A quick note

I’m here at Camp Cumberland Pines in Altamont for my Mountain T.O.P. weekend. It’s a good group. I wound up on a team with Andy Borders from my church — normally, we try to keep too many from the same church from serving on a team together, but in this case it worked out. I think it’s a great team, and we have a lot on our plate for Friday and Saturday, including drywall and linoleum.

My learning disability

Mountain T.O.P.

Mountain T.O.P.

For the past few weeks, I’ve thought several times about Mountain T.O.P. Although it’s been less than a year since I rotated off the board, it’s been several years since I’ve been able to attend one of the summer Adults In Ministry camp weeks. They wind up falling right around the same time of the summer as my foreign mission trips. But I really miss Mountain T.O.P. and want to go back at some point.

Meanwhile, I had to cancel my plans to travel to North Carolina next weekend, but I held on to the vacation days. It will be good to have a few days off, but I didn’t want to just lay around the apartment for six days straight.

It plays out like a sitcom scene. I was just too stupid to put two and two together until yesterday, when it occurred to me that Mountain T.O.P. Adults In Ministry is having some of its fall weekend events this month. In fact, one of them will take place … next weekend.


I’ve made last-minute arrangements to attend. Unfortunately, the fall weekend events are home repair-only; I won’t have the option of working with kids or teenagers from the Cumberland Mountains the way I do when I go during the summer. And you don’t get exactly the same experience from the long weekend that you do at one of our week-long camps. But it will be great to be back up on the mountain, in the unique Christian community that characterizes a Mountain T.O.P. event.

The AIM weekend will run from Thursday night through Sunday morning. So I’ll still have a few excess vacation days (most of Thursday and Sunday, all of Monday and Tuesday) in which to relax and perhaps to clean up my pathologically-filthy apartment.

There’s still time and room for any of you reading this to join us, if you’d like. More information is available at the web site.

End of an era?

I have served three separate four-year terms on the Mountain T.O.P. board, with one-year breaks in between: 1994-97, 1999-2002, and 2003-07. I’ve been secretary of the board much of that time. Tonight was the last board meeting of my current term.

It’s time for a break, and I wanted one. This has been an unusually difficult and stressful term; several years ago, the board was forced to make some gut-wrenching decisions that upended the ministry. During this term, the ministry relocated its offices from Nashville to Altamont, went through a near-complete changeover in staff, and reinvented itself in ways that have both taken it into the future and restored it to its roots.

Under the leadership of our new executive director, the Rev. Ed Simmons (and, boy, am I proud to have served on that search committee), the ministry has stabilized and is on the upswing. We are ending the year in the best financial shape I’ve ever seen as a board member.

As we discussed during tonight’s meeting, the very fact that our programming has been simplified and stabilized, coupled with the need to keep the ministry financially healthy, means that we need a board which is less active in programming and more active in fund-raising. And since fund-raising is my great weakness as a board member, maybe this is a good time for me to step aside, at least for now.

But I’m still a little melancholy about rotating off. I don’t plan to disappear; I am sure that the staff will still call on me for things like press releases, and I certainly plan to encourage them to do so. Because of my foreign mission trips, I’ve only been to Mountain T.O.P. as a camper once in the past three years, and I need to change that.

I’ll hopefully be going to the year-end party on Jan. 5, and they’ll probably say something about the departing board members at that time.

Our board meeting tonight was unusually festive — board member Sally Chambers invited us to have a dinner meeting at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Franklin, where she is youth minister. It was a great meal and a great way to celebrate the ending of a successful year.

And maybe, for me, the end of an era.

Hay hay on the hayride

My old Mountain T.O.P. friends Marijo and Allen Bond have a hayride and bonfire every year at their beautiful farm in Williamson County. I missed it last year, so I really wanted to go tonight.

Some years, Marijo and Allen are the only people I know, but this year there were several other folks whom I knew through Mountain T.O.P. One of them was a former board member whose day job is with a management company in Nashville. We were catching up and she asked me what I do when I’m not working at the paper. I eagerly started telling her about my NaNoWriMo novel, and we started talking about whether I intended to try to go back and rewrite and edit it after November. We discussed publish-on-demand solutions, in case maybe I just want to try to offer the novel to my friends and family or others in Shelbyville who are familiar with me through my mission trip stories for the newspaper.

At the end of the conversation, she told me that her company — which I associated with Christian music, and one well-known artist in particular — moved into the literary world a few years back. Perhaps she thinks I already knew that and was trying to pitch to her — I didn’t, and I wasn’t. She’s an old Mountain T.O.P. friend, and I was just glad to see her.

NaNoWriMo requires that you not really worry too much whether your novel turns out well or not while you’re writing, and the vast majority of people who think it would be fun to be a published author don’t have enough literary talent to write their way out of a paper bag. I am, no doubt, one of those people — although I’d hardly be human if I didn’t fantasize about it from time to time.

Foxes guarding the henhouse

My friend and fellow ORU alumnus Peter Smith has a terrific blog post pointing out that some of the university’s regents who will be investigating allegations against Richard Roberts are, themselves, sometimes accused of the same materialistic behavior.

Peter notes how many of the figures involved are not members of the Evangelical Council on Financial Accountability. One of my proudest moments as a Mountain T.O.P. board member was being a part of the board during the time when Mountain T.O.P. joined ECFA. ECFA’s rules are tough, and sometimes difficult to comply with, but at the end of the day you can look your donors in the eye and tell them what you are doing is above board and show them audits and documentation to prove it.

The World’s Largest Phone Booth

The World’s Largest Phone Booth

Originally uploaded by jicarney.

I had no way to upload my photos from camp, but this was the inspiration for my little poem earlier. It used to house a pay phone; now there’s a regular phone (I suppose for people to use with calling cards or collect calls). I got to Cumberland Pines early and some of the people I had hoped might be on the mountain weren’t, so I had a lot of time to kill this afternoon. It was a pleasant place to kill time, of course. I was sitting in the little shelter which houses the canteen, looking over at the “phone booth,” when I wrote the poem on a lark. (You can tell I’m not really a poet.)

Ode to the world’s largest phone booth

The roof is a little skewed
but so is everything else.
It doesn’t matter, really;
just a shelter for a phone
for teens on a mission.
They call home, excitedly
ablaze with God and new friends
in the overwrought drama of youth.
But smoldering beneath the flame
are embers
whose heat will remain
long after the flickering dance.
God watches over this wooden box
and all the lands around it
and He smiles at the calluses.

Closing celebration

After a quick stop by my parents’ home to feed the cat, I’m headed to Cumberland Pines for Mountain T.O.P.’s annual closing celebration. This event honors the college-age kids who have worked for us all summer (they leave for home tomorrow) and features a great slide show of all of the summer camps and activity. The programming isn’t until this evening, but they’ve encouraged everyone to come up early and spend the day in the county.

AIM cookout

"Uncle" Ben Neal

Originally uploaded by jicarney.

One of this summer’s Mountain T.O.P. AIM weeks took place right before my Bolivia trip, and the other one is taking place this week. Even if I had the vacation days, and I’m not sure I do, I could not have been gone from work for three weeks straight. So I had to miss AIM for the third time in four years.

I did, however, drive up for the traditional Wednesday cookout tonight. It was fun connecting with old friends and checking up on my fellow First UMC members Andy and Edna Lee Borders, who are in camp this week. I had my camera with me but kept forgetting to use it — this was actually the only photo I took. I include it here for the benefit of Laura at Fixin’ Supper, who will recognize this gentleman immediately. At this point, “Uncle Ben” Neal was doing his Archie Campbell-inspired spoonerism routine for the camp community.

I did not realize that Gail Drake, the former longtime AIM director, had been invited to give the devotion tonight. Now, of course, Gail is the co-founder of an outfit called LEAMIS with which I took a trip recently. (Perhaps you heard about it.) Amusingly, Gail and Debra have been running in different directions and haven’t actually seen each other face-to-face since the trip. I think it’s funny that I’ve seen Gail, but Debra — with whom she shares an address — hasn’t!

Katrina relief continues

LEAMIS, the non-denominational group with which I take my foreign mission trips (Were you aware that I was taking a trip this week? I know I’ve kept pretty quiet about it), and Mountain T.O.P., the United Methodist-affiliated missions group which works in the Cumberland Mountains and which I serve as a board member, are planning a joint project: a relief trip to the Mississippi Gulf Coast Aug. 10-24. Bob Willems and Frank Schroer, who are well known to participants in both programs, will lead the trip. Click the link for more details.

There’s no formal link between the two organizations, but they have a lot of friends and participants in common — like me, for example. Gail Drake, the co-founder of LEAMIS, is the daughter of Mountain T.O.P.’s now-retired founder, George Bass, and Gail ran Mountain T.O.P.’s adult ministry for a number of years, which is how I met her.