Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Dancing Outside the Boxes

I passed this intriguing image -- a life-size painting installed on the side of a bungalow -- in Ybor City, Florida last week. I'm not sure you can find Ybor City on a map; the little Garmin GPS we had rented for the trip couldn't seem to recognize the name, and she insisted (in her endlessly pleasing little voice) that the address we sought was in Tampa.

But the people of Ybor City -- once the cigar-rolling capital of the United States -- clearly do NOT believe they live in Tampa. The public buildings all proclaim Ybor City, and the docents who give you a tour of the town make it clear that although during the city's heyday they might have been under the jurisdiction of the Tampa police, at the end of the day those police went BACK to Tampa, and the residents of Ybor City were free to follow their own rules.

Which rules, we were told, included a nightly conga line from the Tampa-enforced WHITE Cuban social club to the Tampa- enforced BLACK Cuban social club, where the black cubans were invited to join the dance back to the white club for an all-night dance party. Apparently the Cubans didn't hold with segregation and liked to mix things up a bit.

So here we have one kind of rule -- thou shalt have separate establishments for different colors -- and another sort of rule altogether: thou shalt either wear or be a work of art. It seems clear to me, even though I was actually raised in the south, that the second sort of rule is more godly than the first. Not just because the lady in question bears a strong resemblance to our popular conception of Eve. But also because art is all about creativity -- as is God. And I would claim that the nightly conga line was a deliciously creative solution to a challenging situation.

The Tampa police wanted to put the black Cubans in a box, and in so doing boxed in the white Cubans as well. But neither group thought of themselves as white or black; they thought of themselves as Cuban, and danced right out of those boxes.

I think this may be where religious traditions often fail us: they begin as pointers to God, as reminders of God, but somehow over time they become boxes, and we find ourselves feeling separated from other equally spiritual individuals who are trapped in other boxes. I think those of us with a strong ecumenical bent are like the Cubans -- we are being called by God to dance outside the box, to be art -- signs and symbols of God's infinite creativity, dancing an invitation, seeking ways to reunite the human community.

Which doesn't mean the box is bad; it's okay to go back in there from time to time. We just need to remember that we are one with the folks who are in the other boxes. We need to consciously step outside from time to time and extend that invitation to dance; to think and dream together of what our world could be without these arbitrary restrictions.

1 comment:

karengberger said...

I love this. Thank you for sharing it. The photo is priceless; one of my favorite images, too.

Thanks for your email. Our trip was good. I blogged about it & put in a slideshow to illustrate.

Love to all of you,