He climbed to the stage, poured his heart into a simple song, but couldn't get the last phrase. He shook his head and said, "I can't do it." But Art Camp cried out in a spontaneous chant of "Yes you can. Yes you can." The boy played again. Again the last phrase eluded him. And again camp encouraged him. A third time he began the tune. A third time he faltered. And a third and final time camp lifted him up, praising his perseverance and cheering his courage as he returned to his seat.
Throughout the annual Art Camp talent show last Saturday night, the community enacted such unwavering, unconditional love for each person. After boisterous, high spirited antics or repeat renditions of a popular song, the community applauded wildly. After more practiced performances, the community shouted its praise. The growth of campers who shared their talents in past years was noted by the staff and older campers. All who shared were accepted and appreciated just as they are, even as they were encouraged to keep growing and become even better.
That is wonderful reflection of God's love. God loves each of us unconditionally, just as we are. But God loves each of us too much to let us stay the way we are. Through encouraging and shaping us, through giving us room to grow, through forgiving us, sometimes through knocking us up the side of the head, God leads us to be better than we've been. Unconditional love is not some loose, anything goes kind of proposal. It is not content with the least we are or the least we can be. Unconditional love is God's very nature that calls us, through accepting us as we are, to grow and stretch and mature and become better than we've ever been, more faithful and loving than we could ever be if left on our own.
That kind of love is woven into the fiber of Art Camp and all our Shrine Mont Camps. It is a part of the culture, part of the basic assumption of who we are on the mountain. The counselors and all the staff make decisions minute by minute to reflect unconditional love, the kind that takes others where they are and urges them to grow from there. We don't always get it right. Only God loves perfectly, after all. But in the striving, in the intending to love unconditionally, we draw closer to Agape, that "new kind of love" that we sing about.
By Bishop Susan Goff
The Rt. Rev. Susan Goff is a summer camp veteran, not to mention the first female bishop elected in the Diocese of Virginia, where she serves as bishop suffragan. This is her third year working as Art Camp's chaplain.
Bishop Goff first worked at Shrine Mont as the director of Senior High Conference in the 1980s, before it became SHYC, and has been a friend and supporter of Shrine Mont Camps for all the years in between and since. While in seminary, Bishop Goff directed Eagle's Nest, the summer camp of the Diocese of Newark, for three summers.
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.