Monday, January 23, 2006

On being labeled and life in general

For those of you unfamiliar, Journey in January is a retreatat Camp Lutherhoma for High schoolers that's led and planned by other high schoolers . The best part (for me) about the trip is that I as an adult can participate in a group just for adults. I can talk about my church, my youth group and other stuff freely and not feel like I'm stepping on toes or stepping out of bounds.

The theme for Journey this year was "unlabeled". Friday night they asked us to get into our groups. We were given a green shirt.

During Bible study the first night we were told to write labels that people had given us onto our shirts. I had a ton. I never realized. Some were good. Like "clean" or "girly" (which i wrote and put a flower next to :)). Others weren't as good. "Like "anal retentive" or "young" (as in, "too young to be in charge of a group of high schoolers/middle schoolers/have a college education/know what I'm doing" young).

The high school groups did that too. Talk about brave. I was pretty tame with my labels on my shirt, but some kids weren't afraid to write them all like "gay," "fag" "lesbian" "stoner" "snob" "*itch" (we're at a church retreat--no cursing) :). It was pretty powerful.

The next day we were asked to put the labels we call ourselves and if we had some we didn't want others to see to put them on the inside. I had about 7 or 8 of them, mostly negative. Three hidden on the neckline of my shirt. At this point, I hated that stupid shirt. Hated that I was supposed to wear it or carry it with me wherever I went. It felt heavy with the labels I'd been called or called myself. I knew that I didn't want to take the shirt home, didn't want to wear it, didn't really want it anymore. More importantly, I didn't want anyone to see it. I didn't want anyone to know what I called myself, what others called me. (That's why I wrote my names on the back of the shirt and around the shoulders. Then it could be covered up.)

We were told before our saturday night activity to make sure and have our shirts. So I brought my shirt with me down to the campfire area where they had constructed a huge cross that we had sprayed our small group names on earlier that day. We were told that we had defiled the cross and that it needed to be covered. So we were sent on a hunt to find something that would cover it. At this point, I knew that we wouldn't find anything, but went along with it anyway. Finally after finding some tiny pieces of cloth, we were told to bring all of the cloth we'd found, all of our small group decorations and the green shirt that I Hated back to the cross.

At this point all the groups met back together and sitting by the fire pit was "Jesus" (one of the camp counselors "played" Jesus for lack of a better word). We didn't speak, we didn't make any noise (none of the 150-200 kids spoke at all) and we were told to follow our small group leader's example. We took all of our decorations, our shirts, our labels, our insecurities and piled them up on top of Jesus. It didn't take long for all of our stuff to make a huge pile that simply buried him.
We sang a song there at the cross and said prayers in our small group.

The next morning, at first word (down by the river again) we saw the cross we'd defiled covered in white cloth. It was quiet. So I sat facing the river and there was Jesus-dressed in white walking towards us on a sandbar. It was powerful. He didn't speak. He just walked out. Victorious over the labels that we'd buried him under.

I must admit that I wasn't terribly excited about going to Journey. The week leading up to it had been stressful and busy and I really wanted a weekend off! But I was glad to that I went. Beyond that, i've been thinking alot about the labels that I wear, the labels others wear and how it affects ministry and I've realized (or re-realized) some things since then.

*the only name that matters, the only label that sticks is the one that names us--all of us as God's loved child. A child that He sent his son to die for so that we wouldn't have to live a life burdened by the labels that sin places on us. I need to act with patience and love towards those around me because I might just see someone who is hurting, someone who needs to know and understand God's love and grace to them.

*I don't want to ever get comfortable, to lose the wonder of what Christ has done for me. Before Journey, I'd lost some of that wonder in the stress and the turmoil of life and work. The physical act of my laying my labels, my sins, my insecurities onto Jesus renewed that wonder... especially knowing that God's love is bigger and more fulfilling than any of the labels I place on myself.

*As we left camp, renewed and refreshed and energized, there was a sign that said "welcome to the journey" that reminded me that there's still a long way to go, a lot of people still hurt, and a lot of youth in my church that need to hear the message of God's love and grace--a love that loves beyond labels.

Welcome to the Journey.


josh Sullivan said...

Thanks for sharing that Hannah. I like the idea and the message is a powerful one. Hope all is well in OK.

Dutch Not German said...

Wow, that sounds like a moving experience, and a lesson we all need to learn.