I was surprised! The night was actually cool as I drifted off to sleep in my tent. I arrived at Roosevelt State Park for a camping trip at about three o’clock in the afternoon. I found my space and set up my tent. Then, covered in sweat, I sat down in front of the Gaudet’s pop-up trailer and relaxed. We sat, talked and during conversation we would drift into silence, then back into conversation. Simply put, it was a relaxing day.
That evening we had dinner with other campers from church and then moved to Paul’s campfire. We all agreed that the fire was a beautiful centerpiece but the warmth of the Mississippi summer did not require it’s necessity. The small group of us sat around in chairs refreshed by wonderful beverages, telling stories, laughing together, and like typical UUs, we discussed politics.
As usual when I camp, I woke early the next morning and made coffee and breakfast over a small camp stove. I burned my biscuits but had the best coffee and eggs a man could want.
That morning, I marveled at the sun’s rays coming through the trees and the lake–so much so that it seemed that the lake was on fire. After breaking camp, I returned to where I started–sitting with Ross Gaudet–this time, through a delightfully cool morning. I knew I wouldn’t be able to stay another night. Work was calling, so I chose to leave before other church members arrived causing me, for sure, not to want to leave. But as I left, I felt the calm and peace of the morning settle into my soul and the heart of community beat within my chest and I drove in the noon-day sun ready to finish my work.
We often talk about growing our church and building our community. As UUs, we know that means we will struggle and fight together for equality. Our members may work day-to-day in their jobs but often in their spare time, they struggle with building a more just and fair world. We see each other throughout the day supporting fair-minded local businesses or demonstrating in front of the Capitol building. This work is part of what makes us a thriving church. We read about the issues we fight for, we talk about them in forum and service, we organize around them, and though we tell ourselves we can do even better, at the end of the day we are tired and filled with exhaustion.
But the day is filled with more than just work and activism. During the day we have conversations, break bread together, and sometimes just eat good cookies together. These other things are also very important in community building and church growing. In fact, events like the church camping trip can help create strong bonds of friendship.
In my personal music blog Friday Vinyl I recently posted about my acquisition of the reissue of the vinyl version of Led Zeppelin I. As I walked out the door to pick up my record from the door-step it occurred to me that there is a core part of community building being laid asunder by technology. I remember when the last locally owned record store in Jackson (that actually sold vinyl records) closed its doors. I know the owner didn’t feel good about it and neither did I. I had made stopping in to buy records part of my normal Friday schedule and that was now gone. Don’t get me wrong–I love technology and am a big supporter of social networking online but I will always prefer walking into a store to buy a record (even standing in line on its release day) instead of walking out my front door seeing that it has been delivered by the postal service. When I walked in the door of Morning Bell Records, I was part of the community. When I walked out my front door, I was just the weirdo who doesn’t think mp3s are good enough.
There is an important theological concept where these two stories cross–community. When we sat together at Roosevelt State Park, we weren’t overrun with work or church business. We simply sat–enjoying one another’s company. The bonding that took place in the park is different than the bond that takes place over online social networks. Don’t get me wrong–the latter is important but the former is key. This concept is the same with my favorite shops. I don’t mind going online for some things, but there are other purchases that are more fun to make in person.
Fun helps build community, coming together to laugh is what strengthens us so that we can come together to act. We may not all want to go camping but we may love karaoke. We may not care for drinks around a fire but we may love coffee and poetry. I know that if we come together for fun it will help us build a bond of love, so that when we stand together we will not be moved.