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Mountaintop Cahoots, Inc.

For five or six summers I've served as a chaplain for Episcopal summer camps in California and in Virginia, and it is always a stunning experience. At the end of five or seven or ten days together, these jocks and nerds and theater kids in these shared camp sites have all cracked the code of how to be together and you can see it on their faces -- an ease about them, an ease among them, and comfort within themselves that was not there at the start of the week.

As a chaplain, it's weird work to be the pastoral presence to this camp gathering throughout the week of course, but especially at the end of the week when you have to figure out how to send these young people on their way, and what we always talk about as chaplains is that there is only ever one end of camp sermon and is it this. Your faces are shining here in a way that they never have before, and now you have to go shine like this everywhere else you go. You have to take what you've learned to do here and you have to figure out how to do it back at home too.

I think it's true that summer camp makes church harder for our young people, that the mountaintop makes the valley much harder, although what a good problem to have. You have a ten day immersion experience where the entire point is to figure out how to be together, and its the work of your cabin, your counselors, the camp leaders -- it's the work of the entire schedule, of every activity, of every meal, every feeling check, every chaplain time -- to figure out how to be together. And if you can believe it, with 18 hours a day of effort towards this goal, we actually figure out how to do it.

The problem then is how is it that you maintain that same posture of charity and forbearance and generosity and understanding and love when you're not working on it 18 hours a day, when you don't have a cabin full of peers who have the same goals, when you don't have counselors and leaders who are holding you accountable to that purpose, when it is not the goal of school or work to "learn how to be together," how do you keep the shine you felt, transfigured, on the mountaintop when the rest of the world would disfigure you.

It's no wonder Peter wanted to build dwellings and remain there, it's no wonder our campers wish camp was year-round. And yet it is the central work of Christianity to figure out how to do the work of being together under the conditions of duress. The work of being together is easiest in a place like this where we get to say out loud -- the most important thing here is being together -- it is much harder somewhere else, and yet the work of being a Christian is figuring out how to do it all outside of the scaffolding, the peer support, the teamwork of the places where you learned how to do it. We come to a place like church, like camp, like the mountaintop to be transfigured under the best of conditions, to learn how to do the thing, and then we come down off the mountain, we come home from camp, we walk out the front doors of the church and suddenly the rest of our work begins.

In my experience, summer camp is the place where the Gospel of Jesus feels somehow the most true, the most viable, the most doable. It is a place where everyone agrees that the most important thing is not grades or profits or productivity, it's not efficiency, it's learning how to be together. Summer camp, and I hope Church, too, is the place where we find patience for one another that we can't find anywhere else in our lives, it is the place where the quirks and insecurities that we think disqualify us from friendship are made to seem like not that big of a deal, it is the place where we get to decide to become friends with people we never would have encountered otherwise, people who we decide are good and worthwhile simply because they are there with us. These mountaintop places are where we get to feel the bravest, and all we get to preach from them is that you get to do your best to figure out how to be brave when you leave here too, you get to figure out how to make the world a little more mountaintoplike when you leave here, you get to figure out how to keep the shine on your face even when the world doesn't reflect it back to you.

How do you do that? Well my hunch is that you have lots of potential allies out there -- most people I think want to live their lives like summer camp, but are looking for someone to help them be brave enough to try. And I might say that you get to decide to be the friend who lends them the courage, you get to be mountaintop face-shining buddies, you get to be the originator of the conspiracy to start acting like being together is the most important thing, and you get to see what kind of co-conspirators you might find to be in cahoots with you. I bet you'll find more than you budget for.


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