“Dancing in the street”
July 15, 2012
by Robin Wardlaw
Pentecost 7, Year B
Readings: 2 Samuel 6:1–5, 12b–19; Psalm 24; (Ephesians 1:3–14); Mark 6:14–29
When you hear the word ‘power,’ what goes through your mind? What words go with ‘power’? Power outage. Power mad. Power to the people. Power suit. Power lunch. A power of good. In other words, a mixed bag of associations in English. Some positive associations, some negative. The power of a car battery can start the motor to get you to the hospital in time to deliver that baby. The same power in the same battery can turn an ordinary room into a torture chamber.
One way of looking at today’s readings is to see the bible comparing and contrasting different approaches, different understandings of power. Two kings, David and Herod. Two dances in the presence of power, David leaping around naked on the steep hill up to Jerusalem to celebrate the arrival of the ark, Herodias helping her mother satisfy a grudge against a stubborn critic by dancing seductively before her step father.
It’s hard for me to get in touch with the kind of power Herod wielded. Canadians have worked hard to disperse power, and subject it to the rule of law. Perhaps if I lived in some place like Russia, worked as a journalist, and criticized the current regime there, I would know the gut-clenching fear that kept me from sleeping at night, kept me looking over my shoulder on the street. Or as a woman in many parts of the world, where peril lurks for me every day.
Herod gave his word and he had no way to tell his step daughter and her mother, No, I cannot cut someone’s head off just because you tricked me into it. He believed he was the law. He could have quoted the sixth commandment to get out of his predicament, deferred to a higher power, but no.
The women in the scene can’t get what they want directly. Mother is hurt by John Baptist’s accusations, although it Herod who should be ashamed, the gospel suggests. Mother uses daughter to manipulate husband, who has the power. John pays the price. Another reason for Jesus to equip his followers to spread the gospel.
A thousand years before that sickening scene, David is dancing out of shear joy. Things are all coming together for him. He has been the golden boy, slaying the mighty enemy of his people, then a hunted terrorist, dodging King Saul’s attempts to take him out, then the new king, trying to unite all the Hebrew people. This day, he is bringing the source of power, the ark of the covenant, to install it in the new capital, the fortress he and his men have taken from the Jebusites, Jerusalem.
One of the men minding the ark as it trundled along on the ox cart touched it to keep it from slipping off and he died. The bible writers are impressed by the ark the way the Nazis are in Raiders of the Lost Ark, the old Indiana Jones movie–as a source of fantastic, dangerous power as an object.
The ark’s real power is as a symbol is even greater, and more dangerous. It is a symbol of a people’s escape from dreadful slavery. The ark at one time held souvenirs of the trek through the wilderness, and most importantly, the tablets with the law. Slavery is not good, and neither is the absolute power of a pharaoh, the bible is saying. This covenant between humans and the holy around freedom and power continues to be dangerous to that who want to concentrate power in their own hands. It continues to inspire revolu-tionary love all over the world. The great saying about dancing and revolution was supposedly said by the famous American anarchist, Emma Goldman. “If I can’t dance, I won’t join your revolution.”
What is the middle ground between zero power and too much power? Psalm 24 again.
The earth is God’s and all that is in it,
the world, and those who live in it;
for God has founded it on the seas,
and established it on the rivers.
Who shall ascend the hill of God?
And who shall stand in the holy place?
Those who have clean hands and pure hearts,
who do not lift up their souls to what is false,
and do not swear deceitfully.
In other words, it’s not my planet, not yours. It doesn’t belong to oil companies or logging companies or fishing companies. A little respect, please. No, make that a lot of respect for earth, seas, rivers, the hills. They are all holy places. Who qualifies to be in them? Whose hands are clean, whose heart is pure enough?
Wangari Maathai died last fall. While she lived, she worked for the re-greening of her own country, Kenya, and of the whole earth. She said,"We are called to assist the earth to heal her wounds and in the process heal our own -- indeed, to embrace the whole creation in all its diversity, beauty, and wonder." “To heal her wounds and in the process heal our own.” A very different understanding of what power is, and how to use it.
One of the things we can learn from Africans is how to dance together as part of the healing process. Planting trees is good. Singing and dancing seal the deal. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if when we got together like this, to remember and celebrate the covenant, to explore creative ways to use all the power we have been given, we could talk and listen and sing...and dance? Maybe we can work on that.
Until we figure that out, dance in your own way. Do like King David, and Martha and the Vandellas, and dance in the street. Dance to celebrate the covenant, this wonderful revelation about how people can use power without smashing the planet or each other. Dance like sunlight on water, like leaves on windy trees. Dance like loons on a northern lake in the fall, when the busy season of raising young is done and its time to gather in circles and sing for joy.