The sky has had more than its share of clouds this week, not staying for long, just passing through. The sun managed to peek out just about every day, treating us to a little warmth among mild temperatures. The result, out on the beach, is a fantastic set of views against the mountain backdrop. You watch a whole team of clouds drift in on the peaks and roll down the slopes. Then, sun peaks through again and the gray mixes with the blue, forming something new, something you want to just keep watching.
Summer camp is getting closer and closer for me. Since this is my first summer camp season at Magruder, I certainly want it to be well organized and, more than anything, good for the campers. I’ve watched as Lakeshore welcomed its summer staff and began its first week of camps, and I remember what that felt like. The huge undertaking of getting 30 people trained to welcome several thousand campers. For now, we are on a smaller scale. We have 11 staff and we’ll welcome several hundred campers this summer. I’m hoping our efforts will grow that–and not just the numbers, but the culture. I’m hoping what we do this summer spreads outside of camp, and brings more people back, ready to do even more building.
This week, my good friend Hope arrived to be my partner in this work. I watched Hope grow up at camp, trained and supervised her when she worked on some of my staffs, and stayed in touch after camp. Hope came to visit Allyson and I after we moved away from Lakeshore, and I feel in her a real kindred spirit. We talk often about our faith and the questions we have about God and religion in general. We are drawn to a lot of the same obsessions, and it’s good to have someone to share the joys and pitfalls that come with that. Hope is also an artistic peer, though she’s probably more talented in that capacity than I am. We often swap work and encourage each other. Here’s a video of her performing a song she wrote:
During one of her visits to Allyson and I in our home in Murray, Kentucky, I jokingly mentioned to Hope that she should come out to Oregon for the summer and be our Summer Camp Program Director. She didn’t take it as a joke.
Moving to Oregon has been this amazing journey of beauty and self-discovery, like some kind of sappy fish-out-of-water movie about going to a totally new, different place. A difficult part of that process, though, is the time it takes to get to know people and have them really understand me. For people to understand that most of what I say is sarcastic but good natured, how I don’t like to use paper napkins, or how I’m sometimes outgoing and sometimes really introverted. It’s good to have someone here now who has known me much longer and knows how I operate. It’s cool to see that Hope has been blown away by everything about this place, the same way I am.
This weekend, we welcomed the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus. One thing I really love about Camp Magruder is how it welcome such a wide range of groups. One week we have a group who works with at-risk Portland youth, one week we have a sewing guild, the next week have foster families. This weekend, we had about 50 gay men rehearsing an upcoming show where they perform the songs of ABBA and Queen. I had so many from this group tell me how much they love the site, how great the food was, how thankful they are that we hosted them. Hope and I were invited by about half of the group members over the course of the weekend to attend their big rehearsal Saturday night.
There have been so many moments during my three months here, that I’ve stepped out of myself for a moment and thought about the scene I’m in. Sometimes it’s at the edge of a cliff looking out over the ocean. Sometimes seeing people getting into boats, paddling out, gaining confidence. Sometimes it’s looking out over a big dining hall full of people, safe together, enjoying food. Sometimes it’s watching people sing with all their heart and lungs, filling up Sherlock Lodge with this thing that’s much more than breath. While I’m not all that excited about having “Dancing Queen,” stuck in my head for the next few weeks, I felt such warmth watching this group sing joyously. They’ve gone through challenges that I’ll never really know and probably have felt much more alone than I ever have. At this point, though, they are with people who understand, sharing, doing what they love, making something that is really impressive. It feels good to be invited to moments like this. It feels good to welcome people and give them a safe place to do that.
One night while we lived in Murray, when I went out to a local bar with some of the students and professors from the writing program at Murray State. I remember looking around the bar and seeing the hodgepodge of faces. There were writers much like me, chasing a silly dream, scraping to put out their work. All around were tattoos, dyed hair, ripped jeans. In my hiking pants and dressy t-shirt, I thought about how this felt more comfortable to me than a lot of Sunday church mornings, and not just because alcohol had loosened people up. It’s not that I don’t feel comfortable with the people I encounter in church–I love them. But, I often feel like I’ve got more to offer the people who are sometimes excluded, the ones who have banded together because they don’t quite fit in. That’s, I think, what drew me to camp. It’s a part of Jesus I’m really compelled by, these types of people are the ones he ate dinner, stayed up late talking to. My mom has told me my grandfather was like this–he could sit at a bar and talk to anyone he just met. Though, I’m such an introvert, I realize that ability is in me too. I’m drawn to this. I have a strong pull to be like Jesus in this way, to be this version of my grandfather that’s still alive.
After watching the performance, Hope and I walked back to retire for the night and met up with Angie who had been out all day. While we talked to her, she pointed to the colors in the sky, created by the sunset. It was a collage of purple, red, orange, and yellow, one of the most gorgeous I’ve seen in a long time. We knew we had to go out to the beach to see it. I said to Hope, “it might be gone by the time we get there,” and she said, “do you want to run?” So, we sprinted to the beach, and we were blown away when we stepped out from the path the see the sky open up before us like an IMAX theater on steroids. Thousands of colors spread out in the sky over us and that big blue, constant ocean washed in under it, dyed in all those shades. We couldn’t believe what we were seeing, and we talked about this place, what had brought us here, and marveled at all the possibilities for the summer. Hope said it felt like we were chasing the sun. I’ve felt like that for months now.
Hope wrote her song, “Westward Tendency,” years ago, but it feels like she was forecasting something yet to come. She talks about her restlessness, her need to move. It’s a feeling we’ve bonded over. The West as a place, even the West as an idea got ahold of me a long time ago and wouldn’t be quiet. It’s good to follow a voice deep in your gut and see it will get you somewhere if you trust it. Out here about as far west as my feet can take me, it’s good to have fellow travelers who know that urge too.
We get to take in all of this ridiculously extravagant beauty, but our responsibility, our great, grand task is to share it. We have the incredible luck of being the ones trusted to grab people by the arm, sprint them down to the ocean and point, saying, “see that, can you believe it? This is here, we get to be in this, we get to share this with each other. This will change us. We will stand here together and share it. We will know something we didn’t know before. Let’s do something with this. Let’s tell everyone we know about this thing we saw.”