I helped my brother move today. Curious way to spend a visit, but I got to see everybody a lot more than I would otherwise, and I don't mind helping out. And to top it off, I got a hug good-bye from my very finicky 2-year old niece. She doesn't really give out hugs. I feel very special.
So I went to an Episcopal church camp, Camp Monomonac, on the lake of the same name in New Hampshire. It's a big lake, and a beautiful place, and I recommend it for vacationing. The camp closed some years ago, and more recently had to be sold by the church that owned it; it's an awful shame, because it's one of the most beautiful places I've ever been.
I went there for maybe 4 or 5 years in a row, starting at--pick a year, since I can't remember exactly--age 8. I realize the phrase "church camp" brings up all sorts of unsavory ideas, but it was pretty relaxed. We weren't training to become missionaries or anything, although if you had an interest there were plenty of people around to help you out. The staff was, as far as I know, all Christian, but Episcopalians (and not all of them were) can be laid-back beyond belief, much to the chagrin of some Roman Catholics. We had morning community meetings with prayer, and then a Communion service on Sundays, all very relaxed. And very familiar, since I grew up Episcopalian (and even took Confirmation in it, although why they put kids through Confirmation at the cusp of adolescence when they're just about to really deeply question their faith remains beyond me). Most of it was like most summer camps, with different sports and activities and stuff, although generally lacking the sort of social Darwinism that seems common to such things.
The camp's director, Todd, was and probably is a really sweet, caring, goofy guy, with (as I remember it) some ever-increasing number of kids of his own, including at least one set of twins. He went to the camp when he was a kid, and generally has an enormous amount of love for the place and its mission, which to me, since I never saw it written on paper, was to provide a fairly safe space for kids to have fun and explore spirituality through the Episcopal Church. It was that, year after year, without fail.
As you can imagine, you can't put a few hundred kids aged 5-14 together and not have some...incidents. For the older kids, Todd had the Triangle Talk. I never experienced the Triangle Talk directly: it would be years before I could get anywhere with girls (and I'm not sure if my parents would have been annoyed, or glad that I was making friends and exhibiting signs of social normalcy). I heard about it from the counselors, who had either received it themselves (many of them had been campers themselves, and it was rumored that the staff, who had days off and no curfews, even had *gasp* sex) or had been present during the discussion with a camper. The Triangle Talk goes like this:
You are here (the lines indicate connection):you *-----------* the person you got caught making out with (TPYGCMOW) * GodNotice how God is an afterthought here. He is not the focus of your attention. You're busy trying to get in someone's pants.
[I'm paraphrasing. I'm pretty sure Todd does this much better.]
If we add God to the drawing, we get this:God * / \ dotted line indicates your rather tenuous / \ connections to God at this point / \ you *-----------* TPYGCMOWThere's a big gap between you and TPYGCMOW, a lack of intimacy that you can't close because God isn't involved.
But, if you and TPYGCMOW both move toward God:God * / \ you *---* TPYGCMOWThe distance closes not only between you and God and TPYGCMOW and God, but between you and TPYGCMOW. If you both move towards God, you meet there, with whatever relationship you can have that is focused on God (which, let's face it, may well not involve getting in each other's pants, and most certainly does not during this particular camp session).
I need not explain that this is a hopeless story to tell hormone-enraged 13-year olds. Really. Come on.But it's one of those character-building things where no one expects you to understand it at the time, they just want to plant the beginnings of a seed of a thought that can later germinate and grow into an idea and maybe a conviction or a value. The phrase coming to me is "memories are fertilizer for character", but you get the idea. These things fly right by you until one day the memory comes up the same way it always has, but at just the right time to have an effect.
I have a spiritual path. I've let it fall by the wayside over the past four or five years. Instead of focusing on that and letting life come with it, I've tied my emotional state to an extremely volatile relationship, and experienced a lot of suffering as a result. A lot of joy, but unreliable, and I wasn't making it a healthy thing to be tied to. And it's not just that relationship: my emotional state also depends a lot on my desire for a relationship, inasfar as I get caught up in fantasy or wishing I had X or Y relationship with person A or B. It's not a very stable or spiritual way to be.
Oh. Focus on the path, and everything else will unfold fine. Not the way you might want or expect, but fine, and in accord with the principles by which you act. The path will bring you together with your fellow travelers at the right times and in the right ways. I've learned this before, and here it is again.
Many thanks to Todd and the other wise people of the world who try to teach kids how to be good people.