I always hated the last morning of youth camp. I didn’t want camp to end. My friends and I had been fired up all week, we had a crazy night on the last night, but then it’s time to go. Everyone is tired; the glow of the week is already dimming. But there is one thing that I specifically disliked about the last morning of camp… the last sermon. The “Now you have to go back to the real world” speech.
Going back to the real world was such a downer. I didn’t want to go back. I wanted to stay there. I didn’t want to go back to the social confusion of my regular life; I wanted to stay where I had started to see how things fit together. I didn’t want to go back to where knowing the Bible was dorky; I wanted to stay in the place where knowing the Bible made me valuable. I didn’t want to go back to where some of the popular kids would suddenly forget that it was okay to be nice to me; I wanted to continue to see the best sides of people. But nonetheless, here came the “Going Back To The Real World” sermon.
It’s funny, because I’ve felt somewhat the same way coming back from Hutchmoot. If you missed that blog, well, I never actually explained all of it, but you’ll find some of it here: https://toddagnew.com/2011/09/26/the-rabbit-room/ . The short version is I went to a conference of and for creative thinking people and was encouraged, enabled, challenged, and maybe more importantly, accepted. And I’ve already seen a number of comments and at least one blog from people about how we now have to “go back to the real world.” I started to feel the disappointment creeping in until I realized God had already taught me about this in the context of camp.
At camp, we were set up for failure with the “going back to the real world” talk (whew, I’m getting tired of typing that. Can we settle on GBTTRW?) What I mean is that even in the title, in the first sentence, we were told that the magical time we had just experienced was not real. And I think that may have been one of the most destructive lies I was told as a kid. How can time spent in communion with our Savior, distractions placed aside, chasing after Him morning, noon, and night, how can that be fake? How can the week I prayed as much as the other 51 weeks put together, how can that be the fraudulent week? How can the week I spent in the Word, in community, in service, be the week that is not real? This WAS reality. We weren’t going back to the real world. We were going back to the lie. We were going back to a world where Christ had to fit into the background, into our schedules, into our structure. We were walking out of Eden and believing that this desert was the real world. The snake was whispering in our ears that the relationship we had experienced with God this week was not tenable over the long haul. “This will be a great memory.” “Maybe I can come back next year.” And just like that, we let it go. Even as the preacher was trying to fire us up to go back and change our schools, we were also hearing that the change we had experienced wasn’t real. The lives we were going back to… they were real. Or at least that’s what I heard. But I don’t think that’s right.
Being with Jesus IS reality. I’m sorry, Mr. Camp Speaker, but that means we can’t “go back to the real world.” We are either in intimate communion with Him which is reality or we are leaving this place and going back to the lie. The time I spent in prayer at camp, THAT was real. The truths God showed me as I read His Word, THOSE were real. I didn’t need to know how to “go back to the real world.” I needed to know how to take the reality I was in back into the busier schedule of my life. I needed to be guided through the process of letting this reality transform the life I had at home. And now I am having to do it again.
At Hutchmoot, being creative was valued. Being different (some might even say nerdy) was accepted and even treasured. And already I am finding myself trying to figure out how I can still maintain some creative value “back in the real world”. But I’m starting to realize that creation itself is the real world. In Dorothy Sayers’ book, The Mind of the Maker, she writes about being made in the image of God. What she noticed really intrigued me. She pointed out that at the time when God makes the declaration, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” (Gen. 1:26a ESV), we don’t actually know much about God. He hasn’t been described. He hasn’t revealed His character. The only image we have of God when He says we are made in His likeness is that He is a Creator. He creates, makes, invokes, produces. And we are like Him.
Having kids has made that concept abundantly clear. I watch my daughter get dressed up because she is a tutor for her friend, the princess. I watch my son use one superpower after another. I get to listen to the stories my daughter has written, fully illustrated of course. I watch my son build spaceships out of Legos. My kids build forts out of pillows and blankets. And their favorite building tool…? Empty cardboard boxes. Everything in life is fraught with creative possibilities. Everything can be used to tell the stories running through their brains.
We are creative beings. We are not designed to merely maintain a way of life; we are supposed to make things that are new. That concept, in and of itself, does not make me a sculptor. It doesn’t necessarily make you a poet, or a songwriter, or a carpenter. But we are designed to create. My wife doesn’t think she’s artistic, but she creates an atmosphere of community, of openness, of honesty, everywhere she goes. I’ve started to notice that she can draw just about anything. And you know, with her appreciation of great art and literature, I bet there’s another spark of creativity in there somewhere. And there is one in you too. Maybe you just haven’t tried. Or maybe you let it go, because it was time to “grow up”. And yet, here you are, years later, still wishing you could do that. Well, today I’m telling you that you can. I’m not saying you’re going to be amazing the first time you try. No one is. I’m just saying you can create. You are made in His image. Creating is the real world. I’m not saying you should be writing poetry at the expense of feeding your family. I think God’s plan is for us to do both. Maybe somehow to combine them. So that rather than having real and false worlds, we have God’s plan in the midst of God’s world.
I’m glad I didn’t leave Hutchmoot just to go back to a life completely separated and different. That I get to bring all that I experienced back, to share it with my wife and kids, to continue to walk in it myself, and maybe even build a community like that here in Austin. I’m glad I didn’t leave youth camp to go back to a life where bible study and prayer were abnormal or false. That God desires to be just as life-changing in this moment as when I stood in that pew as a teenager. I don’t get to live my whole life in the Garden, but I do get to garden everywhere I go.