When Meaghan Brower, the director of ECC, invited me to spend the summer at camp she gave me two warnings: Camp is exhausting, and camp is transformative. Both items have proven true. I have bags under my eyes, my joints ache, I have mosquito bites, sunburn, and I’m sweating in places I didn’t even know I had. That’s all after just one week of six I will be here! I also am having the time of my life. So far my accomplishments at camp include but are not limited to:
· learning how to whip and nae nae (Google it)
· creating a life-size paper mache llama
· the subtle art of scream-singing on a big yellow school bus
· coming to a deep appreciation of the effect of humidity on one’s personal comfort level
· strategies for dominating in a game of Connect Four
I also have learned enormous amounts about God and my neighbors. When Meaghan said camp would be transformative, I assumed she meant for the kids who camp here. That certainly is true. I am amazed at the faith and love the campers bring to this place. I beam when I see teenage counselors uplift a camper sitting alone and empower the camper to join in the day’s activities. What I didn’t know was how transformative the experience would be for me. I hate to lean on the old cliché, but the kids I came here to teach have taught me so much. I am astounded by the talent, compassion, and generosity these young people posses.
Our theme this summer at camp comes from Mark’s account of Jesus’ baptism. After John baptizes Jesus, a dove appears and the voice of God says, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Mk 1:11 NRSV). All week long we stressed to the campers that because we enter into Jesus’ death and resurrection through the waters of baptism, we, too, are God’s beloved. There’s some pretty powerful incarnational theology at work here—because God became human in the person of Jesus, we worship a god that knows first-hand what it means to be one of us. Jesus knew suffering, joy, friendship, betrayal, anger, and all the complicated emotions of human life.
Thinking back to my own teenage years, I can remember feeling like an outsider. I had horrible acne, I was bad at sports, I was far from popular, and it felt like the pressures of social expectations would suffocate me. I have had a blessed and wonderful life, but you could not pay me enough to go back to being a teenager. When I look at the campers at ECC, though, I see a community where all are loved and uplifted. The greatest moment of the week for me was watching the much-anticipated talent show. While Music Camp ends with a large performance for family and friends, the talent show is just for the camp community. It’s performed in the outdoor pavilion while we all sit at picnic tables or on the ground. There’s no pomp and circumstance—just lots of fun, laughter, and play. I am not exaggerating when I say that the talent shown by the campers was astounding. We are blessed to have in our community brilliant musicians, poets, singers, dancers, comedians, and artists. What amazed me the most, however, was how supportive every camper was of their fellow campers. Every single performance, no matter how complicated or simple, received thundering applause and loud cheers of approval. Whether it was a large rock band rivaling the charisma of the Beatles or a single camper reading her poetry, ALL of the acts were greeted and received with outrageous acceptance. Furthermore, these cheers of approval were far from put on. They cheered because every act on the stage was performed by one of our own—an ECC camper, counselor, or staffer. Just as God shouted from the heavens that Jesus was his own Beloved, our campers shouted from the pavilion that that was their beloved friend. Without exception. Without hesitation.
The most valuable lesson I learned at Music Camp came straight from the young people: God loves each one of us without exception, and we should love one another without exception. Life’s tough. Sometimes the Roman oppressors crucify you. Sometimes kids call you names. But in the midst of all of it the voice of God rings from the heavens, “You are my children, my Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Charles Lane Cowen is a postulant in the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island. He is pursuing a Master of Divinity at the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale and is serving at ECC this summer as a chaplain. Charles most recently lived in Newport, RI where he performed with and was administrative staff for the Marley Bridges Theatre Company. He loves the outdoors, Biblical studies, and puppetry.