The story of Footloose is, in one sense, Shaw Moore’s story. He is the husband, bereaved father, pastor and civic leader of small-town Bomont, Texas. Having lost his teenage son in a highway accident tied to drinking and driving after a night of dancing, he nurses (or denies?) his grief while doing his level best to see that nothing like this ever happens again to anyone he cares about. He leads the charge to outlaw dancing within city limits. Law is looked to as a defense against loss. And, as of the moment Ren, the renegade teenager from Chicago who “can’t stand still” hits town, so far so good.
And that’s when the engine of the story really turns over and the core conflict starts to hum. Distilled, the essential story of Footloose is “the angry, grieving father meets the angry, grieving son.” Like Shaw Moore, Ren has also experienced a deep loss in his young life: his father has walked out on him and his mother. Hence the move from big-city Chicago to Aunt Lulu’s home in small-town Bomont. Mom Ethel is trying to get her feet back under her. But, ironically, at the same moment as Rev. Moore is trying to nail everyone’s feet to the floor, Ren’s feet won’t stand still: dancing is how he works out his fury against his absentee dad. But not in Bomont! No dancing allowed. At the urging of both his mom and Rev. Moore’s overlooked daughter Ariel, Ren, sure enough, doesn’t stand still. He spearheads a grassroots campaign to overturn the town’s no-dancing ordinance. It’s Shaw vs. Ren. Game on.
We have just celebrated Christmas, the Feast of the Incarnation. It is the annual, awed re-appreciation of the Unspeakable Gift: God’s own Son among us, as one of us, given ultimately to die for us, ascend ahead of us, intercede for us and reign over us. In all this, we are the recipients of grace poured out for us, larger and better than we can ever imagine. We certainly will never be able to muster lives – attitudes, affections, actions and words – that could ever hope to earn such lavish, undeserved love.
Rev. Moore doesn’t understand Christmas. He has somehow missed the heart of the Gospel itself. The evidence can be found in at least three places: first, Shaw sings in “Heaven Help Me:”
Everyone prays for salvation.
I’m happy to give them the tools.
The problem is – here’s my frustration –
Nobody wants to have rules.
So heaven help me with my labors;
How can you expect one man
To save his family and his neighbors?
Heaven help me; oh, heaven help me!
Rev. Moore has shouldered the burden of the “salvation” of his family, congregation and town himself. His ministry, he thinks, is giving people the “tools” to work with: sermons and civic ordinances to shape their behavior. Not a word of the Gospel of God’s gracious initiative on our behalf in sight.
Second, Shaw’s legalism isn’t accomplishing what he intends it to. Look no further than his own daughter, Ariel. The more tightly he seeks to protect her with rules, curfews, and punishments, the wilder and riskier her behavior becomes. He realizes that he is “losing her,” but cannot make the correlation between her choices and his strategy of wall-building designed to shield from all danger. She is not interested in his legalism; she’s looking for love.
And that is the third piece of evidence that Rev. Moore has yet to receive the Gospel of God: he has no “good news of great joy” to deliver to “all the people.” In fact, joy – expressed in dancing – has long since left town, driven out by the grief from the terrible accident. In his efforts to protect young lives, the whole town is dying.
Bomont needed the angelic announcement: “I bring you good news of great joy for all y’all…” Bomont needed the release of real life that comes with the Christmas Gospel. Ren needed it. Ariel needed it. Ironically, Rev. Shaw Moore needed that renewed life himself.
We all still do. Because say what you will, I think we were made to dance!