Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Gone in 37 Seconds

I was involved in many pranks over my years at Quaker Lake, and when you play pranks on friends you always run the risk of really ticking people off. I remember two such occasions very clearly.

Mike Newsome was a cabin counselor with me in 1978 and '79. He was a great guy and an awesome counselor, and we had lots of fun together for those two summers. Mike loved camp and everything about it except for one thing- Mike hated snakes. Not just the normal fear that most of us have- he was terrified of even the smallest snake. One day a few of us were walking back to the boys cabins when we happened on a small, dead snake lying on the road. I say a few of us because I have no solid memory of who else was to blame for what was about to happen, so I will just take it all myself. Upon seeing the snake, it occurred to me that we should use it to scare Mike. So we picked it up, took it to his cabin and placed it in his shoe. Then all we had to do was sit back and wait for the screams. But it all blew up from there. When Mike found the snake he was startled, but his fear quickly turned to anger. I couldn't understand it at the time. This was a prank- it was normal behavior for us. What I didn't see was that he felt betrayed. His friends had taken one of his deepest fears and used it to make fun of him. It bothered him so much that he didn't even bother to try for revenge, as I recall. He eventually forgave me (us) and everything was cool- but I learned a valuable lesson. Pranks that hurt people are not funny, no matter how good they sound at the time. Mike and I remained good friends, at least until we both developed a crush on the same female staffer- but that's a story best left untold!

Denise May was a very important person in my life. She was a dear friend who is very much responsible for my meeting and dating the current Mrs. Jones. She also served for several years as the Head Cook at Quaker Lake. She had a little car (a Datsun, if I recall correctly! Google that to find out what they are today...) that she loved. One day, for reasons I don't recall, we decided to steal her car and hide it in the woods. We had often hidden staff cars behind the pool house, but this was different. We would drive it into the woods and to the campout area, which meant we had to drive over a bridge that WE (the staff and Neal) had built. This was stupid on many levels, but there were two main problems. Number one, Denise was not known for taking pranks well. And number two, she was the HEAD COOK! There are a lot of things you can mess with at camp, but you never want to anger the cook. Nevertheless, we pressed on, and as a few of us distracted her, others sped away in her car and successfully drove it into the woods. I could give you lots of details of the next few days, but I'll keep it brief and just say things were not pleasant. We had pulled off a nearly perfect car heist- gone in 37 seconds- and all it brought us was grief, and no seconds on dessert. (Another factor- in the dog days of summer, at a camp with no air conditioning anywhere, one of life's great blessings was to be asked to go to the grocery store for the cook. Never tick off the cook...)

One of the many lessons QLC taught me was that no game, no stunt, no prank and no words are funny if they humiliate and anger someone else- no matter how funny it may seem to you. It is so easy to get carried away with ourselves, when in fact, Jesus commands us to always put others first. A laugh over a snake is not worth loosing a friends over; Denise's cobbler was much to valuable to lose over a hidden car. And knocking the screens out of the boys cabins with water balloons ceases to be fun when the full wrath of Neal comes falling down upon you...but that's tomorrow's story.

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Orange Jacket

Every professional golfer dreams of winning the Masters. Winning that tournament once makes your entire career a success. Money, fame and glory are yours. But ask any pro golfer what really matters about winning the Masters and they will all tell you the same thing- the green jacket. The green jacket is unique. Only Master's winners can wear them. After one Master's champion wore his jacket on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno several years ago, Jon Stewart was quoted as saying "that's the first piece of original material on The Tonight Show since Johnny left!" The green jacket is special, and if you aspire to golf greatness you aspire to wear the green jacket.

I suppose I was about 15 when I became obsessed with the Orange Jacket. I was serving at Quaker Lake Camp as a Counselor in Training (later to be called Counselor Assistant) when I became aware of the prestige of it. On Friday night, when it came time to walk to the Campfire Circle, the QLC summer staff almost all wore their orange windbreakers that said Quaker Lake Staff Camp. It was actually a circle that said Quaker Lake on top, and Camp on the bottom with Staff in the middle. But when you looked at it, it seemed to say Quaker Lake Staff Camp. In any case, they were cool. And the ONLY way you could have one was to be one of 14 people hired to be full-time summer staff. I knew I wanted to work at QLC someday. The staff there were the coolest people in the world in my eyes, and I longed to be one of them. And I worked hard to get to that point. I volunteered every chance I got, went to all the camps and events I could, and made sure I had a good reputation with the people in charge. The first year you are eligible to work staff is the summer after your high school graduation, and so I applied. Everyone thought I would be hired, but all four boys counselors- Bill Terrell, Alan Brown, Roland Pugh and Joseph Neal- returned from the previous year (Not only do I remember who they were, but I believe I have them in order, cabins 1-4! But I can't remember what my wife told me to get at Wal-Mart today...). So I didn't get a job, even though they should have hired me as the Assistant Cook (would have saved a lot of "Robin Pots"). Neal Thomas told me I could volunteer any week I wanted to, so I was there 6 out of 8 weeks that summer. I loved it, and I felt like part of the staff. But I didn't have an Orange Jacket...

I was hired the next summer for the first of my 6 years as summer staff, and the highlight came early, when Lewis Farlow came from Beeson's in High Point and I could get my Orange Jacket. This was real. This was amazing. I had achieved my goal. I was special. I was the counselor in Boys Cabin 1. Even though the jacket was paper thin and no help in the rain, and made me sweat like a pig, I wore it every chance I got. And I knew that all the campers who aspired to do the same, to have their own Orange Jackets, looked at me with awe and envy.

The trouble with all of that was this- wearing an Orange Jacket, or working at QLC, did not make me special. When you are a camper, you believe every counselor is a hero and a saint. When you become a counselor, you wonder "how can they hire someone like me?" You continue to fail and make mistakes. As the years have gone by many of my former youth have gone on to work at camp, and I happen to know none of them are perfect! Heather Beggs Varner, the current Camp Director,will be featured in many stories on this blog once I hit the Springfield years, and they will make you laugh! I loved my years working at camp, just like I loved my years in student ministry, but I have to tell you- you'd better love those jobs to do them, or you will be miserable. Anyone who worked at camp for the glory and admiration of the campers was in for a long summer. Anyone who did it for the money in those days- well, they were just stupid! You put up with the heat, the long hours, the rotten campers (no one likes to talk about them, but they exist!), the outdoor toilets and the total lack of sleep because you feel like you are doing something tremendous, something amazing for the kids each and every week. Every week you face a new group of campers, and every week you have to give them all of your energy and love, with no holding back for the weeks still to come. You have to do work like that because you love it and because God has called you to it, or it will eat you alive. You see, it's not Quaker Lake Staff Camp. Camp is all about the campers- and if you don't get that, then no Orange Jacket can save you.

I don't remember exactly when the staff quit wearing Orange Jackets, but it has been a very long time. Today I think they have staff shirts, but I am sure the feeling is the same among campers- I want to wear one of those someday. And that is awesome! I just hope they all learn, like so many others before them, that working at QLC does not make you great. You working at QLC helps make camp great. Billy Joel once wrote I never claimed to be a hero and I never said I was a saint... If I did either of those things I apologize. But how smart were we in those days, anyway? After all, we wore orange jackets in public!

Because of Jesus,

Monday, September 28, 2009

A Waste of Good Cookies

This coming weekend, October 2-4, they are having a Quaker Lake staff reunion that we will not be able to attend. In honor of this gathering of some of my favorite people, every post this week will have a Quaker Lake connection. It's my little way of participating in the festivities!

Those of you who have been following along with this blog for the past month will be aware of the name Carl Semmler (at right- he's the groom! Also in this picture are Beth, Tammy, Donna, Steve, Martha and Alan from previous posts.). Carl and I grew up going to school together; his brother Steve was my best friend for many years; he worked as a lifeguard at QLC for several summers; and he, Alan Brown and I took a cross country trip in May of 1979. He has been featured in several stories here already, including his work on the infamous Project Myrtle. Today I want to tell you a few more.

When we were in high school our New Garden Friends youth group attended a gathering of local Quaker youth groups called a Quarterly Meeting. We knew almost no one else there, and realized quickly that some of the other groups were a good bit more "religious" than we were. After some gathering time, we were seated in a circle, with the groups sitting together. The leader said we were going to go around the circle and introduce ourselves, and from where they started there were maybe 7 or 8 youth who would go before our first representative, Carl. The first person began by telling their name, church and the exact day and time they had been "saved." This was not a word we had in our spiritual vocabulary. We talked about "walking in the Light" and being on a "spiritual journey," not about THE day we met Jesus. As each person followed the same pattern, we grew more uncomfortable and wondered what Carl would say. When his turn arrived, he kept it simple: "I'm Carl Semmler from New Garden, and I play basketball." The pressure was immediately off the rest of us, and we were very grateful to Carl for his courage to say only what he knew to be true at the time.
Carl was a master prank player at QLC (although he and Mark Farlow were the recipients of maybe the greatest prank ever, when the Dentiste twins and Emily Ballus went in their room in the lodge and stringed it, making it look like one of those laser systems thieves have to avoid in the movies. They then put molasses on the string and hung extremely stinky lake weed all over the room. It was a classic!). One summer Carl had decided to try a nasty and daring prank on one of the female staff members who used a shampoo that was dark and gooey- much like pancake syrup! He thought he would replace her shampoo with syrup and see what would happen. Unfortunately for Carl, this was the summer the "no wasteful pranks rules" went into effect, and so he could not use syrup. He spent all summer trying to make his own, boiling down tree bark to get sap and hoping for a miracle. He did not get one, but he did manage to ruin a perfectly good pot from the kitchen in the process. Ah, what might have been...

Carl, Alan and I began our trip out west by leaving Greensboro for Chatanooga and Carl's Uncle Ronnie's house. We left in my Dad's Honda Civic wagon that we called Clyde, and we were loaded down with camping gear, luggage and a tin of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies given to us by Martha Ratledge. For reasons I no longer remember, we went from NC to TN by way of Atlanta. We hit Atlanta around afternoon rush hour, and Alan was driving and Carl was asleep in the back seat. He awoke to find us in the middle of a traffic jam, and greeted us with the following words: "No rush guys, but I need to find a bathroom." Less than a minute later he was throwing up all over the back seat. Desperate for damage control, I dumped Martha's cookies on the floor and handed him the tin to barf in- but it was no use. We finally worked our way off of the interstate and to a gas station, where we cleaned up the car- but the smell was unbearable. The first day of a month long trip and Carl had totaled the interior of Clyde. Lacking anything else (and apparently common sense as well) we used my Gillette Foamy Lemon-Lime shaving creme on the vinyl seats to try and mask the smell. The result was a smell never before or since found in this world or any other. We made it to Chatanooga and begged Uncle Ronnie to keep Carl, but he refused, and so we carried on without further incident.

My theme for this week will be simple- Quaker Lake Camp is a very ordinary place that has always been made special by extraordinary people. It is also a place where people have been moved by God, whether they are on a "spiritual journey" or have been "saved." Carl Semmler is one of those extraordinary people...even if he did make us waste some perfectly good cookies!

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Leader of the Band

Today would have been my Dad's 75th birthday. Not a day goes by that Marilyn, Will and I don't miss him and think of him. Anyone who ever knew Bill Jones has great memories and stories of him, and so many shared those stories at his memorial service. He was a wonderful father, husband, coach, boss and friend...and he was a GREAT grandfather to Will. There are so many stories I could fill this space with today, but the one I want to tell you is about Bernard Hughes.

In the early to mid 1970's my Dad was coaching little league football for the Guilford College Steelers. It was late one summer, and teams were organizing and he was out looking for players, ages 8-10. As he drove through a very rough area of our community he spotted a couple of kids tossing a football around, so he stopped and asked them how old they were and if they would like to play for his team. One kid in particular was very excited. His name was Bernard Hughes. After some searching, Dad found Bernard's mom and asked her if it would be OK for Bernard to play football. She said yes, and signed the release to let him play. We never saw her again. Dad quickly discovered that Bernard had nothing. Dad would pick him up everyday and take him to practice, and then take him home at night. Bernard had no decent shoes, so Dad bought him football cleats. We soon found that Bernard was a natural football player who could run like the wind. But he didn't know his left from his right, so Dad taped "L" and "R" on his respective feet so he would know which way to run. He wound up being a pretty good player for the team.
Bernard started coming by our house and hanging out, usually so he could get something to eat. Dad would give him things to do and feed him. One Thanksgiving, Bernard came by and helped us pick up leaves in the yard, and Mom invited him to stay for dinner. You have never seen anyone enjoy a meal more. Bernard became part of the family, until one day he just disappeared. His mom moved and took Bernard with her, and we never even knew where they went. There were other Bernards as the years went by, but he is the one I remember best.

Jesus said in Matthew 25 that they way we treat the least important people in the world is the way we treat Him. My Dad was not much of a church-goer for the last 35 years of his life, but he understood Jesus. It never occured to him to treat Bernard, a poor black kid from the projects, with anything but love and respect. It never occured to him to treat anyone with anything but love and respect, and that is why everyone who knew my Dad was touched by him.

So today, even more that usual, I miss him. And though I continue to fall short, I want to live life with the same joy and love that he did. To borrow from the late Dan Fogelberg (again!): "My life has been a poor attempt to imitate the man. I'm just a living legacy to the leader of the band." May Jesus use us to touch all the Bernards of the world in His name.

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, September 26, 2009

And Another Thing...

This is post number 32 on this blog, which means I have one month down, and 333 more blogs to go to meet my goal of blogging every day for one year. It had been a great experience so far, and here are some things I have learned:

  • I am doing this for myself. If no one else is reading it, it is still worth doing, because it lets me celebrate the people and places that have been so special to me. More importantly, it lets me celebrate what Jesus has done for me!

  • Having said that, it has been so cool to hear from old friends like Jay Osborne, Jay Wilkins, Leigh Ann Venable, Teresa Reep Tysinger, Darek Newby, Brook Teoli Elaine, Laura Wheeler and others. It would be really great to hear from anyone who is reading, so I have added the guestbook feature.

  • It is difficult to keep these posts short. I want to tell the stories in detail so anyone can feel like that they were there. Sometimes, to keep them short enough to read without napping, I have to leave out stuff I really like. For instance, on the post The Asheboro Flash, I left out one of my favorite songwriting stories. Alan Brown and I were crashing at Quaker Lake one night during the "off season" and we started fooling around with new lyrics to the classic Bread tune If. Among the extremely weird lines was "if Kansas declared war on the rest of the United States, they wouldn't have a chance...we've already got them surrounded..." What a shame that song was never finished, huh?

  • I really thought this would be about telling funny stories, but it is really more about what Jesus has done in my life and how He has used others to help me along the way. The Gospel is a narrative that plays out in each of our lives, and that story is really the only story worth telling!

  • You may have noticed that all of the posts so far are from a very long time ago. I intend to stay chronological, moving from one era to another whenever the time seems right. So New England, Springfield, Kissimmee, Hinsdale, Tampa and Waycross, your time is coming- sometime in the next 333 posts!

So that's how I see things so far. It's been a blast so far, and I look forward to seeing what is still to come. And by the way- I think the best post so far was written by my dog, Conner. Life sure keeps me humble...

Because of Jesus,

Friday, September 25, 2009

Reunited...And It Feels So Good

Relationships were complicated long before that became a status on Facebook. For me, the definition of a complicated relationship will always be Donna Haynes Myers (That's her in the picture, leading vespers with me at camp. I'm the one in the riculously short shorts!). Donna and I went through so many stages and situations together that it is amazing either one of us survived- but we did! We began as friends, dated for a year or so (until I ruined that by being a 20 year old male who was horrified of commitment- so I treated her horribly and she dumped me.) and then didn't speak for a while. (On a related topic, we dated for one summer when I worked at camp and she did not. There is little harder than tying to maintain a relationship with someone who is not at camp while you are. You spend every waking hour with a group of people you really like, and who are going through the same things you are. Your one day off, from noon on Saturday until 2 PM Sunday, you want to relax and hang out away from camp with those same people. Inviting someone into the mix is difficult, because they don't get what you have just been through for a week, nor do they get the inside jokes and references. I saw many a relationship go down in flames during summers...) That's when things really got interesting. We needed a female counselor at Quaker Lake Camp one summer, and I convinced her to apply. We worked together at QLC and became friends again, and then when Martha Ratledge Farlow left as my sidekick at New Garden Friends Meeting, Donna took her place. We did youth group together for a couple of years and had a great time doing it. Eventually, she sang at our (Marilyn and I) wedding and we were at hers, and she was at New Garden for my Dad's memorial service in 2006. It's fair to say that we overcame complicated.

I tell you all this so that I may tell you two good Donna stories from our time at New Garden. I don't remember the exact date or occasion of the first one, but it has remained in my memory for a lot of years. Myself, Bruce Reynolds, Marshall Ratledge, the Hollowell boys and some other guys were sitting on the front steps at New Garden on a Saturday morning (I think) waiting for others to arrive for some event. Donna came walking across the street from Guilford College, and we could see her from quite a distance. As she entered the parking lot, the guys began to sing the Peaches and Herb classic: Reunited, and it feels so good... They faded out as Donna got closer, but by then I was already laughing so hard it was too late. Things were still too complicated at that point to try and explain HOW that could be funny, so we didn't tell her. That song still makes me laugh...

Another time we were coming back from Myrtle Beach, and it had already been a very long trip. We had car troubles and a variety of other issues, and all of us were tired and and a bit ill-tempered. Donna was almost always in control of her emotions in front of the youth; she was always smiling and keeping spirits high. But for reasons I don't remember, I asked her to take the lead in our caravan with the car she was driving. It wasn't a fair request, because she really didn't know the way very well, but she gave it a shot. We reached a point where highway 220 split into business and bypass, and she choose the wrong one. As we flagged her down to tell her we were going the wrong way, all of the frustration erupted in her and she screamed at me "I don't want to lead- damn it!!!" The kids were at once both stunned at her anger and laughing at her language, because it was soooo not Donna! It was a story we all loved telling and laughing at over the years. And we all loved Donna!

The point is, relationships, ALL relationships, are complicated and take work. Think of all I would have missed out on if Donna or I had just given up because I was a jerk. Think of how different my life would be now if Marilyn had given up just because I require so much effort to put up with! And think of what the world would be like if God had given up on us because we are all sinners- and He had never sent Jesus to redeem us. Someday, when we all get to heaven, Jesus will be waiting for us, and I bet He'll be singing: Reunited, and it feels so good...

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Hall of Fame: Terri Johnson

I have always been a dreamer.  I love thinking about the future in the wildest ways possible, dreaming up things I would love to do or be given the opportunity.  One such dream did, for many years, involve buying the Betsy B.  The Betsy B is a 3-floor house that sleeps up to 45 people located on the oceanfront in North Myrtle Beach, SC.  We first discovered it as a place to stay with a group of friends from the youth group I was in at New Garden, but it later became sacred ground for groups from Springfield Friends Meeting and First United Methodist Kissimmee, and you will hear many more Betsy B stories along the way.  I dreamed of buying the house and turning it into a retreat center for church groups.  And in one room of the Betsy B would be my Youth Group Hall of Fame.

The ESPN personalities Mike and Mike In the Morning often discuss the topic "What makes someone a Hall of Famer?"  There are of course many answers you could give, but one of their criteria always stands out for me.  When you say the name, do you immediately think "Hall of Fame?"  If they don't pass the "do they feel like they belong" test, then it is difficult for any amount of statistics to overcome that.  When I begin to think about who belongs in my Youth Group Hall of Fame it is the same way.  Some people are in great stories and were special in many ways, but I just don't think "Hall of Fame" when I say their names.  Which brings me to Terri Johnson.

Terri Johnson (pictured) was a part of the New Garden group in the late 70's and early 80's.  In many ways she was the heart of that group.  It was a group dominated by strong male personalities and characters, but Terri always more than held her own.  She would do verbal battle with the boys and not back down, with her ever-present partners Beth Edgerton and Kathryn Burris by her side.  She was a brilliant student who went on to become a lawyer.  She was an attractive young lady who's brown eyes once prompted Alan Brown to write a song about her- She Has Eyes Like My Dog (the song was never finished, fortunately!).  When the guys would give her trouble, she, Beth and Kathryn would taunt them, with one of them saying in a brash tone "in the way" and another responding "I'd say!"  But the truth is I don't have great Terri stories to share.  I don't have one memory that stands above the rest.  I just know that she was a great leader in that group, a great friend to many of those students, and a great friend to me.  If I were starting a youth group today I would gladly take 20 just like her.  We shared suffering through high school French with the same inept teacher (several years apart) and would often mispronounce French words to each other, only to have Terri always respond "that's French, ya' know!"  And later on, as she worked at Quaker Lake and as she worked in downtown Greensboro and become good friends with Marilyn, my respect for her continued to grow.

So when I say Terri Johnson Harris, I think "Hall of Fame."  No questions asked, she would have been the first inductee.  My chances of buying the Betsy B are pretty slim, since it would cost more than I made in 28 years of youth ministry, and my current work as a Dad and house husband will not make up the difference!  The Youth Group Hall of Fame exists only in my dreams, and in my memories, because I have been incredibly blessed by God to know so many students, most of whom are Hall of Famers, and many of whom you have already read about or will read about in the days to come.  I continue to pray that God will hold them close each and every day.  Until next time, "au revoir."  That's French, ya' know!

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Boy Like Me, Man Like You

Ever wonder what Jesus was like as a kid?  Those stories are conspicuously absent from the Gospels, except for Him teaching in the temple at age 12 or so.  We know that He lived without sin, but how close to the line did He walk?  Was He a teacher's pet or a class clown? Did He flirt with the girls?  He was tempted an as adult- how much greater was the temptation at age 9?  I know none of this really matters historically, but for those of us who want to be Christ-followers a little more info could have been helpful.  Today I share the words of one of my favorite songs, written by one of my favorite people- the late Rich Mullins (pictured at left).  Think about Jesus, the man, and Jesus, the Son of God. And let the last line just wash over you and become your prayer- Jesus, let me be like you!  We will never get there, but we can let the love of Jesus shine through us.  If we ever really do grow up...

Boy Like Me, Man Like You
You was a baby like I was once, You was cryin' in the early mornin'
You was born in a stable Lord, Reid Memorial is where I was born
They wrapped You in swaddling clothes
Me they dressed in baby blue
But I was twelve years old in the meeting house
Listening to the old men pray
And I was tryin' hard to figure out
What it was that they was tryin' to say
There You were in the temple, they said You weren't old enough to
 know the things You knew

Well, did You grow up hungry? Did You grow up fast?
Did the little girls giggle when You walked past?
Did You wonder what it was that made them laugh?
And did they tell You stories 'bout the saints of old? Stories about their faith?
They say stories like that make a boy grow bold, stories like that make a man walk straight
And You was a boy like I was once But was You a boy like me
Well, I grew up around Indiana, You grew up around Galilee
And if I ever really do grow up, Lord I want to grow up and be just like You
Well, did You wrestle with a dog and lick his nose?
Did You play beneath the spray of a water hose?
Did You ever make angels in the winter snow?
And did they tell You stories 'bout the saints of old? Stories about their faith?
They say stories like that make a boy grow bold,
stories like that make a man walk straight
Did You ever get scared playing hide and seek?
Did You try not to cry when You scraped Your knee?
Did You ever skip a rock across a quiet creek?
And did they tell You stories 'bout the saints of old? Stories about their faith?
They say stories like that make a boy grow bold,
stories like that make a man walk straight
And I really may just grow up and be like You... someday

I think Jesus the boy would have made one heck of a friend...but He makes an even better Savior!  And as for me really growing up...keep praying everyone!

Because of Jesus,

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Asheboro Flash

There is absolutely no question about the identity of the number one character I ever met at Quaker Lake. It has to be Alan Brown. I met Alan at a winter camp sometime in the mid 1970's. I didn't really hang out with him in those days, but I knew I liked him. Some of my earliest memories of Alan are of him playing guitar and singing Mr. Bonjangles with the late Jeff Morgan. I also remember him performing I'm Easy in the Fireplace Room at the lodge (and being overly impressed because I thought he wrote it!). It really wasn't until the summer of 1976 when he was on the QLC staff and I volunteered most of the summer that we became close. My life, and Quaker Lake, would never be the same.

Alan was known in those days as Flash, shortened from The Asheboro Flash. Wallace Sills had given him the name after catching Alan kissing two girls in one night less that an hour apart, and it stuck. There was a whole generation of campers who didn't even know his name was Alan- he was, simply, Flash! But to me, he was my partner. Alan taught me early on in my days at camp that dead time for campers usually led to trouble, and we saw it as our job to entertain, even if only for a five minute lull in the action. We created Opera Day and Chant Day just to pass time. We would sing silly songs and create disturbances to get the kids attention and pull them together. I vividly remember Alan entertaining the troops with a camper named Eric Hunsucker, who could belch on cue. Alan would sing "bright eyes don't cry.." and Eric would let loose with huge "BUUURRRRPPPP!!!" And the other campers would love it.

Alan's influence in my life extended far outside the boundaries of camp. We were at Guilford College together. We were roommates in two different apartments (Hidden Lakes and Chateau at Random Woods) and together with Carl Semmler we spent a month in 1979 travelling across the country. Spending a month together in a Honda Civic will seriously bond people together. We shared so many classic moments together. Here are a few of my favorites:

1) Alan comes to my house early one morning and says on his way into class from his home in Asheboro he has had an idea for a song. Actually, he had almost a whole song, and within the hour Blue Pick-Up Truck was finished.
2) The night before a winter camp was to start we were at my parent's house, where we stayed up all night writing Roll Over Lucy. Unfortunately, when we got up the next morning we could no longer remember the tune! To this day I am still not sure if the way we sang it was the tune we intended...
3) We, along with our friends Mark Hyde and Bill Terrell, loved to play hearts and spades- in fact, I think we could have received advanced degrees in both! There were a few times when we convinced unsuspecting newcomers that we had never played, and allowed them to teach us the games...too much fun!
4) Producing the infamous Four Songs...Two Fools cassette tape for our friend Brent Bill and his son Ben, who was our biggest (read as ONLY) fan. The Animal Song, Blue Pick-Up Truck, Roll Over Lucy and the rarely heard classic We've Got Gas were the songs. No question as to who the fools were...  
Another time we came up with this card game called Triple Jim Bob, which had no rules except that you had to make up the rules as you went along. Alan and I would baffle people with ridiculous rules and names for the different situations in the game. It was great seeing how long it would take people to catch on that we were making it up as we went!

I guess you get the idea...we were dangerous together. I can't even begin to tell you how much I miss him. There have been others in my life with whom I could get wild and creative (Jerry Hanbery comes to mind) but no one else quite like Alan. I will never forget walking from the lodge to the boy's cabins, late at night,and stopping to salute the flag post (actually a light pole!) and singing the Quaker Lake Alma Mater:

In the city of Climax, past the Climax Mall, there's a place where campers visit and never return at all. Quaker Lake is quite a place to spend a week or two, but never press your luck with others or they might do unto you...

Through the tough times, the great times, the silly times and our Sunday afternoon conversations about the campers we were about to spend a week with, Alan was always there. I just hope someday we get to do a farewell concert featuring We've Got Gas and The Parakeet Song...

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Quaker Lake Characters

You have already met some of the people (David Fields, Lin Osborne, Laura Wheeler) who made my years as a camper, Counselor Assistant and staff member at QLC such a huge part of my life in some of my earlier posts. Today I want to give you a quick look at ten more of the "characters" ( in no particular order) that I will not soon forget! And there are still so many more...
10) Darrell McBane- I served "Daddy Darrell" as a CA for two years in high school, and we became good friends, hanging out on the weekends and playing pranks. I learned much about being a good camp counselor from Darrell, including how to always focus on the campers needs first. Which leads me to...
9) Becky Long- Sweet, quiet little camper who was on the softball field minding her own business when a girl doing a flip inadvertently threw a wooden heeled Dr. Shoals sandal that hit her above her eye, cutting her badly. I grabbed her bleeding head and pinned it against me so she couldn't see how much blood there was, picked her up and started to lodge for help. Someone grabbed her head, pulled it away from my blood-soaked chest, and said "let me see." The blood gushed into her eyes and she basically went into shock. She was rushed to the hospital and was fine, and we became good friends. Later she was on a New York trip as well. She was a real sweetie! Now the guy who pulled her head away...
8) Roland Pugh. One of the first friends I made at camp as a camper, and the son of a pastor, Roland was a good guy who could be a little of a know-it-all sometimes. In our mostly chaotic version of volleyball he would always quote rules from the official rule book that none of us knew or cared about. He always had to have the last word on anything medical. And to quote one of our cooks, Roland "thinks he is God's gift to women." Which brings us to...
7) Brian Jackson. The same cook finished that statement by saying "now Brian Jackson IS God's gift to women!" Brian was a star football player who was known and loved by all the campers his age. He was a great CA for me one week, and was part of the group who loved to sing The Hog Calling Song: "When it's hog calling time in Nebraska, I'll be calling my hogs over you." Brian was also a part of the best looking couple I remember from those days...
6) Leigh Ann Everhart Venable was the other half of that couple. If they had been around today, they would have one of those combo names, like "BriAnn" or "LeighBri." Leigh Ann was a part of many of my favorite early days at camp, and then was on staff my last summer. We had all kinds of fun together right up until she married one of my best friends, Terry Venable. Later, Terry came to Springfield Friends Meeting as pastor a year or so after I had left there, she and I had a simple deal- she would not tell Carl stories and I would not tell Leigh Ann stories! We will always have "our the middle of the tundra!" And I can't talk abut Leigh Ann without talking about...
5) Jay Osborne. The two of them are joined in my brain for a variety of reasons, including the infamous "Empty Cabin" week. They are also there because they were such good friends to each other and to me through the tragedy of the death of Robin Davis we endured together that same summer. Jay's famous "I'm melting" line as the Tin Man in Little Theater production of The Ozzard of Wuz; his dropping my guitar off the roof of the lodge; and his admission that counselors, not lifeguards, were "where the rubber hits the road" at QLC always will keep him in my memory. Then there was also the time I tried to fix him up with...
4) Jodi Coble, AKA "Abby Normal." Jodi was a camper and staffer who just made you sick. Everything she did she did well. Painting, shooting, academics, name it, she was good at it. Too good for Jay, apparently, because my plan failed miserably. When she was in college we took to writing each other fictitious letters, hers signed by Abby Normal and mine signed by Snide Pendergrass. Marilyn and I had a wedding certificate for all the guests to sign at our wedding, and we were surprised later on to discover that Mr. & Mrs. Snide Pendergrass had attended. Now a vet in Colorado, Jodi was one of my favorite people. The last time I saw her she was preparing to run a marathon at Disney World. Disgusting.
3) Paul Routh has absolutely no connection to Jodi that I know of, but then Paul is connected to everyone it seems. He arrived as a camper for his first week of camp and would not quit crying until I finally got his mom to leave. He stayed...and stayed...and stayed! Camper, staff member or Yearly Meeting staffer, Paul has been a huge part if QLC for a very long time, right up until today. Just think, if I had sent him home with his mom we could have avoided all of this! :)
2) Pam Farlow. (In case you follow this blog and are wondering "is everyone connected to QLC named Osborne or Farlow, the answer is "pretty much.") Pam was a counselor the summer of 1976, a summer I volunteered three weeks. She was student at UNC and I was in high school. She had a bit of a crush on my friend Carl Semmler, and I became her confidant about that and a good many other things. She had a great impact on my desire to work at camp, and though I never really was around her much after that summer, she is definitely a character I remember.
1) And #1'll have to wait until tomorrow, because this guy gets a post all to himself. But don't worry, it'll be here in a flash...

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, September 19, 2009

A Blog From The Dog

Greetings! My name is Conner, the Jones' family dog, and I am your blogger for today. Daddy has the day off. I know he is not really my daddy, but he, Mommy and Will are my family and I think of them that way. You see, we dogs get it. I don't have many needs in life, but the ones I do have I know I can count on my family to provide for. I trust in them. I need food, they give me food. I need to sleep, they make a bed for me (actually I can sleep most anywhere, but you get the point!). I need my fuzzy ball, which is my security blanket, and they keep providing me with new ones. When I make a mess, they clean it up (and since I eat Pedigree dog food, I am an optimum pooper! Is that a dumb commercial or what?). They play ball with me and rub behind my ears and give me baths because they love me. Daddy and the family care for all my needs.

That doesn't mean I get everything I want. I want to catch a squirrel in my backyard, but that ain't happening! I want to eat their hamburgers and hot dogs and steaks, but I seldom get to. I want to go to school with Will, but he never takes me. I want them to have Dairy Queen Blizzards every night, because Daddy gets his without chocolate so I can have some- but that doesn't happen as often as I would like. But I can live without the things I want, because I know I will get everything I need.

I used to feel sorry for you humans because it always seemed you had to do everything for yourselves- because you didn't have a daddy like mine. You always seem to be running everywhere, trying to get power, fame and money and all kinds of stuff that you want. But then I found out that you humans have a Daddy who will look after your needs, but you choose not to trust Him. You have a Daddy (Abba- HA! Didn't know dogs could speak Greek, did ya?)) who loves you more than my family could ever love me (I don't think my daddy would ever sacrifice Will to save me...) and yet you keep trying to do everything for yourselves. Your Daddy promises to take care of your needs just like He takes care of the flowers and the birds. Your Daddy says to trust in Him and He will act. But you guys are just too busy trying to prove you don't need anyone to take care of you. I know it is a cliche, but it's a good one- Let go and let God. My family used to be really bad about that too- but sometimes hard times teach difficult lessons. They are learning to count on God, the Abba Father, the same way I count on them.
So anyway, I am so glad I have a daddy and a family to count on, to play with and to love. I hope you understand that you have a Daddy who is much bigger and better than mine, and who loves you in ways you cannot imagine. I'm off to to catch my third nap of the day, and then maybe play some ball and have a Beggin' Strip, if Will doesn't try to steal it! Hey, that will be the topic of my next blog- the Beggin' Strip, God's gift to dogs!

Until next time,


Friday, September 18, 2009

Influences- J. David Stone

Early in 1979 I was making one of my regular visits to the NC Yearly Meeting offices next door to New Garden when Jan Osborne asked me if I would be interested in attending a workshop in Charlotte. A group from NCYM was going to be part of something called The Creative Models of Youth Ministry Workshop, led by a guy named J. David Stone. I had never heard of either, but that was not surprising. At this point in my life I was leading a youth group (and making $50 a month) but had no idea what youth ministry was all about. I did what my youth leaders had done and worked in some things I had learned at Quaker Lake, but for the most part, I knew nothing. On top of that, I had recently been dealing with some strong feelings that God had something for me to do with my life- I just had no idea what. So when Jan asked if I wanted to go (and said it was free!), I was in.

To say that those few days in Charlotte changed my life is a massive understatement. I don't remember who was with us; I don't remember who the other leaders were; but I will never forget David Stone. Dave Stone turned out to be a youth pastor and teacher of youth ministry at Centenary College in Louisiana. He and his team were a whirlwind of games, programs and theories about youth ministry. I learned so much. Many of the things I learned were things that stayed with me my entire career in ministry. I learned how to train other to help me using the 4 Phases of Ease. I learned how to get students to open up to me through Re-Evaluation Counseling. I learned how important it was to meet students of their turf instead of always waiting for them to come to church. I learned games and songs. Anyone who ever had to last through the marathon that is Children Go Where I Send Thee can blame David Stone! And I learned that what I was doing was a ministry, not a glorified baby-sitting job, and that I was helping point students to Jesus. At least that was the task before me.

On the final evening I got a few moments to talk with David alone, and I shared with him that I was seeing my work with students in a whole new light, and that I was still praying for some clarity on what God was calling me to do with my life. He looked me in the eyes and said "I think God is calling you to ministry." Now when he said "ministry" I immediately thought "pastor" and started to panic. I really had not felt that calling at all, and I told him so. You have to understand that in 1979 very few people had chosen youth ministry as a career path. It was a steppingstone to being a "real" pastor, something you did until you were deemed ready to serve God in some more dignified fashion. So when David Stone put his hand on my shoulder and said "I think maybe God wants you to see youth ministry as a lifetime calling" it shook my world. I sat down, closed my eyes, and almost immediately knew he was right. I was scared, and I didn't really understand what it meant...but it felt so right in my soul. From that night forward,through all of the trials and tribulations to come, I knew I was where God wanted me to be, and I knew that the only way I could survive was to do this with Jesus.

I got back to New Garden and immediately started freaking people out. I wanted an office where we could meet with kids during the week. We started new programs and became much more focused on connecting kids to Christ. And over the next few years David Stone was always someone I could turn to when I had questions and doubts. And much later, in 1994, he helped me make the move to a Methodist church. We were only face-to-face on 3 occasions in my life, and I left him with so much still to learn. He understood about a lifetime of learning- his textbook was called The Complete Book of Youth Ministry- Vol. 1! But J. David Stone was the person God used to teach me that I was in this position of ministry so Jesus could use me. And for that I am forever grateful!

So when you look at the big picture, God used Jan Osborne to help set me on fire! I'd laugh- but it all happened to me!

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, September 17, 2009

"It Only Takes A Spark..."

Some people step into your life and are there for many years, through many adventures and stories. Others pass through your life life a Roger Clemens' fastball- you barely see them, yet the impact is significant. For me, Jan Osborne was one of the latter. You can read about her impact tomorrow. You can laugh about her today!

Jan succeeded Wallace Sills as the Youth & Christian Education Secretary of North Carolina Yearly Meeting in the late 70's. Those were big shoes to fill, and she had the disadvantage of not being well known among Carolina Quakers. She had many gifts in CE, but was a little shaky when it came to being with youth. Part of her job was to direct high school and junior high camps at Quaker Lake, and this was a challenge for her. She was not all that comfortable being in the great outdoors. But she gave it all she had for the couple of years she was involved.

In the summer of 1979 we were just finishing a 6th, 7th & 8th grade camp, which those of us on staff always thought of as a very tough week. There is a great deal of difference in maturity- physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally- between a 6th grader and an 8th grader. But this week had been relatively smooth. On Friday night, as we always did, we waited for night to fall and then headed deep into the woods for our closing Campfire Circle. After sharing in the silence and the words of campers and staff recounting the week, we did our ritual candle lighting. Everyone carried a lighted candle securely tightened into a small wooden base as we marched through the woods, across the Rainbow Bridge and around the lake to the dock. The dock was "H" shaped in those days, and the entire camp walked out on the dock with candles lit. Jan said a few words explaining the significance of each person now sharing their light with the world. She was explaining that in a few moments we would all place our candles on the lake, where the combined light was always a wondrous sight to see. As she leaned over to demonstrate, the sleeve of the flannel shirt she was wearing as a jacket got too close to the candle next to her...and Jan was on fire! Joseph Neal helped her get the burning shirt off and stomp out the fire as everyone looked on in shock. Jan was fine, and determined to give this week of camp the spiritual ending it deserved, so she went right back to her speech. She told everyone to place their candle on the lake, and then asked Martha Ratledge to lead us in singing Pass It On, a camp favorite. As we stood on the dock and admired the candles on the lake, Martha began to play her guitar, and the first line was sung: It only takes a spark, to get a fire going... I don't know if I laughed first, but I laughed out loud, and so did many others. The moment was gone. Suddenly everyone there was doubled up with laughter. Jan tried to restore some dignity, but it was too late.  I am sure someone closed with a prayer, but I don't remember it at all.  And that is the last thing I remember about Jan Osborne and Quaker Lake.

Jan may have set herself on fire and been caught in the spotlight while using the toilet in the woods (see my earlier post but even this "blur" in my life made such a significant difference in who I came to be. God so often blesses things and people to change our lives when we least expect it.  And Jan was about to set in motion events that God would use to change me forever.  As a matter of fact, you could say that Jesus was about to set me on fire...

Because of Jesus,

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Old Friends

For Beth (On right, with Becky, Tammy and Lisa), on her birthday...old friends are the best friends!

Marilyn and I have lived most of the last 15 years in central Florida, and for the most part we love it here. This time of year, however, always makes me yearn for North Carolina, because autumn is coming- but not to Florida! Football season is over before the weather cools off; the leaves rarely give you much color before falling; and wearing white (or swim suits) after Labor Day is just not a big deal! I notice this all the more because some of my favorite memories of growing up in the New Garden Friends youth group are of our annual autumn trip to Fancy Gap, VA, and Sam Levering's apple orchard. The weather there would always be crisp and cool, and we loved it.

Sam Levering was an amazing man. He and his family ran this huge orchard, but he also spent half the year in Washington, DC, helping to represent Quakers in the formation of policy. He spent a number of years helping to draft The Law of the Sea Treaty. I could spend many days writing about Sam (there are books about him!) but today I am focusing on his orchard. We would go and stay in a house built for migrant apple pickers. We would pick apples, sing songs, eat granola (with applesauce) and spend hours together in the sunshine and under the stars, just hanging out and becoming the best of friends. At the time, so many things seemed important, and if you had asked me then what I remember about Sam's place I would have told you about the girl I had a crush on, or the long walks and talks with my best friend Steve, or that the first song I ever wrote was written there. But looking back, Sam's place was at the heart of my relationship with my other best friend from those years- Beth. We also had long walks and talks; we sat out under the amazingly star-filled sky many nights just sharing our dreams, our fears and our joys. We would have marathon back rub sessions (the whole group always did, including the time Becky was sleep talking about saving a tree). I would whine about girls, and she would listen and comfort me. Every relationship would feel stronger after a weekend away at Sam's, but Beth and I always managed to keep it going and build on it. There was a time when no one knew or understood more about me than Beth...and I was very comfortable with that.

There were a few times when things almost got romantic between us, but (for better or for worse) we always managed to avoid that pitfall. I asked her to my senior prom (she was a year younger) just days after she had accepted another invitation from the guy she would marry a few years down the road. (Talk about your what ifs...) And still we remained the best of friends. I would visit her at college quite often, and we held each other's hands through some tough times there. I went to play cards at her place one night and met a young woman named Marilyn Steele there, although Beth's roommate Denise gets the credit for introducing us. I sang in her wedding, and was thrilled to have her at ours. When we moved to Florida, Beth and I lost touch, like so many people do as years go by. But when my dad died in 2006 and we had a memorial service for him at New Garden, she and Bob were there, along with so many of our friends from the old days. And just like it had always been, as soon as I saw Beth I knew everything was going to be ok.

I have lived a life that has allowed me to be touched by hundreds of people in meaningful ways. There have been others with whom I have shared more experiences, and certainly my incredible wife now knows me best, and loves me anyway. But in those teen years, when everything seems so important and so difficult, Beth was always there. So many times over my years of ministry I have prayed that kids in my groups would find friends like Beth, Tammy, Steve, Lisa, Carl and the rest. And I am not sure I ever said "thank you." So "thank you," Beth, for being there for me. I am not sure who wrote these words, but they seem so appropriate I will quote them anyway: "The miles may separate as life goes along, but the bond between friends will remain ever strong." And I know, each time I pray and each time I think of all of those incredible people in that youth group who changed my life, that because of Jesus our time together is not over. I wonder what Wild Thing will sound like in heaven...

Because of Jesus,

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Bleeping Jesus

Today's adventure in missing the point is an excerpt from John Fischer's brilliant book Real Christians Don't Dance. (Bethany House Publishers, 1988) John is a favorite of mine, having written such great songs as The All Day Song and Have You Seen Jesus My Lord. I have always loved this story, but it has taken on added significance to me as I have grown older and realized far too clearly how often I have "bleeped Jesus." You may feel like you, too, are a ragamuffin who has stumbled more often than not. Don't miss the big finish, as John reminds us that God does loves us despite our bleeps; indeed, he uses us in a world that understands sinners much better than saints. Enjoy, and feel the freedom! (NOTE: For my younger readers, a typewriter was what we used as a keyboard until computers were invented. See, history can be fun!)

I've been trying to ignore this for some time now, but I can't any longer; it just keeps coming up. Every time I type a chapter on this Smith Corona XE 5100 Spell-Right typewriter, I am faced with a dilemma: my typewriter bleeps.I remember George Harrison's lament, "My guitar gently weeps," on the Beatles' famous white album. Well, my typewriter gently bleeps, or more accurately, "sickly" bleeps. It's a very pathetic, injured sound, like a little tone sort of bent over another. It reminds me of an ailing little lamb with half a vocal chord — not that I've ever been around an ailing little lamb with half a vocal chord, but I somehow think if I ever was it would sound like the bleep on my Smith Corona. The bleep comes from a 50,000 word dictionary that has been programmed into the brains of this machine. Whenever I type a word that isn't on the list — "Bleebleep!" — it bleeps at me. This is actually a very useful feature. More often than not, the bleep signals a typing error rather than a spelling mistake. But the spelling of particular words is an issue over which I and the typewriter fight an ongoing controversy. Fifty thousand words is a lot, but not enough to get all the derivations of all the words I use, not to mention some words that have simply been programmed incorrectly or missed altogether. So my typewriter has a bleep I cannot wholly trust, often sending me scurrying to my Webster's to defend myself. Imagine carrying on a running argument with your typewriter over the spelling of certain words.

But the real problem came when I began to suspect my typewriter was not a Christian. I first started to notice it on certain theological words like sanctification, glorification, Christology, and soteriology (which got bleeped twice). Soon I discovered a very interesting thing when I typed the word Christian. It gets by unscathed, but Christians gets bleeped. Apparently my typewriter can handle one Christian at a time, but the idea of two or more of these things at once sends it squealing off like a sick lamb. This I-can-handle-one-but-don't-give-me-two phenomenon also applies to Baptists, Presbyterians, and Fundamentalists. Unfortunately for Methodists, they get bleeped before I can get to the final "t". I'm not even sure I want to mention what happens to Pente(bleep)costal(bleep)s(bleep).

But by far the biggest problem is the fact that my typewriter bleeps Jesus. Now it's true that many other common names get bleeped as well, but it's hard to understand how a typewriter that knows John, Dick, Harry, and Sally would not even know a name as important as Jesus. The final proof came when I found out Buddha got by without a sound! I can't deny it any longer; I'm going to have to face the hard facts: I'm dealing with a pagan typewriter.What shall I do? I'm trying to type out sanctified stuff and I'm getting bleeped all over the place! Well, as you can imagine, I've given this much thought and I've come up with three possible solutions:
1. Smash it. The thought that anything sanctified could ever come through a typewriter that gives Jesus the bleep is unthinkable. This typewriter shouldn't be allowed to live! Even if I sold it, I would be sending another pagan influence out into the world to corrupt someone else's mind. A typewriter that accepts Buddha and bleeps Jesus is certainly going to lend support to an already acceptable secularized world view. (Would you believe I just got bleeped on secularized?)
2. Surely someone out there in Christian World USA, some Christian electronic whiz-kid, has come up with a new mind for this thing. Perhaps I don't have to get rid of the whole typewriter, after all; I can just get it saved, take it to an electronic revival meeting. Someone must have thought of this by now.
3. I suppose I could find a way to use it as it is. I could use it as a reminder that I live in a world that is constantly bleeping Jesus. Every time I type that final s in His name and hear that sick squeal, I could feel the pain and reality of rejection. After all, "He came to his own and his own did not receive Him" (John 1:11).

Ah, but I cannot let myself off that easily. I cannot think myself more noble than the rest of this world for enduring a pagan Smith Corona; I am part of this bleeping world, too. The real truth I must face about all this bleeping is that I too bleep Jesus. I bleep Him whenever I compromise my faith. I bleep Him when I'm lazy and refuse to do what He wants in a given situation, when I'm so caught up in myself I can't care for someone else, when I fail to see His hand moving in all that goes on around me, and when I go through life forgetting that He is the most important thing in my memory bank. But realizing this doesn't merely leave me lamenting my bleeping self; it fills me with wonder to realize that He still uses my life. He goes on typing His truth right through all my bleeps into the reality of my life and the people I touch. I have to believe this or I will close my lid and be silent forever because I know that I am not a perfect instrument.

I think I'm going to keep this typewriter just as it is. After all, God has not smashed me or traded me in for another model. The fact that I can sanctify this typewriter through the truth of the words that pass through it, in spite of its bleeps, reminds me that God can do the same thing through my bleeping life in this bleeping world. - John Fischer

Monday, September 14, 2009

Starting A Riot

Many of you know that over the years I have been a participant or leader in over a dozen youth trips to New York, NY. What you may not know is that in the early days of these trips my group would travel as a part of a larger group from North Carolina Yearly Meeting (NCYM), which was itself part of an even larger group representing Friends United Meeting. To cut through the "Quakerese," it just means there were Quaker youth from all over the country on these trips. One such trip was in 1982 (I think- check out the picture of me on the ferry to see just how long ago!) and it was memorable in many ways, including the fact that it was Marilyn's first New York adventure. But today I want to tell you the story of Wallace Sills.

Wallace Sills was someone who was very important in my early participation with Friends (Quakers). My first week as a Quaker Lake camper, he was the acting camp director. He was the Youth and Christian Education Secretary (Quaker word for person in charge at that time) for NCYM, and I grew to know him pretty well.  He then became the Associate Pastor at Springfield Friends Meeting while I was working at New Garden, and I got to know him even better. In 1986 I would follow him at Springfield, after he had burned a few bridges there, but we remained friends over the years as he ministered at Jamestown Friends and later as a hospital Chaplain. Wally was a great guy with an amazing laugh and a huge heart for ministry, but those were not his most distinguishing traits. You see, Wallace looked like Paul Newman. And not just a little bit. People often did double takes when passing him on the street, and he once created quite a stir while trying to check out of a Sears.  Mr. Newman was a major star, having just done Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting, so everyone knew him. Wally hated the attention. He didn't like people to mention it, and he certainly would never talk about it himself.  Of course, it did offer us some opportunities...

So we are in New York, catching the ferry out to the Statue of Liberty to watch the seagulls crash (another story for another day!). It was the week of Thanksgiving, and the ferry was packed with tourists just like us from all over the world. Wallace was standing on the upper deck of the boat looking at Liberty Island, when we noticed that he was sharing that deck with hundreds of Japanese tourists. Now this will sound like an ethnic stereotype, but I promise you that nearly every single one of those Japanese tourists had a camera! After a quick meeting, several people (not me!) positioned themselves in the middle of the group and yelled loudly "LOOK! IT"S PAUL NEWMAN!!!" People began to turn and stare, and Wallace was frozen like a dear in the headlights. At that point, what seemed like 1000 camera flashes began to pop, and we could hear the tourists, in broken English, saying "PAUL NEWMAN!"  Wallace made a break for it, heading down the stairs with flashes following him all the way. He was not happy with any of us, but we were pretty pleased with ourselves!  To this day I still wonder how many of those tourists have framed pictures of Wallace Sills hanging in their homes, regaling their friends and families with stories about the day they saw him on the ferry to Liberty Island.

Over the years we actually did see a number of famous people on the streets and in restaurants in NYC- Billy Joel, Christie Brinkley, Evander Hollyfield, Chris Farley and more. And of course, I met Batman, but that too is a story for another day. But even with all of those celebrity sightings, nothing ever topped the day we gave Paul Newman to the world! And people say Christians don't have any fun...

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sand, Water, Sand, Water, Crab, Crab, Crab!

 Traditions are interesting things. Some are developed over many years, while others come from random acts that are later on very difficult to pinpoint. I cannot remember many details of the first time one of my youth groups began yelling "sand, water, sand water, crab, crab, crab" (To save time and typing errors, this will henceforth be shortened to SWSWCCC). I do know that it would remain a tradition for many years, and that it never failed to strike fear in the hearts of its intended victims! Today I will attempt to give you an idea of how it came to be so feared. One summer in the late 70's or early 80's my New Garden Friends youth group was camping at the Ponderosa Campground in North Myrtle Beach, SC. The Ponderosa land is now luxury condos, but back in the day it was a huge campground. It was only a short walk to the ocean, a game room, a pier and many other things we enjoyed. As you walked to the ocean, you crossed a bridge over what was known as The Swash. It was an inland waterway just the campground side of the sand dunes from the ocean. When the tide came in, The Swash would fill with ocean water, and people would play in it (My best friend Steve and I once saw a drunk man drive his car into it late one night when we were in high school!). When the tide was out, it would be almost empty, and you could see little fiddler crabs running everywhere along the banks. One night, after going for a walk on the beach, we returned to the edge of a very full Swash. It is at this point that my memory is very cloudy, but someone- I am guessing a guy, probably Dick Lee, Bruce Reynolds, Tommy or Freddie Hollowell, a Newby or Marshall Ratledge- decided one of the girls should go swimming. Fully dressed, of course! The young lady who was chosen as a victim- I am guessing Kathryn BurrisBeth Edgerton or Terri Johnson (all pictured at top) because it was always them- was not going silently. Others joined in, and the victim was grabbed by her feet and wrists, rolled in the sand, and then dipped in The Swash. This was then repeated, all the while reminding her of the crabs we (yes, we- I was part of this too) had seen there before. And finally she was tossed into The Swash. Thus the chant SWSWCCC became a means of striking fear in the hearts of our group that week.

Late one night we were once again near The Swash when the guys decided the victim would be Ling Lee. Ling was a beautiful high school girl (pictured at right) who could not have been more quiet or shy, and the guys wanted her to feel included. As the SWSWCCC chant began, an interesting thing happened. Ling wrapped herself around a nearby picnic table...and the guys could not pry her loose! They pulled and yanked, but every time they would get a leg free, she would tighten her grip. When her hands came free, she wrapped her legs so tight she could not be moved. This went on for quite some time, until, as I remember it, the guys had to give up. In any case, Ling became part of the legend that was SWSWCCC!

The Swash has been gone for years, but SWSWCCC never went away. Many groups and many victims have been part of the tradition over the years. In later years, the THREAT of the event was more prevalent than the actual performance, but the words never quit striking fear in the hearts of fully clothed youth walking down the beach- especially at night.

You may have more information on the actual events of that first SWSWCCC, or you may have your own story to tell. I would love to hear them, and I am sure others would as well. In the meantime, I encourage you to carry on the tradition with your family, your friends, and any groups you may travel with. SWSWCCC should live on- even if it's only as a threat! And if you ever get a real crab to grab a victim, PLEASE send pictures! That's one thing I never did see...

Because of Jesus,

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Rant by a Ragamuffin

I'm sorry, gang, but I need to rant... Yesterday I was once again confronted with the fact that lots of people who call themselves Christians have very little in common with Jesus. They know Jesus, I am just not sure they get JesusJesus commanded us to "judge not at all" (Matthew 7:1).  These people find great pleasure in judging others.  Jesus told us that "he without sin should cast the first stone" (John 8) and these folks are rolling boulders! Jesus told us to "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44) and this gang of church goers is just praying that we all mess up so they will have something else to gloat about.  Paul tells us that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23) and they can quote that.  But in their tiny minds any sin that THEY don't commit is a greater sin than the ones they do. They paraphrase Paul; "All have sinned and fall short; but YOU are a true sinner!"  And the worst part is that their attitude starts to pull me in. I get angry, and I sit here knowing I should be praying for those who persecute me...but what I really want is for God to warm up the lightning strikes and straighten a few people out! I judge them...I throw stones...and I cease to follow the example of Jesus.

The Lord knows I sin.  He also knows that you do too.  My prayer today is that I would let the grace of Jesus Christ flow in my life, that I would treat people better than they treat me, and that God would move in my life and theirs to show the world that we truly understand that the church is here to be a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.  Because if sinners are not welcome in our lives and at our churches...start printing the going out of business signs now!

Thanks, I feel better now! Come back tomorrow and I promise you a good story- the origins of the infamous Sand, Water, Sand, Water, Crab, Crab, Crab....

Because of Jesus,

Friday, September 11, 2009

Country Swamps

Quaker Lake was always an interesting place to be in the late 70's and early 80's. Camp was a very rustic place, if by rustic you mean old and often broken down! The lake itself, once the center of camp life, had been replaced by a pool and was no longer fit to swim in (Unless, of course, you were fully dressed and going against your will!). Not only that, the algae was so thick that in the heat of summer the lake could actually appear to be RED. There was no air conditioning anywhere; when it rained hard, the hill in front of the lodge turned into a mudslide; and one summer the sewage system backed up and the smell was often overwhelming. Plus, out behind the winter cabins on the way to the boys side of the lake the ground was squishy and nasty. All of this, plus crazed campers, long hours and a lack of caffeine often made the summer staff a bit loopy. From those feelings a song was born. I often get credit for writing it, but the fact is I had nothing to do with it. I just performed it a 100 times later on, so it is associated with me. It was written by a class full of campers led by Martha and Alan, with one of the campers being the legendary Jay Wilkins. Most of the references are self-explanatory, but I will tell you that Climax is the name of the little town where QLC is located (go ahead and snicker),"Red-Eye Dick" was a ghost story about camp we used to tell (before we got them banned!) and that the doors of the old cabins slammed with a volume you just can't imagine! So here are the lyrics to Country Swamps, the only song from the infamous Project Myrtle to ever actually make it to an official camp song sheet! It is sung to the tune of Take Me Home, Country Roads by John Denver (a song that would later become a favorite with groups I took skiing in West Virginia). Everyone sing along!

Almost heaven, Climax suburbs
Blue Ridge swampland
Summer camp at Quaker Lake
The staff is old there
older than the trees
Aged by all those campers no higher
than their knees

Country Swamps, let me go
I’ve had enough as you should know (wo-wo-wo-wo)
Climax suburbs, outside of the Food Rite (or the Bi-Rite)
Country Swamps, let me go

All my memories of all those mudslides
and Red-Eye Dick still lingers in my mind
Going to the bath house
at 3 o’clock in the morn
Stepping on a black snake
wishing I wasn’t born


I hear the bell in the morning
as it rings so loud
Shuttin’ off my alarm clock
saying "let’s go back to bed"
When suddenly I hear the noise
Of little footsteps running all around the floor
And slamming the door...