House music, God’s glitterball, and Christmas – a BBC Pause for Thought

Here’s the text for the 13 December 2022 “Pause for Thought” I offered on the Breakfast Show with Zoe Ball on BBC Radio 2. Listen here.

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In our first week of theology school, my friend Darcey invited some people to her flat for drinks. I say “some people” – she invited pretty much our entire first-year class. By 9:00pm a crowd of twenty-somethings had crammed inside. It was all wine and cheese and beer and crisps until someone put on Dancing Queen, followed by Notorious B.I.G., and the party turned into a mini-rave. Sofas pushed to the wall, a mass of young ministers vibing and voguing into the night.

I was always the wallflower, uncomfortable in my own skin, so this was definitely not my scene. But someone pulled me from my corner into the middle of the crowd, and 25 years later, I can still feel the unexpected joy of bumping and jumping to Abba with everybody else.

At theology school I explored God, I fell more in love with Jesus – but it’s also where I learned to love to dance!

What started in Darcey’s flat didn’t stop there. Going dancing with classmates became a ritual. At midnight on Fridays, we’d leave our desks and hit the clubs. We didn’t bring our textbooks along, but for me, the dancefloor was definitely a place of meeting God. I remember one night at Atlanta’s Backstreet club, sort of like Heaven nightclub in London. I was surrounded by hundreds of people, friends and strangers together, this glorious crowd of humanity. And the DJ spun a song by the House singer Kim English: Joy, unspeakable joy! ‘Cause they did not give it, they cannot take it away!

The beat and the lyrics hit me like Scripture. The glitterball above us seemed to catch fire. And a joy from somewhere else flowed through everybody, including me. I felt luminous and totally alive.

In the Christmas story in the Bible, there were shepherds – not on a dancefloor, but suddenly in the sky above their flocks and fields, they saw a supernova of sound and light, a glitterball of God’s presence. At first it scared them out of their skin, but when they realized the song they were hearing was about peace and goodness for all people, they hurried off to find the reason for the music. And I imagine them dancing all the way to Jesus’s crib.

2000 years before I discovered dancing, those shepherds, they got the party started. As a Christian, I believe wherever people are in the glorious crowd of humanity, whether we identify as spiritual or not, whether we’re shepherds or students or Strictly Come Dancing contestants, there is – for all people – an unspeakable joy, the gift of God, which can never be taken away.

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