Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Balancing Humanity

I've been going to yoga on Monday evenings lately. Last night as I was there, somewhere between my downward dog and pigeon, I decided once a week may not be enough. It occurred to me that I love yoga. My friends have been proclaiming its wonders for years, and I've gone with them from time to time. But it hadn't really clicked until recently. I discovered the poetic nature about it. The fluid motions mimic dance, giving the body both wellness and art. At the same time, I am both weak and strong. My muscles quiver as they work to sustain my posture, feeling both that they will collapse at any given moment yet continue to hold me upright. As I ache to return to a relaxed state, I feel my body grow stronger. Sweat drips from my brow and my body thanks me for the challenge. Afterward, I feel strong to the core and balanced both physically and mentally.

It is the notion of balance that strikes me, I think, and more than just that which I experience from yoga. In several matters in my life, balance has been playing a more important role, and I am oh so grateful for it. I want to say that Christians are terrible at balance, but I am hesitant to throw a blanket statement out there. It could be simply my personal experience, but really, I think that I am not alone in this. Please, correct me if I am wrong and am the only one who has felt completely off balance as a result of modern evangelicalism. 

Here are my thoughts. Christianity, at least as portrayed by modern evangelicalism, scarcely allows for balance. To allow for balance allows for being human, and we certainly can't be having that now, can we? For years and years, my perception was always to strive to "be holy because I am holy." (Lev 11:44/1 Peter 1:16) and to "put to death the self." So, I'm still working out the theological implications of these verses, but from what I've seen and recently experienced, modern evangelicalism has taken them way off course and used them to beat the bloody hell out of those who seek to be holistic followers of The Way. Obviously, "being holy," and "dying to self" aren't bad ideas. The bad idea is that somehow we are able to, and should, do these things on our own. 

This leads to nothing but loss and devastation.

We (Christians, collectively, or perhaps just me) are told repeatedly that we are not doing enough. So we strive continually to do more and more to put to death the self. In the end, we wind up doing just that. When we attempt to kill the self in us, death of self is achieved. Our "self" becomes corroded in our quest for holiness and we end up hallowed shells of who we could and are meant to be.  However, when we stop striving, seek balance, and allow ourselves to be the self God created us to be, there is life...abundantly.

This is something I've been mulling over for quite some time now, but recently has been in the forefront of my mind. It first caught my attention when I was reading C.S. Lewis. I believe it was in Mere Christianity when he states, "We were never intended to be purely spiritual beings." When I read that, it was like a previously unknown window had just been opened in a dingy, barricaded cellar. Fresh air filled my lungs and I suddenly had an inkling that it was possible to be...normal. To be human. To be me.

Despite the fact that our created bodies and minds have needs, modern evangelicalism tells us these needs are bad. We are taught to keep ourselves constantly in check for fear of "falling away." Again, keeping one's self in check is not a bad idea. However, often "keeping yourself in check" ends up simply denying the self most things and starving our physical and emotional selves to near anorexia. Moderation is not in the vocabulary of many evangelicals. The verse "Don't give the devil a foothold," gets thrown around a lot. So in order to keep that darned devil away, it's best to just avoid anything that remotely looks like it might be something he's dangling in front of our face. It's best to just live our lives in a little sheltered box, making sure to stab whatever aspect of human nature dares to raise its ugly head in us and kill it dead. 

Don't do that!

Live! Find balance! Go to church. Pray. Worship. Fellowship. These are good things. But then...Eat. Drink. Be merry. Taste. Touch. Feel. Listen. Love. Be moved. Experience this life as it unfolds before you. Be yourself. It's okay, it's who you were created to be.


  1. What a beautiful post. I'm on board 100% with you on this! I completely agree with when you were discussing the idea that many Christians face regular chastisement for potentially 'falling away' if we attempt to be both christian and normal. It's refreshing to finally have reached a point in my 'walk' (i'm not a fan of that term btw) where I can enjoy the freedom of Christ without the fear tactics of the church anymore. Kudos for the post! Live Free friend! P.S. you should call about this yoga thing. I've been wanting to get into it again!

  2. Melisa,
    Your post is actually touching on one of the primary topics that I’ve been thinking about a lot (dare I say “meditating”?) on over the past few months: the seemingly eternal Christian struggle with dualism, be it material vs. spiritual, or hedonism vs. asceticism. Of course, dualism in any form is essentially black and white thinking, without middle ground (or balance), and I agree…Christians just don’t deal well with balance. I think the radical calling of the Gospel very easily gets translated into radical callings for imbalance, which is understandable for new Christians. But the mark of Christian maturity is holistic balance, in our identity and in our worship and service.
    As it should be, because what is God if not balanced? God is transcendent, and yet immanent. God is three, and yet one. God is merciful, and yet just. God is loving, and yet wrathful. As mortals, we have a difficult time dealing with the last one, loving and wrathful…and I think its because in our falleness and brokenness, our concept of authentic, God-like balance has also been corrupted, much like our ability to understand God through general revelation and nature alone. Perhaps the imago dei in its original, pure form, looked very much like the balance that we understand about God theologically.

    I believe that many Christians would be shocked and disturbed to realize how much their worldviews have in common with Gnosticism. When we find Christians making statements like, “humanity is evil, only God is good,” they are essentially reiterating the classic Platonic-based views of the material vs. spirit worlds that led the Gnostics to argue that Christ only appeared as a man, because God could not possibly inhabit the corrupt flesh. The evangelical Christian of today clings strongly to fully divinized Jesus – a man who had no fears, no doubts about his journey to the cross, no real, legitimate temptations, no illnesses, no aches or pains before his scourging, and God forbid he ever have bowel movements or functional genitalia. The view of Christ the evangelical holds dear is Jesus who is essentially, only a “man” in terms of his outward appearance, not his inner life, or even in terms of some of his bodily functions.

    This image of Jesus, which is essentially a denial of his full humanity, is far more Gnostic than we might initially suspect. Because it spreads from there…our understanding of Jesus’ lack of humanity turns into an understanding of how we see our neighbor, and then how we see our community, and then nation, and then world. When we fail to recognize that God – Creator of the Universe became flesh and bone as a human being, and dealt with our trials and our temptations – then our expectation for others Christians is to be “beyond human.” We can’t engage in the brokenness of the world, because we have no compassion for it…because our Jesus didn’t really have compassion for it.

    In that view, the human race is just so disgusting and broken that Jesus didn’t “really” become one of us, he only appeared to – which is essentially the Gnostic thought that Paul and John in particular devoted their epistles and one Gospel towards combating. An unbalanced view of the Incarnation (which Christmas is all about, right?) leads to an unloving, uncompassionate view of the entire world, at least from my perspective.

    I have a lot of other thoughts on this topic, if you’d like to chat it up more, let me know..but thanks for the post, I just wanted to give you a few initial thoughts of my own that are following along the same lines of what you’re talking about here.