Sunday, June 12, 2011


I never learned to square dance but I suppose that I have spent my whole life simply trying to square dance with the church.  Something my visionary parents did naturally.

I suppose I have always known that my parents lived in two parallel worlds – One of communion and hymn singing and the other filled with twirling petticoats and circle driven dancing – held together by the common tradition of potluck dinners. So much so that when we celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in the fellowship hall of their church, the room was filled with as many square dancers as church members.
            Every Friday night, at the old YWCA, my younger brother and I would sit and watch my parent’s allemande left, circle up and Do-si-do with a group of people they called the “Dudes and Dolls.”  Then on Sunday morning, with the same regularity, we would gather with another group of people that seemed just as strange in that we sat in pews, used words like invocation and drank grape juice out of little cups.  I learned a few things about the church while watching my parents square dance and on occasion I believe that when the sunlight would stream through the stained-glass window just right my parents could be seen doing an Allemande left with a visitor or circling up in the kitchen to help make that Easter breakfast just perfect for visitors and members alike. 
            It was not as hokey as it sounds.  It was more like watching two people apply their faith as they interacted with their square dance friends and in turn, allowed their learning’s and experiences with those colorfully dressed square dancers to influence how they lived as members of Davis Street Christian Church.  My parents would never talk about themselves as prophets or visionaries but that is exactly what they were. I pray that the story I tell captures enough of those moments to help you see why!
            Sometimes when I was brave enough I would climb the steps to the suspended walking track above the gymnasium, dangle my legs over the edge and watch this group of people who called themselves the “Dudes and Dolls” move about the floor.  It was like watching a huge kaleidoscope as squares turned into circles and circles into stars and then back again.  The caller would shout out rhythmic commands that mostly corresponded to the beat of the music and in an imperfect unified expression the western dressed men and fluffy skirted women would move about the floor and create intricate patterns.  Even then these patterns, seen from above, seem to suggest a deeper meaning than the sounds of laughing and boot stomping would lead the average observer to comprehend.
            Though I can’t remember most of their names now, I still see them in my mind, circling up together and returning home, bowing to their corner then to their partner.  I can see them in their different sizes, shapes, personalities and occupations.  The group of people that came together every Friday night at the YWCA seemed to come from every social class and walk of life.  That would have been enough of a life lesson to see that mixture and interaction of teachers, electricians, farmers, doctors, barbers, and one guy I think was a rodeo clown. However, it wasn’t just that they were willing to come together in those unique outfits, it was the way they treated each other when they were together.
            My father has always been one of my greatest teachers but because of life’s circumstances and unwritten social expectations he never went beyond the 9th grade in his education.  My mother finally got her GED many years after learning to square dance.  In most places I was taught early the subtle and not so subtle markings of our families place on the social ladder of value.  But in all those Friday nights, watching and learning from my high perch of that walking track I never saw or heard my parents being talked to or ignored because of what they did or where they lived.  I don’t remember there being any written code or covenant that was signed by the members to force everyone to respect each other.  There was not an oath that they all swore to uphold that made them treat others as if each and every one of them had an invaluable piece of the puzzle or a voice that if lost would decrease the strength of the “Dudes and Dolls.”  I don’t know how they were in the regular world, I don’t know how each of them treated others at their work places or at their churches, I just know that while they were together as the “Dudes and Dolls” every voice mattered. 
            My parents would forever deny that they brought me to those square dances every Friday night to teach me a lesson that would affect the way I see the world and the way I see the church.  Actually they probably brought me along because they could not afford a babysitter.  Just the same, I tell you this story because the lesson stuck.
            The only other place I learned this lesson was sitting in pews listening to Rev. Cecil Simonton talk about how the church – the Body of Christ – is like an actual body in that every part, every voice, every person is needed and not one of us can say to the other, “I do not need you.”

            The thing about stories of life and particularly the stories I reassemble involving my parents is that though, as a storyteller, I often what there to be some easily understood point.  However, my parents’ life was more complex and messy than any simple story can capture in a few paragraphs.  I’m sure that if this short story became a novel there would be many other invaluable images and lessons that square dancers could share to make the church a little better and in the same way a few things the church might be able to share with those “Dudes and Dolls.”  I’m also just as confident that the square dancers I grew up watching were far from perfect people and my life in the church has allowed me to see the many flaws that exist with us church people.  And this really gets at what the real reason I have always believed my parents were prophets.
            In a world in which we are trained to find our group, bond with our people, and stick to our side of town my parents accidentally walked a different path.  During a time when dancing was not even allowed in the church, let alone have anything to say to contribute to church life, my parents naturally created a prophetic vision where “bowing to your partner and your corner” are words that Jesus himself might have spoken. 
This idea that farmers might have something to say to economists or youth might have wisdom to share with adults, or tax collectors might have a key lesson to share with some well educated Pharisees or even that a fluffy skirted square dancer might hold deep prophetic wisdom for the way a church should treat each other is becoming popular again.  I can’t say that my parents started the Internet, or Facebook or even that they were the first people to suggest that every person has a gift to be share for the benefit of the whole body.  However, what I can say is that my parent’s did live in two parallel worlds and at their 50th anniversary, sitting around tables in that church fellowship hall there were square dancers talking to church members.

I never learned to square dance but I suppose that I have spent my whole life simply trying to square dance with the church.  Something my visionary parents did naturally.

1 comment:

Randy said...

Though some may claim you have two left feet, thou art one of the most elegant dancers I know. Dance on, Bill.