Driving away from a secluded summer camp deep in Michigan's Huron Forest, I am seized by fear. I just dropped my 10-year-old daughter off for two weeks. I expected to cry, and I do, anticipating how much I'll miss her, whether she'll make friends, obsessing over the fact that I forgot to pack sneakers and bug spray.
But I am startled to find that my biggest fear is around something we did pack: a Bible.
When my daughter auditioned for this performing arts camp, there was no mention of religion, although the website did make it clear that they offered Christ-centered education. I admit that I skimmed over that part and assumed that the theater group was simply using the Christian camp's facilities. Even when I saw that the packing list included a Bible, I ignored it, certain that the list was meant for the regular campers, not the theater group.
I was wrong. The first thing we are handed at registration is a Bible study packet. While the health officer checks my daughter's head for lice, I flip it open. One word jumps out: SINNER. My stomach tightens. I remember my own days at church camp -- Bible quizzes, altar calls, and over it all, a hazy, childlike confusion of guilt, shame, and tears. My religious education had taught me that God is love, but somehow, as a child, I'd felt more fear than love.
So as we unload my daughter's suitcase, I fumble for something to say in a last ditch effort to protect her from... what exactly?
From anyone who may tell her that she is broken.
Thankfully, she is calm and focused and filled with happy anticipation. She's got this. With barely a backward glance, she dismisses me to begin the long drive back to Chicago. Without her beside me, I have to admit that the doubts riding shotgun are all mine.
They begin practically enough: What do I really know about this camp? Who are these people? What denomination are they? But these questions are the trees that hide the bigger worry: Have I done my job? Have I sufficiently armed my daughter with our beliefs?
I should have fed her soundbites, things like, Love is my religion. I honor all paths to God. Evil is just another word for fear. As I think about all that I didn't say, my shoulders are hunched and my hands are tight on the steering wheel. I realize that I am prepared to fight.
I have worked myself up to argue love.
It's preposterous. Love is not an argument, but an absolute. And one thing I know absolutely is that my daughter is doing what she loves. My defensiveness comes from a fear that anyone could possibly be forced to believe something. Belief, like love, is an unalienable right; it can't be wrestled away, only relinquished.
When I return to collect my daughter, she is glowing. Her passion for the stage is now rock solid. As we head home, she teaches me the camp theme song. It's about a lighthouse.
A lighthouse doesn't run around saving ships. It's immovable and shines its light equally on all paths.
She shares this with me, and I share with her that while she was away, two important things happened: The Supreme Court legalized gay marriage, and the Confederate flag is being deemed inappropriate. When we're out of the woods and able to get cell reception, we scroll through Facebook together and see the same message again and again: Love wins. Love is love.
How simple. How disarming. Love is love. And all it can do is shine.