I’ll be doing the Hokey Pokey with my children today.
It may seem like a strange way to observe Ash Wednesday, but bear with me. If you’re searching for a way to teach children some basic principles of discipleship, repentance and forgiveness, with some reference to the incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection to boot, this childhood favorite is an excellent resource. With a little modification, this song and dance can be a joyful tool for helping children – and adults – understand what it means to follow Jesus.
I give credit for this idea to Josh Kaufman-Horner, who led a workshop at the 2012 Theology and Peace conference entitled “It’s Not About Fun, Justice, Or The Hokey Pokey,” about the importance of using biblical language when talking about mimetic theory as applied to faith. It was a great workshop, but it wasn’t about The Hokey Pokey. However, what Josh meant as a creative gesture to advertise his workshop gave me an idea for a Sunday school lesson particularly apt for the Lenten season.
Lent is all about turning our hearts and minds toward Jesus. It is about repentance, which means turning ourselves around, reorienting ourselves away from patterns of desire that entrap us in cycles of violence and envy and destruction of self and others and toward unconditional love. It’s a slow process, a lifelong process, a hokey pokey process, if you will. And as we follow Jesus on the path to the cross that leads to eternal life, we will find this process increasingly demanding.
I explained it to the children of All Saints Episcopal Church in Sunnyside, NY like this (and there could be a separate lesson for each body part):
Jesus calls us to follow him in his way of love and peace. The Church is known as Christ’s body, which means each of us has a role to play in the work that Jesus wants us to do. We have to use our own bodies to follow Jesus and be his body, to do his work for peace and love on earth.
To follow Jesus, we must use our hands. Hands can build, hands can hold, hands can hug. We might use our hands to follow Jesus by building homes or giving food to the hungry. We could follow Jesus by hugging a friend or a loved one who is sad or hurt, lonely or scared. We could follow Jesus by lending a helping hand to anyone in need.
But sometimes, we will get tired, or sad, or frustrated. Sometimes it might seem like the work we do is never enough. Sometimes we will be the ones who need a helping hand, and we won’t be able to see what we have to give. Sometimes, we might take our hands out of God’s work.
The good news is that Jesus will always extend his hand to us, and we will always have another chance to put our hands right back into the middle of God’s work. And when we do God’s work, we shake up the world!
To follow Jesus, we must use our feet. We might have to follow Jesus into new and strange places, whether across the world or across the street. We might follow Jesus into hospitals or prisons to give comfort to people who are hurting or shut away. Or we might follow Jesus far across the world, to help those who do not have the resources we enjoy. Wherever Jesus calls us, we should follow to spread a message of good news, comfort, and forgiveness.
But our feet will sometimes tire. Sometimes, the road will seem too long, or the waters will seem too rough. We could be overwhelmed by fear or fatigue. We could become distracted and wander far from the path, losing ourselves and losing our focus on God’s way.
The good news is that Jesus is the Good Shepherd who will always search to find us and put us back on track. We will always have another chance to jump feet-first into his way of love. And when we follow in the footsteps of Jesus, we will shake up the world!
To follow Jesus, we must use our heads. Jesus changes the way we think and the way we act. When someone hurts our feelings, or says something we disagree with, our first instinct might be to argue or fight. But Jesus teaches us to forgive and listen to each other. He helps us learn how to be friends even when it’s hard to get along.
Learning how to think like Jesus may be the hardest part of following him. It is natural for us to love our neighbors and hate our enemies, but Jesus tells us to love our enemies and pray for them! Most of the time, we completely fail!
The good news is that the more we forgive, the more we love, the more we try to work on our own mistakes before we try to correct others, the more we recognize that Jesus has been there all along, changing our minds to be like his! And as more and more people begin to think like Jesus, the whole world will tremble with excitement and love overflowing!
During Lent, we remember how God is changing the world. God came into the world as a person, as Jesus, to teach us how to live. His way of love for everyone made some people very angry, because he didn’t see a world of good guys and bad guys. He loved even the people we might not like. And because of this, he was killed on a cross. But Jesus came back and forgave the people who killed him, showing us that there is nothing we can do to lose his love! This love is so powerful that it is changing the whole world one heart at a time. And as our own hearts are changed, we are called to follow Jesus in his way of love.
Following Jesus takes our whole selves. It is hard work, and we will run away from it again and again. But, again and again, Jesus will gently seek us out and guide us back onto his path. We will stumble, fall and fail, but Jesus will patiently help us time and time again. Jesus’s work of turning the world around is a hokey pokey process because it starts with turning us around. But as we follow Jesus, we join him in the awesome work of building the Kingdom of God – a kingdom of Love – right here on earth.
And that’s what it’s all about!
You put your right hand in
You take your right hand out
You put your right hand in
And you shake it all about!
You do the hokey pokey and you turn yourself around (repentance)
That’s what it’s all about!
(Repeat for “left hand,” “right foot,” “left foot,” “head,” and “whole self.” Then add a special verse:)
He put his whole self in (incarnation)
We took his whole self out (crucifixion)
He put his whole self in (resurrection)
And he shook it all about!
He does the hokey pokey and he turns the world around
That’s what it’s all about!