Jan 9 2022

If you’ve followed my columns, you’ll know this chaplain doesn’t dance. Well, it’s not that I don’t dance — it’s more like no one can bear to watch me dance.

But the part I’ve never written about is the where-when-and-Why of my rhythmically challenged life.

My aversion to dancing, initially square dancing, began in Mrs. Marino’s third-grade class at Strawberry Point Elementary School in Marin County, California.

Despite the affluent location, my classmates largely came from families living at the recently-closed campus of nearby Golden Gate Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

One day, in the mid-1960’s, I handed my father a mimeographed notice that Mrs. Marino was teaching square dancing during our PE time

That year’s classroom photo recalls Marino as a short Italian lady who wore her black hair in a bob. I would’ve given anything to dance with her but was not interested in a single one of my classmates.

Somehow, I must have communicated my displeasure to my dad, probably with a sneer or prepubescent squeal, because he suggested an option.

“I can write a note,” he said, “stating dancing to be against our religious beliefs.”

Even though Southern Baptists claim to be, “People of the Book,” my dad’s proposal overlooked several positive references about dancing (Exodus 15:20; 2 Samuel 6:14; Ecclesiastes 3:4; Psalm 150:4; Luke 15:25).

I didn’t care about any of those verses of course, I just wanted to get out of dancing with — yikes — a girl.

What dad was offering was the precursor for today’s “religious exemption” being sought by vaccine opponents. (Read more in my March 10, 2021 column.)

The thinking now is much like it was for me on the dance floor: religion can be used to avoid the uncomfortable things we don’t want to do.

But it’s not just vaccine dissenters who seek exemption from things they don’t want to do.

For instance, we shun a coworker or friend because of their politics. We treat someone from a particular political belief as an ungodly sinner.

Or perhaps we ostracize a loved one because they identify as part of the LGBTQ community.

And even today, some churches reject women in ministry, all in the name of religion. It’s not that they believe women can’t preach, they just don’t like change.

Folks that exclude people in the name of religion, don’t seem to have the same problem in the everyday work-world where their doctor might be a woman or their child’s teacher might be gay.

Like my dancing exemption, I’m not sure that our hearts really agree with exempting these people from God’s love.

Franciscan priest Richard Rohr says our exclusion thinking stems from the fact that we see religion as goal-oriented.

He’s talking about the kind of conversation my wife recently had while leading children’s church. When she asked the kids why they should follow Jesus, they all replied, “So we can go to heaven.”

That goal is something we’re taught from childhood. The idea seems to be that following a precise list of dos and don’ts is the way to attain our gold stars and earn our merit badge.

In his book “Everything Belongs,” Rohr debunks that idea, suggesting the resulting guilt we feel in this merit system actually becomes our punishment for not meeting these impossible rules.

It’s “a cosmic game of crime and punishment,” he says, in which we are denying ourselves God’s grace. Unfortunately, “that denial becomes our own punishment.”

So what is my punishment for not dancing?

I can’t dance. Worse yet, my wife feels punished when she watches me bust a rhythmic move.

Why do our shortcomings always hurt those we love most? That’s a question for another day.

But while we’re talking about inabilities and exemptions, I should also mention that I don’t know the first thing about poker either.

And I’m not bluffing.


Contact Chaplain Norris at comment@thechaplain.net or 10556 Combie Rd. Suite 6643 Auburn, CA 95602 or voicemail (843) 608-9715.