Well, friends. A lot has happened in the planned hiatus between the last blog post I wrote (the “clip show” I put together in mid-November of my first year blogging) to now. I worked as a 2nd 2nd Assistant Director on Locked In and then I picked up a promotion at Walnut Street Theatre as the Interim Audience Services Manager (which as of right now, I’m 3.5 weeks into an 8 week contract). In between was Christmastime — for real this time — and I got to spend lots of time with my family and friends (my college roommates and I were reunited for the first time since Jake Steggerda’s wedding day nearly 3 years ago). Additionally in between, I attended my first Q Christian Fellowship Conference in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and basically the next morning, I began my new term at Walnut Street. So it all was quite a lot, one thing into the next, my head is still kind of spinning from the sheer amount of activity — but I’m definitely at peace. I’m coming into the 2020s with a clearer sense of what it is I’m doing well and what I want to keep doing moving forward. I’m going to take the following blog post to hone in what exactly it is my work is aiming to do. I’m taking this post to further define my mission, if you will.
Oh boy — even in typing “further define my mission”, I felt the evangelical college boy come out in me and it made my skin crawl a little. I regret to inform you that if evangelical Christianity is what you’re here for — I don’t have that for you. Wheaton College produced thinkers and writers like Billy Graham and John Piper and then thinkers and writers like Rob Bell and Cindy Wang Brandt. I pretty firmly find myself in the latter group and I’m very much OK with it.
While I can appreciate its place in my story, I could never counsel at evangelical summer camp again. Literally never. And I know you might think I’m insane to say that, since a huge part of my branding is that I’m a comedian and writer with church camp counselor energy (even my auto complete suggests I write “camp counselor energy” when I type the word “church”). But I know I couldn’t. It’s not even completely about my being gay when the vast majority of Christian summer camps are non-affirming.
No, what would drive me absolutely insane to work at camp again would be the extremes of emotion put into everything — rarely ever did I have “just a week at work”, it was always the highest high of my life or the lowest low of my life, week in and week out. I have no idea how I willed myself into that five years running (well — actually, I do, but that’s a different post altogether). Now, sure, in the right affirming environment, I could see a case to be made that I would make different decisions and have a healthier outlook on my experience and ultimately what I was doing for the kids in my care. And I actually did get the slightest taste of that when I came back to camp unexpectedly in 2017 — I had a healthier attitude toward the work I was doing and truly was in it for “just a summer at work”.
I always liked to say camp was like a Petri dish for growth — you’re isolated from the outside world and you get to see an experiment run and watch the growth occur. And like bacteria, there can be good growth and bad growth. One thing I did notice about my past self, once slightly removed from the heart of my camp experience working there again in 2017, was that I took myself so damn seriously — and felt like the very environment I was part of encouraged people to take themselves as seriously as I did.
Please don’t get me wrong, camp is hardly the only place people take themselves too seriously — I could rattle off anywhere inside or outside the church where individuals or systems take themselves too seriously. But I’ll keep picking on who I was at camp, because that’s the experience I lived. On the second or third day of camp staff training, every single member of camp staff had to share their testimony. The story of their walk with Jesus. I will not comment on anyone else’s testimonies, but what I’ll say is: this was essentially how we introduced ourselves to each other. In theory, I’ve heard intimate details of the lives of some 150 people and internalized it as normal to introduce myself with complete vulnerability. This must be why dating is still really hard for me, huh.
The problem isn't that this space exists -- I think camp was a wonderful thing in my story. But I want you to sit with that image for a moment and think about where things could've gone wrong: 17-18-19 year old Peter, a boy with an unknowingly massive ego, sitting in front of an audience of 40 in Oakwood Pavilion on Day 3 of camp training for summer 2013, introducing himself by spilling his guts about his sins and struggles that were so important — and people in the room feeding it by saying things like, “Wow. God is so good”. Praising God was not the bad thing - letting it go right to my head while taking myself so seriously was the problem. That image is a problem. It’s a problem I’ve lived. It’s a problem I’ve maybe created. But this problem seems to be a vicious cycle that needs comedic intervention.
In short: I believe people take themselves too seriously. I believe I take myself too seriously. Our testimonies, our careers, our relationships, our importance in the grand scheme of things — we need to be able to joke about them. I believe we are on the path towards being our best selves when we develop a healthy sense of humor when we develop a healthy* sense of humor about the lives we’ve lived.
*To clarify — it’s not to say we should ever be unaffected by the truly awful things that happen to us, or that we don’t need room to grieve, or that *everything* will be able to be joked about in time — those would be ridiculous of me to claim.
Have you ever heard of transcendent laughter? You probably haven’t. Because I just made the term up on the spot — and a quick Google search will tell you yes, there is only the tiniest pocket of the internet that has used the term before, so I feel OK saying I made it up. What I mean by transcendent laughter is that laugh that cuts through and goes right to the heart to warm it up. It might not be the funniest thing you’ve ever heard or read, but it does make you feel better and improve your outlook on the world ever so slightly. In my work as a writer and comedian in the new decade, I want to help others find that transcendent laughter. It’s helped me immeasurably and I believe it can help you, too.
I’m always interested in speaking to groups or on podcasts about developing a sense of humor around the lives we’ve lived or otherwise about writing comedy! Please drop me a line at byPeterFenton.com/contact!