Friday, September 27, 2013

"My life sucks...race you to the dining hall...."

I've been doing this writing lately--since I retired--about my ministry and life and people I've known. I wouldn't call it a 'memoir' though that's probably what it is, but I enjoy writing it. I shared one of the 'chapters' on yesterday's blog. And the Cluster of churches where I work very-part-time is using some of the chapters for their book group. We've done it before and it's been really lively and helpful to hear people talk about my writing and, well, just talk.

Conversation is where possibility dwells. People just talkin'....

So, I want to have a, granted, one-sided conversation about the chapter I want to write soon. It will be called "My life sucks...race you to the dining hall...." And it will be about, of all things, Junior High Camp in the Diocese of West Virginia at a camp called Peterkin.

(New Englanders, I find, are unclear about 'junior high' because most places in New England have 'Middle School'. Here's the difference, 'junior high' divides up the hormone driven, no activity in the cerebral cortex, absolutely out of control adolescences of our society differently. "Junior High" is grades 7-9. And then you go to High School for 3 years. "Middle School" sends 9th graders into the teeth of the storm that is High School. Ninth graders are much more like 8th graders than they are like 10th graders. They belong with kids 13 and 14, not kids 16-18. 9th grade for kids in 'junior high' let's them experience being the top of the pile, the cream of the crop, the oldest kids among kids who are like them. Fifteen year old kids are so different from 18 year old kids that they should, by law, never know each other unless they are siblings. The only year of human development, it seems to me, that is a larger gap than between 15 and 16 is the gap between birth and being a year old. Babies can't talk or walk or think in any way we understand. When a kid is a year old, he/she is so different from a baby as a lizard from an amoeba.  My experience is that the difference between being 15 and being 16 is almost that profound. So, I think 15 year old kids fit much better with 13 and 14 year old kids than they ever could with kids 16-18. That's what I believe.)

And my proof is my experience for 5 years with Junior High Camp in West Virginia.

I was the Clergy Leader of Junior High Camp for the last two years I was a part of it. Until then, I was a member of the Clergy staff. And I learned about 13-15 year old kids more than I ever taught them.

16 year old's are, in my experience of having lived with two, cock-sure they're right, self-confident to a fault and believe, rightly or wrongly, that they are much smarter than their parents.

Kids below that--13-15--are completely at sea, self-conscious to an adorable fault, and, rightly or wrongly, assume adults know most everything and they know nothing.

Vulnerable, that's the word I'd use. Vulnerable and scared and longing to be older.

My title for the chapter I intend to write about Junior High Camp is a direct quote from a 15 year old girl who was so vulnerable and broken and adrift. We were talking about her parent's divorce and her older brother druggie and how awful her life was as we strolled from the chapel at Peterkin to the dining hall for lunch. "My life sucks," she told me after a recitation of the horrors of being her. Then, in the same breath, she said, "race you to the dining hall" and took off running.

She beat me.

As sucky as her life was, I saw her 7 years ago at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. She was a clergy deputy from some mid-western place--Kansas or Nebraska or some other state I've only flown over. She was an Episcopal priest. Somehow that fragile, frightened, damaged young girl was now a wondrous and competent and accomplished priest. And when we talked one night over dinner and some wine, she told me her experience at Peterkin had changed her life, helped her be well and stay well and become strong.

Kids between 13 and 15 often have experiences that form them for the rest of their journey. In what I want to write, I want to ponder how a church camp might, just maybe, provide the space and time for that formation.

I would have never worked on the Peterkin Senior High Camp staff. I don't get that age, not at all. I didn't 'get' Josh and Mimi between 16 and 18. I was awash in the flotsam and jetsam their wake floated onto my shore. But in their early teens I saw the vulnerability, the fragility, the longings of their life, how they were pondering 'who to be' and 'how to be that'.

The kids at Junior High camp prepared me for having children their age. One of the best ages ever--unless it's you who are that age.....

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some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.