[for those of you just tuning in, I am on a blog-posting roll here, trying to stay awake until 5 for reasons mentioned below]
I just spent four days at a camp for Outdoor Ministry Training. I went for a couple or three reasons. I figured I would get a chance to practice my Romanian a good bit, for one. I also really like the couple who ran it. They are Germans who have been living here for 10 years with their three fairly young children doing children and student ministry, primarily, though camps. I have gotten to know them a little and respect them as much as anyone else I have met doing ministry here. I guess another reason was purely selfish, that I thought it would be fun. I think I accomplished all of the above and more.
What I wanted to say, really, though, was that the thing was actually run by a group from a church in Seattle, good folks, whom I hope to meet again here in the future. Seattleans, I think, are different sorts of folks than the rest of us, and I think I have a lot of misconceived notions about them. They are not cooks or hacks or any such thing. They are actually pretty normal, if you broadly enough define the word, and they love what they do. They were: a bread baker, an REI employee, a missions pastor, a recent retiree, and a guy named David. Anyway, it seems that whenever I meet other believers from radically different cultures than my own (like Romania, Seattle, New York), I am challenged to rethink the non-negotiables of my faith and to consider what is actually essential. I get the same from reading Anne Lamott, but I won't go into that right now.
Anyway, it seemed to me that the Seattleans threw the word "story" around a lot. Probably as much as people in my circle throw around the word "worldview." But it got me to thinking about my "story," or my life as narrative, I guess you could say. So. Sitting on top of a rock one morning, looking at taller rocks across the gorge washed in morning sun, I think I had an epiphany about my story. It is one long narrative lived between unbelief and disbelief. In spite of all the obvious spiritual applications I could make here, I will illustrate first with an account of the night before.
40 people in the woods has never been my idea of a good time. Yet, that's what we were. We had also brought along a bunch of heavy food, way too much in my opinion, and...horror of horrors, we did not bring any tents, only Wal-mart type tarps. Remember, I did NOT come on this Outdoor Leadership Training course to learn anything. That was never one of my objectives. You all know, of course, that I have nothing to learn about the outdoors, especially with Romanians, in Romania. So, with that fact established, I had every right to be grumpy (inwardly...I was perfectly civil outwardly, of course) and sceptical. I threw my hand in at putting up one of those silly tarps anyway, because I had to, I guess, and then one guy came up and changed my idea around. He wanted to build an A-frame instead of my architectural masterpiece.
The food was bad. We forgot salt for the instant mashed potatoes. We cooked over a fire (gasp!...no stoves...how uncivil), and got the pots a filthy black (I was responsible for carrying one of those pots down in my backpack. What if my backpack got dirty on the inside? Everyone else seemed to be oblivious to the impending disaster of it all. I couldn't figure out how they could be so blind. Sure enough, the thunder began shaking the rocks under us at 2.42 AM, and the first raindrops fell against the side of the tarp. The wind was, I knew, laughing at the stakes I had whittled out of pine branches to "secure" our tarps as it whipped against the plastic. All I could think about was how hard it is to dry out a down bag and how heavy a soaked sleeping bag is to carry down the mountain.
And then the change came. I do not know what it was, but it was a different spirit at work within me. From somewhere in the quiet between thunder stomps against the gorge walls and the continual slap of our frail tarps in the wind, I first remembered that Stonewall Jackson claimed to have felt as safe in his saddle as in his bed [some missionary...doesn't think of scripture for comfort...]. The thought lingered that I should get up, pack my sleeping bag so it would not get any wetter, and just sit out in the rain until it stopped. I reached down and felt my bag, though, and it was completely dry. As I lay back, and the lightning continued to flash, I began to think that maybe this storm was not a surprise to God, that maybe there are a couple of places I could think of in scripture where He seemed not to think that storms were all that big a deal to control. I felt, secure...even happy. Or maybe content is a better word. I began to enjoy the storm. I drifted off to sleep before the storm ended, and I do not remember having a better night's sleep in the woods.
In the morning, when I awoke, I walked around the yet unstirring campsite to see not one tarp unsettled, not one pool of water gathered under any of them. People seemed to be sleeping comfortably. The tarps had held, as I am sure they had countless times in the past. Unbelief to disbelief. "I do not believe this will work" to "I can't believe that worked!" That morning my Bible reading took me to Matthew 27, the account of Christ's betrayal and crucifixion, and the account of how the disciples responded to that. Looking back through the gospel accounts, it seems that there are a number of places where Christ tells those closest to him what is going to happen to him. Apparently they did not believe him. Even the on the night He was betrayed, not only Peter said he would never deny Him, but all the disciples said the same. All the disciples then scattered when Christ was actually apprehended. Unbelief. Peter even took his sword and cut off the ear of a servant (why?). Unbelief.
How would the disciples have acted differently if they had believed the truth of what Christ had been telling them for years? We know how they would have acted, because we see how they do act following Christ's resurrection. They are bold. They get beaten, happily, for His sake. Every single one of them, except for the exiled John, is tortured and killed. How often, though, I wonder, did the disciples say, "Can you believe this? We get to go preach in the synagogue...we get to preach before the Sanhedrin, we get to preach before Roman guards, Ethiopians, the emperor himself." And then later, "Can you believe they didn't kill us? Can you believe we escaped? Can you believe that guys is preaching the gospel now?"
I find myself also asking, "What would my life look like if I really believed in the resurrection?" How different I think it would be. As with the disciples, it would affect the way I loved people and the way I loved God. It would change the type of people I am attracted to. It would change, I think, the way I approach serving God. I would be free. Hebrews says He has freed us from the one who has the power of death, the Devil.
I am going to end this long entry now.