Tuesday, November 26, 2013

May God Have This Dance?

It was a first for me.  A lady broke out in dancing during a worship service.  It was January, 1986.  I was in Jamaica on a mission trip.  I was sitting in the church worshiping with the people, waiting for my time to get up and preach.  And suddenly, during the singing, a lady got up and started dancing.  Having been either a Presbyterian or a Baptist for my then 29 years of life, I can honestly say no one ever got up to dance during worship—not even once.  Well, I do remember a kid getting up and wiggling around during the song service in a Baptist church one time, but he wasn’t dancing; he had to go to the bathroom.  Nope, I’d never seen dancing before in worship.
         
But this Jamaican lady cut loose.  It wasn’t a frenetic jig, and she never jumped a pew.  It was more of a rhythmic movement, up and down the center aisle of the little church, twirling and swaying and raising her hands to God in praise and thanksgiving.  It almost had a ballet feel to it.  And there was nothing forced about it either.  You could tell it came from someplace deep inside her heart.  “So what’s with the dance?” I whispered to the Jamaican pastor who was hosting us.  He kind of shrugged his shoulders, as if her dance was the most normal thing in the world, and said, “She just does it when she’s thankful.”

Hmmm.  I couldn’t help picturing worship as a lodge dance.  God is in the stag line, and this Jamaican lady approaches Him and asks, “May I have this dance?”  And she dances with God a dance of gratitude and praise.  Well, I’m not much of a dancer myself.  There’s not a Fred Astaire bone in my body.  I’m not sure I could do a thanksgiving dance to God.  But I can express my gratitude in other ways: words of thanks, kind deeds paid forward for the kindness God has shown to me, generosity in giving for the bountiful gifts God has given me. 

This is Thanksgiving week.  Take time to count your blessings.  Find ways to express your gratitude to God and others.  Even if times are not the best for you right now, you are blessed far more than you realize.  As G. K. Chesterton wrote in a brief poem:

Here dies another day
During which I have had eyes, ears, hands
And the great world round me;
And with tomorrow begins another.
Why am I allowed two?

Why am I allowed two, indeed.  Don’t let this week pass without expressing thanks.  Give thanks to others for sure, but remember the source of your every blessing comes from the kind and gracious hand of God.  So I have but one question for you in this Thanksgiving season: May God have this dance?

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
and his steadfast love endures forever!
(Psalm 136:1)

Monday, November 18, 2013

Bigger

Has it really been fifty years?  I was in second grade at Meadowcliff Elementary School in Little Rock when I heard the news.  The last bell rang.  It was time to walk home like I did every day.  A school crosswalk guard—a sixth-grader, I think—broke the news to the little bunch of us waiting to cross the street.  “They shot the President today,” he said.  “Kennedy is dead.”

“What?  Huh?  The President is dead?”  I was in second grade.  I didn’t know what to make of it.  When I got home, our babysitter was glued to the TV, watching events unfold.  She had been crying.  It was all the discussion at supper too—a kind of deep and pervasive sadness lay across our home like winter’s heaviest blanket.  And even to a second-grader, the world seemed different somehow.

Funny, isn’t it, how some things linger in our memory?  So many of life’s experiences pitch a little tent in our memory, and somewhere along the way, maybe in the night, maybe when we’re sleeping, we never notice that the memory of that experience folds its tent and tiptoes away, forgotten forever.  But for some reason the memory of Kennedy’s assassination didn’t pitch a tent in my memory.  It put down pilings, laid a concrete foundation, and built a brick home.  That memory wasn’t going anywhere.  That memory was staying put.

In reflecting on this 50th anniversary of JFK’s death, I’ve visited that memory yet again.  Like any 50 year old home, that memory is showing some signs of wear.  The door is a bit weathered; the windows could use a good cleaning; the landscaping is a little ragged.  I don’t see things quite as clearly as I once did.  But in spite of its age, that old memory is not going anywhere.

And I think I know why.  On November 22, 1963, the world got bigger for me.  In my little second grade way, I suddenly realized that life was bigger than my family and my neighborhood and my elementary school.  Life was bigger, the world was bigger, than playing army in the woods, riding bikes in the neighborhood, and watching The Flintstones, Huckleberry Hound, and Captain Kangaroo on television.  I was a citizen of a bigger world than all of that.

And it’s not that I was completely na├»ve to bigger things at that tender age of my life.  I distinctly remember being home with the mumps and watching TV coverage of John Glenn’s orbit of the earth.  And my own home was not a happy one: my mom and dad fought a lot—loudly and with slaps and rolling pins now and then.  I remember lying in bed, having a hard time going to sleep, worried sick that when my dad got home, another fight would break out.  But that was local.  That was my home, my life.  In a sick and twisted way, that was my “normal.”

But when Kennedy was murdered, that seemed so much bigger.  Flags were at half-mast.  Everybody talked about it.  The TV showed long lines to view his body, and there were tears, tears, and more tears.  I even saw grown men cry, and in 1962, before men were taught to “get in touch with their feelings,” that was no common sight.  Gloom hung in the air like a thick autumn fog.

Of course, time didn’t stand still for long.  Time marched on as it always does.  And that decade would see an escalation of war in Viet Nam, two more high profile assassinations (Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy), protests, and race riots.  And to top off the decade, in July of 1969, Neil Armstrong took his “one small step for man, but one giant leap for mankind” when he set foot on the moon.  All of that was big stuff too.  All of it made an impact on a growing boy like me.

But by the time I caught those punches, I guess I was toughened up enough to roll with them.  Not that they were easy to take, but not a one of them knocked the wind out of me like the news of that crosswalk guard: “They shot the president today.  Kennedy is dead.”  That’s when I realized the world was a bigger, harsher, more dangerous place than I’d ever imagined.  And maybe that’s why across these five decades, I’ve always had a fascination about that tragic event.

That’s when the world got bigger for me.  When did it get bigger for you?  Pearl Harbor?  The moon landing?  The Iranian hostage crisis?  The attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan?  September 11, 2001?  When you saw the pictures from the Hubble Telescope?  Or maybe it was when some missionary came to your church and showed you slides of pictures you’d only seen in the National Geographic in your school library?  I’m convinced this happens to us all somewhere along the way.  Some crisis, some overwhelming event or image awakens us to the fact that we are small and the world is a large, wonderful, and even frightening thing.


That’s why I’m so grateful that along the line, I ran into something, uh, Someone, who is even bigger.  How much bigger?  Big enough to speak worlds into existence, to fling stars from His fingertips, to ride storms, and to use the earth as a footstool.  Big enough to take on sin and defeat it’s penalty in Jesus Christ who became “the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 Jn. 2:2).  Big enough to take the worst evil that can happen in the world and redeem it, reshape it, bring some good from it all, and one day, the last day, destroy evil once and for all.  God is bigger all right.  And while that comforts me in this big old world of danger and trial, one thing comforts me more: God is even big enough to hold a person like me in the secure and sturdy palm of His good hands.  And whether you're a second-grader or 80 years old, that, my friends, is plenty big enough.