August 29, 2012

At Camp: What About His Chains?

"Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning" - Exodus 2:23-24

"to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound" - Isaiah 61:1

Right from the get-go I knew he was trouble. I walked into my cabin from being outside, where I was instructed to wait to properly greet my arriving campers and their concerned mothers and fathers. A whole week without them. What on earth would they do? Party? Regain sanity? Worry?

They, two boys who I thought were brothers (they were friends) and a mom and dad, had made their way to their cabin, my cabin, to drop off bags and apparently get ready to swim, though the lakefront hadn’t even opened. He--let’s just call him Bo--was climbing and trotting around the cabin as if he owned the joint, barely listening to stern instructions his mom was throwing at him. Something about behaving and remembering what happened last year. “Oh boy,” I thought. He shrugged off his mother’s speech with a simple nod. His dad stood there.

I managed to squeeze in an introduction between their conversation. My charisma quickly faded when Bo’s parents just looked at me as if to say, “Good luck, buddy. You’re goin’ need it! He’s in your hands now!” Their eyes smiled.

“Fudge,” I thought, “What have I got myself into?”

I wasn't sure what to make of what just happened. Was this kid high energy? Did he have trouble listening? Like ADD? Whatever the issue, to seem like I had it all together, I sucked in any worry or concern I wore on my face.

I noticed that Bo and his friend didn’t look at me, to my recollection, not even once. Why was that? They were busy searching their bags for swimming shorts. They changed and left.

A sweet first-camper impression...

It didn’t take long until I encountered their thick skin, willful rebelliousness, and dearth of sensitivity for anyone. Their conversations were negative, full of mean jokes and put-downs of other campers and mocking language about Christianity and spirituality. Heck, I was pleased when they limited their speech to gangs and drugs (as long as they weren't bullying anyone). Yet, eventually though, like all other teenage boys, they incorporated talk about girls too.

Additionally, it was as if they practiced being cold and unaffected by anything spiritual or Christian before they got to camp. "Ok, play the next track. It's a really inspiring sermon. Now, just sit there, unamused, with a blank stare on your face... Ya! Just like that, perfect!"

Things weren’t all bad though. The sound guy for jr. high camp was the youth pastor of these kids. And thankfully, he gave me insights into their lives, their contexts, which are not pretty. Their situations are thick. They swim in violence, drug addiction and a host of gross dysfunction most kids never dream of. I was appalled. No wonder their behavior.

My mind got to thinking about these kids one day and how they’ve been heavily influenced to be who they are. They are products, outcomes, offshoots of their culture, of their soil so to speak. I’m hesitant to use these words, but the point is they are who they are due to their highly-dysfunctional environment. And it's unfair. These kids were born into that garbage. They had no choice.

Now I’m obviously no professional on the idiosyncrasies of the sociological matters at stake here and I’m not saying that these kids are not responsible for their actions. But, they have been formed, fashioned and forged by situations, structures, politics, economics outside their control. Bottom line!

The same thing happened to me, and is still happening. I am here, as me, today, due to the "nurturing" that took place in my life. My past's dysfunction is a whisper compared to their screams. And why? How? Did I just get lucky?!...

(Taking a deep breath) I have strong feelings about this. And it all was sparked by a song.

During the musical worship, we sang a tune originally written by United Pursuit Band called "Break Every Chain." The chorus is simple enough:

There is power in the name of Jesus (x3)

To break every chain (x3)

We sang this over and over again. It became an anthem, because of its simplicity and repetition. But what does this mean? To break every chain? What chains? It is typical to hear talk about chains and slavery and bondage in Christian circles. These are metaphors employed to understand addiction and our overall relation to sin, right? This is biblical language is it not? We are addicted to bullying our peers, we are hooked on images of naked bodies, we are trapped in endless cycles of poor stewardship, cutting or drinking too much alcohol. Most are slaves. All have been. Some, by grace, toil and sweat, have been freed.

But, are there not other chains that keep us bound and imprisoned? Is it only the vicious habits of sin, due to our foolish choices, that we need liberation from? What about, say, a fallen economics? A sick empire? What about a shattered hierarchy? A corrupt government? What about a wounded relationship? A maddening society? What about the things that lay outside our control? What about the immorality we've been brought into without our consent, the sin we were born into? Is there any hope for redemption *there*? What about salvation? Liberation, is it too much to ask for in these places?

When the other kids are standing, passionately singing at the top of their lungs, “To break every chain, to break every chain, to break every chain,” what do I tell Bo and others like him, a kid whose dream would to be free from the humanly-unfit conditions of his everyday existence? What words are left for a kid like this, who’s world he crashed into by no counsel of his own? What about his chains? What about his chains?