Is that Jesus dancing?
There is far too little tribal dancing in the church. That is my critique for the day, so if your train stop is coming up, you can stop reading, you’re good.
It think we may have finally “got it” the other night on Mardi Gras and "did the word": “Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with timbrel and harp” (Psalm 149). We did not have specialists interpreting with dance or waving flags and such (which is fine too); we just got out there and shook it as the common good we are.
We even had a flash mob moment in honor of Ben/Gwyn and Nate/Jen (it even made Gwyneth get teary over Uptown Funk).
Of course we did that! It’s in the Bible!: “Then young women will dance and be glad, young men and old as well. I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow” (Jeremiah 31:13).
Jesus has saved us and made us his people. We’re happy. That’s a good enough reason to dance. So if you are getting off the train now, feel free to stop reading. You probably have what you need.
We have good reasons to dance
But I do want to point out that there are some more very good reasons to dance. I’m glad we exercised a few. Yes, people showed up for our party!—and they even danced with nothing lubricating their system but fastnachts and root beer!
Dancing makes trust.
For most of us, it is hard to get out on the dance floor. Ra begged Gwen and me to get out there and get the party rolling, since nobody will dance at a dance for the first half hour. She reminded me of junior high when I was in dance class and the teacher would taunt us boys to walk across the multipurpose room floor and ask a girl to waltz. Terror.
Being pushed out on the floor was threatening. It reminded me that people love looking at dancers and talking about how they dance. A couple of my dear friends were, indeed, rating the best COH dancers the other night. That’s scary. Some men, in particular, refused to dance all night and stood off to the side like the kids in the Lord’s quote: “They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other: “‘We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance’” (Luke 7:32).
But when you get out on the floor and realize we are all in this together, heedless of the fear, forgetting the judgment, and despising our shame, it loosens the place in us that trusts God and works trust into our very bodies! And getting out there does wonders for trusting others, too. Dancing with someone is pretty intimate, pretty vulnerable—its trusting someone because you think they love you enough to do so. We need that. Dancing is a trust system and we want to live in one.
Dancing commits us to joy
Very few people can dance with the tribe without a smile on their face. I suppose that’s why the Baptists I worked for were against it. Actually these Baptists were privately pretty fun and happy, but publicly they were straight-laced and sober because they thought that was being holy and they didn’t want anyone to know they were secretly a lot less perfect than they appeared. For quite a few years my dancing instincts were squashed by the Bible lovers who ignored all the dancing in the Bible.
They were like Michal watching David dance when you’d think everyone would want to be as out-of-control holy as David was: “Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets. As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart” (2. Sam 6). I don’t know, for sure, why Michal despised David, but she sure was not increasing the joy in town that day!
There cannot be too much joy, even when things are bad and people are bad and they don’t deserve to be joyful—or insert any Michal-like judgment you feel here____. The fact is, most of us are not Michals and it makes us happy to see you dance. It probably makes you happier too.
Dancing represents a common good.
One time, a long time ago now, a close-knit church I was in realized that they felt really good whenever someone got married and the whole church got our on the floor at the reception and danced like one big group, partners notwithstanding. A few times they made such a positive impression with their happiness and togetherness that it became the talk of the rest of the guests and the bride and groom were proud of their cool, Christian friends. So we decided to hold a dance for All Saints Day. The one glitch was that the Brethren in Christ also thought dancing was not a holy thing to do. So we asked the bishop to give us a special dispensation. He did not think we would fall into sin, so he dispensed with the policy. Not sure he had the power to do that, but we went ahead.
In a communal group like the BIC, dancing is a great visual aid. It is an incarnational demonstration of being the visible body doing what Jesus does. At least it represents God’s mindset as Jesus describes it in the story of the lost son. The father says, “Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing (Luke 15).
You could have “heard” our dancing a long way off on Mardi Gras!—stomping, hooting, Cyndi Lauper wailing about girls and fun. It drew quite a few people into our common good. Near the end I was dancing with a group of men who were finally into it. One of them came in mentally worn out and for a while got some relief. He could feel his spirit rise. That’s what Jesus does. We hope to dip people in the music of his body to share some happy resonance.
Everything else we do builds trust, joy and the common good, as well. But I really like it when we dance—even though it is kind of silly for me to dance. We don’t hear about Jesus dancing (I bet he did, though)—but we do hear a lot about people thinking he was silly, and we still hear that directed whenever we act like Him, too. His whole life was kind of out on the dance floor, wasn’t it?—asking people to dance, making people know joy, demonstrating a different way to live. Our Mardi Gras party was a good training.