For each of the segments of conversation Ms. Solomon had created an ink drawing to illustrate discussion.
Project – Segment of Ecumenical Grant for 2001, with Eighth St. Mennonite Church, Goshen, Indiana; Made possible through a Worship Renewal Grant
From Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Funded by Lilly Endowment Inc.
This being the final week of summer camp, the “Different Drummer” group of early teens spent an hour each evening remembering some aspect of camp life—What they had learned; How they had changed; Why they had enjoyed living together.
These youth had spent the entire summer involved in activities both fun-filled and disciplined. Some had concentrated on music or art development. In addition to having private lessons and singing in a mixed choir, the musicians daily met in small ensemble groups to improve skills on their favored instrument and to develop team spirit. Artists concentrated for three-week blocks on three different media—painting, pottery, and photography. Each block ended with a “show” of favorite creations. Other youth concentrated on physical skills, large and fine-tuned ones. Those with obvious physical handicaps encouraged each other in therapy sessions. All progressed in self-understanding too. Some early teens came to the camp setting to get distance from a disrupted family setting. They did a lot of jobs around camp—helping to construct an open-air pavilion, cleaning cabins, assisting in the kitchen and with cookouts, and acting as lifeguards at the pool.
The young teens lived in units within cabins. Each cabin of four units housed either three or four youth per section. An adult mentored each cabin group, a different adult from the one who met with discussion groups like Different Drummers. Those groups combined one guy’s and one girl’s section of a cabin. Early teens were not yet drivers, so they had no cars at camp. They could hire a taxi to get to town seven miles away, but few did because camp facilities and friends met their needs for food, entertainment, recreation, and social exchange.
Adults chose the summer camp experience because of their love for youth. They both taught in professional areas and guided large or small group activities, including evening discussions. Application forms had scrutinized indicators of prejudice and encouraged ethical expression. Jan, a computer teacher during the school year, found the camp setting a delightful change. Some years earlier, she had had very positive experiences as a dorm ‘parent’ at two Christian international boarding schools—one year with thirty Middle School age girls and later a semester with fellows in grades 8-12. Based on those good times with diverse kids—kids who lived separate from their parents for months at a time—she understood the dynamics for kids away from “home.” She both recognized the early signs of separation anxiety and had insight into teen maturity patterns when more “on their own.” Jan knew how those kids often depend on peers, rather than adults, for insight. She observed that they avoided some of the squabbles which teens that live in more localized communities might encounter. Teens living at home return to that more private setting less conditioned to ‘work through’ quarrels directly, assisted by peers. Trained in counseling courses, Jan also knew how to keep herself in the background of camper exchange and when to take more initiative.
A significant part of the summer camp experience took place in discussions. During “short stop” breaks before mid-afternoon snack time, campers talked with peers of all types about events or feelings of the day. In addition to lots of time together around meals or projects, they also met each evening with seven kids and an adult. The assigned group that readers will meet here chose to call themselves “Different Drummers.” Knowing the limit of half-hour blocks of time, with each session focused on a distinct theme, groups developed the skill to move directly into ‘solid’ content.
Campers also learned to use blocks of private time effectively. All worked for parts of each day alone. They practiced instruments or read or walked in the woods to re-create themselves. The routine, yet flexibility, of boarding settings where early teens live together day and night, develops discipline in kids. They expect to discuss each other’s ideas and questions. Those who had attended camp during previous years knew that the summer ends all too soon. Campers rarely ‘waste’ time. They internalize the privilege to attend camp. A trust level develops because campers desire and effectively learn to extend trust. Alert to the fact that strengths are expected, strengths emerge. At the same time, kids are kids. When jealousies appear, Jan enables her group to name and own them, for example.
Camp brochures make clear that values and religious ideas are a vital part of camp experience. No single expression of religion is expected or promoted. Diversity is welcomed and valued. Campers are expected to spend two-three hours each week in the reading room of the chapel by the lake. Resources stretch their minds and confirm faith inquiry. They introduce different denominations and living faiths. They include varied hymnals and art books. Art might range from nature’s sacred rhythms to how artists of different countries depict stories from the Bible. Magazines that focus on worship, contemplation, or social justice give campers a ‘window’ into varied expressions of faith. Photo or sketch books offer visual ‘handles’ for thinking of Hindus at prayer, styles of sanctuaries, or the effects of an Amish lifestyle on youth. Not geared to piety that depends on particular language, exposure through resources broadens religious sensitivity. It affirms what is diverse and what is common for people as they explore faith.
Just as campers focus on different areas like music or art, so they daily engage diverse values within the camp ‘family.’ Most campers and adults claim a Christian heritage—Roman Catholics and diverse denominations. Others bring a Jewish loyalty or represent another religion. The goal is for all to grow in understanding, claiming, and expressing their own faith while they grow in respect for and better understand views that differ. Campers meet together with their questions and ideas, both of which are partial and in process, but significant. To express and therefore explore through them is a goal for all. Some begin to find aspects of answers that ‘satisfy’ present questions. Most leave with further unknowns.
The conversation that follows introduces important religious themes; many others could be developed. At varied times—planned and impromptu—campers had shared doubts and beliefs. They argued about whether the idea of God helped them to balance aspects of life. Earlier, they had agreed on which themes to focus during this wrap-up session. While campers expressed many honest questions during their initial times of sharing, what follows reflects primarily the gist or key ideas recalled from those sessions. Therefore, answer-like responses occur more often. ‘Hear,’ then the Different Drummers during one evening of their final week together.
The previous night Jan’s cluster had recalled what they learned about emotions—how being alert to feelings actually made them feel safer when they reveal themselves. They had processed feelings of belonging and ways that they at times censor or judge themselves or others. Expressing the desire to succeed led them to deal also with ‘bouncing back’ after failures or mistakes. A few risked talking about feeling lonesome for a parent. For campers to compliment their peers was not unusual. While to talk about religious ideas is perhaps less ‘natural’ than about popular entertainment figures, they agreed to honor each other’s honest efforts tonight. The group also agreed that tomorrow night’s memories would deal with games—how team sports and even chess or solitaire had helped them to grow.
Although they are involved in diverse camp programs, the group has become cohesive. With each other, they belong. Whether through a refreshing innocence or streaks of sophistication, they accept another’s idea. Or they balk and try again to perceive—because they too wish to be accepted. They enjoy each other and support one another’s varied activities. They’ve swapped pictures, to remind them to send e-mail messages from their scattered hometowns. And they’ve progressed toward honoring each other’s distinct views alongside seeing common ideas that give life meaning.
Although more details could be identified, only a distinct feature of each camper is named. Readers will discover and imagine other character traits, beyond those offered through the illustrations.
Mike – in a wheelchair
Angie – African American, taller than all the rest
Jill – lived with her professor parents in China last year
Franco – recently from Mexico, Roman Catholic
Tess – self-confident, free-spirited
Sid – of the Sikh religion, lives next door to Tess
Joe – family oriented, concerned to conserve traditions
Tonight, the Different Drummers, who have met regularly with Jan, will talk about a few aspects of religion. Jan has helped to create group space marked by honesty, comfort, and mutual responsibility for ‘control’ and initiative. Trust enables the Different Drummers to feel basically at ease when they talk about religion, an aspect that they feel is vital to being an integrated person. Jan models fairness, expects involvement, and will need to be the ‘time keeper’ in order to allow time for each topic chosen.
Most of the campers knew about church life before this summer; religion was noted as central to family experience for several. All campers had met for Meditations in the chapel near the beach several times each week. Topics of faith often came up informally in conversation; campers constantly learned from each other. For example, Mike reported having heard a lot of prayers right after his boating accident. And Joe knew from his grandma that “Grandpa had gone straight to heaven after he died.” Tess was glad that Sid lived next door to her; once he had taken her along to the gurdwara where his family worships.
Suggestions for using this resource.
This material may be processed in varied ways. Youth or their directors may choose to discuss the issues of diversity that are presented here during the Sunday School or Education Hour. A retreat setting might be preferred. Or, young teens could be encouraged to engage with the content alone, during private time. In any case, those involved will decide how many themes to pursue at a given time and in which order. The script imagines the Different Drummers as having reviewed the themes in one setting. But readers may select segments of content to study in light of their skill, interest levels, and time available.
Even before reading about the themes, some youth may wish to think about diversity somewhat in the abstract—in more general terms or within the context of religion. Diversity abounds. To make choices is inevitable, whether about which socks to wear today or which prayer in a devotional book to read. Is diversity useful or confusing or both? What determines what is basic or to be preferred when options exist, as with denominations? Why might prejudice emerge along with differences, and why might some people be more threatened by options than others?
Having chosen a theme, the first task is to read the segment here. Within a group setting or alone, ponder the content privately. What questions surface? Write them down. Did you gain new understanding into some idea? Who might help you think further about it? Did you dislike any comment or character? If so, why? What idea expressed stretched your view? What connects with your experience or what has little tie to your tradition or church? What other aspects of the theme might campers have discussed? An appropriate exercise, either alone or with groups, would be to imagine what questions the campers might have asked, that led to their responses. Then, do you feel more or less at ease with the fact of diversity?
Reflection pieces that build on the themes discussed by the Different Drummers appear at the end. Explore the same; you may or may not value the approach used with a given theme. Create your own reflection piece—a prayer or song or how you imagine the exchange might continue. Share your ideas as a way to continue to formulate them.
——-With the campers gathered on lounge chairs or cushions on the floor, Jan, the Different Drummer group leader, checks: “Everybody comfortable? If you tire of one position, you may move within the room as long as you don’t disrupt the conversation. You’ve brought your snack. As usual, you’ll eat or drink that without sharing it. We’ve agreed on ten plus themes, so we’ll only highlight ideas. And Jill will mark each shift between themes when she taps a rhythm on her drum. So, where shall we begin?”
“Let’s recall when we talked about water,” Joe suggested.
“Why water?” Jan wondered, pleased that the shyest camper at the beginning of the summer spoke first.
“I bet I know,” Angie said. “He likes to get wet, so he thinks that baptism in a river is cool.”
“Sid said that he was baptized too, even though he’s of the Sikh [pronounced seek] religion,” said Jill. “I saw Christians being baptized the year we were in China too. But what impressed me more was a huge waterfall. There was so much power or force at the bottom. Made me think of God.”
“That kind of power is not what’s important to me. I like the idea that water is holy, a kind of silent power,” Franco said. “At my cousin’s wedding, the priest sprinkled the wedding rings with holy water. That blessing somehow sealed their vows.”
“If something is ‘holy,’ what does that mean?” asked Jan.
“It’s clean or pure. We’re to respect it,” suggested Franco.
“But how do I respect water?” Jill asked. “I can respect a person, but water is just plain water.”
“Not exactly. We can think of any object as holy, if we want,” added Sid. “Different people name different things as sacred. A friendship can be holy or symbols in a place of worship can reflect the holy. My Hindu friend thinks that cows are holy, because of all the good things that they provide.”
“Hey, guys,” Joe said. “I was the one who brought up water—the subject that is. I like Bible stories about water.”
“What do you like about water in those stories?” asked Jill.
“The dramatic part,” said Joe. “Like when Jesus turned water into wine. Imagine that! Or, some guy was healed when he dipped into water a few times. He trusted what Jesus asked him to do.”
“So, you like miracles,” Franco observed.
“Yet water is such a common thing,” Joe added. “We use it every day. Jesus could take what was ordinary and make it very special.”
“How about the time that Jesus walked on water?” Angie asked. “I’m not so sure about that. It scared the disciples too.”
“Don’t you think it really happened?” Franco asked.
“How do I know,” Angie answered. “It’s too dramatic—must have seemed like a ghost walking.”
“So,” Franco added, “Jesus said, ‘Do not be afraid. Believe.’”
Snapping her fingers, Angie said, “Believe. Just like that. I don’t think it’s that simple. You, Joe and Franco, can believe in miracles. But I’m going to hold on to my questions.”
“And so our views about sacred water differ,” Jan noted. “It makes us think of baptism and power, of silence and miracles. We’re off to a good start.” She signals to Jill to tap a few measures on her drum.
“Now which theme of religion would you like to recall?” asked Jan.
“How about church music,” Jill suggested.
“Good idea. Where do we begin?” Jan invited.
“Let’s remember that people of some religions don’t meet in churches. And, they might use sound in different forms,” Sid said. “Some people chant. Others may hold a given tone for quite a while, like Hindus who stretch out ‘Aum’ or ‘Ohmmm’ on a tone. That’s a way to pray or worship too.”
“Music can be the mode for prayer,” said Jill. “We may talk with God through the words of a hymn. Or, meditative types of music can provide background for thinking about God.”
“Adults in my church sing in different levels of sound. Some women sing really high notes while others, like my dad, sing quite low notes,” observed Tess. “I’m not sure how a person decides which line to follow.”
“We don’t need to decide; our music has one line for all of us to use. That way we’re equal,” Franco offered.
“Really,” mused Tess. “No one would feel so bad then, if they can’t sing as well as others.”
“But, we aren’t all the same. Some have skills in music and others in art or sports. I can’t play the piano or run a race,” said Mike, “but I can draw about anything with a pen.”
“Just look at his paper,” said Joe. “Show them the car that you’ve drawn since we started talking—such details; the wheels’ spokes almost sing.”
“Good job, Mike,” said Angie, as she stood up to look. “What I like about music at my church is the beat. We clap all the time. Or, we stomp a foot, or the pianist brings along some jazz combo. And then we clap for them too.”
“I guess that music is like a ‘carry-in’ meal,” observed Mike. If we don’t like potato salad, we choose the macaroni dish. So, if we like more motion with hymns, we can go with Angie to church.”
“Whichever style we prefer, music helps us to worship God,” said Joe, “even though God isn’t there as a person to hear us.”
“Christians from different denominations still use each other’s hymns,” said Jill. “Even in a church in China, I recognized most hymn tunes.”
“I remember a worship service in my hometown on the Day of Pentecost. Christians of all types met at the Catholic parish,” said Mike. “Hymns with
the Pentecost theme came from different denominations.”
“How did you know the denomination?” asked Franco.
“One hymn from the thirteenth century had to be Catholic,” Mike responded. “One by Martin Luther had to be Lutheran. And I recognized one by Charles Wesley, a Methodist like me.”
“But how did you know who wrote the hymns?” Franco asked.
“Printed music includes the composer and date it was written,” Mike said.
“Why shouldn’t we share hymns? We share the same Spirit!” exclaimed Jill.
Joe added: “I bet if we checked out Christmas carols, we’d find that composers were from different groups too. Yet, we might think of them as belonging to our church. Makes me wonder who composed ‘Silent Night.’”
“Sid, ‘Silent Night’ is probably the best-known carol,” Tess explained.
“Thanks for explaining, Tess,” Jan said. “We could say more about music, but take a minute, in-place break while Jill gives the drum a beating.”
With everyone seated again, Tess began. “Jan, once you asked us to draw our idea of God. I’ve thought of several images since then.”
“Good,” Jan replied.
“I remember your earlier response, Tess,” said Angie. “You refused to draw anything because that would be like creating an idol, you said. Guess you’ve changed your mind.”
“Right,” Tess said. “I learned from you guys. Since we can’t know God’s form, we can think of about any object and say how God is like or different from that—like a rose or even an aspirin.”
“Angie,” began Jan, “you set a good example of remembering what someone else drew or said. That approach seems unselfish. Who else remembers what another person drew?”
“Franco drew a big blob, always-changing,” Sid replied. “He said that God doesn’t have any form, so the assignment was impossible.”
“And you, Sid, drew a ‘still, small voice,’ (ha!) as I recall,” added Mike.
“Angie tried to draw her favorite aunt,” Joe said. “None of us could guess who she was. But I’ve thought since then about Angie’s reasons. Her aunt lives the best life of anyone Angie knows. She cares for needy neighbors. She interrupts getting a meal ready, to bandage a kid whose skateboard got away. And she warns Angie not to judge a Muslim neighbor girl whose mother wears a full-length burka, or cover. So, for Angie, her aunt is like God.”
“Good memory, Joe,” Jan said. “We decided that no one way—words or objects—could begin to depict God’s full being or forms.”
“We noted some of the varied names used in the Bible too—like El Shaddai, Yahweh, Holy One of Israel, and King,” Mike explained.
“What struck me were the objects or activities used in your scripture to describe God,” added Sid. “I recall rock, shepherd, rain-giver, winnower, and even dew. After that discussion, I looked up the different names that we Sikhs use for God and found: ‘Eternal Truth, Creator, Compassionate One, and O True King.’”
Noticing her body language, Jan said, “Yes, Tess.”
“I remember Joe’s sketch” Tess said. “It had lots of images—a candle burning, an open door, a shepherd’s staff with a crook, a hen with some chicks under a wing, and a judge in a courtroom. Oh, and he tried drawing a mother giving birth but got stuck! Right, Joe?”
“The idea that sticks in my mind from our discussion was your idea, Jan,” said Jill. “Ever since then, I feel freer to think of God in ways other than male. Since God isn’t human, even language that refers to God mostly as ‘he’ or ‘him’ limits God’s divine being and distorts our view. My mom will be glad to know how you explained that problem.”
“I’ve been watching Mike while we talk,” Sid said. “He was at the doctor’s office when we discussed God the other week. I’m curious to know what he has drawn now.”
“Thanks, Sid. I’ve been thinking about God’s ‘body’—not a human body, but in my imagination. I see God’s ‘body’ as the world. So, I drew a polluted stream with empty beer cans and trash from a picnic. When we pollute the earth or say nasty things about another race or stifle a kid’s dream to succeed, we hurt God. Because all of the world is God’s body.”
“Thanks for a good summary,” Jan said. “But, we’d better shift to another theme.”
Jill taps a snappy rhythm on the drum.
“Christians think of the Divine as a Trinity—three aspects but of one Source. One of these is the Spirit or Holy Spirit,” Jan began. “As with all words used of God, the term Spirit is an analogy. How did we explain analogy?”
“When one word or thing is similar to another,” Mike answered. “The two resemble each other some way.”
“Wisdom and Sophia are other names used for the same Spirit,” Franco said.
“You, Jan, described the Christian’s concept of Spirit through a number of images—blowing wind, flowing water, and burning fire,” said Sid.
“I like ideas of the Spirit as a guide in the fog or relief for pain,” added Jill.
“The image that hangs there with me,” said Mike, “is ‘herself the melody, she plays music in the soul.’”
“Remember,” Jan asked, “the writer who suggested some of those images?”
“Elizabeth somebody,” Franco offered.
“Right, Elizabeth Johnson,” Jan added. “A fine Catholic and good writer.”
“I liked how we each acted out something of the Spirit’s activity when we talked about her,” said Jill. “Mike adapted to limits. He wrote a note to Sophia about his feelings when he couldn’t go swimming with us.”
“I acted as if I made friends with a stranger,” Tess recalled.
“Did different images clash with each other?” Jan asked.
“I remember feeling more alone because of my Catholic emphasis on Wisdom,” Franco said.
“That talk about Wisdom was totally new to me,” said Joe. “To think of the Spirit as from the beginning, when things were first created, disturbed me. I always thought the Spirit first appeared when the church started, in Acts.”
“Did we give you, Franco and Joe, space to hold your views?” Jan asked.
“I don’t plan to change my mind,” Franco said. “Why doubt the proverb that Wisdom was present ‘when the foundation of the earth took shape?’”
“What bothers me,” said Joe, “is that you refer to the Spirit as she—‘She is precious; she is radiant.’ I know God and the Trinity through ‘he’ language.”
“Look for yourself in the Bible’s Book of Wisdom,” said Franco. “Wisdom guided them and became a shelter; she led them through the Red Sea.”
“My Bible doesn’t have a Book of Wisdom,” Joe said. “I can’t trust your Catholic additions.”
“Additions! Books like Wisdom of Solomon have always been there. You Protestants took them out,” Franco retorted. “Wisdom is radiant. Sophia is part of the True God. She is found by those who seek her.”
“Sophia! You find her because you want to. So, if I don’t want to find her, what’s wrong with that?” asked Joe.
“Jan, these two argued like this for ten minutes one night, after the lights were off. I couldn’t stop them; neither would change,” added Mike.
“Why should I change?” asked Joe.
“Might either of you change your attitude?” asked Angie from the corner. “Arguments and misunderstanding often grow around stubborn attitudes.”
“Good point, Ang,” said Jan as she signaled to Jill. As the taps accelerate, the Different Drummers know that the subject will change too.