“You ain’t got no rhythm, White Boy.” (“White Boy” is what my friend James used to call me. It was a term of endearment. I think.) And it wasn’t true. I did have rhythm. I just couldn’t dance. Dancing aside, there is a pandemic of rhythmlessness that causes all sorts of problems in our lives.
Gloria Estefan tried unsuccessfully to address our cultural rhythmlessness in 1987. She misdiagnosed the issue. For some reason she thought rhythm was out there looking for people to infect with itself. In her magnum opus she and her esteemed Miami Sound Machine declared:
O eh, o eh, o eh, oo ah… O eh, o eh, o eh, oo ah… Yah yeh goh…
The rhythm is gonna get you tonight
No way, you can fight it every day
But no matter what you say
You know it the rhythm is gonna get’cha
No clue, of what’s happening to you
And before this night is through
Ooh baby the rhythm is gonna get’cha
Rhythm is gonna get’cha
Rhythm is gonna get’cha
Rhythm is gonna get you
The rhythm is gonna get you tonight
Gloria Estefan is a liar. The rhythm is not going to get you or me or anyone else. However, she was astute in observing the human propensity to “fight it every day”. And she rightly asserts that most of us have “no clue of what’s happening” to us.
As a pastor, I get a chance to listen to people tell me about their lives or their take on the state of our world. A lot. Like, a lot, a lot. I was on the phone recently with a dear friend who was seeking some advice from me for one of our mutual friends. And I found myself offering up the same diagnosis my friend James had after watching me attempt to dance. I said, “Sounds to me like he ain’t got no rhythm.” I offered the same diagnosis to another friend recently who is just exhausted by life- parenting, work, responsibility, passion. “You ain’t got no rhythm, man”
A couple of months back I was visiting a pastor friend in Mobile, AL. We went out to grab a beer a bar called Callaghan’s Irish Social Club. (It had just been named Southern Living’s best bar of 2017. My first thought was, “There is no way this dive is the best bar in the south.” But that’s neither here nor there.) We grabbed a table outside and talked about doing a podcast together. We talked about our churches and how we see God at work in the communities we serve. Then he asked me about my dissertation topic for my doctoral work.
I won’t bore you with the details, but it boils down to this: We ain’t got no rhythm. God created all things and it was all good. There was perfection and balance and order and structure- a symbiosis of environments and the light and life that occupies them. And then upon this beautiful harmony God set a rhythm- a six to one Sabbath economy of time that was to govern all things.
“And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” And there it is. The seventh day. The downbeat of God’s rhythm. And he told those whom he made in his image to honor the rhythm like it is holy.
So, as I’m sitting with my friend explaining how poorly we as pastors honor a Sabbath rhythm in our lives I hear the band playing inside. It was a bluesy four-piece, soulful for white-boys ensemble- kind of a Wide Spread Panic meets Muddy Waters type of thing. And I’m talking about Sabbath as I’m listening. I can’t make all of it out because the band was on the other side of the wall but I can feel the kick drum in my chest. And it’s holding this rhythm that everyone has to answer to. The guitarist starts going nuts on this solo but he has to answer to that kick drum. Then the trumpet starts in on a solo but even still, he ain’t free from the rhythm of that drum. Then keyboard guy starts in on some run but he can’t run off because that drum is keeping time. And then the drummer, well, the drummer himself even answers to his own rhythm.
And as I’m talking to my friend I realize that a lot of our problem is that everybody is a solo artist but nobody’s listening to the kick drum even though it is the Almighty himself that is keeping time with it. We ain’t got no rhythm.
God looked upon his people during the days of his prophet Isaiah and noticed that they didn’t have any rhythm either. Everybody was doing his or her own thing. It was like a Jr. high jam band with no drummer. He said through Isaiah:
“If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day,
and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly;
then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth.”
I’m certainly not suggesting we fall into the ceremonial law of Old Testament Sabbath observance. I am simply suggesting that there is a rhythm to which God designed us to walk. Sabbath is the Lord’s holy day. Jesus called himself “the Lord of the Sabbath.” Through Isaiah God tells his people that they are trampling on the Sabbath by seeking their own pleasure rather than his own glory.
Fear not! The rhythm is not going to “get us”. God is not going to punish us for not keeping a holy Sabbath that Christ fulfilled for us. But we miss out on the delight that comes with allowing God’s rhythm to keep time for us. We miss out on “riding the heights of the earth.” Discontentment, stress, anger, covetousness, weariness, worldly ambition, workaholism, pleasure seeking, and general angst are all symptoms of people who can’t hear the kick drum. Hearing that downbeat of God’s design is a present, steady, unfailing reminder to a world in chaos that God is in control. But too often it is the world’s noise we wind up listening to that shapes the rhythmlessness of our own lives.
So what does Sabbath look like? I don’t know. It’s not sheet music. But it doesn’t look like the other six days. It looks different, holy even. It looks like it’s not about you. It looks like worship, not work. It looks like rest, not labor. It looks like saying no to some things and saying yes to other things. It looks like Christian community. It sounds like singing. It feels like stillness in a world of hurry. And it acts like going to church every week.
Speaking of my white boy-ness, I was in South Dakota recently on a Pheasant hunt. On Saturday night I told the men I was with that I planned on going to church the next morning. One man commented something like, “I thought you were off this weekend.” “I am,” I replied, “But I worship with God’s people on Sunday whether I’m in the pulpit or not.” I wound up at a little Methodist church (it doesn’t matter to me so much where I go so long as I am in the company of believers). It wasn’t great. It was all just… meh. But on Sunday mornings I belong with God’s people, with a liturgy that reminds me I’m not the center of my universe. Sure, I could have been walking fields of milo while dogs worked, chasing up pheasants for me to shoot at that morning. But then it would have been just like my Friday morning. And just like my Saturday morning.
As I sat in that little church with no air conditioning sweating while a less-than-inspiring praise team sang simple songs and a preacher misapplied Exodus 17, I took the Lord’s Supper I thought to myself, “This is exactly where I need to be.” The whole morning was a reminder that it wasn’t about me, my pleasure, my time off, or my own theological leanings. It was the Lord’s Day- a day for me to remember what time it was. It was the downbeat around which my life orients itself. To honor the rhythm is to honor the One whose foot is on the kick drum. Sabbath practice is what brings balance to our lives. It is a gift of God’s common grace in a swirling chaotic world that helps us remember he’s in control.
Sure, we’re free to shoot at pheasants, or lay in soft beds, or tee the ball up, or plant tulip bulbs, or watch our kids kick soccer balls or hit baseballs in some tournament out of town, or get out on the boat early, or go into the office for few hours, or tailgate at the stadium before the noon kick-off, or treat our Sunday at Disney just like we treated our Saturday at Disney. God’s rhythm is not “gonna get you.” The Lord of the Sabbath won’t love you any less for not honoring his Lordship. But know that as long as you step on God’s Sabbath while “going your own ways” and “seeking your own pleasure” you will never know the sweet simplicity of taking delight in the Lord as you learn to live your life within his time signature. Otherwise you will continually be swept up in the unsatisfying carnality of the world’s rhythmlessness.
A musician doesn’t play within the rhythm because it is convenient or “they get something out of it”. The rhythm is a gift that keeps them from sounding a hot mess. So don’t ignore the kick drum. Listen until you can feel it in your chest. Then orient everything in your life around it like it’s a gift. Because that’s exactly what it is.
Grace and Truth,