We were blessed to have excellent weather, a terrific turnout (400+ for Saturday night BBQ) and good fun for the 2011 CDA Reunion. Bill Combs #8704 was named the CDA Man of the Year on Saturday night. To see pictures from the weekend, please click here.
Our Sunday chapel speaker was Rick Edie #11762 who shared with us the following sermon. Thanks so much to Rick for his excellent message and for letting us share it with the Dudley Family. Enjoy.
“About a week and a half ago, while still ruminating on a topic for this talk, I found myself stuck in typical Boston traffic, and listening to the radio helped pass the time. Two shows competed for my attention. One show was an interview with Jane Fonda talking about life after 70. Despite my kids’ constant teasing that I am “so old,” I decided that that topic wasn’t relevant just yet, thank you very much. The other show was an interview with a writer named Brook Wilensky-Lanford, a religious studies major from Wesleyan University who has written a book entitled Paradise Lust. Despite the lascivious subject matter one might infer from the title—John Milton meets Hugh Hefner, if you will—the subtitle of the book, Searching for the Garden of Eden, reveals that the book’s purpose is to trace the history of people who have searched for the Garden of Eden—the actual physical location, a terrestrial Lost City of Atlantis—in places far and wide around the globe. The search is based on this description in the book of Genesis:
A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush. And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.
Now, as you can imagine from the familiar names of Tigris and Euphrates, many of the searches focused on Mesopotamia, which is where modern day Iraq and Iran are. The word Mesopotamia comes from the ancient Greek and means, roughly, the land between rivers, so this makes a lot of sense. But beyond this obvious location, other proposed locations get pretty interesting: Sri Lanka; Venezuela; Germany; Zambia; the Seychelle Islands; Outer Mongolia; 4 different locations in the lower 48 states, including the Florida panhandle and a mound in the shape of a serpent in Ohio; and, probably the most unexpected, the North Pole, proposed by Boston University’s first President, one William Fairfield Warren, in 1881.
Why were people looking for the Garden of Eden? Was it simply historical geography they were seeking? Or were they only Christian fundamentalists looking for an earthly paradise, a Shangri-La, a utopia of some sort, the earthly Christian equivalent of Nirvana? What is paradise, anyway? The word comes from the ancient Persian language and means, simply, “enclosure” or “ walled park,” suggesting a tangible, concrete physical space, a morally and spiritually neutral location. Nowadays, and in a more corporeal way, we use paradise to mean an idyllic place in which existence is positive, harmonious and relaxed, far removed from the stresses and worries of life: the white sandy beaches, pleasant ocean breezes, warm sunshine, refreshing waters, and rum drinks associated with a tropical island, if you will. In a more spiritual way, paradise is a state of being where peace, prosperity and happiness predominate, a place much like that described in our scripture reading (Isaiah 65: 17-25). Is there or was there ever such a place on earth?
Now, I have to be trying to make a connection between the Garden Eden and Dudley, right? Of course, so let’s be seekers lusting for paradise and determine if Camp Dudley could be the site of the Garden of Eden. Like the Garden of Eden, Dudley is ruled by a seemingly all-knowing and all-seeing God; I don’t know about Matt and Marnie, but Willie sure seemed to know the whereabouts and doings of any leader at any time of day—or night! Like the Garden of Eden, Dudley sits among four great rivers: the Saranac, the Ausable, the Bouquet, and our favorite, Stacy Brook. While we don’t have a wall enclosing our garden, there is another famous border, the Blue Line, that delineates the edge of the Adirondack Park that is our summer playground. Could the yum-yum tree on the upper field be the Tree of Life, or the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil? After all, every once in a while, someone is tempted by one forbidden fruit or the other, partakes of it, and must be expelled from this place, at least temporarily. Of course, there is one way that until recently, Dudley was not like Eden: we did not have Eve; we were only a camp for boys. But now, we have Kiniya, born, if you will, of Dudley’s rib but with a long and significant history of its own, and in every way the equal of the boys’ camp. Paradise exists on both sides of Lake Champlain, and there is an argument to be made that right here in New York state, in Westport-on-Lake Champlain, the Garden of Eden once existed. If one were searching for the physical location of Eden, one could do a lot worse than this spot.
Let’s consider the Garden of Eden more metaphorically. Imagine that it’s not a real bricks and mortar—or, better yet, a flower and fauna—location, but an ideal. The Garden of Eden represents a place that is sinless, the world before it was tainted by evil, where everyone lives in harmony and peace. Is Dudley close to this ideal? How close? How so? Well, any person associated with camp is a descendant of Adam and Eve and has inherited the gene of original sin, so Dudley is therefore a human institution and not perfect; still, I would say it’s pretty close. It is a place that teaches us to put the needs of others before our own, to treat others the way we would want to be treated, to love others by serving them. This is the golden rule, and it works because camp is very intentional about living out the meaning of this ethos; Dudley is the laboratory in which the culture of selflessness and thinking of others is grown and nurtured so that we have the strength to live moral lives ourselves, as well as to be contagious carriers of the spirit of God. Because of this spirit, we do recognize that Dudley is different in some way from “the real world,” that there is something special about this place that differentiates it from our home communities. I sensed this unconsciously as a camper and can remember expressing the sentiment this way as my parents were driving me home one summer: “Oh, great, now I have to go back to those kids…..” We show our desire to remain in this paradise when we sing at the end of every summer, “I don’t want to leave Camp Dudley/I don’t want to go to school.” And each August, all of us gather here for the CDA reunion, amidst the waning days of summer, to partake of the Dudley spirit, to rejuvenate ourselves and recharge our moral batteries for the school and work year ahead, for it is here we are accepted for who we were as campers and leaders, who we are, and who we still can be.
Now, since we can’t live in our own little Garden of Eden year round, isolated and insulated from the “real world,” we must go out and share our garden with others. Not only must we share, but we must create gardens of goodness; we must help build paradise. How do we do that?
Well, we must strive to live by the camp motto “The Other Fellow First.” We have all learned, I think, the depths of this phrase—living it fully does not simply mean letting the waiter from the next table get in line ahead of you, nor does it mean letting another driver in heavy traffic merge in front of you at the toll booth. Living “The Other Fellow First” means appreciating people for their differences and their perspectives, accepting them for who they are, celebrating what they have to offer. It means humbling oneself before others, not lording over them; it is being willing to assume that you can learn something from them instead of relying on stereotypes to pre-judge them. It is recognizing that everyone has a special gift to give to this world.
One aspect of “The Other Fellow First” that I find myself thinking about is forgiveness, and especially the ability to grant forgiveness. It is easy to ask for forgiveness when we make mistakes, but it is not always so easy to forgive when others offend us. I am not an expert on the religious aspects of forgiveness, but it is an important enough concept that we ask for God’s forgiveness as well as the ability to forgive others in the Lord’s prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” The ability to grant forgiveness makes us more godlike and sinless ourselves: “To err is human, to forgive divine,” said Alexander Pope. Martin Luther King saw forgiveness as an act of love when he said, “He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.” Forgiveness gives us a fresh start and allows us to move forward instead of dwelling on the past. One person who would know a lot about forgiveness is Desmond Tutu, Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, who said, “Without forgiveness, there is no future.” Forgiveness, whether given or received, brings with it a sense of cleansing and healing, and grants both giver and receiver a new start unencumbered by the sins of the past. Forgiveness reveals a magnanimous and charitable spirit and is indicative of the strength of character necessary to rise above vindictiveness and petty retribution. Mahatma Gandhi said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” Forgiving, by the way, also seems to have real physical benefits: “studies show that people who forgive are happier and healthier than those who hold resentments. The first study to look at how forgiveness improves physical health discovered that when people think about forgiving an offender it leads to improved functioning in their cardiovascular and nervous systems. Another study at the University of Wisconsin found the more forgiving people were, the less they suffered from a wide range of illnesses. The less forgiving people reported a greater number of health problems” (wikipedia: forgiveness). So forgiving seems to be good for your body as well as your soul.
Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden for sinning, and every human being since possesses a piece of their Original Sin. To be cleansed of this sin, and to re-enter the paradise we want to be a part of, we need to seek forgiveness. But not only do we need to seek forgiveness, we should also strive to forgive. By forgiving others, we are more likely to receive forgiveness. Forgiveness is even at work at Dudley: anyone who has been, euphemistically, “given a year off for maturity,” is always welcomed back and forgiven, and in fact we must receive forgiveness before we can be reinstated into our own Garden of Eden, or into any relationship, for that matter. The closest anything is to the Garden of Eden, the paradise that so many seekers have sought, is heaven. And God showed that he forgives us our sins by sending Jesus to be sacrificed for us: he so loved us that he sent his only begotten son. Whether you believe this literally to be true or not, imagine making that type of personal sacrifice for others; that is certainly the most supreme act of love possible. Forgiving is the ultimate practicing of the other fellow first. It comes from a recognition that we are all imperfect by default and make mistakes, and it gives people the chance to start fresh, clean, and pure. By practicing forgiveness, we will bring Dudley alive the remaining 10 months of the year, and come closer to regaining the Garden of Eden.