I Smell Bear

Earlier this month Amy, the boys and I camped somewhere in the middle of the Great Smoky Mountains. We try to camp there at least once a year and every year has a new adventure: poison ivy from the firewood; an unexpected rain coming through an unexpected hole in the tent, ants in the smores, and of course bears. Many of you have heard me recount the bear story but it “bears” repeating (sorry, I know it was an obvious pun but it begged to be written).

Last year I was out hiking by myself on one of the back-country trails. The views are always glorious and the trail is nearly always peaceful. I am armed with a walking stick, some water and a pocket knife. A cell phone is not much good on such long hikes since there is no coverage, but I carry one anyway just in case there is a need to identify the body.

Around mile five of the hike I began to smell the distinct odor of a wet dog and in my mind I thought, “Oh great, there is a bear in the vicinity.” The odor would not go away and so I developed a mental plan of action of what I was to do if I met a bear on the trail while so far away. I decided my first plan was to turn around and head back to camp. Still, the smell of the wet dog followed me and so I assumed was this heretofore unseen bear. As I was walking and pondering my mortality as well as my escape plan I would mindlessly readjust my hat. Ironically every time I raised my arm to readjust my hat I would once again detect that wet dog smell. Finally it occurred to me that the smell of the wet dog was not a bear, but me! In fact, after a few days of camping without a bath or shower there was a good chance the bears were avoiding me.

That is camping for you – one adventure after another. In a previous article about a year ago I wrote that one of the things I like about camping is the mobility. All you need is a tent (and you don’t really need that) and a good map (which I usually ignore – it’s a man thing). Most everything else you need to enjoy a few days in the woods should fit right on your back. Mobility and flexibility is the key to happy camping.

Not a bad metaphor for the faith. A faith on the move…going places. It is too bad so many are content with just staying put in their relationship with God. Never changing, never growing, never blossoming into anything more. Like water, such a faith is in mortal danger of stagnation. Water that is not allowed a place to flow becomes putrid and useless. That is why you hear me speak so often of our faith as a journey, or pilgrimage. As the people of God we lean across the next horizon for the opportunity, the next possibility.

Let’s break camp and move on – a church on the go, a people on the move and God who is out there in front.

Grace and Peace,


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