This One Time, at Band Camp…

My wife Erin and I returned last night from the Music for All (formerly Bands of America) Band Camp she has been involved with since the year we met. Many years, except on those occasions when I forgot to put the camp dates in my calendar and booked a wedding, I have travelled to camp on a one way ticket on Thursday so that I can be present for the Drum Corps International show and the final student performances. Since Erin is the camp nurse and on call twenty four hours a day, I’m usually a bit more rested than she and can help her drive home from camp.

This year was significant in many ways, not the least of which was that the back surgery I had in February made it possible for me to be much more active than I could be last year – though my back does still protest some of the bumps on the golf cart that Erin uses at camp! Another change was the camp moving from its former location and Illinois State University to Ball State University. ISU was a wonderful home for many years, but (in my admittedly uninformed opinion) Ball State’s campus and staff were excellent hosts and offered a much more updated facility, particulary in the dorms where campers and staff stay while at camp. If you know of anyone looking at a college, I would recommend they check our Ball State University.

The truth is that my experience at camp is always one of spiritual renewal. Most of the camp staff are volunteers – they are called SWAGS, the meaning of which is a closely guarded secret – who travel at their own expense to camp and receive no monetary compensation of any kind. I have learned over the years that they are compensated in a way that money simply can’t buy. They return year after year, working long hours and getting very little sleep – and at breakfast on Sunday morning as they prepare to leave there are inevitably tears. The atmosphere is unfailingly positive and supportive, and campers are greeted by a friendly face wherever they go. The campers themselves, ranging in age from entering 8th to 12th grade, are extremely polite not only to camp staff but to University staff as well. Time after time I heard Ball State staff remark how polite the kids were and how much they enjoyed having them present. How often do you hear that from people working with High School students?

There is also an almost unimaginable level of peer support among the campers. I could not have imagined receiving a standing ovation from my peers in High School, but during performances (many with professional, touring musicians) that is precisely what happens. Imagine receiving that kind of affirmation at any point in your life! At camp it’s a daily event.

Perhaps the biggest lesson I have taken away from Music for All is that the atmosphere is so unlike anything we experience in our daily lives. Most of our daily conversation is cynical, jaded by years of bad experience – exactly the opposite of what happens at camp. How do they do it? In my estimation, they succeed by making a decision to be different – a choice to be welcoming, loving, and accepting. It sounds too simple, doesn’t it?

We need to understand that we make choices that determine how we will live. We choose our values, and we choose how we will implement them. We decide what is important to us, and then we live out those decisions for better or worse. Music for All is an excellent example of what happens we people choose to be loving and accepting – and what happens is that everyone benefits. It’s an environment that no religious system has been able to create, mostly because religious systems are so geared toward defending their institutions and converting people who see it otherwise. Music for All doesn’t have to defend or evangelize anything – for who could criticize loving kindness? Can you imagine anyone saying to you, “I don’t think you should be so nice?”

Lay your doctrine down. Know no rule except loving and accepting the other, no matter who the other is. Choose to create an enviroment of unconditional love. It does work – I’m privileged to see the truth of the reality that it can be done every time I go to band camp. Thank you, Music for All, for demonstrating what I claim to stand for without ever needing to say a word because you live it!

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