Posted by: Philip Rushton | July 22, 2014

The Holy Foolishness Of Camping

“Give me the poverty that enjoys true wealth.” Thoreau, Walden

I survived another camping trip with a toddler this weekend. It went a lot smoother than our failed attempt last year. This is probably because we cheated and rented a cabin!

Nevertheless, there were a few moments throughout the weekend when I questioned our decision to go. I found myself wondering why we traded our 1500 square foot house with 2 bathrooms for a 150 square foot room with nothing in it except bunk beds. Camping, when think about it, is essentially a vacation where people pay to live with uncomfortable limitations.

Throughout the weekend I was reminded of this hilarious stand up routine by Jim Gaffigan, where he reflects on the absurdity of camping.

(Note to e-mail readers – you need to go to the actual blog to view video or watch it on youtube at

Camping really is a bizarre phenomenon. I find it odd that it is so popular in a culture that is hyper-consumeristic. For some reason people continue to pay money to reenact a primitive, simplistic way of life.

However, i think the enduring interest in camping tells us something very important about what it means to be human. During our worship service on Sunday we reflected on Jesus’ words in Luke 12 where he says, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

What stood out to me as I reflected on this text is that Jesus is not simply trying to make people feel bad about being materialistic. He is actually concerned that they are missing out on what life is really all about. He follows this statement with a parable of about a man who devotes his life to the accumulation of material possessions, only to realize that he has missed out on what really matters.

Whenever I camp I rediscover the truth that life does not consist in an abundance of stuff. In fact, it is precisely when the unnecessary things are stripped away that I am able to recover the more meaningful aspects of life. This weekend I found myself able to be present with my family, connected to community, and free to enjoy being out in nature. I was not distracted by my computer or focused on keeping up my house. It turns out that it is a lot easier to tend to 150 square feet than 1500!

I have been reading Henry Thoreau’s book, Walden, with a group of friends lately. Here Thoreau documents what he learns when he moves into the woods, builds a small hut, and lives off the land. Through his experiment of living simply he discovers a richer and fuller kind of life. When he lives with intentional limitations he finds himself free from many of the anxieties that are caused by life in the modern world. He discovers a way of life that leads to peace, freedom, gratitude and awareness.

Of course, this type of simplicity is different from an oppressive, systemic poverty. When he speaks of discovering a poverty that enjoys true wealth, he is not speaking about the poverty of a family that cannot provide for their basic needs. This type of conversation cannot trivialize or romanticize poverty. David Myers documents in his book, The Pursuit of Happiness, that our well being is significantly improved when we are able to get above the poverty line. Interestingly, though, once people are out of poverty there is almost no correlation between income and well-being. He references studies that show how people in every tax bracket wish they could earn 10-20% more. Even people who make 500,000 dollars a year show signs of discontent and covetousness for more.

Perhaps, then, there is wisdom behind the foolishness of camping. Perhaps this desire to live in a tent for a weekend is symptomatic of our longing for the true life that is found in simplicity. Majorie Thompson suggests that we need to rediscover, “limits that are life restoring.” She continues saying, “our culture would seduce us into believing that we can have it all, do it all, and (even more preposterous!) that we deserve it all. Yet in refusing to accept limits on our consumption or activity, we perpetuate a death-dealing dynamic in the world.”

Maybe Jim Gaffigan is wrong after all! Maybe there really is such a thing as a happy camper!


  1. Apparently you have continued with our book too.

    I didn’t need a you-tube video so know exactly what you are talking about. My husband LOVED camping. Couldn’t get enough of it! You have described his experience (but not mine) perfectly. It does get much easier when the children are older and can occupy themselves. They love the tent but our rule was “only for sleeping…not playing” or we’d be cleaning the tent and our sleeping bags constantly. Not only did I miss the comforts of my bed and bath, but the kitchen too! I never enjoyed cooking over the fire (except marshmallows on a stick) or a two burner camp stove! But, interestingly, there are great memories now, of hiking, sitting on the edge of a lake, and being together! Thanks for the memories, Phil.

  2. Great insight, I fully agree.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: