Tag Archives: contemporary christian

Camp

Ah, camp. That lovely invention of summer that gives kids something to do during the break and parents a week or so of sanity, rest, and relaxation. I never went to camp as a small child, as I was very clingy and dependent on my parents growing up, besides being immensely shy and awkward. But by the time I was a teen, I decided to give it a try once I found a particular camp.

Northland Camp & Conference Center in Dunbar, Wisconsin, was my summer go-to from ages 13-17. It was a religious camp and my only experience with camp. The schedule was somewhat grueling and included required activities that I didn’t particularly enjoy, but I still liked it enough to request to keep going. I’m not sure if it was the idea of going to camp that I liked so much, or that I just convinced myself that I liked it, as looking back on it, the experience was pretty overrated. Fun, but overrated.

Wakeup was always early, because any getting-ready things that needed to be done had to be done by the time all the cabins were to line up for the daily flag raising. Then we had breakfast, followed by cabin devotions. The exact schedule varied day-to-day after that. Sometimes we’d have a cabin activity, or a camp bible session. We always had a morning chapel, at least. After lunch there were sometimes other bible sessions, team game activities (which I loathed, as I hated that kind of thing, but I couldn’t opt out), and then maybe a few hours of free time before dinner and evening chapel. One night a week we’d have an after-dark activity. There was also usually a water day that went along with the team games, but I remember one year it was so cold they almost had to cancel it. There was also a loooooong list of bible verses to memorize. That part wasn’t necessarily required, but it garnered your team lots of points, so it was always pressured.

Even though free time was pretty limited, they had many options with how to spend the time. They had a bookstore and coffee shop on site. There was an archery range. A shooting range. A climbing wall. Many, many trails for walking. A craft shop. A mini-golf course. And, of course, they had a large pond where one could use one part for boating and the other for swimming. I never got a chance to participate in the swimming, because you had to have a buddy with you, and since I never came with anyone (a lot of kids came as part of a church group) and I didn’t make friends too easily, I never had someone to go with. There’s probably other little things that I’ve forgotten about, too, but those are the major ones that stand out in my memory.

When I was 15 going on 16, my mother and I went to a special ladies retreat in Door County, Wisconsin. Door County is a lovely area, and we relished the time we spent on our little mini-vacation. I don’t remember who hosted the event or who was running it, but it featured at least a couple of people associated with Northland’s ministries, because I remember it came up in talking with a couple of women. I don’t remember exactly how it came about, but they suggested that I attend the Leadership Camp that Northland offered.

I was immediately hesitant about it, but we said we would think and pray about it. Ultimately, despite my initial hesitation, I ended up attending. Leadership Camp is two weeks instead of one, weekend stay included. The first week is pretty similar to the regular Teen Camp; we participated in all of their activities and are assigned a team, just like them, however we had our own special little sessions and individual counseling with various staff members. The second week was spent being a junior counselor in either the Kid or Teen Camps, along with a regular counselor. We also still had our special sessions and individual counseling sessions. The weekend was fairly open, compared to the week. We usually had a big group trip/activity on Saturday. Sunday we would go to a local church and sing.

The first year I went, when I was 16, I was in a deep denial of myself, my life, and my beliefs. While I had some doubts, I convinced myself of my faith and was in the midst of throwing myself into it with all of my energy. So my first year of Leadership Camp was pretty awesome. I bonded better with the other campers that joined me, probably because they were here purposefully and not just as something to do over the summer. We all had ministry aspirations. We rejoiced in our kindred hearts and drew close together, sharing our burdens and our hearts with each other and praying with one another.

The second year, however, did not go as smoothly. My denial had broken through into major issues for me. I had adopted a more goth-like look in terms of clothes and makeup. I was extremely depressed and stressed in general. I was having trouble dealing with certain traumas in my life that I felt I couldn’t get help for. Despite that, I still went, because I remembered the wonderful time I’d had and I yearned to be around people that were as kind and friendly and wonderful as I’d met the previous year.

While my fellow campers were still very nice to me, the counselors and staff were more stand-offish. I’m sure they likely remembered me from all the years I’d been attending, and my sudden change in appearance was fairly shocking. I still attended all of the sessions, still took copious amounts of studious notes, asked questions, memorized scripture, participated in everything, even if I didn’t want to. But they seemed to treat me differently, based on my looks and regardless of participation.

This became apparent during my first individual counseling session. I met with a lady in the ministry at Northland – a pastor’s wife, no less – and at first it seemed to be fairly the same as the last year. She was a different lady than the year before, but I knew her still, if only from a distance. However, not far into the session, she made a comment about my appearance being “goth”. I replied that I liked black and felt comfortable, which was true. I wasn’t wearing anything extreme, just a black shirt and black pants with thick black eyeliner. Compared to some goth kids I’d seen in the mall, I was pretty tame. But she apparently felt the need to comment on it and make a negative insinuation of it.

I brushed it off, thinking that she was probably just surprised at what would appear to her to be a sudden change. As we talked more and she dug deeper, I did confess issues with depression, especially following sexual abuse I’d suffered at the hands of a previous boyfriend. I don’t remember everything about the session, but what I distinctly remember is that she asked for as many details as I would give her (I didn’t give her much, as I didn’t feel comfortable doing so) and she simply advised me to be careful upon going home, that I wouldn’t be tempted into immorality with another man.

I remember being utterly shocked at her reaction. She didn’t necessarily invalidate the abuse itself, but she completely invalidated my feelings about it and my reactions to it (I had a lot of trouble even looking a man in the eye at the time, there was no way I wanted anyone to even touch me). I felt like she didn’t take it seriously, because she didn’t. She threw some bible verses at me, I’m sure, but I was in a haze of shock at the lack of support and empathy.

Despite the staff reaction, like I said, the other campers treated me the same. The group I was with my last year seemed to be a little looser, though still just as fervent. There was even a few regular Teen Campers who noticed my dress, asked if I was a “Christian Goth”, and immediately bonded with me over it. It must not be so bad, I reasoned as I walked to evening chapel with them.

However, that little hope came late in the second week. Before the second week even started, I was pulled aside and told – by the husband of the same lady I met with for counseling – that because of my “personal struggles”, I was deemed unfit to counsel the age group that I would be normally assigned to. Instead, I would be assigned to a younger group and paired up with the counselor I’d been with so far, I’m guessing in an effort for stability through the transition into the second week.

It was a devastating blow to me, especially because despite my struggles, I still had a heart for ministry and was still aching for chances to prove myself. My chin quivered and tears welled up in my eyes as he told me, but I refused to let them fall. I would not give in. I would not give him the satisfaction of confirming that I was indeed “broken” and that their decision was correct.

Later that night, in my bunk, I allowed myself some quiet tears, my face buried in my pillow to quell any sounds that might escape. Again, I refused to show any weakness, to anyone. I felt like I couldn’t trust anyone. I had to go it alone, because I was alone. Utterly and completely alone.

That year was the last year for me, as I’d reached the maximum age that they accepted. As I left, I clung desperately to the good memories. Laughing with newly made friends. The smell of the morning mist as it rolled in while we lined up for flag-raising. Sitting in the open courtyard in between rows of cabins, listening to a fellow Leadership Camper strum a guitar and complain about the confiscation of his Grateful Dead CD’s. The instant camaraderie felt by others who weren’t the “norm” as far as appearances went in the conservative Christian community.

However, the good just doesn’t cancel out the bad, as much as I wish it did. While I mostly enjoyed the time I spent there, the blatant condemnation and utter lack of any sympathy still linger. Like a cloud that suddenly appears on a sunny day, the rejection will always be there.

I suppose it’s all for the best, looking back, as it helped loosen some of my ties to the Christian community that was previously very tight. Because of the events that followed, I know I would have ended up leaving anyway, but this subtle bond breaking made it just slightly easier, and I guess that’s all I could have asked for.

So, if anyone who knows me from that camp reads this, if you were one of those who accepted me regardless, thank you. Your love and acceptance were and are greatly appreciated. If you were one of those who judged me instead of offering support, I also say thank you. If not for you, my journey to discover my true self and eventually into transitioning into Paganism would have been rougher, tougher, and more ridden with guilt and anxiety than it already was. Thank you for showing me your true colours, for without that, it would have been harder to show mine.

~Shine on~

Memory Triggers – Songs

This is now the third entry into specific memory triggers of mine (and the last one for today, I promise!). The previous entries have covered one particular scent and phrases. This entry will cover songs, and will probably be longer as there’s more that was coming to me as I was writing. Since there’s a lot to explain in some parts, this might end up a little more ramble-y about music in general, but I’ll start off with the specifics that I first had in mind.

A couple of weeks ago, my fiance started singing this little song that I recognized from my childhood. He had heard it from The Simpsons – who wasn’t singing it exact to the original, simply the melody and a few terms – but of course, I remembered it from somewhere else. While I knew the song as “Rise and Shine”, he simply quoted a line about getting the animals on the “arky arky”, which is a specific term in that song and a theme in every other line to end in a “-y” sound. While the song doesn’t tie to a specific memory – which isn’t surprising, considering it was a pretty common christian children’s song when I was growing up – it does bring back memories of churches I’ve been in, children’s groups, children’s church, even AWANA.

Several different songs like that will take me back, especially old hymns. One in particular – “Just As I Am” – was very popular as an altar call song, but it would always make me groan when I saw it listed in the bulletin. For those who may not know, “Just As I Am” is typically sung very slowly, somewhat softly, and is so boring repetitive that it can be repeated very easily, almost without the congregation noticing. If the pastor wanted to extend the altar call for whatever reason, signaling the pianist/organist was a very simple matter. Just thinking about the melody immediately transports me, usually to a specific church that we attended when living in GA. The layout and everything comes back, even down to where we usually sat: third or fourth row, organ side.

I’ll admit, there were times I would get so bored during a long altar call, I’d go up myself, kneel at the steps, close my eyes and just rest my forehead against the top step. I did so just to give myself a break from standing. I don’t know if anyone else ever did that, but I accumulated little tricks that I now call “church hacks” to make church more bearable for myself. My favourite time was probably mission times, where various missionaries would come through. They’d usually have a little table set-up similar to what you’d expect at a science fair, and I’d love looking at them. Sometimes it was pretty plain with just a lot of writing and some pictures, but my favourite ones were picture heavy and also featured little bits and bobs from the various foreign countries that the missionaries went to. If a sermon or presentation got boring, I’d leave on the pretense of a bathroom break (or water break, though bathroom breaks afforded me a reasonably longer time away) and just wander around the atrium areas where the tables were set up, looking at the ones that really caught my eye.

Back to the topic of songs, conversely, certain songs would excite me to see listed on the bulletin. If “I Surrender All” was listed as the alter call song, that would mean that the invitation would be short, and we’d get to go home sooner. When we started attending churches that weren’t as strict with their music and did praise and worship songs, there were certain ones that incorporated simple hand motions or just plain clapping. Anything to avoid just standing there still. I swear I’ve spent years just standing in church. As a teen, it got to the point where I’d over-exaggerate some back problems I really did have just so they would allow me to sit for certain portions of the service that we normally would have had to stand for. Well, perhaps I over-exaggerated, or perhaps I just expressed how I really felt as I did have back problems that I knew would be exacerbated and I wanted to head them off before I actually got into an “ouch” level of pain.

When I was little, no secular music was permitted at all. It was hymns and southern gospel songs only. My parents loved the Gaithers and bought quite a few cassette and vhs tapes featuring their singing. At first, I liked them just because it was different than the hymns we usually had. A lot of songs were more upbeat and “swing-y” (in my terminology only, as a child, it just meant that it was more lively) and sometimes even featured an actual beat! With drums! Haha, I know certain people that would clutch their figurative pearls at the thought of songs with beats. Devil music! But my parents liked it, so it was permitted. Soon enough, though, their songs got so repetitive and similar that it just all blended together for me and I began to dislike it. Whenever I would hear a snippet of a song I would start internally cringing, and I still do to this day.

Later on, my parents loosened the reigns on music little by little. Old country music became okay. When I was a pre-teen – probably 12 or so – I literally had to beg my parents to allow me to buy a Steven Curtis Chapman cassette. I am not exaggerating when I use the term “literally”. Let that sink in. For anyone who doesn’t know who Steven Curtis Chapman is, he’s a CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) artist whose music is pretty much easy listening/light-rock style, but with Christian lyrics and themes. He is not in any way possibly offensive, being a visible family man and not having any songs that are borderline not-Christian (as some CCM artists sometimes have in their repertoire, especially if they were going to cross over into secular music). While I’m sure he is a perfectly nice man, he’s about as vanilla as you can get in the CCM world. I must have spent weeks pestering and badgering my parents to allow me to buy one of his tapes, and I felt incredibly triumphant when they finally relented and okay’d the purchase.

Around the time that I bought it, there was a PC game out that I’d seen advertised. I don’t remember the exact title, but it was a Barbie dance game. I never played it, but the general premise seemed to be stringing together pre-set moves in order to create a dance. I took a few of the moves and started using them to dance along to a couple of the songs on my new tape (in my room, with the door closed, because dancing was not something that was allowed in my family).

When I was 14 and going to a Christian school, I met my bestest best friend in the whole wide world, and she helped widen my horizons as far as music went. Her mother, while religious, allowed secular music, especially if she liked it. She had quite a few CDs lying around of Queen, Styx, Boston, Michael Jackson, artists like that. Classics. I remember the first time I heard a Michael Jackson song, it was amazing. It was “Billie Jean” and I was enchanted. I discretely burned a copy of the CD and listened to it on my Walkman. I did this with several other CDs, compiling playlists of classic rock to be listened to in private. I never labeled them, for fear my parents would find them and I would get in trouble, which is why I also never played them in my regular CD player. I kept them in a CD holder at all times, never leaving it lying around for long. When I started driving alone, I often kept them in the truck so I could blast them while driving to and from school.

Of course, that wasn’t my first exposure to secular music. It’s unavoidable, really, with how many stores play radio stations overhead, but my parents conditioned me to tune it out. The older I got, the more rebellious I got (or felt I got, as my rebelliousness was rather mild on the scale of rebellion…in the Christian world I was in, though, it was still worthy of getting in trouble). When I was 12 and 13, being homeschooled, my mother started going to school herself for Medical Transcription. When she had day classes she left in the morning for, I would turn on the radio to the local popular hit station 95.5 (WIFC, Wausau…I can still hear the call sign being sung) and just listen. I was always very careful to switch it back to an approved station when I was done listening, though. There was one station that came out of Pensacola, FL that we somehow got on our big radio that played some of the most boring music that my parents seemed to love. If I ever used the big radio for my listening, I was always sure to turn it back to that station before I shut it off. I couldn’t have my parents switch on the radio and have Backstreet Boys or Christina Aguilera start blaring. As Jasper Beardly would say, “That’s a paddlin’.”

I did the same when I was home alone when it came to TV as well. When we had cable when I was a teenager, I’d switch over to the “bad” channels (MTV and VH1) and watch, always careful to leave the TV with two “good” channels (in case my parents used the “last channel” feature on the remote). This was before the days of Teen Mom and Jersey Shore, where reality shows took the place of the music. I watched music videos and documentaries and countdowns and lists and absorbed information like a sponge. These days, since I’m still limited in my music exposure, I get excited when I see a reference to a music video or information about an artist that I saw on one of those channels. Kind of like Steve Rogers in the Avengers … “I understood that reference!”

These days, my tastes in music are extremely diverse, and certainly nothing like what I was raised with. I like just about everything, and even genres I don’t particularly like, there are songs that are exceptions that I enjoy. Music is one of the things I find most soothing and yet energizing to my soul to this day, and while I regret that my exposure to it was so limited growing up, I’m glad I now have the opportunity to explore.