Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Hanging Rock Retreat

On Friday, June 12th and Saturday, June 13th I did something quite a bit different.  Went and attended a "retreat" for some men from my church and other guests that was put on by my Pastor.  The retreat consisted of a camping trip up to Hanging Rock State Park.  It is a little scary I suppose to think about it, but it has been a few *decades* since I last went camping.  As a little kid was the last time, though I do have some fond memories of attending a Boy Scout jamboree one summer.  I think it must have been down around Fayetteville as there were some military vehicles around and we found all kinds of "brass" in the field where we were camping (keep in mind that to us kids, brass was very interesting; not so much after target practice and you have to police it all up).  I don't count all the times I camped out in front of Reynolds Coliseum to get tickets to basketball games while I was attending NCSU.  Although probably as cold as it was a few times it should count as "camping".

Luckily, Pastor Mark and some of the other guys were all prepared with the equipment needed for a successful camping trip.  I get the feeling they must have been before.  (Aside in my head:
"You think?")  So all I had to do was bring some drinks, a sleeping bag, some bug spray, and clothes.  I ended up using a sleeping bag my son got for Christmas as part of a tent set he received.  As I discovered, the sleeping bag was about paper thin.  Just enough to keep me warm from the cool night air, but absolutely no padding to help combat the hardness of the tent pad I was sleeping on.

I had planned to go up there Friday evening, but got a little earlier start as I had to leave work early to pay my respects for a family member of a neighbor and former coworker.  We ended up with seven men attending and split ourselves up between two different camping spots, but most of the activity was at just one spot.  The one where we kept the fire going and all the food.

In preparing for the retreat, we had been assigned to read The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Bonhoeffer lived during the time of (and was killed by) the Nazi regime in Germany.  The first part of my copy of the book included some biographical information - how he got to where he was, his imprisonment by the Nazis, and ultimately his death at their hands.  Probably would have been moving anyway, but for me it was especially more so as me and my wife had just recently been to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in DC only a couple months ago.  So the atrocities, as well as the stories of bravery, that came from that dark period are still pretty fresh for me.

After dinner on Friday evening (ok, really night by the time we ate) we spent some time discussing Bonhoeffer's book.  The general consensus seemed to be that it was a very difficult book to read through.  We will all probably have to go back read it at least one more time.  Pastor Mark has been re-reading his copy since the 70's.  Some of the messages we got out of the book included:

  • the difference between "cheap grace" and "costly grace";

  • how so many churches are focused on a wordly path instead of a Christian path;

  • the way to become a disciple is to suffer just like Christ did;

  • we need to answer when called by God;

  • you become obedient by being obedient;

  • obedience leads to faith, and faith leads to obedience (one goes with the other).

Bonhoeffer sets forth a very high bar for Christians to aspire to.  I continue to think about how much better the world would be if more people, at least more Christians, would try a little harder to follow the path that Jesus provided for us.  I feel in my life that, while I constantly find myself stumbling, I've become a better person (and Christian perhaps) since I've started making more of a conscious effort.

On Saturday morning we prepared a good camping breakfast of bacon, sausage, eggs, and some scrambled potatoes (leftovers from the night before).  That was followed by another discussion that focused on Phillipians Ch. 3.  This reiterated the message that Jesus calls us to suffer with him and somewhat repeats the message that so much of what we think we have learned or done in the name of Christianity is all for naught (or rubbish as Paul puts it).  We also spent some time discussing what God might be calling us to do.  I'm not really sure what my specific calling may be.  I know I feel like I am frequently put in situations where I have to make some hard decisions about what the right thing to do is and I've had people comment to me that they respect a lot of those decisions.  And I seem to pretty frequently find myself in quasi-leadership type positions, like with the MINI club or serving as the team manager for my girls soccer team.  Even now Pastor Mark has dangled a request with our Sunday School class for someone to step up as a class facilitator so he can focus his energies in other areas - a request I'm considering responding to.  Sometimes I think this is all something I picked up from my father as he tended to be that way as well.  But perhaps there is something more to it?

After that, we split into a couple groups for some hiking to the sights in the park.  One group headed to the waterfalls (which I should have done).  The other group (three of us) went to the top of Hanging Rock.  I figured if I was at Hanging Rock State Park I should visit the Hanging Rock.  This despite nursing a pulled hamstring.

That turned out to be about a three mile hike from our campsite.  A very strenuous three mile hike.  Fortunately, it did give me an opportunity to test some photography skils up on the mountain.  I've been reading a book about digital photography, so this was a chance to practice with the polarizing filter.  Though I did break the rule of not photographing mountains at any time other than sunrise or sunset.  I definitely think the photos turned out better than what I got last year on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

I did have a couple noteworthy encounters as well, one during the hike.  Near the top, I was walking along and suddenly came upon a black snake at the edge of the path.  As soon as I stepped within about 3 feet of him, he started slithering away (which is when I realized he was there).  He moved about 10 feet off the path and stopped, then raised his head to watch me.  Luckily I had my telephoto lens on the camera at the time, so I was able to zoom in on him.  So basically, while on a Christian retreat I had a serpent try to cross my path, but I scared him off and then stared him down.  I guess you can figure out any symbolism that may exist.  Later that day, on my way home going down Hwy. 66 I came across another big black snake slithering across the road (which I did go around him).  Still gives me the heebie-jeebies though.

Once back from our hikes, we had lunch (though I was too hot and tired to even think about food, much less actually eat anything), followed by another discussion about Bonhoeffer that kind of summarized the things we had been talking about.  Then it was time to strike the camp and head home.

As we said our goodbyes, we discussed doing something similar again.  And maybe even getting others to go along and grow a ministry.  Hopefully I'll be able to make it the next time, preferably with a better sleeping bag.  It was a great time and I feel like I made some wonderful new friends and got to know existing friends even better.

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