When I was a youth minister, we went to camp every year. There are several staples of youth ministry in general, church camp in particular, and one of them is the inevitable round of messy games. Water balloons, shaving cream, marshmallows. Some graduate to diapers full of chocolate pudding and baby pools full of sauerkraut. Every camp has messy games.
But there's a line, right? Between silly and disgusting, and you know it when you see it.
We were in the gymnasium, the whole camp, which must have been around three hundred kids and chaperones. There were volunteers, one from each team (there are always teams, too) in front of the crowd. The details are fuzzy, but there was some sort of competition involving gross games, and with each round they upped the ante, so that the "winners" had to go on to a new round of something grosser. Makes you wonder if winning was worth it, eh?
But the kids were earning points for their team, and everyone was very excited. With each round the gym got louder, more rambunctious, as the teams were all cheering for their representative. Our team had made it to the final round. One of the girls from my group, Krystal, was on the gym floor as the representative. The final round of messy games - the grossest thing the camp director could muster - was to eat a minnow.
A real, live, squirming minnow. If this shocks you, it did me too. It was all in the name of fun and whatever, but there's a line between silly and disgusting, and eating a live fish crossed the line.
So here we were: this youngish teenager (whose parents had entrusted to my supervision in another state) standing in front of a cheering crowd that is whooping for her to eat the minnow. The noise was deafening. She was on the fence, it was written in her expression. She didn't want to let her team down, she wanted to earn the points. But a fish? A real live squirmy fish? She wasn't convinced. The whole gym was calling her name, pushing her toward this inane, disgusting thing. "Krystal! Krystal! Krystal!"
And I was standing in a corner of the gym, alone, screaming something different.
"DON'T DO IT KRYSTAL! DON'T DO IT!"
I screamed as loud as I could. Until my throat hurt, until I ran out of air, until her mind was made up. "Don't do it! Don't do it!" I yelled, over and over. But she couldn't hear me, and even if she could, it wouldn't have mattered. She couldn't back down. She ate the minnow. I left the gym. I couldn't watch.
Lately I have been the lone voice, pushing against the throng again, screaming something unpopular. There are several instances in my life where I am the only one saying, "This is crazy! Don't believe it!" Of course, when the noise level has reached that decibel, words are meaningless. Mine is just one more voice among the crowd, and everyone is screaming something.
But I have to do it anyway. Until my throat hurts, until I run out of air, until minds are made up. It's not in my nature to keep quiet.