Author Archives: Lloyd Mattson

About Lloyd Mattson

Founder/Editor of the Hole News. Publisher/Author of Wordshed Books. Old and growing older.

On Being Spiritual

Life at Woodland Garden grows more fun every day. My trimmed-back schedule allows more time for reading, writing, and plain goofing off.

Back in my pious days, goofing off troubled me. I got the idea that a good Christian should always be doing something spiritual (aka religious).  I found that really difficult. Then I came across Colossians 3:17: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” I assumed whatever included goofing-off.

Take last night. About 70 men gathered at Emmanuel Church for meatballs and pork chops. Pastor Dave showed up in handsome leathers; women dressed as lady bikers (bike-ettes?) buzzed about. When Clyde and I arrived, the foyer rocked with laughter, talking, and back-slapping.  We saw nothing spiritual: no prayer circles, no hymn hummers. Fine food, good program, the ritual gospel trimming, but mainly lots of fun. No wonder our church faces problems, like where to seat the Sunday morning crowd.

I guard myself at the Garden, where Bingo is big. Winners gloat over five bucks. Gloating is probably sinful. The few times I played Bingo in past days, I always lost, which led me to envy the winner, and envy is sin for sure. I strive to keep myself relatively pure.

In early years my love for trout fishing stirred guilt, but I conquered that too, and my trout streams gave me respite from angry deacons and the ladies aid.

Yesterday even my ancestors got into the spiritual act. Librarian Norma, a special friend, produced a big map of Finland and pointed out my paternal grandfather’s home town, Larsmo. Norma said the countryside there is much like Northern Minnesota.  Little wonder my kin chose the North Shore when they emigrated. But was that spiritual?

In those days, Russia owned Finland and hustled all men into the army at age 21. The young Swede Finns fled to America. But you wonder, maybe the Lord could have used a few Baptists in the Russian army.

This afternoon nine-year-old Corbin will visit. His grandma warned he might bring a checkerboard with his harmonica. Now it’s my duty to be a positive influence on the lad, but if he beats me at checkers, it will be his last visit. You have to teach kids to respect their elders. That’s spiritual.

Old Grandpa Lloyd

Pure Religion

I live in the wild at Woodland Garden. A bobcat visited our pond last week, photographed by a resident. The cat must be hungry to show itself in daylight. Deer visit daily, though no fauns this summer. One night coyotes yipped close by. Canada geese are regulars and a bald eagle flaps by now and then.

To me, these critters are simply illustrations drawn from God’s other book. Science has classified millions of different kinds of flora and fauna, and millions of different microscopic organisms, all fit purposefully together in the ecosystem. But there is more: Within many life forms dwell a host of variations waiting for clever people to release them.

Duluth’s rose garden overlooking the big lake displays dozens of varied blooms, but all came from God’s generic rose. Those pint-sized furry mops my neighbors pamper all came from basic dog, the wolf. God planted the potential for endless change in his creation and gave mankind the capacity to produce it.

Science simply explores and manipulates God’s creation. Yes, some scientists ignore or deny a supreme being. They struggle mightily to explain away Creator God, claiming nature to be the sole cause of all things, making Nature their god. But the smartest atheist cannot explain how Nature began.

I believe in Creator God. My mind cannot encompass him, let alone grasp how he created, but I trust him. Scripture speaks of God acting before the foundations of the earth. We can observe and measure God’s deeds, but his Person must always dwell in mystery.  John 1:18 declares no one has ever seen God. Mystery is the first tenet of my credo.

In one corner of Mystery I keep a dustbin where I toss theological conundrums. Let those who will bicker over eternal security, foreknowledge, the Trinity. I let God managed things we can’t know and rely utterly on his sovereign grace. That is the second tenet of my credo. The third tenet is Incarnation.

I’m not much taken with formal religion save as worship. I buy religion the way James and his brother Jesus defined it: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).  “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free” (Luke 4:18).

That’s hardly Sunday go to meeting stuff.

Old Grandpa Lloyd

Book Three, Post 2 Center Lake Stories

Center Lake Camp

Scroll down to find Post 1 of By the Campfire’s Ruddy Glow

The Legend of Pierre

The air was chill and a full moon lit Center Lake Camp in north central Michigan. Campers and staff huddled around a blazing fire on the hill overlooking the lake, a perfect setting for a story. But I didn’t have a story. All I had was a mossy wooden rowboat half hidden in sand on the bottom of the lake. It  spotted it one day while exploring by canoe. Obviously, it had been there a long time, and I wondered how it got there–wood boats generally don’t sink.  Campers had noticed it too. With only that mossy fossil as a prop, I launched the story. I had no idea where it would lead

A story needs conflict: good guys and bad. The Ojibwa and Pottawatomie tribes became my good guys. They didn’t get along to well, but they faced a common enemy, Pierre, the cheating fur trader, my bad guy. Somehow, I’d find a place for the old boat.

The story surprised me: it told itself, as stories often do; but the denouement must have been made in heaven, for no mortal could have planned it.

With the big moon and a crackling fire, I  didn’t need much of a story, and frankly, I can’t recall most of it, but I began with the ancient boat, promising to tell how it got there. We journeyed back to the fur trade days and the tribes who first camped at Center Lake. I didn’t press the history, for I didn’t know it, but neither did the campers.

I created  Pierre, the crooked fur trader, a seasoned woodsman, ruthless, cunning. His cheating enraged the Indians, but they feared his rifle. They waited and watched.

One night, Pierre camped on this very hill. The moon was full. The forest crowded close. His fire burned low, and Pierre sat listening; his rifle and furs nearby. In the distance, a wolf howled.

From the forest Pottawatomie warriors watched, while Ojibwa canoes glided ghostlike toward shore, where Pierre’s boat waited.

A movement in the forest disturbed a great gray owl. It flew heavily through the trees and swept low over Pierre’s fire. Sensing something had disturbed the owl, Pierre arose silently. He gathered his bundle of furs and rifle to make his way to the security of the lake. Suddenly, Pottawatomie cries filled the night. Staggering under his load, Pierre ran to the lake. He threw the furs in the boat and pushed from shore. Then Ojibwa war cries drove terror into his soul. Pierre poled furiously, fully visible in the moonlight. Arrows flew from shore and canoe. One stuck home and Pierre staggered. The boat tipped, filled with water and slowly sank under the weight of ill-gotten furs. And there it rests today.

The story was finished. The circle of campers sat by the coals of the fire, caught up in the mood of the moment. I have no idea why I added more, but with hushed voice I said, “Legend has it that on this hill, when the moon is full and the night is still, you can hear Pierre’s heart, beating, beating, for his spirit could find no rest.”

Then the hair rose on the back of my neck. Through the night came a  faint thunk, athunk, athunk. I swear, until that moment, I had never noticed the pulse of an oil rig a few fields over.

Joe and the Gypsy Fortune Teller

We old guys love to visit the past. Sometimes we feel good; other times we wonder how could we have been so stupid. One of the stupids carries me back to a campfire at Center Lake. The camp became a significant part of Wayside Baptist in Muskegon, where I served five years. We helped develop the property and strengthen the first youth camps.

About the time the camp opened, Joe and Julie Burkhart joined Wayside. Joe was a man of refined tastes—he loved fishing and the outdoors. And we had another common interest: Scouting. Working together, we launched a troop at Lincoln School, where Joe taught. He became Scoutmaster and I volunteered to be chaplain. Within a year, 60 boys joined the troop.

Each summer Joe put together an extended camping trip. The third year, he plotted a two week trip around Lake Michigan. Thinking it improper to send boys off without a chaplain, I joined the trip. In mid-June four leaders and about 20 boys headed north in the troop’s refurbished bus. Our goal: Imp Lake Campground in the Ottawa National Forest, our base for exploring that part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. We stayed about a week and then worked our way south through Wisconsin, planning an overnight at Wisconsin Dells, a popular tourist haven. We had good kids. We could turn them loose with little fear of mischief. Joe and I roamed about. We came upon a Gypsy fortune teller plying her trade. I figured that dark-skinned fortuneteller wearing a red kerchief would make a story, though I had nothing particular in mind..

The following spring, Center Lake hired Joe as summer manager. I signed on for young teen week. My duties included evening campfire. As I reflected on story themes, the Gypsy fortune teller came to mind. I plotted with Joe.

At dusk, campers, staff, and visitors gathered around the fire on the hill overlooking the lake. Among the visitors was an elderly grandmother. I began the program: campfire songs, reflections on the day, and as darkness deepened, I launched into the story. Joe stood just outside of the fire circle, primed for his part.

I told about the previous summer’s Scout trip, all true. When we got to the Dells, truth came up lame. I pictured Joe and me mingling with the knot of tourists at the Gypsy’s booth, not hiding our skepticism. She grew increasingly agitated. Suddenly, she rose, ripped a page from her notepad, scrawled hasty words, and pressed into the startled crowd. She shoved her face close to mine and shouted, “You shall see! You shall see!” She thrust the crumpled note in my hand.

At that point in the story, I fumbled in my wallet and fished out a tattered, folded paper. “This is the Gypsy’s note. I don’t know why I kept it. I don’t believe in fortune tellers.”  Smoothing the paper, I pretended to read by firelight. “Ridiculous! Joe and I are the best of friends–” A hushed voice:  “What did she write?” I read slowly, “By this day another summer, one of you will slay the other.”

 With a yell, Joe leaped the campers circling the fire, leaped the fire, and headed for me. I hurled down the hill into the darkness with Joe close behind. We lay out of sight in tall grass, stifling laughter. That was one campfire the kids would remember!

Little did we know. At the fire circle, panic. Campers cried. The old grandmother came close to a heart attack. When Joe and I appeared, expecting applause for a masterful performance, our laughter turned to chagrin. Said one infuriated soul, “How could you!”

Good question.

This Little Light of Mine

1962 the Baptist General Conference invited me to direct camping and boys’ work. I traveled to camps in many places and filled various roles. Center Lake Camp,  ministry I was involved with at its beginning,  invited me several times. On each visit I looked forward to seeing John Libke, a friend from those early years. Converted late in life, John gave himself to kids. He came to camp each year, sometimes as a counselor, sometimes as speaker. John was without peer as a storyteller. When Satan hurled darts from John’s giant flannel board, you ducked.

The events of this story took place in the mid-60s. John was the speaker. I was a utility person and led evening campfires. The fire circle had moved from the hill to the slope overlooking the swimming area. I recall the sandy shallows reaching far out  where lived the biggest pollywogs I ever saw.

Trying to make the final evening memorable, I planned a familiar campfire gimmick but with a twist. , If it worked, the kids would remember.

I recruited help to set up my gimmick during the evening chapel, when no camper would be in sight. To pull it off, I needed calm waters and full dark. Fortunately, we had a waning moon.

From two lengths of 2 x 4 we constructed an eight-foot cross which we wrapped in burlap to hold a generous drenching with fuel oil. We planted the cross 30 feet or so out from shore in the sandy point. About six inches above the waterline I tacked a small staple. From a fishing rod hidden in the brush on shore I ran a monofilament line through the staple, then back to shore. I coached a counselor on his duty.

During the week I had scrounged a metal wash basin and covered it inside and out with crumpled foil. A paper toweling pad in the bottom awaited an  anointing. I tied a wire leader on the monofilament and snapped it onto the basin, which rested on a  substantial block of wood, forming a handsome, a rustic altar. A bundle of fine cedar sticks lay nearby.

Blessedly, the night was calm and darkness hid the cross, as the bell summoned campers to the fire circle. They came boisterous, laughing, Uncle John Libke among them.

Seeking spiritual decision making has been part of the camp tradition from the frontier camp meetings to this day. May that ever be so! Countless souls have come to Christ camp and countless more have renewed their faith at Christian camps. Campfires provide opportunity for campers to share new-found faith, and leaders have devised various ways to visualize the sharing: slips of paper or chips of wood tossed on the fire. I hoped to visualize the impact campers can make when they go home.

We sang rousing songs then quiet songs and we reflected on the good camp week. Warmed by the fire and the sense of God’s presence, I invited campers and staff to tell of their faith and camp decisions. I invited them to place a stick on the altar by the water as a symbol of their desire to share Christ back home.

Many came, some with tears, a heartwarming scene. A tangled pile of sticks formed in the basin.  Finally, a counselor I had prompted shared his heart then held his stick in the fading fire. He carried it ablaze to the basin, probing to the oil-soaked pad. The dry cedar quickly ignited, and I placed the flaming basin on the still water at the water’s edge. Then, mysteriously, the basin began to move, abetted by the hidden counselor.

Spellbound, the campers watched. The basin moved, driven by some unseen force, its flames reflected on still water. We began a quiet song. The basin moved slowly, then stopped. A tongue of fire rose and kept rising. It spread along each arm of the cross and to the top, lighting the darkness, a light kindled by the campers’ love for Jesus.

I thanked God for the Light of the world. I thanked God that we, too, can be lights to show  the way out of darkness to friends back home. We returned to our cabins quietly. A memorable evening.

Fire From Heaven

A year or so after my dramatic campfire, I was back at Center Lake. This time I was the chapel speaker and Uncle John Libke looked after evening campfires. My flaming cross had so impressed him he decided to give it a go, but with a new twist.

Late afternoon on the final full day of the week, with the campers occupied away from the beach, I joined Uncle John and his helpers at his car. The trunk produced a bundle of half-inch pipe, fine wire, burlap sacks, a long nylon rope, a gallon can of fuel oil, and a foot-long contraption wrapped with burlap and fitted with pulleys.

The threaded pipe segments formed into a cross which we decked with burlap and planted in the sandbar about where my cross had stood. We drenched it with fuel oil. Uncle John was about to attempt an old camp gimmick, Elijah’s fire from heaven. We secured one end of the nylon rope to the cross two feet above the water and led the other end to an old cottonwood near the campfire circle. John coached the tree-climber.

Darkness was falling as I told the final chapel story. The campers milled about, waiting for the bell to summon them to the last campfire. Uncle John was ready; his storytelling was awesome. The campfire blazed he paced and gestured, morphing into. Elijah. He taunted the Prophets of Baal. They cut themselves until blood gushed out, but no fire fell. Exhausted from their frenzy, they retired.

Stone by stone Elijah built an altar. He laid on wood and slayed a bull and placed pieces of it on the altar. Then he drenched the whole works with barrels of water. Then he prayed, calling out, “Let the fire fall!  No fire.

John made three mistakes. He did not test-run his missile; he did not calculate the elasticity of nylon rope; and he did not imagined how hard it would be to strike a match high up in a cottonwood hanging on with one hand. A heathen camper giggled.

John backed up in his story and again prayed loudly. “Let the fire fall!”  A flicker, a flame. Through the darkness a fiery missile hurled downward over the lake, bounced off the water once, twice, and died. More heathen giggles. Uncle John said, “Lloyd, close the meeting.”

I thanked him for the great story and said, “Sometimes our fires don’t work, but you can count on it, God’s fire never fails.” We dispatched a counselor in a rowboat to light the cross and the campers watched the fire until it faded. Uncle John sat sadly nearby.



Book 3, Post 1. Ghost of Snail Lake

By The Campfire’s Ruddy Glow—1. 


This is a storybook; nothing more. If you’re looking for a moral, you must hunt it out.  A story that needs explaining is a poor story.

These stories flow from my life-long love of the creation, God’s other book. That love framed my years and theology. As old age creeps on, nature still captivates me. The day of this writing, I studied the furry mid-winter spikes of our backyard cattails and considered gleaning tiny seeds with their wispy parachutes to see if they would grow.

I recall at age three a neighbor boy walking by our home carrying a Kellogg’s Cornflakes box half full of little brown orbs. My father, who knew everything, told me they were acorns and that grew on oak trees. I recall toddling with Father across a field toward a line of trees. I recall disappointment when we found no acorns.

The summer I turned four we moved to a home in Lester Park surrounded by wilderness. Wild strawberries grew in the fields. The aspen woods back of our home hosted hazel nuts, a respectable white pine, and a tall, ancient spruce. Two fields back, a small creek barely sustained my pollywog pool in mid-summer, but the spring melt turned it to a frightening torrent. A mile to the north the Hill beckoned. Like the bear in that happy song, I longed to see what lay on the other side.

Smile if you will at an old man’s remembering, but those fields and woods shaped my life and launched me on the wilderness way. While my boyhood friends played ball, I played in the woods. Their playing days are over, but mine go on and on. Thirty-five years after we moved to Lester Park I found myself at a desk in Chicago, the last place in the world I would have chosen to live, but forces beyond our choosing move us about.

I had been chosen to direct camping and boys work for our denomination. My first assignment: write a cabin counselor’s handbook. Three years later a new role led to an ambitious goal: wilderness trips for men and boys across the nation. My search for a leader’s resources came up empty and I went to work on a second book: The Wilderness Way.

Many stories in these pages come from that book and the trail camps I initiated. But I would be remiss if I did not take you back to the beginning and tell the story of Troop 18.

A Boy and a Pack

Among my treasures is a faded, stained packsack.  Lloyd Mattson, Troop 18 was once scrawled on the leather triangle that secures the straps to canvass. My study bookshelf holds two more fading treasures: a vintage Boy Scout Manual and Deep River Jim’s Wilderness Trail Book.

Deep River Jim cemented my commitment to become a Scout. I was age ten and somehow learned about the Open Road for Boys magazine, a monthly feast.  His Trail Book pulled together columns he wrote for the magazine. I longed to become like Deep River Jim, and Scouting was a way to do that.

Lester Park Methodist Church in our neighborhood sponsored Troop 18. I had two years to wait—attaining age 12 was required in those days.

My early boyhood was entrenched in Baptist orthodoxy, not a breath of liberalism. Salvation was critical. It was available through Sunday school, BYPU, VBS, Sunday morning and evening services and two-week evangelistic campaigns. But for some of us, salvation did not take; a cause for anxiety to both parents and boy, who had caught a glimpse of Hell.

We sinners were interested in fun, a scarce commodity in our Baptist church, where fun was confined to the Sunday school picnic and the last half-hour of VBS, when we gathered in the furnace room to make airplanes from clothespins. A camping trip for boys was unheard of. In common with all heathens, we boys I lived for now. Heaven’s rewards and Hell’s perils seemed safely remote.

I endured sermons with my parents though my carnal mind often strayed, as when a wandering wasp circled a bald head three rows forward. I prayed mightily but apparently was not on praying ground, for the wasp never landed. I longed mightily for fields, hills, woods, and streams where I could practice the lore of Deep River Jim.  My church leaders were far too busy serving God to spend time with a boy in the woods.

My greatest asset was godly parents. Though they limited my territory more than I wished, their love was never in doubt. They seemed to understand that it is not what you do for a boy that counts, but what you allow him to experience.  I built secret places in the woods, blistered my thumb on woodland cookouts, and devoured the Open Road for Boys, pouring over Deep River Jim’s Wilderness Trail Book.  When I finally got old enough to join Troop 18, my dad bought me the pack.

Troop 18 leaders were good men. They didn’t pray in my hearing except for ritual blessings before meals. There were no conversations about Jesus. But there were hikes and knot tying and Capture the Flag, with men and boys creeping through the woods.  You could hardly expect a spiritual man to get his pants dirty over such foolishness.

Then the Cabin; the most hallowed spot of memory. I cringed on my bunk as winter darkness closed in and two ancient birches leaning one on the other groaned in the wind. Truly spiritual men could never take boys to a rustic log cabin over Sunday.  Sunday was for Sunday school.  At the cabin we sat close to the barrel stove Sunday mornings and read the lesson leaflet as quickly as possible.

There is so much more. The men who shared my love for the wilderness could not tell me about Jesus.  The Baptist men I knew who claimed to know Jesus were too busy being serving God to talk where a boy can listen.  Boys often listen best in the wilderness.

Not long ago I visited the old cabin site. Kathy Gustafson lives there now in a lovely home. The cabin is long gone, but the tall white pine that stood just outside the door remains. I leaned on it and remembered.



The Ghost of Snail Lake 

I don’t believe in ghosts; never have. But  one dark night in 1944 I came close to believing.

The setting is Snail Lake Camp (now Gospel Hill Camp), an outreach of the St. Paul Union Gospel Mission, where I worked during college years. The camp’s 17 acres included playfields, expansive lawns, a large garden plot, and wooded pastureland  where the Mission sometimes kept livestock. The property held three buildings:

The lodge housed the kitchen and dining hall at ground level with the chapel on level two. The third level was a single-room dormitory that could sleep 90 or more. On the night of the ghost, 63 boys grades four through seven slept in the dorm.

I doubt that the annals of Christian camping ever recorded a scene more precarious.  There were 63 campers—and a staff of two. Bill Jansen was the cook. I was everything else.  I was 21 and had never directed a camp week, and I was hurting with an ear infection and fever. My only time alone came when the campers finally slept, allowing me to slip down to the kitchen for a snack. How all that came about is a story for another time.

We were nearing the close of the camp week. I was dog tired. My sleep-inducing strategy for the campers was a long, spooky story, sparing no gore. My story concerned the Ghost of Scull Island, invented as I went along. Finally, boy sounds ceased.

Without a flashlight, I felt my way through the dark down the wide wooden stairs. Outside, the misty sky showed only the faintest light.  Inside, full dark.

Half spooked by my story, I reached ground level and felt my way to the screen door leading to the dining hall. Then I froze. I heard heavy boots shuffling on the flagstone floor. My first impulse on was to run for Bill a city block away, but I eased into the dining hall. Unfortunately, the light switches were at the other end and the room with benches, chairs, tables, brooms, and mop buckets cluttering the way. A dash through the dark was far too risky.

I called, “Who’s there?” The shuffling stopped. I eased through the door and backed to the wall, inching toward the bank of light switches. The shuffling resumed, and again I called, “Who’s there?”

I could barely make out skylight through the windows that lined the opposite wall. At mid-point, two concrete steps led up to a landing, where double screen doors opened onto a flagstone patio. The shuffling seemed to be moving toward the landing, but nothing showed against the faint skylight. I thought the boots climb the steps. Something brushed the screens. But still nothing showed.

Risking the clutter, I broke for the switch panel, flooding the room with light, blinding me. When I could focus, the room was empty!  Again, I almost fled but I forced myself to the screen doors and looked out. On the patio stood three young Black Angus steers, escapees from the camp pasture, their shuffling hooves echoing through the screen  doors.

I made my way to the kitchen and collapsed at the table. I found pineapple coffee cake, canned fruit, and strong black coffee.

Had I panicked, I would be telling you about the very real ghost I encountered that night at Snail Lake Camp.

Behind the Story

In fairness to all, I must explain how the precarious circumstances described in the previous story came about. From 1942 through 1945 I worked on and off for the St. Paul Union Gospel Mission, owner of Snail Lake Camp. Through the school year I directed the Arthur H. Savage Boys Club in the downtown Mission building.  Summers, I filled various roles at the Mission and camp.

Each summer we held three six-day sessions: one for our downtown club, one for the Ober Boys Club (which served mostly Black families); and one for the girls club. A week of camp cost fifty cents—if you could afford it. Attendance was fair, though declining.

In 1944 legendary Mission superintendent Peter MacFarlane decided to merge the boys’ weeks, a nod to the growing demand for racial integration. Attendance dropped dramatically. Assuming blending the camps had caused the decline, Mac called me into his office and lectured me  on the Christian imperative for integration. But I felt race was not the problem. We served an ethnic mix at the downtown club. The attendance decline was territorial: Ober Club kids and downtown kids did not along.

To strengthen my point,  I bet Mac $50 I could fill the camp if our club had its own week. Mac would not hear of a bet, but he gave me the green light and promised a generous bonus if I filled the camp. With the club was closed for the summer, hustling campers  was a challenge. But finding staff on short notice was a far greater challenge. Camper registrations began to pile up, but I failed to nail down one staff person.

With time running out, I turned to our club basketball team, teens long on athletic skill but short on spiritual interest. . Four boys agreed to come as counselors.  I had no time to train them nor, could I keep track of camper registrations.  On camp day, 83 boys stood in line at the Mission awaiting  a cursory physical.

Mac dropped around. He was pleased to see the crowd and asked if I had everything in order. I assured him I did. When you’re 21,you feel invincible.

Following the physicals, we bused the kids to camp. Supper was noisy chaos and the first chapel brought trouble. My counselors failed to show. I found them at the waterfront smoking. They declared they would not be attending chapels. Tense negotiations got nowhere, so I told the boys to pack their gear and Bill drove them home.

Bedtime foretokened  deeper trouble: several older campers showed signs of rebellion. It came to a head in the morning. The only way I could manage that many campers was to form squads and line them up military-like to count heads and give instructions. I told the squads to look after one another.  Wishful thinking. When the rebels began to smart off, I invited campers who were not happy to step forward. Twenty did and Bill drove them home, leaving us with 63 kids.

Cooking took all Bill’s time, which left me to be counselor, teacher, lifeguard, nurse, craft instructor, referee, and everything else. And I was hurting with an ear infection and fever. No wonder I saw a ghost. The Lord must have commissioned a legion of angels to look after us. We

Book 5 Media Post 2

Book 5: Media Post 2 (Scroll down to Post 1)

Getting Published

Everyone who aspires to write a book knows the challenge of finding a publisher. Every publisher knows the challenge of finding manuscripts that will pay their way. Probably fewer than one in a thousand manuscripts find a publisher; and less than one in a thousand published books earn significant money. How then did an obscure executive of a small denomination latch onto five publishers and see a bunch of books into print?  Certainly neither my scholarship nor literary skill can account for it. My success resulted from providential timing and my niche interests.

I came to Chicago in the early ‘60s just as the Christian camping movement was transitioning from mostly adult-oriented Bible conferences to youth camps. Evangelical publishers listed practically no youth camp literature, and though the American Camping Association offered excellent resources, the theological mindset of traditional Christian leaders called for materials aligned with Christian camping distinctives.

And another factor: Christian camping had no national voice to coordinate leadership resource development. I came on the scene just as Christian Camping International (CCI) was forming. As camping director for our denomination with its strong Bible camp tradition, I became part of the founding committee and the resources sub-committee.

My first book, Camping Guideposts, had recently appeared as the first Christian camping handbook in the general market. When the limited first press run sold out quickly, Moody Press picked up the book, identifying me nationally with the new youth camping movement. Excellent books by Joy MacKay of Cedarville College and Free Methodist Christian Education leaders Floyd and Pauline Todd soon appeared, but my proximity to Wheaton College, where CCI organizing meetings were held gave me a leg up.

My lifelong passion for camping and the outdoors was well known. Writing camping literature was in line with my professional duties. Providence allowed me to write Camping Guideposts, which sold widely. Participation in CCI conference across America and Canada gave me broad exposure. And none of this was of my doing. Book assignments came.

Bob Kobeilush, President of CCI, wrote in his Foreword to Christian Camping Today that Lloyd Mattson had published more words about Christian camping than any person who ever lived. That may even be true.

How Many Books?

How many books have you written? That question comes often and my answer is always the same: I don’t know; I haven’t kept count. What books should I count? I have authored, co-authored, ghost-authored, and crutch-authored more titles than I can remember. That’s not a big deal; it’s just what I did as a journeyman editor-writer lacking in technical training but genetically disposed to writing. Most books came and went without stirring much fuss.

Curious to learn what was still out there, I googled Lloyd Mattson Books and found 19 different titles on and its used-book minions. Some titles listed for one dollar (sellers scrounge free books and make a buck on shipping). Other titles, considered rare, bore ridiculous price tags. Books we gave away by the thousands were respectably priced.

I came across a small book I had forgotten and got credit for a book on Cuba I never wrote, co-authored by a woman I never met. Readers must be hanging on to ­Night Watch; it appeared on no list.

The 19 titles included Camping Guideposts, my first book. It lived through many editions, six publishers, and over 100,000 copies, about 40 percent of my gross book output.  River City Press keeps it alive as Christian Camping Today.

 I have no idea how many books translators distributed in Spanish, Portuguese, Korean, Chinese, Afrikaner, and possibly others. I granted mission agencies blanket permission to translate anything I wrote.

Then there were about ten books I helped camps, missions, and individuals produce. Some I helped build from scratch; some I virtually wrote; some just needed editing. And I contributed chapters to several textbooks. I agree with the sage of scripture: of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the flesh. Ecclesiastes 12:12.


Book 5: Media Post 1

Book 5: Media. Post 1

Mixed Media

Talking was my main job through 60 years of ministry. By conservative count, I unlimbered over 8,000 sermons, Bible studies, workshops, banquet talks, campfire stories, and assorted other presentations. Figuring 30 minutes per speech (wishful thinking) at the normal 120 words per minute, I uttered at least nine million words in public. Makes one tired just thinking about it, not to mention how tired listeners got.

Radio began in Iron River, Michigan in 1950 with Melodies of Life, a Saturday evening 30-minute show with records and stories. That evolved into part-time work at WMUS in Muskegon, Michigan. In Anchorage I produced two 30-minute TV specials and in Duluth from 1978 to 1987 I did close to 2,000 North Country Notebook shows for WWJC. It was a weekday morning five-minutes, mostly taped, on outdoor themes.

Filmstrips: During my hitch on the denominational staff I got into filmstrips, a popular medium at that time. I wrote scripts, often narrated, and sometimes shot the pictures for perhaps a dozen filmstrips of varying length.

Writing: As reported elsewhere in these pages, my interest in writing began in childhood. I sold my first story in 1959. An uncounted number of stories, articles, essays, monographs, columns, and devotions followed. I wrote or ghost-wrote two dozen or more books with translations into several languages. I worked with several publishers and contributed chapters to several books. I wrote for Christian Service Brigade and Christian Camping International. Elsie and I ran two small publishing companies.

Wordshed Mission:  In1986 we took early retirement we set up the Wordshed Mission to tell the stories of quiet servants of the faith we had met. We planned two books, a few hundred copies. Reprints and new titles followed, and be 2011 the Mission had distributed over 30,000 print books and nearly a thousand audio books.

Blogging: Late in 2008, to keep the family apprised as Elsie faded, I began a group email to family and a few close friends. I called it the Hole News because I wrote it nightly during in my inevitable, sleepless, hole in the night, hence Hole News. The group grew by referral until the list reached nearly 250 names. In 2011 we moved to the Web:


How I Became an Author

The popular view gives the title author to people who write books. Writers, on the other hand, create short stuff for newspapers and magazines. Did you ever hear of a freelance author?

In 1958 our family moved to a mission church in Anchorage. There I sold my first story to a Sunday school paper for ten dollars, which made me a writer. I  sold  many more articles and stories, mostly for three cents a word, but my most profitable writing drew no pay.

I fired off missionary reports to our denominational magazine about summer camps and Boy Scout adventures. When our church troop died for want of leadership,  I wrote how the Lord sent us a gung-ho Christian Service Brigade leader. We started Alaska’s first Brigade battalion.

That drew the attention of Lawrence Swanson, our Conference Christian education executive. Under his leadership, the denomination had adopted Brigade as its official boys program. Camping was also in his bailiwick. In early autumn, 1961, Lawrence came to Anchorage to lead teacher training workshops. A friend for several years, he told me he was fighting a deadline for Tips, his leadership newsletter. The topic was using nature in the Bible camp program. He said, “Lloyd, I don’t know anything about that,” “Piece of cake,” I replied, and offered to rough out a piece for him. His relief was palpable.

Overnight I worked up 1,500 words which Lawrence read and put in the mail untouched. The piece came out under my byline. It won a minor award, got reprinted in other periodicals, and became a widely-circulated monograph.

Not long after the piece was published, Lawrence’s assistant resigned. His job description included camping and boys work. He left on his desk the outline and a draft of one chapter of a counselor handbook, Camping Guideposts. The deadline had passed; orders were piling up. Lawrence needed a new assistant in a hurry, one who knew boys work and camping and could write. He phoned me.

In January, 1962 our family moved to Chicago where I began a ten year hitch on the Conference staff. I finished Camping Guideposts in time for the summer season and became an author.

My job involved me in the beginnings of Christian Camping International. Venture, Brigade’s magazine for boys, invited me to write a regular column. Other assignments came and before long I gained considerable notice as a Christian camping and outdoor writer. Someone once introduced me as the Apostle of the Outdoors.

It’s curious to look back and note how seemingly unrelated circumstances merge to shape our lives. Writing became part of my work.

How I Became a Writer

When I was grade three, a circus elephant gave me glasses and opened my life to books and writing. It happened this way:

One day in early spring, Mother took sister Hazel and me to the circus, my first. The whole thing fascinated me, especially the huge tent with its three-ring flurry. How did all those clowns squeeze into that tiny car? Then Mother said, “Look!  An elephant!”  I looked but saw no elephant. That’s how my parents learned I had poor vision. I became the only four-eyes in the class.

I had learned to read from big-lettered flash cards in earlier grades, but I had no idea what the teacher was doing at the blackboard, and books were a blurry mystery. I could see the pictures and somehow managed, but when I got glasses, wow! I soon became Lester Park Library’s best kid customer.

I discovered Bob’s Hill books by Charles Pierce Burton; read everyone one on the shelves, some twice, and began to imagine writing stories like them. I recall lying on the Davenport in the living room of our small home it Duluth plotting a book, scene by scene. Someday, I told myself, I’d be a writer. Maybe even an author!  I never told anyone, of course. Authors were bearded dignitaries in a card game sister Hazel and I played. Maybe I’d just be a writer.

Teachers said I had the flair. I wrote poems but hid them. I read Horatio Alger, Jr. books by the dozen and devoured Tarzan. I discovered  Hopalong Cassidy, Clarence Mulford’s cowboy hero, and moved on to many other authors.  Essays were the easy part of school. Later, when I moved about as a pastor, I inherited district newsletters.

The Standard, our denominational magazine, gave me my first published article, “God Bless our Little Church” about a woman who bugged me every prayer meeting by closing her prayer with that phrase. She stressed little. Hey! We had over 100 in Sunday School. My piece declared there are no little churches. We were the biggest church those kids had.

My first for-pay piece came ten years later in Alaska. A Sunday school paper bought my story about a boy fishing trout for ten whole bucks!  Finally, at age 37, I was a professional writer.

More stories and articles followed, along with regular reports to the Standard about our mission church in Anchorage. Those reports played a major role in my first book.