This October, I was asked not to return in a volunteer or work capacity to the sweet Quaker camp I worked and volunteered at since 2014.
The camp directors sat me down at a communal table at a coffee shop. They had a copy of the blog post Church Camp Pentagram I had written, printed out, scribbled all over and highlighted.
They began the conversation by complimenting the post, affirming that they appreciated what I had to say. We politely argued a little. A coffee-shop goer tentatively asked if they could set their bag down at the table we were sitting at, visibly uncomfortable. Weirdly enough, folks tend to get all frozen up and awkward when they see a purple haired lady raising their voice to accuse someone of grounding their theology of hell more in Dante than in the bible over Americanos at a busy lunch hour. But I digress.
Eventually the camp directors asked me if I believed in eternal punishment. Ultimately, we decided that since I don’t really think too much about whether or not hell is a thing any more, and I have a hunch that it’s not, I can’t sign the faith contract the camp asks their employees and volunteers to sign, since that faith contract implies a confident belief in a literal hell.
I’m still processing how to talk about being asked not to return to volunteer and contribute to this place that meant so much to me.* Because it’s painful. And it’s confusing.
And talking about pain in ways that are healing and not just from a place of resentment is sticky and difficult and I don’t know how to do it.
I’m too averse to wholeness and certainty to write a Good Christian Blog Post tm- (This was painful but Jesus is the shit so it’s all okay, or it’s not okay but Jesus is still the shit, or get your act together because Jesus is the shit!)
And I’m way too fucking pedantic to be a good poet.
So I thought I’d draw from the Quaker tradition I fell in (awkward, heart-wrenching, beautiful, transient,) love with at this camp.
Quakers have this practice of using queries to worship and ground their practice. We’ll sit in a room together, and someone will pose a question or set of questions. Then, we’ll sit in silence until Spirit moves us to speak.
I think spirit has moved me to ask, but not to answer. So without further ado, here it goes- Queries for Disgraced Quaker Summer Campers.
-How do I talk about my own pain in being asked not to return in the same capacity without being selfish? Without being a shit-starter? Other counselors and workers have been asked to leave too, people talked about how their dismissal related to their sexual orientation or political activity in hushed whispers. How does my own pain play into a bigger struggle?
-How do I speak truth to power when I regularly eat dinner with power’s little sister? Power isn’t a bad person, just a bunch of people complicit in their role in injustice.
-And what about when I’m Power? How do I stay accountable to my whiteness, my education, my able-bodiedness, having a home and a job, in sacred and religious spaces?
-Now that I’m disgraced, can I come clean about that time I set an orange on fire in the mini golf field?
-What about when a gaggle of teens on the bus to beach day were screaming the star spangled banner and I
whispered (okay lets be real) said very very loudly “NO GODS NO MASTERS” when they were done yelling their patriotic affections? (I was very tired, okay?)
-Will I ever find a place so verdant and life-giving again? A place who’s air buzzes with sea salt and the divine? Will I ever fall in love over shitty barbeque on the grassy hill by the volley ball court again, or meet a kindred spirit over hushed giggles and profanities in the soft glow of a wood cabin, late morning sun shining in through giant windows? The smell of pancakes wafts through the room.
-How can I carry this sense of the divine with me?
-How can I carry the sense of urgency that came from being asked not to return in that capacity? What about the sense of urgency that comes from seeing this happen quietly over and over to my queer friends?
Us Quakers have a sweet practice after sitting in silence and reflecting on queries by ending it with another question. I love this practice. It gives me peace, and helps me remember that through speaking truth, hopefully things, divine things will happen. Because of community, truth, beauty, and the universe, divine things will happen. Around us, through us, in spite of us. So,
Have you been faithful?
Is your heart clear?
*(The camp directors made it clear it’s not that I’m not welcome, I just can’t volunteer at the camp.)