What Camp taught me about Rules, the Great Commandment, and Priorities

There are few universal rules, especially at Camp. A person is running. Running can lead to falling—especially in a world of unpaved paths, gravel, roots, large rocks, and done in an often ungainly body. So we don’t run. Except when we do (some games and activities, and in the case of emergencies). So we can’t have the rule: “Don’t run.”

At Camp Marshall, where I have worked for most of the last 11 summers, we have four rules. Four. No lengthy index to sort through. No list of things appropriate at this time but not that time. No collection of waiting infractions.

Four rules:

Be prepared
Be on time
Participate
Respect yourself and others

As with many good things in my life, I didn’t create it. It was given to me, part of the great inheritance my predecessor and mentor bequeathed to me over a 15 year relationship. Now we have both boldly borrowed it from Barbara Coloroso’s work.*

It works in a Camp environment where there are kids and staff from different backgrounds, different parts of the state and the country. It works in a place replete with hazards (water, small cliffs, wildlife, kids**). It works with the youngest campers and the most experienced staff.

I have found a whole new appreciation for this philosophy. What we do, these four rules, isn’t about rules. It’s not a list of infractions waiting to happen. It’s a list of priorities for this community. We are most concerned about people’s desire to be here (be prepared), presence with others (be on time), engagement with others (participate), and care for themselves and others (respect). Everything we do rests on this ground.

And it works…when we use it.

All behavior has to be viewed through those four principles. Simple but not easy.

Running: a lack of self-respect much of the time, but not always.
Yelling: a lack of respect in a group, or a part of participation during an activity.
Hitting someone: a lack of respect for the other person.
Wearing tennis shoes: part of being prepared for some activities and lack of preparation for the waterfront.
Teasing each other: group bonding or a lack of respect for the subject of the ‘jokes?’
A staff miscommunication: simple—if problematic—error, a lack of preparation, or a lack of respect?

It is hard. There’s always the kid who insists that she feels respected when others talk (gossip) about her. The one who knows running isn’t a problem because he doesn’t mind scrapping his knee.

Working from the ground up takes longer and requires greater discernment. We can’t universally label things. We have to think. We have to take motives and perspectives into account. We have to listen. We have to talk. We have to be relational.

This listening, this talking, this discernment? This way of shaping community?
Makes all the difference.

– – – –

Jesus has three priorities.***

Love God.
Love yourself and your neighbor.
Don’t blaspheme the Holy Spirit.

Three priorities all behavior and thought ought to spring from and be viewed through. Living in that truth requires discernment, listening, talking, considering motives and perspectives. Jesus’ three priorities, like most of Jesus’ ministry, are relational.

We are continuing this central work of Christianity. I know Christians who live the knowledge that sacrificing to love their neighbors is essential. I know Churches who work to devote most of their resources to loving their members and neighbors. I know Dioceses where every meeting includes a question like: How will what we do here benefit the poor? And I hear stories of how this has changed the whole culture.

At this last General Convention there was a proposal to require that very question of the entire Episcopal Church. I confess to voting against it. I was wrong. I have a new appreciation for how our communal life, its glories and mundanities, is understood differently through the lens of our greater purpose: to love God, ourselves, and our neighbors, while leaving room for the work of the Spirit.

It will never be easy.

We will continue to interpret even three priorities differently.
The brusque person who speaks to the soft-hearted neighbor. The visitor who sees genuine busyness as dismissal. The person who knows that individual, local efforts are better tailored to their neighbor’s needs and the person who is convinced that a larger social safety net is the best way to love their neighbors. The person who knows their abortion was necessary for their (and often their family’s) health and safety and the one who knows it was a sin against loving the unborn child.

This is more than not vilifying people who disagree. This is crawling inside their view and learning that it stems from the same priorities as our own.

Sometimes this solves problems. Most often when we reach for listening grounded in Jesus’ priorities we find ourselves at the table, breaking bread and drinking wine, with our brothers and sisters, regardless of our disagreements and agreements. Much like a Lord who dined with those called outcast and those considered prominent in society.

*I cannot recommend Ms. Coloroso’s book Kids are Worth It! strongly enough. Ms Coloroso’s approach to discipline is designed to leave everyone’s dignity intact. If you interact with people, this is something you must read. Her website [address and link] is a treasure trove (better phrase) of great resources.
**Only slightly joking. Any group of peers can be it’s own worst enemy. Fighting, rumors, scapegoating, cliques. There are so many ways for people to injure each other.
***Mark 12:29-31 and Mark 3:29
Categories: Church, Episcopal, Priest's Life, Theology | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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