Dancing with Protest and Promise

Dancing
A sermon for Trinity Sunday, June 7,2020. The scripture readings are Genesis 1:1-2:4a and Matthew 28:16-20.

You can watch the sermon HERE.

This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about dancing. Not about going dancing or about taking some kind of online class. The dance I have in mind is slower. The moves are both simpler and more complicated. And it’s a dance that has already begun around us, and will likely continue for a long time.

I’m thinking of several dances at once, really, but the underlying one is the dance of God, the motion and movement of the Holy Trinity at work in our world to bring love, to make justice, to change hearts, and to create a new world.

Our first reading was from Genesis, as we heard part of the tale of creation. I imagine God’s making the world almost as a kind of dance of hands. God’s long, beautiful arms call forth, calm the chaos, push forms into place, stir up life, and bless it all.

The Gospel can be imagined as a kind of ballet in which Jesus is surrounded by his followers for final instructions. He’s lifted up and from that place he gives direction—”go out,” he says. “Wash, water, and renew with baptism. And go out knowing that the steps and turns and jumps and rolls that you’ll do, I have done before, and my spirit, my Christly choreography will animate you to the end of days.”

As I’ve watched so many protests and demonstrations this week, and been in several, I’ve noticed a dancing quality to them. The Vigil at Carl Schurz Park is quiet and slow. People sit down in silence, but then for 8 minutes and 46 seconds (the length of time that the Minneapolis policeman held his knee on the neck of George Floyd) people raise an arm. Arms are raised in affirmation that Black Lives Matter, that racism must be faced and dealt with in our laws, our institutions, our families, and ourselves; and (I think) as a kind of dance-like affirmation of our bodies. We are here. We can move and be part of a movement for change.

Another strain of the dance has taken place as thousands go over bridges and move from place to place with strength and purpose. At various times, usually with no words, but with signals picked up from body to body, people kneel, they take a knee—begun by football quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who famously began to kneel during the national anthem to call attention to racism in the US.

In Newark, a demonstration ended with a street dance. Everyone began doing the “cupid shuffle,” and the police joined in. In Puerto Rico, demonstrators break into a bomba, and in New Zealand, the Haka celebrates Maori pride and culture.

Last Sunday, as protests were heating up in Santa Monica, California, a man named Jo’Artis Ratti walked right up to the police, announced he was there for peace, and started dancing. Ratti is one of the originators of the style of dance knowns as krump, an aggressive dance that began as an expression of black and brown rage in the face of Rodney King, police and gang violence, poverty, and drugs. As Ratti explained in a video by the Washington Post, “How else do we cry to the grotesque….I can’t just whimper over something like this…”

One of the most moving examples of protest dance in our time came out of Chile in the late 1970s and 80s. After a United States-backed coup in 1973, which overthrew the democratically-elected government, General Pinochet began his brutal regime, exiling, arresting, or killing all opposition. More than 3,000 people, mostly men, were simply “disappeared” or made to vanish by government forces. The women of Chile took the cueca, named the national dance by the Pinochet dictatorship in 1979, and refashioned it as the cueca sola, danced alone by one woman, in memory, in protest of the husband, father, or son who had been taken from her.

The musician Sting, wrote a song about this, calling it “Cueca Solo, They dance alone.”

Dancing with the missing
They’re dancing with the dead
They dance with the invisible ones
Their anguish is unsaid
They’re dancing with their fathers
They’re dancing with their sons
Dancing with their husbands
They dance alone
They dance alone

But while they seemed to be dancing alone, they were dancing alone, together, and their dancing inspired a movement of women who began dancing louder and louder from Chile to Argentina to El Salvador, through Latin America and the world.

And so, we dance. Sometimes alone, sometimes together. There are many in our country who say, “but we’re tired of doing the same old dance, and nothing has changed, or very little has changed.” Why should we go on?

Because God dances with us.

Today is Trinity Sunday and it’s an especially good time for us to remember one image that has been used to describe the movement of the Holy Trinity. The early church spoke of God’s indwelling, with God’s mutual outpouring and movement into. The Trinity was understood as a dynamic: the God the Creator always pouring love and light and energy into the Christ, Christ always pouring himself into the Spirit, and the Spirit moving back into and around the Creator/Parent and Christ/Child. The word that theologians used to describe this continual activity of God is very close to the Greek work for dance, and so it became a popular way of speaking of the Trinity as a kind of dance of love.

The Brazilian theologian, Leonardo Boff argues for in increased focus on what he calls the “social trinity,” another way of describing our dancing God. Boff writes,

What does it mean to say God is in communion and therefore Trinity? . . . . It means one is in the presence of the other, different from the other but open in a radical mutuality. For there to be true communion there must be direct and immediate relationships: eye to eye, face to face, heart-to-heart. The result of mutual surrender and reciprocal community. Community results from personal relationships in which each is accepted as he or she is, each opens to the other and gives the best of himself or herself [Holy Trinity, Perfect Community, p. 3].

We may be bad dances. We may be shy. If we’re white and privileged, the old joke that we have no rhythm is probably a good one to keep in mind for humility’s sake, so we can listen and learn how to move, where the dance is leading, how God’s Holy Trinity is working through people and movements and systems for new life. No matter how awkward we might be, God extends a hand and invites us to join the dance, this eternal trinity of love and movement and new life, and to include more and more people in the dance.

That powerful song by Sting, offers hope that is nothing short of biblical. It sings:

One day we’ll dance on their graves [the graves of the oppressors]
One day we’ll sing our freedom
One day we’ll laugh in our joy
And we’ll dance.

May God help us to grow in humble strength and strong humility, that we might move in step with the Holy Trinity.

About John F. Beddingfield

Rector of The Church of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal) in New York City on East 88th Street between 1st Ave and 2nd Ave.
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