Boys will be boys.

At Music Camp, Fran McKendree comes to spend the week with us and lead our chorus time. He helps with Rock Band and worship and work projects too, but chorus is the highlight of the day for all of us, and Fran’s music and presence is a tremendous gift to us.

This morning at all camp chorus Fran led us in a song he taught us years ago. The song comes from Malawi, and the words repeat: Da ku o na moni.

The song loosely translates to: I greet you with my eyes, I greet you with my heart. I know that God is in our midst, I greet you with respect.

He asks us to partner up and sing this song to one another – looking into each other’s eyes. There are hand motions we use with each repetition. Moving our hands from our eyes to the person we are facing. Motioning from our heart to theirs. Moving our arms up and towards one another. And at the end, a small bow of respect.

I tend to be pretty comfortable with most spiritual practices, but I’ll be honest that the vulnerability required to sing this song catches me off guard each time we do it. As a culture we don’t spend much time looking into one another’s eyes. Asking a room full of teenagers to do it – over and over – in small and large groups always feels like a big ask to me. But each year – with no hesitation – everyone participates, and they are all in. Each year it brings me to tears watching the way they greet one another.

But this year, something in particular struck me while I was watching the group sing and dance today. I noticed the boys – the young men – who were singing and dancing and motioning from one heart to another.

These boys did not hold back. They didn’t hesitate. They just starting singing and moving and acknowledging God in their midst. Watch some of them here:

Aren’t they great? I noticed them right away. And within moments of seeing them together my heart started to do that melty thing it does at camp all the time.

I started to think about what it’s like to be a young man in America in 2019. How there’s a needed push for an end to toxic masculinity but still enough toxic masculinity around that it’s hard to find an abundance of role models about how to be instead. I started thinking about how much pressure there is on young males – and teens in general – to be “cool” and “popular” – to dress a certain way and act a certain way. I thought about how they are told that they can’t be too arrogant but they also can’t be too sensitive and how hard (impossible) it must be to find that perfect middle ground. I thought about how desperately we need vulnerable, faithful, joyful, brave men to help us bring about a much needed culture change. We need men who will show great love and enthusiasm for one another, and who will help change the world in all the best ways.

I realized as I watched the boys dance in front of me that if they can just harness this feeling – this joy and love and openness that they experience at camp – and figure out how to live this way in their lives outside of ECC, they WILL be the change we need in the world.

Here’s more. You can see it too:

My eyes were leaking at this point, as Fran encouraged the group to gather in a big circle, still singing. He asked if anyone felt inspired to jump into the circle to dance. And who jumped right into the circle?

Boys. Teenage boys.

(and one girl)

I worry about the state of our world a lot. Who doesn’t, right? But I have to tell you, for these minutes this morning I felt so much hope.

Boys will be boys.

We hear it all the time. We’ve identified it as part of the problem behind some of the toxic masculinity that can be so dangerous in our culture today. But watching these boys this morning all I could think was, boys WILL be boys. And here’s what that means at ECC:

Boys will dance. Boys will sing. Boys will cry. Boys will look one another in the eye and acknowledge God’s presence in their midst. Boys will pray. Boys will do musical theater. Boys will play sports and boys will play instruments. Boys will be boys even when they were born with female body parts. Boys will be silly. Boys will hug. Boys will laugh. Boys will support. Boys will forgive. Boys will love.

And these boys? I’m convinced they will change the world.

Kids These Days

Go ahead and tell me teenagers are terrible. Do it. Go on.

Because I’ll fight you.

I know, I know – they are self absorbed (so were we). And they take selfies all the time (allow me to show you my photos of my 9th grade trip to Paris where I took 6 rolls of film, mostly of myself standing in from of some historical landmark). They are entitled (not their fault actually, that’s on us).

I don’t care what you say. You just can’t convince me they are terrible. I have seen far too much good.

Take this week, for example. It’s Bridge Camp – my most favorite time of the year: when ECC welcomes campers with special needs to come spend a week at camp and high school students come and make sure they have an awesome experience. It’s heaven on earth, people.

HEAVEN. ON. EARTH.

Our Bridge Campers are the most fun, gentle, loving, hysterical, smart, kind, and wonderful people on the planet. They come through the gates of this camp and they just bust our hearts right open from the minute they step out of the car.

I’ve worked with people with special needs for 20 years on and off, and I love every single thing about them. But the thing that most inspires me is the way they live without inhibition. They experience the whole range of emotion and human experience as the rest of us, but they don’t always get hung up on the expectations of the world and our dreadful societal norms. When they are sad, they cry. When they are angry, they yell or sulk. When they are happy, they dance.

Oh, if we could all live this way.

But the best part about Bridge Camp (and I dare say ECC in general) is that once camp starts rolling we all become inspired to live with the same open-heartedness. Our high school campers (helper campers) are SO nervous when they greet the Bridge Campers and their parents. They want to do it right – they want to make a good impression, and connect with the Bridge Camper, and help them feel at home. They try so hard, and for the most part they get it just right.

Then, after about an hour has passed: magic happens. Everyone relaxes, friendships form, laughter erupts – and we are all transported to this incredible place that I am convinced is a preview of the Kingdom of God.

And then what happens? Well, a group of supposedly self-absorbed, narcissistic, entitled teenagers start tripping over themselves to do WHATEVER IT TAKES to make sure that our Bridge Campers have the time of their lives.

It is so stunning to behold.

Like these two – awake early, and sitting in the pavilion coloring and chatting:


Or this teen, playing guitar because the camper she’s paired with loves music:

Or this teen, making sure her camper can find her place during Compline:

And come on – get a load of these sweet faces, making sure the camp has popcorn at the carnival:

Then there’s this group – just relaxing on the front lawn taking in a little sensory time.

I could show you a thousand photos. Everywhere you look at this camp it’s just sheer beauty. Every year I want to tell you all about it, but it’s so good, so beautiful – it’s hard to find words.

But this year, I had to try. These teenagers, they deserve a little positive PR. They are so kind. So tender. Insert all the good things I could possibly say, because I mean them all.

Just go ahead and watch this video of some of our campers singing together today (yes, that’s Jen crying in the background. We adults spend the whole week crying – there’s no getting around it).

How’s that for beautiful? “Make our way to a world that we design…”

We’ve just got it all wrong when it comes to teens. They want to be good. They want an opportunity to help others, to make an impact, to share love. You know who’s generous, hard-working, faithful, and fabulous?

Kids these days.

See the video of our whole week together here:

Trust

At pre-camp this past week our Assistant Director, Adam, led us through a training on emotional intelligence.

After spending some time unpacking how we consider and identify our own feelings, he switched gears to talking about how we show up for one another and how we can show up for our campers. He posed the following question:

“Think of someone that you that you haven’t known for very long, but that you trust. Why do you trust them?”

I was immediately transported in my mind to a few weeks prior, when, the morning after our 70th Anniversary Gala the timing worked out such that I was able to sit in the green chairs with a camp friend that I hadn’t seen in over 20 years. Social media allows me to keep up with what’s happening in her life (at least on the surface level – with the major details covered) and so we were able to dive right in – asking one another to fill in what happened around and outside of the status updates.

Quite quickly the conversation deepened in nature, and we started sharing more personal details about what had happened in our lives over the two decades that had passed since we had last seen each other. We covered some of the heartaches and disappointments we had encountered. We spoke of the joy and the growth. We commiserated about life’s challenges.

At one point a few minutes into the conversation, when we were sharing about some of life’s more complicated bits, she said “I mean, I trust you. But it’s hard to talk about these things with other people.”

I nodded in agreement. I could have sat there with her in those green chairs for hours talking about all of life’s things. It was so easy – as if only a minute had passed.

I have reflected on that moment so many times since then. Because as deeply as I shared her sentiment and feelings of trust I couldn’t help but shake my head a little at how funny it was that we felt that way. We haven’t seen each other in twenty years. And since the conversation I keep trying to remember: were we even that close when we worked together? Did we talk much? Were we in the same cabin? Was I a good friend to her when we were slogging our way through hot summers together in the 90s?

Somehow, when we sat together that day, all that didn’t matter. She was my camp friend, and we had shared an experience together at ECC that made her someone I could fundamentally trust. More, I knew I could be real with her. That I didn’t have to pretend life was a pretty show of status updates and instagram photos. That time I spent with her was sacred, and if it’s another 20 years that goes by until we sit in the green chairs again, I imagine that same sweet intimacy and trust would still hang in the air between us.

I’m guessing that when Adam said “think of someone you trust that you haven’t known for very long”, that most of the staff thought of their camp friends. The intensity of the camp experience allows friendships to form in a few hours over a work project, or sharing a meal together surrounded by 100 other people, or sitting on the porch together on night duty dodging the moths. Adam effectively brought the training home, reminding us that we have a short period of time to build trust with our campers in order to ensure they have a safe camp experience. And, he reminded us, it is entirely possible to build that trust.

I’m here to tell you, it’s a trust that lasts.

Camp friends.

our Easter best

Welp, I turned into a priest-mom-Easter-morning-psycho.

I mean, Christ is Risen, right? Might as well go crazy on your family.

I’m not sure if I could even specifically name when we (I) went off the rails, but I think it had something to do with bad communication leading up to the morning. There were things I didn’t say to my family and maybe should have, like “Jonathan I want you to fill the Easter eggs BUT DON’T HIDE THEM BECAUSE I LOVE THAT PART.” Instead I said, “Fill the Easter eggs.” And I’m married to a guy who’s helpful. And I didn’t get home from my Easter Vigil until 11pm –  so he hid the eggs. Nice guy, right?

Ooh I was mad.

Then on Easter morning my family and I went to church together (my particular priest gig at Beloved allows me to attend church with them closer to home on Sunday mornings). But at no time leading up to this event did I say to my family, “Oh hey, even though I started my own church just so I could be super sure no one had to dress up for church every Sunday, this is the ONE day where I want us to look fancy and might even attempt a cute family picture. So dress nice.”

Instead, what did I say? Exactly nothing. I just yelled to everyone 20 minutes before leave-time that they had 20 minutes to get ready.

Then I spent 17 of those minutes in a battle of wills with Sam.

My mother-in-law had gotten him a cute Easter outfit. Here he is the day he got it, when he was totally stoked to put it on:

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I mean, right???

But then Easter rolls around and it all falls apart. We can’t find the pants, but I am able to locate the shirt and we get some pants that sort of match and Sam seems to be tracking but then suddenly…..record scratch. He is NOT having it. No way, no how. He doesn’t want to dress fancy. He wants his shorts. There is weeping and gnashing of teeth from both of us.

I pulled out every trick in my book (I don’t have that many tricks). I told him everyone else in the family was dressing up. I tried shaming him by saying that all the other people at church would be dressed nice and he would wish he had dressed nice too. I told him he could only participate in the Easter Egg hunt after church if he was dressed nicely.

He. Would. Not. Budge.

Furious, I stormed away from him. He put on his shorts and t-shirt. Here he is: mismatched socks, one fake tattoo, two unnecessary bandaids, and a sticker of a hot dog that you can’t see on the front of his shirt.

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Things did not get better when the rest of the family came outside to get in the car to leave and really no one had dressed all that nicely. Emily and I had dressed up, but that was only because she’s small and I forced her into her dress while she cried and screamed.

By the time we started driving to church I couldn’t even speak to anyone. I just sat there, steam rising off my head, fuming about how my family had dashed all of my hopes for Easter morning. As often happens when I reach this level of mad, my sane self was actually hovering outside of me, looking at me, confused. Sane Meaghan was talking to me and saying things like, “Why are you so upset about this? You don’t even like dressing up for church!” And, “This battle isn’t worth fighting, you want your kids to like going to church, not resent you because you force them to dress a certain way.” And finally “If you wanted everyone to dress up you probably should have mentioned that.

But I didn’t care about sane Meaghan, and I was not going to listen to or be her. I was going to be FURIOUS. The end.

We pulled up at church and headed indoors, me still giving the steely silent treatment to my loved ones. Because I’m an adult, I made sure they knew I was mad at them by making a big display of saying hello to and hugging a good friend when I ran into her in the parking lot. See, I’ll rejoice with some people. Just not you people.

We found our seats and Sam jumped to the seat beside me.Great.

The priest stood before the congregation to welcome everyone to Easter, and she offered several helpful pieces of information so that everyone could settle in. Interestingly she did not say that only children who had worn fancy clothes could participate in the Easter Egg Hunt.

Whatever.

At the close of her announcements, she explained that she wanted to offer one more word of welcome to those present. She began reading a truly lovely invitation, which made clear that everyone was welcome here, regardless of their beliefs or experience. As she read this invitation, a small child on the other side of the room unleashed a hearty cry of displeasure. Without missing a beat, the rector rolled the cry right into her invitation, “whether you are unhappy about being here, or if you are happy about being here….”

Right after she uttered the words, Sam turned to me with a grin that stretched from ear to ear and announced brightly,

“I’m happy to be here Mama!”

 

Well then.

Nothing jolts you out of an Easter morning snit quite like your joyfully resilient 4-year-old, who despite all your best efforts to suppress and control him, is still going to delight in sitting in church next to your grumpy self. Especially when he will say as much – loud enough for the people sitting around you to hear.

Well played, Sam. Well played. 

Things got better after that. The church service was lovely, and the corners of my mouth were able to turn up into a smile again, and the Easter Egg hunt was a flurry of excitement and joy. There was lots of chocolate and laughing and fellowship.

We didn’t get a family picture, and that was ok.

The thing I’m coming to realize about going to church with my family is that it’s hard. Sometimes it’s hard because of my own doing (like Easter) and other times it’s just hard because having little kids is hard, and life is busy, and getting somewhere together as a family and at least attempting to sit still for a portion of an hour is hard.

I’m also coming to realize that going to church together as a family is holy: that even though it’s hard, and pajamas and couches are compelling, and we’re already running in a million directions all the time – there is always at least one moment in church when the Divine breaks through in a way I just don’t always get if I’m home in my pajamas. There is a moment, each Sunday we make it there, where I see my children or myself or my God in a new way. And no matter how much of a total mess it is to get out the door and get ourselves into the building, it is worth it to be there, because God breaths new life through music and community and silence and noise and prayer and Easter Egg hunts and little boys in mismatched socks and unnecessary bandaids.

Alleluia. 

Celebrating the Past, Sustaining the Future

Six years ago I wrote this post.   Our then-new Bishop had just been ordained and I was feeling really excited and hopeful about the direction ECC was moving in. I asked for your help (in a long-winded way, as I am prone to do.)  I told you what Sara Clarke and I believed in 2011: that NOW is the right time.

It was the right time. Sort of. But there was a windy road from that blog post to this one, that included Sara not working at ECC and then coming back to work at ECC, and me fumbling my way through many years as director and learning the ropes and growing some of the programs and learning a lot through mistakes and risks and new experiences.

In 2016 our diocesan CFO Dennis Burton came onto the scene and led us in a really powerful strategic planning process and then things really started to happen. We created a new mission statement, we brought Sara back in a full-time role, we hired Joanne Harrison and Craig Halvarson to help with marketing and care of the property. We made some plans for solar farms and new buildings and new marketing strategies.

In the middle of all of that Sara casually said to me one day, “We celebrate our 70th Anniversary next year. We should have a big gala.”

I’m a girl who loves a party, so I said sure.

We started by doing what any smart people would do: recruiting two other people to plan the party. We asked Chris Labonte and Laura Sidla to come on board, and they recruited more people to help, and RISE Together was born.

We had high hopes and big goals. We wanted 300 people to come to this event, and we hoped to raise a lot of money. I was cautiously optimistic, but a little nervous because at our regular fundraisers we have about 125 people attend. 300 felt like a lot.

But Lord – haven’t I met you people before? I should have known better.

Because here we are on April 11th, and we have sold out of tickets for our 70th Anniversary Gala. SOLD OUT. (ok, we have ten tickets left, but you know what I mean.)

We didn’t sell out 300 tickets though friends, we sold out 400 tickets.

We had to get a bigger tent.

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Our bigger tent. (It will look prettier in person)

 

We are also well on our way to reaching our financial goal for this event. I’m no longer cautiously optimistic – I’m over the moon optimistic, and I’m profoundly overwhelmed by the generous way this community has shown up to support this ministry even though I shouldn’t be surprised or overwhelmed anymore because you do it again and again and again.

The idea behind our Rise Together event is that we are celebrating the past while we sustain the future.  I sincerely hope that you are planning to be here to celebrate with us on June 1st. If you cannot be here, I hope you’ll still take part in the celebration and the sustaining. You’ll be seeing more from us as we reflect on 70 incredible years of service and ministry. You can make a one-time or sustaining monthly gift at any time to help us secure the future of ECC.

Your gifts of service, time, celebration, energy, money, in-kind gifts, wishlist gifts, campers, and talents are never taken for granted here. We know that the reason the ministry of ECC has been so powerful for 70 years is because of the people who make up the ministry, and who share love and fellowship with one another in ways that change lives.

Thank you for showing up, once again, to lift up and celebrate the Episcopal Conference Center. I can’t wait to see you on the dance floor!

Love is the Energy

The following sermon was preached at Christ Church in Philadelphia, PA in August by a Visiting Staff person and ECC alumni. It is shared with you with her permission!

 

Good morning. My name is Julia DeJoseph.

I’ve had the pleasure of coming to Christ Church with my husband, Dan, for the last 4 years, during which time, this community has given us the great pleasure of welcoming our two young children, Jamie and Carolina, with open arms. I was humbled by the opportunity to speak to you today and a bit terrified when I read our first lesson. I don’t know about you, but my knowledge of Biblical battles is quite limited. The description of poor Absolam’s head caught fast in the oak, as he was left hanging between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on, feels something out of a graphic novel. This passage reminds me that the authors of the Bible were definitely not boring but did not help me know what I should or could say to you today.

Fortunately, our second reading resonated deeply for me. “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. … be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, an offering and sacrifice to God.”

In the last year or so, I have felt that we live in a more bitter, wrathful, and angry world. I am sure that there have been times like these before and times worse than these, but this is my present and I have found it unsettling.

I am a woman.

I am the daughter of an immigrant.

I am a mother with young children.

I am a family doctor who provides health care for primarily Spanish-speaking immigrants in a poor neighborhood of Philadelphia. My health center was one of many in Philadelphia specifically targeted to offer care to those displaced by the hurricane last year in Puerto Rico.

As such, in the last year or so, I have struggled to make sense of the world and I have looked for ways to find solace and reason and hope.

I am a lifelong Episcopalian. As a child and teenager, I was fortunate to attend and later work at an Episcopal summer camp in Rhode Island. For the past three summers, Dan, Jamie, Carolina and I were able to spend a week at that same camp as visiting staff. The camp property is an old 188-acre farmstead bequeathed to the diocese 70 years ago. It is wooded and beautiful. It has an old wood barn which serves as our church. It has a Liberty Bell sized bell that marks time for camp activities throughout the day. It has trails, streams, a murky frog pond, and a stunning lakefront. The current caretakers have brought their llamas, ox, and bull to pastures built into the current landscape of the property. There is a ballfield that serves as an amphitheater to many nights of stargazing.  The property is rustic and welcoming. As one makes the final turn onto the property there is a large rock, just as you enter the parking lot, upon which is painted “He Who Enters Here is a Stranger but Once”.

As such, two weeks ago, my family entered that familiar place and reunited with a church family I’ve known since I was a child.  I reunited with four women who I’d met at camp when we were in our early teens. Twenty plus year of memories, laughter, and the familiar comfort offered by long friendships is the ultimate medicine. Two of these women are now Episcopal priests. All of us have children who also reunited and laughed and played during this brief reprieve from the outside world. Together we served as the adult staff for the week. We embraced and were embraced by the community of enthusiastic and energetic young campers, teen counselors, and twenty-something young adult staff. Many of these campers and counselors were the children of our fellow generations of camp alumni. This interweaving of generations was profound. The expansion of this community as they welcomed new campers and first-generation counselors was uplifting. I wondered what was it that kept this spirit of community going for so long? How had it been so consistently maintained?

Across the main beam of one of the barn’s walls reads, “Love is the energy of a steadfast will bent on creating fellowship”.  I believe this is the answer.

Love is the energy of a steadfast will bent on creating fellowship.

As a child, camp taught me about an all-loving God who preached acceptance, inclusion, tenderness, kindness, and (because we are ultimately a family), forgiveness. These are real and powerful things that can maintain and persevere over generations. Camp’s theme this summer echoes today’s reading.

From 1 Peter 3:8

“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.”

My family returned from this amazing week and we were reminded of the good in the world. The Bible teaches us to be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving … to be imitators of God, … and live in love. And as I renewed my faith in these teachings, I find that I receive the kindness, tenderness, love, and even forgiveness that offers me my much-needed solace, reason, and hope.

I pray that each of you are able to find such renewal when you need it, whether here at the community at of Christ Church or in your community in the larger world.

In closing, I’d like to share the closing benediction of the final Eucharist at our week of camp:

Life is short,

and we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those who make the journey with us.

So…

be swift to love,

and make haste to be kind.

And the blessing of God,

who made us,

who loves us,

and who travels with us

be with you now and forever.

Amen.

 

The author (left) and her camp friends.