Faith, Media & Culture

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

(Jim Breuer from his website)
Funny act. One of the perks of doing a blog like this is that occasionally you get invited to stuff.  And, so it was that my wife and I skipped our usual Saturday night routine of Doc Martin on PBS (her favorite) and am episode of the classic 196o’s show The Fugitive (my favorite) on DVD and headed out to the Paramount Theater in Huntington, Long Island.  As much as I’m hooked on the saga of Dr. Richard Kimble, it was a great change of pace.

I was, of course, familiar with Jim Breuer from his days on Saturday Night Life but I didn’t exactly count myself a fan. I didn’t particularly dislike him. I just didn’t think much of him one way or the other. I must say that changed after seeing him onstage. The guy is funny! Riffing on everything from TV coverage of the hunt for cruises to Boston Marathon bombings to family life, the guy had the audience howling. My wife even laughed really hard. And that is an accomplishment because she doesn’t always laugh at my jokes — so I know she’s a hard sell.

Breuer, who is married for 20 years and three daughters, was at his best when nailing the nuances of family life — declaring himself to be a “Marriage Warrior.” Seriously funny, he’s really in the league of a Tim Allen, Ray Romano or even Bill Cosby when it comes to nailing the nuances of family life. And, like those guys, the would-be TV programmer in me thinks he should get his own multi-camera sitcom. It could even be called Marriage Warrior.

Anyway, we learned Breuer’s wife is, as he put it, “deeper in the faith” then he tends to be — an observation that he generated some genuine laughs with.  One of the funniest portions of the show had him reflecting on how quickly his spouse (who must also be blessed with a great sense of humor) is able to go from praising the Lord to really angry at him in a matter of seconds.

I was also impressed at how Breuer manages to be uproariously funny without a single dropping of an F-bomb or S-bomb or GD-bomb or any of that stuff. It’s not that we in the audience are going to wilt if we hear such words, it’s just that they’re unnecessary to really well-honed comedy. It’s not that we in the audience are going to wilt at hearing such words. It’s just that they are crass and we hear enough of them in real life. (Just ask my wife when I’m in the middle of a problem with the computer.)

About the raunchiest part of his routine dealt with his elderly father’s incontinence. It was funny and not offensive but it was, perhaps, the one bit that went on a little too long. But he did deftly avoid the “S” word and managed to wrap it up (so to speak) with a surprisingly warm aside about his love and respect for his father (a WWII vet).

So, to sum up, if you have the opportunity to catch Jim Breuer live, I would recommend taking it. If you happen to be running a TV network, give him a sitcom.

To learn more about Jim Breuer and check out his tour dates, click here.

Unplug the kids! Today it is hard to go anywhere without seeing kids on their cell phone, tablet or some technology device. Parents use it as a tool to “keep their children distracted,” kids use it to communicate or engage with others- but what happened to authentic REAL communication? In a world where everyone is literally wired to their ears in media, where can anyone (kids or adults) go to get a breather from it all? Christian Camp and Conference Association President Gregg Hunter suggests, well, camp.

The Facts:

GREGG HUNTER: Christian Camp and Conference Association is made of up member Christian camps and conferences across the country. Currently we have about 840 of them. Our mission statement is to maximize ministry for our members. We do that in several ways. We provide educational opportunities. We produce materials that they can read and learn from. We have events that we do. We have webinars monthly for training with the idea that we can help them do ministry better…We want to help them (the camps and conference centers) maximize their ministry, so we work directly with the camp and conference leaders and their staffs  — providing a magazine that we do six times a year. We (also) have a national conference with intensive training (for) members that will host kids when they go to camp…Our organization is about making camps more efficient in delivering their ministry.

JWK: I understand from your bio that you used to do marketing at Boeing. How did you make the leap from that to what you’re doing now? 

GH:  I went from Boeing to youth ministry with Young Life. I then went to a P.R. firm in Washington D.C. I went to a tech company then I went to another non-profit in Atlanta. I felt led and called to this position a little over four years ago. I’m a camp kid too…I was a kid who didn’t grow up in a Christian family or in a church-going home. I was pretty angry and rebellious. I was a hard-drinking kid who was angry and not very nice. I went to camp when I was 17.

JWK: Was it a Christian camp?

GH: I went to a Christian camp at 17. That’s where I made a decision to give my life to Jesus Christ. When I did that, my life changed dramatically.

JWK: How did you end up in the camp?

GH: A local youth outreach ministry came to my high school. The leader befriended me and proved to me that he cared about me. I got to know him over the course of a couple years and then when he invited me to camp I told him I couldn’t afford to go — that my parents wouldn’t pay for and couldn’t pay for it. I couldn’t either. So, he got a scholarship for me. He said “You’ll have to work for it.” I said “That’s fine.” I’ve had a paper route and worked in a fast-food restaurant. (I’ve worked) since I was eleven. So, we went and weeded a garden for Mrs. Herman and she paid for me to go to camp. So, it’s part of the reason why I’m passionate about our effort to raise money to send kids to camp who, otherwise, couldn’t afford to go. I know the change that happened in my life — for time and for eternity — and so I would love to see thousands or tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of kids have the same opportunity I did…

…We call our campaign “The Power of Camp” and…if you could send people to you’ll see there are three buttons that are calls to action and one is Find a Camp and we would love that to be just for parents or youth leaders to say “I’ll send my kids to camp” or “I’ll take my youth group to camp.” So, we’d love for them to find one of our member camps to go to. There’s Send a kid to Camp which is our scholarship effort…And then the third is Tell Your Story. We love to collect stories about the power of camp where people say “Well, I want to share how God changed my life through the Christian camp experience.”…So, those are kind of our three calls to action.

JWK: How long is a typical camp experience? Are they the same at every camp or do they vary from camp to camp?

GH: They do vary — from day camps to three or four day overnights. A very typical summer camp stay is one week but that is, generally, six nights. Camps can even vary that but we (like to) say, if you stay for a week, it’ll be the best week of your life — even though it may not be a full seven days.

JWK: A large part of that “best week” involves helping kids to unplug from the various media influences they’re bombarded with on a daily basis — such as TV, videos, computer games and cell phones. Is that correct?

GH: It is correct, John. What we have found over and over again is that there’s great benefit in kids getting away from daily their setting (and) into what we call “temporary community.” (A camp) is a place where the daily stimuli, the pressures — whether it’s peer pressure, parental pressure or self-pressure, all those things — fade away…They get out of their daily routine and they’re in a new setting. They’re surrounded by the beauty of God’s creation and new people — counselors, adult role models who are positive and who love them and care about them — and, all of a sudden, instead of looking down at their phone — instead of having ear buds plugged in and doing that — their mind is sort of cleared in this beautiful setting where they can say “Who am I really? And who do I really want to be?” It’s why so often when young people, particularly, get a view of their future and they hear of God’s love for them, they respond like I did and they begin a relationship with God at camp.

JWK: How different can these camps be in their approach to accomplishing that? Do they vary widely or are their programs all pretty similar?

GH: At camps the experience does vary widely depending on the amenities of each camp or even their surroundings. So, some camps would naturally have water sports — like water skiing or kneeboarding, wakeboarding and those kinds of things — because they’re on a lake or even a large river. Other camps, say high in the Rocky Mountains don’t have lakes or rivers  and they have repelling and rock climbing (and-or) a high-elements ropes course. Other (possible) elements (include) horseback riding but some camps, obviously, don’t have and keep horses (but) some do and it’s a key element. Generally they will focus on elements on high adventure and providing experiences for kids that they just won’t get in their day-to-day lives.

JWK: As you know, Christian camps have not always been portrayed positively by the media. There was a 2006 documentary called Jesus Camp which I understand — I have not seen it myself — is quite critical of the camps, suggesting, I guess, that they’re sort of cultish.  How do you respond to such portrayals?

GH: I understand the question and I think it’s valid…

I’d say that for parents, particularly, who are wondering what the experience is like and “Should I send my kid?”…I would challenge every parent — and encourage them — to check out the camp. First, to call them and say “I have these concerns. What is your camp like? What are your policies for adult interaction with the kids? What are your policies for keeping kids safe?” And, as they communicate, then the parents can go deeper. I would encourage even a visit because parents will get, I think, greater satisfaction in knowing they understand how each camp is run if they’re there with the people and on the property.

I’m not nervous about the image that some media may cast on Christian camping because I know hundreds of leaders who have a passion for ministering to kids in a positive way — for introducing them to Jesus Christ or helping them grow in their faith. That’s their life work. It’s what they’re committed to. So, if there’s some other media out there that casts aspersions on the work of the camps, I say get to know the leaders, get to know the people and that will put your mind at ease.

JWK: Are there any famous people we may know who actually graduated from any of these camps?

GH: We’re in the process right now of talking with a number of people and soliciting input from those who have been to camp and have had a life-changing experience. Just this week I was meeting with Wess Stafford who is president emeritus now of Compassion International, a fantastic ministry to the poor of the world. Wess told me his story — that when he was 17 he went to camp and had an experience there that changed his life. He said “If I had not had that camp experience, if I had not heard that message around the campfire…I don’t believe I would have gone into ministry. I would not have been with Compassion for the last couple of decades.” Wess has led this movement. They’re ministering to a million-and-half kids now around the world. And he credits the camp setting, the camp experience (and) the camp message with really turning his life around.

JWK: Besides going to — to either send their own kid to camp, sponsor a kid or share their personal camp story —   what would you like people to do as a result of reading this blog?

GH: I would love for them to go to for any one of those three reasons or for all three reasons (and) find a camp near them. And the way that works is (that) there’s a search engine that allows them to put their zip code in and they can then choose the radius around their zip code that they’re willing to travel. So, they say all CCCA camps within 150 miles or 50 miles or 800 miles — whatever they choose — and then it’ll pop those choices up. They can also search (based on) the criteria they feel are important — whether it’s a denominational connection or activity based or whatever. So, that’s a great search engine for parents and youth leaders to go find a great camp for their kids to go to.

If they don’t have specific kids in their lives, we would love for them to send a kid to camp. Those scholarships that we award to our members when we receive the donations are $120 to help offset the cost for kids who otherwise couldn’t afford to go — and then have the same kind of camp experience that I did and that Wess Stafford did.

JWK: Is there anything else you’d like to say?

GH: In thinking about your focus on media and on connection, I would say this. Most Christian camps in America require campers to turn in their technology…It’s becoming more and more difficult because kids are so connected. I would say this is the most electronically-stimulated generation in the history of humanity. There’s always information pouring into their heads — their eyes, their ears, their minds. And, so when they go to a camp, again, most Christian camps will require that they turn in their phones.

(Note: At this ironic moment, Gregg’s cell phone chimed.)

JWK: You say that as your phone goes off.

GH: (laughs while turning off his phone) Isn’t that funny?! I should have turned in mine.

(An) interesting thing at our last national conference. We had a group of kids on the stage — middle school and high school kids from a local youth group — and a host asked the “How do you feel about giving up your phone — which is your camera, it is your email, it is your music?” And one child, a girl, said this: “When I heard that I had to give our stuff up, I was almost distraught because I thought it’s always connected to me. I’m never without my phone.” She said “Within three days, I had forgotten about my phone and I realized I was focusing on people, looking them in the eye. I’m listening to them without being distracted and actually talking with them! And she said “If we had been offered to have our phones back by day three or four, I would have declined it.”

JWK: How old was this girl?

GH: She was in high school. I don’t know (her age) exactly.

And then, afterwards, John, I camp director (at our international conference) came up to me and said “This session with those kids changed my life (and) changed my ministry because….the pressure for parents and kids to have their technology (has gotten) so great that I was considering changing our policy and letting kids have their phones. He said “Now I’m committed to the policy of taking away the technology because I heard from that girl and saw the others nodding their heads (in agreement).” It’s so important to get them disconnected in for them just to clear their minds and build relationships. That’s so important.

JWK: It would be a good experience for adults too.

GH: Absolutely! It’s a good experience for me.

One more thing…You’ve heard the term “helicopter parents.” Those are the parents who hover over their kids (and are) very protective all the time. It’s hard for them sometimes to let their kids go to camp — but they also want to keep connected to their kids when they’re at camp.

I heard a story a couple of years ago about a dad who had given his son three phones to take to camp. There was one that they would call the “dummy phone.” It didn’t work anyway and (the son) was able to turn that in on opening day. The second phone was for him to keep in touch with dad and for dad to be able to call him when he was at camp. And the third one was the backup in case he got caught with Phone 2. It worked also. And so he had three phones. Again, the poor kid has the expectation wanting to stay in touch with his friends and wanting to text and email and listen to his music — but now he has dad and maybe mom saying “Here, we’re going to allow you to kind of cheat the system so we can stay in touch with you.”

JWK: I guess that is actually an issue though. Some parents don’t like to be out of touch with their kids. They consider it a safety issue. How do you deal with that feeling?

GH: A lot of camps will allow different levels of connection or opportunity to connect with kids. So, they might even say “Okay, on Day 2 of camp or Day 3 of camp, during free time, you can come in and use the computer and email mom and dad if you want — or you can call them if you want during that time and let them know how you’re doing.” A few camps — but not many — actually have webcams. So, during parts of the activity, they’ll say “Log in from one to three on Wednesday. It’s when we have out Play Day where there some athletic field competitions, for example, and you may catch a glimpse of your kid and you can watch the kinds of things that they’re doing.” So, I think there are accommodations that some are willing to make to say “We understand that mom and dad like to be connected and we’ll do everything we can within reason and within the scope of our program in trying to reach out to kids that will still allow mom and dad to stay in touch.”

JWK: What’s the age range for camp going? In other words, what’s the youngest a kid would be and what’s the oldest?

GH: In early elementary school a lot of kids will go to day camp.  So, mom and dad will drop them off in the morning and come get them in the evening. Going through elementary school and heading toward junior high, then it begins overnight camp. And sometimes that earlier too, John, depending on the camp…And they go up through high school…Some of our members also are adult only camps where they are retreat centers. And so they would offer for churches a men’s retreat or a women’s retreat. They would come to camp for a three-day weekend or a four-day weekend or even a week. And some of our members do family camps. So, its mom and dad with three or four kids…

So, truly, I guess if I were to summarize I would say camping if for all ages.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11


Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus