This week I haven’t had much time to probe the mysteries of the Christian faith, or question the traditions of the Christian Church. I’ve been at Bible Camp this week. Five teenagers from the congregation that I serve joined 115 other teens from twelve other Lutheran Churches for a week that is called “Campfirmation.”
Have you ever been to Bible Camp? If you have, I suspect that you have some fond memories of your experience. There were the campfires, the friendships, swimming, hiking, Bible studies, sing-a-thons and conversations that went into the wee hours of the night. Movement was constant and sleep an almost forgotten commodity. Those same memories are being formed this week for the campers at Tonto Rim Christian Camp.
One of the few camp rules is that the campers leave their technology behind. Cell phones are frowned upon, though some have them to “take pictures.” Ipods, tablets, Gameboys, etc. are banned. One might not think that this is a big thing, but when you are a teenager who has had your thumbs connected to a electronic device constantly, and when you no longer send and receive hundreds of texts a day, it is a big deal–A big, BIG DEAL!
At first there are withdrawal symptoms. A hand keeps reaching for a cell phone that isn’t there. Kids don’t know what to do with their hands. There’s discomfort, anxiety, and at times a fear that they might lose friends because they cannot communicate with them for one week. The multitude of camp activities help them cope with this alternative lifestyle. A change starts to take place. The campers seem more peaceful, focused and more in the present moment.
FILLING THE VACUUM
God is more real to them in this altered state of being; they are able to sense the Spirit’s presence in their lives. They are able to clap, sing and dance as they praise and worship The Lord. These budding theologians are able to take the time to think about what they believe, where God fits into their lives, and how their faith is lived out in their everyday lives. It is certainly true that Bible camp gives campers both permission and the opportunity to do these things. I think that there is more to it than that. I think drawing away for a time and separating themselves from technology allows them to be more aware of God.
FROM CURSE TO BLESSING
In his book, Dying to Control, Leon Hayduchok exegetes Genesis 3, the story of Adam and Eve, and the Garden of Eden. Hayduchok has an interesting perspective on Genesis 3:17b. God says to Adam, “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.” Most of those who read that verse understand it to be a punishment for Adam’s rebellion against God. One of the points that Hayduchok makes is that the “curse” God placed on Adam to work by the sweat of his brow, is really a blessing. Hayduchok writes:
So what God did was curse the two realms he’d given us to rule—the animals and the ground. In instituting the curse, God was helping us to regain perspective. Having to fight off wild animals and struggle with the ground for food humbles us and helps us to see ourselves for what we really are. When God ends the curse by telling Adam, “for dust you are and to dust you will return,” God is reminding us of what has always been true—that he is the Creator and that we are the created, and that apart from him there is no life (pp. 85-86).
Another way of stating this point is that when we struggle, we have the potential of experiencing God. When the sailing is smooth, we have a tendency to forget about or ignore our dependency upon God’s love and grace. We pat ourselves on the back, tell ourselves that we are doing a great job–and wait for the shoe to fall. For Lutherans, this is an affirmation of Luther’s Theology of the Cross. When problems arise, we suddenly find ourselves turning to God and seeking God’s intervention in our situations. Those times when we are overwhelmed by life are occasions when the only thing we can do is trust in God’s love, grace and presence. Then in the ash heaps of our suffering, we may hear the quiet voice of God, sense God’s presence, or catch a glimpse of God’s movement.
So what does this have to do with cell phones? I think that cell phones and technology distract us from God’s presence in our lives in a similar way that problem free living does. We’re so busy texting each other, taking pictures and videos of whatever we are doing, reading Facebook posts, and accessing the information highway that we simply are not aware of what the Spirit is doing.
The teenagers at Bible Camp discovered that they can be separated from their technology without dire consequences. Not only that, but the absence of technology in their lives offered them the opportunity to appreciate other things in life, not the least of which is God’s love and grace.
What I’m suggesting is that we give serious consideration to turning off our cell phones for a period of time, walking away from our computers and unplugging ourselves from our IPods. In the ensuing silence, we too might hear God’s voice and see the movement of the Spirit. In the stillness we be able to stop and celebrate the relationship that God has for us and how we are experiencing God’s love and grace every moment of our lives.