“The Next Wilderness”
A sermon preached at the Camp Dudley Chapel
On the Shores of Lake Champlain
August 14, 2011
The World has changed
The world has changed since you came to camper. Even if you arrived for the second session, some of the news has been devastating, and I am not just talking about life as a Minnesota Twins fan.
In the first week of the second half, a gunman opened fire at a summer camp on an island in the country Norway killing nearly 100 campers.
Last week a military helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan, killing more than 30 solders and leaving broken hearts of parents, widows and orphans back here at home.
And last night fifty teenagers where arrested in Philadelphia for breaking a curfew designed to stop the flash mob violence that plagued the city
If your experience as a parent is anything like mine, you don’t hear much from your camper during the season We did receive the post card from his leader basically saying after a bit of a slow start, Zac was making his way and we received the one post card from him that I think was a requirement for getting his Dudley Flag. He wrote “PS Dad, thanks for the money to send me to Dudley: A love note from a 15-year-old son to a father if there ever was one.”
But we caught a glimpse of Zac when we searched the Dudley website. There I saw Zac repelling down a rock while out in the wilderness.
The wilderness is a powerful experience and a central metaphor for our lives and our journeys.
When we choose to enter a wilderness experience, we leave something behind, if not everything behind, we enter an unknown, the path is unclear and the outcome is uncertain.
This past year my son Abe left home in Princeton NJ to enroll in an alternative boarding school in Estes Park, Colorado. Most of the kids there didn’t have homes and the majority of them had spent times in jail and practically all had entered the juvenile justice system. But while these patterns did not describe Abe’s experiences, when the opportunity for him to go to the school arose, he jumped on it.
The first thing you do when you get to the Eagle Rock School is to take a class known as wilderness. It is a 28-day hike out in the woods and, in Abe’s case, in the Gela national Forest in New Mexico. It had some of the same elements of an outward bound or NOLS Leadership program, but it is also a form of social detox for teenagers who have known too well the comforts and disruption of drugs and gangs. The wilderness was the place of letting go of the old and preparing for a new way.
Jesus would often go to the wilderness throughout his ministry, either to get away from the maddening crowd or to be alone, to meditate, to pray and to prepare.
The most powerful message from our time in the wilderness is that we are not alone and that we can be changed. People like David Langston and Bill Harper, along with the leadership and other campers help prepare the way so that you might find: Self-discovery, self-confidence and self-growth.
But not every Wilderness is filled with trees and wild life. We find ourselves in the wilderness throughout our lives, regardless of the landscape. The wilderness is any place where you enter the unknown, uncertain and unpredictable.
This month tens of thousands of recent college graduates will leave the comforts of their college campuses and the routines of their school day rhythms to commit to a full-year of service. You may know some of them. Young adults in their 20’s join programs such as Teach for America, City Year, Youth Build, Public Allies, VISTA, AmeriCorps and the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. Through these programs, these young idealists and pragmatists alike, move to new cities across the country where they live in neighborhoods very different from where they grew up. They teach at schools that are often falling apart and serve in agencies that are addressing the biggest and most desperate challenges in our society
These young adults are entering a different kind of wilderness and it is in the wilderness where they find themselves alone, away from all they knew. They often don’t know where they are going to live, they have few if any friends nearby and because the pay is sometime less that $500 a month, they have to worry about their food budget.
And this is the group of people I work with. This is my congregation. In a way you could say I am an AmeriCorps Chaplin. I do not try to convert people to a particular religion, but instead I try to embody the love, joy and hospitality that I discovered while I was here as a camper and to bring the love of Christ to those who find themselves in this urban wilderness
This generation of young people are passionate about serving and volunteering. They want to change the world but few have any interest in a church. They don’t see that the church cares about them as individuals or about the causes they are committed to. Instead I hear them say again and again that they are spiritual but not religious.
When I hear the world spiritual, I think about Dudley. Several years ago I came to camp and interviewed members of the Dudley community: I spoke with new campers and old D-Heads and to a person, everyone said that the most important part about Camp Dudley was the spiritual life… after all
* What would morning dip be like if it were not followed by chapel talk
* What would the afternoon be like if you had not spent the night before reflecting and discussing at vespers?
* What would Sunday be like without coming to the chapel or closing the week with hymn sing?
And so, despite some criticism and doubters from the established church, we have begun to create appealing and compelling ways to bring the spiritual life that I came to know at Dudley to the thousands of young people who serve in the urban wilderness.
We have asked local congregations to create houses of hospitality, which are communal spaces for people the same age and with similar interests to live together and support one another. Sound familiar? I got the idea from my experience from lying in Dudley cabins during the summer.
We also ask churches across he country to host weekly dinners and discussions that bring together the young people serving in the cities. It was obvious that traditional bible studies would not draw a crowd, so we wrote a curriculum with a years worth of weekly discussions. Sound familiar? The idea came to me from my experience as a camper and a leader and the experience of ending every day with Vespers in the cabin. So the Dudley family should not be surprised that we call our dinners and conversations Vespers.
I am sorry to say that we have yet to bring them hymn sing.
So far I have shared with you the kind of wilderness story that one chooses, the major that one signs up for or the job that a graduate applies for. But there is another kind of wilderness experience, the kind that comes to us, either with great anticipation or with great shock
Many will leave Dudley to find themselves in their own personal wilderness.
This wilderness may be returning to
a sick parent,
a dying grandmother,
a troubled sibling
or a broken home.
For others the next wilderness will come in the form of a new school and the search to try to find your place. I watched this happen with my son Willy who last year entered Grady High School in Atlanta, GA. I came to learn that he would roam the halls during lunch hour because he didn’t have a place to sit. He didn’t want to participate in the racial divide that played itself out in the school cafeteria.
Last summer I had my own wilderness experience, which began from a late night call from my doctor. He told me that they had discovered a tumor in my small intestine. A year ago this month, I was being wheeled into the operating room at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota to remove that tumor and a part of my stomach.
When I regained consciousness, I woke up to a world of darkness. I came out of the operation to the news that my tumor was cancerous and that it had metastasized to the lymph system. I woke up alone …. Alone save the presence of God sitting with me as I struggled through the panic that comes with the onset of depression and the possibility of not just losing my livelihood but of life.
And in attempt to endure the pain and to search out the light, I began to sing, mumble really, but I began to sing the hymns that I learned from the Dudley hymnal
• “When you walk though a storm keep your head up high”
• “Oh Jesus I have promised to serve you to the end, be thou forever near me, my master and my friend.”
• “Faith of our Fathers living still in spite of dungeon fire and sword.”
• “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and grief to bear, what a privilege to carry every thing to god in prayer.”
• “Amazing Grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.”
• “One light to carry in your heart, A promise you have from your start , To bless you, to keep you, to never leave you weeping in the dark.”
And sometime during the first few days of my recovery I got a phone call from a 410 area code. I didn’t answer it but I listened to the message. It was Sandy Short, this years Man of the Year at Dudley wanting to know how I was doing. A week later the same number and the same Dudley man called again to check ink on me to make sure I did not feel alone.
For many of us, Dudley is the place where we feel safe, encouraged and awakened to be spiritual. For some families, the only time you will pray, or sing a hymn or hear a chapel talk or attend a service together with your family will be today
Faith communities are important, and I believe essential. I encourage all of you to find a church or a congregation where ever you live. But I also recognize that Dudley is also a faith community. Use it to spring forward in your outreach to the world and to fall back on when you need a firm place to stand.
Like it did for me when I was in the hospital,
Like it did this year just after the New Years Eve tragedy on Dudley Road, which took the life of John Frankel and severely injured others. Immediately after the accident, Matt reached out to the clergy of Dudley by email and it was as if Camp Dudley sprang back into session during the first week of January, to surround the Frankels and Cannings with love and to affirm one another.
This is the promise that comes with a community that is faithful to its mission and open to the spirit without forcing a predetermined outcome.
I would like to end with a story
My friend Bill runs a church in Philadelphia called Broad Street Ministries. It is located in center city and is housed in the old abandoned Presbyterian Church. Board Street is a thriving congregation, which attracts artists, educators, students, young professionals, and homeless people alike. They gather for worship on Sunday night and after the service is over, the chairs get rearranged and they stay for a community meal
Liam and Ericka are a couple that attend Broad Street. He is an accountant with a large firm and she is an emergency room nurse. They wanted to get married in the church but rather than have a separate wedding, they asked if they could bet married during that Sundays service. And so all who came for worship that Sunday attended the wedding and all who stayed for dinner partook of the reception.
Four weeks later Ericka found herself on the midnight shift at UPenn Hospital. There was a lot of noise coming from the curtain next to her as a disgruntled and disoriented homeless man began throwing pans and gowns around the room. Because Ericka had a reputation of being good with this type of patients; she was summoned to deal with the crisis.
As soon as Ericka walked in the noise stopped and the man calmed down.
After a long pause he looked at her and said to her, “I attended your wedding last month.” Slowly he began to regain some sense of composure and self.
He went on to say, ” I have three daughters and because of my condition, and because of my choices, I was never invited to attend any of their weddings. ”
“Yeah,” he continued, “ I was at church that night, sitting three rows back from you, you looked back at me and smiled… I remember.. I remember that night my dream came true. I finally got to attend a daughters wedding.”
This is a story of a Christian community, rooted in love and offering radical hospitality, the kind of hospitality that the Gospel calls us to follow.
Broad Street Ministry is a faith community. And so is Camp Dudley. Both offer the promise that while we may find ourselves alone in a wilderness, we are indeed never alone. For we have the love o Christ and the community of people that understand that faith active in love.
There are Camp Dudleys and Broad Street Ministries waiting for us to find but only if we are prepared to bring ourselves to them. And if we bring the best of what we learned here at camp, we will share the Dudley spirit to others around us as well as fortify ourselves.
Nearly a hundred youth died at the camp in Norway, but this summer hundreds of you have lived and shared the Dudley spirit with one another.
Hundreds of young men and woman have died serving their country. But this year thousands of people in their 20’s who serve their country in a different way, will gather around an every week table to break bread and to have Vespers
And while young people were arrested for breaking curfew, you will return home and lift up a new image of young people making a difference.
You will hear God calling you in the night and you will respond, by saying, here I am lord, send me.
For Dudley has taught us “to hold God’s people in our hearts”. And to lead Gods people out of the wilderness.