Monthly Archives: July 2012

A good person does nothing

Over the weekend I accompanied a friend to purchase something off of Craigslist. My friend had been looking for this item in this price range for a few years and had finally found it. I was warned that the seller might say some things I would find offensive — during the conversation about the purchase, the seller had made comments about oil prices and turbans wrapped too tightly. My friend begged me to not make any comments in the case the seller did say something awful for the success of the sale and, more importantly, my/our safety. I said I would try not to, but there are some things that I can’t let slide. My friend implored me to keep my cool (and my thoughts to myself).*

We get to the house in rural USA and there’s Christian music coming out of the intercom system. My friend and I exchange glances. The guy meets us around back and seems nice enough. The item is exactly what my friend wants. We check it out, go in to do some paperwork, and then it happens. We’re having a conversation about accidentally running people over (you know, like you do), and the seller starts talking about how you shouldn’t run anyone over unless they’ve got their turban on (there are hand signals for this), then starts talking about how that’s what we’ve got to do to them because that’s what they want to do to us and something about Allah being Satan, and they’re all Satan worshippers.

Apparently, there are some things I can let slide.

I just stood there. I didn’t know what to do. I’d never actually heard anyone say something like that before. I had seen it on these here interwebs, but I had never been face to face with an ostensibly nice person who verbalized thoughts that Muslims should be killed and they worship Satan. I stood there, shocked, dismayed and angry. And then said I had to go outside and walk my dog, who was stuck in the car.

While walking, I came up with a million things I could have said. Matthew 5:44 kept coming to me as a good response, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” What if I had just reminded the seller, the man with Christian music flowing through his home, that is what Christ asks us to do? I could have disagreed with him with my outer voice. I could have pointed out his bigotry, I could have shown my disgust. Instead, I just stood there.

Silence like this is what allows towns to keep Muslims from worshiping. It is what creates space for the harassment, abuse and killing of Muslims across the country. It is what allows this guy to think he’s speaking for God.

I was disgusted with myself. I am disgusted with myself. That night, when doing my evening prayers, I just started to cry. How could I stare bigotry, hate, ignorance — evil, really — in the face and just walk away?

Because it was the easiest, safest thing to do.

I am reminded of all of the quotes on this topic. Evil succeeds when the good do nothing. When they came for me, there was no one left to speak up. So many people have warned us of the dangers of silence in the face of injustice. Yet here I am: I write about racism, I’m conscious of what I buy, and I’m silent in the face of blatant hate speech.

In conversations since I have been reminded that I had no idea who this person was, we were in his house, and anything could have happened to us. I was not in a safe position to speak out.

But when is speaking out against injustice ever safe?

What happens if we all wait until we are safe before we take a stand, before we tell someone they are wrong?

What if we pour our words and passion for justice onto our blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds, but not into the rest of the world?

Would anything I could have said made a difference? Would it have been possibel to light a spark in the man’s mind that would bring about change? Or would I truely have just been endangering myself and my friend? I’ll never know.

I will tell you one thing; I am formulating responses for future encounters. I am thinking of how I can talk about these things in a way the other person might hear me. I’d be glad to hear your ideas.

*I have been asked by my friend to clarify that we we were in a completely different state and that, while knowing I could be put in a position where I would feel the need to speak up, there were few provisions we could have made for the outcomes that could have occurred as a result of speaking up. And/or if there were provision that could have been made to ensure the safety/security of myself and those around me, that those provisions were not made. For this friend, security is possibly the largest section of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Reimagning Church Camp

Imagine this: there is a place where you can be completely yourself, and be loved for everything you are. In this place you can sing, dance, laugh, pray, play, run, create, explore and live more fully than you do in your every day life — possible live the most full life you can. This is a place where you can ask questions you may be afraid to ask in your every day life and those questions will be explored, not ignored or put down. This is a place where you feel God as a real, living presence and become more aware of the value and example of the life of Jesus and of the movement of the Holy Spirit in your life. When you leave this place, the relationships you have formed will support you throughout your life. When you experience crushing loss, these friends will be there to carry you. When you experience immense joy, these friends will show up to celebrate with you. This place will feed your faith in God, in others, and in yourself.

This is how I experienced church camp. Sure, there was teenage drama — the boy I liked who didn’t like me back (oh, Cory… sigh…). But I don’t remember there being cool kids or losers like there so often are in teenage life. I do remember learning to love people I never would have talked to in my daily life and being loved in a way I never thought possible. It is the experience of Camp Mowana that grew my faith as I spent most of my teenage years at punk shows with Atheist friends. It is the love I felt at camp that lives in my heart and reminds me of God’s love when I feel unloveable and worthless. It is the friendships that I made at camp that kept me faithful during the lean years, the times when it seemed like everything was dark and God was nowhere to be found. I have said many times that my camp experiences and relationships have possibly saved my life — and definitely saved me from myself more than once. I am not the only person who can tell this story about church camp (I recognize that there are some awful church camp stories out there, that’s not what I’m goin’ for here).

There is a whole lot of happiness in this picture. You have no idea. Unless you are in it, then you do.

And yet traditional, cabin in the woods church camps seem to be dying. This makes me so sad — not just because I am so attached to my beloved Camp Mowana, but because losing camps will mean losing an amazing way to foster and feed the faith of young people. We are losing the very people we need to reach the most. The problem is, we are trying to reach them by going to places they aren’t. If our churches are shrinking and youth involvement is particularly struggling, how does it make sense to depend on local congregations to  fill the cabins? Why are camps fishing in ponds that are, by and large, dying?

The big question here is this: How can camp be missional?

What if, instead of focusing on the people in the pews, we focused on the people in the surrounding towns? What if we made camps a place where people could explore faith, not just a place where it was fed to them? Would it be possible to be open to the “spiritual but not religious” and yet retain Christian (Lutheran, in my case) integrity? Can a camp be Christian “under the hood”?

What if our camps were also vibrant spiritual communities where regular worship happened once a week? What if we invited the community in for weekend meals? Or, even crazier, what if we invited local bands in to perform, hosted yoga retreats, provided levels of Christian experience for people who weren’t too sure about church? What if we had weeks that taught farming or primitive skills or computer skills with a side of Jesus? Is any of this possible?

I’m scheming and dreaming new ways we can do church camp. Help me out. What is being tried? What is working? What isn’t? If any of my non-Christian friends read this – could anything draw you/your children/your family to a camp that was identified as Christian? What can we do to revive or rebirth outdoor ministries?