"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)

6.21.2006

sink or swim you gotta give it a whirl

Sunday morning I went back to church. It was so great to be at a service that was in English and not tinged with fundamentalist overtones. And it was great to see everyone, although it was more than a little overwhelming. I was kindof hoping to just sneak in. So much for that idea. But it really was wonderful to see people and catch up and hear about all that's happened. The service itself was great, too. We sang, "Great is Thy Faithfulness" and the handbells played my favorite hymn, "Come Thou Fount." Our pastor was out of town, so Don Vanderslice preached. Don is the pastor of Mosaic, which is the emergent church that meets in our building. His sermon was entitled, "Dance Dance Revolution."

Now. I'd imagine that anyone who actually caught the reference thought of that crazy video game they played in Lost in Translation at the karaoke lounge. But this had The Librarian, The Attorney, and me very amused on Saturday when we found out about it for an entirely different reason, because it sounded like Don Vanderslice was making a reference to John Vanderslice's excellent new song, "Exodus Damage." Sadly, the Vanderslice song was not referenced in the Vanderslice sermon. (Although I'm sure Don knew what he was doing. He's hip to what the kids are listening to these days.) Things that were referenced in the sermon: Otis Redding, James Brown live at Stubbs, dancing in Uganda, and Breakin' II: The Electric Boogaloo. (Don (in sermon): "[something something something] greatest inspiration ever was Boogaloo Shrimp." Me (not out loud): "Did he just say...?" Rest of congregation except for The Attorney, The Librarian, and the other six people who are approximately the right age to remember such horrors: confused silence.)

Popular culture references that have certainly never been made in a Baptist church (even a moderate/liberal one) ever before aside, the sermon was great. It was all about taking risks, losing your life to find it, and choosing to get out there and dance when everything sensible says not to. It was about choosing a life that might bring failure, but one that will certainly be more fulfilling than the life of our society that has "bowed down before the golden calf of success," as Don put it. "What Jesus is after in us," he said, "it's not success, it's faithfulness. There's a big difference." And the choice we have to make, the question we have to answer, he said, is, "Do you want to live? Do you want to dance?"

And then church ended. We sang this absolutely awful hymn, one that The Librarian absolutely hates. It's in a minor key, is painfully long, and our music minister loves it. So of course I giggled through the entire invitation and sang the old words, "to the suburbs where men flee" instead of the sanitized version in the new hymnal that makes the inner city and the suburbs both mission fields. It's what we do. (Actually, it's what I do. The Librarian refuses to sing it.) But even with that, that question: "Do you want to dance?" It lingered.

I thought a lot about it on the long drive back to Tennessee. Stopped in Memphis to have dinner with The Intrepid Lobbyist and we talked about Congo and her trip to Italy and jobs and life and directions and the Dixie Chicks and calling. We talked about Buechner's definiton of vocation as the place where your deepest desire and the world's greatest need intersect. I think "collide" might be a better description in some cases. Don talked about some South African theologian's idea that there's a point of crisis where danger and opportunity reside together - the risk that makes it all worth it. And The Intrepid Lobbyist used what I thought was an amazing metaphor for the other choice. All around me people are getting on the highway to this life, she said, and there aren't any exits.

There aren't any exits. I wonder if that's true. You decide to settle down and take a job in business or the law or journalism or whatever, get the mortgage and the white picket fence in a safe place, have 2.5 kids and 2.5 cars, and live the American dream. It's success. It's what we all do. And there's nothing wrong with that. I don't think.

It just doesn't always match up well with the idea of a point of crisis where "danger and opportunity reside together." Or where the world's painful cry and your abilities and gifts and calling crash into one another in a way that makes you realize that this is what you have to do with your life -- even when you don't know what this is. And so many people get to the end of their lives and realize that they haven't really lived.

I'm reading the most interesting book, by a guy named Shane Claiborne. It's called The Irresistable Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical and it's the story of Claiborne's decision not to pursue the American dream, but to live a life of poverty, simplicity, and love on the streets of Philadelphia. I don't necessarily agree with everything he says, and the writing isn't great, but it's a challenging story. How do you live your old life when you've seen injustice on an unbelievable scale? What do you do with abundance when your friends are starving? Can success and faithfulness coexist? If you make this other, risky, scary choice, is there an exit? Do you even care?

I heard Don Vanderslice preach along with Brian Seay four years ago, right after I moved to Austin, the second time I ever visited what's now "my" church. They were getting ready to start this new kind of church in Austin, and they had prepared a service to show the church what it would be like. I didn't know anybody there; it was that strange summer when I was mostly alone except at work and when The Doctor would drive down on the weekends. I don't remember everything they said that day, but I remember that it was about water, and I remember that we sang "Come Thou Fount." How strange that so much time can pass so quickly. How strange that so much can change and that at the same time it can all come full circle in the words and music and conversations with friends. How strange that "tune my heart to sing thy grace" might, just might, mean having to learn to dance in a whole new way.

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