I was wearing a new t-shirt to the Quaker camp I was working at. My new t-shirt was from Plan-it X fest, the music festival I went to last month. It was covered in designs and one of them looked like a pentagram. I wasn’t sure what it was, so I went around to different friends, trying to verify or deny the satanic nature of my garment. People mostly laughed at my question and said they couldn’t really tell.
I went up to my friend Tyler and asked him if he thought it was a pentagram. He said “no, Andee, that’s a twenty sided die.”
I made a discontented noise, and said “sometimes I like to wear pentagrams to church camp.” We both laughed.
A few years ago when I realised i love Jesus but hate authority and loud noises, I decided to become Quaker. Of course, it’s actually a lot more complicated than that, but I made a home at this sweet little Quaker camp on the Oregon Coast called Twin Rocks Friends Camp. I love this space because they welcomed me in, and even though they aren’t perfect because no one is, they challenge their values and stretch their boundaries to make sure all campers are healthy, safe, and celebrated.
Even though Quakers, in theory, worship quietly and don’t acknowledge hierarchy in the church, and even though Twin Rocks is one of the most beautiful, heavenly places in the world, Quaker camp is still hard for me. Even at Quaker camp the jocks still win and the slender blonde kids have the most social currency and the loud peppy counselors are the ones who get shout outs during communal times.
(I’m not bitter or anything, but…)
I’m not a camp person in the traditional sense because I hate yelling and running and I’m usually pretty cranky. I’m also not traditionally a church person because I believe in universal revelation, I don’t believe in substation atonement, and I think wearing pentagrams to church camp is really funny.
But I’d like to think I am a camp person, because for every winning jock and slender blonde kid, there’s funny, caustic bitches, goofy punks, mousy church girls and academic nerds. I am, at least in part, these things, and I hope I can help the kids that are those things find their place in the loud and peppy world of summer camp.
And I’d like to think I’m a church person too. Even though the bible infuriates me, I love it and study it and hold it in my heart. I walk in the footsteps of the saints who walked before me (especially the weird ones.) On top of it all, Jesus means the world to me, and I try really hard to live in the power of his message.
A few weeks ago I camped out in the woods of southern Indiana with a bunch of friendly, goofy punks at Plan-It X fest. We celebrated the music we love and tried to live harmoniously with one another, outside hierarchies and oppression. We would cram into a barn and listen to bands that meant the world to us and bands we had never heard before. We shared beer and food, we bartered, and we made sure to protect each other. We worked hard to create a space where everyone was safe and affirmed in who they were.
It was like summer camp, except it was for grown ups and I felt comfortable.
It was like summer camp, except I fit in.
During one set there was a kid with a full beard wearing a lacy bra dancing in the circle pit next to a punk in a wheel chair. “This,” I thought, “is heaven.”
Heaven, where suffering ceases and the divinity in every person is affirmed and celebrated. Heaven, where love is the authority. Heaven, where we mosh gently so folks with chronic pain and anxiety can get close to the bands that they love.
And I know that if we lived there for longer than three days conflicts would have come up. I know that life is hard even for people who practice love and equality and affirming the divine within one another. But in that moment I could see God in myself and everyone around me, and I was at peace.
Finally, after years and years of suffering and feeling out of place, I have given up my evangelical faith. What I mean by that is that I’m not concerned with evangelising. (I could write volumes and volumes on why, but for now I’ll leave it at that.) I love Jesus, I go to Quaker meeting, and I walk in the footsteps of Christians who have walked before me, but I don’t believe in hell and I’m a lot more concerned with peoples’ bodies and souls now than trying to save people from damnation.
The funny thing, though, is that giving up evangelicalism has made me much more evangelistic.
I truly believe where the spirit of God (or love, or the infinite or the divine, or whatever you relate to as a higher power) is, there is freedom. That freedom sometimes manifests itself in ways that my evangelical upbringing would deem as unsavory at best, sinful at worst.
Where the spirit of God is, there is freedom. Freedom to explore the possibility of my queerness. Freedom to see the beauty and goodness of God in my body and the bodies of others, even when we swear and fart and have sex and do yoga. Freedom to believe in a God so big and so good, with love so pure that every single person is enveloped in it, that God is in the process of saving and healing each of us all the time, through each other.
Freedom to sometimes not believe in God. Freedom to question the anthropomorphic portrayal of God in the bible.
Freedom to dance in the circle pit with a bra and a beard. Freedom to call each other out for dancing in ways that limit the accessibility of folks who have disabilities and mental illnesses. Freedom to think wearing a pentagram to church camp is funny.
I believe in a God that actually loves me. Not a God that loves me but will let me go to hell if I don’t love God. Not a God that wants me to live in guilt and shame. I believe in a God that really loves probably queer, definitely chubby, made-in-the-image-of-the-infininite me.
And funny thing, after believing in a God that actually loves me, I talk about my faith a lot more and a lot more freely. This past week at church camp I talked about Jesus and I prayed out-loud, something I never felt comfortable with before I dumped evangelicalism. I spent the week working hard to create a space for my campers where they could explore big questions and share of themselves and create authentic, supportive community. Amazingly, my campers stepped up to the challenge, and shared of themselves and took care of one another in big and amazing ways. They worked hard to affirm the image of the divine in one another. And in their sisterhood and unity, they experienced a taste of heaven, because the kingdom of heaven is here.
On the last day of church camp we were all gathered in worship, and we were supposed to celebrate the week with a loud, communal yell. My strong and beautiful cabin full of goofy punks, mousy church girls, and academic nerds looked over at me covering my ears and scowling, and we all shared a huge laugh. None of us are camp people, but here we all were, at camp. God was with us in the tension, and the yelling that we hated, and my lack of evangelicalism, and their strength of love for one another. God was there in their courage to fight for the divinity in one another to be acknowledged.
And as this incredible group of young women and I were laughing, I became acutely aware of the truth that this was heaven.