Monday, October 7, 2013

I Will Dance With You

In the circle of pastors, I was the only white person in the room. Mostly men, a few women, leaders of the denomination. And I have to admit it, there were a few times that I wanted to leave, a few times that some words about gender made me squirm, a few times that I wasn’t sure how to respond, a few times that I was just so sure that I didn’t belong, so sure that I had gotten in too deep.

It was a real conversation, about women and power, about family and leadership, about children and parenthood. And one of my beloved colleagues, a friend who I deeply admire, spoke up, “I think it is that Western culture has come here too quickly. We don’t know what to do.” I stopped squirming and I started to listen. Real concerns about gender, real concerns about power, real concerns about how the church can embrace gender equality and still maintain its Zambian identity, still uphold the value of the family as they know it. I stopped squirming and started listening. And this is what I heard...

A man I do not know all that well, a Zambian colleague in his fifties, spoke up, “I have children who are teenagers. They are the children of a pastor, and I wanted them to act like it. I wanted them to show that they are my children, the pastor’s children. I wanted them to make me proud.” He paused and shook his head. “They knew that I did not like secular music, and when I was in the home, they would only play Christian songs. But one day,” he said, “one day, I came home early. The children scrambled to turn off the music, but it was too late. I walked in and found all four of my children laughing and dancing to secular music. They apologized right away and looked at me with fear. They were so afraid they would get into trouble.”

He smiled ruefully. “I asked, and I found out that they were doing this often, when I was not home. They were dancing without me. And so, I told them to turn the music back on. They didn’t do it at first, but I requested it again. ‘Turn the music back on.’ And then I said, ‘I will dance with you.’ And we all danced together, and we all laughed together, and it was fun. It was good. It was beautiful.” He paused again. “They need to be who they are. I cannot tell them who to be. But I can dance with them, and trust that God will be with them in their future. God is in charge of their future, God is in charge of who they will be. I am not in charge of that, so I can dance with them and they can choose the music.”

I loved that image, this 50 year old, staid Zambian pastor, dancing with teenagers to secular music, in his parsonage home. When I told him later how much I loved his story, he said to me, “It took me time to learn. I wish it had not taken me so long to learn that I needed to let them be themselves. But now I know. They need to be who they are.”

If only we could do that in ministry, in our churches, in our families, in our lives. If we could let people be who they are, and love them where they are. If we could just say, “I will dance with you,” instead of criticizing the dance music, or asking that the volume be adjusted. We can do our own dance moves, but can’t we dance together? Can’t we be who we are and give other people the same courtesy?

It made me think about about the challenging discussions on gender. I will be who I am, a woman in ministry, with a husband who is usually home with the children. And they will accept me, and love me, and try to understand why it is that Joel almost always cooks dinner. They will dance with me; will I dance with them?

These uncomfortable conversations are one way that we dance together. When we tell the truth about who we are, what we think, where our challenges lie, and then we listen to the other people talk about who they are, what they think, where their challenges lie. This is how we dance together. This is how we let people be who they are. And when we do this, we all move forward, when we do this, we all get a bigger, better, more wonderful glimpse of God.

I am grateful for the challenges of working here, for the ways that it draws me out of my comfort zone, for the conversations that make me uncomfortable. Because these new dance moves come in handy. These new partners introduce new rhythms. And I love to dance, oh how I love to dance...

So, thank you, Rev. Kalinga, for dancing with your children, for letting them be who they are, and for letting me be me. May we all learn from you. May we all join the difficult, interesting, life-giving, challenging, beautiful, squirmy, messy dance. May we choose some different dance partners, choose some different songs, and see where the music takes us.

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