The older I get, the more content I become with my own preferences. I try very hard to participate with the modern world but I find it difficult and often annoying. For example, a recent Presbyterian book of worship recommended the use of dance in the church service.
I grant that many Christians are fabulous dancers, but me and my buddies never considered dancing to be an ecclesiastical activity. We understood the purpose of dancing to be amatory — a socially regulated kind of syncopated grappling. If none of us guys was exactly Fred Astaire, at least we could aspire to get our hands on a reasonable facsimile of Ginger Rogers. Dancing was part of the extremely serious process designed to find a quick-footed partner who was willing to match steps with you waltzing down the ballroom of life.
In those days female persons sat demurely along the wall, like so many flowers, waiting for some man or boy to work up enough courage to inquire, “May I have this dance?” It was generally agreed that male persons did not have sufficient ear-to-foot coordination to follow the music. Therefore, men were expected to lead the dance and God’s graceful creature would follow. Incidentally, even dumb guys understood that if she pinned her corsage in the center of her chest, she wanted you to keep your distance. If she placed the corsage on an out-of-the-way shoulder, you were allowed to snuggle up a lot closer. Still, as God intended, male and female danced together.
Things have changed a lot since then. As best I can tell young people do not dance together anymore. Instead they jiggle around and shake wildly at each other — giving an entirely different meaning to the phrase “dancing cheek to cheek.”
I suppose I should admit — curmudgeon that I am — that I attend church in order to worship God. I do not go to church to dance or to watch people dance. I do not go to church to hug my friends — much less total strangers. However, last summer I almost made an exception for a young woman with a bare and shapely shoulder upon which was tattooed a large Celtic cross.
To my dismay, at a contemporary service not long ago, we were requested to rub the back of the person standing in front of us! Then we were all supposed to turn around and rub the back of the person standing behind us!
There are three great problems involved in this difficult choreography. First, some Presbyterians have sore heads and some have sore backs. In that situation, as Gonzolo said to Sebastian, “you rub the sore / When you should bring the plaster” (Tempest II.1. 137-9). Second, since many Presbyterians change from one position to another very slowly, a guy with quick hands could easily get his face slapped by the lady behind him. Thirdly, with many Presbyterians, the front and back look remarkably alike. This situation always occurs when a church does not know whether it is coming or going. In other words, when Presbyterians quit going into all the world (Matthew 28:19), they are coming to the end of their road.
In 1927, three North American Presbyterian Churches were represented in world mission by 2,306 missionaries. These three churches are now united into one great church, but, with a net loss of 34 in 2002, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) now has only 300 full-time, long-term missionaries going into the world.
I can’t speak for you, but I don’t feel much like dancing. Is it my eyes, or are the lights going dim? If this is the last dance, it remains only to say, “Good night, ladies.”