Kristi J. Attwood-Seaton
To be made in God’s image is to be made to dance with
God and one another.
I was dressed in my best dress with my shoulders and elbows covered to honor the modesty standards of my hosts. My friend Heshy had invited me to his wedding with his beloved bride Olivia. I was experiencing my first Jewish wedding and I was in for a treat. Heshy and I met online over social media. After chatting online for a few years, we met in real life while I spent a weekend in Brooklyn, New York to celebrate Shabbat with Heshy and several other friends. This was a blended wedding of two different Jewish traditions; Hasidic and Modern Orthodox. The traditions and liturgies were completely foreign to me. Heshy’s aunt took me under her wing and sat next to me. She helped me understand what was happening during the ceremony and bits and pieces of the Yiddish conversations being shared around me. I felt like I had been picked up and plopped right in the middle of a set for “Fiddler on the Roof.”
As the reception began to warm up, there was a wall of cloth panels brought into the reception hall that split the room into two halves. One side designated for the men and one side specifically for the women. The music began to play; lively, loud, and celebratory. The bride grabbed my hand and invited me to dance with her and I soon found myself joining a circle of joyful women dancing around the bride. This dancing went on for hours.
At some point ladders were brought to the women’s side of the curtain and young single ladies climbed them to peer over the curtains to the men’s side of the reception. I was encouraged to climb a ladder and peek for myself, and the men were doing much of the same dancing on the other side with Heshy the bridegroom at the center of the festivities. I later learned that while the men were not allowed to look at the women from their side, the women were allowed to watch and pick out potential suitors from the single men. There were many hopes for potential match-making opportunities after the wedding. It was all very fascinating and part of a culture that I had never experienced before.
Attending Olivia and Heshy’s wedding was the closest thing I had ever experienced to the gospel story of the Wedding at Cana, and I was hooked. The dancing brought energy with the circles growing faster and tighter and wine poured freely brightened cheeks and loosened tongues. It was, and remains, one of the absolute best weddings I have attended.
I grew up in the Nazarene denomination, I am third generation, raised in the 1980s performative holiness tradition where “nice girls don’t drink, smoke or chew or go with boys that do”. Holiness had been reduced to a moral social conduct code. It would take decades of quiet thinking and a few years of seminary to unlearn this toxic understanding of holiness.
I was given a book by a seminary professor written by Father Richard Rohr called “The Divine Dance.” It was a book that explored the trinity and specifically “perichoresis;” a Greek word used for a circular dance also performed at Greek weddings, almost identical to what I witnessed at that special Jewish wedding many years ago. Many early church mothers and fathers witnessed this dance, and it sparked their imaginations that this is what the trinity is like. The three persons of the trinity exist in a divine dance that is giving, receiving, dynamic, loving, serving and interactive. This divine dance is a model for our own human experience.
In the beginning God created them male and female, in God’s image the Triune Creator created them. This is a foundational understanding for the human experience in the Christian faith that we are in created in the image of God. I am afraid that we often skip over these words without much deep thought or regard. What does it mean to be created in the image of God? Is it that we are made into old bearded white men peering down from the clouds? Are we an older African American man dressed in white linen with the voice of Morgan Freeman? Are we a raging destructive wind like what Indiana Jones and the Nazis experienced in Raiders of the Lost Ark? Of course not! We are not God; we are not the Holy Spirit, and we are certainly not Jesus. Just as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not each other, neither are we made in God’s image, God. We are all in relationship with one another and being in relationship is at the core of the image of God (the imago Dei) and what we experience as humankind.
So often though, we cheapen or disregard this part of our human experience, the one experience that is so central to the nature and character of God. Certainly not because of our humanness, but in and through our humanness we sin against God and one another in thought, word, and deed. As John Wesley would say in his signature description, to be made in the image of God is to be made “capable of God.” Jesus is the prototype of what it means to be human, not Adam. Jesus points the way and shows us how to be capable of God; trusting in the same Spirit that led him and raised him from the dead. Failing to walk in love, do justice and exercise mercy with one another, we ruin our relationships. Sometimes we ruin our relationships with enormous explosive blow-ups and sometimes they die over years and decades by a thousand little cuts that never fully heal.
Theologian Elmer Collier has observed that a weak understanding of the Trinity colors our understanding or misunderstanding of the gospel. When we neglect the Trinity, we are prone to forget that Christian faith, life, and ministry are participatory. Being a Christian is more than just having a correct “legal” status before God. Christians are prone to hyper focus on forgiveness, usually personal and not collective. The work that God did in Christ through the Holy Spirit on the cross was not just simply an act of forgiveness for the individual but an act of restoration and renewal for the entire universe! What God has declared in Christ was God’s justice and shalom for the entire creation. Forgiveness aimed toward the kind of participation that dances with God and one another. We are invited to dance. Thanks be to God!
Our LGBTQIA+ siblings are also invited to dance. There is no guest list that we hold that has any power over the restoration that God also offers them. Our queer brothers, sisters and the gender fluid are also made in the image of God. Their bearing the image of God does not depend on anyone’s acceptance or rejection. To deny them fellowship, relationship, and full participation in ministry and gospel work is to second guess God himself and his creative power. To deny them full affirmation of their own relationships is to deny the very core of their bearing the imago Dei.
LGBTQIA+ individuals are also created for relationships. If salvation is indeed full restoration and not a mere “legal” status or simply fire insurance then we must affirm, encourage, and nurture their callings to ministry as they experience them. To deny these individuals their calls to ministry or their marriages is to question the participatory nature of restoration and salvation itself. To deny LGBTQIA+ individuals their calls to ministry or their marriages is to deny the imago Dei that they carry. The stakes are not whether LGBTQIA+ people have the image of God, but whether we will honor the image of God in them.
If our salvation is to be of any use to the world it becomes less personal and a lot more open and embracing of others. One question I have grappled with for several years is what difference does my salvation make in the world? There are some days that I come close to answering it for myself and other days it feels mysterious and unknowable. I think that my salvation, my own restoration, exists to show the world how to dance. To take the hands of those who are marginalized and “othered” and bring them to participate in the love and rhythm of the divine dance with me and the one who knows and loves me more intimately than even my own mother or husband.
Humankind having been created in the very image of God means that we have been created out of the overflow of love that is shared extravagantly between the Father, Son, and Spirit. CS Lewis wrote that “We were made, not primarily that we may love God (though we were made for that too), but that God may love us.” That we are so scandalously loved by God frees us to love others without reservation or condition. It is time to throw away the artificial guest list. It is time to tear up the dance cards that limit and exclude others. May we all hold hands and dance the eternal dance of inclusive and expanding love. A giving, receiving, dynamic, loving, serving, participatory and interactive divine dance. Let it be so.
Kristi J. Attwood-Seaton is a wife and mother to a large, blended family. She graduated with honors from Nazarene Theological Seminary and was given “The Heart of a Servant” award by her classmates and professors. Kristi was formerly a foster mother to LGBTQIA+ teens and young adults and hopes to become a Deacon and Chaplain in the Episcopal Church.