Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Confession of a Former Church Camp Counselor

June 23, 2005

Dear Stacy,

I am free, free, free!!! God is so awesome. I have been broken and mended by His promise. I know I can let go 100% and give my sin to Him. I am not ashamed. This week has been monumental. I came to church camp to guide girls through the spiritual obstacles and questions, and I have come through the week guided by others. The value of friendship with Godly women is so great, and I need it. I am going to go after it! I need to let go. I need to continue to pray for strength, passion, and salvation. God is so incredible. There are no words that are worthy of the love I have for God. Praise Him, thank Him, and Love Him, EVERY MOMENT OF EVERY DAY! Don't forget this week, it has been life changing.


Guess who the author of this letter is. I'll give you a hint...it was me. Writing a letter to myself.


***I am adding this line of text for anyone who might think this is a joke. It isn't. I still have the hand written letter, and transcribed it last night onto this blog.***
Briefly, why: On the last full night of this church camp (where I was a counselor to a group of 14-16 year old girls), we were told to write a letter to ourselves, complete with self addressed envelopes. We were to describe our experience from the week. The youth staff was going to pray over the letters everyone had written, and when they felt moved to mail one, they would. These letters were to serve to remind us to remember the fire that had been put into us at camp, and the staff hoped that their prayers would be answered and that each person would receive their letter in a time of weak faith and need. I received my letter, appropriately, about 3 weeks after camp. I did not open this letter until at least June of 2006. I knew what it said. I was embarrassed to read my own words, even 3 weeks after I wrote them.

Many people who know me were very happy with me then. They saw that spark, and they just knew that it was the real me. Problem was, it wasn't. It was me, experiencing the mass delusional euphoria of organized religion. Perhaps the church staff saw the farce more so than even I did...I did receive the letter, like I said, three weeks later. Do I believe a prayer brought my letter to the top of the pile to receive postage? No.

I sit now and think about what I experienced during that week. I had 6 girls in my group, one of them my youngest sister. I had instructions on what to say and what not to say. I had assigned discussion/prayer times with each girl that was to last 30 minutes, and an interview followup sheet to fill out on each girl after our discussions.

It is no secret to anyone who knows me that I absolutely adore teenagers. I can identify with them. In some regard, my appearance (tattoos, etc) help with this. Maybe they don't see me as a "mom" type, so they are more open with me. I was even told by someone with school administration that when I have a degree, I would be best suited in the "alternative" school (aka the "bad" kids). Loving teens is not a popular position in this world of emo teenagers, but it's what I've got. It's a gift.

There was one girl in my group that, not surprisingly, stands out in my memory. She was almost 15, and her father was in prison for raping HER. That was one messed up little girl, and somehow I gained her trust, and she opened up to me about most everything. At the time, I thanked God for the gift I had - the gift of empathy and true compassion. Now, I honestly know that had I been in the position to encounter this young lady outside of any church setting, I would be able to have the same conversation with her, and I would have shared the same hugs and tears that I shared with her there. I broke the "followup report" rule, even then, because I felt that what she had confided in me was very personal (far beyond the very generically put issue I've given here). The trust she had put in me was so great, and it wasn't because I was some woman of God. I wasn't. I was an understanding and compassionate human being, just as I am now.

While I was embarrassed to read my own words just three weeks after they were written, I had no regrets about the conversations I had with that girl, or the ones I had with all of "my" girls. Perhaps I was there for a reason. Some would say that God put me there. I think I was there because I knew someone needed me; someone would benefit from the gift I have.

There was one night when I questioned myself for being honest with these girls. At church camp, I used the phrase, "Are you guys fucking kidding me?!" in response to some normal teenage girl banter. What came out of my mouth was what I had been taught to say, that we are to respect one another and practice reciprocity as Jesus commanded. But, I remember thinking, "why can't these girls see that they should just act like humans!?" This is a side of female-ness that I have never understood and rarely subscribed to - gossip. Blech. It was at this point that I saw the un-Christian aspects of otherwise proclaiming-Christianity girls. We are all so human.

I have written before about how people don't really change, rather, they realize who they really are. I still stand by this concept. In the summer of 2005, I was struggling to keep my marriage together (I was cheating, at least emotionally), and I turned to what seemed to be working for everyone else around me: God. Did it feel good to confess sins? Of course; but not because I believed I was forgiven. It was letting go of a huge secret lie that I absolutely needed to tell someone about: where I was was not WHO I was. It didn't take long for the "spirit" to leave me because it wasn't real. It was mass euphoria.

There's nothing wrong with mass euphoria in and of itself; we can experience it in other facets of life than religion (ie. a concert). What IS wrong with this type of euphoria is the tenets it presents: We sin by keeping God out, and we're forgiven if we let Him in. I remember the sermons. I remember the quiet time. I remember the beauty of the nature around us (Keystone, Colorado). All of these things, at the time, were ascribed to the Maker. If I were an atheist on a camping trip in Colorado with people I could talk to, I could appreciate the beauty of nature and humanity just as easily, and probably more deeply. Realizing that you have a gift is one thing; realizing that it is your choice to utilize your gift through the expression of love is another.

16 comments:

Kent said...

I too have despised the regimen given at such youth camps. Rarely have I followed them. What I'm most interested in from this post is the choice of the word "gift" for an ability that you have. This implies the act of something given freely. Am I way off? Or is this just your way to describe a random genetic trait you acquired by chance? No sarcasm, I'm really interested.

Stacy said...

I'm not interested in semantics, Kent. How about something deeper?

Kent said...

Couldn't your response be mine for every post on this blog? And yet it is not, even if I see some of them as shallow.

Stacy said...

I'm sorry, are you saying that I'm twisting words and singling out unrelated issues, all while being surface level? Perhaps you should stop reading, then...because that is in no way what I am doing. I didn't arrive at my beliefs because of semantics. Sometimes it's necessary to help explain them, but 'gift' is a colloquial term, and that you are very well aware of.

I'll take the bait, though, because I know what I meant. It's a gift I give freely; a gift I have to give...not one I've received.

Satisfied with that?

Kent said...

Methinks this may be the pot calling the kettle black. Don't get so uptight when I ask a genuine question. I thought this was a forum for free thought? I wasn't trying to get semantical on you. It was a personal question with the hopes of a personal answer. It seemed to me an odd way to refer to an ability for one who doesn't believe in a giver.

Stacy said...

This will be my last post to you on this Kent...because we've had conversation before where the semantic issues lasted for DAYS of emails.

I gave you the personal answer.
I am the giver of that gift. I have a gift to offer to a certain group of people. I bought it at K-Mart and wrapped it myself.

Jared said...

In most of our e-mail discussions with you my Coach Fran loving pal, we often get bogged down defining single words --- usually to the detriment of the discussion. (at least that's my opinion)

But in the spirit of the big, bad atheist blog, let me play gods advocate here.

You feel that Stacy's concept of her gift ...

(and it is truly a special ability that she posseses...in the sense that she has this natural gift to empathize and counsel certain people in which most people would have zero motivation/or bias to do so)

...is subject to interpretation.

Ok, let's run with that premise because I don't believe you meant that our ideas were shallow....and I do you see where you're headed with it.

Correct me if I'm wrong.

Kent said...

Amen.

Jared said...

I'm assuming 'amen' means that you agreed with some or part of my last comment. Ok.

So, how is the concept of a 'gift' any different than any attribute that I possess or lack.

I have brown eyes, I'm slow, I have red facial hair, I've been told I'm funny (questionable), I can read people very well, am incredibly good looking -- not to mention others...nunchuck skills, bowhunting skills, computer hacking skills.

The point is, some are learned and some are inherent.

These inherent traits / skillz / attributes cannot be a starting point for our discussion. There is a presupposition that you leap from.

Methinks we should back up.

Kent said...

I'm sorry, I didn't even see your post. The 'Amen' was in response to Stacy's last. I really wasn't trying to get bogged down. I simply read her post, and her language struck me as odd and somewhat contradictory. I didn't want to jump to any conclusions about what she meant, so I asked what I thought was a simple question. I have to disagree that the definition or meaning of single words doesn't contribute to an overall discussion; on the contrary I think their vital (see Stacey's response to your confusion over ascension to heaven). For me personally, it helps me to grasp a person's stance or true meaning. I should have a post to your 'Nice View' hopefully by tonight, but I have to narrow my response, and it's difficult. This is why I really prefer debates in person. I can talk spontaneously much faster than I can type. Plus you get to see the person's facial expressions, hear their voice inflections, and see their eyes. Same goes for poker.

Jared said...

I was not confused about Elijah's ascension....Her response was tongue in cheek.

In other words, the pastor's claim she linked was his own interpretation. and very shaky.

Kent said...

Case in point about being in person. Guess I should have followed the link to Pastor Reagan's shaky site.

Stacy said...

Kent-

My question is/was why is the choice of one word the most interesting part of this post? My post is about me being me with or without god/God. Why does it matter what I call it as long as it's not a 'fruit'? If I'd have said that, I would see why you would question me on it.

Your stance is that my "gift" is from God and should be recognized as such. You have told me before, more than once, that you don't see how I CAN'T believe with all the love I have - this is because you, as Jared says, presuppose the existence of God, and I don't think you can think about things any other way. I am eagerly awaiting your comments on Jared's post, because I think it is an important one, moreso than this one of mine...perhaps that is why mine was easier to comment on.

My uptightness came from your accusation of shallowness. Perhaps you were referring to a single/particular post that you didn't feel had much depth, in which case I would hope you wouldn't come across as captain generalista in the future.

Jarrod said...

While we are on the topic of singularities and their value/detriment to productive conversation: I think the important part of all these comments so far can be defined in a singularity used by Kent..."Poker"
Game on.

Sorry, that was pointless. I also noticed the use of the word "gift" and thought the same thing, but didn't really take the thought any further than that.

Jared said...

I call.

Sorry, that was pointless also.

The idea that I took away from Stacy’s post was the concept of mass euphoria. More specifically, the study of

neurotheology–

(from reference.com)

The study of correlations of neural phenomena with subjective experiences of spirituality and hypotheses to explain these phenomena. Proponents of neurotheology claim that there is a neurological and evolutionary basis for subjective experiences traditionally categorized as spiritual.

I haven’t done much reading on this topic but anyone who has attended a ‘revival’ type experience can attest to an obvious high. Researches have identified certain neurological responses in the temporal lobe that might contribute to ethereal experiences.

Certainly an interesting topic.

Lesa said...

Stacy, I enjoyed your post – thank you. It reminded me of the many times I deeply felt what I interpreted as the presence of God. But, for me, it never felt like joy or euphoria. It was more a sense of overwhelming humility and… smallness (for lack of a better word). It was so powerful that it would bring me to tears and it happened almost every time I stepped into a church.

Since I overcame the fear of questioning the existence of a creator, I have found this aspect of religion one of the most fascinating. A year or so ago, there was an article in TIME, entitled “Are we Hard-Wired for Religion”. That article helped me to solidify the concept that I knew I had experienced. All those years, I gave the credit to God, when in reality it had nothing to do with the existence of a creator.

I definitely will read more on Neurotheology (thank you Jared). But what I’m most interested in at the moment, is how to help people break the addition to the “spiritual awe” drug. I have found that logic is not a good substitute for this drug and “heavy users” have no interest it. In fact, while under the influence of this drug, life without it seems meaningless and not worth living. What is the methadone for the narcotic called religion? And almost as fascinating are the questions about what purpose this drug has served in the evolution of our species. Perhaps that is another discussion…