An open letter/blog to any parent considering sending their child to Bible camp…
When the camp director asks me to speak for a week at camp this summer I am totally surprised. How did my name come up? And why would they want me to speak? My first inclination is to say no; partly because of the time it will take to prepare and partly because I don’t feel like I’m a good fit–you know, the rah-rah preacher raising the chapel roof. It’s not that I don’t identify with the core beliefs of the camp, but I’ve never been comfortable selling Christianity. In general, I can smell a sales pitch from a mile away and feel violated when someone targets me as a potential client, whether they’re pushing a political view, Tupperware or the Watch Tower. It all makes me want to run the other direction.
While on the phone with director, asking him about details, I’m also thinking about conversations I’ve had with multiple parents and their distaste for Bible camp. Particularly the emotionally-charged services where vulnerable children, many away from home for the first time, are subjected to religious manipulation. Now I was being asked to be a major player in this? To stand at the front of the chapel, preaching to the sunburned, mosquito-bitten, hyper children who come for a week of fun but go home indoctrinated?
I’m driving with 4 other teenagers in my car and listening to their animated conversation.
“She told me I was going to hell on judgement day! Can you believe that?”
A burst of laughter erupts in the back seat.
“Yeah, it’s just a bunch of rules. Outdated and boring.”
“I once had to say the Hail Mary, like, 59 times. I hated it!”
“Religion is so repulsive,” says another.
My hands grip the steering wheel and I bite my lip. I can see there has been a terrible misunderstanding. The programs, curriculum, traditions, institutions and well-meaning followers are eclipsing their centre, their very heart. Which is what happens when people see Christianity instead of Jesus. A religion, instead of a person.
Soon the conversation skips to another topic, but my insides ache while I process my unspoken response:
Have you read the book of Matthew lately? Or even just chapters 5, 6 and 7?
Have you watched him turn water into wine? Water to wine! Not the other way around.
Have you listened to his stories of mustard seeds and outcasts and rebel sons who return home?
Have you seen him bend low to draw in the dirt to save a desperate woman?
Did you hear his whisper at the cross, his compassion for the criminal hanging beside him?
You can complain all you want to me about religion and I will probably agree with most of it. But show me Jesus and I come undone.
I decide I will speak at camp. Every hour I spend drafting and researching, I get more excited. I still couldn’t care less whether your children go to church every Sunday or have never sat in a pew. Whether they Muslim or Christian, cynics or charismatics. I’m not in the business of selling Christianity, nor of converting, convincing or conniving. That is impossible. And as absurd as forcing someone to feel the rhythm of a song, gape at the northern lights or fall in love with a person.
You can sell things or even ideas, but you don’t sell people; you introduce people, you connect people, or maybe even match-make people. So dear parents, don’t worry about me indoctrinating your children. I’m not the least bit interested in that. My only agenda is to show them Jesus. And, if you’ve ever heard music, looked at the night sky, or felt the spark of romance, you’ll understand that most of this has nothing to do with me anyway.