I don’t remember much from my 5th grade band class. I have vague flashbacks of plucking away at the stand-up bass next to my best friend, Liza, and thinking I looked a
lot cooler than I probably did. I remember the size of the classroom and the bright red color of our teacher’s hair. The only other memory I vividly hang on to is one that reentered my mind this week at Camp Chandler in Alabama.
It was our last night at camp and I had just finished giving my last “Peace Talk” to 35 campers. We had discussed issues surrounding privilege and how the intersection of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation can either contribute to or detract from our privileges as Americans. This was, as expected, a difficult topic. We dove deep into the issues, the kids sharing stories of pain and disappointment at how they have been treated. Many youth have experienced being the victims of jokes and even violence when it comes to their identity as a minority. Many youth have also been the instigators of these jokes as kids in the position of privilege. We explored this. We chewed on it. Right when we were getting to the meat of the issue, my Director let us know that we were out of time. He said this just as an African-American counselor was sharing his thoughts on being asked why he talks “proper” as a Black man by his teachers. In that moment, I wanted, no I NEEDED, more time. I needed to wrap up the session with a message of hope. I needed to unpack more of these stories and validate each person in the room’s experiences. I needed. more. time. Unfortunately, it was Senior Night and we had events that we had to get to. So in a hurried fashion, I led the group in prayer, telling them that “sometimes we cannot finish discussions with a pretty bow. This discussion is unfinished business both in this room and in our country.” Still, I felt unsettled. I couldn’t take my own advice. I paced. I sat down and prayed. I didn’t like the way the talk had ended. It was a messy ending to a great beginning.
I walked outside of the lodge minutes later feeling overwhelmed once more at the complexity of justice. It is a messy line of work. It doesn’t always wrap up in a nice bow. It doesn’t end the way we want it to and yet, we must keep fighting to spread awareness, to engage young minds in the power of social responsibility, to undo the prejudice we find in ourselves. I felt the weight of God’s work on me once again. Luckily, I wasn’t alone in feeling unsettled. Two of the other counselors and my new friends, Cody and Mae Margaret, agreed to take a walk around the camp with me. As we walked, Mae Margaret shared her anger with us. She talked about the power of that conversation, how the kids were so active and engaged in it, and how she wanted it to continue despite the schedule. “It’s the last night!” she yelled. “Who cares about the schedule when a talk like THAT is going on?” She reflected on some of the “goose-bump moments” as I call them, where kids had voiced revelations about their experiences living in the South dealing with these problems. She yelled. She waved her arms. Anger can be holy I thought to myself. In the midst of our walk, the weather was doing a funky song and dance. It began to rain as the sky lit up with heat lightening every few seconds. I have never seen anything like it. Our spurts of rage or of excitement were illuminated by the sky, as if God was responding to our emotions with bursts of light. As we rounded the corner to head back to the main Lodge, I opened up about feeling unfinished. “I just wish,” I said, “that I could give these kids some kind of solution or an inkling of hope before camp is over. I don’t want them going home feeling like the world will never change.” As Mae Margaret nodded along with me, Cody said,”You know what’s cool though? Jesus gave a lot of speeches that sent crowds packing. He told parables that weren’t always received well. That were messy.” And just like that, I felt a heavy burden lifted off of me. Time and time again, Jesus experienced what it feels like to put all of your heart and soul into a “peace talk” and not get the results you want. He was seldom rewarded for his passion for justice. In fact, he was rebuked more than he was celebrated. Yet, if Jesus could continue to meet crowds where they were and to pour out his
heart for a cause he believed wholeheartedly in, why couldn’t I give myself some grace?
Later that night, I took a walk alone. I sat on the edge of the main field for a while, looking up at the sky with my mouth hanging open in awe. The heat lightening continued to light up the sky sporadically, illuminating patterns of lightning and cloud shadows as it flashed. The rain pounded. I heard laughter coming from the gym as the Seniors spent their final night in the company of one other. Crickets chirped. Bats swept through the air. And then I remembered that time in 5th grade band class when our teacher, Miss Genevieve, told us to close our eyes. “Close your eyes and listen,” she told us.” “First, listen to sounds in this room. What do you hear? Next, listen for sounds outside. Can you hear anything?” The room was silent in concentration. I could almost hear my eyes squinting harder as I listened.” “Now,” she whispered, “I want you all to listen as far as you can. Try to listen for sounds beyond the classroom. For sounds down the road. For sounds a mile away. What is the farthest sound you can hear?” It was as if I have never heard anything before. I turned off sounds in the room and sounds outside and I listened, really listened for sounds far away. I heard kids screaming down the street from our school. I heard a car honk in the distance. I heard leaves from a tree rustle in the wind. It was, perhaps, the holiest moment of my adolescence and as I sat on the field at Camp Chandler in Wetumpka, Alabama, I tried to mimic that moment. I sat for a long time listening as far as I could. Then I prayed. A whisper of a prayer. A quietly muttered “thank you” that became a string of pleas that became a look of wonder that became…
And finally, I wrote in my journal the next morning about the night before, as I walked back to my cabin singing “It is well with my soul” with the crickets chirping and the rain falling I realized it was all-all of it-a song. God’s song.”
God’s song is filled with a myriad of melodies that she composes herself. Insect chirps the staccato notes. Children’s laughter the crescendo at the climax of a song. Thunder a loud rumble of percussion. And for the grand finale of the song, if we pause to listen as far as we can, we hear the whispered “thank you” by a mere reveler to the maestro herself.