Write Lightning is a blog from writer Deb Thompson.
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Wed, Oct 10 2007

Dancing toward the gate: A metaphor for excluding or including?

While reading about the upcoming California Indian Conference I was hooked by a particular mention of the Pentecostal church. That denomination, along with other factors, was mentioned as one of the reasons for the dwindling of the traditional dance presentations that were given by Bokeya Pomo Indians. I don't know enough about the history of either the Pentecostal movement or the Bokeya Pomo Indians to know why this might be true. I grew up decades ago in rural Missouri, where the local Pentecostal churches frowned upon dance, though I think they were talking about couples embracing and dancing together. Their own worship services were not free from body movements, because those who rose up to praise "in the Spirit" were often apt to use body movement to accompany ecastatic language. Nowadays, some Pentecostal congregations participate in praise dancing as a regular part of worship, as do other Christian denominations.

I don't know if this type of dance has replaced the Bokeya Pomo Indians traditional dances, or if the article meant to say something else. But I found the statement interesting. When Christian believers work to convert others to their beliefs, they often throw the baby out with the bath water when it comes to encouraging new believers to shed their old skin. It seems to me that we can find ways to preserve some of these arts, not to glorify what we presume to be pagan, but to acknowledge the dignity of certain rituals in their attempts to reach out to God in whatever form they were first initiated. Even within the Christian realm of rituals there are countless forms of variation. Take, for example, Communion. In Roman Catholic circles the symbols for Christ's body and blood are thought to change into the real thing. But even within the body of Roman Catholic believers there have been variations and changes to this whole aspect of worship. And while some Christian denominations use fermented wine as a symbol, others use the unfermented juice. Some bypass this particular issue and use only wafers. My particular favorite denomination, The Seventh-day Adventists, practice foot-washing as a preface to the communion service, noting Christ's example of service and humility.

Religion and culture are both dynamic. Both challenge our intellect and our sensory need for companionship with someone smarter and stronger than we are. While some traditions change slowly, others persist. And we can use these slow-changing traditions and beliefs to better understand one another as generations come and go.

If you've ever studied creation stories from various cultures you'll find many elements that seem to be plucked right from the Book of Genesis. Oral traditions and slow modes of travel meant that many of these stories probably did have their roots in that very telling, but time and personal interpretation have molded them into something the listening group could understand and identify with.

Denying a person's anthropological roots and ethnic background seems to me to be a failing among those of us who tend to think it's our job to make sure that folks get in at that "narrow way". We have a tendency to act like bouncers at the entrance to a private club, warning those we deem to be too pagan or worldly that they'll ruin their chances, while that isn't our job at all. We should be enticing, by the way we live our own lives, as many as possible to rush to the gate, whatever their story is to tell. And if they dance a dance along the way, we should be happy about their gift and their talent toward storytelling and praise. We should be strong enough to listen to their story and watch their dance and see the possibilities behind it all. Who knows? They may even be one dance step ahead of us on that journey through the gate.

posted at: 09:59 | category: /Religious and Spiritual | link to this entry

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