For my parent’s 40th anniversary (in 2012) we all went to Hawaii together. This was, of course, an incredible trip for me, my two siblings, our spouses and all our kids. Our kids were elementary school aged at the time, so we spent most of our days playing at the beach and looking for activities that would be fun for them, fun for the adults, and fun for my parents who are always up for an adventure.
Among the activities we chose was an adventure to Shipwreck Beach. We’d load up in some vans, check out the island as we drive a few hours on some backcountry dirt roads, and then hike to a beach where there was an actual shipwreck. Lots of the reviews we read online were positive, and Shipwreck Beach was consistently listed as one of the top things to do on the island. This sounded like the perfect thing to do with a hands-on, adventurous family such as ours.
And so on the appointed morning, we drove for two hours. Two hours in the van isn’t fun for most elementary school aged kids, and our kids are no different, but we figured we’d pass the time exploring the island as we drove. Well, we saw lots and lots of sand dunes, so that quit being interesting very quickly. We then shifted our attempt to engage our kids by imagining what it would be like to explore an actual shipwreck. The kids were CERTAIN we’d find abandoned treasure, whereas I was more focused on them staying away from the sharp edges and jagged surfaces that can be found with decaying metal in the salt water. Exploring a shipwreck isn’t a risk-free activity. I didn’t want to add a trip to the hospital to our adventure, and the very real risk of injury was electrifying for our kids. We were thrilled when the van finally stopped, and the hike to Shipwreck Beach was more like a sprint.
There, about fifty yards off the beach, was the shipwreck, in all its dilapidated glory. The kids started taking off their shirts and shoes and were getting ready to dive in when my brother asked our driver, “So, we just swim on out there?”
To which the driver replied, “Oh, no, you can’t swim out there. It’s far too dangerous.”
“What’s dangerous about it?” I chuckled when my brother asked this question, because this situation looked to be full of danger, but that’s what made the exploration so exciting!
“These waters are full of sharks,” he said with a face that suggested he felt the stupidity of swimming out to the shipwreck on Shipwreck Beach was obvious to all of humanity.
“Sharks? Kids, put your clothes back on,” said every parent, immediately.
“Sharks? You mean we drove all this way to look at a shipwreck? From the beach?” I asked. The reality of this situation was slowly sinking in. “Don’t you think it would’ve been good to let us know that we can’t swim out to the shipwreck because of SHARKS?!?!”
“Well,” the driver said defensively, “Nobody’s asked to swim out there before. People just look at the shipwreck from the beach, and maybe they hike around a bit, and then they leave.”
Looking at a shipwreck, rather than exploring a shipwreck, was NOT what we had in mind. Getting the kids motivated to put their shirts and shoes back on and hike back to the van was an intense struggle. In fairness, it was hard for all of us. We were all very, very disappointed. My nephew started kicking the sand in frustration, and my daughter huffed and sulked as she put her coverup back on.
But my nine-year-old son Jackson captured what all of us were feeling in that moment when his eyes filled with tears and his mouth curled with rage and he said, “This isn’t Shipwreck Beach, this is Dumb Beach, because I’m over here and the shipwreck is over there and that’s DUMB!”
On the one hand, he was right. This moment immediately became part of the family vocabulary. To this day, whenever we show up to an event with the expectation of being participants, and instead are disappointed to discover that we’ll be spectators, we still say, “This is dumb beach.” When there was a science experiment at school where my daughter was an observer of the experiment, rather than the creator of the experiment, she called it “dumb beach.” When I went to a cooking class expecting to cook, and instead I sat in a chair and watched somebody else cook, I called it “dumb beach.” When I took my sons to a skill share event in the community, and there was a person throwing clay on a potting wheel, my sons asked if they could try. When the potter said that it was just a demonstration, my sons muttered “This is dumb beach” as we walked away.
On the other hand, he was wrong. Shipwreck beach is consistently rated as one of the top things to do on that island, and if you go read the reviews online, you’ll find lots of people have a great time standing on the shore looking at the shipwreck. Maybe they don’t like to swim, or maybe they don’t like the risk of having a wave throw them against the shipwreck, or maybe spectating is just their thing. I don’t know. But I do seem to find myself in situations where I’m a spectator, and I want to be a participant, yet I’m around people who seem ok with watching. And, hey, it’s easy to imagine a lot of scenarios where watching the shipwreck from the shore is a good idea, just like some people might prefer to learn about cooking through watching, and some people might prefer learning about pottery by watching somebody else sling the clay around.
This story informs and animates how I approach chapel at Saint Paul’s Academy, as our students love participating in the life of our school. Our students show up to art class expecting to create art, and they would not tolerate an art curriculum where they were spectators, watching the professional art teachers. Our students show up to music class expecting to create music, and they would not tolerate a music curriculum where they were spectators, watching the professional music teachers. How many Middle School students would show up for the Makerspace Club, if all they did was sit quietly while they watched Ms. McAtee make things? How would our students learn to read, if all they did was watch their teachers read? These playful examples of things we would never do are the very essence of Dumb Beach.
As the Chaplain, I try to do as little as possible in chapel. Our students don’t want to sit quietly and watch me read the Bible, they want to lead the scripture reading.
Our students like hearing adults play the gathering music (‘prelude' if you’re in a worship service that uses latin), but they really like being the ones that play the gathering music.
Our students don’t need to hear what I’m praying for, they need to share what they want to pray for, and then have all of us pray for that.
Our students need to learn how to sing and play in worship by singing and playing in worship.
We make our own grape juice for communion, because it’s a vital part of how we learn to bring our gifts into a holistic worship service.
They learn to understand how worship affects their lives by talking about their lives, taking their stories seriously, and engaging with their own view of God.
And when it comes time to blow out the candles at the conclusion of the worship service, I’ve got the best candle snuffers!
We learn music through playing music, we learn science through engaging with science, and we learn about our faith through engaging with our faith. Anything less is simply Dumb Beach. While there could be some valid reason why the youth should sit still and watch the professionals lead the worship service, Saint Paul's is an incredibly "hands on" sort of community. I love how every aspect of Saint Paul’s Academy is creative, engaging, reflective and caring, including our chapel.