Meeting Jesus at Zumba or Why Can’t Church Be More Like This

L18Zumba_4-th101507.jpgWe’re not even through the first song – Ne-Yo’s Let Me Love You – and I’m sweating. I’m also sort of laugh-grinning and wouldn’t be surprised if I soon turned the corner into cough-crying. This is Zumba, and I’m having a spiritual experience.

“Doesn’t she remind you of Jesus?” my friend yells when I do a rainbow-like arc with my arms and lung backwards. I can see it on my friend’s face, too, her freckles popping off her skin so that I want to reach out and touch one. This is the Spirit in 3-D.

Our dance instructor does remind me of Jesus. I don’t have my glasses on, but I think she’s Latina, her hair a box-cut bob filled in by squiggles. She’s wearing a blue t-shirt over baggy sweatpants and what look to me like 80’s high-tops. And she is glowing. Of course her name is Joy, like Jesus was the Christ or the Messiah, a name that prophecies the effect of her presence on us all.

Joy starts each choreographed move with an inviting glance, slowing stepping side to side while pointing in the direction of her limbs. She is teaching us our dance number, discipling us in measures. It’s only after we’ve learned the basics that she begins to nod – like you’ve done good, and then clap – like you know it’s about to get real, before finally turning each move into an exaggerated, body-shaking, spasm. This is the Spirit off the chain.

I’ve never been much for liturgical dancing but, I wonder, as I look around the room at my fellow Zumba-mates – old women, fat women, brown men, white men, young girls with juicy booties and gangly ones with jiggly arms – why can’t church be more like this?

I mean, what if church were so joyful that people were paying $10 a pop just to show up for an hour of instruction in the Spirit?

In a brilliant TED talk from conductor Itay Talgam, he dissects the style of six orchestral instructors – some too strict, others who expect their pupils to be mind readers. But it’s the one who leads with joy that inspires. Talgam explains, “[A conductor’s] happiness does not come from only his own story and his joy of the music. The joy is about enabling other people’s stories to be heard at the same time.”

Yes, I think, this sounds right. This is the spaciousness with which I want my pastors to lead – reading Scripture without that predictable, steady inflection, giving sermons that provoke a “go tell it on the mountain” aftershock, feeding the hungry with silly notions about who’s really receiving the blessing.

Because Jesus is in Joy.

And when Ne-Yo sings, “Girl, let me love you, and I will love you, until you learn to love yourself,” I imagine a whole congregation of saints doing the YMCA point and pump straight at me.

*This Valentine’s Day, Eve Ensler of Vagina Monologues fame is calling on the people of the world to dance as part of the One Billion Rising initiative to combat domestic violence. I’ll be making a video and uploading it to the blog on Thursday to raise my voice and shake my booty in support. Wouldn’t it be foolish if you did it, too, and shared your link in the comments section?

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