my happy place

Here’s a little thought experiment to try to warm myself up. Feel free to come along as I try to escape the polar vortex.

The temperature is not in single digits, because it’s not January. It’s July, and I’m at Camp Cumberland Pines, volunteering with Summer Plus. We’ve just ended a good, satisfying day of working with the teenagers. My creative writing workshop is going well in the afternoons, and I’m having fun helping out in another workshop — let’s say, cooking — in the mornings.

I’m a co-pilot on one of the transportation routes, but not today — one of my fellow volunteers who hasn’t been involved in transportation wanted to get out into the county and see where the teens come from, so she offered to swap with me this afternoon. I watch the last of the vehicles pull out of the front entrance to Cumberland Pines. I slip on my backpack and begin walking across the big field from the Wingo Pavilion to the dining hall, beyond which lies Friends Cabin.

The warm sun feels wonderful. I’m wearing shorts and a tie-dyed t-shirt, and I throw on my Mountain T.O.P. ball cap to shade my face. The home repair volunteers have to wear long pants at the work site – it’s an insurance thing – but I can, and do, wear shorts almost all week. I usually arrive in camp wearing long pants, and sometimes I’ll put on long pants on Friday for our Summer Plus celebration, which the teens’ parents come for. But the rest of the time, I’m in shorts. I’m a volunteer, and Summer Plus is a good day’s work, but it’s also a form of vacation.

I walk past Guido. Guido is a tree located near the dining hall, with benches arranged around it in a circle. I have no idea why it’s called Guido. At this point, nobody else may know either.

One or two other volunteers who didn’t have to do transportation are in the lobby of Friends Cabin. We exchange pleasantries about how the day went. I stop by my room in Friends Cabin, take off my shoes and socks and put on flip-flops. I sit out on the deck for a few moments. I look over at Three Crosses, an outdoor worship area nearby, and down at the AIM pavilion. I decide to go in and take a shower. Most of the other Summer Plus volunteers are women, and most are on their transportation routes, so I have the men’s shower room all to myself. Later, about 5 or so, the home repair teams will start rolling into camp, and all three shower stalls will be busy at once, with people waiting their turn. But for now, it’s just me, and a hot shower feels good.

After showering and putting on clean clothes, I wander over to the dining hall — to use the wi-fi and to set one of the tables (I’m co-hosting a table for dinner tonight). As I finish putting out napkins and silverware, I hear a couple of cars driving back into camp. It’s too early for the home repair folks to be back, so I know it’s probably my fellow Summer Plus volunteers, probably some who were dropping off teens relatively near the camp. I wander back over to Friends Cabin.

I pick up the deck of cards on the table in the lobby. “Are you going to play ‘Screw The Dealer’ tonight?” I ask someone.

“Oh, yes. I can’t do any worse than I did last night.”

I walk over to the fridge, put 75 cents in the cash box, and pull out a Diet Coke. Then I think about it for a second, put the Diet Coke back, put 50 more cents in the cash box, and get an IBC black cherry instead. I’ve earned it.

I look at my “mailbox,” a black cylinder marked with my name sitting on the mailbox table. Some people have hand-made mailboxes they’ve been bringing to camp for years; others didn’t bring a mailbox and have brown paper lunch sacks with their name scrawled on them in magic marker. There’s a note of thanks and encouragement in my mailbox from one of my fellow volunteers. I realize I’ve been delinquent in my own note-writing and I sit down at the table, where there are little squares of paper and pens strewn about.

After writing a few notes and depositing them in the appropriate mailboxes, I wander back out to the deck. Dinner will come up at 6 p.m., and then sharing. Sharing is a chance to talk about the day, and if I get the chance I’ll have a moving story about something one of my creative writing kids said during my workshop. Worship will follow a few minutes after sharing breaks up. It will be brief and creative. By 8:45 or so, we’ll all be free for the evening, and that card game is likely to crank up.

Right now, though, I’m just sitting on the Friends Cabin deck, enjoying the warm weather and waiting for my friends to get back from their transportation routes and home repair sites.

God is good.

Do you feel warmer now?  If you’d like to make this trip for real, you can find out more here.

Mark your calendars now

Mountain T.O.P. has announced the dates for Adults In Ministry weeks for summer 2014. They are:

June 15-21, Major Home Repair and Kaleidoscope

June 29-July 5, Major Home Repair and Summer Plus

July 13-19, Major Home Repair and Quest.

The summer AIM weekend (Major Home Repair only) will be July 24-27.

 

Need more information?

Here’s the official Mountain T.O.P. AIM page.

Here are links to a series of posts I wrote about AIM a couple of years ago.

Here’s a slideshow from the AIM week I attended in 2012. The 2013 slideshow isn’t up yet, but I’m told it will be soon.

I would really, really love to introduce some new people to AIM next summer.

Look up and see Jesus

This is the group morning devotion I led this morning on our last day of Mountain T.O.P Adults In Ministry. I normally wouldn’t post something like this, but I had a special request. (Hi, Jan Lloyd-Gohl!)

Camp Cumberland Pines, Cumberland Heights, TN
June 29, 2013

Matthew 17 (CEB)
17 Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and brought them to the top of a very high mountain. 2 He was transformed in front of them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light.
3 Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Jesus. 4 Peter reacted to all of this by saying to Jesus, “Lord, it’s good that we’re here. If you want, I’ll make three shrines: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
5 While he was still speaking, look, a bright cloud overshadowed them. A voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son whom I dearly love. I am very pleased with him. Listen to him!” 6 Hearing this, the disciples fell on their faces, filled with awe.
7 But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” 8 When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

The Transfiguration, along with maybe the raising of Lazarus from the dead, is probably the most amazing thing witnessed by the disciples during Jesus’ earthly ministry prior to the crucifixion.

Peter, upon witnessing the presence of the two legendary figures, immediately went into public relations mode. Hey, he must have thought, this will show everyone! Once they see this, they’ll know that Jesus is the Messiah and have no choice but to appoint him as king and allow him to lead us in revolt against the Romans. Peter, overwhelmed by the experience, offers to put up tabernacles, or shrines, or shelters, depending on who you believe.
But God reminds Peter of what is really important: “This is my beloved son, Jesus. Listen to him.”
Many of you, like me, have been coming to this place, this program, for years. Others are first-timers. It’s a special experience, one we look forward to every year, one we’re constantly talking to our friends and neighbors about. And that’s a good thing. It’s a great thing. I didn’t think I was going to make it to the mountain this year, but God and the full-time staff made it possible for me to be here on short notice, and I was so excited about coming.
But now, we’ve gotten our fishhooks and we’ve loaded up our cars. In a little while, we’ll be headed home.

7 But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” 8 When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

The purpose of this week has been to fix up houses and to teach workshops. But beyond that, it’s been to love our home repair families and the teenagers with whom we’ve worked. And beyond that, it’s been to look up, and see no one except Jesus. We mustn’t ever become so obsessed with the Mountain T.O.P. experience that we forget to look at Jesus.
On Wednesday night, some of us stopped by and saw the inscription at the lookoff point at Beersheba Springs, where Mountain T.O.P. was born: “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills.” That’s from Psalm 121. Here it is in the Common English Bible:
121I raise my eyes toward the mountains.
Where will my help come from?
2My help comes from the LORD,
the maker of heaven and earth.
3God won’t let your foot slip.
Your protector won’t fall asleep on the job.
4No! Israel’s protector
never sleeps or rests!
5The LORD is your protector;
the LORD is your shade right beside you.
6The sun won’t strike you during the day;
neither will the moon at night.
7The LORD will protect you from all evil;
God will protect your very life.o
8The LORD will protect you on your journeys—
whether going or coming—
from now until forever from now.

“…and they looked up, and saw no one except Jesus.” As wonderful as this experience has been, all that matters is for us to look up and see Jesus. When we’re looking at our slide show, when we’re sorting through our photos or giving a report to our Sunday School class, we’ll talk about our traditions and the friends we’ve made and the worship that made us cry and the fun times we’ve had. We’ll talk about dominoes, and the room that got TPed, appendicitis, and Stone Door, and the woman with the distinctive laugh, and poppy-seed chicken, and putting the “P” in MPT, and fishhooks. That’s a natural way to talk about an experience like this. But let’s never get so excited about putting up a tent for Elijah that we forget about Jesus.
Going forward, we have to continue to have the faith, and the works, that we had this week with Moses, and Elijah, and Michael, and Joey, and Janey, and Brooke, and Alli here on the mountain.
As you leave here, look up – and see no one but Jesus.

Is it Wednesday already?

It can’t be Wednesday already. The week is half gone!
Summer Plus is going well, and I’ve settled into both workshops — though with dramatically different roles and dynamics in each. We’ve got a great group of teens this year, and a great group of adult volunteers.
Tonight is our traditional free time night. Instead of eating in the dining hall, we’ll have a cookout, with some brief entertainment, and then there will be no sharing or worship tonight. It is free time, and you can do whatever you like — but 90 percent of the camp ends up going to Beersheba Springs to Phil and Terry Mayhew’s pottery shop, the Mountain Home gift shop, and to look off the overlook in front of the Methodist assembly. The Mayhews, who know we are coming, will stay open late (Terry often comes to the cookout to invite us) and Phil will sit on the front porch at his potter’s wheel and throw some pieces for us to watch, which is always fascinating.
Those of you who are Facebook friends, I hope I haven’t been overwhelming you with photos. I’m having a great week.

Tabula rasa

Normally when I go to Summer Plus, I teach creative writing during one of the two workshop sessions and then assist some other workshop leader in the other one.

I knew when I signed up for Mountain T.O.P. Adults In Ministry at such a late date that the roster of workshops might already be set in stone. I put on my application that I could teach “creative writing, or as needed.”

Well, I got my touch-base call from the AIM staff this morning, and while they offered to let me teach creative writing if I really wanted to to they sort of gave the impression that things were OK as they were, and that was fine with me. So I’ll be doing Summer Plus, but I won’t be leading a workshop myself, only assisting in other people’s workshops for both the morning and afternoon sessions. (This is what I do when I go to Kaleidoscope instead of Summer Plus – I assist rather than lead.) I don’t know what sessions I’ll be helping with, and the last few years the assignment of helpers has been more of an informal process, worked out during our planning sessions on Sunday night of camp week rather than in advance.

At the end of creative writing, I usually give the teens a blank journal. I’ve had a huge stash of journals, many of which were donated to me for this purpose by a friend a number of years back. I still had more than enough for one or two workshops, but almost all of the ones that remained had a cover design which my students would consider feminine.
WP_000447

I tend to have more girls than boys in the workshop, but even so I needed to be prepared. It’s worth noting that I often let the teens pick out a journal themselves, and many of the girls in the past have preferred a plain blue journal bound like a hardback book over that supposedly girly-looking model, which was spiral-bound. That’s one reason I had so many of the spiral-bound notebooks left.

I was at Walmart the other day and ended up buying three blank journals in more gender-neutral designs. It turns out I jumped the gun by doing that, since I won’t be teaching the workshop, but I’ll just save them for another year. (I may use one of them myself on the Sierra Leone trip.) At least it will be easier to pack, since I won’t have to bring my big box of workshop stuff.

There will be about 25 adults in camp — 9 or 10 in Summer Plus and the rest in Major Home Repair. The full-time staff stops updating the “who’s coming to camp” lists on the web site once training and camp season start — they’ve got a heck of a lot of other things to do that take precedence — and there were only about 15 people listed on the web site the last time that page was updated. Jan Schilling tells me that “Smitty” Smith is one of the additions, and I’m curious to know who else might be coming.

Helen Vickers tells me on FB that her husband Rick McNeely, a former Mountain T.O.P. full-time staffer who played the key role in creating Kaleidoscope, will be at Cumberland Pines next week as well — not in AIM but as an adult driver in the Youth Summer Missions (YSM) camp that will be taking place at the same time. The staff is usually pretty good about keeping YSM and AIM from crossing paths, but hopefully I’ll get the chance to see and speak to Rick at some point.

I still remember one year when Mountain T.O.P. used to have an annual fund-raising golf tournament and I was a board member. They had one of those contests where, if you hit a hole in one on a designated hole, you win a car. The insurance company which made such contests possible required that there be two witnesses at the designated hole, not players, who could attest to a hole in one should it take place. Rick and I wound up with that job somehow — we sat at the second hole and watched every single tee shot so that we could witness any holes in one. (Sadly, it didn’t happen.)

A busy couple of weeks

OK, here’s the schedule.

I started work on a sermon today. This week (which should also be relatively busy at work) I’ve got to finish the sermon and make some final preparations for Mountain T.O.P. Adults In Ministry (AIM). On Sunday, as a lay speaker, I will load up my car, preach the sermon at Mt. Lebanon UMC at 9:30, then at Cannon UMC at 11, then I will head immediately for Altamont, arriving (with permission) a little late for AIM. I’ll miss orientation but should make it in time for opening worship.

I’ll return from Mountain T.O.P. on Saturday the 29th. On the morning of Sunday the 30th, I’ll preach pretty much the same sermon from the week before at my home church, First UMC Shelbyville. Then, that afternoon, I’ll go to First UMC Tullahoma for a big lay servant event, titled “Fan The Flame,” where I’ll be one of several people giving five-minute messages. That one is already written, and has been for several weeks, but I’ll have to tweak it at some point between now and then to tie in better with the two messages that will precede it. 

Fortunately, neither Rev. Doug Dezotell from Mt. Lebanon and Cannon nor Rev. Lloyd Doyle from my home church minds me straying from the Lectionary this once (in fact, it was Rev. Doyle’s idea that I use the same sermon from the week before, since I won’t have any time for sermon-writin’ on the mountain).

Because my AIM trip was such a last-minute, hastily-arranged affair, I still won’t know exactly what I’m doing in Summer Plus until I hear from the staff. Last week, I was trying to upgrade my old second-hand, rarely-used laptop to the latest version of the Linux-based Ubuntu operating system so that I could take it to camp and use it for e-mail and to type up our group project in creative writing class (assuming that I’ll be teaching creative writing, and I don’t know for sure yet). But something about (or coincidental to) the Ubuntu upgrade has wrecked the laptop’s networking capabilities. It won’t recognize its old PCM-CIA wireless card, and it won’t even recognize being plugged in by Ethernet cable. I can still use it for the creative writing project, but I’ll have to check my e-mail by phone for the week.

Andy Burroughs attended the AIM week which ended yesterday, and he’s posted photos and videos, which only make me that much more anxious to get back to the mountain. In some ways, I feel more alive sitting in Friends Cabin (in the lobby or on the back porch) than anywhere else on the planet. It looks strange in Andy’s photos to see Friends Cabin’s Tyvek-wrapped doppelganger sitting right next door.

By the way, AIM is still in need of home repair volunteers. If you can arrange to go away next week on short notice – or if you want the dates of another AIM week later in the summer – click the link above or give me a call.

A surprise late entry

I was still recovering on Sunday from the Relay For Life, but I was also feeling an emotional letdown. I’d been looking forward to the symphony concert and the Relay For Life – two of my passions, both of which take place in the same month – and now, they were both over for another year, and it was back to the routine. I have the Sierra Leone trip in November, of course, which will be here before I know it, but I had nothing right now to anticipate.

Then, today, I got an e-mail. For reasons I won’t go into here, I thought I wouldn’t get to attend any of Mountain T.O.P.’s Adults In Ministry events this summer. But what I’ve learned in two decades of short-term missions is that if God wants you on a trip, God will put you on that trip. An obstacle got moved today, by God – and the wonderful staff at Mountain T.O.P.

So now, on short notice, I’ll be attending the late-June AIM week at Camp Cumberland Pines. It won’t be the shortest notice on record; I recall one occasion when a friend of the ministry who lived within driving distance of camp was, on a Sunday morning, talked into attending an AIM event which began on a Sunday afternoon.

Mountain T.O.P. is in serious need of AIM volunteers – the ministry received some generous grant funds this year and is working on a number of projects, but they won’t happen without warm bodies. If I can make this trip on short notice, why can’t you? Maybe God is calling you to make the drive up the mountain with me (or to one of the other scheduled events).

I am delighted that the camp week I’ll be attending has some dear friends already signed up – Jan Schilling among them. I will be among friends, in one of my favorite places on the planet, doing the Summer Plus program which first attracted me to Mountain T.O.P. in 1993.

Here, if you’re interested, is a page with links to some of my previous ramblings about the AIM program.

Mister Snowman

When I spoke to my father earlier today, he was in a break from the long task of taking down Christmas decorations. I, living by myself in a slovenly apartment with few house guests, didn’t have to work quite as hard. I had a three-foot-tall fiber optic tree which I unplugged a little while ago and took back into the storage room. It took me all of 30 seconds.

I had one other piece of holiday décor, which I didn’t have to unplug because it never really got plugged in. It was a jar, painted as a snowman, that I made last summer while assisting Jean Nulle in her arts and crafts workshop at Summer Plus. (Jean gave her helpers the chance to make the same crafts the teens were making, which is always fun.) It had a very short power cord, and there was simply no good place for me to plug it up. But as I was unplugging the tree, I decided to plug the snowman into the extension cord I’d been using for the tree and leave it up, at least for a little while, as a wintertime decoration.

FR0027

Yes, I painted this myself. It’s a mason jar. It’s hard to see the texture in this photo – it was hard to get a good photo of it with my smartphone – but it has a frost-like appearance created by blotting the white paint on with the end of the brush. (A spray-on varnish had been applied first, as a primer, to help the paint adhere to the glass.) Then, the face was painted on top of the white paint. A short string of Christmas lights provides the interior light, and the felt hat, with ribbon trim, hides the cord, which dangles from the back like a ponytail.

By the way, one of the ornaments on my tree was also a Summer Plus souvenir – a little unglazed ceramic snowman which each participant painted.

Save the date

OK, folks, here we go – the dates for Mountain T.O.P. Adults In Ministry’s week-long camps next summer are now posted on the ministry’s website:

AIM Week 1: June 9 – 15, 2013, Major Home Repair -or- Kaleidoscope

AIM Week 2: June 23 – 29, 2013, Major Home Repair -or- Summer Plus

AIM Week 3: July 7 – 13, 2013, Major Home Repair  -or- Quest

What this means is that if you come, alone or as part of a group, to week 1, each person can individually choose (prior to camp) whether to participate in major home repair or in Kaleidoscope. If you come week 2, each person can choose between MHR and Summer Plus. Week 3, each person can choose between major home repair or Quest.

The descriptions below are my own, although I think they’re accurate:

Major Home Repair: Teams of about six people are formed on Sunday night of camp. Each team works all week at the same site, helping to improve the home of a needy Cumberland Mountain family. The guided but volunteer-driven team selection process is intended to give each team a balance of men and women, various ages and skill levels. Prior experience is not necessary; teams include everyone from complete newbies to professional contractors.

Kaleidoscope: An arts program for elementary-age special-needs children. Volunteers can either sign up to lead a workshop (music, drawing, arts and crafts, etc.) or just to assist the kids and workshop leaders. “Special needs” is broadly-interpreted and might include everything from severe disabilities to ADD/ADHD or just a really crummy family situation. Volunteers pick the kids up from homes each morning, bring them to camp, and take them home each afternoon. On Friday, the workshops demonstrate what they’ve learned at a celebration attended by the kids’ family members.

Summer Plus: Enrichment workshops for young teenagers from Grundy County –  mostly 12-15. Past workshops have included cooking, juggling, creative writing, tennis, arts and crafts, women’s self-defense, photography, drama, creating a camp newsletter, and so on. Potential leaders are welcome to suggest their own ideas. Each workshop is two hours a day for four days, so in many cases it’s more of an introduction than a complete class, meaning you may be more qualified to lead a workshop than you realize. Teens attend one workshop in the morning and a different one in the afternoon. Most volunteers who do want to lead a workshop do so during one session and assist with someone else’s workshop during the other session, but gluttons for punishment like my friend Robert Matthews lead two different workshops (Robert teaches both juggling and photography). It’s even possible to have two separate sessions of the same workshop if the volunteer leader is willing and the staff feels there’s enough interest among the teens to justify it. And, as with Kaleidoscope, you can sign up just to be a helper if there’s nothing you feel like teaching.

As with Kaleidoscope, volunteers pick the kids up each morning and drop them off each afternoon, and there’s a Friday celebration for each workshop to demonstrate or describe its content.

Quest: A relatively-new program, and the only one in which I haven’t participated. This also involves teens from Grundy County. It’s an adventure program – high ropes course, low ropes course, rappelling, rock climbing, horseback riding and a service day. Volunteers, as I understand it, may but are not required to participate in the activities themselves. Those who don’t participate in a given activity can function as encouragers.

The volunteers (most of whom travel to camp from out-of-state) spend the week staying at Camp Cumberland Pines near Altamont, Tenn. Friends Cabin is air-conditioned, with two adults staying in each room. In the evening, after the home repair teams have returned to camp and after the Kaleidoscope/Summer Plus/Quest teens have been taken home, the home repair and youth-program volunteers come back together into a full camp community for supper. Volunteers have a time of sharing at which they can talk about the day’s joys and concerns, and then a brief, but creative and participatory, worship service. On Wednesday of a camp week, there’s a cookout followed by free time which volunteers can spend out in the county (or in their bunk napping).

There are, of course, some AIM weekends (major home repair only) coming up this fall, and I encourage you to check those out, especially if your situation won’t allow you to take a week off during the summer. But I love the richer experience, team-building and sense of community you get during a full week-long camp.

Here’s a link to the series of posts I made some months back about AIM. Here’s the official ministry video: