Thursday, November 26, 2015

Dance! "For by grace are ye saved..."

It was a strange coincidence.

I just had been putting a lot of reflection on the cultural belief that dance is a "sin," or it's historical correlative modern word, "addictive." That week I had posted the second of two reflections when I got into a discussion with a chaplain where I work with wounded soldiers.
In a discussion with the chaplain assigned to our soldiers, I found out that he grew up in Africa and had been converted to Christianity by European missionaries. At the start of our discussion, he was in full agreement that “secular” dance was something he had to give up for Christ, although he was a passionate dancer during his pre-Christian life.
He was taught that smoking, drinking, and secular dancing were all evil. Some of the early missionaries in his native country were against the tribal customs and culture as well. They expected that new converts would relinquish some of their cultural ways (including tribal dances) that were considered “un-Christian.”  We about to go in an meet a young soldier who was a dancer but now was in serious condition after brain surgery.  So our conversation about dance was about dance but in the context of speaking with the young, religious man who was an avid dancer.  So our conversation went like this:

“Let me guess . . . . Was even speaking English preferred by the missionaries over your own native tongue?” I asked.
"Yes," he said.
"You should avoid some of your tribal, African, festivals?"

"Give up some of your tribal traditions and customs?"
Fathers know best?

"Yes."I suggested that these prohibitions were surely drawn from a skeptical view of all dance in some cultures and which turns a blind eye to scriptural references to dance, which are supportive of dance and music. I think I surprised him as I quoted scripture to back up my claims that dance is not inherently sinful. I argued that speaking just as much as dancing could be sinful, but we don't give up on “secular” conversations simply because of the risks of lapsing into sin. I pulled out a portable soapbox from my back pocket and said, "God made us to delight in dance and gave us dance to deal with our psychological pains and worries. What a tragedy to not express joy or lessen pain through dance!" (Amen?)

Just at that moment, we were called to go in to visit our very sick patient. I introduced the chaplain to the patient, a Private First Class in the Army, by saying: “I want you to know that the chaplain was once a passionate dancer and especially liked Michael Jackson.  I am going to try to get him to teach me how to do the moonwalk when no one is looking!" The young man's eyes lighted up. The private had been always a very spiritual young man and a talented tap and salsa dancer, starting at the age of three. The chaplain and the private were bonded by these things--their love of God and two passionate, talented dancers who--for the moment--were no longer dancing.
When PFC W died recently, we had a memorial ceremony for him. The following eulogy is in part what the chaplain told our unit's soldiers, our staff and the family. It's a wonderfully revised "gospel" about dance from what the missionaries may have thought or at least taught. I was very moved.  I knew there was more to this sermon.  Before PFC W's death, I knew that the chaplain had begun dancing again with his wife privately.  I told him to dance in his kitchen.  He did it!  Also, I said that his children were growing up in America, and prohibitions of dance can create wild "preacher's kids."  He has since allowed his children to dance at private parties at his house with challenging computerized dance games. Freedom to dance, I think, is surely a divine thing.
Here's an excerpt from the chaplain's eulogy:

    . . . Before long, during our visit, we were reflecting on his love of music and dancing. No wonder he was so talented and skilled--his mom ... had a dancing studio (still does) . . . . PFC W. glowed and smiled as we talked about dancing and how he was admired by those who knew him.

   Later, as I reflected on this visit, I was reminded of another renowned dancer in scripture, namely, King David of old. You may not know this, but aside from all his kingly conquests and vast wealth, King David was an avid dancer. In fact, he was such a passionate and unashamed dancer before the Lord, that at one time, we are told, when the people of God were bringing back the Ark of the Covenant (which represented the presence of God) into their community the king danced until his clothes (royal robes) fell off his body. Some of the details of this most memorable celebration can be found in II Samuel 6:14:

   And I read, “Then David danced before the LORD with all his might; and David was wearing a linen ephod… Now as the ark of the LORD came into the city of David, Michal, Saul’s daughter, looked through a window and saw king David leaping and whirling before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart.”

   Now, if you are familiar with the story, you know that Michal’s negative attitude did not stop King David from offering his praise to God. On the contrary he insisted that he would be even more “undignified” in offering the highest praise before his God. No wonder God testified of him as “a man after my own heart”.

   The legacy of King David and the passionate life of PFC W. is a reminder for us to cherish each breath of life and fully dedicate our gifts/talents before our maker. In so doing, we will live a blessed and fulfilled life that will positively impact others long after we have departed from this temporal world.
    In another passage of scripture, Ecclesiastes 3:4, we are reminded by the preacher that there is a time for everything (every season) under the earth. “A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance…”

The Chaplain finished his remarks before his benediction by saying:

   Usually, mourning and dancing are viewed as contraries, as complete (unrelated) opposites that occur at very different moments in life—one for times of great pain and the other during times of great joy. May I suggest, for your consideration today, ladies and gentlemen, that in our context today (as we remember our comrade and reflect on the biblical story) that these two realities do not have to be foreign to each other. Yes, we mourn and weep, for a son and a brother, BUT on the other hand we can dance in the joy of knowing God’s promises will never fail. We can dance in the assurance that to be “absent in the body is to be present with the Lord”.

And as at all military memorials, the First Sergeant had a roll call and PFC W. did not answer. We played taps, which always brings me to tears, especially after so many deaths in the military community.

But, at the end of the memorial, I had no doubt that the only difference between heaven and earth is that we mortals have sore feet from dancing for hours. PFC W. doesn't have to worry anymore about sore feet, and he's is tapping up a storm. I just heard him the other day right before a rain.

See links to posts mentioned above about beliefs of sin (or "addiction"):  "T for Tango Addict," and "Tango and the Path of Pleasure."

*Permission for posting this were given by the chaplain and the soldier's mother.

Title of post's reference to grace:
Ephesians 2:8-9 "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast."

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