Thursday, May 7, 2020


As Christians, we believe in the promise of redemption. Not only in the promise of it, but in the reality of it ongoing right now in front of us. If the only evidence we had for the restorative power of Christ was our own life, it would still be overwhelmingly enough. 

Where things start to get sticky is when we start talking about what we're willing to embrace of this world. On one hand, we know that everything can (and will) be claimed and redeemed by Christ. On the other hand, does that make all things good for His people? Or not even good...can we even call them neutral?

Paul faced this sort of dilemma, as did Peter. What do we eat? Can we eat only kosher foods? With whom do we fellowship? They were facing a lot of pressure from Jews and young Christians alike to figure out what the "rules" of this new faith were, how to keep it pure. The guidance they received from the Lord, as I've written about before, always pointed them to love of neighbor. Love is the highest law. So you can't let artificial categories about things God is going to redeem get in the way of a real, potentially redemptive, relationship you're forming with your neighbors, or even your brothers and sisters.

This is all well and good, but not all of the things we have to make decisions about are nestled into relationship. In our world, we're being asked to make decisions about ideas themselves, ideas that we might adopt for ourselves or apply for our own use. There's no one standing on the other side of them saying this is the line where our love lives; it's just us, trying to figure out how to interact with the world. 

Knowing God can redeem all things, how much do we engage with the unredeemed? Do we try to claim it for God? Can it ever be claimed so thoroughly here that its old connotations don't matter any more? 

I've been thinking about this for several weeks. It may seem silly, but here's why: one of the local news stations has been broadcasting commercial-sized (30-second?) series' of images of nature and beauty and laughter and so-called simple things in life. Which is great. But then, they call it "A Moment of Zen." 

That's a little stickier.

Zen is not a Christian idea. It's actually a religious idea that comes out of Buddhism. The idea of zen is getting you to connect with what is actually true, an 'ultimate reality,' by connecting more deeply with a transcending present reality, the kind of stuff that exists all around you that you're prone to take for granted or not even notice at all. In other words, focusing on a flower reminds you of the overarching oneness of all the universe. It's important also to notice that in times like this, Buddhism calls its followers to empty themselves. Christianity, on the other hand, always calls us to fullness. 

Now, our culture has so claimed the idea of zen as just beauty and goodness and simplicity that most wouldn't even notice this. It may seem cheesy, but most would not consider it to present any sort of theological issue. Like a decade or two ago when everyone started to decorate their homes with 'feng shui' - they didn't do it for worship, but just for a pleasing design. Or in the past decade or so as our culture has embraced yoga - again, not considering it an act of worship, but a physical exercise for the wellness of the body. 

The question is - when our culture has adopted these things so thoroughly, does it remove for us the theological implications of that thing? Can we have zen? Should we? Can we do yoga? Should we move our furniture around and put it in feng shui? We know that God can (and will) redeem all things, but will these things defile us if we adopt them for ourselves? 

Again, notice the difference between these ideas and the questions Paul and Peter and the early apostles were asking. There's no relationship here. Zen is a solitary practice. You can do yoga in your own living room. You're the only one who knows the feng shui of your house. It's not like you're putting a friendship on the line by wrestling with these ideas. So...should we take them for ourselves? Can we separate them from their roots in other religions? Can we separate them from their worship of other gods? 

We want to say yes. We really do. We want to believe that we're above temptation, that we are sophisticated enough to throw out the bath water and keep the baby. But the truth is, it's just not that easy. 

When we're confronted with something like a "moment of zen," most of us will use that opportunity to empty ourselves. We'll take a moment and try to think of nothing at all. To settle into just a little space to breathe. That's what zen is. And it's exactly the opposite of what God asks of us. The Christian act of meditation is about being poured into; it's the act of service that is pouring ourselves out. Zen turns that on its head, and the ease with which we buy into what zen is promising is downright scary. 

And then, the world tells us that it doesn't really matter. It's not really that big of a deal. It's actually healthy for us. Good for our mental well-being. Good for our soul. Ah, there's that word again - soul. The world will tell us that ideas that transform our worship away from what God has prescribed for it are good for our soul, and we will believe it because they said that word. Soul. God gave us a soul, so anything that's good for it must be good for us, right? Because culture has co-opted it, has Christ redeemed it? Is the idea clean enough from its worship of other gods that we can engage it without trouble? Can it be?

It's complicated. 

Should we have a moment of zen? Should we let our local broadcasters push a specifically religious idea? That actually raises an entirely new question, so we should probably look at that tomorrow. 

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