If you’ve been following my columns, you know this chaplain doesn’t dance. Well, it’s not that I don’t dance, it’s more like no one can bear to watch me dance.
But the part I’ve never written about is the where-when-and-why of my fast paced life.
My aversion to dancing, initially square dancing, started in Ms. Marino’s third grade class at Strawberry Point Elementary School in Marin County.
Despite the easy location, my classmates largely came from families living on the recently closed campus of Golden Gate Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
One day in the mid-1960s, I gave my father a handout notice that Ms. Marino was teaching square dance during our PE time.
The class photo from that year is reminiscent of Marino as a petite Italian lady who wore her dark hair in a bob. I would have given anything to dance with her but I didn’t care about any of my classmates.
Somehow, I must have communicated my displeasure to my father, probably with a sneer or prepubescent cry, as he suggested an option.
“I can write a note,” he said, “stating that the dance is against our religious beliefs.”
Even though the Southern Baptists claim to be “people of the book,” my father’s proposal ignored several positive references to the dance (Exodus 15:20; 2 Samuel 6:14; Ecclesiastes 3: 4; Psalm 150: 4; Luke 15:25).
I didn’t care about those verses of course, I just wanted to stop dancing with – yuck – a girl.
What Dad was offering was the forerunner of today’s “religious exemption” sought by vaccine opponents. (Read more in my column of March 10, 2021.)
The thought now is kind of like to me on the dance floor: religion can be used to avoid uncomfortable things we don’t want to do.
But it’s not just vaccine dissenters asking for exemptions from things they don’t want to do.
For example, we avoid a colleague or friend because of their politics. We treat someone of a particular political belief as an ungodly sinner.
Or maybe we are ostracizing a loved one because they identify as part of the LGBTQ community.
And even today, some churches reject women in ministry, all in the name of religion. It’s not that they believe women can’t preach, they just don’t like change.
People who exclude people in the name of religion don’t seem to have the same problem in the everyday working world where their doctor may be a woman or their child’s teacher may be gay.
Like my dance exemption, I’m not sure our hearts really agree to exempt these people from the love of God.
Franciscan priest Richard Rohr says that our thinking of exclusion stems from our seeing religion as goal-oriented.
He talks about the kind of conversation my wife had recently when she was leading the children’s church. When she asked the children why they should follow Jesus, they all replied, “So that we could go to heaven.
This goal is something we have been taught from childhood. The idea seems to be that following a specific list of dos and don’ts is the way to achieve our Gold Stars and earn our Merit Badge.
In his book “Everything Belongs”, Rohr refutes this idea, suggesting that the guilt we feel in this merit system actually becomes our punishment for breaking these impossible rules.
It is “a cosmic game of crime and punishment,” he says, in which we deny ourselves the grace of God. Unfortunately, “this denial becomes our own punishment.”
So what’s my punishment for not dancing?
I do not know how to dance. Worse yet, my wife feels punished when she watches me make a rhythmic movement.
Why do our flaws always hurt those we love the most? That’s a question for another day.
But while we talk about disabilities and exemptions, I also have to mention that I don’t know the first thing in poker either.
And I’m not bluffing.
Contact Chaplain Norris at firstname.lastname@example.org or 10556 Combie Road, Suite 6643 Auburn, CA 95602 or voicemail (843) 608-9715.