three roles: Knights, Infantry and Blockers. Infantry attempt to steal Treasures from their opponent's Castle and take them to their own castle, but they also can get Bombs from the Armory to lob into their opponent's Jail. When a Bomb successfully detonates in a Jail, everyone in that Jail is freed. Blockers surround the Jail, attempting to stop Bombs and thus keep the captives within. Knights run around with Swords and strike opposing Infantry and Knights below the knees, at which point the stricken player must go to the proper Jail. Knights who strike Knights must take their Sword back to the Armory, and likewise with Bombs carried by Infantry, because there are no Medics in this game. Note: This is the most complicated Wide Game. It is also the most awesome.

Most of the Wide Games only allow for simple strategy, but Siege allowed for a surprisingly effective and unforeseen tactic. Raiding parties in Ninja Warfare are always a group of Bombers, with a few Ninjas guarding, and maybe a Medic or two for cleanup. However, in Siege, there are really two kinds of Infantry, those with Bombs and those without. By placing a group of Infantry carrying Bombs at the head of a Raiding Party, great victory may be achieved. Opposing Knights strike the Bomb-carriers first, but are then forced to return those Bombs back to the Armory, allowing the rest of the Infantry to continue to the castle relatively unopposed. It works brilliantly.

Sometimes we would also play Campers vs. Counselors soccer. 30 vs. 200 is a hilarious game.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Summer of 2008, Ligonier, PA - Part 3

A humongous part of being a Summer Camp Counselor is performance. Another word for performance might be "lying" but it is hard to say that this is the bad kind. Jokes are lies too, so it all gets a bit confusing.

I remember during training that we were told that we'd probably have to do things that we're uncomfortable with, or at least make us look like idiots, but it is fun for the kids, and something about how Paul says we should be "fools for Christ", though that probably is a misappropriation of that scripture. Two of the big days involving painting your face and other tomfoolery were The Fourth of July, and also Christmas in July, but I had both of those as my day off, and I somehow escaped The Big Hair Olympics unscathed. Putting crap (aka hairspray) in my hair to make it big and hilarious freaks me out; I do not know why.

But on the other hand, my day off never fell on Big Relay days, in which the campers (in their Color Teams) would complete a ridiculous relay race, and I ended up helping out with cheering for The Pierogies during The Terrific Tater-Tot Triathalon, which wasn't the same as a Big Relay, but was related. I can't remember now. In the process of cheering for our Water-Polo team, I jumped into the pool fully clothed. This was actually a big deal for me; I am not normally willing to jump into water fully clothed, yet in that moment I did not care about how ridiculous I would look, how uncomfortable wet underwear is, or anything else, just that jumping in was important to Camp being awesome. We made a big letter P with our bodies, for "Pierogies!", and then shouted a lot about how we had made P in the Pool, which most everyone thought was hilarious. I wonder if Leeanne, the Camp Director, thought so. Afterwards, I put my blue raincoat back on, because The Pierogies color was blue, and the raincoat was the only dry thing on my body, and I thought it was hilarious.

Everyday, after lunch, someone would make the afternoon announcements, which included our daily reminder to take care of our Duty Areas, the portion of Camp that you had been instructed to patrol for litter. Everyday we would laugh, because they said "doody", which means poop. By the end of the Summer, this was funnier to the Counselors than it was to the kids. Everday, after dinner, the Indiana Jones theme would play over the Dining Hall speakers, and in would run Indiana Groans and his sidekick Marcus, always incorrectly referred to as Mucus due to his sniveling nose. They were searching for a treasure... The Legend of the Crystal Flamingo (*Gasp!*)(After hearing the words, "The Crystal Flamingo"(*Gasp!*), everyone would gasp really loudly), but the evil Queen Angora was after The Crystal Flamingo (*Gasp!*) too. The purpose of these skits was to introduce that evening's Wide Game, but they were also just a funny bit of entertainment. As near as I could tell, the kids loved gasping and loved cheering for Indy and booing Queen Angora, and so the Run-On Skits served their purpose, but one thing sticks significantly in my memory: The first skit of Session 5, all the Counselors not involved in these skits were pretty curious, because Jinks would not be playing Indy for the first time all summer; the role instead would be filled by Ian, a big guy in the Marines who would leave every now and then to do training, and Mucus would be played by Clayton. Well, Indy ran in, but for some reason announced himself as "Indiana Joe", and it just got stranger from there. At one point, Mucus announced that one of the runes on the map seemed to reference some kind of precious metal, and Indy exclaimed "Like cinnamon!" I don't think that the kids got the joke, but we Counselors were in stitches.

There's a hill on the other side of the valley and down a ways from Camp that is covered in cars, because it is a junkyard. When kids ask what it is, we tell them it is a Brittney Spears Concert, or maybe a Jonas Brothers Concert if we are feeling particularly hip. Some kids, if they're young enough, believe us. Others half-believe us, others know we are lying, and still others knew that Brittney had no concerts scheduled this summer and they probably knew exactly where the Jonas Brothers were scheduled to appear on any given day. We also tell them that if they misbehave enough, they will have to meet the Unit Chief, who is a big, mean, angry and scary man, a story the kids eventually evolved into the belief that the Unit Chief has a large axe in his car. We tell them that all the guys on staff are brothers, or at least the Wilderness guys are, and some of them really believed us. We lie a lot to the kids, but never about stuff that we think matters. Is this okay? I don't know, but I never felt like it was wrong.

We had to dance sometimes at Camp. I am pretty bad at it. Yet there I was, waving my arms around and doing some ridiculous movements to some song about some parable, because a lady going by "Rev. Kim" from New Jersey said it was a good way to teach kids about the Bible, and Camp agrees. I am not going to write much about that woman, because people that actually know her have a much better opinion of her than I who met her for a day, but I will say this: Most of the "Scripture Skits" she comes up with are pretty stupid, and I am not sure that the kids learned anything from them; they just liked seeing their counselors act dumb. The one about Jesus dying and rising again, that skit is incredible.

A lot of other things went on at Camp. On Christmas in July, Jon and Ben burst into the Dining Hall with guitars and sombreros and fake mustaches and lip synced to "Feliz Navidad". Earlier, Jon and Eric ran into the Dining Hall to the tune of Yakety Sax, then ran around chasing each other, and ripped some phonebooks in half. They also did some crazy Japanese dance. Matt Lightfoot and I performed "Be A Man" from Mulan at two or three Coffee Houses. Several times, we got to see a performance of "A Million Ways" by OK Go, and twice we saw a production of Jack Handy's "The Zombies vs The Bees". I leave you with those, via youtube. The two "A Million Ways" videos are from two different Sessions, but see how we can do the same thing over and over and it's okay because it's different kids watching. It always amuses me how "A Million Ways" is definitely not a Camp Appropriate Song, but it's okay because the dancing is the point and really fun to watch. The last one is sort of inexplicably wonderful, and it caused Pat Meyers, Camp Executive Director, to say "...What just happened?"

Photos by Maggie Frick & Brian Jackson
Videos by Julia Swieson & Heather Flowers

Friday, January 02, 2009

The Summer of 2008, Ligonier, PA - Part 2

Being in charge of a bunch of kids is really tough at first. Soon you learn how to do it, when to yell and when not to, that sort of thing. But even when you feel like you have the hang of it, they will exasperate you. I'm sure any parents reading this are laughing and saying "Oh, I know all this already." My least favorite Session was Session 2, because of this very issue. I had a Tribe of pretty good kids, Session 1, and two incredible CITs to help me through that first week as a Counselor. Session 2 I had the standard one incredible CIT to help me, and that Tribe was not full of good kids. There were these two kids, Austin and Avery, and one of them was really good, and the other was not, and I can not remember which name goes to which kid. They both had blonde hair and funky names starting with an A; once I got their names confused and the not-as-well-behaved kid did not let me forget this, repeatedly trying to trick me, which is why I now can't remember which name goes to which kid. The well-behaved one was incredibly forgiving of my mistakes in name-use, but that sort of thing is very difficult to deal with no matter what. On a similar note, there was a kid who, as near as I could tell, was able to injure kids he didn't like, and then make it look like an accident. I did not love that kid the way Jesus wants me to, and I reall wish I had.

On the other hand, it was not all difficult discipline, you know. During Session 5, I taught the Guitar Elective, which was an older group of kids, aged 12-15, and maybe that is why they were easier to handle. Additional factors include the fact that they wanted to be there, learning to play guitar, and also that things were a lot less structured here. A few years ago, Eric Anderson taught a Guitar Elective, but he had a bunch of troublemaker kids, and vowed never to teach that thing again. He then went ahead and wrote down Guitar Elective as a possible elective on the Elective Proposal list, and then got me to teach it. Little did he know, it would be awesome this time. I had never really had to do this before, so I had to quickly draw up some lesson plans, based on Eric's ideas. Next, I discovered that half of the Guitar kids already knew how to play just fine and shouldn't have signed up. I ended up teaching them basic music theory with a guitar slant, an important field of knowledge that they hadn't touched at all. Helping me through all this was a Sharpie and the Camp Cardboard Recycling Pile, from which I produced several practice fret-boards, chord charts and all manner of useful introductory music and guitar diagrams. Because the structure was loose, and because they knew what was okay and what wasn't, we were able to goof off sometimes, and suddenly Electives was a joy and not a chore. By the end of the week, they were able to play "One Name", a Christian song I've only ever heard at Camp, and did so at the "A Night At The Theater" performance event. Also, Nick and Henry sang a song they wrote about the KYBO*.

Photos by Julie Lewis and Dale Weyman

*KYBO - The Bathroom. Stands for "Keep Your Bowels Open". A beautiful, terrible place.