Every year around this time I give you a heads up that I’ll be taking a blogging break for a week, in order to go hang out with several hundred middle schoolers. This year, as I was thinking about and getting excited for the upcoming week, I also realized that I hadn’t done my July donation yet. And I wondered why I had never donated money to a camp that has been so influential and so important in my life.
YCM, the organization that sponsors The Great Escape (the official God camp name), also allows you to designate your donation to a scholarship fund that allows students the chance to attend camp. And that is where I want my money to go this month.
Being a camper meant the world to me as a 7th and 8th grader. And considering that this is my 12th summer actually working there, I’d say it left a lasting impression.
Or I’m just a really bad quitter.
So, in honor of my leaving for camp, and hopefully helping someone else to go in the future, I’ve decided to revisit my very first blog post – the one that got me into blogging in the first place.
Enjoy, and have a great week!
When most people say they’re going away for a week, they’re going on vacation. When I say I’m going away for a week, I’m going to God camp. As a counselor. With 500 middle schoolers.
I don’t think that qualifies as a vacation.
The camp takes place in middle-of-nowhere Pennsylvania. The cool place to hang out is the Super Wal-Mart.
On the one hand, I think it’s great that we can bring all these kids together in a place with minimal distractions. On the other hand, I’m reminded that my very first kiss happened at this same camp over 10 years ago. Middle schoolers only need one another to be distracted.
Maybe because of this, one of the first rules we teach horny teenagers at God camp is as follows: NO PURPLING.
What does that mean, exactly? It’s simple: boys are blue and girls are red. Clever, right?
Now, considering even I grew up with this rule (pretty much every church camp/retreat has it), I never thought much of it. In fact, I figured it made perfect sense when you’re at a religious event — talk to whomever you want, but no making out, etc.
I only realized that this “purple rule” was unique to Christian camps (maybe even specifically to Presbyterian ones), when I was talking to one of my college friends who works at a Jewish sleepaway camp every summer.
She was talking about the summer romances as a camper and as a counselor and I asked, “But what about the no purpling thing?” The look she gave me was one of confusion, and as I started to explain the “boys are blue…” analogy, she started to laugh.
“Well, of course it’s not encouraged,” she said, “but there’s no rule.” (Her past three relationships have started at camp.)
Listen, I’m not naive. I know what goes on when you put over 500 middle schoolers in the same place. There are bound to be hormonal attractions and there are bound to be those bold enough to act on them.
If I had merely my first kiss at camp over 10 years ago, I can’t imagine what’s going on now. Actually, I can, I just don’t want to.
One of the girls I work with at the camp told me about a conversation she’d had with her boyfriend the night before. He, having never been to one of these camps, asked, “So, do you have any ‘one time at God camp’ stories?” And she had to say yes.
She’d been caught making out with a boy from another church — by his leader. It actually came back to bite her in the ass when her little brother was spotted making out with another camper later in the week.
“How am I supposed to tell him to stop, when I got caught doing the same thing?” she asked us.
As wise as we are, collectively, not one of us had a good answer — perhaps because we all have one of those “one time at God camp” stories that prevent us from chiding someone else.
Working at these camps is kind of like being a parent: you lay out the rules, but you know the kids will find a way around them, because that’s exactly what you did when you were their age.
You know (or think you know) all the tricks, and when they come up with new, ingenious way around the rules, you’re annoyed, but also a little bit impressed. (Coupled with that feeling of “Oh man, why didn’t I think of that? Of course the side stairs are better for sneaking out.”)
Sometimes I think, at this point, the purple rule is just tradition. It’s been said at every camp, conference, and retreat, for at least the past 20 years -– a classic.
That doesn’t mean that we don’t try to enforce it (for instance, there are no slow songs at the end of the week dance), but we all know that it will get broken.
It’s just a matter of finding out how.