So yesterday, we started to look at the question of whether an idea can be so redeemed, so removed from its roots in another religious idea, that it can become neutral for us, as Christians, to engage. Specifically, the idea we are looking at right now is "zen" - a Buddhist concept rooted in a meditation that empties oneself in order to connect with the universe through its simplest expressions, but a concept that has become culturalized and presented as "neutral" and "normal" for the average, everyday human being, Buddhist or not.
And I think it's clear to say that like yoga, like feng shui, zen is not a concept we should be comfortable readily adopting for ourselves. Like these others, it simply cannot be separated from its roots, and the kind of meditation and connection that is advocated by zen, even "cultural" zen, is in direct opposition to the kind of meditation and connection that God desires from us and for us.
But then, we are faced with this dilemma: what should we do about a culture that is pushing a blatantly religious idea in contrast to what we ourselves believe? What do we do about a local news station promoting "zen" to the masses?
For years, the Christian response would have been loud protest. Angry letters. Viral rants. We would have wanted to make an example of them, call them out for their lack of transparency, for pushing a religious idea when the are so hands-off of Christian ideas. In other words, we'd make very loud fools of ourselves and reinforce the idea that Christianity is a religion that is against, well, everything.
That is what would have been our go-to response, but it is, of course, misguided. Very misguided.
A better Christian response is to make an example of ourselves. To discipline our own households into faithfulness. To teach our children why we don't zen - and what God has designed for us instead. To teach them why we don't do yoga in our own living rooms or why we don't feng shui. A better Christian response is to live our own transparency, quietly but firmly putting our feet down on faithful ground and making a stand for ourselves on these kinds of "neutral" claims our culture tries to make, then pivoting and showing how the Christian way is better. More fruitful. More beautiful. More fulfilling.
In other words, we don't try to change the world by shutting it down. We change the world by showing it up. By demonstrating a living, active, dynamic Christian faith in a light so bright it puts these "normal," "common" things in shadows. We don't make fools of ourselves in shouting and protect, but rather, we make fools of ourselves in faithfulness and discipline. We live as fools for Christ, just as He always told us we should.
At all times, however, we keep in mind our highest law, which is love. Love means, first, that we don't shout down the world, that we don't let ourselves become known as anti-everything. Jesus was pro-life and life abundant; He was for everyone. So should we be. Love means, second, that we make our own homes on solid ground, that we teach our families and make decisions for ourselves about why we don't zen (or yoga or feng shui or whatever).
But love means, third, that we teach our families and make decisions for ourselves about when we will zen (or yoga or feng shui or whatever). Because while these are ideas that we should not adopt for ourselves because of the ways they are rooted in their own theologies that are contrary to our own, these are also ideas that sooner or later, we are going to encounter in relationship somewhere. A friend is going to invite us to yoga class. A teacher is going to call time-out for a little zen. A buddy is going to ask us to take a breather. A neighbor is going to comment on the majesty of the universe as she sees it in her rose garden.
It is in these moments that these ideas draw us back into the wrestling that Peter and Paul and the early apostles have already done for us. Should we eat unclean foods or meat that has been offered to idols? And the answer is, love your neighbor. If eating that meat is loving your neighbor, then eat it. With a clean conscience. If not eating the meat is loving your neighbor, then don't eat it. With a clean conscience. Love cleans our conscience. We can do things in love that we would never do for ourselves, and we can be okay with that. (Within reason, of course. Within the bounds of real love and not simple affirmation or approval.)
So that brings us back to our original question: what do we do with a culture that's pushing religious ideas contrary to our own? Do we just let the local news station broadcast "a moment of zen" without saying anything, without calling them out for it?
Because our faith thrives on what we stand on, the Rock, and not on what we stand against. God never called us to be antagonistic to this world; He simply said not to be comfortable here. He never told us to tear this world down, but to build it up and put His love in it. And as we saw recently in this very space, our words would never be enough to change minds anyway.
Only love can do that.