Every once in a while, my wife and I will pull out and watch old family videos, ones taken when our children, who are now in late high school and college, were young. One of our favorite videos is of our daughter Elizabeth, around the age of three, spontaneously dancing with a small branch she’d found in the back yard. She’s spinning and swirling and singing along to imaginary music.
Part of the reason I love that video is that it captures a moment of total un-self-consciousness and pure, unrestrained joy.
The video of our daughter dancing came back to me as I joined the camp dance at the pavilion the other night.
Dances are one of the more popular Shrine Mont customs, and part of what makes them even more popular is the custom of wearing goofy clothes to the dance. The goofier, the better.
Shrine Mont summer camp counselors are capable of great seriousness when it is called for during the day. In fact, safety and respect for other’s opinions and feelings are dead serious issues here.
But part of the genius of the counselor hiring process here is that while those counselors take their responsibilities very seriously, none of them take themselves too seriously.
What a gift that is for the children who attend summer camps here. Our society is fond of measuring performance – school performance, athletic performance, even theatrical or musical performance. Our children get sucked into that, even at very early ages.
And too often, the performance bar our society sets is the impossibly high measure of perfection, whatever that means. But “measuring” and perfectionism is the enemy of creativity and spontaneity, not to mention fun and a robust spirituality.
One of the gifts that campers are given here is an escape from constant measurement. One of the spiritual lessons campers learn at Shrine Mont Camps is how to escape perfectionism.
Back home, there are people who are “in” and “out,” “cool” or “not cool.” Back home, there are kids who are accepted into the inner circles of sports, theater and academics. But at Shrine Mont, a different way of living – a truer way of being Christian – is modeled by counselors and campers alike, until it becomes a new normal.
No one is trying to be cool. No one is out. There’s a sense that you are accepted. You are accepted. Yes, you, the real you, the behind-the-mask, drop-all-pretensions, mix-of-emotions you.
And that “new normal” of acceptance, and inviting, and including, and of dropping pretenses plays itself out at Shrine Mont dances more than perhaps any other time.
About half way through the hour-long dance, I noticed a young camper sitting off by herself, knees pulled up to her chest, slightly sullen look on her face, watching the dance, but not engaged in it. She’d only been sitting like that a minute, but MAD camp counselor Tori Lindsey also noticed her, and slowly danced nearby, and then directly in front of, the camper.
With an irresistible smile on her face, dancing with both arms out in front of her, both palms up, Tori issued a wordless but clear invitation to “come join me.” Tori just danced. And kept dancing until the camper popped up with a smile, took Tori's hands, and joined in.
The dance that little girl joined was one she’ll bring back home with her: the un-self-consciousness dance of pure, unrestrained joy - the dance of God’s acceptance and love.
By John Ohmer
John is the rector of The Falls Church Episcopal and a long-time supporter of Shrine Mont.
John authored a weekly spiritual advice column titled “Faithfully Yours,” and covered the past four General Conventions as an issues writer for the Diocese of Virginia’s “Center Aisle.” He blogs at Unapologetic Theology.
Prior to his call to The Falls Chuch, John was rector of St. James', Leesburg for 13 years. During his years of ordained ministry, John has served on the Board of Directors of Samaritan Ministry for the Homeless in Washington D.C., and on the Diocese of Virginia’s Commission on Ministry and Resolutions Committee.
Before entering Virginia Theological Seminary in 1994, John had a career in government and politics, having worked as a Capitol Hill and presidential campaign staff member as well as a press secretary and speech writer in his home state of Indiana.
John and his wife Mary have three children: a son who has recently graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University, another son who is a senior at James Madison University, and a daughter who is a senior in high school and a counselor at St. Elizabeth's Camp.
Spreading the good news of Shrine Mont Camps into the Valley of the World.
The View from the Mountain is written by a rotating cast of staff writers and contributors.