To be in a marching band is to understand that the show must go on even when you’d rather not.
In high school, I marched at every halftime show with the rest of the band. Every halftime show. I marched while rain dripped off the brim of my cap and when wind snatched the notes from my clarinet. I marched when it was so cold my fingers numbed inside my gloves and we huddled in the stadium’s heated men’s bathroom for warmth between quarters. I marched in summer when it was so hot my shirt stuck to my skin under my crisp, heavy-duty uniform.
“Esprit de corps!” Mr. S thundered at us as we marched across the field during lunch right after school had started. We wanted mostly to be inside. He wanted us all to be in step with each other. “Esprit de corps!”
Esprit de corps is a phrase that references the common spirit of pride and unity among a common group. You often hear it used about the military, but Mr. S, our band teacher, thundered it at us on the days we most did not want to be outside, did not want to be marching. We happy few, I thought wearily as I felt the blisters beginning on my feet, we band of brothers…
But we did have it. Esprit de corps.
I saw it at the competitions, when the seniors walked around psyching up the freshman, encouraging everyone to put on their best and sharpest performance. I saw when, during one particularly muddy halftime show, I missed my mark when I slipped and would have slid halfway across the football field if our calm French horn player hadn’t caught me with his arm and set me back where I was supposed to be without missing a beat. I saw it when we covered for each other, pushed each other to be better, fell asleep on each other on buses. The good of one was the good of all.
And esprit de corps makes you better at what you do. In band, I worked hard not just because I wanted to do well, but because I wanted to do well for the sake of our group. Knowing other people were there for you meant that, in turn, you did your best to be there for them. We became, over a thousand football games and performances and practices, a family.
The funny thing is that in band there was no social caste. Outside of band, of course, we fell into our high school categories: the students who studied a lot, the jocks who skipped class, the soccer guys, the dance kids, the theater people, the didn’t-fit-in-anywheres. But in band we all grew together, worked together, played together. I hung out with seniors and juniors as a freshman, and with freshmen when I was a senior and a junior. I spent time with loads of people not like me.
At its best, the church can be like that.
At its best, people of every demographic, interest, and age can find commonality not in the segmenting of their populations by like mind but by common love for Christ. At its best, the church is a group of people among whom common affection can inspire greater deeds, greater work, greater joy. At its best, church can be a place where we know “our people” are, and where we can be certain that, no matter what, we’re welcomed when we’re present and missed when we are absent. At its best, the church is a place of encouragement, of what is good and pure and holy and altogether wonderful.
I know the church isn’t always at its best.
But as we emerge from the pandemic, I’ve decided if only to myself that I am not going to let church be defined for me, or by whatever modern trend has taken over, or by other people to the world. I want instead to be that beginning-point: a person who crosses boundaries, who hangs out with a whole lot of people who have very little in common but Jesus, who works hard for the good of the group, who embodies that spirit of authentic community, of love.
No, I can’t personally go and shut the mouth of every self-professed Christian saying something that does the church more harm than good, but I can control me. I can be the church I want to see in the world. I can start there.
And it’s small, but knowing that there are other people doing the same comforts me. Because when a bunch of people pick up their different instruments, and work together, and start to make some noise—
Well, eventually it can turn into some beautiful music.