Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Dancing to different drummers


Late Saturday afternoon, in the office to get ready for tomorrow morning. After a break to see She Stoops to Conquer, back to  church.  The Antigona cast I southside the 86th Street door, smoking. I once wrote that I think flamenco dancers do that to keep from spontaneously combusting. A delayed dress rehearsal is about to begin.

I sit down beside Dion, who’s become part of the Noche crew. I intend to just watch  awhile, but get drawn in, can’t take my eyes away. The cast performs as if there were a full house. When it’s over, we are breathless, then burst into applause. It’s almost ready. Later, Martin will call me and ask for notes.


Today’s theme is Life in the Spirit: Dancing to different drummers
And what is your favorite dance?

As we’ve been doing this season, we begin again with Every time I feel the Spirit.

Our OPENING HYMN is Cantad al Senor, the great Brazilian song. And I remember years ago when Bill Schimmel played with us we had trumpeter Chris Rogers play an almost Mariachi style trumpet above the tune. (So dance for our God, and play all the trumpets…)

We begin our Service of the Word with the story of David dancing before the arc, much to his wife Milcah’s displeasure in  2 Samuel 6: 1-5, 12b-19. We introduce and follow Psalm 24 with the traditional Advent hymn, Lift Up Your Heads Ye Mighty Gates.

And then one of my favorite stories, the beheading of John the Baptist in Mark 6: 1-13.  I shared my rewrite of Lord of the Dance as a musical reflection:

I danced in the morning when the world was young 
I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun 
I came down from heaven and I danced on the earth 
At Bethlehem I had my birth 

Dance, dance, wherever you may be 
I am the lord of the dance, said he 
And I lead you all, wherever you may be 
And I lead you all in the dance, said he 

I danced for the preacher, Sunday school teacher too 
They wouldn't dance, they just turned blue
I danced for the fishermen James and John 
They came with me so the dance went on 


I danced with the immigrants, I danced with the poor
I danced with homeless waiting at the door
I danced in the square and I danced in the street
When we all dance together, we’re praying with our feet.

Dance, dance…

They put me on trial and they put me away
They put me in the grave where they thought I would stay
But just when they think that the dance is gone
We all dance again and the dance goes on.

Dance, dance…

And then these thoughts:

Last night, I saw the dress rehearsal for Noche Flamenca’s  Antigona. Dion and I sat there, transfixed.  Every week, Syncopated City  brings their Swing Dance classes and party to our gym like a late Weimar dance hall.  At Lincoln center, the annual Midsummer  Night Swing series has just ended. We’re talking about dancing today.

Our two scripture lessons come at the issue  from  two oddly different directions.
David is bringing the arc back to the city. Dancing ecstatically ( “with all his might”)Wife Milcha is upset. Why? Well he’s wearing an ephod, a wrap around skirt. Traditional commentators say he was exposing himself.  At our Bible study last Wednesday, one of my clergy colleagues suggested that she was upset because his unseemly behavior for a king  was also the attracting attention of  young women.

Then we have the Salome ( Herodias in this version) story. She  is dancing for Herod. (I thought of that as a possible theme…) I have so many connections with this story. I remember seeing our former member  Lauren Flanigan with the San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas singing the aria from this scene from Richard Strauss’ opera based on Oscar Wilde’s play. In which Salome has fallen in love with Jochannan. Her desire for is head comes from spurned love. The aria , a love song to the severed head on a plate , is filled with with dark eroticism and passion. Her performance made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.  Probably one of  the top 5 music experiences in my life.

The there was the woman bartender in New Orleans  with the  entire Aubrey Beardsley pen and ink of this scene tattooed down her left arm. Took my breath away. She was impressed that I could name the subject, the artist and the play that inspired it.

Dark. Heavy stuff.

The church troubled history with dance. When I was a kid, we had to have a special session vote for a church teen party with records and dancing.

When I was min Tulsa, there was this  joke about Baptists:
Why don’t Baptists ever make love standing up?
They’re afraid someone might think that they  are dancing.

 This is odd because the Jewish tradition we come from is filled with dance. Friday night services at B’Nai Jeshurun ,you will almost always see dancing. And then there’s Simhat Torah,a t the end of the fall holidays, when they close down West End Avenue and dance al night  with the Torahs. (Sort of negates the whole Jews burdened with the law idea, that dancing…) And I wonder, what would it take to get us dancing in the street?

Then there is what Andre told us about, the Black church tradition of getting happy or pew jumpin’. There is nopw the new phenomenon of  new liturgical dance  and white gloved dance worship teams.

Then there is the Shaker tradition…They didn’t believe in sex, which they dealt with by making great furniture  and having exciting dances. Our final song today comes from that tradition. (Another  great memory…my percussionist friend  Greg Byer bringing accordionist extraordinaire Bill Schimmel to us. He threw a Cajun accordion on top of the song, driving it. Then wound up staying for a year…)

SO, What’s the point? On Samuel, when we were rehearsing last Friday Jeremy said  if you’re going to dance in the street, keep your pants on.
On Mark:  well, the easy placed for me to go would be with a critique of empire. How the empire makes us dance. Like in the old westerns where the bad guy shoots at the feet of the greenhorn and says dance. How Herod had reason to fear John the Baptist given his betrayal of his Arabian wife and the possible alliance of John's followers and the angry Nabateans.  And Mark was clearly satirizing how the empire acts.  Herod has his whole socio-religio-political elite entourage with him. And he demands the head of the prophet to save face for his own drunken oath.  I’ll take your head to save my face. So it is.

(John tells su that because this event was Herod's birthday party, Jehovah's witnesses do not celebrate birthdays...)

But I’d rather raise the question, to whose drums do you dance?

As I think about it, we can dance to :
* manipulate, like Salome
*capitulate, like Herod to the Romans
*celebrate:, like David.  I remember Emma Goldman, saying I won’t be part of a revolution where I can’t dance. Or all the young people dancing in the gym at the CD release party for Love Songs for the Rest of Us.
* communicate, like Noche and Antigona
(I’m trying to figure out these young adult parties where they all wear their own headsets and dance to their own selected music. Adult parallel play?)
* or simply to Create

Our closing song today, from the Shaker tradition, the Lord of the Dance in its original version (and mine), has  Jesus as the dance. In the dance. That which is bigger than all of us. And which goes on after his physical presence ended. Jesus IN the dance itself and when we are in it, we are in him and he in us and that is a communal (community) experience….

We need to keep making our dance. …When  we all dance together, we’re praying with our feet…

Andre prepares us for prayer with  Steal Away,  reminding us that it was originally a song to communicate among slaves when the underground railroad was passing through. When it was time to steal away.

We finished with High Praise, which took me all the way back to Larry Woodard days when my intern brought this song to us.  And of course, we finished with Amen, with little Xavier holding Andre’s hand and joining  in.


Late in the afternoon, after a Cymbeline in Central Park, I stop back. To greet the Stop Mass Incarceration Network as they go about planning and organizing for an October mass rally against police violence. I ponder the day. Our service, followed by the Koreans. Followed by the Francophone Africans. Followed by the communists. Different theologies, equally religious. That's us.

Planning for "Rise Up October" 


1David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. 2David and all the people with him set out and went from Baale-judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the LORD of hosts who is enthroned on the cherubim.3They carried the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart 4with the ark of God; and Ahio went in front of the ark. 5David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the LORD with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.
12bSo David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing; 13and when those who bore the ark of the LORD had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling.14David danced before the LORD with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod. 15So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet.
16As the ark of the LORD came into the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart.
17They brought in the ark of the LORD, and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt offerings and offerings of well-being before the LORD. 18When David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the offerings of well-being, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD of hosts, 19and distributed food among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, to each a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins. Then all the people went back to their homes.

1The earth is the LORD's and all that is in it,
the world, and those who live in it;
2for he has founded it on the seas,
and established it on the rivers.
3Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
4Those who have clean hands and pure hearts,
who do not lift up their souls to what is false,
and do not swear deceitfully.
5They will receive blessing from the LORD,
and vindication from the God of their salvation.
6Such is the company of those who seek him,
who seek the face of the God of Jacob.
7Lift up your heads, O gates!
and be lifted up, O ancient doors!
that the King of glory may come in.
8Who is the King of glory?
The LORD, strong and mighty,
the LORD, mighty in battle.
9Lift up your heads, O gates!
and be lifted up, O ancient doors!
that the King of glory may come in.
10Who is this King of glory?
The LORD of hosts,
he is the King of glory.

14King Herod heard of it, for Jesus' name had become known. Some were saying, "John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him." 15But others said, "It is Elijah." And others said, "It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old." 16But when Herod heard of it, he said, "'John, whom I beheaded, has been raised."
17For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, because Herod had married her. 18For John had been telling Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." 19And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 20for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. 21But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. 22 When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, "Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it." 23And he solemnly swore to her, "Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom." 24She went out and said to her mother, "What should I ask for?" She replied, "The head of John the baptizer." 25Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, "I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter." 26The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John's head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, 28brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. 29When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

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