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Devotion: Summer Camp

Before each National Lutheran Choir concert, a member or guest of the choir delivers a devotion. The following words were spoken prior to the June 26 rehearsal by Kaye Mills, a member of the alto section.  

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The last time I gave a devotion it was probably when I was a camp counselor in college. My favorite devotion was to take the plastic holder of a 6 pack, cut it up to make one long strand of plastic and hang it from a metal hanger. It would be lit on fire over a bowl of water and we would watch the plastic light on fire, melt and drop into the bowl of water. There was conversation about the light with in us and how our light can hit others and ignite their light, but mostly it was just cool to watch and it had elements of a meditative experience.

I spent a significant amount of time growing up at camp. I went for a week in the summer, then to a “Recharge” weekend camp once in the spring and once in the fall. When I was old enough to start volunteering I was there as much as possible. I subsequently worked as a junior counselor and counselor in college.

The memories I have from camp seem to be the most vivid in my memory.

  • The gentle breezes off the lake while sitting on the dock during Bible study.
  • The smell of campfire that permeated the air and beckoned us to the lake shore at night.
  • The incredible roar of kids laughing at their counselor who just did something completely silly on stage during a skit.
  • Getting kids excited to play the intense energy draining game of “run to it” where I pointed to something and had them run to it and hearing the kids giggle and laugh the whole time.
  • The permanent smell of hot ketchup on my hands and the sticky syrup on my shirt after washing dishes.
  • Camp was the only place that could get me to want to run by playing ultimate Frisbee.
  • And probably my favorite memory, night swimming under the northern lights after as many boiling minutes in the sauna that we could stand.

I also loved that music was constantly in the air and in our minds. It was the rhythm to everything we did. People would walk around with their guitars making up songs or singing loudly. We created our own playlist by singing our favorite camp songs while we did dishes. It was wonderful!

The camp I attended growing up was a well-oiled, ELCA indoctrinated machine. Every moment was planfully jam packed with as much Jesus as possible. Prior to the arrival of campers the staff worked intensely for two weeks developing the curriculum that would be used for each week of camp.  This included skits, Bible studies, and any other activity for the day. At the end of the two weeks the skits and Bible studies were presented to a board of individuals from the ELCA. A couple pastors, parents, and sometimes the Bishop would even be invited to provide their feedback and ultimately give their approval. They would scrutinize every granule of the curriculum and made huge holes of any weak theological statement. It was stressful and often gleaned a sense of unhealthy competition among the staff.  It was an exhausting process, but at the end, the plans were perfected and everyone was prepared for any theological question that came our way! Our product was stamped and sealed as an ELCA approved week of Jesus and God learning for all!  At the end of it all we had a really great time getting to know each other and came out with a week of exciting, fun times.

After my sophomore year of college a friend convinced me to work at a full time family. Since it was a family camp it meant that I wouldn’t have a cabin of campers to take care of and I’d get to hang out with my best friend all summer long. Sounded pretty great to me!

This camp was completely different. There was a much smaller staff and only 3 of us were assigned to our age group for developing the curriculum and activities for each age group, and at the end of it all, there was no review. Whatever we ended up with is what was taught, no questions asked.

While working on the curriculum for the 6 to 10 year olds I started worrying about the curriculum not being good enough and the crafts not specific enough to fit to the lesson of the day. Had the skits become so diluted that the kids would not garner anything from them? Where was our schedule? Was there enough Jesus jammed into this short time we had with them each day?

On the brink of an anxiety attack my friend, sounding pretty annoyed with me, gave me the what for, “Stop worrying about it. We’ll have fun with the kids and show them love, that’s how they’ll get the message. That is how they will know Jesus’ love; through us and our actions.  It’s not in the schedule it’s not in the craft. It’s with us.”

These serious words that came out of the mouth of my usually incredibly goofy and most trusted friend stopped me dead in my tracks. Could he be right? Is this actually possible? People can come together, without a plan and learn about the love of God just by being good to each other and having fun? No. Seriously, there has to be a plan; songs to remember each Bible verse, time to learn how to find things in the Bible, learning a couple prayers they can say before bed, and the 10 commandments, they must certainly walk away having those memorized! Part of me knew I wasn’t going to win this one and I decided it would be good to see how this other method worked, so, I gave in.

I don’t remember our theme. I don’t remember our skits. I do remember some super sweaty hours we spent painting a huge back drop with a jungle theme on it. I remember the kids jumping on the back of my best, but ultimately remember the laughter and love that we got to share with those kids.

For a time I struggled with which of these is the right approach. Is it structured, well planned curriculum that gets the job done, or just a loose idea of what we talk about and just having fun? Which is right and which is the best? This became an incredible moral dilemma as it shed light on me and my perfectionist attitude. My desire for perfection was almost debilitating; I wouldn’t do something if I knew it wouldn’t be perfect or live up my expectations. In struggling with this question I came to the conclusion that the value and expression of love does not solely lie in perfection or preparedness or just in having fun. There is a balance to be achieved when the goal is to help others understand God’s love.

That is what I LOVE about this choir and this is what I believe to be the reason why we are effective with God’s message. We are able to meld perfection and preparedness with our actions of love, kindness, and mercy with loads of fun and slather it with the lyrics and melodies of music! This combination of elements that we present is what makes the mystery of God come alive and become tangible. When we are able to experience something on a tangible level we become more equipped to understand it. I believe that this is what we are meant to do on this earth, help others understand God’s love and we have been blessed to be able do that with music and with each other.

Prayer:

All Mighty God, we thank you for blessing us with being a part of your elixir for thirsty souls. Helping us to make tangible the love you have for everyone through the work you empowered us to do. Clear our minds of negative and overwhelming thoughts and overflow our hearts with your love as we prepare and travel to share your love in ways we plan and in ways we will never know nor expect. Amen.