“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” –Aristotle
I never got around to writing a post for Sunday evening’s deadline, part of the reason for this is because I went to a Men’s Retreat held by the folks at Seaside (the church that I attend) and The Refuge (the body of believers connected with the Coffee Oasis). The idea of a Men’s Retreat is the reason for today’s title, Oddly Compelling, because it is not easy for me to put my finger on what exactly draws me to these events. Most of the things that motivate me in normal life are not present at these gatherings. The food is good, for camp food (which is an apt qualifier, as the food at my house is just actually good)—there is no T.V., which is a real struggle for me…I love T.V.—the beds suck, which is a terrible reality for a guy who is almost forty (40) but has the back of an eighty (80) year-old, and the knees of a sixty-two (62) year-old, combined with the sleeping habits of an infant. The equation is summed up thusly: 40+40-18×.6≠sleep. All of that to say, if the things that come together to make the sum of any given Men’s Retreat were made into bullet points and thrown onto a brochure my answer to the invitation would be: “thanks, but no thanks” (wow a Sarah Palin reference) regardless of how beautifully appointed said brochure was. But I never regret going.
Sometimes the guest speaker is engaging and is solely responsible for my not having regretted the sacrifice of the weekend…actually that is not true…rarely do I find the guest speaker to be all that compelling, and even when I do, they are never solely responsible for my enthusiasm about the event. I have a hard time with most speakers as they have a tendency to speak Christianized English, in which many terms are glossed over without definition and leave me wondering whether or not I agree with what was communicated. Because I generally have the type of a relationship with the speaker that a few interactions in two days can provide, I lack a long-term barometer that I can use to fill in the blanks of a given sermon…this, to me, is off-putting. It is in no way the fault of the speaker. This is my hang-up. At the end of the day, it is not the speaker that draws me to these dealings, there is something else.
If not the food, television arrangement, the sleeping quarters, or guest speakers—then what? Why on earth do I go to these things?
It is the chance to be around some of my closest friends without the constraints that time and the pressures of everyday life put on us, that I like best about these things. It is a chance to just allow relationships happen. I must be honest, I don’t show up prepared for this—it takes me at least half of a day to warm-up to the idea that I can talk to one of my friends about a given subject for as long as we want. Sometimes having distractions is great when a conversation gets too personal. Eventually, I am reminded about why it is that these guys are my good friends. The conversations are safe. I begin to realize that I can be who I am without threat of recourse and that is refreshing. Once that comfort is established, something magical happens…not in a Harry Potter fantastical way…more of a unicorn and popcorn flavored jelly-bean kind of way (I know you thought I was headed a different direction with that one…but here we are). The retreat becomes greater than the sum of its sub-standard parts. It’s a little like what happens when you take an eighties (80s) Trans-Am, mix that with some red lights that swoosh from left to right, add to that a dry-humored English speaking voice with a British accent, and throw in a dash of David Hasselhoff—you end up with a strangely compelling television series. I know what you’re wondering: “Does The Hoff represent human relationships in this analogy?” If I were you I’d treat this analogy like the sun…don’t look straight at it. It’ll make you cry.
We get to explore absurd movie premises without wondering if our children are running out into traffic or drowning in a toilet or a half-full five gallon bucket of water (or is it half empty at that point? I always get my optimism and pessimism mixed up in these scenarios). No matter, you get the point. We talked around the campfire about whatever subject came to mind. One absurd movie premise had to do with the rapture being a person, that person being me, me being played by Sam Jackson—the rapture (which is me played by Sam Jackson) decides it is okay to steal car stereos during itself. The result being that, at a Christian Camp, most of the people and all of the car stereos go missing in the blink of an eye. No of course it’s not funny here…but there, it was hilarious. We get to play games. Actually, speaking of absurd premises, what do you get when you combine nine snooker balls and a table that is shaped like the water troughs used in 19th century gold mining? A game called Gutter Ball, a name which belies the game’s addictive nature. You and an opponent line up four balls, one set red the other white, in any arrangement you choose, then you both take turns using a white ball with a red spot to try and knock each other’s sets of balls off of the playing surface of the trough by rolling it at the balls and striking them. It’s a game that is both absurd and oddly compelling. This game could have no better home than a Christian Camp.
What is the point of all of this? Really, not a very Zen (writer’s note: MS Word insists that one capitalizes the word Zen in order to spell it correctly, which is also not very Zen) question. But, if I were to toss together a summation, it would probably follow thusly: I love the men’s retreats because they are the evidence that relationships are important. The only way that these times could be considered remotely enjoyable is if the relationships, whether revisited or newly built, were important. And they are…or are they? The answer is yes…