“Why does the caf smell like feet?”
– an esteemed coworker, the first day of her first experience of Pepperdine summer camps
For the record, my dear office neighbors in Dining Services in no way contributed to that smell. This week starts the season of Pepperdine camps, when you never know who you might eat lunch with. There’s nearly always an athletic camp (I believe the perpetrators of the feet smell were part of a pre-teen tennis camp), there are various church groups, international high school students for an ESL camp, and I always want to crash the digital filmmaking camp. Special Programs folks are a constant blur in the background of every summer moment.
Camp is such an interesting experience, a “miniature self-contained temporary society that operates on an extremely different logical/moral system than the outside world” (I encourage you to read Gabe Durham talk about it more). It is a different kind of time and space.
In our setting, camp comes to us. Camp is different from this angle. They just waltz in and plop down their feety, temporary society on us like they own the place. They may be having special once-in-a-lifetime coming-of-age-story adolescent epiphanies, but in order to sustain the magic, they have to pretend I only exist this one week a year, that all of us are here to work the machinery that brings the ephemeral glow to those memories they’re making. I have to be careful not to break character.
I learn a lot from my Dining Services neighbors. These are some amazing behind-the-scenes players. As camps come and go, they keep bringing their best to the table, and not just metaphorically. The folks in the office are smart, resilient, responsive, and hard, hard workers. The folks in the kitchen and serving the food are so welcoming and attentive. I’m amazed at how often the cashiers know the names of students. When you sign up for a meal plan, you’re getting the best staffed three squares a day of your life.
And as I’ve watched these staff members, I’ve come to see them as my hosts, as our hosts. The same goes for many of the folks who work in support roles around campus. We have Facilities Management & Planning staff who have been here longer than most of our upper administration. It’s amazing what our bookstores put into preparing for new students or managing textbook returns at the end of the semester, and they don’t even work for the university, technically. But they create the possibility of it. They provide the concrete place and time where the idea of a university can happen.
Maybe this is a picture of what it means to be the stewards of creation. Maybe it is a picture of what it means to welcome folks into the reign of God. We are called not to be the directors of the Kingdom, but the announcers – in word and deed – of a time and place that is not our idea. Perhaps it is the role of the church to work as the support staff of the earth, setting the stage and setting the table so that every resident might have the opportunity to encounter the wonder of God’s idea for their life.
It seems to be a picture with which Jesus was comfortable.
May we find the strength of grace to receive every guest, whether or not we are noticed or rewarded, as invited by the one whose house is in our care, who longs for them to feel at home with him. May we see past the temporary society to the underlying grain of the universe, and honor the desires of every dreamer while we work to see God’s ideas capture their wondering gaze.