The Harlem Shake and The Triune God

harlemshakeYou may have seen it, you may have heard of it, you may have even participated in one.

Just over a month ago, a cult-like craze shook uncontrollably across YouTube and Facebook accounts around the nation.

First filmed in early February by a group of teenage sketch comedians in Queensland, Australia, the video created a cluster of reactions within hubs of American YouTube followers spawning a massive replication frenzy.

The 30 to 32 second electronica-sound bite, recorded by artist Bauuer, begins with the camera directed to an open space where everyone is seemingly going about their business in regards to their context. As the music begins, one individual (typically wielding a mask or helmet of some sort) begins dancing; not swaying the rest of the “non-participants” from their course. Then, like any quality electronica song is supposed to do, the bass drops dramatically and the camera cuts to a mass of people (ranging from 10 to 10,000 as state universities began catching on to the trend) dancing ridiculously with various props, costumes, and… lack of costumes. 

That’s it. That’s what’s caught this nation by storm. Instead of the debt ceiling, North Korea, or post-Oscar buzz, this Gangam-style successor has challenged us to stop what we’re doing and simply shake what our mother’s gave us.

As controversy arose to the Harlem Shake not actually being the Harlem Shake of early 80s dance scene in New York City (some people even claiming it to be a cultural/racial disgrace to a culturally specific folkway), I’d hope we could look beyond this tension, and its overbearing news and social media coverage, to see what’s happening at the core of this most recent societal fad:  We. Are. Dancing.

Although dancing in public can be intimidating to some, there’s a sense of pure, unadulterated freedom that comes from this art form of dancing (despite whether you call this video sensation art or not). The other attribute of this dance is that it’s done together. This is not a solo performance of a beautiful ballerina, skilled tap dancer, or even a ballroom dancing duo; it’s a bunch of folks moving their bodies ferociously in the space they inhabit at that moment.

Greek theologian, John Damascene (676-749), developed a term to describe the three Persons of Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) to display the dyanmic nature of each, but also to describe their relationship with the other two. Naming it perichoresis, meaning being-in-one-another or the mutual indwelling of the Three-in-One, the term was understood at face value, but lacked a metaphor that could be applicable. Beyond Damascene’s lifetime, theologians began linking it to the image of “the divine dance,” describing a divine sense of choreography that reflects symmetry, partnership, and accents of each Dancer’s uniqueness yet still connected at its core. Author and theologian, Catherine LaCugna, writes in her book “God For Us”:

“The image of the dance forbids us to think of God as solitary. The idea of Trinitarian perichoresis provides a marvelous point of entry into contemplating what it means to say that God is alive from all eternity as love.”

But don’t get confused. The Triune God doesn’t dance just for personal gratification. God invites us to dance within the mutual indwelling of the Trinity. God rejects isolation and deeply desires our communion. God’s hope is for us not to dance alone, but to join with our brothers and sisters to be most fully be in relationship with each other and with God.

The Harlem Shake is an example of a cultural communion of persons from all different cultures, races, and stories that came together for one common reason. May we acknowledge God’s invite to dance with a ferocious freedom with the Divine – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – to more fully love God, love our neighbor, and experience a relationship with The Triune God who is unashamedly for us.


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