Spend a few hours around a group of NaCoMe campers, and you’ll hear an odd collection of phrases, noises, and seemingly otherworldly communications. It happens every year, and it’s what we know as “camper noises.” But these noises do more than interrupt the trickling water of the creek; they’re signs of communities being formed.
The noises we’re talking about range from the “A-O-RIVER” that gets attention for an announcement to the purposeful misuse of “hashmark” (instead of ‘hashtag’) or any number of guttural, monosyllabic ha’s, la’s, or shoo’s that are part of camp songs. While some of these might seem like your standard accumulation of inside jokes or the traditional camp songs with nonsensical lyrics, the fact that all of our campers have adopted them in their usage is a perfect example of summer camp forming community.
We know that ancient civilizations formed a spoken language, and that the language they spoke formed a part of their cultural identity. The same can be said about the language of regional areas; a southern accent gives most people an immediate sense of what a stranger might be like. The same is true for a British accent or even the unique sounds of “house” or “about” from Canadian dialects. Our language, the words we use and the way we use them, is one of the strongest bonds in forming community and developing group identities.
As our campers and staff continue to spend time together this week, the way they speak and the sounds we hear from them are clues to how strong the community is. If we can formulate a singular language, then our ability to discuss difficult ideas about our shared faith is made easier. Our shared language, and each person’s usage of it, means that we are in a community that supports us; we can be open and honest with this group. Sharing a language, from the big words down to the small grunts, is proof that our groups are sharing in something deeper as well. This week, at least, that bond seems quite strong. And if you’re a camper reading this after your week of camp, as I promised, here’s your #cake.