On camping well

Once in the 1990s while I lived with my father and we struggled unsuccessfully to keep a large house clean without the attentions of a woman, he said to me in exasperation, “It just feels like we are always camping.” As I looked at the cluttered kitchen counter and the table in the breakfast nook, the comment described our situation with depressing accuracy, and it has resonated with me ever since in a way that I am sure that he did not intend.

These days when I look at a similarly cluttered kitchen or a bedroom strewn with clothes or a closet packed with boxes, the hum of the metaphor which is always an undercurrent grows again in intensity. The peaceful settledness that a clean and orderly home can create in my soul is elusive and evaporates, and the twins of entropy and ennui reappear as the vision of whatever it was for which I cleaned my house begins to fade away. It is almost as if I engage in a sort of performance art in which my house reflects the state of my soul.

If this is an odd paragraph to begin my very first post on a blog about hope, well, receive it as a clarification of what this blog is about. We do wish to be people imbued with hope, who write about its sources, about how it lives in our lives. But we also wish to be honest folk, to acknowledge that sometimes we hang from hope by gossamer threads, swaying in a wind. Sometimes we cannot feel it at all. We cannot see it in the dark. Sometimes we need each other to simply know it again at all. And that is part of the point of all of this, to share with one another pictures of where we have been, of where we are—to camp with one another in those places, to party or to mourn. It is one of the hardest things to know how to do this together; it is harder still to put some these things in writing right out here in the open.

What my father meant by camping was almost certainly negative, and perhaps an existence of perpetual camping, of being a refugee, will always have a negative cast. And, yet, camping is also a central motif in the Bible. The children of Israel, because of disobedience were set to camping for a full 40 years, the hopes of promised land disappearing into desert sand and grumbling. But buried there, too, the hope remained, rather kept for the people than by them. In the New Testament, too, Christians are asked to be camping people, to be sojourners, to hold the comforts of the world lightly, eschewing its power, to look for a greater kingdom of justice and love.

I promise, I promise, I promise not to get all Bible-y on you with every post—this is not intended to be a Bible-y blog—but I also must own that my own hope is tied up in these things, in longing for goodness and wholeness and love in my own life and in the world. It is when I lose sight of what I really want, through pure disobedience or looking for these things in the wrong places, that my hope evaporates, that I quit pushing against the entropy of my world. And I confess that for many years this has more often the state of my heart than it has not been.

One of the first titles we considered for this blog when we decided that we wanted to roughly center it around the theme of hope was “hanging out in paradox”—one might even say camping there. It is my simple hope that we camp there together (and with you the readers) well, that we can write with honesty and effectiveness about our places of despair and of hope.

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  1. this resonates with me, too. i often feel the chaos of my surroundings when we’re particularly in survival mode and i become exasperated. i look at the piles and unorganized things and repeatedly think: why can’t we just manage this? but still do little to work toward fixing it. the entropy is real and i feel that too–the hopeless sense of why bother?

    i’m trying lately to come back to health and beauty of the rhythms of work. that it’s part of cultivating and keeping and self-care to engage these things–to wash and fold the laundry, to dirty it again with romps in puddles and drippy ice cream cones. to stir splatter-producing concoctions over the stove and then nourish ourselves and others. and to wash the dishes. and to repeat. this doesn’t really get to deeper things internally, but i find that the externals are a start for me. also especially when we engage them together as you mention? rather than feeling shame when someone helps cook or do dishes or clean with us, we can receive and enjoy the whole process of preparation/celebration/clean-up.

    there’s so much here that i need to untangle. i’ll just say that camping with friends is so fun. i’m glad for this picture. there’s a longing to get there, but there’s great joy to be found along the way.

    • I agree! That idea of rhythm seems like a good description of how certain places have become somewhat sacred to me. I can remember countless wee-hour clean-ups at interdrive, after everyone has left. And I think of my grandparents’ farm, and the deck I powerwashed every summer for four years on the back of a house my family doesn’t I habit anymore, and every kitchen I’ve ever used to cook for a crowd. All that work leaves a residue. It’s a kind of consecration.

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