Ecclesiastes 3:4 says there is a time to weep and to laugh, a time to dance and a time to mourn. My problem is that every time I dance, people laugh and cry. Today I leave my denial and declare to the
public that I am “rhythmically challenged.”
The truth of my upbringing is inescapable. My father was a Baptist minister and when I would ask permission to attend a dance, he, would pour on the guilt because he knew that George Micheal was right – “guilty feet have got no rhythm.”
The dancing ban continued through my college years at Baylor University – the biggest Baptist University in the world. Despite the lampooning from the late Christian comedian, Graddy Nutt, Baylor continued their ban until 1994. Nutt use to quip that Baptist banned dancing because it enticed teenage couples to “go to the bushes. ” He said, “We weren’t fools. We skipped the dancing and went straight to the bushes.”
Since my college days, my head and heart strive to move beyond the guilt of legalism, but I have a split personality of sorts – Fred Estaire lives upstairs but Jerry Farewell controls my feet.
The people who know this fact are especially brutal. Each Sunday, I walk into the sanctuary early to consult with my music staff. As I walk toward the band instruments, Phil, the band leader, asks suspiciously, “What are you doing, Chaplain?”
“I’m just wondering who’s playing the congas today. You know, I’ve played percussion in worship before.”
Where? Phil asks incredulously.
“In a Hare Krishna temple in Dallas once,” I proudly announce.
Suddenly, Phil fires an order to the band, “Stow the percussion! Hide the incense! This man is a dangerous.”
I don’t get any slack from my family either. During congregational singing, when the spirit moves me, I start to sway. From the third pew comes my wife’s loving, but firm, sway of her head. “No” she mouths and adds a pleading glance toward my teenage daughters who are sinking in their pews.
At home, when an Elton John song awakens my “moves,” the little guys run whining to their mother, “Mom, Mom! they frantically announce, he’s dancing again.. Make him stop!”
No tragically, I will never be able to heed the ecclesiastical advice to dance, but fortunately, I occasionally witness a good dance in our worship service from a dancer named Brooke.
Brooke is a beautiful 14-year-old who loves to dance. Phil lets her dance anytime she wants to dance – ticks me off. Why doesn’t he ask me? . Perhaps he sees the certain spirit in her that makes others want to dance.
When Brooke was 3 weeks old, she contracted spinal meningitis, which resulted in hydrocephalus – “water on the brain.” The water causes the brain to swell, but with the help of a shunt, the water drains into her gallbladder. As long as the shunt works, Brooke remains healthy, but, occasionally, it goes on the “fritz,”- her brain swells and her dance with this world is threatened.
But, when she is healthy, she dances with stunning beauty because she dances with the gratitude of being able to dance at all. She dances in the face of the threat that the music could stop permanently. She dances with joy because she knows that she has a mother who would give her own life for the sake of her daughter’s life.
But most of all, she connects her dancing with the internal relationship she has with God. As Brook choreographs this relationship in a tangible demonstration, she rises from the first pew and flows into the center isle. Her graceful gliding and infinite strokes of her arms trace the letters of a love language between her and God that she enunciates through her sparkling eyes and fluttering fingers.
When she first erupted in dancing, I was embarrassed. I worried people would think our congregation was charismatic. This dancing was not anywhere in the “Order of Worship.”
My thinking was similar to that of the Pharisee Jesus mentioned. The man sat on the front pew of the temple, and looking over his shoulder, he saw a tax collector, – a Roman collaborator – the most hideous of all beings.
“Thank you, God, that I am not like ‘thissss man,'” he hissed.
And yet, Jesus would say that “this man” would be the one who left the church whole. He added that it would be the one who tried to exalt himself that would find himself humbled and the one who humbled himself would find himself exalted.
Maybe that is why Brook can dance. Her humility and love for God move her feet in rhythm with an inner spirit. Brooke’s dancing never seems to exalt herself, but it does seem to exalt the one who gives her the joy to dance – indeed the one the song refers to as the “Lord of the Dance.”
We’re now living in a world that has been knocked off its feet and slammed to the dance floor. Like Brook, we too must learn to dance in the face of the threat that the music could permanently stop. We are searching for our rhythm and trying once again to hear the music. The music is there. It is playing in the hearts of people like Brooke and yearns to resound in your heart too.
Pardon me, Brooke, but can I have this next dance?