In a job where new people and places could quite easily turn into a game of revolving doors, it’s been especially important for me to recognize where I end, and others begin. The words written above are from my favorite musician’s (Sleeping at Last) most recent song, Atlas: Nine, the final piece to a series cataloguing the nine types of the Enneagram. This song was released on the final day of my very first camp of the summer (Chi Ro kiddos in Anadarko, Oklahoma). Cocooned in my sleeping bag-- I cried, then got really angry. I was angry at the way the lyrics neglected to affirm me and the way he had exposed everything I’ve spent my life trying to conceal from everyone. My friends tried to explain the bright side of the words, but I was not having it. So, I spent some time at my home camp, Kum-Ba-Yah in Kentucky, processing with my minister, Anne.
I reflected on my relationships, broke down my afflictions with conflict. I was starting to see parts of myself I never knew existed. My second week of the summer came to a grand crescendo as all that I had known camp to be seemed to come together with divine design. The last time I had seen the graduating seniors was when they were freshmen and I was the one saying farewell to my time at KBY as a camper. I had counseled the rest of the campers when they were in Chi Ro a couple years back. And one of the directors, billy, and the beloved Sugar Bear, were celebrating their 10th summer at camp together. Their first year was the first time I had ever been to KBY and quite honestly the year that everything changed for me. This was billy’s last summer at Kum-Ba-Yah for a while (sending all the love and shalom to you in this new season, billy, you changed us all). All in all, this was a week of reclaiming missed opportunities for fellowship from my time as a camper, creating a space for others to fully embrace who they were meant to be, and of reconciling with myself for all the things I haven’t been brave enough to do. Reconciling with myself for not knowing myself well and for not always standing up for what I believe in.
As a Peace Intern, one of my biggest preaching points has been centered on identity and storytelling. I explain empathy and communication through the lens of stereotyping and the danger of speaking for the oppressed. This is something that lands near and dear to my heart. Maybe it’s our country’s political climate or the rise of social media, but people in our society have a crippling inability to enter into vulnerable spaces with one another. We don’t talk to each other anymore. We don’t ask questions or share stories. So many people feel alone. I believe peace is something that blooms from within; you can’t have genuine peace with others until you’ve found peace within yourself. Every camp has been unique in its own way, but I’ve found one universal truth across the board—camp is always the safest place in the world for young people. In Alabama, I was met with passion for justice, love, and extraordinary light shining deep from within the staff and campers alike. We gathered around the ever-widening Table and asked what it meant to show up for one another. The answers settled, like sediment in a still river, on the word ‘beloved.’ Stripping ourselves of the names we’d been given by this world, we began to understand the impact of a Love so great that it asks for nothing but our authentic selves. A few came to terms with their sexuality, many faced their fears and anxieties in the face of vulnerability, and others summoned enough courage in themselves to shed light on the questions many are too fearful to ask. (Have you ever asked what the star over the manger actually was? Hint: probably wasn’t the North Star) Ultimately, authenticity is all any of us can ever ask of one another. And that’s a hard lesson I’m learning to breathe life into.
Since my first listen, this song has started to grow on me. Partially thanks to all those I have forced to listen who have heard only hope in the words wake up. Slowly I am starting to hear the hope too. I’m rolling up my sleeves, ready to face all that crosses my path or crawls to the surface. High schoolers are better at this than most people, at least at camp anyway. They are able to show up to the Table, knowing and accepting themselves and others as beloved. We can no longer afford to be silent in matters of peace. We cannot keep putting off the conversation. We cannot, as the Church, fail to show up for God’s beloved children. I am rubbing my eyes and allowing the authentic me to come into focus. Three weeks in and I’ve got a good feeling that I won’t be the same person I was a month ago at the end of all of this.
As we move forward in this summer and our lives, I invite you to reclaim who you were before the world got its hands on you. I invite you to remember. I invite you to wake up.
Whoever you are, just know I love you.
P.S. Thank you to everyone who has sent me letters and care packages! You are an incredible encouragement to me!