Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Friday, April 19, 2013


So this woman I've never met--at least I don't remember her--comes down the stairs from the office at a place in town, takes one look at me, and says she knows me because her sister used to tell her about me.  Her sister, she says, always said I was the one who got her in big trouble at Bible camp.

I don't deserve that rap.  Okay, I went along, but it wasn't my idea to invade the girls' cabin. That honor belongs to a man who just retired after a career as a Christian school principal.  He was the real perp, the instigator.  

Sometime back in the old testament, when I was in grade school, I knew this older sister of hers--the  woman I just met wasn't wrong about that.  That older sister didn't go to the school I did, didn't even live in the same town, for pete's sake. I knew her because somehow we went to sister churches, you might say--we were both Christian Reformed, and somehow--I don't know how--I knew who she was. Come to think of it, maybe I remember her because of Bible camp.  That could be.  But at least I don't remember her because she got me in trouble.

Anyway, this younger sister is a grandma herself today, so we're talking about significantly ancient history.  I'm shocked by the indictment, quite frankly, this grandma-who's-a-younger-sister recognizing me for sins she knows nothing of and I'd simply assumed everyone else on earth had long ago forgotten.

We're talking 1960.  Seriously.

There was such an incident.  A half-dozen of us were in one of the girls cabins, an brazen act of disobedience which, the moment we were apprehended, took on Sodom-and-Gomorrah-level carnality, or so said the preacher who dressed us down. The guy wandered through the real Old Testament to footnote every scandalous story he could remember--David and Bathsheeba, Samson and Delilah, even Jezebel and Ahab.  They were all exhumed for the hearing.  After all, there were boys and there were girls, and they were together, and the lights were out. We stood at the edge of sheer Bacchanalia.

We weren't even doing anything.  I created a similar incident in a novel I wrote years ago, but that rendition was far more shameless, all of us swapping partners in a smooch-out only a 13-year-old boy might fantasize.   

That never happened--at least it didn't at Bible camp.  Five or six guys were just standing there in the girls' cabin--all right, we knew better and, all right, the lights were out--when some holy roller counselor came by and dragged us to a barrel-chested preacher who undressed us for our sin right there in front of a county-wide picture window so spacious the rest of the rubber-neck campers, hundreds of them, could file by and go slack-jawed. We could just as well have been placed in stocks.

He impugned our characters.  That I remember because I thought he was pushing it.  We were, his sermon suggested, just a step or so away from an orgy, although I'm sure he didn't use the word because I wouldn't have known it.  None of us would. But have no doubt--we were sinful. We weren't beyond redemption, but we were pushing the limits of grace. We were in a girls' cabins. 

Boys were in a girls' cabin. 

He threatened to call our parents and have them pick us up, to send us home early.  That I remember.  There were a dozen of us, as many boys as girls, and some of us cried--mainly, the girls. Probably this woman's sister bawled--I don't remember. But there were tears.  That too I remember.

And all of that is what this woman I just met said her sister would never forget, and was therefore what she remembered too--that Jim Schaap had led her sister astray at some Bible camp a thousand years ago.  Nothing else--that's what she said.  Nothing about 37 years at a Christian college.  Nothing about devotional books.  Nothing about anything, but "Sure, I know you--of course, I know you. Long ago you got my sister in trouble at Bible camp."

What a way not to be forgotten.  I'm the man who led her sister into sin.

What I didn't say is that I remembered her older sister too.  I remember her face, and I remember a certain physical characteristic that would have helped her balance a backpack, if we'd lugged backpacks around back then.  Which we didn't.  But, I'm saying she could have, you know, comfortably.  That's what I remember.

Maybe that preacher was right.

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