I learned during my very formative years that the world was largely filled with people who were going to hell because they didn’t believe in Jesus. I also learned that my primary job as a Christian is to get other people to believe in Jesus so they will go to heaven and not go to hell.

I heard sermons telling me that on God’s final judgment day, I would see every person I had ever met and not told about Jesus and heaven and hell and they would ask “Why didn’t you warn me?” I even heard a story about a man who had “seen one person saved per day.” For years, he prayed with at least one person who wanted to accept Jesus every single day.

I was raised roughly Arminian, I think, which is to say that I believed that people had choices about whether they would become Christians or not. Being raised Arminian is pretty rough, because you believe two things: Everyone in the world has a choice about whether they’re going to accept Christ, or reject Him, and it’s your job to tell them. Matthew 28:19 was often called “The Great Omission” because every Christian was supposed to go make other people accept Jesus, and so few actually were. It never occurred to me that Jesus has been saving people without my help for over 4,000 years.

I always had a hard time with that because I was selling other people something I hadn’t actually experienced for myself but believed was true and couldn’t prove. Life-after-death fire insurance. Also, I was taught in church was that accepting Jesus and living for Him means accepting a boring life where one gives up anything that is remotely fun in exchange for what is spiritual. In a paraphrase of Rob Bell’s words, “Religious people don’t throw very good parties.” And so I’ve lived most of my life with a screaming in my heart that says that I have to get other people to accept Jesus. And I’ve had jobs where I’ve woken up every morning with a profound sense of emptiness because I wasn’t getting other people to accept Jesus through those jobs.

Then I heard Mark Driscoll talk about how only the “elect,” those God chooses, are going to heaven, and everyone else is going to hell, and how that’s completely fair because God *should* send everyone to hell, and the elect will become Christians when they are preached to. From that perspective, if I don’t preach to someone who is elect, then someone else will and they will become Christians anyway because they are elect, so that takes a little bit of the pressure off… but it still makes God seem kinda mean because he chooses some people to go to hell, no matter how you frame it. He’s just and fair, but kind of mean to everyone he doesn’t choose to be gracious to.

So when Love Wins came out, and Rob Bell said that maybe people who don’t “receive [Jesus] by that name precisely” (Athol Dickson‘s words) may find their way into eternity with God, I almost cried when I got to the end because of three things (I didn’t quite realize what they were until I had had a few months to process it and read other books):

  1. Maybe I don’t have to go out and sell everyone on what I was raised to believe was “the gospel” (that everyone was bad and going to hell and Jesus came and died so they wouldn’t have to).
  2. Maybe God is more gracious than I first thought.
  3. Maybe there is indeed something about Christianity that is worth sharing that isn’t guilt, condemnation, and fear of hell.

The first has been discussed already, so I’ll grab the other two.

If God is, in the words of Paul in II Corinthians 5:19, “…reconciling the world to Himself, not counting men’s sins against them,” then that could truly be good news! Maybe people don’t have to believe that they’re evil and God is angry with them for their sins to be reconciled to God. And maybe those who have been harmed in Jesus’ name may one day be reconciled to God in spite of their inherent distaste for the name they believe to be responsible for their wrecked lives. Maybe some people who haven’t heard about Jesus may still be counted righteous. Maybe the doors of heaven are open to more people than we thought.

I have not become a universalist. I still believe that “no man comes to the Father except through [Jesus]” (John 14:6). Like my facebook post said the other day, “Jesus is the front door to the dining hall, and there are no other doors.” But haven’t you ever been somewhere and not known where you were or quite how you got there? Tell me you’ve never had someone ask, “Did you come through the foyer?” and said “What foyer?” They pointed back where you just came from and said, “That one.” I’m beginning to suspect that people may be able to come to the Father through Jesus without necessarily realizing it.

There are some who have said that if God lets people in who haven’t accepted Jesus by that name precisely, then that makes Jesus death, burial and bodily resurrection irrelevant. I don’t understand how that logic even works (though Ree tried to explain it to me). If God accepts more people, it can only be by Jesus’ work on the cross, thus making Jesus work on the cross more effectual, rather than less!

But these are rabbit trails. The real discussion I wanted to start was this:

What would you do with your life if you stopped believing that the eternal destinies of other people lay in your hands?

Because I really don’t know what I would do.

I posted my question on facebook and got no responses from the usual suspects. Nobody touched it. But this is hugely important for me. I’ve lived my life with a screaming inside of my soul that won’t sit down or shut up, telling me that people are going to hell, and they need to accept Jesus, and I need to tell them about Him, so they can stop having “fun” to have “real fun” which is usually… not really fun.

But if Rob Bell is right, and if Jesus was right and being a Christian means living life to the max (John 10:10), then maybe I can live my life with arms, eyes, mouth, and heart wide open. Maybe I can live free like the birds who don’t have to worry. Maybe I can live righteously and feed the poor and be delighted in giving (because I have experienced that! Giving is fantastic! It’s way more fun to give money to someone who needs it than it is to use it for yourself!) Maybe I don’t have to feel guilty about enjoying the good gifts that God has given to me.

And maybe I can tell this screaming voice inside of me to finally shut up… because voices that scream aren’t Jesus. He whispers.

On the other hand, maybe it’s the Holy Spirit, and it’s actually a consistent quiet whisper. Because I still need to do work that feels meaningful, work that actually translates into things that are good. Maybe that’s why I like Jumonville so much. I haven’t had to tell anyone that they need to become a Christian. I’ve told them they’re beautiful unrepeatable miracles. I’ve told them that Jesus loves them. Some have accepted Jesus during Wednesday Worship… but there isn’t this compelling to tell them.

And never once have I woken up wondering why I do what I do.

So now I’m trying to figure out what I like to do. What work it is that makes me wake up in the morning with the sense that this is what I was made for? What has God made me for? How can I be a part of God’s good and creative work in the world?

A lot of my life has had to do with affirmation – having people pat me on the back and say “Good job, kid.” I’m a pleaser. I want people to be happy with me and what i’m doing. …So largely I end up not doing what I want, but doing what I think will make other people happy. Ree asked me what I do when there’s nobody to please, nobody watching to say “Good job.”

…And I told her that I don’t know, because i’ve hardly ever had time like that except when i’m completely by myself, and then i’m usually bored and watching movies or something… because I’m alone.

What would you do?

Kristen & Dave, Chapter 1 – An Intro

I love telling stories. I especially love telling true stories about love and such… but I’m not sure how to begin this one. I’m not sure how much backstory my readers will tolerate… but I’ll try to keep it entertaining. Some people say their fiction is personal; all stories are personal. Some say their stories are “based on a true story.” Every story is, at least the good ones. This one is true. And personal.

Jumonville, Summer 2010
Training had started. Life was breathless. I’d moved out of my apartment in Greensburg and taken the long exciting ride down south to Uniontown and driven up Jumonville road for the third time in my life and moved into Ree Enlow’s house about a week earlier. I’d shared a room with James Moran, one of my closest friends from before I had ever once visited Jumonville. Ree loved on us like we were the last people in the world she could love. For the second time in my life, I felt like I was breathing fresh mountain air after breathing deisel exhaust all my life. (The first time was Alaska with my Uncle John and Aunt Linda.) The lies about my value were fighting with everything they had, and for the first time since the breakup, the lies were facing violent opposition.

I eventually grew to love everyone on staff that summer… but this story is about something different then brotherly and sisterly love. In fact, the first time I told Kristen “I love you” was probably less than a few weeks after I met her. (I said the words “I love you” to everyone at Jumonville often.) Kristen asked me not to because those were words she only wanted to hear from her husband. I worried about that, prayed about it… and opted to explain that way I meant it wasn’t a romantic way and keep saying it.

I think the first time I knew there was something special about her was when I was facilitating the zip line multi-level. She didn’t seem scared; she just said “I love You, Jesus!” and slid off the platform. It made me pause and wonder. I knew then that her relationship with God was real. Her Jesus was a friend, not someone she believed in like some kids believe in Santa Claus.

One time, too, after we went prayer-walking, she came back especially crushed. (The whole story is here.) There was a woman Nate had seen in the spirit who had been raped, and Kristen had prayed for her. In that moment and in many others, I saw grace in her. I could tell that she got grace.

And then there were the Bible studies. I went along to them and was a brat. I mean, I tried to honestly answer the questions people asked, but there were legitimately times when I just hijacked the conversation and took it down a rabbit trail for no good reason. It was a biblical rabbit-trail, but a rabbit-trail nonetheless. But as the summer progressed, our conversations got deeper. We ended up talking about God for as much as an hour after everyone else left. I spoke passionately about how God loves us all the time no matter what, and when we don’t feel His love it’s because we’ve put up defenses against Him. I preached. And I left that night with a smile on my face because I had spent an hour alone with a girl and (1) there was nothing romantic going on, and (2) no one would suspect that there was! We were brother-and-sister.

I spent the whole summer telling myself lies like that. Continue reading “Kristen & Dave, Chapter 1 – An Intro”

Creation Groans

I woke up this morning from a dream about being at Jumonville. Summer Staff 2011. And I realized that, come summer 2011, most of the people that I knew and loved from Summer 2009 won’t be there. The Beattys, Ree, Craig, Ashley Crago, and maybe David Orr will still be there… but Kristen will be gone (sort of)… Nate, Tyler, Brittany, Sara, Rob, Mike Nuss, Will, Carrie, James, Caitlin (both of the Caitlins)… and it stung. I could feel their absence at Jumonville already. I could see its emptiness without them there, and hear their voices and laughter in its silence. Even some of the friends I made during summer 2010 will be gone come next year. I think Nate’s gonna hurt the most, though, because he was more than a supervisor. He was the big brother I never had. I’m gonna miss him, especially while I’m making schedules and figuring out how to fix stuff… this time I’m going to be the improviser. We worked together all the time. …At least I’ll have another adventure staff I already know and love: Margo. And that’s a relief.

Then I remembered how it felt this year. I didn’t feel people’s absence as much because I was around other people I loved. And I don’t feel their absence so much now that I’m around still other people I love, here at school. And I realized that loving the people you’re with is really the only way around the holes left in your heart by the people you love who are now in the rear-view mirror. “New people” can never fill the holes created by those in the rear-view. They just create new holes. But in their presence, you forget the holes left by those in the rear-view. To love someone else is deeply is the only way to feel less hurt from the holes left by those who are gone. But it’s hard. Cynicism takes you hostage and lies to you.

Cynicism is one of the ugliest perversions of Imago Dei. We are made to love and be loved, but we grow instead to despise those made, like us, in His image and likeness, thinking that the ones we meet now aren’t as good as those we knew then. But everything changes. And in change, there is both the bad of sin’s corruption and the good holiness with which the world was made. Imago Dei and “very good” mesh together with fall and curse and sin. And the body and blood of Jesus is kneaded into the whole mix, generating hope – hope for a day when our glorious King will return in power and majesty and finally set all things right. But until that day comes, all creation groans with longing. The heavens and earth declare God’s glory, and at the same time the earth cries out for the return of the King.

Come, Lord Jesus.


The cabin’s name is Pine. I’m sitting on the porch, feet on the steps, feeling the cooling evening air and listening to the rumble of the occasional cars and motorcycles driving up and down Jumonville Road, the sounds of children’s voices in the distance, and the crickets and birds chirping in the woods. The air is fresh and clean-smelling, and moving slowly with the smallest bit of a chill in it. To my left, the sky is a rich shade of blue, and to my right, I can see for miles off of the mountain. The horizon line is all but obscured by the thick humidity, but where the earth embraces the sky through the green trees, almost black in the dusk, near where the sun is setting, I can see the large hills in the miles of Southwestern Pennsylvanian landscape. The ground is a dark shade of blue, and the sky above is a color I can’t describe that’s a gorgeous mix of blue and gray and reddish at the top. Almost purple-gray, but a very dark purple. Above that, the whispy clouds reflect purple and orange, and glow pink and white, giving way to a blue that is nearly white that fades to another blue above my head that is darker.

The street lights are coming on, one by one. I hear David Orr inside of Pine, playing a soft and breezy song on his guitar, a song I don’t recognize, but like. Now David’s singing mixes with the children’s voices, the crickets’ and birds’ song, the glorious but unassuming sunset that has now changed to a shade of orange-pink, and all join together in a sweet and mellow song of praise to their creator. And I am happy. Not excited-happy, but happy in a deeper way. Contented, perhaps, would be a better word.

The scent of a wood fire drifts across my nose as my fingers tap the keyboard of my netbook. A loud siren announces a fire somewhere in Uniontown. Inside, Mike Nuss is wondering where I’m at.

“Out here,” I yell.

“He’s outside,” Craig tells him. Mike stands beside me on the small concrete porch and admires the sunset.

“Yeah. I’ve been trying to capture it with words,” I say. Mike looks for a little longer, then goes back inside. I hear Craig suggest that our Taco Bell run should happen soon because the dining room there closes at ten. The back screen door of Pine bangs itself shut. I think Mike went out. And David Orr starts playing “How Great is Our God.”

The sunset’s shades are slipping. It’s now blue, dark pink, light pink, and white-blue. Craig comes out and comments on it. “I like the sky. Cool layers of… white and blue.” Then he goes back inside.

The door opens and closes again, and I feel an elbow on my head. David Orr says that as God’s beautiful, unrepeatable miracle, I also make a great elbow rest, then asks when my free minutes start. “Seven,” I tell him, and pull out my phone. Craig comes back out and sits on the pavement in front of me, staring down the hill and crunching on a lollipop, while David starts talking on the phone.

Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight… The first star just appeared over the treeline, and the lights of Uniontown are starting to twinkle off to the right. Mike joins us outside. “Finish your story, Dave Schell,” Mike says. I hit the save button and we head off to Taco Bell.

How to Clean a Rope

It was a particularly hot day at Jumonville. Tyler, for whatever reason, had decided to use one of her weeks off to help adventure staff. Nate put the two of us to work washing the ropes in the adventure center.

Rope-washing is a tedious task. The ropes run through pulleys that are about thirty feet above the floor. To get them down and back up again without having to climb up the wall, you attach a string to one end of the rope you want to wash, then pull your rope down, replacing the rope with the string so when you’re done, you can tie the string to the rope again and pull the string down and the rope up. At least in theory.

Sometimes the knot between the rope and the string gets stuck at the top and the rope and string part ways. Then you have to do an equipment rescue: climb all the way to the top of the wall to put the rope back where it belongs. And then you do it again, and again, and again – at least twenty-six times.

The real fun in rope-washing, though, is the washing. You feed the rope through a T-shaped rope-washing gizmo. The base of the T attaches to a water hose while the water’s running. That’s where it starts to get fun. I made sure I was the one who started washing the ropes… and then turned the hose on Tyler. She said to stop, and being male, I paid no attention whatever.

We came back to the Adventure center. Tyler was a bit wet. Nate told us we could go change into our swimming clothes if we wanted. We wanted. We scampered back to our respective cabins and changed, then returned to finish the job. I sprayed Tyler, she sprayed me… a little. Not much. I got the impression that she just wanted to finish the job and get it over with. So I did what I do best: I tormented her in an epic, almost-one-way water battle. She turned the hose on me a time or six, but I think I overdid it… this is only my perspective…

After hours of cleaning ropes and laying them down on the adventure center floor to dry, we finally finished and headed for dinner. After all the spraying, I was still mostly dry. I rubbed it in, and Tyler asked Nate for his Nalgene water bottle. Then she emptied most of it on me.

Good times.

The First Step

For your reading pleasure (in case you were interested)… I wrote this for my academic writing and research class. WARNING: Contains no deep theological truths; it’s just good clean fun. I have inserted more paragraphs than were in my AW&R paper.. it makes it more readable.

I was wearing a black Singing Rock brand climbing harness around my waist and thighs. As I waited for James to reach the bottom of the rocks, I barely even noticed the green of the trees around me, the blue of the sky above, or the rumbling from the machinery at the rock quarry across the mountain. All I knew was that Nate had promised I would be safe.

My turn had come. Nate Greenway, who had crew-cut blond hair, was twenty-four, and was my coordinator and my friend, opened the screw-gate on a steel locking carabiner. “Are you right-handed or left?” he asked.

“Right,” I answered nervously. In response to my answer, he folded the thick rope, which ran through two steel anchors that were sunk deep into the rock, to make a bight, or bend, in it. Then he pushed the bight through the wider of two holes in a piece of steel that was called a “Figure Eight” because it resembled the shape of the number eight.

Nate wrapped the bight around the thinner end of the eight and clipped the eight to my harness with the carabiner. “Screw down so you don’t screw up,” he said, reminding me which direction to orient the carabiner.

He closed the screw-gate so the carabiner wouldn’t come open, then started giving me directions. “Take this end of the rope. Hold it in your right hand like this.” He showed me how to hold it. “Don’t switch hands. Put your left hand behind your butt so you’re not tempted to use it. And no matter what happens, don’t let go with your right hand.” I obeyed mechanically.

“Stand there,” he said, “and face me.” He pointed at a spot about a foot from the ledge of the thirty-foot cliff we were standing on. Holding the long end of the rope behind my posterior with my right hand, I turned to face Nate and turned my back to the cliff. “Put your feet square with your shoulders,” Nate said. I squared my feet and spread them a little wider in the tight blue climbing shoes and gripped the rope for dear life. Continue reading “The First Step”

A Time To Weep, and a Time to Laugh

The summer is over.

The Jumonville grounds echo the sounds of a full summer; when you walk outside, you can almost hear the echoes of the kids laughing and the staff shouting out important safety rules, then explaining that every last one of them is a beautiful, unrepeatable miracle, or BUM.

The staff cabins, Andrew and Martha, are now filled with empty beds. I think I miss my room being a disaster area, because when it was a disaster area, it was also filled with friends. The common area once looked like a hurricane came through it. Now it looks abandoned and empty.

The dining hall, once cramped from squeezing fourteen staff members at one 8-place table, now comfortably seated the eight who remained at lunch. Then Tyler’s parents came to pick her up, and there were only seven. Kelly and Caitlin left without saying goodbye, and Caitlin M. is leaving at dinner.

The office is distinctly quiet, so much so that Ree had turned on a television for noise. The challenge course and the tower, yesterday (and even this morning) filled with screaming kids, are now empty and lonely.

True, through Jumonville’s autumn and winter there will be groups who come up to visit, and the forest, the dining hall, and the cabins will once again ring with childrens’ voices – though only for a little while. In the meantime, Ree and the very mountain of Jumonville will long for the coming summer and spring.

When the ground finally shakes off its fluffy white coat, and the green grass makes its bold appearance. When buses from the Laurel Highlands Outdoor School once again struggle up to the mountaintop and through the entryway, and Jumonville will once again be filled with the sounds of squealing bus brakes and squealing children.

There will be another group of summer staff, who will become a body, a church, and a family of friends. Nate and Ree will teach them about love languages, team building, behavior quadrants, and everything else they need to know.

And Ree will tell them that they are BUMs.

There is an appointed time for everything.
And there is a time for every event under heaven…
A time to weep and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn and a time to dance.
~Ecclesiastes 3:1 & 4

Jumonville Update I

Hey everyone! Thank you for your prayers for me and the people you know and love up here… and those you don’t know yet. You know, I’d been thinking of all the things I wanted to say… and now that I finally have a keyboard and a few minutes to collect my thoughts, I can’t think of any of them. Except the GOD IS SO AWESOME!

This is the first week of camp (actually, it’s week 2, but the first since training was over). On Monday, I found out in part just how much I desperately need God to work in and through me. I was facilitating one of the activities and basically just being a jerk – to the other counselors, to the kids, to the dean… It wasn’t right. My priorities were all mixed up – I was so crazy worried about getting stuff done right that I didn’t take into account that these are PEOPLE I’m working with – and kids, even more! So Saturday night I got a chance to pray with James, my accountability partner, and I found out more stuff that’s broken in me. I guess I tend to push people’s buttons.

Continue reading “Jumonville Update I”

Huge Prayer Request

Most facebook notes are about 25 things about me. Most are outdated. Most are posted because I wasn’t doing anything else and I had to make it seem like something was happening. Just bein’ honest. This one, however, is a little different. It’s a little crazy. In fact, it’s absurd. But it’s happening. And I really need your prayers.

So here’s the scoop: The Saturday after Christmas was a bright, sunny, warm day. Scotty, Aaron and me drove down to a place called Camp Jumonville to walk around, relax, and forget that we have day jobs. It was a pretty awesome day. We just pretty much hiked and chilled. My perfect day.

And then it got a little out-of-hand. Scotty told me they’re always looking for people to work there. I leaned out the window and asked God, “Could I? Could I really work here?” Continue reading “Huge Prayer Request”

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