If it Ain’t got that Swing
Rob Gieselmann, August 30, 2015
Last weekend I was in Tucson, Arizona, taking
my daughter Tilly to college. Early Saturday morning, while sipping coffee on the hotel patio, I suddenly heard a ruckus off to my right. I looked up – and saw a brace of ducks in a brawl. Four ducks, chasing the fifth, all squawking wildly, wings flapping angrily. The four caught the fifth, pinned him down by his neck. And started pecking at him.
The attackers reminded me of playground bullies, or perhaps church gone bad! Now, I’m not fully functional early mornings, but this seemed like a justice issue. I pulled myself out of my chair, and chased the ducks scattering them, and ending the feud. *You know of-course, the Pharisees were ducks attacking Jesus, trying to pin him down? Why don’t your disciples wash their hands before eating? They asked, insincerely. Wash their hands? As in, check to see that there’s no dirt under the nails? The Pharisees sound like school marms – show me your hands, now, both sides …
Only the Pharisees cared far less about the disciples’ hands than they did about their sullied tradition. Their hand-washing was ceremonial, an ages-old ritual that had lost its meaning. The Pharisees had maintained the tradition because they …maintained the tradition. What rituals do you engage that have lost their meaning? Perhaps saying grace before supper - You say the words, but mentally you’re paying the bills. Your prayer sounds a lot like the one my kids would say when they were younger: Good food, Good meat ,Good God, Let’s eat. Later, when my son was twelve, I’d ask him to say grace. We’d hold hands, close our eyes, and he would say, (and I quote) Grace.
What difference does praying before a meal make? If done without heart, without soul. According to Jesus, a ceremony has meaning only when you give it meaning. A ritual has meaning only when it has meaning. Or to steal from Duke Ellington, it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.
n Perhaps you know this: When I celebrate the Holy Eucharist - I speak the words, but they are your words. I’m speaking them on your behalf.
Your Amen is a proxy, your statement to God, I agree. God cares what you think. And when I sprinkle water on babies’ heads, you do the baptizing with your heart and with your commitment to the child. So you see - it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing. Seventh Day Adventists
claim the correct day for church is Saturday –
Saturday is the Sabbath, they say, not Sunday. And they’re correct, Saturday is the Sabbath – But they miss the point -
Sunday, Saturday, Monday or Friday – Jesus would say, it isn’t the day that counts, it’s the celebration, the heart and soul you give to it. Another example: Protestants as a rule eschew icons. Make no graven image, they quote the Big Ten. Which is why many churches are spare in their decoration. In the Anglican tradition, however, we celebrate beauty; and thus, icons are not graven images, but portals that transport you to a place your brain cannot take you. So you see - an icon – or no icon – isn’t the point – It is the worship, the heart. Way too often, people cling to tradition or ritual even when the ritual’s soul has fled. You’ve heard the old joke – How many Episcopalians does it take to change the light bulb? What? Change the light bulb? We’ve had that bulb 100 years! Ceremonial washing, and Jesus says, who cares? It don’t mean a thing, if it ain’t got that swing. It ain’t religious if it aint religious. Well - what is true religion? James says it is to care for orphans and widows in their time of need. The poet who wrote the Song of Songs says, it is to love, and to love with passion. But these are examples – not an exhaustive list. Examples about soul – passion – the expression of a hope that is deep. *In his most recent novel, The Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki, Haruki Murakami uses color as a metaphor for the soul. Each person, he writes, has a color that glows faintly around his body – an aura.
Hence, each character in the novel is named for a color – like blue or red or green. Except, that is,for the protagonist Tsukuru, Tsukuru is a name that has no color. He has no color because he was deeply hurt at age nineteen – when his best friends in all the world abandoned him – rejected him completely, without explanation. After that, Tsukuru lived a mere perfunctory life – One without passion, without feeling, without soul. Tsukuru was indeed Colorless.
And who has not encountered a colorless person? Indeed, who here has not felt colorless at some point in your life? Colorless, performing daily ritual, interacting with others, working, and eating and sleeping - yet feeling no depth or meaning – no soul at all. A colorless life – like a colorless ceremony or ritual - one without any meaning – you exist because that is what you are supposed to do – No more, no less. No swing, and it don’t mean a thing. *According to Henri Nouwen, each of us has a deep memory – from a time before consciousness – And during that time you lived in a type of paradise – like a child’s innocence – but the innocence, the paradise, was lost somewhere along the way. We were, Nouwen claims, innocent before you felt guilty. You knew light before you encountered a darkness. You found yourself at home before you started to search for a home. And now, the very treasure each of us seeks is the treasure we once had. And I think of Jesus – and the attack of the Pharisees – pinning him like a duck – When all in the world
Jesus wanted - and all in the world Jesus still wants – was to help the Pharisees – yes, the Pharisees – and the Pharisee hidden deep within in each - that clings too tightly - because we’re afraid to let go – to infuse our souls – with a little bit of color. So where, in your soul do you have no color?