An Empty Campground

An Empty Campground

When I was a director, I inspected the Jr Camp cabins to make sure that the trash was removed, lights and fans were off, and everything was in good condition. I freely admit this is an emotional time for me as I truly love the Alabama Junior Camp experience and an empty campsite is the final confirmation that camp, for the year, is over. As the cabin head, I pause to look at the now empty beds and say a prayer for the young men and my fellow counselors and specific struggles or needs they have. These are some observations from many years ago when our camp was at Children’s Harbor but reflects my sentiments each year..

As I close each cabin I can still see the campers and counselors whose presence fills this place. I see the bunks I occupied during various camps and remember scenes of those days. I look around and see the young boys and girls who have now become young men and ladies and am so very proud of them. In Lookout Inn, I visit the space of my first counselor bunk and the place I slept the year I had the whole cabin to myself. I see places throughout the campground where during summer and winter I was blessed to talk, pray, cry, and laugh with people who are so dear to me. I feel blessed to have such good friends and experiences. Yes George Bailey, I’ve had a wonderful life.

The sun glistens on the empty pool where we played dunk the counselor (adding zombie rules) and other fun games. Even on that bright morning I could still see the shadows of a couple standing in the middle of a dark calm pool where souls were won for Christ. I can see myself walking out with a new young brother or sister in Christ, singing a song of celebration to this wonderful event and praying in a circle of love and strength for their lifelong journey.

Even during Winter Camp and the cold wind is blowing off the lake, I can still see the young people in line for the galley, swinging in the playground, on the volleyball and basketball courts, or talking in the amphitheater as I walk around the deserted campground. I do a quick mental calculation to see how long I must wait until they will return to this special place.

I stand on the empty dock where the boys and I enjoyed midnight swims. The canoes are resting on their racks from a busy week. I visit the places on the lake where souls were joined to Christ or where I had uplifting conversations with special people. It is not the place, you see, it is the people I can connect to these places. When I come back to the places I feel their presence but it is bittersweet because I am here and they are not.

Precious young people, the traces you leave on our hearts and lives bring us joy and peace. We cry when we know you are in sorrow and want to help you through your difficult times. We rejoice at your achievements and your courage to do the right thing. We recognize the sacred gift of taking us into your heart and allowing us to be part of your world.

Loving counselors and staff, there are few like you in the world who can bring love, compassion, wisdom, and genuine playfulness with such apparent ease. We share a special bond because we share special goals and have worked together for such a wonderful purpose. Your friendship makes me a wealthy man.

Why does my heart ache when camp is over? I have spent a week with some of the best people on God’s earth (young and old) enjoying fun activities and life changing moments immersed in the love and knowledge of God. Cynics snidely chide, “camp is not reality.” If that claim is true I would like to change my reality, please. It is reality – do not let anyone tell you otherwise – though it’s life is so very brief. The “very good” creation was spoiled by evil but the fellowship and love of godly people supporting each other, in whatever setting, is a taste of what we lost and what shall be reclaimed on the last day.

As I stand in Mariner’s Hall, now empty, my memory refills the room. I hear “Good Morning Campers” from my lovely wife’s voice and their enthusiastic reply. I hear society chants and squeals of joy. I hear you sing “Light the Fire” and tears fill my eyes. Then I hear only silence broken by the waves crashing on the lake outside. “Next year,” I pray, “God, please let me come back next year.”

How the Minor League Revived My Love for Baseball

How the Minor League Revived My Love for Baseball

The unthinkable happened. I turned my back on baseball.

I never played baseball. Spending every afternoon and Saturday at the local park playing organized ball had no appeal. I was, however, a devoted Dodger fan, collecting baseball cards and watching games while doing homework. I even learned to hate the Yankees who spoiled so many of our championship dreams. On a trip to California in 1985, I  finally watched a game in Dodger Stadium while eating a Dodger dog,

My youthful idealism was spoiled and my faith in the game lost. Rumors of performance enhancing drugs circulated but it seemed few cared if it brought viewers. Through the 80’s and 90’s, animosity between owners and players flared up into occasional player strikes or threats of lockouts. Soon the commissioner, players, owners and congress were arguing and accusing. Like a kid who leaves home to escape fighting parents, I just walked away from the game.

Like a lukewarm parent taking the kids to church because they need religion, I took my young children to see the Birmingham Barons at the Hoover Met. I explained the game to my son and enjoyed the family memories, but I didn’t feel that old passion. Was it betrayal? The loss of innocence? Was it just a childish fad?

Regions Field rose in the heart of Birmingham but a couple of seasons passed I attended a game, invited by our bank to their corporate box. Last season, my wife and I had free tickets and sat along left field in the cool April evening. Something stirred. I noticed something I’d missed for a long time.

There is a magic to minor league ball. Our team, the Birmingham Barons, are low on the Chicago White Sox farm system. Championships, which the Barons have won, are not the goal; it is player development. We are a stepping stone to the “bigs” or a trip down for those needing help. When you sense your place in the world, and are content with it, your perspective changes. Players, coaches, and fans are competitive. We want to win. It’s part of the game. But in the minor leagues, winning must yield to the greater good.

Barons_edited2Here the love of the game is on display in its purity. Young men hope to be hero for a night until they are called up to the majors. Neighborhood kids take the field with the players before the game. Autographs are freely given. Players joke with fans over the fence on a cool humid night as the smell of hot dogs and popcorn waft along a gentle breeze. The crack of a bat breaks monotony of the traffic humming downtown.

I came back often, sometimes alone when my family had other plans, and felt both ten year-old excitement and fifty year-old contentment. I would listen to the sonorous Curt Bloom bringing the game to life on the radio on nights when I could not attend. The game at all levels, from the minor league parks to major league palaces, and its rich history again stirred my heart.

Few American institutions can escape blind competition and monetary temptation. Owners and players can allow business to intrude on the game but cynicism can blind fans to baseball’s existential joy. I’d love the Barons to win games and hang championship pennants, but my greater love is a grandstand filled with laughing families, old men keeping box scores, and kids with gloves hoping for a foul ball enjoying this one night. I accepted professional baseball with its weaknesses. I could see its beauty in imperfection that I missed with youthful idealistic eyes. I even loathed the Yankees again.

The last night of the closing series, as the crowds filtered out of the stadium, I lingered then slowly walked to the third base gate. I paused before exiting, turning back for one last look at the lush green outfield framed with city lights. Baseball was as beautiful as I’d always remembered. Though I would miss her over the winter, in the spring I would return. I had come home.

Why do people listen to pundits?

Why do people listen to pundits?

I enjoy sports talk radio but I don’t take it too seriously and usually tune out when they start predictions. Before the football season, the “experts” talked incessantly about who would have great seasons, what athletes and coaches would have success, and what teams would suffer. As the season rolled on their predictions proved incredibly wrong, and they do every year. However, no one loses their job and they begin the prediction process again with callers eagerly joining in with their insights. I enjoy much of the banter but I don’t put much stock in prognostication.

Fortune teller

The 2016 US election political experts were hilariously wrong. They laughed at the thought of Donald Trump running for president and dismissed his chances of winning the Republican nomination in a crowded field of diverse and qualified candidates. When he won the nomination they wrote off the Republican party saying that there were great divisions within that threatened to rip the GOP apart. During the campaign, the pundits provided advice for how Trump should run his campaign and marvelled at how he was doing it wrong. As they polished the crown for Hillary Clinton on election night, they began eulogizing the Trump campaign and lauding the historic nature of Clinton becoming the first woman president…until Donald Trump was announced as the winner of the 2016 election. Never has the press been so wrong from the very start and, had Trump followed the advice of the press, he certainly would have lost. Good thing, for his sake, he didn’t listen to the “experts” in the press.

I laughed to myself on my way into the gym several days as the TVs were continuing the coverage by these same pundits on how President-elect Trump was going to administer the country and what he should do. To my knowledge none of these people lost their jobs because they were clueless about the election and the electorate. Yet people will continue to listen to these pundits spout meaningless babble for the 24-hour cycle when they have proved that they are out of touch with the very area in which they proclaim to have expertise.

Years ago I heard someone describe modern media as “reporters interviewing reporters.” I never realized that the radio and television news and talk shows were exactly this. Having aspired to journalism when I was in school, a dream I abandoned, I envisioned a life chasing the story, interviewing and cross-examining people, pouring through data, and digesting the data for publication with tight insightful prose. But many prominent “journalists” are just news celebrities and brands that have to say outlandish things to get hits, views, and invitations to shows that want to create a bar fight on screen. I believe there are journalists true to the calling who cannot be bought and want the truth regardless of whether it is left or right, but I fear they are a minority today and do not have the audience enjoyed by the male and female spokesmodels and fame seekers. Of course, we asked for this by what we pay for with our attention and mouse clicks.

If anything, I hope the 2016 election (and football season) has given us a reality-check regarding our news sources and experts with a healthy dose of skepticism for what they say, and say, and say.

 

Book Review: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop TalkingQuiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
by Susan Cain

I just finished the audiobook and it is very insightful. I’ve read a lot about introversion and the information uncovered in her research revealed topics I had not considered. After the popularity of her book other books and articles on introversion filled the business and psychology blogosphere and book shelves.

The sections about high social monitoring was insightful personally as it helped me understand behaviors in my life. The free trait theory also explained why I manifest certain traits related to tasks I love that do not manifest at all in similar tasks with different goals. It does provide some insight about extroverts that should help introverts and extroverts understand one another. One thing that one must be careful of when reading such books is not to identify too much with the type as being a fixed part of our nature. I think of it more as a tendency and that, with certain people or under certain conditions I will act more extroverted.

I could have done without the little climate change mini-sermon (ignore Gore and we’ll “drown”) but similar tangents were few and short and didn’t distract from the core topic. Her articulation of the impact of Tony Robbins, Dale Carnegie, and the culture of personality shaping of the American extrovert culture was enlightening.

The brief mention of the extrovert focused culture on religion with megachurches and trends towards overstimulated worship was interesting and she did a hand off to Adam McHugh and his work on introversion in religion. I highly recommend it especially if you have just recently discovered your introverted characteristics.

Buy from Amazon (affiliate link)

Mourning Lost Dreams

The thought hit me hard one night as a I stared into the darkness of my bedroom: “I will never be a geologist.” When I was younger I knew that I could go back to school and get a degree and have time to develop this interest into a career. But a quick calculation made it evident that I could not get a degree, certainly not an advanced degree, and pay the dues to build a career in geology. I am an avid rock hound and obviously the desire was not a strong enough passion for me to sacrifice whatever it took to make this my career. I was thrown off this ambition when I was younger by some advice I should have ignored and information I should have questioned. In previous years I knew that I could pursue this dream if I wanted to; now I knew that this dream would never be realized.

The pain was not so much that I wouldn’t have this job I dreamed of us a child but that there was a dream of youth that was out of reach. What could-have-been at many points in my life became a would-never-be. Don’t misunderstand me. I am successful in my work and I have realized more than my fair share of dreams. I do not feel deprived nor am I ungrateful for what I have. I have gained much by what I have sacrificed, goals I have pursued, and by God’s good grace. I cannot be bitter because I am too blessed. But I am also mindful that the professional life I am living was not the dream of my youth.

For any reflective middle-aged man there comes a time when he knows some dreams of youth will never be fulfilled. He can point out the wrong turns that cost him precious wasted years and needless pain. With perfect hindsight he can see the missed opportunities that his younger self did not or could not take. He can count the wasted dollars and foolish pursuits that didn’t even yield worthwhile wisdom. In the face of such reflection a man must determine to be bitter about his past choices or learn what lessons he can and move on peacefully.

The Allman Brothers classic “Dreams I’ll Never See” (I prefer the Molly Hatchet version) eloquently describes the despair we feel when our unfulfilled dreams seem oppressive but also need to move on. Unfulfilled dreams must be met with a resolve to “Pull myself together, put on a new face, climb down from the hilltop, and get back into the race” carrying our dreams with us.  Even when we know those dreams will not be fulfilled, we can take them with us and enjoy the  youthful dreaming and what our dreams mean to us. It may be that in the dreaming itself, not the fulfillment of the vision, we remain open to the possibilities of the future and new dreams we can create.

baggageWe have a problem when we do not let go of what we should release. We hold onto the skeleton with an unreasonable hope that we can bring it back to life. Maturity demands we accept the passing of some opportunities and look for new doorways. We must accept that some dreams are no longer attainable and either cherish them for what they meant to us or let them go if they are holding us back. Because a youthful dream was not realized does not mean that we cannot still create rich and satisfying dreams today.

We cannot carry the baggage of the past through the door of the future. In order to be ready to see new possibilities, we must quit looking at the past–whether it was real or imagined–and embrace the dream of tomorrow.

Advice For An Isolated Christian Man

Some men can feel alone in the middle of a crowd. We love others and they love us yet we feel disconnected. We may ask if the problem is with the group or oneself. Christian men are not immune to this and may feel the pain acutely when they frequently assemble for worship services feeling a part but apart.

“Send Me One, Lord”

dockYou may have a believing wife and great relatives and be part of a loving church. Within any body of believers, I think we seek another soul with whom we can grow in the Lord and be a co-worker in the faith. We want a fellow laborer with whom we can enjoy the triumphs and trials of godly living. Though we may desire this person, we may be challenged to find them.

I am an introvert but not generally shy* so I can have spent times in my life surrounded by people but disconnected.  One can feel alone in a group of people no matter how much they love you: connected but yearning for a deeper bond with another Christian. When we find those Christians, we don’t feel as isolated.

Men typically have a hard time making that one connection. Richard Simmons III, who writes and speaks on men’s issues, said the average man has “less than one” close male friend (.1-.49 average). Our spouse or other family members cannot fill the position. Christian men need a Paul, Barnabas, Silas, or Timothy in our lives with whom we can work and worship, who is not dependent on us, who will keep us accountable, and sharpen us “as iron sharpens iron.” Seek that one among the believers and I believe your feeling of isolation will dissolve into the joy of acceptance and close brotherhood.

How Do You Find Him?

To find a man to strengthen you (or perhaps several men to build a band of brothers) would include the following:

  1. Pray for God to send you a fellow soldier. We pray to God for everything else we need and should pray for this. Jesus sent the disciples out two by two. It is important to have companions who lift one another up, work together, and protect each another (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12–Read it!). The Lord’s cause would benefit from many Paul-Barnabas relationships.
  2. Don’t send a woman to do a man’s job. You need a man to help navigate men’s issues of life, who can relate to you in a masculine way, and provide the unique camaraderie that exist among men working together as close friends. As good as your wife may be, and I have an incredible one, she cannot fulfill this need. She fulfills another important need in my life as companion, lover, helper, and friend. There is a different need men have that the woman is not equipped to meet. Do not put your wife in a position of failure by making her fill a role for which she should not have been cast. A wise wife will recognize this need in her man and support the relationships with other men without jealousy and a wise man will make sure his wife’s needs are not neglected in order to spend time with male friends.
  3. Look for what you can give, not what you will receive. Don’t look for someone upon whom you can become dependent and needy. There are difficult times when we rely more heavily on our brothers and sisters, but a person who is only a taker, who is always needy, becomes a cause, not a friend. Find someone who also needs you and your strengths and one with whom you can accomplish more through joint effort. If you are looking for someone to teach, guide, and instruct you, you are seeking a mentor or teacher (which is a good relationship to have). But you also need a fellow soldier, an equal, that you do not feel the need to lead or carry.
  4. Find someone trustworthy and strong in their faith. This friend and brother will be one with whom you will share struggles and ask perplexing questions. Can you trust this person with your doubts and emotions? Can you trust that what you share with them will not be broadcast to others? Can you be trusted with their secrets? You must find someone who will not use what you share against you but will help you find spiritual strength and solutions that are based on God’s word. You need someone you can pray with and who will hold you accountable to God’s will. You need someone who will love you in good and bad times and will fight to save your soul. This may greatly narrow the potential men to be such a friend but the one you find will be worth more than all you own.
  5. Make it a priority. I have not always done this and it has been to my detriment. This is an important need. You are not weak nor lacking something. We have a need that is fulfilled by our spouse and children and a need that is filled by having a godly man to work with in our Lord’s kingdom. The earlier you work on meeting this need the better prepared you will be to face the inevitable trials of life within your family, professional life, and as a Christian.

*My introversion: public speaking and talking with a group of people I know is no problem but it wearies me over time. I gain strength from quiet and periods of isolation and spend a lot of time “in my head.”