It’s A Dance – Review
October 17th, 2007 by Sonja

It's A DanceAs promised yesterday here is my review of It’s A Dance: Moving With The Holy Spirit, by Patrick Oden.

In a nutshell … I want to buy this book for all my friends and sit down and talk about it with them over coffee and Bishop’s Bread (my very favorite coffee cake – homemade). Of course, since they are spread out over four time zones this might be fairly difficult. I’m having a hard time writing a serious review that all of you will pay attention to, because really … the book just makes me grin and laugh and think all at the same time. It makes me want to dance again.

For everyone who needs experience with the Holy Spirit … get It’s A Dance. For those of you who are post-charismatic or charismissional … get It’s A Dance. It’s a must. Seriously (and now I feel slightly like a used car salesman … but … I really mean this).

Here are my favorite things about It’s A Dance

First, it’s so holistic. It is complete and whole and yet within the warp and woof of the text I found room for my own story to weave in and out; making a new picture amongst the original.

When I was a child my dad used to play a silly game with me. He would put his hands together and put his fingers together in a certain manner and say, “Here is the church.” Then he’d change their position, “Here is the steeple.” Then he’d change the position again, “Open the door,” and he’d flip his hands around and waggle his fingers in the air at me, “and see all the people.”

So many books on theology and the church don’t have any place for the people. There are no people in the church or in theology. They are dry. When you flip them around and open them up, there’s nothing there to waggle. But It’s A Dance has room for people in it’s theology and in the church. I suspect each person reading this book will find a uniquely different story here, because they have a different story to weave in amongst it’s main threads.

Patrick also manages to deal with huge themes fairly thoroughly in a smallish book. He doesn’t do so completely, but he hits the high points and does so gracefully and thoroughly through the venue of conversational story-telling. We read about power, pride, church issues, giving, receiving, marriage, love, creativity, unity, leadership, following, going, staying, sacred and secular … among many other things.

Second, It’s A Dance really is a dance. One of the things I love is finding patterns that reveal further patterns. It’s one of the things I love about history. It’s also one of the things I love about quilting. So many quilts use fabric patterns and block patterns to reveal secondary, larger patterns going on. So you begin making one thing and end up making something entirely different. Patrick used the metaphor of a dance to describe the relationship of the Trinity to one another. He does so beautifully in this piece of conversation:

“Well, I know that God doesn’t seem too concerned if he doesn’t make sense, but I do think God works and exists in a way that can make sense to us, if only on some level. One basic way of understanding God’s interaction with himself is to think of his existence as a dance.”

“A dance?”

“Yeah, a dance. What happens when people are dancing?”

I pause for a moment, not quite sure what he’s asking. “Depends on the style I guess, but people move together following a specific rhythm.”

“Take ballroom dancing,” Nate says.

“I did, and lasted about half the class before falling too far behind.”

“It’s complicated,” he laughs. “Two people have to act in a concerted way to the music. Moving their whole bodies in intricate patterns together, always acting and reacting to what the other person is doing, always moving with each other even if they aren’t doing the same thing.”

“God is a dancer?”

“God is all the dancers, and the music, and everything. Think of the Trinity as interacting in this complicated and amazingly intricate dance. They are all moving as one, together, even as they are not the same person and even if they are doing different things in different ways.”

“God is not line dancing, is He?”

“No,” Nate laughs. “That’s everyone doing the same sort of thing together, all in a row. God is like a ballroom dancer, or even better, a ballet, with the whole show being this gathered collection of intricate steps and interactions. The dancers highlight each other, point to each other. They create this rhythmic flow out of their separate contributions.”

“The Trinity is that sort of dance?”

“That’s basically what the term perichoresis means. It’s a swirling together dance of the Trinitarian persons.” (p. 85-86)

Yet on a deeper level, It’s A Dance is also a dance between textbook, novel and Scripture. Patrick very adeptly uses the dance metaphor as a description and as an organizational tool to form the basis of the conversation that flows throughout this book. The conversation dances along, winding it’s way through scripture and text and story always leaving space for the reader to improvise a few steps of their own and find their own story within the larger story; to say, “Hey, I recognize that,” or “I remember when that happened and I …” or “Wow, that looks something like x in our community and I bet we could …”

Third, the historian in me was oh, so happy to discover that everything old really is new again. When I first read reviews of the book it was revealed that it is a novel written in conversation form. It takes place almost entirely in the form of conversations between Luke, a newspaper reporter, and Nate, a “pastor” (you’ll have to read the book to discover why I put quotes around that 😉 ) and several other people involved in Nate’s church. “Hmmm,” I thought. “Interesting approach.” But then I got to the end of the book and read (as I always do) the notes on the sources. Well, first I read the Bibliography. Before that I have to tell you that there are no footnotes in this book making it a wonderfully refreshing read. The bibliography is diverse and spread out … by which I mean I think there are books in this bibliography from all periods in Christian history. Indeed the final quote in the main body of the book comes from Tertullian … not entirely expected in a book on the Holy Spirit, but in the end, entirely apt. Then I read that the idea of writing the text in the format of a conversation came from, not something new and novel, but from an extremely old and ancient source … The Conferences, written by John Cassian in the 400’s AD. As Patrick writes (in his notes on sources):

The conversation breaks up the difficult considerations and allows for questions to be asked–questions that are often on the readers’ minds. It also makes the theology into a story. This is not a removed set of philosophical statements but instead people living the life God has called them to live. We remember the story, the characters, the conversation much better than we remember details and notes. (p. 266)

He’s right. We do remember stories and characters and conversations. Theology … not so much. But if it’s put into the context of story, we can remember it. More than that, we can embrace it and find it in our own story. And this last is why I think this book is so important. It allows the reader to approach and embrace some really important theology in a way that many other books on the subject do not. It brings lofty subjects down to street level … which is where God might just want them in the first place.

So … if you only get one book in November, let this be it. Or put it on your Christmas list. Just make sure you read it.

7 Responses  
  • Erin writes:
    October 17th, 20074:53 pmat

    Sounds like quite a read…I will have to look for it.

    Dancing….you know that song I Hope You’ll Dance? I keep thinking about that. “When you get a chance to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance!”

  • Ravens writes:
    October 18th, 20072:19 pmat

    […] Or if you’re still waiting to order, already have ordered, or are just curious about whether or not to order It’s a Dance go ahead and read another review, this one by Sonja. She has good advice at the end. Posted under church, ministry, spirituality, missional, theology, books, It’s a Dance, writing, Holy Spirit, emerging church, personal       […]

  • Cathi Hassan writes:
    October 18th, 20072:26 pmat

    Quite a review. This book sounds truly unique and refreshing. You just mae me more determined to get a copy of it. Thank you!

  • Cathi Hassan writes:
    October 18th, 20072:26 pmat

    Quite a review. This book sounds truly unique and refreshing. You just made me more determined to get a copy of it. Thank you!

  • writes:
    October 19th, 20077:29 amat

    sold- thanks!

  • Calacirian » Keeping Up and Keeping On writes:
    November 20th, 20078:50 amat

    […] I found it made an excellent companion piece to the book I reviewed here recently, It’s A Dance, by Patrick Oden. Having recently read that book gave me texture to bring to The Shack that I would not have had had I read it earlier. […]

  • Ravine of Light » I Have A Dream … writes:
    February 9th, 20088:47 amat

    […] sidebar (over to the left there and down a little).  I was quite enamoured by it.  You can read my review here.  Over the past year or so Patrick and I have developed a good cyber-friendship and corresponded […]

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