It's Time to Celebrate!

Rev. Megan Foley
Sermon Date: 
Sun, 06/28/2015

Chalice Lighting Faith in Summer, by Ellen Hamilton
In faith, together, we light this small scrap of light,
Symbol of grandfather Sun’s enormous power,
Whose energy burns so brightly
In these days of deep summer,
Catapulting the leaves and vines,
Vegetables, flowers and fruits
To astonishing size, lengths and heights,
Spilling over the tops of cages, walls and trellises,
Delighting and nourishing all beings.
We bask in the warmth and heat of these days,
With lightened hearts and quickened senses,
In gratitude and in faith.

Dance Party: In The Beginning In The Mood, by the Glenn Miller Band

Opening Words
When I was in college, the guys across the hall from me held what they called Champagne parties every Friday at 5 pm, and this song, In The Mood by the Glenn Miller band, was the opening song. It rang out like a clarion call up and down the dorm, blasting what was pretty unusual music for 1989 but a party song for the ages nonetheless.

When you heard the music, in college, you were supposed to put down your work, whatever you were doing, and make it to their room by the time the song ended. These two guys packed way more than 50 people into a standard size dorm room every Friday night for the two years I lived on that floor.

Two years is plenty of time for things to change and evolve in college – roommates, classes, romances, plans, and I changed too, but every time I heard that opening line – buh da buh bum bum bum bumbum da bum da bum – I dropped everything and packed in the room for a night of dancing and general revelry.

Forget everything. It’s time to dance all night long. I still feel that way when I hear it.

Forget everything. It’s time to dance all night long.

I have very fond memories of Champagne parties. And, I can also look at the situation using my more contemporary eyes, my more present-day perspective, which doesn’t prioritize Friday night revelry but thinks things more like, “oh my gosh, is everyone here of age?” and “that’s far too many people in a room, son, it’s just not safe,” and “Who is going to clean all this up?”

Has middle age, motherhood and ministry turned me into an old fogey?

There may be an answer to be found within my reaction to this month’s theme, which is Revelry. What does it mean to be a people of Revelry? The reaction I had a few months ago, when I realized this question was coming, was to shake my head and panic a little bit. Ack, revelry?!! Groan! Celebration and fun, ugh! I’m supposed to lead a congregation to explore revelry, but actually, all we’re really going to do is to find out that I forget to revel all the time.

Is the world actually divided up between revelers and non revelers? It seems that way to me sometimes. Revelers are those people who are generally up for a party, or to have fun, or to play. They bring that quality to everything they do. You know those folks here in this congregation. They’re just fun to have around. They suggest that we have summer cookouts, rather than more meetings, and they even put the eating of chocolate into our church’s covenant. Revelers.

And non-revelers, sigh, those are the ones who are serious, and worried about all the work that isn’t getting done, and want to make sure all the ts are crossed, and who can definitely ruin a good time. Remember that show Friends, where Monica interrupted the Pictionary party to inform everyone that the caps on the markers needed to be replaced tightly? I still remember my son’s face last December when he asked how my clergy holiday celebration went and I told him how we mixed the holiday festivities with a sharing circle about how racism in Ferguson, MO was affecting each of us. He was very disappointed in me.

As a native non-reveler, I note that revelry is all in the timing. Is Ferguson important to talk about? Yes. Is it party behavior? No. No, it is not. Non-revelers sometimes miss that. Timing is everything. And sometimes, it’s time to party.

Today’s service will mix it up. In honor of my attempt to recapture revelry in my own life, I refuse to stand up here for the requisite 20 minutes and describe concepts of revelry to you. So sometimes I will stand up here. And the rest of the time, it’s dance party time. Let’s have fun.

Dance Party: Because It’s Fun I Feel Good, by James Brown

Welcome and Announcements

Joys and Sorrows

You may or may not be able to imagine how weird it is to read research on play and celebration. The irony kind of makes your head explode, but it’s interesting research nonetheless.

I read a book by Barbara Ehrenreich called Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy. Okay, I’ll admit it – I read part of this book. When I learned how important it is to get out and rejoice with other people, when I learned how celebrations and dancing and singing strengthen social bonds and mental health, and has been used through the ages as the basis for religion, even, it became increasingly difficult to continue to sit quietly and just read a book about it. So I put that book down and went to celebrate! But I did learn a couple of things first.

You should know that Emilie Durkheim, largely considered the father of sociology, termed revelry as “collective effervescence.” Sociology is the study of people in groups, and sociologists note that people in groups develop structures and rules and hierarchies…AND, they then employ collective excitement and festivities to counteract, shake up, and contradict those structures and rules and hierarchies.

We all use the phrase “letting off steam,” but it’s a real thing. Overly rigid structures are unstable ones. Flexible, fun structures last longer. They rejuvenate. So, if you aren’t already so inclined, effervesce! It’s great for you and great for society! And don’t effervesce alone. Collectively effervesce. That’s the good stuff. It’s the group party that does the good work.


Ehrenrich writes that “anthropologists tend to agree that the evolutionary function of dance was to enable – or encourage – humans to live in groups larger than small bands of closely related individuals.”

“Dance, as a neuroscientist put it, is the ‘biotechnology of group formation.’”

So dance enables us to bond, enables us to be able to stand to live together in larger groups than just families, and that is important because…get this…larger groups are better able to defend themselves against predators. (Ehrenreich, Barbara. Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2006. P. 23-24.) Really!

Okay, this isn’t party talk. We don’t dance together because we remember that then we’ll be able to better defend ourselves against predators. Dance is not a yucky medicine that we have to take to prevent tough times. That’s not reveler thinking. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. Dancing together wards off predators by allowing us to more happily exist in larger groups.

And what are today’s modern predators? Let me name them: Isolation. Disconnnection. Fear. Hate. Meaninglessness. Ennui. Environmental degradation.

I don’t know about you, but if I can dance party my way away from those things, then I’m all in. And don’t forget, it’s the collective effort that is what teaches us.

So what I’m saying is, we now, as a church, we now need to do the Macarena so that we can save the world. That’s right, your minister said doing the Macarena will save the world. Who is with me? Also, we’re going to take the offering now.

Offertory Dance Party: All Together Now Macarena, by Los Del Rio

One of the reason revelry makes me nervous is because it seems linked to another behavior that I am not good at, and that is play. In my own defense, my mother even told me a few years ago that I never played, not even as a child (although that’s an exaggeration) – what she said was, “Megan, you just taught yourself to read and then there you were with a book all the time.”

So, play. It’s a bit of a mystery to me. So again to the research!

There is a decidedly non-reveling psychology professor at Boston College who researches play. Fun, right? His name is Dr. Peter Gray. He says there are five factors that make play, really play. Is naming the five factors of playing an example of play? No, it is not. Yet it’s still something to think about.

The five factors are these:
Play is activity that is freely entered into.
Play is self-determined. You figure out for yourself how to play.
Play involves imagination.
Play is done for the sake of fun. It’s not to be productive.
Play is completely absorbing. It takes you out of time to a place where “you are not distressed, you are not afraid of failure, and you are not distracted by anything else.” (Makar, Anthony. “The Wisdom of Play.” UU World Magazine, Summer 2015.)

Dr. Gray said something to the effect that play like that, along those five lines, play like that is what aliveness looks like.

It’s no accident that we’re talking about play in June, when, as we heard in the chalice lighting words, life is bursting all around us.

All of us in life have times of privation and restriction and contemplation. And all of us, in life, no matter how depressed or disconnected or purposeless we may be, we all have times in life of abundance and satiation and joy. The world is reflecting this abundance in this time of year. The June world is not worried and is not struggling and is not overly thoughtful. And June might be a good time for you to be more joyful and more grateful for all the good that you have, all the gifts in which you revel. Don’t study it. Experience it. The world is here for your enjoyment. Celebrate.

Dance Party: The Ultimate Purpose Happy, by Pharrell

A final few words:
Ehrenrich writes that much of what the early Christian church was like in the first and second centuries after Jesus’ death is unknown, but “the general scholarly view is that church services were noisy, charismatic affairs, quite different from a tasteful evensong today at the parish church.” It is believed that “the custom of dancing in churches was thoroughly entrenched in the late Middle Ages and apparently tolerated, if not actually enjoyed, by many parish priests. Priests danced, women danced, whole congregations joined in.”

It was “as services became more disciplined and orderly that people had to create their own festive occasions outside of church property and official times of worship, usually on holy days.” (Ehrenreich, p. 65-79.)

And I say, why keep them separate. Bring the dance party into church. Church could be your Friday night Champagne party, the call to revelry, the place that reminds you to drop everything you used to think was important and come save the world through collective, Sunday morning play. Doesn’t that sound fun? May it be so.


Listen, here’s your benediction for today. May you revel. May you play. May you collectively effervesce. May you feel like a room without a roof, whatever that is. May you be happy, and grateful, even when you aren’t sure why. This is no time for worrying or thinking too much. It’s time for aliveness, which you most certainly are. It’s time to celebrate. Amen.

Chalice Extinguishing
We extinguish this flame but not the light of truth, the warmth of community, or the fire of commitment. These we carry in our hearts until we are together again.

Dance Party Postlude: Keep on Celebrating Uptown Funk, by Mark Ronson with Bruno Mars