Each year when the weather warms, I start longing to spend my days in the sun, stretched out in the grass. I can see myself with a book, blanket, and picnic basket, or taking my literature classes outside for lively discussions beneath a tree. I imagine myself like a character in one of those arthritis medication commercials: in flowy, white clothing, I salute the sun while a beatific yoga instructor speaks encouragement over my newly-freed body. And sometimes I bring at least one of these visions to life before Texas summer pushes me back to the air-conditioning. But if I listened to every internet nay-sayer, I might stay inside always.
Take scenario one: my favorite fantasy novels could just be fronts for promoting witchcraft (Harry Potter) or pluralism (Wrinkle in Time). The food in my picnic basket could be unclean (let’s be honest; it’s probably filled with pork products), and I better be sure to include only non-alcoholic beverages in that basket.
Or what about scenario number two, my literature class? We read some pretty standard stuff, but it’s chock-full of authors with opinions and art that challenged the mainstream religious views of their day. Moliere, Voltaire, William Blake, Frederick Douglass, Tolstoy, Eliot, Camus — should I even be teaching these authors at a Baptist school? What if it causes my students to question their own religious upbringings and ideas? I should at least keep the conversation safely inside, where I can wield bullet points over their imaginations.
And don’t get me started on scenario number three. Yoga probably will let in demonic influence — or at least cause me to inadvertently worship Hindu gods. I could try to redirect that meditation toward Christ or scripture, but that can’t untangle yoga from its pagan roots, so, nama-stay away, right?
A quick internet search on each of the topics above will yield plenty of opinions on why Christians should or should not take part in these activities. Those “for” usually have many good reasons of why those activities are not technically sinful, and those “against” usually accuse the “fors” of looking for loopholes to sin rather than trying to honor God. But both of those views miss the larger point: Jesus Christ is making all things new.
We live in a fallen world: the sin, death, and destruction all around us make that fairly obvious. But guess what? We also live in a world that is being redeemed! Jesus Christ has risen from the dead and reigns as Lord over all, and He “make[s] His blessings flow far as the curse is found” (“Joy to the World”). We could spend our lives looking for a demon in every shadow, or we could pay attention to the redemptive light that already shines so brightly. My favorite stories ring with the triumph of life over death and the power of love and sacrifice. My class’s literary conversations produce a solid foundation for truth, built not on prescribed platitudes, but on struggle and ambiguity and critical thought. And my yoga practice teaches me relaxation and good posture, and even “namaste” at the end of a practice reminds me to see God’s image in the face of another. Certainly my interpretation is a different kind of “divine light” than what was originally meant, but perhaps that “imago-dei” truth is what “namaste” always pointed to at its heart.
Let me be clear: I’m not advocating an “anything goes” approach to life. Christians ought to live life with discernment, led by love and the Holy Spirit. The apostle Paul acknowledged that a Christian is perfectly free to eat food sacrificed to idols, but he relinquished that freedom for the sake of his brothers and sisters in Christ. Today, however, I might argue that shame is the bigger stumbling block. Better, by far, to eat the potentially-tainted meat than to drive someone away from faith because of a misplaced fear.
Just as Christ told Peter in a vision not to call “unclean” what he called clean (those pork products I mentioned), we would do well to see what God is calling clean in our world today. Instead of living in fear that we might get something wrong, let’s live in the faith that God is making all things new. We can see that renewal already, in his good gifts of story and bacon and yoga. Yes, let’s “hate what is evil,” but let’s actively “cling to what is good.” Let’s fling off our heavy winter coats and go outside into the springtime air, and though we may curse the pollen, let us praise the flower, and worship our God, who will one day bring spring without allergies.