Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat
Last night, winding down from yet another day of hiding from the coronavirus, I stirred from my News Channel Coma, flipped the remote and settled in to watching the great musical Guys and Dolls. Near the end, Stubby Kaye, as the underworld stooge Nicely-Nicely Johnson, stands up at a street church meeting he was coerced to attend, and confesses his “sin” of livening up a group of folks travelling together on a boat to heaven, in the show-stopper song Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat.
I love this song. There are covers by Don Henley, James Taylor and others, as well as a compliment of recorded Broadway versions. It appears in the incredible soundtrack of the underrated tent-preacher movie Leap of Faith. In a moment, you can hear it yourself, and see it enthusiastically performed by the 2016 Broadway cast.
But first, let me warn you: Like the parables of Jesus, this song is not what it seems. Like Jesus’s message that the last will be first, this song tells of a misguided righteousness that stifles rather than supports peoples’ understanding of God’s kingdom and God’s greatest commandment. This song is an order to “Get up, get up, start rocking the boat!”
Sometimes, boats need to be rocked. Really rocked. Now, if ever, is one of those times. As we are bombarded with conflicting reports of COVID cures, federal riot stormtroopers, mandated school re-openings, election postponements, and with pent-up resentment for and opposition to whatever the “other party” claims to be true, we know that the church is supposed to be the rock of stability and reason, the repository of truth, justice and healing, of ethics and morality.
But there seems to be a Category Five “perfect storm” that has silenced the church, keeping it inside its own empty house with that virtual anklet bracelet preventing it from telling us that our own romantic grade-school nostalgia, our own comforting mythology for what we are being told was – and even is – a better time is keeping us from seeing the honest truth.
As author Nathaniel Philbrick writes in the preface to his excellent history Mayflower, “Instead of the story we already know, it becomes the story we need to know…When violence and fear grip a society, there is an almost overpowering temptation to demonize the enemy.”
At St. John’s Church, like most other churches, we have lately allowed ourselves to become complacent in many of the things we stand for. But we have the tools at hand to fix the boat and repent – that is, turn it in the proper direction – and make some noise to our community and the world – and to ourselves – about what is truth, what is justice, and what is healing.
God help us to be safe and to be healthy and strong, but God help us also to be your hands and feet, to do the work you have intended for us to do. God help us to Rock this Boat!
And now, I hope you will take four more minutes to watch, listen, enjoy and learn from an incredible performance of Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat (from the 2016 Broadway cast at the Oliver Awards)!
Have a Blessed Week!