By the Rev. Deacon Mary Beth Emerson
Before The Dude abided, before he played Rooster Cogburn and before he stared at goats, actor Jeff Bridges starred in Disney's original “Tron” movie. “Tron” invites a gamer-wannabe into a closed mystery of light-cycles and digital races. It was exciting and terrifying, and I loved it. So when the sequel came out a few years ago, I downloaded the Daft Punk soundtrack before going to see the movie. Layered over dramatic theme music, Jeff Bridges' voice-over retells the story of his quest to get back into “the grid,” that mysterious interior place of digital transformation. He spoke of endless and frustrating searching, of losing his way, and then one day and purely by accident, he “got in.”
And that's how I feel about one aspect of serving as a staff member at our Shrine Mont Camps.
After years of bringing my own kids to our diocesan camps, first as campers and then as counselors,
I “got in.” Whatever my kids experienced at our camps would bring them home changed, and often unable to articulate how these changes occurred. They were happier, for sure, but they also seemed more comfortable in their own skins, more courageous, more loving. They exhibited new ways of relating and new-found resilience, and of course, their dad and I would ask them about what happened at camp, but often got just a smile back, or one-word responses. It was all “awesome,” and “super-fun,” and we began to come to the realization that perhaps we weren't meant to decipher what went on for them at camp. Their experiences were exactly that: theirs. Theirs to experience and theirs to process. Hard lessons to learn as parents, that our children are not our children.
But last year, as a MAD Camp chaplain, I got in. From the first singing of “The Goodnight Song” to hikes and rehearsals and worship and road trips, I got an insiders' view of how it happens. What I saw is a complex recipe involving careful planning and staffing, balanced quantities of fun and challenge, all in a loving environment that celebrates each kid for being and becoming exactly who God has made them to be. The secret ingredient: grace; that action of God in our lives bringing about things we can't conceive of or ever bring about on our own. The grace-filled invitation of camp is to go more deeply into relationship with God, ourselves and others and then to be that wonder out in the valley of the world.
And if the invitation is accepted, everything changes.
So after years of seeing my kids come home from camp changed and better, I came home changed and better, too. Getting “in” was a gift, one I hope to unwrap again soon. And although everyone's camp experience will be uniquely theirs and guided by the Holy Spirit, I now have a better understanding of the mysteries of this thin place we call Shrine Mont Camps. Staff light cycles would be cool, too.
*Photo by Brandon Martin