September 03, 2005


The following is a rewrite of an article I published a few years ago for Relevant Magazine. They asked for this version for their "college edition," which was handed out by the tens of thousands to college students on state campuses around the country.

If I had a video store, it would have one section: Movies. I’m not sure what effect that would have on business, but it would certainly reflect a lesson I’ve been learning and relearning from the moment I began thinking for myself. The lesson is this: Life is one category.

It seems simple enough, and hardly earth-shattering, but as I think about its implications, I find myself awe-struck by the possibilities of a life lived from this mindset. Have you read books in literature courses for which your English professor needs the help of a history professor to explain the historical context? Have you wandered aimlessly up and down the supermarket aisle designated “Sauces” looking desperately for soy sauce only to discover that it’s actually kept in the “Ethnic Foods” aisle? Are you left cold by church services or bands whose sole purpose is to feed your soul, and yet feel close to God watching the sun set, driving alone at night under a full moon, or even watching a Children’s movie? The reason for all these quandaries is the same: Life is one category.

Oprah and Post-modernism in general, have given us the permission to talk about and even experience the spiritual without being thought of as deceived or insane. However, we’re still using a modernist “day timer” approach to where we think God can be encountered. We’ve placed God in a category that includes smiley men in suits on late-night cable and attending Mass with our parents when we go home for a visit. Unfortunately, many conclude that if God is not found in those places, he’s probably not found anywhere. In truth, if God was limited to those places, He’d be as bored there as you and I sometimes are.

We’ve all heard that God is everywhere, but of course, the original intent of this adage was to make sure we weren’t beating up our little brother when our parents weren’t looking. However, not only is God everywhere, but he can be encountered in almost anything. If you buy into God as a creator (whether in six days or six million years), you’ll realize that the exploration of any part of his creation is ultimately the study of the master artist. Jay Kesler, the president of Taylor University used to say, “There is no rock under which you’ll discover something large enough to eat your God.” If what you’re experiencing is truth, God isn’t only aware of it; He made it so.

Psychologist, Paul Tournier claimed that we have created an image of mankind that is, in essence a list: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. Tournier would argue that spirituality should not be on that list but at the center of the other three. It is the source of our physical, mental and emotional output as well as the recipient of all input through those means. In other words, there is no way to be solely spiritual. Go ahead, be spiritual. Ready? ... One ... two ... three, go! What did you do? Trying to be spiritual away from the rest of our life is like trying to eat without any food or like trying to be a really good driver without ever going down the road. We get in and study the steering wheel and gauges, then we get out of the car and start walking down the road.

In truth, as impossible as it is to do something that is purely spiritual, it’s equally impossible to do anything that doesn’t contain some spiritual element. In the words of Evangline Paterson, “because God exists, everything has significance.” It is in the living out of our lives that our spirituality is exercised or neglected, nurtured or poisoned. Our spiritual battle is fought a million times a day in a million different ways. It is in the effort we put into our work, it’s in the music we hear on the radio, it’s in the speed with which we return our neighbor’s borrowed hedge trimmer.

What’s especially important to remember is that if everything has spiritual significance, there can be things that are detrimental to our spirit as well. Discernment needs to be used in what we’ll allow to have a significant impact on our souls. Whether it be films, friends, or books, too much of anything that is lacking in quality, morality or truth will begin to impact our spiritual selves negatively. Just as a diet of purely cotton candy and corn dogs will result in a physical decay of the body, a spiritual diet of teen blockbusters and time spent with “good time” friends will result in a decay of the soul.

Unfortunately, our long addiction to labels has stepped in at this point, and people over-concerned about what is “soul safe,” are whipping out the categories again. Opening a phone book, I can find Christian pharmacies, Christian art framing, Christian bakeries and here in my hometown someone has created a business concept out of a cheesy Christian T-shirt. The Lord’s Gym Health and Fitness Centers are dedicated to promoting “Fitness for Body & Soul” and offer classes such as Praise Dance, Body of Armor and Chariots of Fire Spin. Now, some might argue such businesses are a good model of stretching the barriers of our spiritual activity beyond Sunday morning. However, all they are doing is adding spiritual language to things that are naturally spiritual because they are part of the human experience God has created. We don’t need to label something Christian for it to be good and pure.

All truth is God’s truth. If we are seeking out God in everything we do, He will inevitably show up. He doesn’t need labels or categories to find us, and we shouldn’t need them to find Him. Our categories have become the lazy person’s guide to spiritual health. We can’t get a dose of the God stuff at church, and we can’t avoid getting the God stuff outside the church. This can be both exciting and terrifying. It’s not supposed to be easy. Every experience, every person you meet and every choice you make is a part of the spiritual journey. In God’s cosmic video store there is one category: Spiritual. The good news is there are no late fees.


Chris Dinger said...

This is one of my favorite articles of all time.

DanBuck said...

Thanks for the props and the link from your blog!