It was a chilly week with breaks of sunshine and warmth, only to cool back down as the sun drifted below the horizon. The days have been much longer on the Oregon Coast than I was accustomed to back in Tennessee. The sun sets a little after 9pm, and it could be close to 10 before it’s completely dark. All this daylight is great, but it makes for tiring stretches, because you don’t want to retire for the evening. It feels like a great travesty to miss a sunset these days.
We dug in deep to staff training at Camp Magruder. The entire staff came together, and we went through a marathon of activities, discussions, and reflections to get us ready for the summer season. Staff Training has always been my busiest week of the year when working at camp. I believe strongly that training and supervision make or break an organization. If we aren’t passing our gifts on, they will die with us. Hope and I were stretched thin over the week, with barely any time to do anything but lead something or further prepare the next thing we were doing. We are introducing a new standard for worship at camp, and we were determined to bring our A-game to show our staff what we hoped to see in worship, to give them an experience of how powerful and creative a worship could be. We planned and led 9 worships.
I woke up early in the week to NPR reporting the shooting in the A.M.E church in South Carolina, and in my waking haze, I sighed, whispering something like, “Oh, man.” Without the details yet, I knew this was bad, this was something dark, something I needed to hold and go back to. I woke up and plunged into training. I was in such a bubble. The bubble of camp, but also the bubble of a single focus. Get the the staff ready, get all you can in. I was isolated from tragedy. Of course, anytime I checked social media, I was reminded not so much of what happened, but all the political/moral/ethical arguments that arise these days from a story like this.
My staff is this interesting mix of varying experience levels and geographic areas. Some grew up coming to Camp Magruder, some went to other camps, some have never been to camp. We have native Oregonians, one from Idaho, one from Texas, and one from Florida. They are all over the board in personality and background. From almost the first moment though, they have loved and treated each other like family. It feels like we are building something very special, even just a week in. How have we gotten so close so fast? Why do we trust each other like this? It is deeply touching how much we are all giving to this idea, to this work.
I’m weary of the posts that circulate for every big news story that think they will explain exactly what was really going on, or the ones that are trying too hard to come up with a new, controversial point. They plunge us into political boxing corners and urge us into vitriolic online arguments that mostly seem to me to be a bunch of typing the same thing over and over and over again. I felt so much hurt over these families in a place of worship getting shot by this incredibly disturbed kid. I felt hurt that this kid exists in this world and holds onto that much hate, and what must have brought him to this. For his family to carry the knowledge of this. For the fear to go to church. For how people are still killing people over these differences. Good God, it’s debilitating. And the best we can do in response is post snarky comments on facebook to each other, arguing over whether this is racism or not. It seems like we want to fight and be right more than we want to sit with someone’s pain and feel how indescribable it is, how heavy it weighs.
On the day training ended, several of us went out to see the sunset over the ocean. The tide was low, and we walked out to the sandbar, to the edge of the Pacific to watch the sun flatten, yellow, and drop out of view. Four of us stood in a row as the sky changed colors. I let the cold ocean water, flow over my feet and drag sand over them. There was this relief we had finished with the learning for a little while, that we could take time to stand together and witness this beautiful daily concurrence. It felt like such an honor to stand at the edge here with this group of people to wonder all we would do in the months to come, all we would share with each other.
The last worship Hope and I led for the staff was at the Outdoor Chapel overlooking the lake. It involved us paddling kayaks out onto the lake and spreading jars with lights along the water. As I sat in my boat, parked in the grass, waiting for the group to get there, looking up at the night sky framed by a mountain outline, I thought about how I am growing to know this place. I thought about these moments of quiet we find in our lives, while we wait for important work. How the waiting can be as powerful as the work, how it informs the work. Those lights, literally speaking, were just lights out on the water. But when you see them out there, they do something to you that you can’t quite explain.
I think about those families, the needless dead, the disturbed, and I think about the voices who only know how to talk loud. Then I look at this group of people who put themselves in our hands, in God’s hands, and say, “Use me. Teach me.” I want these things we feel and see to mean something, to do something to us. I want us to want to be our better selves. I want us to move towards that. I’m weary of the complaining, the blame, the insistence on being right. I’m ready for us to stand there next to each other and be brave enough to hear whatever we will say. We are building something these days. Man, I hope it’s good. I hope it means something.