A case for camp

Children need summer camp. Whether it is secular or religious, one week or several, day camp or residential, children need to participate in camp.

I have no credentials to make this assertion. I am not a noted child psychologist or a Ph.D. in childhood development. I’m just a parent who has been to camp with kids. I’ve seen the advantages with my own eyes.

Kids play a parachute game
Where else but camp can kids have fun with parachutes (and not jump out of an airplane)? Photo by Rebecca Orton (http://rebeccaortonphotography.com/)

My particular preference is an overnight camp away from home, and my experience is mostly with church camp, although I have volunteered at Cub Scout day camp. For the past four years I have chaperoned the third through sixth graders from my church at PassportKIDS camp at the Clyde M. York 4-H Center in Crossville, Tenn.

Fresh off this year’s experience, here are five reasons why kids should attend summer camp, especially kids in the New South:

1. Unplugging. In this case, I mean literally. Parents have a sense that their children spend too much time in front of screens: television, computer, tablet, personal device, game system, etc. Unless it’s computer camp, kids have the opportunity to look up and see the world around them. They interact with each other, for good or bad, and learn how to relate to each other, solve problems and deal with the challenges of human relationships. They pay attention to their surroundings and notice details of the natural world that may have escaped them. They are more teachable and alert to possibilities and their potential for growth.

2. Moving. There is no better cure for summer coach potato syndrome than a good dose of camp. Kids are constantly in motion at camp, running, playing, competing, and even getting from place to place across the facility. Most of the recreational activities at PassportKIDS are creative games that don’t require athleticism. All kids need to do is commit to the activity and get in the game. Fun, not proficiency, is the goal. Sweating may produce a stinky suitcase and a cabin that could use generous quantities of Febreze, but that’s a small price to pay in exchange for burning calories and getting some exercise.

3. Cheering. Kids have nine months to use their indoor voices. At camp, they can let it all out, usually at the encouragement of hyped-up, over-zealous college students who seem to be fueled by Tony Stark’s Arc Reactor. It usually takes kids a little while to join in, but by the end of camp, the yelling and chanting and cheering have drawn out even the most extreme introverts. By selling out and rooting for each other and themselves, the kids tap into a source of self-confidence and selflessness that can cure narcissism, cynicism and several other “isms” that you don’t want your kids to have.

4. Listening. It’s nearly universal: kids at camp pay attention. When I am at home and have to get my kids to the dinner table, I have to repeat my instructions at least three times. When kids are at camp, they are more focused on what is being communicated. They hear you when you talk to them. They learn. They internalize truths so much more readily than when they are distracted by the noise and toys of home. If you don’t believe me, try being a chaperone one time. It will suddenly make you feel like the best parent ever. Kids listen at camp.

5. Being independent. This is the one point that my chaperoning may have impeded my children’s growth. When kids are at camp by themselves, they learn to get around, follow a schedule, keep up with their stuff, and generally take responsibility for themselves and each other in ways they can never do while a parent is hovering. I noticed this year at camp, rather than pick a bunk above mine or even near it, Barron picked the one at the opposite end of the room. He’s also had two summers of being at Boy Scout Camp on his own, and he’s found that he likes it. Children need to learn to make decisions for themselves, and as a parent, there is nothing more rewarding than seeing or knowing your child has made a good choice on his or her own. At camp when you’re not around, they have to make their own choices. Sure, they may come home with a fewer socks or towels, but that’s part of the learning experience, too. The next year, they’ll be more likely to keep up with their stuff.

Camp may be over for this year, but I’ve already marked my calendar for next summer. I can’t wait to go with the kids from Parkway again and see the next generation experience the wonders of camp.

What did you learn from camp? What are your fondest memories of camp? Did you have a positive or a negative experience? What do you think your kids get from their camp experiences?  Leave a comment below or you can’t ride in my little red wagon…. Oompa, ooompa, oooompapa.

Preachers

I am fascinated by preachers. It’s not a delusional, put-them-on-a pedestal kind of thing but more like a burning curiosity to understand what makes them tick.

I’ve been thinking about preachers a lot lately. My brothers and my dad are preachers of one sort or another, and their recent transitions have been on my mind. Last Sunday my church celebrated the 10th anniversary of our beloved pastor and his family. As I crafted a tribute and worked up a script for serving as master of ceremonies, I thought a lot about how the role and perception of preachers has changed through the years.

Jim King at Parkway Baptist Church in Duluth, Georgia
My preacher, the Rev. Dr. James King at Parkway Baptist Church in Duluth, Ga. Glad he’s been with us for 10 years!

It’s no secret that the South is what is known as the “Bible Belt.” Religious expression has been a part of the Southern landscape from the beginning, and as Protestant Evangelicalism spread across the region in the mid-1700s the preacher began to emerge as an influential member of the community. So much so that the Southern preacher has become an archetype bordering on cliché.

The portrayals of Southern preachers in pop culture range from “The Apostle’s” Eulis ‘Sonny’ Dewey, played by Robert Duvall to Flannery O’Connor’s atheist evangelist, Hazel Motes, in “Wise Blood.” They tend to be Protestant, evangelical and high strung with a penchant for podium pounding and pulpiteering. (To explore these literary characters further, check out G. Lee Ramsey’s “Preachers and Misfits, Prophets and Thieves: The Minister in Southern Fiction.”)

I believe the concept of the preacher is changing. As the church’s influence wanes, even in the South, preachers are not looked upon with the same sense of awe and admiration. Not to be too general, but the reputation of preachers as a profession took several high-profile hits in the ‘80s and ‘90s as they took to the airwaves to build media empires only to have it all crumble under the weight of greed, lust and betrayal.

Just as trust in the American president declined after Richard Nixon, people began to look at their own pastors differently after Jimmy Swaggert and Jim Bakker fell from their lofty televised pulpits, and every Ted Haggard or Eddie Long reinforces the collective cynicism we have towards our clergy.

I have no such cynicism. I grew up in a pastor’s home. I am, in church parlance, a “PK” or “Preacher’s Kid.” I have always known my father as my dad first, pastor second. While I hold him in great esteem, his humanity is not hidden from me. Maybe that’s why I am drawn more to the quieter, less public side of pastoral ministry.

What a professional minister does is so much more than stand up and preach. Perhaps that’s why I find myself using the word “minister” more frequently than “preacher” as I age. Certainly I enjoy and am inspired by a good sermon, but what I see as the bedrock of pastors’ ministries is their presence.

This has been said by more theologically astute scholars than me, but I have come to believe preachers earn the right to tell people things because they are with people in their times of crises. Ministerial credibility comes from sitting with the sick and dying in their hospital room, standing close with families at the funeral home or listening intently as parishioners pour out their struggles.

Pastors can have a pulpit persona that is detached and inauthentic. I treasure real, honest conversations with members of the clergy. I learn as much or more from those interactions than from 100 sermons.

In a day when preachers are holographic or televised images beamed to multiple locations, I think the world needs more flesh-and-blood humans walking alongside them in their day-to-day life. Preachers need to be real with people, but not in an air-your-dirty-laundry way.

My hope is that the role of the preacher in the New South isn’t reduced to Sunday sermons. My hope is that the preacher will be more welcomed into people’s lives as a person who genuinely cares for people, demonstrating God’s love in a way that can then be imitated and shared with others.

You can keep your techno-preachers and their holograms and big productions. I want a fellow pilgrim on the journey, someone to, as hymn writer Richard Gillard puts it, “help each other, walk the mile and bear the load.”

What does “preacher” mean to you? What do you like about your preacher? Do you think the role of the minister is changing in our post-modern world? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below, but don’t get too … well … preachy.

Dear Writer Lance: A Letter from Your Wife

Dear Writer Lance,

One of the first things I loved about you–even before I knew I loved you–was your way with words. You see, back when I knew who you were and was dying for you to ask me out but you hadn’t yet, I started subscribing to The Macon Telegraph. Now why would a never-cared-about-the-news-before college student pay good money to subscribe to a daily paper? Because I was stalking you. I searched the pages every day for your name in a byline. Of course, you were writing features stories then, so almost everything you wrote I found interesting, but what I loved most was getting to know you through your words on paper. You made me laugh and you showed me what was important to you.

Once you finally came to your senses and called me I felt like I already knew you in some ways. What I didn’t know was why it took you so freaking long to pick up the phone and call. Now I do. You are methodical.  You do one thing at a time and you do it well. At the time that I was obsessing over you, I was on your radar, but I was not the “one thing”. You were overthinking it. You were too disciplined for your own good. Do you know that you missed out on five extra months of knowing me because of your self-discipline? FIVE MONTHS, dude! That’s a lot of lost Carla time!

Patience is not one of my virtues but I stuck it out waiting for that phone call. I guess I knew you well enough through your writing to know that you were worth the wait. I was right. It’s been sixteen years, two cities, three homes, three children, seven vehicles and one dog since that call and I’ve never regretted it. I thank God every day for you.

I thank God that you are the exact opposite of me in so many important ways. The biggest difference in me and you: You are disciplined, you are patient, you are not a quitter. Now when it comes to your health, dealing with our children, working on our finances, and keeping up the house, these virtues benefit our whole family. I will admit that even when it comes to your writing I know that discipline is key. Getting something out there is important even if you’re not particularly inspired on a given day. It’s what serious writers do. They practice. They write even when they don’t feel like it. Sometimes it’s worth reading. Sometimes it’s not.

When it is worth reading, you know it. You know how I know you know it? Because your face lights up, your confidence shines through, you are the Lance that I fell in love with.  You glow. Now I know people use that term a lot to refer to women who are expecting a baby, but it’s sort of the same thing. You are radiating the feeling that you are in your element, you are doing what you are meant to do, you are creating something amazing, and you can’t contain your pride. Now I know we can’t all glow all the time. How annoying would that get?( Three babies and I’m done glowing for a while.) You? You’re not done. You have lots of glowing left to do and I look forward to it.

I am not your best advocate when it comes to the discipline of your writing. How many times have you been stressed, busy and uninspired just to hear me say, “Skip it!” My advice to you is to mark it off your list and move on. You won’t hear of it. Today is one of those days. You spent your normal blog-writing morning this week working on writing for a commitment you made to our church. You knew when you did that that you would find yourself on Saturday morning struggling to write a post for New South Essays. You woke at the crack of dawn to drive over two hours to pick up our son and his friend from scout camp. And I know you. As much as you are wanting to enjoy the ride home right now with those boys, you have one thing on your mind: You have no inspiration or time to post on your blog today.

This is my gift to you. Surprise! Your blog for today has been published. You don’t allow me many opportunities to do things for you and you would never have allowed me this one. I took it anyway. Now come home, take a nap, and enjoy the day with your family. Rest and be rejuvenated and ready to write something awe-inspiring next week.

I love you.

Carla

Privacy in the New South

Wouldn’t you hate to be the guy at the National Security Agency (NSA) reading all the lame Facebook posts trying to find evidence of terrorist activity or foreign espionage?

OK, so it’s probably not some guy analyzing petabytes of data over at the NSA, but still, it’s got to be a thankless job. Even a super computer would turn its digital nose up at some of the Tweets floating out there in cyber space.

The outrage over the NSA’s Internet monitoring reached a fever pitch this week with a special Fourth of July online protest. The NSA’s online information collection program leaked by former government contractor Edward Snowden caused ripples of anger and anxiety around the world, sparking a renewed interest in privacy.

There’s seems to be an inherent irony here: people are angry when they think the government is collecting data on them, but they freely broadcast personal information through social media on a daily basis.

k-bigpicMuch has been written about how to protect your private personal information online. What’s difficult to reconcile is why we ignore these warnings when posting to Twitter, Instagram or Facebook but feel so violated when we think someone may be spying on us. Even Maxwell Smart could find out all he wanted about us by reading the information we post daily on Facebook.

There was a time, particularly in the South, when people valued privacy so much that they went to great lengths to maintain “appearances.” In those days, language was cloaked in euphemism to cover any embarrassing revelations. Such a conversation from, say, 40 years ago may not even be recognizable today.

“We missed you and your family down to the church social last Saturday night.”

“Well, we had company and spent a little too much time round the table so that Daddy had a touch of the virus by Saturday evening. We just thought it best to stay home.”

Can you guess what really happened from that exchange? Probably, but it’s certainly not flaunted or celebrated.

Here’s how a similar set of circumstances might be shared in the New South, probably via Facebook or Twitter:

“5 shots in 30 minutes. So drunk I can’t stand up. Think I’ll swear off Patron for a few days. Can somebody bring me some food?”

I’m not downplaying the seriousness of the NSA program, but it is worth asking whether it is more personally harmful to know that an email was sent from your IP address at 11:15 a.m. on March 23, 2008, or that you have a binge drinking problem?

imagesCA1L7M03In recent weeks, I have been attempting to expand the Twitter presence of New South Essays. A quick scan of Twitter these days is enough to send the Church Lady into spasms of shock and condemnation. Because people place such importance on authenticity, they strive to “keep it real” when posting to social media.

When you mix in an absence of inhibition, you have a recipe for over-sharing. In the New South, we tell everything without reservation and hope to get a few “likes” or “shares” out of it on our social media platforms.

I am a public relations practitioner. It is my job to think about how messages reflect on individuals and organizations. I certainly value authenticity and honesty, but I do wonder just how all of this personal revelation will serve us down the road. Has anyone Tweeting the details of their love life considered this possible future conversation?

“Hey, Mom, look what I found! It’s your old Facebook account on the Internet. Did you really do _____?”

And that’s ignoring the present possibility of potential employers seeing how you spent your weekend or what you really think of your supervisor.

Before we join in any privacy protests, it may be worth asking ourselves: “What am I telling the world that may not serve me well in the future?”

Sometimes an ounce of discretion can prevent a pound of humiliation.

Now, excuse me, I have to go to the doctor. You see I’ve got this rash on my backside that is shaped like Oklahoma.

What are your privacy standards? Are you concerned about what you reveal about yourself online? What is the line you won’t cross? Have you ever posted something on social media and have it come back to haunt you? Join in the conversation and share your thoughts below. I’m sure the NSA will get a kick out of it.