Matthew Fitch was two years old when he introduced the dance party as a regular part of our Sunday morning liturgy. Just after the assurance of pardon, we were all clapping and singing “Behold, behold, I make all things new” with gusto. It was too much joy — well, too much joy for Matthew to take sitting down or standing still. He stood on the pew, his body and his wild curls bouncing rhythmically. Possessed with charismatic abandon, he carried his dance into the centre aisle of the sanctuary. We laughed and sang and clapped louder.
That was five years ago. The dance party segment continues. It comes after we have said to one another, “Peace be with you” — proclaimed God’s forgiveness and God’s desire for us to forgive, reconcile and heal. Other children join Matthew and his mom in a circle-dance in the centre aisle. Occasionally — especially if there are no children in attendance — three of our elder women step in to dance. I dance some Sundays, too, and can testify that it is hard not to smile, laugh out loud and feel alive when you are dancing in church.
Matthew is growing up. Sadly, he is becoming more self-conscious and reluctant to lead the dancing. Worship doesn’t seem right without it.
The quote, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution,” is attributed to feminist and anarchist Emma Goldman. She didn’t say those exact words, but she did say something longer and like it. In her 1931 autobiography, Living My Life, Goldman describes being reprimanded by a fellow anarchist for dancing with reckless abandon. It was not befitting, claimed her admonisher, for a social revolutionary to dance so wildly. Goldman says she shot back that she “did not believe that a cause which stood for a beautiful ideal, for anarchism, for release and freedom from conventions and prejudice, should demand the denial of life and joy.”
That recollection of Goldman’s was later condensed by a T-shirt printer into the more familiar declaration. Since then, it has found its way onto millions of T-shirts, buttons and bumper stickers around the world.
Those of us involved in the Jesus revolution, those of us committed to his beautiful ideal, those of us who are sober agents of social, economic, environmental transformation, could do with a little more dancing when we get together. On Sunday mornings, when the impossibility of God’s call weighs heavy on our shoulders, or when we have examined our lives and heard the assurance by the preacher of God’s love, a good breakout dance segment is just the thing, liturgically speaking.
We should dance, too, when we make our offerings. When I visited Ghana Calvary Methodist United in Toronto, the plates were passed among the pews, envelopes and crisp bills collected. Then the preacher announced that the offering could not be brought forward until the ushers felt inspired to dance. The singing started. Rich African harmonies intensified. The tempo mounted. A sound of surrender to joy filled the room. At the back of the sanctuary, the ushers’ bodies began to sway in time with the music. Our singing blended with our desire to cheer them on and raised the roof with glory. When the time was right, they danced down the centre aisle. By then, we were all dancing with them. The preacher shouted, “for God loves a cheerful giver!” (2 Corinthians 9.7b).
The revolution to which Jesus calls his disciples is a demanding one. There is struggle, suffering and sacrifice. Like Goldman, however, I do not believe that a cause which stands for a beautiful ideal, for release and freedom from conventions and prejudice, should demand the denial of life and joy. There should be some dancing too.