Shake your groove thing ... in church?

flash_gordon_1981_f_1-768440If you thought R&B artist Chris Brown's career would be hurt by viciously beating his girlfriend Rihanna and threatening to kill her, you would be wrong. His song "Forever" is one of the top 10 iTune downloads after being featured in the YouTube video that's taking the world by storm. Now, when I think of everlasting love and romance, I can't say I think of Chris Brown. Or autotune. But one young couple did just that -- sending their bridal party that is seemingly larger than their guest list joyfully down the aisle of a church dancing to that hit for the ages. Judging from the eleventy million (and counting!) views the video has gotten on YouTube, people love this so much that they can't take it. It certainly is pleasant to see the happy couple, but I can't say I'm totally on board. Then again, I am a misanthrope who loves little about the whole wedding industrial complex. Don't get me wrong, I love nothing more than a good wedding and wedding party. I just can't stand the waste of money, the materialist emphasis and the drama that seems to surround most of them. And as surely as we know that cleavage-baring strapless wedding gowns, fondant, and updos are here to stay, we know that Bridezillas are right now plotting to which song they will send their scared bridesmaids and groomsmen dancing down the aisle next summer. Pastors be forewarned!

All this to say that the Washington Post's Sarah Kaufman has a cheerful and completely uncritical look at the significance of this YouTube phenomenon, headlined "Going to the Chapel & We're Gonna Get Jiggy." She begins by noting that gyrations, swivels and high steps of the sunglass-wearing bridesmaids:

We all know what we're supposed to do at weddings: Look on politely as a matchy-matchy parade of friends makes its slooooow way down the aisle to Pachelbel's Canon in D. Try not to giggle. Rise for the bride.

But, by dancing their entrances and sending that upbeat, physical energy right back out to their guests, the Peterson-Heinz wedding turns the rote behaviors into spontaneous reactions. Of course the guests watch attentively as the wedding party bobs in. You can bet not a single child had to be shushed at that point. This was no longer a display of bad posture and dyed-to-match pumps -- it was an uplifting swell of celebration with a beat. The bride -- unescorted, we note; so independent! -- was and wasn't the center of attention. The true focus was on the unified, wordless but palpable emotions of her whole support system.

So true. But what wasn't the focus of the jig? Humans have been celebrating weddings and other rites of passages with dance forever. This is just one more example of that. But when you make the focus be on the dozen young attendants who are your current best friends, you're making a decision to not have other things be the focus.

My husband and my wedding procession did not make it onto YouTube so you'll have to trust me on this but for ours the entire wedding party followed a processional crucifix and the clergy. I've been to other services with different foci. Two of my dear friends had a state ceremony with readings from their favorite atheists, for instance. Another non-religious friend had vows that quoted, well, Flash Gordon. Here's the original:

Zogi, the High Priest: Do you, Ming the Merciless, Ruler of the Universe, take this Earthling Dale Arden, to be your Empress of the Hour? The Emperor Ming: Of the hour, yes. Zogi, the High Priest: Do you promise to use her as you will? The Emperor Ming: Certainly! Zogi, the High Priest: Not to blast her into space? [Ming glares at Zogi] Zogi, the High Priest: Uh, until such time as you grow weary of her. The Emperor Ming: I do. Dale Arden: I do NOT!

The point being that frivolity and fun and playing around with convention did not originate with our fresh-faced Minnesota newlyweds. What intrigues me about this Washington Post piece is that the theological implications of putting Chris Brown in a place where others have Christ-centered music is not discussed. On that note, it really does appear that this takes place in a Protestant church but I have yet to see that church identified. It might help when understanding the implications of this new school of Chris Brown liturgical dance. Does the nameless church have any guidelines for worship services? How does this fit within their liturgical tradition?

Here's the closest we get to any treatment of the matter:

This procession explodes a lot of assumptions: that church weddings are square and Minnesotans are squarer, that shaking booties and solemn vows don't go together. (It also puts a new luster on Brown's song, which must be appreciated by the pop star turned pariah, who pleaded guilty last month to assaulting his girlfriend in February.)

More important, this ceremony went deeper than behaviors. It elicited all the right feelings, in the way that good dancing transfers energy and emotion to its audience. In the way they moved -- and were able to corral their friends and family into the act -- the couple told us a lot about themselves, and about their bond.

This didn't look like a reluctant groom being dragged to the altar, nor a micromanaging bridezilla who had locked down every detail. They were open to music and movement and untucked shirts and sweat, and they gave to their guests what had to be the best party favor of all. An actual party.

I just find it so interesting that God is literally not mentioned anywhere in this story. I mean, the couple presumably went to a Christian church for the wedding for a reason, right? Are we not allowed to discuss religion even when the whole reason this YouTube and this story have legs is precisely because it took place in a church? And yes, I'm glad that we all assume that church weddings are square. As a pastor's kid, I have been to hundreds of church weddings. It honestly never occured to me to "assume" that they were square. I will admit that booty shaking in church was something I have generally frowned on. And I say that as a booty shaker and an avid churchgoer. Time and place, y'all.

I know that this article is really just an essay on dance. But there is no reason to ignore or give such short shrift to the religious ghosts lurking at the end of that aisle the bridal party sashayed down .

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