"As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your
hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." Colossians 3:12-17
At some point in middle school, I decided I wanted a cool Bible, not just the plain old black one they gave us when we moved up to the third grade Sunday School room. I found something that I considered the height of sophistication at the time - faux leather, bright teal blue, dark brown trim, magnetic flip clasp with asymmetrical flower detail. This Bible has followed me through all but my first two summers as a camper at VLM, and continued to be my trusty sidekick when I joined the summer staff in 2014. It is now full to bursting with little notes, scraps of birchbark, various worship outlines, activity sheets, and the other bits and pieces of life you collect during your time in God's Great Northwoods.
As I flip through the pages, trying to avoid spilling the contents all over my lap, I muse over folded notes I can no longer read (Messengers and Interceptors? Maybe?), wonder why exactly I decided to mark a particular page, and smile at kind words from old friends. And I always find myself back at the same place, words highlighted, page marked with a fun-size Butterfinger wrapper.
I was first introduced to this verse as a LOST camper, wrapping up a two-week session that I did not want to let go of. I was wrapped snugly in the joy and love that camp provides, and the prospect of going back out into the "real world" was decidedly unpleasant. This is a common and unfortunate side effect of coming to camp - it's just too good to leave! Being surrounded by an intentional community of faith, kindness, and joy is powerful, and it is something you don't find very often in day-to-day life. I have held campers as they wept on the last day of a session (and done a fair bit of weeping myself), because leaving that safe and happy bubble can be disheartening and, honestly, a little bit scary. It is upsetting to leave because we know that when we go back to our everyday lives, even though we may carry a bit of that camp sunshine around with us for a few weeks, we almost always fall back into our old routines, and that shine fades away.
Hearing this verse in worship that LOST session, I was jolted out of my moping. THIS IS IT! Ages ago, someone had put into words all the things I loved about the camp community and was now telling me to GO OUT! KEEP DOING AND BEING THOSE THINGS! Love people! Be thankful! Sing! Praise God! You can do this ALWAYS, not just when you are outside and wearing three days' worth of sunscreen, sweat, dirt, and bug spray.
Even though I knew objectively that I could do all these things outside of camp, this was the first time I had really internalized that fact - felt it. I think we all know we can do these things - choose kindness, forgive freely, love wildly, etc. - every day, every situation, but sometimes we just need a little reminder. That's why I keep coming back to this passage. It helps me refresh, re-center, and re-focus my energies.
As a counselor, I started using this verse as a benediction if I was leading worship. I wanted to give my campers the same tool I had been given, the same recipe for life inside and outside those intentional, caring, safe communities like camp that we so crave. So now, before I sign off, I invite you, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, to choose to clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, patience, and above all, love. Choose to bear with one another; choose to forgive each other. Choose to let the peace of Christ rule in you; choose to let the word of Christ dwell in you. Choose to be thankful! Choose to sing psalms! And whatever you do, in word or deed, choose to do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
VLM Summer Staff 2014