DANCING IS SIN, according to what preachers told me during what could have been my breakout years as a child prodigy.
It could have been Fred Astaire, John Travolta, and then Stephen M. Miller.
Instead, when it came time to learn square-dancing in phys-ed class in grade school, my pastor wrote a note asking the school to please excuse me “for religious reasons.”
I sat on a bench against the wall with David Phillips, who had a broken leg.
That may be where I began my career as a writer because I still remember some of the square-dancing calls I created during those classes.
Swing your partner round and round.
Pick her up and throw her down.
We guys didn’t like girls much back then.
The first time I actually attempted to dance in public was at my son’s wedding. I danced with my daughter-in-law. When it came time for the open-floor dancing where everyone does the chicken dance and an assortment of other flailing motions, I had to get dragged up there by a cousin I hadn’t seen since childhood. Everyone else knew better.
A couple of years later, when my daughter got married, I actually took dancing lessons to prep for the father-daughter dance. You can see it here: Father of the bride, the dance.
I would have sent a copy of the bill to my childhood pastor, but he’s dead and probably dancing in heaven.
“Hallelujah! Sing to GOD a brand new song…praise his name in dance; strike up the band and make great music” (Psalm 149:1, 3).
Preachers can think up the strangest rules for us to follow. Rules that seem more about their personal pet peeves and struggles than about Bible and Spirit-led teachings on how to live a Christian life.
Church rules can become our traditions, for better or worse.
I had the tradition of not going to the movies. Pastors told the congregations I attended that going to the movies was a sin.
I never saw a movie until I moved 800 miles from home to attend seminary. My introduction to Hollywood was a terrible movie based on a bestselling book written by a college campus chaplain, Hal Lindsey: “The Late Great Planet Earth.”
If Hal had gotten it right, Jesus would have been here by now.
The first time I took a sip of wine was in the home of Lutheran ministers in Germany. I’ve read that wine is an acquired taste. If I’m any indication, wine consumed with German food is a taste acquired instantly. It was delicious.
I grew up being told not to touch the stuff, and that the wine in the Bible was grape juice.
Fact is, grapes crushed in the heat of the Holy Land’s August and September begin to ferment right away. Bible wine kicked.
Either way, Jesus didn’t seem to favor grape juice over wine: “No one who has ever tasted fine aged wine prefers unaged wine” (Luke 5:39).
When pastors and other religious leaders wash our brains with warped traditions that we live year after year, it’s hard to break free of them – even after we realize they’re warped.
It takes time to change our behavior.
Remember what happened to Paul after he saw the Light on the road to Damascus, and realized that – contrary to what Jewish leaders were teaching – Jesus was the Messiah?
Paul was on his way to Damascus to arrest Jewish followers of Jesus. Instead, he ends up getting baptized.
After that, he goes off the grid for more than a decade: “I went away into Arabia” (Galatians 1:17). Scholars guess he did that to figure out a new set of religious traditions since his visit from Jesus had convinced him his old traditions were outdated now that Jesus had come, died, and risen from the dead.
That’s what it takes to break a wrong tradition.
First we have to realize it’s not a solid tradition. Then we have to process that realization. That takes time. And practice. Often, lots of both.
I’m still better at writing square-dancing calls than at swinging my partner round and round.
Though I was pretty good at writing those calls even in grade school.
Swing your partner round and round
Throw her in the toilet,
And flush her down.
As I said, we guys didn’t like girls much back then.
I outgrew that tradition. It took time. And practice. Lots of practice. Which was fun.
Thanks be to God.