The following was written by Matthew Paul Turner. His words made me smile, and think... and want to do the Hokey Pokey.
When I was in third grade, a substitute gym teacher announced to the class that, because of the rain, we weren't able to go outside. "But how about we do the Hokey Pokey in the gymnasium?" she asked.
Sadly, I’d never heard of the Hokey Pokey; that was because I lived in a hole or, as some called it, fundamentalism. Sure, most kids could perform the Hokey Pokey song and dance in their sleep by the time they reached third grade, but it sounded dirty to me. You see, my church and Christian school didn't allow frivolous activities such as dancing, so I couldn't remember a time I had ever felt free enough to "shake it all about."
"Everyone get in a circle!" yelled Ms. Hartman, who was obese and often smelled like her Pekingese, "Let’s do the Hokey Pokey!"
Ms. Hartman was an awful excuse for gym teacher—the poor soul wore moo moos—but everyone loved her because she let us break some of the school's less important rules when other teachers weren't looking.
"What’s the Hokey Pokey?" asked one of the kids, looking around the room with an expression that said I don't think we should do it.
"You don't know the Hokey Pokey?" asked Ms. Hartman, throwing up her arms in disbelief, "Are you kidding me?"
"Is it a game?” asked another kid.
"I think it's more like a song and dance."
"Oh, we're not allowed to dance," I said, not wanting to be caught leading any of my brothers and sisters in the Lord astray. "Dancing is sexual!"
"Sexual? That’s nonsense!" said Ms. Hartman, "You can do this dance! I'm sure even God does the Hokey Pokey once in a while. Form a circle!"
Following Ms. Hartman’s instructions, we nervously got in a circle. But most of us kept a watchful eye at the ceiling, fearful that lightening might strike because a teacher had just suggested that God moved his body to beats of music not made by angels.
As she began directing us through each of the steps, it became clear that, to our beloved overweight substitute teacher, putting your left foot in was much more than mere child's play. To her, this little song and dance seemed to be more like a manifesto—one that was a testament to how she tried to live her life and wanted us to live ours.
When one of the kids was half-heartedly doing the motions, scared that his or her parents would balk at such rebellion, Ms. Hartman went ballistic. "No. No. No! You do it like this!" she said, and then she'd jump in front of us and demonstrate how to do the move. But you could tell that, in addition to teaching us how to dance the Hokey Pokey, there was a part of her that was also teaching us how to live life.
"You have to put your all into it; don't half-heartedly do anything," she encouraged. "And don't fear looking foolish! Who cares what other people think? You have to be free!"
Ms. Hartman was free; she didn't seem to care that everything jiggled uncontrollably when she put her body in and took her body out. It didn't faze her that a couple of kids laughed. She also didn't care that teachers would once in a while talk about her behind her back. She wanted us to taste a little freedom, even if it was just for a thirty-five minute gym class and only the Hokey Pokey. But as fearful as I was to dance, by the end of the 35-minutes, I thought gym class was over much too quickly.
Recently, I've realized that, for much of my life, I haven't lived free. Oh, I've pretended to be free. But mostly, I've been locked up in fear or codependency or religiosity or guilt.
The freedom that I find truly beautiful is the kind that isn't defined by the expectations of others. It's the kind that allows us to ask questions, be fully human without feeling guilty, and get all-out angry once in a while. It's also the kind that lets you be you.
But sometimes that kind of freedom is difficult to attain, mostly because we can't attain it. Freedom comes as byproduct of living out of who we are, who we were created to be, and we can't manufacture that. We just have to do it. I've learned on more than one occasion that the freedom to experience God sometimes just comes by getting out and living life, by just putting my left foot in.