Monday, July 23, 2007

Break Down Walls - Build Bridges

Or, What Conan the Barbarian Taught Me at Church Camp

I grew up going to church camps in Arizona - in the mountains just outside of Prescott. Everything I knew about church camp was taught to me there, including (most importantly?) the stuff not covered in classes or preaching services.

How to build a good fort - location & construction. What pinecones made for the best throwing in pinecone fights (without hurting your own hand, or hurting the other kids too much). And which sticks made for the best stick-fighting.

Stick-sword-fighting was popular when I was a little kid. When I was five or six, of course, I wanted to play with the eight- and nine-year-olds, but they already had their teams. They knew how to build better forts, throw pinecones better, and always managed to find stronger, more wieldly sticks. But as I grew older, I slowly gained the craft passed on to me through innumerable scratches and defeats. So by the time I was eight or nine, I knew the best fort spots, could throw pinecones with approximate accuracy, and find the good sticks. My friend, Jamie, and I grew up together and so formed our own "team," and excluded the younger six- and seven-year-olds - and enjoyed the privileged position of victors in fort-durability and stick-fighting.

Now, in stick-fighting, the object isn't to hit the other person, it's to hit the other person's stick and (hopefully) break it. The weaker sticks get broken and weeded out of the battle, and eventually the strongest stick remains. ("There can be only one!") And the year that I am remembering now, I had the best stick of my life. I can still remember it, picture it in my hand to this day - the feel and the heft of it, and its surprising strength. (I must confess... I cheated: that year I brought this particular stick from home. Ah, but how the sweetness of victory compensated for the secret guilt of violating the unwritten rule.)

Anyway.... That year there was a new boy our age, but Jamie and I had already formed our team, and he didn't have the secret knowledge that we had earned over the past several years. So we relegated him to the team of little kids - the six- and seven-year-olds, despite his obvious longing to be with us.

Not surprisingly, in a grand battle of epic proportions - at least seven or eight kids - Jamie and I were kicking the little kids' butts. They just couldn't find a good stick to save their lives! And this new kid was red-faced with anger, embarrassment and frustration with his team. In an ego-inflating series of victories, my stick reigned supreme, and broke several of this new kid's sticks in a row. Finally, on the verge of tears, this kid just picked up the biggest log he could find on ground around him - almost too heavy for him to lift at all - and swung it like an axe over his shoulder and down at me. Instinctively, like Conan the Barbarian, I raised my sword horizontally over my head (hoping it would hold) and perrried the blow.

What neither of us knew up until that moment was that that log was rotten through the middle. The instant it made met the resistance of my super-stick the log exploded into dust and splinters. And as if my sense of superiority weren't already secured, the log split and the upper-half fell back onto this other kid. His own log doubled back on him and hit him in the head - surely scratching him a little, blinding him with wood-dust and being the final straw in his ultimate defeat. He ran off, crying.

The battle raged on for a few minutes (although no one wanted to fight my stick after that), but ended when that kid's mother raced into the scene. She was dragging me across the camp - surely to confront me in front of my own mother - and yelling at me asking why I had hurt her son! We were on the opposite side of the camp from my mom, so I had some negotiating time, and I described the scenario (without the obvious embellishment above). And halfway across camp, she stopped in her tracks.

"I didn't hit him," I pleaded. "He hit himself!" And I explained the rules of the game and his own violent engagement of me. It was in self-defense, I argued. (Or the rough eight-year-old equivalent of a self-defense plea.) And to my profound surprise, she let go of my arm. She thought for a moment or two, and then agreed that it wasn't my fault. I wouldn't have to face my mother, or even apologize to her son. She did, however, ask that I start to include him in things with Jamie and myself. (Which we did for the rest of the week - there's nothing like suffering and battles to build a bond between boys.)

I was innocent, according to the letter of the law. I was blameless by the rules. Even this mother did not feel she could hold me accountable for acting within the "law." I was set free.

I was not free, however.

I may have been innocent according to the letter of the law, but I was convicted by the Spirit of Jesus. I didn't have to apologize to that kid for causing him to hit himself with his own log - but I should have apologized for not including him in my circle of friends, for not embracing him despite his newness, his foreignness, his being a stranger. By every conventional law, I was blameless. By every law of God, however, I was convicted.

As a disciples of Jesus, we must not think of ourselves as bound by the laws of humans. We are bound by the Law of Love, the Law of God, the Life and Law of Christ. And it may just be, that when we embrace everyone to "our team" (or join theirs, if they won't join ours) that there won't be any place for stick-fighting.

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  • Thanks for this post! I laughed at some parts and I like your resolution at the end. Gosh, I just can't imagine what a little terror you were back then. Thanks for the laugh and lesson!

    By Blogger Sansego, at 11:26 PM  

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