Holy Interruptions: Reflections on Camp and Jesus

Screen Shot 2018-06-30 at 5.52.27 PMUnplanned camp conversations.

Place: Camp Calumet, Freedom, NH
Photo credit: Pastor Jeff Stalley, First Lutheran Church, Ellington, CT

Lamentations 3:22-33
Mark 5:21-43

“There may yet be hope.” 

If you pull the from Lamentations line out of context, its words rattle down loudly through the ages from an ancient Hebrew scribe. If you pull the line out of context, it just may inspire you. 

But in its place in that text in Lamentations, it’s just an aside. It’s almost an interruption. Our translators have hidden it in parentheses. At first pass, it’s almost a throwaway, a thing you say when you don’t really believe it. When you’re assuming the worst of somebody and you just throw in, “But maybe they didn’t really mean to,” and then you continue trashing them. Or when you say, “We burned the cookies. I mean, maybe they’ll taste okay, but they look really black.” Or when you think a sports team in an important game is definitely going to lose but then you throw out, “But you never know, they may have a chance,” then you continue listing the reasons the team is headed towards the sports version of a buzzsaw. Or when you feel so beaten up by life or like a relationship is dead or like you’ve had your hopes crushed but you throw out, “But I mean, it may not be that bad; who knows what else might happen,” and then you continue as before your lament about the state of things.

The writer of Lamentations, for their part, opines,

“It is good for one to bear the yoke in youth, to sit alone in silence when the Lord has  imposed it, to put one’s mouth to the dust (there may yet be hope), to give one’s cheek to the smiter, and be filled with insults” (Lamentations 3:27-29).

That is the voice of an ancient Hebrew telling you how terrible his, or maybe her, childhood was. (1) This is the voice of a human being who lived long ago telling you that they had to get used to hardship early, because they’ve always lived in an occupied land ruled by cruel conquerors. (There may yet be hope.) They’ve seen nothing but violence since they were a child. 

“There may yet be hope,” in that context, is an interruption. 

I hate saying that about a phrase about hope, because we don’t usually see interruptions as useful. They break the flow of things and throw us off task. To be an interruption, usually, is a negative thing. We don’t want to interrupt someone when they’re working. We yell at people who interrupt us. We can even annoy ourselves with those little verbal throwaway interruptions. You can almost hear the writer of Lamentations sneer: “I mean, there may yet be hope, but…” 

But I just emerged from a place where people realize the positive value of interruptions.

I spent this past week at Camp Calumet, our synod’s camp and outdoor ministry in Freedom, New Hampshire. [Who’s been?] If you’ve never been to Calumet, you should probably find a way to go. Calumet serves campers of all ages in a variety of programs: resident camp for kids, day camp for kids, campsites and cabins for recreation, and a wide range of programs for adults and kids every season of the year. Our Savior’s has invested a lot of love in Calumet over the years. A lot of you sent your kids there, and a lot of you went there for various programs yourselves. Gail used to work there. Dan helped out this winter with their Lego Weekend. Shi was a CIT last summer, and Tyrese is a counselor this year and his brother was a counselor before him, and on and on and on.

We love Calumet in all kinds of ways: we send both our money and our people to support its programs.

You all got me involved in Calumet, and for the past three summers, you’ve graciously loaned me out to Calumet. In 2016, I was the chaplain for family camp, which serves people of all ages and engages them in various programs throughout the day and throughout the week during the summer. That year, I led Bible study for adults, preached and presided for their camp wide service with around 500 folks, and led devotions for kids. The next year, I was the chaplain for confirmation camp, leading prayer and helping teenagers learn about the sacraments as they claimed their faith for themselves. This year, I pulled double duty: I had the same responsibilities as before with the confirmands, but I also worked as chaplain for staff week, leading devotions every morning with staff, which included all staff, from teenagers just starting to work at camp to college students who work as counselors and program directors.

Working at Calumet is immersive, and it is relaxing and it is fun and it is hard work. At camp, everyone pulls their weight. At camp, everyone is respected and loved for exactly who they are, because quite frankly, you can’t spend that much time with any group of people and not respect them as a human. (Sometimes, I just want to send America to camp.)

Camp also teaches things — to both kids and adults — that can’t be learned in any classroom or at any continuing education event. This week, I got the benefit of sitting in for a lot of the staff week talks, as the counselors learned how to be good camp counselors. And boy did I learn a lot.

Things like the fact that encouraging someone and being specific about it can change a life. Dave Piper, one of the Calumet nation who spoke at staff week, called it “laser beam” encouragement: being specific and sincere. Laser beam encouragement is to say more to someone than just, “you’re awesome,” but to be specific and say instead, “I love how playful you are with your grandkids; they really hit the jackpot with you as a grandparent!” or “I can tell you really put a lot of effort into your presentation today, and it really paid off. Thank you.” It’s the kind of thing that lights up a life. And it starts with an interruption — taking a moment away from everything to stop someone and encourage them. 

I think one of the biggest lessons of camp is that the interruptions are sometimes the most important part of your day.

When I think back, in my adult life, the least helpful bosses and mentors and role models in my professional and personal life have been those who were too rigid: the ones who were unable to be flexible. Inflexibility and high standards were a hallmark of some the best disciplinarians of my childhood, and they taught me valuable lessons, but as an adult? Not so helpful. 

No, the best mentors of my adult life are the ones who taught me that, in the words of Lee Curtis, Indianapolis Episcopal priest and seminary classmate of mine: 

“The interruptions are the work.” (2)

My home pastor, Nancy, taught me this; Julian, bishop who ordained me as well as our own Bishop Jim are great at pants-seat flying. You know who else knows how to embrace an interruption? 

Jesus.

In the Gospel reading, he’s just saved the disciples’ very freaked out butts from a windstorm in a boat. Jesus was so exhausted on that voyage that the disciples had to wake him up to get him to calm the sea. Then Jesus gets to shore and he immediately has his space invaded by crowds of people including Jairus, the leader of the synagogue. This should be his archenemy. I imagine his disciples smirking imagining that Jesus was about to tell him off. Instead, Jesus listens and hears Jairus’s pain. Jairus’s daughter is sick. Mark says the girl is twelve years old, which is practically an adult in the ancient world, but by the tender way Jairus talks about her, we know she was still his little girl. 

Embracing the interruption with the utmost compassion, Jesus goes with Jairus. 

Just as he’s on his way to Jairus’s house, someone else comes crashing in — one desperate woman in need of healing. She touches his robe in hopes of being healed and he feels it. He could have been annoyed, (there may yet be hope), and he could have had his disciples drag her away. Instead he says, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” 

As Jesus is mid-sentence, someone else interrupts to say to Jairus: “Don’t bother. I’m sorry to tell you, Jairus, but your daughter is dead. Let the teacher get on his way.” 

There may yet be hope.

You know how the story ends: the daughter is raised, and Jesus calls them to give her some food — because nobody appreciates food like Jesus.

Jesus embraces the interruptions in this passage from Mark, and the sick are healed and the dead are raised.

The interruptions are the work. Jesus teaches this, and so does camp.

Camp, especially when you’re leading a group, is about being super prepared for anything, including flying right by the seat of your pants. It’s about having a full plan and being ready to chuck that plan out the window because it rained or because a camper got sick or because somebody forgot to do something because they are a human. Being good at camp, I think, is about embracing the interruptions. 

It’s about stopping to talk to that thirteen year old kid that nobody listens to. You might change his life, or you might just help make him happy on a Thursday afternoon. It’s about saying “yes” to an invitation to kayak when you really want to nap and having your breath taken away by the beauty of the White Mountains over Ossipee Lake and how happy your heart is to be with people who love you and accept you. It’s about being caught in a storm on the lake and making friends at the next camp over because you had to get straight to shore to avoid the lightning.

At camp, and in life, it’s the interruptions that change your life. It’s in the interruptions that the sick are healed and the dead are raised and it’s in the interruptions where there may yet be hope, even in the midst of division and lament. Even when you can’t stand to watch the news. Even if you childhood sucked. There may yet be hope, and you may find that hope in an interruption, so keep your head up.

Embrace the interruptions. Find them holy. 

Because there may yet be hope after all. Amen.

1.  Tradition ascribes Lamentations to the prophet Jeremiah based on 2 Chronicles 35:25, Jeremiah’s place in Hebrew history, and his general gloominess, but there’s no reference to Jeremiah in the text of Lamentations, and the author’s identity is ultimately unknown.

2. The Rev. Canon Lee Curtis, “Work on the Way,” written for the Modern Metanoia blog, https://modernmetanoia.org/2018/06/18/proper-8b-work-on-the-way/

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