5 things I learned about worship while watching Duke basketball in Cameron Indoor Stadium

When I first came to Duke Divinity School in 2010 I knew that I was going to have to learn to love basketball because, well…Duke.  The only thing standing between me and becoming a wholesale Cameron Crazy was my total ignorance about basketball.  I knew the gist of how a game was supposed to go (after all, I did play on the C-team with my friend’s fraternity in college), but beyond the basics, I was clueless.  Luckily, several trips to Cameron Indoor with a stadium full of Crazies helped show me the way.  My most significant training in the knowledge and love of basketball came in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

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You see, as a Christian and pastor, I believe in the formative effects of liturgy, and so does Duke basketball.  “Liturgy” is that word Christians use to describe the work of the people done in worship, such as prayers, singing, passing the peace of Christ, and the Lord’s Supper.  The repeated work we do in worship shapes our imagination for how we interact with and grow in relationship with God, each other, and all creation.  Liturgy works on us over time.  In Christian worship, the repeated practice of thanksgiving increases our gratitude to God and overall spirit of thankfulness.  On the other (less pious) hand, I learned to hate Carolina after only being at Duke a few months because I went to basketball games.

Thanks to the kindness of friends, last Tuesday, Lea and I went to our first Duke men’s basketball game (a win over Michigan!) since graduating Duke Divinity School.  Here are some things I learned:

Gathering takes time.  Fans start pouring into Cameron Indoor an hour before the game, and students have been lining up outside–rain, snow, or sunshine–sometimes all day.  Once you’re in, the pre-game work begins.  During the shoot-a-round and warmups we remember Dawkins’ 3-point shooting prowess, and watch to see how MP III’s free-throws are improving.  You enter the rhythm of cheering for our boys and hexing the opponents.  You begin to hear the band playing and learn how to follow their lead.  The pre-game video flashes clips of Duke basketball at its best.  The intensity and thundering bass shakes your insides.  That’s the point.  The whole pre-game gathering is designed to shake you out of the world you just came from and pull you deeply into the world of Cameron Indoor Stadium.  It was designed to form a people.

The liturgy doesn’t get old. I loved that they were playing the same music on Dec. 3 2013 as they were on Nov 2010.  I hadn’t sung the songs or done the cheers in almost a year, but the liturgy of Cameron comes right back to you.  It took practice for me to get to that point, of course: 3 campouts, waiting in several walk-up lines, and lots of late nights in Cameron.  As soon as “All I Do Is Win” comes on, muscle memory kicks in and the hands go upand they stay there!  I don’t think I’m being overly nostalgic here.  The old songs still felt new.  They get new life with each new game, and the energy they create is electric.

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Liturgy takes leadership.  This is where the pep band and cheer leaders come in.  We need help getting the right cheer started at the right time, and we need help keeping it going.  Our leaders know when is the right time to play “Wipe Out,” and they know when to play the fight song.  We don’t.  They always play the right songs at the right time, and when the music starts up, we’re ready to fill in our part.

It’s not just the official leaders we look to.  At some point in the game or during the pre-game it seems like a group of Crazies becomes the designated liturgists for the night, the ones setting the tone for which cheer is the right fit for the occasion.  Is now the time for “Go, Devils Go” or “Let’s Go Duke”?  Listen for the leaders.  Strong leadership helps newbies learn the ropes.  We hear the words, we see the actions.  You learn to be a Crazy by being near other more practiced Crazies.

People want to be participants not spectators.  This was my first time in Cameron sitting in a seat.  For three years I stood in the bleachers between other graduate students.  While my seat was more comfortable,  I didn’t feel as connected to the game as I was when I was with other students.  I felt the pressure to be an adult, to stay in my seat, to not let my hands go up and stay there lest I block the view of Mr. So-And-So behind me.

In Cameron, the fans are the 6th player on the team.  We matter (and don’t try to tell us other wise!).  The 5 guys on the court have their set plays, and so do we.  When the opposing team takes the line for a free throw, we turn to our playbook of distractions, and when one works, we know we’ve made a difference.  free throw

Coach K knows the fans are part of the game too.  If we’re slacking off, he wakes us up and gets our heads back in the game.

Duke Basketball is evangelical.  We believe in our team–win or lose–and we want you to know about it.  We leave Cameron better Crazies, more steeped in the liturgy, better informed about Jabari Parker’s jump shot, hopeful about Rodney Hood’s leadership potential.  And when we come back the next time, we’ll know a few more words to the fight song–well, maybe not, but at least we’ll never forget to tell Carolina where they can go…  I recently learned that Kentucky fans are a special sort of people because they are oblivious to other teams; they believe in Kentucky basketball and only Kentucky basketball.  I think Duke Basketball is a bit more hospitable to inter-fanbase and cross-conference dialogue, but we’re firmly and wholly committed to our beloved Blue Devils.

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