In guarded praise of camp

Russell Grant

I used to have a blog called “the Race” which my wife, respectfully suggested be renamed “the Rant”. I have realised this blog is now beginning to go the same way, so I decided to blog in praise, rather than critique of something. Try not to keel over with shock.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast. I once went to series of seminars on masculinity by a Christian psychiatrist (which was whole other world of things to discuss) but he kept saying this phrase about church. What he meant was that the unspoken culture of your church will have much more effect on who comes, both Christian and non, than anything that you plan, say, or do.

And I would love all sorts of people to meet Jesus and experience his self giving love through the church, and so I want to say something in guarded praise of camp. (the cultural phenomenon, not the thing that posh Christians do with other posh Christians in the summer)

You see what do you do if you are an evangelical who doesn’t like beige chinos, sports chat, all male summer camps, and outdoor pursuits? You can be an intellectual. You can read deep books, watch black and white films in German with subtitles, and do a PhD in Biblical studies or science in order to be helpful at apologetics. Ok, but what if you’re not that either. You can be an Indie charismatic. Hang out in fields all summer, strumming your guitar and falling over when people pray and using perpetually blocked toilets. Or an Alpha charismatic – get a job in the city and drink white wine on summer evenings from a long stemmed glass, and sing Tim Hughes songs at weekends.

You will probably find a church with people largely like you, and then become more and more like them. And your church will attract people just like you. Even if you want to reach everyone. Culture eats strategy for breakfast.

But one of the things we have to learn from the gay rights movement, for all that we might disagree, is that people are very different, and unique, and that is fine, it’s good, it’s healthy. A Christian would say it’s God-given, and to be celebrated, and churches should reflect that.

My guess is that camp became associated with gay because as a movement “gay rights” has framed their struggle in terms of “I am who I am and who I am needs to excuses”. And this leads you to deliberately over-express who you are (often going far beyond who you are in reality) in order to make the point, to shock and to surprise and push boundaries. Learn that diversity is cool people!

But all churches can do with a bit of that to be honest. A bit of someone reminding them that their culture is not god-given, and in fact it could be eating their strategy for breakfast. It could be sending away the people who are different.

So if you don’t quite fit in to your church culture – well, be a bit camp. Like the way pearls are created by a little bit of irritant in the oyster, so you could shape your church, just a little bit to love the different person, by being a bit different.

My praise, though, is guarded. If you are tempted towards camp, you need to be aware of being self indulgent. It’s easy to buy into the whole philosophy of camp, and be as outrageous as you can and assert rudely the church’s responsibility to love you. If they are godly they will, but it’s not good for you.

In Christianity, individual identity is good, but unlike in most modern secular movements, including gay rights, it’s not the ultimate good. The ultimate good is displaying Christ, which you can only do with other Christians, by loving them. And that will sometimes, often even, mean limiting your displays of individuality. So please, feel free to be camp in order to help the mission of your church. Don’t feel free to so over egg the pudding to test everyone else’s ability to love and accept you. That’s not missional, it’s just self indulgent.

You see, if a transvestite becomes a Christian through Grey Suited Reformed Church in the Wold (FIEC member since 1923,and why shouldn’t they, for the Gospel is powerful?) over time, I would expect that person’s behaviour to affect the church, and the church’s behaviour to affect the person. Hopefully he will teach the church to love and share the Gospel and show kindness to all types of people. Hopefully they will teach him helpful, godly, Jesus reflecting models of sexual expression, which put Jesus and others first rather than self expression. If the change is all one way, the new convert conforming to “The way we do thing here” culture is eating strategy for breakfast,

So cherish the difference, enjoy a bit of camp. Wear pink shoes and guyliner. Feel free never to shop at White Stuff. Eliminate beige from your wardrobe and have a Bacardi Breezer in the pub after church.  But remember camp can be a great servant, but it will be a very poor master.

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7 thoughts on “In guarded praise of camp

  1. Ha ha ha ha! Oh, Mo, you’ve made me so happy today! A tear in the corner of my eye. You are so right. And not only about this. Thank you.

    • I’ve been thinking about this a lot, partly because you’ve essentially described my life, and because your warning is one I need to hear.

      I think it’s a growing grasp of the gospel which makes what you’re describing possible. When you join a culture, there’s huge pressure to just join it and be like everyone else. It feels like acceptance, but it isn’t really, because you have to hide who you really are to get approval from other people.

      I’ve found that it’s only when you really get that difference is created and approved of by God, and that we’re accepted by God in Christ, that you can chill out and be yourself. And I think it was you and Mrs M who really helped me to get that. So thanks!

  2. This is brilliant: amusing and profoundly insightful. This was my favourite line-
    “the cultural phenomenon, not the thing that posh Christians do with other posh Christians in the summer” 🙂

  3. Wonderful stuff Mo. I will never forget a certain person proving the point with her purple Stetson and insistence I watched Spiceworld – the move to help me grow as a disciple. I’m not sure how much I have grown, though, as I still see large quantities of both your indie charismatic and black and white with subtitles German movie watcher in me.

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