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Encountering the Other: Vocational Discernment at Camp

Oct 28, 2013 | The Logic of Camp

Like the adults who teach them, few young people live with a conviction that God is calling them. They live compartmentalized lives in which religious activities are separated from other commitments. Even if they consider themselves Christian, they are unlikely to bring theological reflection to bear on life circumstances, and they are even less likely to participate in daily faith practices. At camp, participants experience the rhythm of daily Christian living, where days are structured with devotions, Bible study, prayer, and worship. Participants live in a sort of “hyperawareness” for the inbreaking of God at any moment, which facilitates the “teachable moment.” This atmosphere is in sharp contrast to the majority of American homes. Integration of religious activities with daily living facilitates an awareness of God’s work in all aspects of life, and it encourages reflection on God’s activity in the world. It may be clear to a young person that God is present in a church building on Sunday morning, and so it makes sense that a pastor, priest, or deacon has a divine calling. At camp, the same young person may worship God at an outdoor chapel, around a campfire ring, or in a swimming pool and thus gain a broader understanding of where God is present and active. God is not located in a specific place or confined to a specific time of the week. God is at work in all realms of creation, and the divine calling can happen anywhere.
The turn toward the other is the beginning of vocation. The other is ever before us, in all his strangeness and alterity. The other calls to us, silently and aloud, with her own particular needs that may be complimentary to or in conflict with our own. A simple acknowledgement is not enough, and a cursory study will not suffice. An encounter with the other requires on-the-ground, face-to-face, heart-to-heart interaction that popular culture seldom facilitates or even allows. There are few places where social and cultural barriers that impede direct encounter with the other are effectively broken down, but camp seeks to demolish them. Camp is a place where adults play silly games and handshakes turn into hugs. At camp, intimacy is the default. Masks are removed to reveal the Face in all its particularity. Over the course of their days together, campers see one another in a variety of emotional and physical states. It does not matter if a camper is dirty and smelly because everyone is dirty and smelly. Campers have the opportunity to see the other away from the baggage of cultural and social stereotypes in a safe, loving environment and also to allow themselves to be seen. Instead of texting their friends about the lame experience they are having, the campers are forced to make sense of the person who is right in front of them. The other is not a screen name or an avatar; he is living and human.
The breaking down of barriers facilitates an intentional recognition of the other as integral to the created order, as special and beloved in God’s sight. For campers used to being put down and marginalized, the camp experience can be radically empowering.  Camp provides the space for differences and celebrates uniqueness. This focus on the other empowers individuals within the community and actually subverts societal forces that marginalize individuals and divide groups. “The other” matters because God is at work in this good creation, and God is speaking through the other, in spite of the brokenness and lack of faith. Vocationally speaking, this means that God is calling to me through the other and that the other is being called, a recognition that honors the other as a unique creation of God. Focusing on the origin of the vocational call reorients a person to “the other” and shifts the initial response from “I have a calling” to “Someone is calling.”


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