makes the corn grow tall," the Hoosiers
often said. It also makes sweat
, and hay fever
. I went to a church camp
one summer with my friend, Dot. The camp was a miserable place, just a few ugly buildings stuck in the middle of a field with tall trees for shade. The shade was poor relief because the humidity followed even there. The only activity we had other than eating and studying the Bible
, which we played on the single patch of lawn.
The first night in camp everybody got saved but Dot and me. After a long sermon on hell and damnation, the preacher said, "If you want to give your life to Jesus, come down to the altar." One by one all the other campers went down the aisle to the altar where they fell on their knees to pray.
Just before I went to camp, Robert, my sixteen year old brother, died tragically and irrevocably with a single bullet between his eyes. When the preacher told us we'd go to hell if we died without being saved, I thought about Robert and wondered where he was. I didn't go down to the altar with the others, and Dot didn't go because she was my friend.
Nobody got too upset the first night. After all, the staff had all week to work on us, but when the second evening came and we still didn't go, they became alarmed. They wanted a perfect record of souls saved for their camp, and we were threatening this perfection. I suppose they were even concerned about our souls. Of course, the more pressure they used, the more stubborn we became, and by the end of the second evening nothing could have moved us toward the altar.
The third night was a crisis situation. Dot and I were becoming heroes in the eyes of the other campers. Among other things, we were croquet champions, and I had the record for eating the most pieces of bread, butter, and apple butter at the table! The campers were looking up to us rather than down on us because we were different.
The staff had conferred together and decided on a new strategy. They separated us in the far ends of the chapel, and half of the staff worked on Dot and the other half on me. How could they have been so oblivious to my misery?
"Aren't you afraid of going to hell?" The fat one asked.
"Yes," I said to myself, "but Robert wasn't saved and if he is there, it can't be all bad." Aloud I said nothing.
"Don't you want to give your life to Jesus?" the almost kind one asked.
"I don't know what that means," I said to myself, "and since this seems to be so important, I'd better be careful." So I just said, "No, not now."
The evening wore on, and finally they gave up and let the poor, suffering campers in front get up off their sore knees and go to bed. They released Dot and me shaken, but firm in our non-convictions. I had hay fever, and my constant sneezes kept me and everyone around me awake through most of the night.
The next morning I wandered off through the fields alone instead of going to the Bible class I was supposed to attend. The sun was bright and hot and, as I wandered through the stubble field, I thought to myself, "I don't understand what they are talking about, but I can understand the sun. It is the source of light and warmth and life itself. The sun is my God!"
I slipped back to camp and called Mother. She came and got Dot and me, and I didn't go near an organized church again for ten years. I've always felt until now that this was a regrettable experience, but it was not. It freed me during all the years of my philosophical coming of age from dependence on dogma. These were difficult years, but the faith I found and am still finding is firm. My Sun God didn't last too long, but at each stage of my development I could find an honest God to suit my needs. Today, when others of my generation squirm at the death of The Man Upstairs, I am, though still searching, at ease.