A while back I was regularly attending a large church. A charismatic, Pentecostal church. I loved the freedom I felt there. It was open and progressive with its diverse congregation and the loving way everyone seemed to be received. There was an atmosphere of acceptance. The church abounded with young people from the local college who came there because of the non-regimented, unorthodox methods of praise and worship for which it was known; along with older more established couples with families, and seniors. A very good mix of people of differing socio-economic backgrounds worshipped together there. The messages from the pulpit were timely and well presented and accented with contemporary music adeptly performed by very talented musicians and singers.
A beautiful couple who was hard to overlook began to come there. The brother was a full blooded American Indian. That was rare; even in our well-mixed congregation. I don’t know to which tribe he belonged; except we were pleased he belonged to our Christian tribe. He was about six feet tall, dark, olive-skinned, muscular and beautiful with long, jet black hair. His race was obvious because of his physical features; but when praise and worship began his heritage became undeniably clear as he began to dance before the Lord.
The syncopated stepping with the soundless stomp began gradually as he moved with his head down toward the front of the sanctuary where most of us would gather to dance. Then bigger movements came, as he lifted his hands and swayed to and fro and side to side; just seeming to surrender himself in the dance. It was beautiful. He, despite his large stature, was as graceful as a ballet dancer, and yet powerful and mighty with his black hair swinging behind him. He leaped and twirled across the front of the sanctuary with his arms outstretched, his head uplifted and a look of sheer abandon on his face. You simply could not take your eyes off him. His dancing was totally different from anything any other person was doing. He stood out. I tried not to stare, but it was a beautiful thing to see and impossible not to study at least for a moment. Seeing him dance with such fluidity was inspiring in itself. After the first time of watching him and allowing my attentions to be drawn into the uniqueness of it, I forced myself not to focus on him during the time when we all were supposed to be participating in praise ourselves. But it was difficult. There is something special about witnessing a man freely expressing praise to God. When men throw off their normal armor of stalwartness, let loose and dance with spiritual abandon I find it uplifting and it, somehow, makes me proud to see them worship God that way. The distinctiveness with which this brother danced was an added thrill. He danced like few of us had probably ever witnessed firsthand. It was hard not to watch him. It was a blessing to see him. I was proud, thinking “How wonderful for him to be here. Where else could he go and be free to dance this way? This is good.”
I began to look for him and his wife when I came to worship service; hoping he would dance. He usually did. They were really nice people. She wasn’t Indian, but just as beautiful as him. She danced too, but not with the same ancestral style or any special uniqueness. I made acquaintance with them quickly. They seemed happy and expressed how glad they were to have found this church. I never detected any more than what I considered a genuine desire to belong from either of them. Like everyone else, they expressed the pleasure they felt at finding this lovely fellowship. Soon enough they blended in. He continued to dance and we all got used to seeing him do what he did. His unusual style of worship became just something that happened along with the variety of other peoples’ methods of praise and worship.
One service came and I noticed that they weren’t there. I missed them and told them so when I saw them the following Sunday. They timidly thanked me for saying it. He didn’t dance.
The next Sunday she came without him. When I went and sat beside her to hug her and say hello, I asked where her husband was. She answered that he was at home, but there was obviously some evidence of pain in her face. I leaned in closer and asked her what the matter was. Was everything alright? She asked me to keep them in my prayers and said that they were having a few problems. I didn’t pry, but being a veteran married person myself, I reassured her that things would work out; encouraged her to trust God and promised to keep them in my prayers. I told her how I just loved seeing the two of them together and how much I loved to see my brother dance.
“They asked him not to dance”she told me flatly; the hurt pouring out along with her words.
My initial response was disbelief; then indignation; then curiosity; then sorrow, “What? Who? Why?”
She tried to explain without sounding bitter or affected. She seemed to agree it was best. It had something to do with them having marital problems and the pastor thinking he should refrain from dancing because of his infidelity. I patted her hand and said something totally insufficient to alleviate the obvious wound I thought she must be carrying; not about the dancing, but perhaps regarding what they were going through as a couple. I was embarrassed for her and for all of us.
It bothered me for days. I barely understood and hardly agreed. Was being sinless and without blemish a prerequisite for praise? Is there a checklist of sins that you have to pass unchecked before you are allowed to express gratitude or worship to your Saviour? Which particular sin is the “no dancing” sin? I’d better find out pretty soon, seeing as how I often dance too. I didn’t want to think of the leadership of our congregation in such a negative way, but the word “jealousy” kept coming to mind.
Finally, I went to the pastor and asked him. Did he forbid the brother to dance, and if so, why? He confirmed that he had talked to the couple and was in their confidence about many things. He trusted me enough to tell me the underlying reasons for forbidding the brother to continue to dance during the worship services. He confided that the “spirit” of the brother’s dancing was wrong. It had more to do with lust than praise, he informed me. He went on to assure me that the discernment he had, as the pastor and leader, allowed him to see more beneath the surface of what the rest of us may have observed. It was not appropriate, he said, for the brother to continue to dance before the congregation as things stood now. He said he was counseling with the couple and that it would help if I would call and encourage her.
It sounded reasonable while I was hearing it, and I had no counterpoint that I was brave enough to make at the time. The more I considered it, however, the less right it seemed. My thoughts vacillated between “the pastor knows what he’s doing” and “who are they to tell the brother not to dance?” I could not help but suspect the smallness of underlying envy and, God forbid, racism. I didn’t want to believe that.
I saw the brother in church a very few times after that and then, his wife continued to come alone, but soon I didn’t see either of them. I felt like leaving myself, following those events. No one ever did anything to me that I could register as a complaint. I was always treated lovely by everyone. There were other things at times, of course, but I was sensitized. And since churches are filled with humans, there’s no need to expect perfection. One must always consider grace.
I have no idea what was going on in that brother’s life. It never crossed my mind to consider whether he was “worthy” to dance. I dance when I dance because God is worthy, surely not because I am. I’ll dance because I’m full of sorrow; or full of joy; because of how I feel, or in spite of how I feel. Who knows why the brother danced? I never asked him. I wonder if whoever it was who decided he should not dance, ever asked him why he danced. I just hoped it didn’t damage his soul. I hope he still worships the Lord fervently with reckless abandon. Obviously, there may just have been things about the situation that I didn’t understand. Spiritual matters are more real than we sometimes want to admit. I have to examine my own intent on some of the things that I do which other people may regard as wonderful, generous, kind. So the brother’s dancing could have been born of any number of things, but it never entered my mind that it was for me to judge what those may have been. It’s no different than someone singing, or playing an instrument in church. Shall we go through the choir and sit a few folks down? Oh well, the point is moot now. It’s done. They wouldn’t let him dance.
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