Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Modern Dance: A Sermon

This is the text for the sermon I preached this past Sunday. It's what I call a topical sermon, viz. the exegetical, expositional, narrative, etc. As per usual, what ends up in spoken is 10-15% embellished from the text (especially second service where I couldn't stop being goofy). I have reems of research sitting in folders on my computer, but only a small fraction of it ends up in the sermon.

I found it all a very satisfying experience. More details on the weekend forthcoming.

August 27, 2006
w. david o.taylor
Dance and the Christian Life

Opening comments:

1. Question: How many of you remember Tim Diehl, the dancing MBA guy? How many of you secretly wanted to join him? Our fears about dance: internal (self-conscious) and external (it’s not our culture or our culture is against it).

“Where there is dancing, there is the devil.” ~ John Chrysostom (AD 345-407)

2. But what if in our church culture we didn’t sing. What fears would we have then? That people would sing out of tune or loudly or in disregard of others or that instruments would be off or that worship leaders might not lead well. My response: anything good in this world can be abused.

My point today: Dance can be a way for us to enter more fully into our knowledge of God and our experience of this world.

Three questions this morning:

1. Is there a biblical basis for dance? We as Christians are a people of the Book. What does the good Book have to say?
2. Is dancing good? This is the theological question. What does dancing have to do with God?
3. How can dancing enhance our knowledge of God? This is the devotional question, with both an individual and corporate dimension.

A. A Biblical Consideration

1. King David dances: 2 Samuel 6:12-23.

a. His gender: he’s a man, a male. Dancing is not women’s work, it’s all our work.
b. The ark symbolized the presence of God at its greatest intensity.
c. He dances “before the Lord” (v. 16), in both its specific (religious) and general (our entire lives) sense.
d. His dancing viewed as “undignified” (v. 22). Here we have the upside-down kingdom at work.
e. Michal: punished with barrenness for her judgment.

My main observation: Nowhere in Scripture are David’s actions, his dancing, condemned. Nowhere. We have to remember that.

2. The Psalms: Pss. 149:3 and 150:4 enjoin us to dance.

“Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with tambourine and harp.”

“Praise him with tambourine and dancing, praise him with strings and flute.”

The great Christian hymnal, the Psalter, commands us to dance.

3. What about the future, our life in the new Kingdom? In God’s prophetic word to Israel, in Jeremiah 31:4, about the day in which He would redeem her fully, He says:

“I will build you up again and you will be rebuilt, O Virgin Israel. Again you will take up your tambourines and go out to dance with the joyful.”

Does He mean this literally and not just figuratively or spiritually? Yes. Why? Because Scripture is not against dancing. It may include examples of dancing done for evil purposes or to false gods, but the Bible doesn’t prohibit dance.

My point here: Nowhere in Scripture is dance forbidden. Nowhere. From Miriam’s dancing in Exodus 15 to the dancing that takes place upon the return home of the prodigal son, dance is exemplified, extolled, and commanded.

So let’s put to rest a bit of heresy: The Bible is neither silent nor disapproving of dance. Period. And there’s a good reason for that.

B. A Theological Consideration

1. God is the First Mover and is appropriately described in the language of dance. How so?

a. Perichoresis: this was a term that the early church fathers used to described the inner life of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as a kind of “mutual interpenetration” = to dance (choresis) around (peri).
b. The Scottish theologian T. F. Torrance puts it this way:

“Far from God being inactive in his inner Trinitarian being, it belongs to the essential and eternal nature of his being to move and energise and act.”

Basic to the inner life of God is the movement of love and all of creation is meant to be an expression of this movement.

2. Our bodies were made for expressive movement

To be human, made in the image of God, is to be indivisibly body-soul. A bodiless human is not a fully human person according to Scripture. My body is not something I possess, it is who I am: I am a somebody.

In Genesis 1 God declares our bodies good. In the resurrection of Jesus he declares our bodies eternally good.

And so it is through our bodies that we express our true selves, our thoughts, our feelings, our desires. It is in and through my body that I am David. I cannot be fully David apart from my body. In heaven I will have a resurrected, immortal body. I won’t be a ghost.

LET ME ILLUSTRATE: Let’s take a relationship between a man and a woman. A man and a woman can communicate with each other through verbal, mental, emotional, spiritual means, but if there is no physical communication, then the communication between them cannot be described as full, or even for that matter true. EX: touch. Why? Because God never intended for us to live a physical-less life.

My point: Our bodies, though currently fallen, are God-given, God-blessed means through which to grow into a fullness of maturity, and dance is a way to flesh out the relationship between body and heart. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Let all that is within me bless His holy Name. Let us offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, and in all these ways train our bodies to live in accord with the character of God and to allow them to teach us things that we could not learn apart from our physical selves. EX: sadness and tear ducts; joy and tear ducts
How do we do this? We do it by re-acquainting ourselves with our bodies.

CONGREGATIONAL EXERCISE: led by Susan and Gabriel Bienczycki.

C. A Devotional Consideration

In what ways can dancing strengthen our devotional life, both individually and corporately?

1. Individually, when we make the decision to start dancing, whether alone or with others, we begin to deal with the things that cripple our spiritual lives. In dance we discover the damage that is being done to identity: our insecurities, self-hatred, body-hatred, fear of failure, perfectionism, performance-driven habits, emotional atrophy, isolationism, a debilitating self-consciousness, the fear of other people’s opinion of ourselves, the fear of disapproval, the fear of ridicule, the fear of making mistakes, the fear of rejection, the fear of not being in control—in sum, the fear of man instead of the fear of God.

All of these things, to a smaller or larger degree, rob us of the freedom to be wholly open before God. They rob us of the opportunity to be fully human.

EX: Celeste (Schroeder) Snowbar and dancing anger or grief.

EX: Jack’s hopping up and down.

My point? Our individual experience of dance, as we allow God to release us from fear and to make us wholly alive in our bodies, can become a way for God to make us more integrated. Dancing can be a means of divine healing.

2. Dance can also serve our corporate devotional life.

A Shaker principle:

Sing a little, dance a little, exhort a little, preach a little, pray a little and a good many littles will make you a great deal.”

a. Dance can illustrate and interpret a biblical story or idea. EX: Advent dance of Elizabeth, Zechariah and Angel—vicarious participation in their lives.
b. It can become the sermon: through the language of dance the Word is preached.
c. It can accompany prayers and songs and other art forms
d. It can proclaim the gospel. EX: Gwandara-wara, a tribe that was reached through the language of dance, when everything else had failed.
e. In dance we improvise, we try things out, we take risks, and so we embody the actual life of faith. Dancing requires the same kind of sensitivity to the Spirit that we need in all aspects of our spiritual lives.

“The life of faith does not go in a straight line but turns, falls, sinks, pulls, pushes, releases, clings, pauses, leaps, and dances.”
~ Celeste Snowbar

How do we put this into practice? It’s not easy. You don’t want to contrive something. You don’t want to be false or manipulate. Excess is always a danger. What may seem to be perfectly good to one person may be received as obnoxious and distracting to another. Who decides what’s too much or too little? That’s a hard question.

It reminds us, though, that dancing is fundamentally social. Dancing is a way of relating to other people. So are you going to bust out dancing at the big church down the road where nobody dances? No. That would be un-loving.

The sadness many of us live with is that we, white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, don’t belong to a social culture or a church culture that values dance or that has developed patterns for dancing which we can all learn at a young age and then worry no longer what others think of us because everybody else is dancing too. Not so in African-American culture.

But I do want to illustrate a kind of dance that we could try out.

GROUP EXERCISE: Kareen and Co and a Jewish circle dance.

D. So how shall we then live?

1. I invite you to pray into these things.
2. I invite you to act upon these things.

Ultimately it’s an invitation. It’s not a demand. There’s no pressure. No one can force you to do anything. Why? Because we’re all in this together. We need each other. We need each other’s encouragement. We’re all afraid. Start with baby steps. Start in your bedroom. Start simple. And laugh at yourself often because it is funny. Try things out at least once. Keep praying that God will free you from the fears that you don’t have to be captive to.

You may not be a dancing queen and that’s ok. Very few of us are Annettes or Cecis. But all of us can move. And Christ invites us to move into freedom and grace and power, that power that comes from a life wholly consecrated unto God, a consecrated soul, a consecrated body.

And you know what? When you start dancing, it releases freedom into other people’s lives. When you dance filled with the love of Christ, the joy of Christ, the truth of Christ, you dance with the angels and your dancing becomes a powerful invitation to the freedom of the children of God.

Bishop of Caesarea (AD 407) ~ “Could there be anything more blessed than to imitate on earth the dance of angels and saints?”

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

A Modern Dance event

I guess I've made a record today. Today marks three weeks that I've not blogged. I've become ambivalent about blogging these days. I wonder if it's becoming more of a distraction than a help. Well, my immediate thought is to remind myself that it's simply a tool. It's just a tool. And like all tools, it's there to help. Technology is my friend so long as I'm not a slave.

Anyhoo, here's info I've sent out to our community about a modern dance event we're hosting this weekend. I am a sucker for dance and for dancers, so I can't complain. I'm looking forward to the weekend very much.

I sent this note out this evening:

A few thoughts here before we head into the weekend.

First, as I was rehearsing in my mind why we do these silly things--well, because think about it for a moment. 88% of us feel really, really silly dancing in public places, or at least in daylight, and even with friends. 97% of us aren't that thrilled with the bodies we've been given. We want a rebate. That leaves maybe 3% of us that would dance anywhere on this planet with or without permission, with or without an audience and at the risk of strange looks or immediate imprisonment.

Under the cover of darkness or when no one's watching or in our dreamscapes or in our imagined futures in a heavenly, gauzy realm where we'll all effortlessly glide like Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers, ok, fine. But not in stark daylight when people are actually watching me move my muscly, bony, fleshy, awkward body. So why perpetuate the pain with an event that will actually accentuate our painful yearning to dance, that little yearning, as real as real can be, buried deep inside our hearts that we long forgot after exiting childhood?

Well, here are a handful of reasons.

1. Culture renewal. Hope's current mission is to seek the renewal of our culture, by God's grace. Well I figure we can't renew it if we're not in it, or among it, or loving the actual people who comprise our culture. Going to the show--or even bringing a non-believer friend along--can put us in a position of encouraging those among us, like Ceci Proeger and Annette Christopher and Shari Brown, who belong to the dance community in Austin. We also position ourselves to offer a cool drink to those who are thirsty for the Life that is truly life. So if you're not doing anything Saturday night, considering coming down and hanging out.

2. Speaking of Annette . . . she'll be presenting a piece she's choreographed for two of her former students. If you've attended any of the previous arts festivals and seen her work, you know what to expect: beauty that will make you go loco with wonder. Her work is stunning. Her students aren't believers, but they really love our community and this could become another point of significant contact.

3. The space doesn't look like a church. Local Color Gallery is actually Austin City Church, a recent Lutheran church plant that looks more like a minimalist Luther Vandross than a starchy Martin Luther (though to be fair, Dr. Martin was far more colorful than his descendants). My point being, you can invite your non-believer friends who are especially allergic to churchy spaces and they should be ok.

4. Hospitality. With the people that we will meet and the dancers we're bringing down, this is an excellent opportunity to offer the kind of hospitality that Hope Chapel earnestly desires to give.

Ok, I'll stop there. Four is a perfectly pleasant number. At the very least these thoughts can prompt us to pray for all the persons who will be serving and attending the different events. I covet your prayers and I guess that's the one thing we're permitted to covet.

DIRECTIONS TO: Austin City Church at 1700 S. Lamar. It's at the end of a strip mall on the west side of Lamar about a mile south of Barton Springs.

TIME OF THE EVENT: 8 PM. Doors open at 7:30.

SAMPLES OF THEIR WORK: video clips can be seen here.

The rest of the information down below remains the same. Susan and Gabriel are kindred spirits to us at Hope Chapel. Their work is beautiful, their attitude is humble, and their skill is excellent. It'll be a great privilege to have them with us and I'm praying that the blessing will be mutual.

Hope to see some of y'all out there.



1) A Modern Dance Workshop

When: Saturday, August 26th, 10:00 am – 12:00 pm
What: a workshop for people interested in learning ways to incorporate modern dance into personal prayer and into the corporate life of the church. It’ll be participatory so bring comfortable clothes. No limitations, no reservations needed.
Who: SevenDance Company, based in Philadelphia (see below for more info)
Where: Hope Chapel, 6701 Arroyo Seco, Austin, TX 78757

2) A Modern Dance Show

“Painting, Patterns, Motion Pictures”

Through live performances and film, dancers Gabriel and Susan Bienczycki interweave technology and the primal vocabulary of movement to tell stories of human longing: our need for fun and for escape, the lures of violence and of tenderness.

- The film “Unbound” plays with movement in a world where there is no up or down.
- The films “Journey” and “Conversation” explore our yearning for connection, both joyful and dangerous.
- The dances “Still,” “Warm Blood,” and “Getting Out,” are powerful and intimate interpretations of soul and silence and the fascination that drives us to suffer love.

Who: SevenDance Company
When: Saturday, August 26 at 8 pm. Doors open at 7:30 pm.
Where: Local Color Gallery, 1700 S Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX.
Tickets: $8 general admission, $5 for seniors, children (under 12), and starving artists. Purchase at door.
Information: call David Taylor (512-377-3900).

3) A Modern Dance Sermon

Well, no, not exactly. But the sermon that morning will explore the nature of dance from a biblical, theological and devotional perspective. We’ll consider ways in which dance expresses the very being of God and images for us the movement of the soul. We’ll see how dance can enhance personal worship and help the community explore both joy and sorrow. Everything from Justin Martyr (A.D. 150) to Dante (A.D. 1265-1321) to Jewish Hip-Hoppers will make its way into a morning service that will include both preaching and congregational participation.

When: Sunday, August 27th, 8:45 am and 11 am.
Where: Hope Chapel

SevenDance Company’s mission is to push the boundaries of codified dance and to work with the community to educate a broad audience for dance through performance, film, and technology.

Gabriel Bienczycki is a graduate of National Ballet School in Bytom, Poland. Gabriel has danced as a soloist and choreographed for companies in North America and Europe, such as LaLaLa Human Steps, Ballet Nuremberg, Palindrome Intermedia Performance Group and At Marah Dance Theatre, before forming SevenDance Co. with his wife, Susan. He has taught at University of the Arts, Texas Tech University, Rowan University, and Belhaven College as well as numerous other schools.

Susan Bienczycka graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. in Dance from Belhaven College, after which she danced with At Marah Dance Theatre in Philadelphia, and worked as a freelance dancer in Germany before returning to the United States and founding SevenDance Co. with her husband, Gabriel. She has also choreographed for Eva Koch + Company and The Outlet, taught at Texas Tech University and Belhaven College as well as in Germany and Philadelphia.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Context is Everything: Art in the Local Church

"Each choice [in a church's selection of art] is also a particular exercise of taste that suggests, rightly or wrongly, something about the ethos of a church, its theological mindset and spirituality, its social commitments, its predominant economic and racial mix, its 'target' age group." ~ Frank Burch Brown, Good Taste, Bad Taste, and Christian Taste

I've discovered a deep truth of the universe.

There are only two kinds of books in this world. There are those published by Oxbridge and there are those published by everybody else. And I mean EVERYBODY else. No joke.

Brown's Good Taste is an Oxford imprint and for good reason. It's a tightly argued, lucidly written book with, most importantly, lots and lots of small words on lots and lots of crisp pages that requires great concentration and few interruptions. It's not the pastor-on-the-move-friendly book. It's not coffee shop friendly. It's taken me forever to read. But it's worth the while. I have one chapter left, which will take me a millenium to finish.

Honestly, it's one of the most enjoyable books on aesthetics I've read to date. Brown's got this great combination of intellectual insight and pastoral generosity. He should be required reading for anybody in the field, not only for his acumen but his for style of writing. It's warm, accessible, engaging in its interweaving of theory and story, and he respects his reader, which is not something you can say about a lot of academics.

He respects the reader becaues he loves the reader, and that's a quality everyone of us artists should emulate. The art that truly makes this world a better place is the art that loves its audience. "Whom am I loving?" and "How can I love my audience?" ought to be the two questions we should always be asking ourselves as we make our art. It may feel elusive or non-quantifiable, but it'll make a tremendous influence on our work--whether we see it or not.

At the moment, I'm on a mini-sabbatical. As I've told my community in Austin, I'm doggone, electrical wire-fried weary. That's all I'll say for now. I'm in serious need of rest and rejuvenation lest familiarity to the ministry turn into contempt for it. So I'm practicing Great Spiritual Truths: I'm taking care of the body.

Rest is good, God-given, and belittled only by the arrogant, ignorant or stupid (i.e. a triumverate of me), all of whom forget that God rests--and so must we--certainly moreso than He--and that none of us is indispensible to the kingdom. We're all gratis. We get to be part of the kingdom.

Regretably, I'm all too often arrogant, ignorant or too stupid and stubborn to learn my lessons right. I think too much of my abilities without realizing that I'm thinking that way. I forget too quickly what I know to be true: that a wet dog, beaten and bone-tired, ain't no good to nobody. It's what Steve Rekedal once told me. "David, if you don't take care of yourself, you won't be good to anybody. Take some rest." And I stupidly refuse to abide by the prescription for my own health: sleep, don't overcommit, sleep, say no, sleep, slow down, sleep.

So now I'm trying to get my rest so I don't get forced into rest by a body that simply refuses to put up with my driven ways. What a thing, hey.

At the moment I'm in the great resort city of Waco, TX.

It's home of David Koresh and the Baylor Bears. It's also home to Dr. Pepper, a very fine drink that goes perfectly with Doritos and Oreo Cookies, or at least that's what my sisters and I thought during our Missionary Kid days when we ventured across the Mexican border into the sparkling fresh air of TEXAS--of TEHHHHHH-XAS--and its super-sized grocery stores with a million-trillion boxes of cereal.

In Guatemala we had two, uno, dos: Corn Flakes (Guatemalan style and only at my friend Rodolfo's house) and a brown powder that called itself protein dust ("Proteina") but in combination with milk turned into industrial-worthy cement. Honest to God. If you let it get stuck to the roof of your mouth, forget about it. It was there for good. You'd need to pry it off with a knife or douse it with hot water. I'd like to say I was exaggerating, but ask my sisters. I think I loved it--until, that is, I discovered Peanut Butter Captain Crunch, now my faithful bedtime companion even to this day.

So I'm in Waco staying at Jeff Fish's house (he, the classics professor at Baylor). I'm reading Tom Clancy, visiting the cineplex religiously for a late-afternoon matinee, and jogging through spooky neighborhoods. I may blog more, I may less, I don't know.

I'm dropping here what would be chapter five of the someday-arriving book. (Here are chapters one, two, three, and four.) This chapter looks at the specific questions and concerns that we would encounter in our integration of the arts into a church setting. This is certainly the chapter I feel most comfortable with since it's what I do day in and day out. Hope it helps.

Art in the Local Church: Context is Everything

A. Intro

1. A vision for the local church
2. A comment on the current state
3. Our task
4. The soil of your church

B. Three Categories of Art in the Church

1. A comment about “religious art”
2. Three Kinds of Art:

a. Liturgical art
b. Missional art
c. Incarnational art

3.The most likely kinds of art you’ll find in a given church

C.The Growth of an Arts Ministry

1. The need for prayer
2. The need for a vision
3. The need for a leader
4. The need for a team
5. The need for a model of renewal
6. The need for opportunities for community and expression
7. The need to take risks
8. The need to trust
9. The need for education
10. The need to start small

D. Us vs. Them

1. Artists and the Church
2. Artists and the leadership
3. Artists and the congregation
4. Artists and the “non-cool” artists

E. Honoring your Church

1. Loving the Church as Christ loved it
2. Loving your leaders
3. Loving your congregation
4. Loving each other
5. A vision for authentic community:

a. Love, acceptance, and forgiveness
b. The commitment to clear communication and healthy conflict-resolution
c. A vision of hospitality

F. A Professionalism informed by Grace and Truth

1. Question of standards and expectations
2. Four kinds of artists in the church

a. Professionals
b. Competent amateurs
c. Developing amateurs
d. Weekend dabblers

3. Grace: its angel and demon
4. Truth: its angel and demon
5. Coda: truth-telling and honest-making
6. A palette of options: pick a card, any card

G. A Mission Beyond: The Church in the City

1. Know and love actual artists in your city
2. Know and love the particular art community in your city
3. Make art in the city with and alongside non-believers
4. Practice a gracious, subversive presence