I returned home last night from a week of vacation. Most of it was spent in Vermont, camping in a very quiet state park... quiet until we arrived of course. Young boys' voices seemed to cut right through the silence like a finely honed chef's knife... except of course dad's "Be QUIET!" at 6:30 a.m. was truly ironic and was a laser beam compared to the knife edges of their voices. But we camped and hiked and ate more than our share of hot dogs, s'mores and mountain pies. Our boys (six and three years old) had a blast. They handled the tent sleeping really well ( my wife and I did fairly well too, especially since we brought the air mattress... phew!). My wife and I celebrated our ten-year anniversary while we were on the trip. It was lovely... beautiful weather, beautiful scenery, and a beautiful time. God's creation was all around us, and it was very good.
However, I have continued to think about the first full day of our vacation, Monday Aug. 10. We had traveled on Sunday out to eastern Pennsylvania and went to the amusement park Sesame Place on Monday. We knew if we wanted both boys to be really excited about Sesame Street, we would have to go this year or next, since the oldest will probably soon outgrow Sesame Street (made perfectly clear by his current obsession Pokemon--he admitted being fixated by it "it's all I can think about!"--and this after only seeing one or Pokemon movies). At any rate this little side trip was completely unexpected for the boys and therefore a total surprise. We got in the van Monday morning, and the boys were still chomping at the bit to go camping, when we broke the news that we had different plans. Only when we arrived at the park did they know fully what was happening. And to be honest, there are times when we get frustrated at our oldest for acting like a spoiled brat, but when we got out of the car, he was grateful... no, he was ebulliently grateful. So much so, in fact, after he had blurted out his seemingly thousandth "THANK YOU!" the woman standing at the car next to us commented at how sweet he was. My wife and I wondered what would have happened if he had known about the trip, would he have been as spontaneous, or joyful in his response? I do not know... but here, his response was remarkable.
If you do not know about Sesame Place, it is a small to medium-sized amusement park that has not only traditional rides (a small coaster, some twirly rides, and a large netting to climb all over, among others), but also water attractions (slides, tubing and the like). To be honest it probably more water park than true amusement park. And clearly most folks were looking to it as such. And why not? The temperature was well into the 90's that day. The sun was beating down on us. It was really hot, and the water was really cool. The boys had a blast on the water slides. My youngest even did some smaller slides on his own.
For a while, though, I was having a hard time with some of it. It was expensive, of course. But after paying $9 for a hot dog, fries and drink... ouch. Oddly enough the adult meals were almost normal in price. Still expensive, but not nearly the same proportion. And the water was so overly chlorinated that I, who swim regularly, had to pause at the stinging of chlorine in my nasal cavity. Double ouch. Of course I realized that this chlorine was managing to keep the human bacteria at bay... and was there ever a lot of those... both humans AND bacteria. But what do you expect?
But then something happened... my oldest and I were at once of the centerpieces of the park, the Count's Splash Castle. And I started to see the whole mass of people around me. Not just how many people were there, but some of who they were. And it seemed that everyone was there: black, white, hispanic, rich, poor, tattooed, young, old, Middle Eastern, European, American, bikini-clad women/girls, burkha-clad women (evidently, Muslim women who adhere to the practice of wearing the burkha have no problems with just wearing it in the water)... you name it, and there was probably someone representing some group or other. And they were all gathered at the Count's Splash Castle. The Castle is a massive playground where water runs constantly. There are smaller slides, and steps to climb, and water to shoot, and most important of all, a humongous (my youngest's new favorite word) bucket perched atop it all. Every three to four minutes, we would hear a crack of thunder, the Count's familiar laugh and then a countdown, 5 - 4 - 3 - 2 - 1! and the bucket would tip, sending hundreds of gallons of water down upon the crowd who rushed to find just the right spot under that overly-chlorinated, eye-stinging water. But I was there too, usually with my oldest, feeling that water rain... no, pound down upon us. At first I wondered what was the big deal... but it was fun. No doubt.
And running through the rest of the Splash Castle, water constantly pouring down on me, riding down the slides, exhilirated by the rush of speed and splash, I inevitably saw the baptismal connection (hey, I'm a Lutheran pastor, right?). The baptismal life, the gathering of people from every tribe and race, in the name of the Triune God, made known in the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus is not a burden but a joy. The weight of that water seems so great, but it is a refreshing, cleansing water that exhilirates us for the life Christ calls us to, reminds us of the new creation into which we are being raised.