Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Community

Traditions can get started out of nowhere, can remain small but still have a great command of people’s lives. We have a small tradition that has cropped out of one of my large traditions. I’ve been going to Synod Youth Workshop every year for 19 years now. It’s one of my favorite weeks of the year, a tradition. Out of this week has cropped up another small tradition. A group of friends pick the same book to read that week. Reading is such a solitary act you never think of it as a community-wide event but it can be a fun bonding experience for several people to read the same thing at the same time. Almost like going to the movies together but without the popcorn.

Now you might wonder where we get so much time to read at camp. That’s easy—there’s about an hour between the official “lights out” and the time the kids REALLY go to bed. An hour when the halls are vulnerable to teenagers who want to test the limits. Some sponsors sit out in the halls for that hour waiting and watching. I compare it to fishing. Reading is the perfect way to spend the hour.

The first year I roomed with the camp nurse (which is a hoot in itself, a whole set of stories for another time) we discovered we both love the Stephanie Plum books. They are written by Janet Evanovich who has a new one every summer. The books are about the world’s most incompetent bounty hunter. It’s one of those books you can’t read in public because you will find yourself laughing out loud. Hard. Tears running down your cheeks hard.

Anyway, the next year Cam and I found that we had each brought the latest Stephanie Plum book with us to camp. Neither of us had started reading yet so Monday night at lights out we simultaneously cracked the spine at page one and it became a race. Maybe ‘race’ is the wrong word. But one of us would laugh aloud then the other would race to get to that page to see what was so funny. The next year we found another couple of Stephanie Plum fans and, voila!- a community was formed. During the week of camp we might pass each other in the dorm and ask what page each other was on. Last year Cam got ahead of me at the start and I kept telling myself I could catch up when one of the kids got sick.

Out of almost 400 teenagers there’s always a set of stitches or a broken bone or two during the week; it just comes with the territory and that’s the reason we have a nurse. I’ve roomed with her enough to respect her predictions: Monday night is upset stomachs from the excitement. Tuesday and Wednesday brings the broken bones and stitches from playing games on testosterone overload. Thursdays are usually calm. And Friday night is always full of sore throats from talking and laughing so much.

I thought Cam would stay busy mopping up blood or stomach contents and I could catch up. But she had a couple of trips to the hospital that year and spent a lot of time in the waiting room so she beat me.

The new Stephanie Plum book came out today. I think this is the earliest it’s ever been published. I need to check with my book buddies to see if we are all going to wait until July 12 to begin. If you are part of a community you need to respect the rules. In the meantime. “Sizzling Sixteen” sits in the Walmart sack waiting for me.
Right now I’m spending the week with another set of friends. Beaven and I started going on a mission trip to Mexico a few years ago. I have to admit I’ve only been on this trip once but Beaven has gone for the last three years and some of the folks have been doing this trip 15 years. As a matter of fact, one of the guys has been mixing concrete for houses in Mexico since he was 14 and he’s never missed a year. This year the trip got canceled because of the drug war violence. This group isn’t scared of anything and a little thing like drug wars wasn’t about to stop them. Last year when there was a swine flu outbreak on top of violence they still went. But Ministerio de Fe (Faith Ministries) wouldn’t schedule groups this summer and they had no choice.

Well, the gang didn’t know what to do with themselves. I had to wonder if you can get addicted to concrete. Maybe it’s the service. Being addicted to service doesn’t sound like such a bad thing. So the team leader decided we should go help at one of the church camps about an hour’s drive from my house.

Bright and early this morning they picked up shovels and started digging trenches. They work at a common pace and, like a well-oiled machine they understand how to fit into each other’s rhythm. It’s a community. When John measures and calls out the number everyone knows how much more to dig. When the water hits the mixture of sand and cement everyone forms a circle around the pile and begins the ballet of scooping, turning and rotating. I love to watch them. Once in a while I try to take part but it is the hardest work I’ve ever done and I don’t last more than a few weak swipes with the shovel. Concrete is heavy. It’s caustic. It’s not for sissies. I’ve seen enough that I hold anyone who works with concrete in high esteem. It’s a community that respects each other.

I’ve done almost 1,000 words and I wasn’t sure I’d have time to write anything at all this week. Take my offering and think it through. Send me other examples of communities you know. There is a lot more to be said on this subject and I’m not done. But, for now, I’m ready for bed.

I still haven’t gotten Susan’s Summer Reading Recommendations. But I’ve added a couple of titles to my own list and this might turn into a standard option at my website. Go to the Summer Read tab at www.JaneEls.com

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