David Dancing Dangerously

Notes from www.billbrucewords.com
Sunday, July 15, 2018
Trinity on Church UC, Kitchener

Text: 2 Samuel 6

As we go marching, marching in the beauty of the day
A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts gray
Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses
For the people hear us singing
“Bread and roses! Bread and roses!”

None of us sang along with video of that old labour hymn this morning  (more verses are appended at the end of these notes).  After worship, several made the connection with the ‘Bread and Roses’ cooperative housing redevelopment of the old button factory at Queen and Courtland, but only one knew the origins of the name.  How soon has Kitchener de-industrialized and forgotten!

A century ago, the hymn was well-known in Methodist chapels like ours.  When the fights to get children out of factory work, to get women the vote, men a shorter work-week with a Lord’s Day Alliance, and less addiction with the Women’s Christian Temperance Union – we knew the tunes.  God was not neutral, and each church stood for some things, and against other things.

Now, we have exported child labour out of sight, to produce the cheap clothing we enjoy in this heat wave, work is ‘24/7’, and addictions are soaring and now de-criminalized, while our God, and our church, just loves everybody equally.  Our former passion and compassion is trivialized:

Most people think that the church
is an institution dedicated to the proposition
that somebody, somewhere, is having fun - 
and it has got to be stopped! 

Dana Carvey on Saturday Night Live captured it in the ‘church lady’ character, with her pursed lips and bitter self-righteousness: no drinking, no dancing - it might lead to sex! That act had legs because of an element of truth. 

Religion is not just about inhibiting bad behaviour. It is also about dis-inhibition of good behaviour, including celebration that rouses us from apathy.  Surely God – and a people of God - are not impartial, but against evil – and for good!

We’ve been hearing stories of David through the summer cycle. Today, we heard how he consolidated his power in Jerusalem, the city of David. He centralizes worship, moving ‘the-ark-of-the-covenant’, or ‘the-God-in-a-box’, to Jerusalem.  Moses had carried it, Joshua had followed it, till it resided in Shechem through the period of the Judges.  This was a powerful symbol.

They move the ark, the cart hits a bump on the way into Nacon’s barn, Uzzah reaches out to steady it, and God strikes him dead. It’s powerful, magical stuff, this old religion that shaped a people into reverence. People still make nervous jokes to me when they return from long absences, lest God strike them.  But the sin here was trying to ‘help’ God, to control the symbol – not coming home!

David decides it’s powerful stuff, this ark, and too much risk to bring under his own roof as if he controlled it. Park the ark at Obed-edom’s place up on the hill! Turns out risks lead to rewards, and risk-taker Obed-edom finds blessing - so David wants the ark nearer after all, under his roof, within his city walls, as he had originally planned.  Fear, awe, reverence, and risk, are all connected here. 

As the ark moves, David dances ahead of the parade, wearing only a linen ephod miniskirt, making a fool of himself, giddy with joy and anticipation of the blessings he already enjoys, and the ones he anticipates. Think of a young rabbi on Simcha Torah – or go visit that festival this October 2, welcoming year 5779!  As one ad puts it, keep the ‘joy’ in Judaism, and not just the ‘oy’!  

As David dances into town, his new wife Michal is scandalized. She’s daughter of Saul, an uptown girl, a diplomatic marriage from old money added to a couple of other wives that David already enjoys. She thinks she has married down. She is wrong. We in our subculture suffered similar sins in this 3rd generation of the United Church of Canada, become ‘mainline’ and ‘respectable’ and ‘established’.

Our Methodist movement started with passion, and our religious roots are in the Great Awakening, and Second Great Awakening, camp meetings of repressed farmers, and frenzied release of emotions in worship, as the Spirit moved. We had no media, audio or video. Were we more alone, or lonely than people now? No wonder that religious revivals challenge Harvey Cox’s ‘Secular City’.

In the 19th century, Marx and followers accused Wesley’s Methodists of thwarting revolution in industrial England, redirecting energy into personal piety with communal celebration.  Wesley himself fretted that his early disciples were too successful in becoming middle class and morally lax – like us?  In the 20th 

There are risks, and rewards, to a heart-felt religion of passion and celebration. This is the other side of the coin to the more recognized religion of compassion and care. How long can either survive without the other? Not long. 

This crazy story about moving ‘the-god-in-a-box’ (a term coined by Jim in our spring study of Joshua in light of ‘Settlers and Anarchists in Israel and Canada’) has an element of magical, supernatural phenomena evoking fear.  We kept translating ‘fear God’ as ‘revere God’ in recent decades, but something is lost from what Kierkegaard called ‘fear and trembling’, Tillich ‘ground of our being’.

Michal says ‘David don’t do it, you’re making a fool of yourself!’ David says ‘I will do it like a fool. It’s not about me, but about God.’ Michal was barren, lonely, however self-righteous, proper, with pursed lips of disapproval: beautiful, but barren, Dana Carvey’s ‘Church Lady’.  

Charles Taylor’s essay, “The Future of the Religious Past”, anticipated renewal of the ancient rites of faith, which I see in the ‘emerging church’ movement. Enlightenment traditions of reason and moral rules have risked the heart and passion of religion, the sense of magic, music and of dance affirming life. What’s left can become mere moralism, with scolding lectures – and no dancing. 

Taylor uses Durkheim as the name for old religions in which community and cult were united in one way of feeling, knowing, and doing.  He then adds prefixes ‘paleo’, ‘neo’, and post’ to the term, to describe how we disenchanted moderns try to reproduce that experience, in our context, parallel to the way people try to reinvent other ideologies, movements or practices.

You don’t have to love the Rolling Stones to be saved. Some people prefer Duke Ellington, and Louis Armstrong, but the point is the same: ‘It ain’t worth a thing, if it ain’t got that swing’. What makes me dance, or at least sway or tap a toe?  Very few slur my ethnic subculture as people who ‘sure got rhythm’!

I tried, however awkwardly, to connect this primitive sense of the holy, worship and spirituality, with its fears and tears, its celebration and dancing, to our advocacy and partisanship in favour of just changes and opposition to unjust status quo.  Each of us has to confess how we feel about God, and how our God and our religious community stands in relationship to the status quo.

Psalm 51:8 sings it this way: 
 Let me hear joy and gladness - 
Teach these broken bones to dance
Let the bones you have broken dance

The Bread and Roses video reminds me that it’s not absolute inequality, but comparative inequality, and our mobility and the direction of change, which drives passions.   With hindsight, it’s easy to recognize the prophets of the past, but with time, it’s easy to tame and obscure their emotional impact.  I offered a series of examples:

Emma Goldman, the free-thinker anarchist who endorsed targeted assassination of industrialists and politicians, birth control and universal suffrage, was extradited from the US to Russia after President McKinley’s assassination.  Nowadays, her poster, T-shirt and bumper-sticker is:

If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution

My copy of her 2 volume autobiography “Living My Life” from 1931, says that once she was scolded for dancing at a party in New York,  and told:

“that it did not behove an agitator to dance.  Certainly not with such reckless abandon, anyway…. I did not believe that a Cause which stood for a beautiful ideal, for anarchism, for release and freedom form conventions and prejudice, should demand the denial of life and joy.  I insisted that our Cause could not expect me to become anon and that the movement should not be turned into a cloister.  If it meant that, I did not want it.”

Mikhail Bakunin, an older Russian anarchist than Emma Goldman, focused on building collective organizations to balance to escalating power of the state, and opposing the rising ideology of statism.   Bakunin is credited, without citation with this poster, T-shirt and bumper-sticker:

Class consciousness is knowing what side of the fence are you on.
Class analysis is knowing who is there with you.

Mahatma Ghandi has become an icon of non-violence, but we forget that he was non-violent in civil disobedience, not in supporting the unjust status quo.  His witness has been reduced to this poster, t-shirt and bumper-sticker:

“Be the change you want to see”

Compare Gandhi’s own words (and actions): 
“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. ... 
We need not wait to see what others do.”

Another slogan captured and used by politicians across the political spectrum for varying purposes is the poster, T-shirt, and bumper-sticker:

Are you part of the solution, or part of the problem?

Does it change that message to credit it to its author, Eldridge Cleaver, leader of the Black Panthers, before his exile to Cuba – and his return to the US as a Mormon and a Republican:

'There is no more neutrality in the world. You either have to be part of the solution, or you're going to be part of the problem.'

200 years ago, the British Empire planned a conservative colony in Upper Canada with landed gentry, and an established church.  Future nobility were granted huge tracts of land, and the Anglican Church given 1 lot in 7 of Crown Land, or ‘Queen’s Bush’, to finance its work.  Our Methodist pastors like Egerton Ryerson could not conduct a legal wedding, or register a birth by baptism.  Our members could not take a government job, hold military commission, go to college – till after the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837.  

Feelings ran high still at the 1841 Wesleyan Methodist Conference: 

Q:  What are the sentiments of this Conference on the measure which has been adopted by the Imperial Parliament, on the question of the Clergy Reserves in Upper Canada?

1.    That we feel deeply aggrieved that unmerited injustice has been done to the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Canada, as well as to several other legally recognized denomination of Christian in Upper Canada, by the unequal and unjust provisions of that Act – so different from every expression of opinion and feeling which has every been made by the inhabitants of Upper Canada – so opposed to the recorded opinions of both branches of the Provincial Legislature, and the strong and reiterated opinions of His Excellency the Governor General of Canada.

2.    That, notwithstanding we feel ourselves, as a body, injured and aggrieved by the invidious and partial provisions of that Act, we recommend, in the present circumstances of the country, an abstinence from any re-agitation of the question.  We submit to it as a law, for conscience sake, whilst our representatives properly remonstrated against it as a bill.

In light of the new Ontario provincial government, and its throne speech on Friday, and how feelings are still running high among us, I commended this tradition of political partisanship, and a presumption of civil obedience, to your consideration.  I look forward to our study of Romans 13 in August!

David was ‘dancing dangerously’ in the scripture we heard today.  Contrast the fates of Uzzah, trying to ‘help’ and ‘keep control’ of God, and of Michal, beautiful and barren.  Tell me about your God, and your church, and our partisanship – and God grant you a heart to dance dangerously with us!


Bread and Roses

As we go marching, marching in the beauty of the day
A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts gray
Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses
For the people hear us singing: 
“Bread and roses! Bread and roses!”

As we come marching, marching, we battle too for men
For they are women's children, and we mother them again
Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes
Hearts starve as well as bodies; 
give us bread, but give us roses!

As we go marching, marching, unnumbered women dead
Go crying through our singing their ancient song of bread
Small art and love and beauty their drudging spirits knew
Yes, it is bread we fight for - but we fight for roses, too!

As we come marching, marching, we bring the greater days
The rising of the women means the rising of the race
No more the drudge and idler — ten that toil where one reposes
But a sharing of life's glories: 
Bread and roses! Bread and roses!

Our lives shall not be sweated
from birth until life closes
Hearts starve as well as bodies;
Bread and roses! Bread and roses!