Summer camp songs can usually be divided into two categories: campfire nonsense songs and chapel praise songs. Easy way to tell the difference? Nonsense songs usually involve dancing and talking animals. Praise songs involve Jesus and possibly other members of the Trinity.
There was one song that split the difference between the two. And I absolutely hated it.
It was called “Undignified,” and was taken from the story about David dancing before the Lord when the Ark of the Covenant came back to Jerusalem. The chorus went like this: “Some would say it’s foolishness, but I’ll become even more undignified than this. Leave my pride by my side.”
This was accompanied by jumping around the room, hollering, and anything else you might expect out of a roomful of middle schoolers after you’ve just given them Popsicles and before you’ve worn them out with endless relay races. One of the counselors even started a congo line.
“It’s not even a worship song,” I pointed out to a friend after chapel. “Nobody knows what they’re singing about. They just want an excuse to jump around and act stupid.”
So, when we sang “Undignified,” I just stood there with my bony arms crossed, feeling like the only thinking person in the room, a contentious objector to unspiritual frivolity. (Even at age thirteen, I had Pharisaic tendencies. Maybe especially at age thirteen.)
When I was a sophomore in high school, I wrote about that song in my journal. It was still, apparently, bothering me three years later. Here’s what I said:
Often, for me, worship is…reserved. “Hello God, please have a seat. Thank you so much for fitting me in. Now, let’s proceed to the first item on the agenda….” Don’t get me wrong: I love God. But often it’s a technical love with not much passion or emotion attached.
If I lived in David’s day, I can guarantee that I wouldn’t have been one of the servant girls dancing in the street, rejoicing that the presence of God had returned to His people. At best, I would have been on the Ark Research Foundation, or a member of the Committee for the Restoration of the Temple.
Or I would be like Michal. Let’s face it, I am Michal. Downright frigid toward David’s exuberant joy, she worried more about what people thought than about the celebration going on beneath her. David set her straight soon enough, but I think that by sitting out on the celebration, Michal lost the sense of God’s love that David felt—the love of an almighty Father who delights in seeing His children dance with joy.
A few years made me realize I had the wrong perspective on worship. I could step back and see myself in the royal palace, looking down on the celebration below my window. I was leaning against a cold, hard marble pillar, feeling like my soul was trapped inside of it, and I didn’t know how to really praise God. Or, at least, I had forgotten.
Because there was a time when I did dance before the Lord, when my twin sister told me to sing quieter in church because it was embarrassing, when the concept of a joyful noise was my justification for anything I did during worship time. The kid with a bowl cut who wore bright clothes that didn’t really match, who had a constant grin and a bold faith and enough enthusiasm for a small congregation—that kid was me, once.
My grown-up logic and questions and theology hadn’t yet overtaken that childlike joy. And I never crossed my arms during worship.
Churches all over the country have images of Jesus welcoming the little children, holding them on his lap, smiling at them. But do we ever ask why? Why would a teacher with so much to do, with so many people to heal that they often couldn’t fit inside the house, with only a short time of ministry left, bless children who didn’t appear to have anything wrong with them? What practical purpose did it serve?
Maybe Jesus wanted to consider our priorities when we come to him, compared to those children. Those kids had no ulterior motives. Sure, maybe they thought the kingdom of heaven had a McDonalds playland or that Jesus would heal their scrapes and bruises from falling on their bike. But they loved Jesus for who he really was. They didn’t come to him looking for answers or healing or a list of rules or political opinions. They came to Jesus looking for Jesus.
Children aren’t afraid to love. They aren’t afraid to dance—it just comes out of them. I want to remember what it’s like to be that way. It’s undignified, but it’s joyful. It’s foolishness, but it’s love.
And the greatest of these is love.