What I learned from the Cameron Crazies

Recently I spent another week on campus at Duke University as I continue my graduate studies. I have learned a great deal in the course of my program, but in this most recent trip I was schooled by an unlikely source.

The Cameron Crazies.

In case you don’t know about the Cameron Crazies, that’s the name given to the student section at Duke basketball games (the arena is called Cameron Indoor Stadium). They have a reputation for being a little, well, extreme.

Since I attended with some family who live in Durham, I wasn’t sitting in the student section. Instead, I was able to observe this marvel of human orchestration from afar.

I realized that to be part of the Cameron Crazies is to be part of a community replete with its own liturgy and ritual; singing the fight song is hardly the tip of the iceberg.

There’s the jazz hands toward the basket during a Dukie free throw. The taunting of a player who’s fouled out by shouting “Aaaahhhhh….see ya!” And of course the merciless “airball” chants at sad sack opponents who don’t manage to catch rim.

The experience got me thinking about what it’s like to attend worship for the first time.

For the newcomer to the liturgy, it’s a strange and foreign world. People know intuitively when to stand and sit, when to cross themselves and when to bow. It’s easy to feel like an outsider.

As with my experience at Cameron Indoor, though, you’ve just got to “fake it until you make it.” By getting caught up in the ritual and ceremony, you slowly start to “get” what’s going on.

By the fourth quarter, I was shouting out along with the rest—and after a couple of Sunday participating in worship, you start to sing along and mouth the words.

What was invaluable for me to become better acquainted with the Crazies’ community, though, was a guide. My cousin could explain what was happening and when, point out things I would have otherwise missed.

Likewise when it comes to church, it’s so important for those are already “initiated” to help visitors. If you invite someone along, try to remember that what we do on Sunday morning is unlike what people experience in the world. Give some pointers and keep a sense of humor.

And if you notice someone sitting by herself, by all means introduce yourself and offer to help acquaint her with the liturgy. It may be she already knows the rhythm, but if not she’ll surely appreciate some pointers. Before long you’ll be chanting together And with thy spirit after the greeting.

But please, just don’t start chanting “airball” after the sermon.

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