I opened the arts and entertainment section of the Courier Mail on Easter weekend and there in all its Baz Luhrmann-esque glory was “Strictly Ballroom”. The Musical. Which I’m sure given it’s larger than life characters, music and colour will be a big hit. It put me in mind of the film which I have to say is one of my favourites. I think twenty years ago when it was produced it really captured something of the unique storytelling voice coming from Australia. At the heart of the film (and I imagine the musical) is the line that Fran’s character keeps returning to throughout – “a life lived in fear is a life half-lived.” For Fran, so often overlooked and marginalised, by the flashier, louder, pretty girls of the ballroom dancing world it is a mantra of what is possible if only she has the courage.
And as we know, Fran has more depth and more character than the sequined minxs she mixes with – from the moment she tells Scott “I want to dance with you, I want to dance with you, your way at the Pan Pacifics”, you can see that here is a woman who has recognised his gifts and feels that she is a match for him.
So what has “Strictly Ballroom” have to tell us about Easter?
In the time following this amazing upside-down story, beginning with his arrest and swiftly followed by his execution, Jesus’s friends and family have lived through and participated in a story of unimaginable pain, betrayal and visceral horror. There was nothing pleasant or polite about a crucifixion. In the immediate days following his burial, these people retreated into safe places, locked rooms and grieved him privately, terrified that the authorities would hunt them down too and wondering no doubt, what on earth they should do next. It is difficult for us to imagine how hard it is for them when accounts start to filter through that Jesus is no longer dead, but that he has been seen, his body somehow transformed, but still recognisably Jesus. Yet, the new days dawn and he appears to them in different places, at different times and gradually, with his Resurrection, a new reality opens up for them. Suddenly, his actions marked with such integrity and courage in every part, even to death on a cross are seen in the extraordinary light of his victory over the thing that makes us most afraid of living – dying. At the same time, it is as if the puzzle pieces of his life, his teachings, his stories, his healings finally fit together for the disciples; and everything centres on his very singular vision of the energy that creates and transforms the world, that turns dead-ends and farewells, injustice and hatred on their heads: and this is energy is God and that God is Love.
It is in this Easter World that Peter is moved to say “I see now that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” (Acts 10: 34-35). Until this point, the disciples really haven’t understood the big picture. But now with growing certainty, they learn that a life lived in fear is a life half-lived. The first letter of John observes “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out all fear…” (1 John 4:12); so it has been with Jesus – now they can see there is nothing he would not do for Love. And if this is true of Jesus, then how much more true must this be of the God he called Daddy?
It is a moment of remarkable recognition for Peter: “I truly see now that God shows no partiality…” why is it that ever since this first Easter, we as a church have struggled to grasp this simple but central message? Why is it that we so return to the default settings, latching on to the bits in the Bible that are about prohibitions and exclusions, failing to see as Peter did that it doesn’t matter who you are or what religious codes you have lived by, it doesn’t matter what gender, or what nationality, or orientation or age or whether you are rich or poor? Why? Because, we too, like the sparkly folk of Baz Luhrmann’s Ballroom World, get so caught up in the rules we lose our sense of the passion of the dance itself. We opt to live in fear, fear of failure, fear of loss, or rejection or being left out or left behind, fear of loving too much, fear of living, fear of dying, because fear makes us find rules, and rules give us some sense of control.
Jesus shows us that abundant life requires courage from us, not fear. Jesus shows us that we are to include those on the margins, those who are voiceless or persecuted, because God shows no partiality. God shows no partiality, God does not discriminate; God does not invent the rules that strip away humanity from others – it is we who do that because we are afraid. Jesus shows us that God loves and recognises all of his own, because God is Love. What else should we expect of the God of the universe, but that the Love he gives is universal? Anything less is not worthy of him.
So what are you going to choose? Are you going to side with the sparkly people, and stay within the comfort zones, or will you dance with the compassionate heart of God, beyond the safe realm of our comfort zones, beyond fear, beyond all that limits our humanity, and will you love?
… A life lived in fear, is a life half-lived.