I found myself spending almost 4 days last week at a ‘camp meeting,’ which means combination youth rally and revival meeting. (To this day I grin when I hear the term ‘revival.’ As The God’s Honest Truth says, Christianity as a religion is like a Harley. It’s the most classic and authentic of all motorcycles, but it also breaks down every few hundred miles and needs to be ‘revived.’ Makes you think about what we’re showing the world… we have a religion that keeps dying on us). Since we’re back in organized church and this denomination is big on camp meetings, my sons and I went to check this one out last week.
The objective for the youth seems to be, feed them and preach the Bible to them and offer alter calls all day long and late into the night, and they will hopefully be touched by the Holy Spirit and saved, or delivered from some sort of bondage. Four services a day, stretching from mid morning to the wee hours of the next morning, ought to have some effect one way or the other. (Sometimes a real experience with God, sometimes an emotional response that looks like salvation, or even just an alter call response as a way of crying ‘uncle.’?)
Like so many other well-meaning religious efforts, I’m sure this approach does the trick for some people (teens and otherwise) but is ineffective, draining, and perhaps even detrimental to others.
Most of the participants in this camp meeting seemed thrilled with all the goings-on. The hosting church was more charismatic than our home church, which brought back a few bad memories for me although they were nice people. There were constant shouts of ‘Praise the Lord’ and ‘Amen!’ I guess this is just some people’s style, but it’s hard to sit through hours and hours of seeing people wear their faith like a flashing neon sign on their sleeve, when being true to myself is to quietly carry mine in my heart.
The theme of this 4 day weekend was ‘Deliverance.’ The idea was to get deliverance from anything that ails or hinders you, whether a speech stutter or a sin problem. Once this deliverance was achieved, we would supposedly be a better witness for Christ. After all, everyone assumes that real Christians have no serious hindrances in their lives that stay around for very long. So once we achieve being happy, ailment, and sin-free, every heathen we meet will want what we have.
I was glad to have brought along my mp3 with a few of Darin’s teachings on it. I lay in bed trying to sleep while listening to “The Truth About Pastors” from the “Institutional Mindset” series. Darin told of how deeply depressed he gets, to the point of contemplating suicide if it weren’t for his family. He also talked about how God is with him through it all the time, and about the things God shows him during these depressed times, and because of them – not in spite of them. This, to me, is what witness really is. Someone who shares in the fellowship of sufferings and knows Jesus is with them all the while, who is very human and yet more Christlike to me than all the Healed and Delivered Happy Christian Cheerleaders combined that I’ve ever met.
Sometimes having a sin or hindrance taken away is best. But other times, a mindset is what we need to be ‘delivered’ from. The charismatic approach of ‘power’ and ‘deliverance’ always made God feel like a big, impersonal vending machine to me. If you put in the right coins and pushed the right buttons while praying fervently, your desired snack would appear in the chute. All too often though, I remember being angry feeling that the machine had eaten my money while others around me were happily chugging their cold sodas and shouting, “Praise the Lord!” The big, mysterious, cold and impersonal humming of the God vending machine idea I held could have driven me to insanity, had I not been delivered, if you will, of that mindset.
The camp meeting people did mention the concept of a ‘personal relationship with Jesus’ from time to time, as I’ve heard it mentioned in other organized church settings. If we’re expected to be together in such abundance all doing the same thing in the same way at the same time, compulsively, over the span of a lifetime, I’m not sure how much room this really leaves for a personal relationship with ANYBODY. I guess this is where “making sure you get up at dawn to read your Bible every single day of your life” comes in.
I’m glad now to be in a place where I’m getting free of the mindset that if I don’t get what I want right away (or at all) and if I suffer, or fail to perform in some way, God deeply and steadily loves me and that will never change. To be forever delivered from fearing otherwise is one of the best gifts I’d ever hope for.
After the first two days of a steady diet of endless food, church services and people in my face all day long and late into the evening, I felt so stressed that I was unspeakably relieved to find a little bit of time to sit on a bench alone and talk to Jesus. I closed my eyes and pictured him driving us down a sunny highway on a shiny Harley through quiet countryside. I hung onto his back and rested my face on his shirt. He touched my face and told me he loves me.
The Lord said, "Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by."
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. - 1 Kings 19:11-12