It’s Teen Camp Week at ECC! This year we’re running a TV Game Show week, and every activity we participate in is a game show. At this very moment we’re doing Hollywood Squares with the Visiting Staff. It looks like this:
We didn’t want to just play game shows though. We wanted to incorporate our theme for the summer – about having a tender heart and a humble mind. So in order to make our friendly game-show competition more exciting and meaningful for everyone, we asked our three teams to get together this morning and think of a non-profit in Rhode Island who had a mission they felt strongly about. The idea is that each will compete for their non-profit. Each team is named with their non-profit in mind.
In an attempt to make this project better still, we wanted to be able to make a donation to these non-profits at the end of the week – á la Celebrity Jeopardy. Whichever team wins the most fake competition money during the week will have the largest donation made to their non-profit of choice. We’ll make a donation to each of the three non-profits, but obviously we aren’t telling the kids that. We want to them to put in their all towards winning while we are here together!
There’s only one small issue in this master plan we have: our Teen Campers and staff aren’t celebrities, nor to they have celebrity incomes. So the only part we’re missing is the actual money that we could donate.
Will you help? We’d love to be able to tell the Teen Campers that while they have been here having fun all week and participating in our program, that our wider community has contributed to make this a more meaningful experience for everyone.
Your help would mean the world to us. Thanks in advance!
Here are our teams, and the non-profits they are supporting:
The Storks are competing this week in honor of Adoption RI, who helps provide foster and permanent homes for children in DCYF care in Rhode Island. They chose “The Storks” as their team name because of the story we use in our culture around storks delivering babies. They want to help deliver children to families.
The Incredibly Cool Crowd
This group felt strongly about suicide prevention, and getting help to people who feel that their lives are not worth living. They are competing in honor of the Interfaith Counseling Center, a non-profit devoted to making mental health counseling available to anyone, whether or not they can afford it or have insurance. They chose “The Incredibly Cool Crowd” as their name to share the acronym ICC with their non-profit!
This group chose Loaves and Fishes RI as their non-profit, which is an interfaith organization that brings trucks full of toiletries, clothing, and food to homeless people and people in poverty all over Rhode Island. People in need find essentials through this ministry, and friendship with the volunteers. They chose “Food Truckers” as their name for obvious reasons!
Aren’t these kids the best? Help them have an extra special week at camp and give here!
Well, the Bridge Camp Talent Show was enough to pull me from my blogging slumber.
This talent show tends to be the one you truly don’t want to miss in a summer at ECC. There’s something about watching our campers with special needs positively shine on stage with dance routines, singing, ball spinning, drumming and more. In many acts their helper campers are by their sides, singing and waving and holding lyrics so they don’t miss a moment. It’s always so, so good. But tonight was particularly magical.
It would be hard to pick just one moment that made it so very special. It might have been the one camper who played corn hole as his talent. It took 6 throws for him to land the bean bag in the hole, and each time the crowd got more and more excited, cheering him on. With his last toss he landed it, and the other campers and counseling staff went crazy.
It might have been when a camper who has joined us for years – but has never even come close to the Little Theater for a talent show – jumped up on stage to listen to the sweet sound of her helper campers and counselors singing Amazing Grace. She swayed back in forth with a radiant smile on her face, and we stared in wonder that her friends had discovered that their singing brings her so much joy.
It might have been when everyone jumped up to create an aisle on either side of one camper who walked up and down the aisle while everyone danced and cheered as she sang her song.
There was no shortage of magic.
But what sealed the deal for me was the very last number of the Talent Show. As is often the case, the helper campers moved up to the stage to sing a song for their Bridge Campers. When the music started I heard the opening notes of the song “Home” by Phillip Phillips.
Here they are singing part of the song:
I admit to getting a little emotional.
I was sitting next to one of our Bridge Campers, and I noticed her getting a little emotional as well. She had been homesick here and there throughout camp, so I worried that maybe this particular song was making her revisit those feelings. I leaned over and asked, “Are you okay?”
“Sort of,” she answered.
And then she continued:
“I’ve just never had real friends like this before.”
I had to turn my head away from her for a moment to collect myself, and after taking a breath I turned back to tell her that I was glad she came to camp. I jumped up from the blanket so that when her helper camper returned they could embrace, and I moved away so that I could weep.
Lord this world we live in can be so very hard.
But this camp? It is so, so good.
Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind – 1 Peter 3:8
Below is an audio recording of the Good Friday service (found here). You can also find the readings for the day online. A written version of the sermon follows.
When I was in middle school I watched my closest friend be abused by another student in the changing room after gym class. I don’t remember the lead up to what happened or how it even started, but I remember with total clarity watching this girl slap my friend square across the face with all her force. Once. Twice. Three times.
I wasn’t the only one watching. We all watched – 25, maybe 30 of us – classmates and friends, who knew the difference between right and wrong, and who knew what we were watching was really, really wrong. We just stood there. We watched. Frozen and afraid. We watched. I didn’t yell out for them to stop. I didn’t run from the room to get a teacher. I didn’t step forward to stand next to my oldest, dearest friend.
I just watched.
It was the first time in my life that I witnessed violence against someone that I knew and cared deeply for, and I realize how lucky I am to be able to make that statement. But that experience revealed a truth about myself that I have been trying to run from since that day: the truth that in the face of violence and deep, deep wrongdoing, I am capable of doing nothing. I am capable of witnessing pain and trauma and injustice and standing still. My fear immobilizes me. I do nothing.
This truth is one of the reasons Good Friday is so very uncomfortable for me. I cannot read this graphic, difficult, and painful gospel passage without knowing right where I would have been if I had been part of that day. I would have been part of the crowd watching this horror unfold. I would have been Peter insisting that he was not one of the men with Jesus. I would have been Simon of Cyrene, carrying the cross. I would have been Pilate – if I could even fool myself into thinking I could achieve his level of bravery – and, not having the agreement of the crowd, I would have ordered the crucifixion despite my doubts.
I can try to console myself by saying that at least I wouldn’t have been yelling “Crucify him!” with the angry crowds. In fact, that’s how I’ve reconciled myself with this passage for decades. I wouldn’t have been that bad. But then the memory of that day in gym class floats back into my brain, and it reminds me that even if the words were not tumbling from my mouth, my silence is it’s own kind of violence. Silence leaves too much space for continued wrongdoing, and in the absence of audible dissent one can only assume that allowance, forgiveness, and even affirmation fill that space instead.
Now I’m not in the business of calling others out for their fallibilities – Lord knows I can keep myself busy naming and tending to my own. But I think it’s worth noting that I’m not the only one capable of watching, standing still, staying silent. I wasn’t alone in gym class in the 7th grade any more than one single person was alone watching Christ crucified hundreds of years ago. It took a whole crowd of people to revolt against Jesus, to call for his death, and to cheer while it took place. Any time one person or a group of people fall victim to violence, pain, and betrayal, it takes a whole lot of silent onlookers to allow that injustice to continue.
I don’t need to tell you that we are surrounded by violence still. Our communities, our nation, our world – it is plagued with suffering. Hunger, poverty, war. To think of it all is, admittedly, crippling and I think that adds to our silence as well. We can’t figure out how to help, how to make a difference, and we are paralyzed and overwhelmed by all the many ways that humans are harming other humans. And so we do nothing.
Now listen, this is not meant to be a sermon that implies all of us are immoral, irresponsible and content to sit idly by while people suffer. I don’t believe that. But it is meant to be a sermon that calls to our attention the astounding power that fear plays in our lives, and our very human desire for self-protection. Because I believe that is what is at the heart of our inability to act in the face of violence. Fear permeates our silence. I have tremendous compassion for 7th grade Meaghan, and how terribly afraid she was watching her friend be hurt. I have compassion for everyone else in that room, all of us wanting it to end and none of us having the skills to make that happen. I have compassion for the crowds in Jerusalem cheering for Jesus’ death. I have compassion for Peter. I have compassion for Pilate.
I am able to have compassion for all of those people, and for myself, because that’s what Jesus modeled for me on the cross. “Forgive them Father, because they know not what they do.” He knew. He knows. He knows we are afraid. He knows our humanity is fallible and our desire to protect ourselves is innate, even when it means turning our attention away from someone else’s pain and death. He knows. And he forgives.
But that forgiveness is not our free ticket to keep doing what we’re doing. His forgiveness does not give us permission to remain silent. His compassion does not mean we can’t be held responsible for the violence we perpetrate in the world around us – either aloud and through our actions or through our silence and complicity.
Quite the opposite. His forgiveness should transform us. His compassion should inspire us to be brave, to speak, to act. His death on the cross was ultimately for greater good – to show us the abundance of God’s love and mercy and forgiveness through the resurrection, we know that. But we also can’t fast forward through the impact of this day to only consider the resurrection. Yes, the darkness of this day is transformed into light through the incredible grace of God. But we must also look squarely at the darkness of this day to understand and acknowledge what we are capable of, and how we are capable of change. God’s mercy is present right here, at the foot of the cross, with a Savior who showed nothing but compassion and forgiveness for the people who wished him harm, or who stood idly by while he was killed. Yes, resurrection is our ultimate Christian story – but the story of this day stands alone. We can be transformed by this day, this death, this story.
At another point in our gospel Jesus says, “Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me.” Friends, when we commit violence against one another it is violence against God. We can try to separate ourselves from the angry crowd at the crucifixion all we want, but there is no denying our continued presence, silence, and neglect in the face of continued violence against our fellow humans and consequently against God. We have constant opportunity to make a different choice: to be transformed, to be inspired, to be brave. It’s so very hard, and when we fail we are forgiven and given another chance so we must keep trying. We must speak. We must dissent. We must protect those around us and not only ourselves. Practice in small ways, by choosing not to laugh and calling out a joke that isn’t funny, by showing up and standing next to someone who is being oppressed, by using the simple words “no” or “stop” when you see something that isn’t right. Fueled by God’s forgiveness, compassion and mercy, our practice of nonviolence in small ways will embolden us to be bolder, braver, and better at ending violence in bigger ways. And whatever you do for the least of these you do for Jesus Christ. It is the least we can do, given what he has done for us.
For anyone who wants an audio version of the Ash Wednesday liturgy and the sermon below, you can hear it below.
He’s cute, right?
I know I’m biased because he’s my kid, but I also think I can pretty objectively say that “skinna-marink-a-dink-a-doooooo” is pretty stinkin’ adorable.
I’m glad to have captured this moment on video because – if I’m being honest – the adorable moments have been few and far between these days and the full-on-three-year-old-meltdown moments have been ALWAYS. We are all on the struggle bus. Getting him dressed should be an Olympic Event. Trying to brush his teeth? It might as well be torture. And while he doesn’t appear to be suffering from malnutrition, it’s hard to be entirely convinced it isn’t a problem because he refuses to eat almost all food. Can a child survive on cereal bars and fruit snacks? I guess so.
After a particularly ugly morning at our house yesterday, my husband and I decided to meet for lunch in an effort to spend at least 20 uninterrupted minutes before our brains had shut down from the exhaustion of the day to talk about how we could come at this as a team. Life doesn’t provide nearly the time we would like to be intentional about our parenting, but it was clear yesterday that we needed to make time.
At our lunch we talked out some of the issues, and a big theme that came forward was the dynamic in our lives right now where – especially on school days – we are making a lot of demands on our little guy without allowing for many moments of connection. We move from one thing to another: breakfast, get dressed, find your shoes, brush your teeth. All the while he’s whining and begging us to read him a book, or play cars with him. In our hustling to get out the door his requests come at us as sheer manipulation and stubborn misbehavior. After work/school isn’t much better because we are making dinner and the baby is crying and we’re all tired and and and… We get more and more frustrated and he becomes more and more defiant.
Perhaps it’s obvious, but these are not the moments I videotape and put on the internet.
As we talked about it more my husband and I realized that we need to be more intentional about connecting with Sam throughout the day. We hung our heads a little bit as we both admitted that even in the moments where we aren’t trying to move to the next thing and instead we are playing cars with him, that we still aren’t very present. Our heads are full of work thoughts, our phones are always within arms reach and often in one hand. We’ll be half-engaged with the activity, watching the baby out of one eye and glancing at our email or Instagram accounts with the other.
Not surprisingly we are reaping the benefits of this inattention. Our son is standing in front of us, his requests for our time and focus getting louder and louder and louder.
So we decided to make a better effort about spending time with our kids and engaging with them in a way that allows for deeper connection. Less phone time, more talking, reading, playing. We aren’t trying to be superheroes or anything – I’m only talking about a half hour or so a day here (the kids still have to figure out how to play by themselves for crying out loud). But we want those moments to be real moments, where our kids are seen and heard and valued.
Oh, and we also decided to use stickers. But that’s less relevant in this story.
So that was yesterday. We had some sweet time with the kids last night and early today and the morning routine was a little bit easier (it was probably the stickers). While it was nice to have the morning go a little more smoothly, what was nicer still was having had more moments of connection. Those moments – even in less than 24 hours – were life-giving. Instead of remembering only the meltdowns and time outs from this morning I also remember watching my husband walk our son through a Valentines Day craft for his teacher after breakfast. Isn’t that lovely?
After the scurry of the morning was over I started to shift gears from Valentines Day to Ash Wednesday. (Unfortunate timing, really. For some reason people seem to be more focused on candy and flowers today instead of mortality and Lent).
Anyone who’s been with me in church during Lent knows that I’m not a fan. I’m not much a fan of Valentines Day either but at least it ends a lot faster. Lent goes on for a VERY LONG TIME. Every year we get to this time and I have to dig deep reset my thoughts on this season, and every year I am finally able to accept and even embrace the season while we move through it. But evidently I’m not convincing enough because as soon as we come up on Ash Wednesday again the next year I start to get grumpy and complainy about the fact that it’s Lent again. Isn’t every year a little much for this? This year is no different. It’s too soon. Lent is too long. I like miracles and mountaintop experiences and pancakes. I don’t have any emotional energy for repentance and silence and ashes.
So once again, I find myself trying to dig deep to change my attitude about this holy season.
Today, during my digging, I kept thinking of my strategy lunch with my husband yesterday. We identified a problem in our relationship with our kid. We were honest about our part in the problem. We committed to changing our behavior to enable deeper connection with our three year old.
I had to shake my head as I made the realization:
Damned if that’s not Lent in a nutshell right there.
“I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.”
– from the Ash Wendesday Service, Book of Common Prayer
Lent invites us, year after year, to identify the problems in our relationship with God and in our spiritual lives, to acknowledge our part of the problem, and to commit to changing our behavior to allow for deeper connection with the Divine.
It’s humbling, really, to realize the parallels. That’s what I get for whining.
The problem in our spiritual lives is that God isn’t a three year old child. My son can (and does, daily) look at me and say, “Mommy, I’m talking to you. Are you listening to me?” And when that doesn’t work he can yell and cry and kick his feet and steal a toy from his sister and sure enough I’ll stop what I’m doing to focus my attention on him.
God, on the other hand, tends to be a little less in our faces – at least most of the time. There have certainly been moments in my life where I feel like God has made God’s will for me abundantly clear and I have no choice but to listen. But I’m talking about day in and day out. God isn’t whining and tugging on my leg trying to get me to focus on our relationship and tend to my spiritual life. God is more the “patiently waiting for me to stumble through making my own mistakes until I finally realize I can’t go this alone” kind of presence in my life. Always there, always ready, always yearning for me to realize that what I truly need to thrive is deeper connection with God, first and foremost.
And therein lies the wisdom of the church, despite my attempts to annually rebel against the institution that insists on honoring Lent each year: we need this season. Every year.
We have the opportunity each week in our liturgy to say a general Confession. To acknowledge the things we have done and things we ought not to have done. To ask for God’s forgiveness and to receive absolution.
But let’s be honest – most of us glaze through that part because we know the Peace is coming and it’s hug time. Or bathroom time. Or announcement time. I’m not sure how many of us are truly considering the ways we’ve strayed from God as we utter those words aloud.
Really the least we can do to honor Lent each year. It’s 40 days in the midst of a whole year where we constantly become lost in all of the other demands of our modern lives without making real space for right relationship with God. This is our chance to evaluate, to change our behavior, and to have a deeper connection with God that will be life-giving. Change is hard, and connection is worth the challenge.
Today we are invited into a Holy Lent. We have ashes placed on our foreheads to remind us that we are mortal, that life is short, that we make mistakes and we are given endless chances to make it right, that God is always and ever patiently waiting for our return, calling us closer whether we are able to hear that call or not. This is our chance to reconnect: not because we have to or because we’re in trouble or because the church wants us to be miserable, but because that connection brings life, peace, renewal, and endless, abundant love.
Take God out for lunch today and have a little check in. What are the problems you’re facing right now? What’s your part in it? What changes can you make in your life to live into deeper connection? Now is as good a time as any. The church might even say it’s the best time.
And if you need a sticker chart to map your progress I’m happy to help.
Skinnamarinky dinky dink
God loves you!