• Richard Parrish

A Theological Perspective on The Hokey Pokey



It took all I had to hold back the tears.


Others watched as I sat alone in a chair on the edge of the gym floor. Their looks reminded me of how uncomfortable I was. As they joyfully hopped and danced to the “Hokey Pokey,” I recall how I ached.


It wasn’t an injury. A broken leg would feel better than this, I thought.


My friends in kindergarten were allowed to dance. I wasn’t. Not because I didn’t want to, but because my parents had made it clear to me—and my teacher—Dancing was sinful. Even a five-year-old child can feel embarrassed!


I wanted to be accepted by my friends. I also loved my parents. If I do the Hokey Pokey, how would my parents know, I thought. Then I remembered my older brother.


He had entered a talent contest at his school in a trio. They had chosen a song, “Birth of The Blues” (a non-religious song), and they had won the contest. Although my parents were not present, they found out.


Mom always had a way of finding out. I remember my brother’s punishment when his sin became known!


The risk is too significant for me to take. So, mustering my courage, I did my best to hold back my tears and watched my friends laughing and dancing to the “Hokey Pokey.”


My parents meant well. They were sincere, respectable people who loved God. But their perspective was often at odds with the prevalent trends of societal preference.


Living with a legalistic perspective encourages us to isolate, for fear of being contaminated by the world. It stresses that our acceptance by God depends upon our performance. If I obey everything God wants me to, I will be loved. If I don’t, I won’t.


“Fitting in” has not been easy for me. After all, if the Hokey Pokey is sinful, is there anything in life that’s not?


I frequently ask myself: “Is my view shaped by God’s perspective, or the world’s point of view? I believe that’s a good question for each of us.


Not every view is beneficial—religious or non-religious. An un-founded religious opinion that ignores God’s love and mercy is equally as unhealthy as a non-religious assumption that disregards the idea that God doesn’t punish sin.


The tension between good and evil and right and wrong isn’t new. Humans have—and always will—grapple with what’s permissible and what is not. Legalism isn’t new, either. Jesus lived with Pharisees who insisted that our performance (our ability to keep every letter of the law) is what earned our acceptance with God.


The problem with a pharisaical (legalist) perspective is: No one can earn God’s acceptance. It’s not a matter of effort or desire, because sometimes, no matter how much we try to resist, the Hokey Pokey just makes our feet move!


Paul (a Pharisee of Pharisees) discovered this reality:

“I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.[1]

Before we become too harsh with the Pharisees of our day, we must not overlook society’s insistence on accommodating everyone and all things. And we cannot ignore that societal “norm,” is often in conflict with God’s standards.


It’s also difficult to find a person who enjoys being told what they can or cannot do. Something within us resents forced boundaries. Someone said: “The reason we have more than 17,000 laws is that we have always resisted and resented Ten Commandments.”


God did not want to complicate matters for Israel (or us). Just ten commandments, not thousands. But we fail to keep them. It’s not a lack of effort or desire. Paul accurately identifies the problem:

“Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand.[2]

There you have it. That three-letter word some insist on using to remind us of our failures, and that others refuse to acknowledge at all. A word we know too well, SIN.


A healthy perspective always embraces morality and faith. Alexis de Tocqueville, political scientist, historian, and politician, wrote: “Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.”


God’s commandments are there to provide freedom, not bondage. They are for our good, not our harm. Restraint for the right reason is prudent. Unrestrained behavior is destructive.


As a follower of Jesus, God’s Word shapes my behavior (words, actions, and desires), not societal preference. As I strive to serve God, I’m confident God accepts me – whether I do the Hokey Pokey, or not.

[1] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Ro 7:15–17.

[2] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Ro 7:20–21.