In seventh grade, I joined a Boy Scout Troop at Broadway Baptist Church in Louisville where my great-grandfather had been the preacher. After several months and lots of capture the flag, I achieved the lowest rank of Tenderfoot. We went on a group camping trip about an hour from home.
As our campfire ignited near our lean-to huts, one of the older scouts sent me to the ranger office to get a smoke sifter to keep the smoke out of our eyes. “Make it a left-handed smoke sifter,” he added as I marched off. I found the office and spoke to the attendant, but he didn’t know what I was talking about. He just shook his lowered head as he stifled a smile. On the trek back I realized I’d been had and my pride was none too happy about it. I declined the snipe hunt invitation.
About 2 am I awakened to a very upset stomach. I made it away from the huts just in time to hurl the orange kool-aid, burger, and beans on the ground. Rather than return to my sleeping bag, I walked to the pay phone I’d seen while seeking a left-handed smoke sifter. I called my dad, told him I was sick, and spent some time convincing him to come get me. I walked up to my lean-to, grabbed my sleeping bag and walked down to the station to await my lift home.
Around 8 my father came to my bedroom and said, “I just got a phone call and I have one question. Did you tell anybody at the camp-out you were leaving?” I had never considered their panic while discovering my disappearance. I just didn’t want to bother anyone in the middle of the night – other than my dad of course. As Jack Crabb in “Little Big Man” would say, “That was the end of my boy scouting period.”
I never surpassed being a Tenderfoot. While I’ve taken advantage of other passive-aggressive opportunities in my life, I’m not sure I ever surpassed that one, either. I’m grateful that out of the hundreds of youth I’ve taken on church trips, camps, and conferences, no one came close to doing to me what I did to my leaders that morning.
Over the years, I’ve experienced many people disappearing from church without a word. Some embarrassed, some feeling unwelcome, some regretful, some passive-aggressive, some spiritual but not religious, some harmed by the church with scars that don’t heal. People tell them the door is open; come worship with us anytime — they don’t.
Our year-long crisis has presented opportunities. Those who wouldn’t go to church for a variety of reasons, now wouldn’t to protect the health of others. Walled off whispers of community preachers for those who show are available online for those who watch. The vision of God for justice, peace, and love along with the meaning of becoming a human being are being proclaimed outside a building for those with ears to hear.
How has your pride led to your leaving? What voices are you listening to today? How have you been touched by the divine because of this past year?