Dancing in the Margins

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Dancing in the Margins

Meditations for People Who Struggle with Their Churches

Dancing in the Margins describes people of different religious traditions who struggle with their churches. It includes interviews, poetry, Biblical reflections, and questions for reflection or discussion. The theme of the book is: When the struggle intensifies, go deeper. Pray harder.

Reviews and endorsements

Robert Randall has argued that the most important reasons people go to church are to belong, to hope, to be understood, and to understand (Why People Go to Church, Abingdon Press, 1995). So where do people turn when this deceptively simple formula gives way to abuse, disenchantment, cruelty, and disapproval'' What can you do (or say) when your preacher rails against gay people and your sister is it lesbian: when your divorce is finalized and you hear divorce condemned from the pulpit; when your belong to a church that violates some of the things you hold most dear; when your ministry has been devalued by those who have little understanding of or interest in it; when you've been exiled from your parish for something that never happened? It's one thing to invite God to hatter your heart, but quite another when pressed to the margins by the people with whom you Pray.

In Dancing in the Margins, Kathy Coffey calls us to the divine dance of the spiritual life because God is good, the world is beautiful even when it's crazy, and because even in pain we can join hands and dance. Realizing that not everyone likes to dance, and that some are too hurt to dance just yet, she also provides other options for our journey. Meditation both enables us to access the clear water beneath the murky stream of life, and provides the knowledge that we cannot feed others if we do not feed ourselves. Coffey also instills in us a new appreciation for life on the margins, showing that not only is the margin where we encounter Christ, but that some of our must fruitful work can be done there, as was his.

Many people, both biblical and contemporary, inhabit Dancing in the Margins, and they will speak to you in new ways. The Canaanite woman is held up as the one who causes Jesus to expand the margins and broaden his ministry. Thomas is admirable in "his willingness to voice the questions that knot his stomach and clog his throat" (p. 39). The story of the woman healed on the Sabbath is used to show us that just because "no good deed goes unpunished" is no reason to cease healing. Women in Zaire are not allowed to play drums, so they play their rhythms on the rivers. A death-row inmate's last meal arrives at the same time as his stay of execution.

Dancing in the Margins is a rare gift: a biblically grounded book of deep meditations containing real-life narratives from) those gracious enough to show us their wounds and the balm they've used to begin the healing process. "There is nothing else like it, and 1 can't imagine anyone that doesn't know someone for whom this book will bring new hope."
Anna Hernandez, Anglican Theological Review

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We as Roman Catholics belong to a Church where openness, justice, and inclusivity are sometimes hard to find. And when these qualities do appear, they are often subject to suspicion. The paradox is that Jesus, the center of our Church, taught and lived openly and justly, welcoming all He encountered. Kathy Coffey’s Dancing in the Margins: Meditations for People who Struggle with Their Churches, offers meditations, poetry, and stories of ordinary people coming to terms with this paradox. Though relegated to the margins of the church, they discover extraordinary ways of being with, listening to, and accepting the spirit of Jesus.

Coffey begins by describing those at the margins, those feeling “betrayed by people and a system that were important to them, a church that they once honored. Now it has either viciously turned on them or blithely ignored them." (12) She then suggests that instead of shattering into despair, these betrayed or ignored ones pick themselves up, seek the Divine Partner, and dance.

Why dance? Because, Coffey tells us, God is good, and our faith does not come only inside the box called Church. Faith and our faithful God come in all the ordinary, everyday events of our lives, like drawing water from a well when we are thirsty.

By encouraging us to dance, Coffey also reminds us that we must pray and go deep within ourselves to find not just the rules of the institutional Church but God’s truth for each one of us. Again and again, this wisdom is linked to the experience of Jesus, who also lived on the margins, ignoring the religious conventions of his day, talking with a Samaritan woman, touching a dead body, healing the sick on the Sabbath. If we go deep into the Spirit of God within, we find that we can live a fully spiritual life because God is present in us, even when it appears God is nowhere to be found at the parish, in the diocese or at the Vatican.

In addition to descriptions of those hurt, dismissed, or ignored by the institution, Dancing at the Margins offers poetry and gentle meditations on healing. And at the end of each chapter Coffey provides questions for study and reflection. Especially for those recently hurt by the institutional Church, this material could be quite useful, helping them to join the many men and women in and out of the institutional Church who have found a space to seek the holy in their own way.

For those of us who have been living on the margins for a long time, however, this book really does not provide the hope and inspiration for which we yearn. The stories are inspiring, but they are all too familiar. There are just too many of us living ‘on the margins” because the institutional Church is abusive. As one woman quoted in Dancing at the Margins suggests, some of us are no longer satisfied with being marginalized.

“Something about being Catholic is etched on my soul,” she says( 142).

Where can I find a book of meditations that will give me courage, daring, boldness and resolution to believe in and work toward a Church that is open, just and inclusive? What I`m looking for is a strong statement about my right to speak and to do what is just even if the Church fathers do not agree, I may sometimes welcome a meditation that inspires me to dancing. At other times l need one that leads to speaking clearly or disagreeing or even jumping up and down and shouting out loud.

—Genevieve Chavez, Equalwrites Magazine

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In this powerful little book, the author does not hesitate to mingle Gospel stories and their applications, with contemporary life stories that connect with the Gospel. She achieves a very striking and thought-provoking picture of the failures of today’s churches to face the real issues of modem life. Through the actual experiences of individuals we are faced with the obvious futility of imposing criteria for acceptance on the minor matters of liturgy, language, gender, money, etc., while refusing to address the major problems of poverty, discrimination and the rest. Without indulging in criticism, she nevertheless makes us see the contradictions. She gives numerous examples of the courage and humility of men and women who continue to believe in the future despite the injustices they have endured. The sub-tit1e of this book very accurately names those who would benefit from it, but it also offers a way of understanding for those who support people in the midst of the struggle.

-Bede Luetkemeyer, OSB, Spirit Life Magazine



9780824518158
Paperback / 160 pages
Dimensions: 5 3/8 x 8 1/4
CROSSROAD, 1999

Keywords:
Meditations, Church
Categories:
Church, Health and Sanity