7/27/2013 09:16

If I can't be with my friends what's the point?

A long time ago, my local church asked me to lead a session promoting church camping. They likely asked me because I had recently been a volunteer camp counselor each summer and had impressed my parents with my enthusiasm for the program. Besides, I had grown up going to church camp. Students from the Sunday School classes were brought in for the program and I said some things, I can't remember what.

Then the children were allowed to ask questions. Only one stands out in my mind: "Will I be able to be with my friends?" I had to hem and haw a bit because the answer at that time was "maybe". Different camp directors handled such requests differently and the type of camp (whether primitive or cabins, for example) affected how much friends would be together. The registration form used at the time had a specific section which allowed campers to request to be assigned to the same cabin or tent as their friend; the requests were often honored, but not guaranteed.

After my rather discursive reply, this child used a rhetorical question to make a psychosocial point, perhaps intended for her parents or else for her peers. She said, "If I can't be with my friends, what's the point of going?"

Perhaps for you to become closer to God, to understand what the church of Jesus Christ is all about, to mature socially (sounded like she needed that), to learn about nature, to see life from a different perspective and so lay a foundation for maturing intellectually. I wanted to say all of those -- I may even have found a way to say some of them -- but I knew that I was not the person and that was not the time to begin a discussion of the philosophy of church camp.

Besides, I was flummoxed by the dissonance between the point of view of the questioner and my own. From my point of view as a rustic camp counselor, it seemed to me that requests to stay with friends were honored far too often. My experience was that if even two friends came to camp together they would tend to stay together rather than join with others to form the temporary Christian community of that week of camp.

You can be with your friends at home, but you can only create a new Christian family in a special situation like church camp. To me, as a young adult, religiously trained camp counselor, and (it must be added) introvert, this was the key point about the church camp experience. Everything, it seemed to me, should arranged toward encouraging this central and essential aspect of the camping program. That could include separating old friends long enough for new relationships to take root.

The young questioner had never had the experience of building a new community within the context of a Christian point of view. How could she appreciate the reasoning behind the decisions which would shake up her safe experience of life? In retrospect, most of the leaders I worked with hadn't had that experience, either. How could the other adults, either in the local church or at the camps, support this understanding of the camping experience, knowing so little about it?

Sometimes I claim to be the world's worst salesperson. What I mean is that when I try to promote and idea a program, or a product, the result is usually something like this camp promotion event. I knew that the program was good; I knew that people who participated with me were enthusiastic about what we had done together. What I did not know was how to find something in the experiences of children who had not been participants that would allow them to look forward to a new experience. I myself could never have been convinced by my explanations and arguments. I could hardly expect others like me to be convinced, let alone this questioner whose experience of life so far had taught her to discount anything which separated her from her existing social supports.

In actual reality there is more to life than only what we have already experienced, but we are not foolish to take note that many new experiences are less good than many old ones. Finding a strategy to search out the good we have yet to find without displacing the good we already have found is hard. Accepting that the good we know today may be left aside for something still better requires an act of faith.